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.
Tashi Saheb-Ettaba is today’s grad; she lives in Tucson, Arizona and can be found on Twitter @Seras_Ouka.
What do you do when you’re not working on packets?
I’m a Trailing Docs Coordinator at Nova Home Loans. I work out at a local gym called Steps Dance and Fitness. I love reading. Hmm, what else do I do? I paint, play video games, make costumes, dance, have weird conversations with my co-workers, snuggle with my cats, and play Rock Band with my friends. Sometimes, I burst into a song for no reason whatsoever. Currently, I’m learning to play the guitar.
How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?
In 2012, I saw an ad in the Poets and Writers magazine. Ever since I saw that ad, Hamline kept popping up. I saw the ad again in the next issue of Poets and Writers. One day, I overheard a conversation about Hamline at a coffee shop. When I came across Anne Ursu’s Breadcrumbs, Hamline was mentioned in her bio snippet. When I finally visited the website, I was intrigued with the program. I was going through a difficult moment at the time and Hamline was my beacon of hope. When the New Year came around, I decided to give this program a shot. It was as if I was following the breadcrumbs to a magical place.
What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?
I made up stories in my head, but I never wrote them down. When I was ten, I kept a diary about my travels. When I was sixteen, I wrote a story about a girl who went on an adventure with pirates. Throughout high school, I wrote a lot of stories about pirates and dragons. (To all my high school friends, if you’re reading this, I’m so sorry you had to read those horrible stories!) Throughout college, I experimented with horror, magic realism, and fairy tale retellings.
What do especially remember about your first residency?
I remember being nervous. I was worried about not fitting in and had so much self-doubt. At one point, I even thought I didn’t deserve to be there with all these talented writers. After talking to the faculty and classmates, all my fears vanished. I felt comfortable and didn’t feel like I had to hide my true self.
Oh yeah, I also remember chasing OJ down the dorm hallway because he threw water at me!
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 wrote a lot of novels and short stories before coming to this program. Last summer, I took Gene Yang’s Writing Comics Workshop. It was an insightful workshop and I realized some of my short stories worked better as graphic novels. During my third semester, Jackie Briggs Martin encouraged me to write picture books, and it was a fantastic experience.
Tell us about your Creative Thesis.
My creative thesis is called Angels and Trains. It’s a magic realism middle-grade novel about confrontation with death. Celeste finds out she’s diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma and is overwhelmed with her drastic lifestyle changes involving hospital visits and chemotherapy. To make matters worse, she can’t stop hearing the phantom train.
In a small town called Mittelteil, there’s a haunting legend about a phantom train. Legend claims that the phantom train will come to those who are dying.
During the chaos, she meets Micah, a mysterious boy who is connected to the train. He calls himself a Guardian, who will comfort her before they board the train together. Celeste is upset by Micah’s presence and wants to defeat death.
Overall, the novel is really about life, death, love, flying, and rock and roll.
What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies?
I used to struggle with character development. I would focus solely on the plot, but didn’t apply the character’s desires and emotions to the story. My characters were either flat or not relatable at all. Other times, I couldn’t even figure out what my character is supposed to learn by the end of the story. Thanks to the lectures, I learned a lot about character traits, flaws, desires, and psychic distance.
Nowadays, I pay attention to my characters and their needs. A character always has a story to tell.
Any thoughts for entering students or for people considering the program?
Okay, here’s what you do. Visit the MFAC Program website, read it, and place your hand over your heart. Is your heart beating so fast that you can’t help but feel giddy? Do you feel like you could fly as you picture yourself being surrounded by kind and talented students? Are you smiling as you think of your stories coming to life?
Did you feel all these things?
Good. That means you’re meant to be here.
It’s okay to be scared at first. I remember being terrified when I first entered the program, but now, I don’t have any fears holding me back.
And neither will you.