On Sunday, July 21, 2019, Hamline’s Creative Writing Programs will host a Graduate Recognition ceremony to honor all the students who have completed their studies and will be receiving an MFA from Hamline University.
We will be featuring our soon-to-be alumni as they look back on their time at Hamline University. Today’s new graduate is Brandon Terrell. He lives just a hop, skip and a jump from the Hamline campus, in Shoreview, Minnesota. Find him on Twitter.
What do you do when you’re not working on packets?
Well, first and foremost, I love spending time with my wife and kids. Watching Little League games, attending dance recitals, going to movies and playing board games with them. I also love grilling out and reading a book on the back patio. Visiting my local comic shop every Wednesday for my stack of books (shout out Source Comics and Games!). And watching the local nine play baseball (go Twins!).
How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?
Around seven years ago, I randomly tweeted something about going back to school. The wonderful Anne Ursu wrote back saying, “You know…” and less than a month later I was at prospective student day. The timing unfortunately didn’t work then — my wife and I had one toddler in the house and another baby on the way — but I never forgot my experience. So when my youngest child started Pre-K and my duties as a stay-at-home dad were at an end, I decided it was time to check out Hamline again. A coffee date with friend and MFAC alum Megan Atwood sealed the deal, and I applied shortly after!
What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?
I’ve written stories all my life, from my elementary school tales about the Hardy Boys and Spider-Man to terrible high school poetry written to impress a girl (it didn’t work). But in the mid-2000s, I wrote a comic book series titled Horrorwood with good friend and talented illustrator Brent Schoonover. Because of that, I met two editors from Twin Cities publisher Capstone at a comic convention. I sent them a writing sample and they asked me to write a chapter book / graphic novel hybrid about Jackie Robinson. I’ve spent the last decade as a work-for-hire author and stay-at-home dad, writing everything from extreme sports graphic novels to spine-tingling tales with Sasquatch and mud creatures to a choose-your-own-adventure book featuring the Caped Crusader himself, Batman.
What do especially remember about your first residency?
I remember being extremely nervous meeting my cohort, The Headless Gods, for the first time. I remember being super intimidated by the caliber of the faculty, and how cool it was that they were all in the same room as me. I remember hearing the brilliant observations made in my workshop group and thinking, “Oh, they’re all way smarter than me.” And I remember Ron Koertge stopping me in the hall during a break one day and saying, “Keep at it. You’re good at this.” when I needed it most.
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 came into the program with a desire to finish a contemporary YA novel I’d been working on for some time (and did in my second semester, with Eliot!). After leaving my first residency with Ron as an advisor, I found myself wondering if there was a ‘novel in verse’ hiding in me somewhere. Halfway through the semester I sent an email saying I had an idea and wanted to try verse, and Ron wrote back with one sentence: “I’ve been waiting for you to say that.” That project, and my creative thesis, are both middle grade.
Tell us about your Creative Thesis.
My creative thesis is a middle grade historical science fiction novel titled Miller’s Grove. It’s about two kids — a boy named Junior and a girl named Daisy — whose small Iowa farm town is invaded by aliens on the evening of October 30, 1938, the same night as Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds radio broadcast. The story takes place over the course of that single night, and is told from both characters’ points of view. It’s my attempt to include a number of things I love — the idea of real terror juxtaposed with imagined terror, the theme of science versus faith, classic science fiction and horror novels and movies, the books of Ray Bradbury and Stephen King, and television shows like The Twilight Zone — all rolled up in one project.
What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies?
I’ve found myself more aware of language and voice, especially in the revision process. I was always so meticulous about my first draft, and the program helped me realize that a story is always evolving, and that getting the first draft on the page is akin to getting the clay on the wheel. Once it’s there, you start to sculpt.
Any thoughts for entering students or for people considering the program?
If you’re serious about your writing, the Hamline MFAC community will surround you with whip smart, brilliant advisors and peers who will challenge and encourage and celebrate your writing journey through your time at the program… and beyond!