July 19, 2015, on the final day of the upcoming residency, the MFAC program will have a Graduate Recognition ceremony to honor the men and women who have just completed their studies and will receive an MFA from Hamline University. Between now and residency we’ll be posting interviews with the grads.
Sonja Solter is today’s grad; she lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado, but is about to move to Geneva, Switzerland for one year.
What do you do when you’re not working on packets?
I spend lots of time with my husband and two children (an eight-year-old daughter and an almost-twelve-year old son), as well extended family in town, including a niece and nephew. I homeschooled my daughter for most of this past school year. I originally intended to substitute teach for the Music Together® program I used to direct in town, but I quickly realized my schedule was too busy for that. We also like to travel, both domestically and internationally, and participate in various sports activities. I went through candidate training and passed my black belt test in Shotokan karate last summer. Another thread to my life is remaining centered and receptive spiritually, which sometimes means a specific activity, such as daily centering prayer meditation or an experiential retreat.
How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?
I researched programs online.
What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?
Looking back, I can remember writing a poem during a special artist-in-residence workshop in elementary school. I was awed by the process of evoking feelings and sensations through my words. As an older child and young adult, I always thought of myself as a writer, even though I wasn’t pursuing writing activities outside of the occasional school assignment. Finally, after realizing that I didn’t want to be a doctor and leaving medical
school, the writing came pouring out of me. I started writing regularly after that, but it would dwindle when I became busy with other projects or my family. I kept myself going by joining my local SCBWI chapter, and even completed a four-month mentorship program with author Claudia Mills. Yet I finally realized that I needed to make a bigger commitment and receive more intensive instruction in order to take my writing to a higher level of craft.
What do especially remember about your first residency?
I was so exhausted coming in. We’d been evacuated in June from our home due to the wildfires in Colorado, and then had immediately left on an overseas trip we’d planned far in advance. Despite this exhaustion and a couple
of unhappy incidents (my new computer dying with all of my notes and reflections halfway through residency; my husband falling quite ill with a spider bite while he was supposed to take care of the kids), I had the time of my life. I felt immediately close to the people, and I could tell right away that the coursework was both engaging and just what I needed.
Have you focused on any one form (PB, novel, nonfiction; graphic novel) or age group in your writing? Tried a form you never thought you’d try?
I’ve tried pretty much everything except for nonfiction, and I’ve also covered the gamut of ages. Each genre and level has informed and inspired the others. For example, exploring picture books led me into poetry, which then led me into a middle grade novel in verse. I didn’t think I’d write a young adult novel while in the program, so I surprised myself by switching to a YA novel as the majority of my creative thesis.
Tell us about your Creative Thesis.
I completed a 150-page draft and a few rounds of intense revision (to be continued) on a young adult novel called “Entanglement.” It’s about a young woman who finds herself psychically connected both to someone from her own past and an ancestor. Her search for the meaning and purpose of these connections leads her down a path of healing, empowerment, and redemption. I also have two picture books as part of my creative thesis: one with the book itself as the first-person narrator and also the third installment in a cartoon-style reader series starring friends Mona and Dee.
What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies?
It would take me a long time to list it all. Overall, it’s been such an interesting mix of becoming more conscious of all the craft elements, but at the same time developing a more natural overall flow. A deeper understanding and internalization of all I’ve learned is most likely the mechanism linking those two. Another somewhat counterintuitive pair: I’ve learned to relax more and play with my writing in order to enhance revision and specific work on craft elements.
Any thoughts for entering students or for people considering the program?
I can’t recommend it highly enough! If you are serious about your writing, do it!