On Sunday, January 20, 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 Bronté Bettencourt. She lives in Orlando, FL.
What do you do when you’re not working on packets?
When I’m not working, I’m devouring YouTube content, including but not limited to Let’sPlays, video essays, and Vine compilations. On Thursday nights, I play D&D with my high school friends (that’s where I got the idea for my graphic novel)! I also go to anime conventions and rock concerts. But on a regular day, I’m perfecting my craft at coffee shops or restaurants.
How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?
So, a series of coincidences led me to the program. I came across the Hamline booth at AWP 2015, where I met Megan Atwood. She was extremely friendly and spoke so highly of the program. Coincidentally, several of the panels I was interested in happened to be run by Hamline staff and alumni. I was so blown away by all the awesome discussion surrounding magical realism, strong YA female protagonists, and protagonists of color, but I still took a year off after graduating from UCF. I think I was still afraid to apply because I didn’t think I was skilled enough to get in. But the following year when I attended AWP in Los Angeles, I bumped into Megan again, and she actually recognized me on the spot. After some more interactions and dinner with faculty and more alumni, I got the courage to apply.
What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?
I always had fun telling stories, but it wasn’t until fourth grade that I thought I was good at it when I was the only kid in my school to get a perfect score on the Florida Writes! portion of the FCAT. I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in English – Creative Writing at the University of Central Florida. I’ve always written in some capacity, be it through creating stories with friends online, or writing scripts for stage productions. I also contributed blog posts to The Drunken Odyssey where I wrote about the many forms of writing in geek culture.
What do you especially remember about your first residency?
I remember being extremely nervous in my first workshop that I wanted to (and nearly succeeded in) hide under the table when I was called on to introduce myself. But in that same first meeting, we discussed our paths that led us to the program. Something that a lot of us had in common involved not fitting in with the literary or “adult” fiction scene, which is weird because so many college programs make it seem like that is the only option for aspiring writers. That kind of program had nearly killed my interest in writing altogether, and thanks to the workshop discussion, I no longer felt like I lost my passion for writing. I felt like I was among friends, especially when the topic of anxiety, in general, came up. One of the workshop leads said with such warmth something along the lines of, “Don’t worry, I keep my screaming on the inside.” I guess it wasn’t a surprise that she would be my adviser!
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 focus mainly on YA fiction, particularly fantasy. Phyllis Root had me write picture books to learn story structure. Swati Avasthi had me write flash fiction for word economy and graphic novel to fit the tone of my second semester project. I loved writing in the picture book and graphic novel mediums, especially since I got to think more visually. I’m also wordy, so it forced me to choose my words carefully (flash fiction was my limit, though).
Tell us about your Creative Thesis.
Ellie exists as a human-raised half-demon in a world where holy soldiers, called exorcists, toil ceaselessly to eradicate demonkind. The exorcists aim to reclaim the Earth that nearly fell to Armageddon 100 years ago. After her home was overrun by fiery, demonic creatures, Ellie apprehensively chose to move to the regional exorcist-ran organization called the Ambro Lights. Her fear of being outed and slaughtered by the exorcists is outweighed by the drive to keep her older brother, Lorance, safe. She also hopes to mend the broken relationship with her eldest brother, Blake, an exorcist of the Ambro Lights.
I would like this book to address the flawed aspects of humanity, and exactly where one should draw the line when it comes to forgiveness. Ellie must come to terms with what she is as well as the traumas of her past. She is forced to explore the goodness of her character, which is why she seeks the approval of her family and peers.
This is a coming of age story involving a small girl and her place within a world that is desperate to reclaim order within all the chaos.
What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies?
In my third semester, Anne Ursu ordered me to write two sentences before I began any assignment: “Trust in the process,” and “Let Ellie be Ellie.” Not only have I discovered my own writing process, but I learned to trust in my own capabilities. One of my major issues involved shutting off my inner critic long enough to just get anything on the page for me to edit later on. Now that I trust my stories, I am comfortable with slowing down and giving them the attention they deserve.
Also, I can actually worldbuild now! I’m not just crudely sewing together a bunch of cool-sounding words from a thesaurus. Even small details like whether or not a post-apocalyptic world would have access to metal forks has my brain running in circles. Though this skill makes me feel like I’m nitpicking at details, I’ve learned that it’s the small details that set (or break) the rules of the world.
Any thoughts for entering students or for people considering the program?
Do it! There are so many amazing people I’ve met, and I’ve learned so much, both craft-wise and about myself, that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. The worst you can do is not try and wonder what could’ve been. Also, be open to new experiences. You may think you know what you need to work on, but the program pinpoints how you need to grow and succeed in your craft.
Artist: Clyde Buday (Instagram: nqlul)