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 Heather Lynn Mueller. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
What do you do when you’re not working on packets?
I was always working on packets during the program. I am always writing. Sometimes writing looks like booking a trip to Iceland or Seattle or New York. Sometimes it looks like playing with my cats (Rhea and Kitsune) or playingwith feeding my guinea pigs (Nibble Longbottom and Curious Black). Sometimes when I am writing it looks like I am playing mobile games like Final Fantasy or reading choose your own adventure Otome games or reading book books or bingeing television. Sometimes after writing I end up with a painting or a nicely organized closet or three dead orchids in the shower and a bag of kale under the kitchen sink. I write and run and listen to music at the same time, which is not dangerous at all, because drivers always notice me, and I never trip and fall over a raised edge in the sidewalk and take the skin off of my knees or hands. My sister writes too so sometimes we have long writing sessions on the phone.
How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?
I read the Poet’s and Writer’s magazine’s guide to choosing a program and they said to make a list of your favorite authors. At first, I was like – most of the authors of classic literature that I like are surely dead by now or should be soon. I’m positive I won’t remember the names of any contemporary authors. But I surprised myself and wrote out a huge list and they were all YA or children’s authors. Subsequently, I discovered MFAC in one of their ads and it seemed like the best place for me.
What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?
My writing experiences began long ago. As children, my sister and I would play ‘horses’. As in we would pretend that we owned a stable of horses. (They were invisible). We would make jumps for our horses and race them around the yard, feed them, groom them, etc. But before we could play properly, I would need to make a list of my horses. It would start with the basics like the horse’s color and breed. I’d denote how old they were, whether they were mares or stallions, breeders, jumpers, racehorses. Then I’d name them all – names are very important. There was almost always a black horse named Magic and a dappled gray stallion named Stormy. Stormy had temperamental issues due to past owners treating him badly, poor stormy. You had to be careful riding him because sometimes he forgot he was tame now and loved me. He would still run as fast as he did when he was a wild mustang and we’d careen down the hill in the backyard at breakneck speed…but I digress. Sometimes this ‘list and note making’ would take quite a long time. This annoyed Holly very much, as you can imagine. Just as I annoyed her promising I’d play after ‘one more chapter’ until she learned how to read too.
Is this writing and reading experience relevant to the field in terms of publishing? Maybe not. As writers or humans in general we tend to worry about whether our experiences count. But this program has helped me realize that truly, we all have stories to tell. Most of us in this program have been writing or envisioning stories and other worlds for a very long time and I think it all counts. It might not all get published – and frankly that’s a relief to me knowing not every bit will be subjected to scrutiny. Am I published yet? No. But that’s okay. I’ve been working on stories for a long time and hope to do so forever more. This program has helped me solidify my resolve and expand my endurance for keeping my writing life going.
What do you especially remember about your first residency?
I remember the anticipation and so much fear leading up to it. And that first residency was exhausting, and I probably cried at least twice by myself and once on my roomie Tina’s shoulder. It was an emotional experience for a lot of reasons, but ultimately, I just felt like everyone was so kind and courageous and inclusive and encouraging. The faculty were intimidatingly brilliant, but also down to earth. People waved me over to sit by them or asked if I wanted to join them for dinner. Being around like-minded people who were audacious enough to learn and unlearn and care and try – it was invigorating. And each residency has been similar since.
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 have worked on a memoirish novel in verse, a high fantasy YA, a chick lit sci-fi YA, and several pictures books. I think it’s good to try new forms and I prefer to be able to alternate between projects because it keeps me from staying blocked for too long, usually.
Tell us about your Creative Thesis.
I am always writing a heroic tale with magical elements and a romantic subplot and then as the story starts telling itself it evolves. The Bone Tree has evolved into a dark, twisted, and sinister sleeping beauty and daphne mashup that is frankly disturbing. Eventually I think it will still have more romance – draft two here I come. I finished two picture books, The Clockwork Garden and Sisters in the Rain that will be included. That is if Eliot approves it all by the time this is shared. Am I graduating? Must I?
What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies?
Before this program I had this notion that writers must be solitary and that I should be able to figure it out on my own if I’m ‘really’ a writer. But, that’s poppycock. Writing is a craft and a craft can be learned and learning is sometimes more than Wikipedia and Google searches. I needed peers and mentorship. Now I know how to share my work, filter feedback, redraft. I am much braver with student readings and I even gave a lecture. I have a writing group that meets monthly and writing friends to turn to and mentors who have blessed me with their guidance and support. I’ll admit I scoffed when everyone kept saying that the community would be such an important thing – but truly with the community the writing process becomes much clearer. And truly, it’s a process to get to a finished draft let alone a polished draft. The support has given me confidence to keep going.
Any thoughts for entering students or for people considering the program?
I have had no regrets about entering this program and if you think you want to do it then you should do it.