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 Eva Kaélin Slattery. She currently lives in both Minnesota and Spain. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

What do you do when you’re not working on packets?

I’m an elite competitive dancer (soloist) for the USA and compete internationally as a soloist! I also travel a lot for work, church, dance, and watching my younger brother perform professionally as a principal dancer around the world. I read a TON, of course, and I also play the flute, make arts and crafts with my sister, and am very involved in my church.

How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?

I did the BFA track as an undergrad with Hamline (I also majored in English and Spanish), and wanted MORE with Creative Writing. I felt I wasn’t done, so I met with Mary Rockcastle after I’d realized everything I’d written for the BFA was YA or MG and she told me all about the MFAC program and what it would look like for me.

What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?

I am autistic and a synesthete, and could write before I could read, around age 1. I have always been writing stories… and as previously stated, I went through the BFA program at Hamline. 

What do especially remember about your first residency?

How amazing and awesome everyone was, and how effective, respectful, and beneficial the workshops were! I was also afraid of Ron Koertge and all his knowledge for the longest time (I was in his workshop group with Nina LaCour) until I got him as my advisor first semester and realized how chill and absolutely incredible he is!

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 all of them!!! But my sweet spot is YA fantasy, with autistic protagonists.

Tell us about your Creative Thesis.

This is a story I’ve had in my heart and mind since I saw Josephine Wall’s “Bubble Flower” painting when I was twelve years old. Kelani is a sixteen-year-old autistic synesthete who lives in a magical world where forgotten elements of other places come to thrive. Along with her color-changing winged cat Bombadill, Kelani embarks on small missions for the realm’s Oracle Order, a secret organization headed by the Enchantress, who along with her brother the Enchanter, rules the captivating world of LéClairer. Though these beloved monarchs promote peace and celebrate the realm’s diversity, dark creatures lead by the Nightmare King, banished five hundred years previously, have begun to creep back, threatening to destroy LéClairer and everyone in it.

When Kelani’s adoptive sister Greer unexpectedly joins the Order, Kelani has to make a choice on how much of herself she’s willing to open up to Greer, and if she can build true friendship in the sister she was given. Kelani’s been plagued with nightmares, horrible memories and visions of the past she ran away from—and fights through her anxiety daily. After agreeing to go on a mission with Greer that ends in a goblin attack, her anxiety explodes: her “otherness” could be a hinderance to her missions to stop the growing darkness from destroying her safe haven.  
The Nightmare King is a terrifying being who takes your greatest, defining yet horrific memories and spins them into nightmares, confusing what is real and what isn’t. The brain uses the same place for both memory and dreams… what horrific things would happen if this villain could manipulate your memories, making nightmares real and changing who you are and what you believe?

With the Nightmare King’s forces expanding, and Kelani’s memories becoming reality in LéClairer, her difference seems inescapable. More people notice her aversion to touch, her extreme sensitivity to sound, her difficulties in sometimes following a conversation or idea that isn’t black and white. But some are realizing her extraordinary talents. The Order tries to do all that they can to figure out the Nightmare King’s plans; and Kelani’s talent for noticing small details is rewarded by going on special missions with a glittery, golden boy named Ezra, who makes her heart rate increase and for some strange reason doesn’t make her feel like jumping out of her skin when they touch. As her nightmares become darker along with her world, Ezra and Kelani grow closer, and Kelani starts thinking that maybe she is capable of having a friend other than her beloved cat and adoptive family. 

But Ezra’s love seems to come with conditions, and Kelani’s worst fears are realized when a boy from Earth gets trapped in the Place between Sleep and Awake, and she’s instructed to save him. As this new relationship forms, Kelani has to look past all she has tried to forget to save the Earth boy, Finhas, with the idea of him representing every evil she left when she escaped Ireland to come to LéClairer… But Finhas is a calm yet excitable, silly seventeen-year-old soccer player who immediately wants to learn everything about LéClairer and Kelani’s life there. He constantly surprises her by his reactions to her uniqueness, his easy friendship, and his willingness to fight to save a world he just entered.

But nothing is certain in the battle against the Nightmare King; knowing whose minds have been altered is near impossible. And with the trickster Ezra coming in and out of her life, lines become blurred. Kelani wonders if trusting anyone but herself is safe. After all, the Nightmare King knows all of her memories, which hold her greatest fears and deepest desires—what if Finhas was sent as a trap?
This is a tale of loneliness, atypicality, tragedy, love, bravery, and the power of overcoming self-doubt to let the world see who you really are, unapologetically.

What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies?

I feel like I’ve changed dramatically with every packet; Anne Ursu (semester 3 and 4 advisor) and Ron Koertge (Semester 1 advisor)  pushed me beyond what I thought I could do, and were so hard on me, and set what I thought were impossible goals for me… but as Anne wrote in her last latter to me, I completely smashed them! I am completely amazed at myself– I don’t even recognize the writer I am semester to semester, much less from before the program! Mary Logue, AKA The Plot Queen (2nd semester advisor) turned my work upside down and inside out and got me thinking logistically in a way that finally made sense, and that changed everything…. 

Any thoughts for entering students or for people considering the program?

If you want to be challenged by the most incredible, tough, and brilliant children’s writers of our time, COME TO THIS PROGRAM! If Hogwarts is your home, COME TO THIS PROGRAM! If your advisor sets you a task that you think you can’t manage…they know what they’re doing, and we are here for you, and you will SMASH IT and be amazed at your progress!!! Always be open about communication with your advisors and classmates and the alumni! We are such a supportive, loving MFAC community and you can find a safe and magical place here.