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 Miguel Camnitzer. He lives in Los Angeles.
Find him on Twitter.
What do you do when you’re not working on packets?
For the past two years I have been treating the MFAC program as a full-time endeavor, so I no longer remember how to behave like a responsible, productive adult in the real world. This is causing me just the tiniest bit of angst as I approach graduation! I quit a career developing reality television and game shows so I could focus on school, and now I have no intention of going back to that. Without a job, I’ve had some time in between packets to volunteer at 826LA where I help low income students from under-resourced schools with homework, college essays and creative writing projects. I’ve also become active in the Los Angeles chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) with a specific focus on housing and homelessness, which is an ongoing crisis in this city.
How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?
A friend was teaching at another low-residency program, and when she first described it to me I had no idea such a wondrous thing even existed. Suddenly I saw an escape route from my career. I started doing research into every program I could find, and Hamline’s reputation and stellar faculty made it the obvious choice for me.
What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?
I have always loved to write, ever since I was a child, but I never let myself focus on it with any seriousness until about four years ago. Around that time I became very disillusioned with my day job and desperately needed another creative outlet. I started taking night classes in fiction writing at UCLA’s extension program. That little bit of structure was enough to get me writing again after so many years of trying and failing on my own. I realized I was totally hooked, but I craved even more. More structure, more deadlines, more pressure, more, more, more! It worked! I’m graduating with a full first draft of a novel, plus a bunch of other side projects. Now if only I could stay in school forever…
What do you especially remember about your first residency?
I remember the cold. I started in winter and had never experienced temperatures like that before in my life! Even growing up around New York City, I was not at all prepared for the intensity of January in the Twin Cities. I quickly grew to love it though. There is a certain romantic drama to the weather, because it forces us to hunker down and brave the frigid journey as a community: an eccentric, bundled-up bunch of new friends facing the elements together. Other than the weather, I also remember being terrified to talk to the faculty. I’d psych myself up for days before uttering “hello.” I’ve gotten slightly better at that after two years (I think).
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?
My main project has been a middle grade fantasy novel, but many folks encouraged me to experiment with other forms so I could get the most out of the program. I’m so thankful for that advice because I had valuable opportunities to work on picture books, a graphic novel, and a YA contemporary realistic novel. I’ve learned so much from practicing other forms and genres. Picture books are the HARDEST. But even if they aren’t your focus, they are incredibly fun to write, read and think about, and I’m convinced they are best mental training regimen for any kind of writing.
Tell us about your Creative Thesis.
My thesis is titled “8” (yeah, just the number 8). It’s a middle grade portal fantasy about a seventh grader named Breckin who resents the fact that his 8-year-old brother, Apollo, is an art prodigy and the golden child of the family. When a wizard masquerading as their babysitter kidnaps Apollo and takes him through a portal into a parallel dimension, Breckin is the only one who knows how to find him. He goes on a reluctant quest to save his brother while coming to terms with the fact that he is not the Chosen One of the story. The plot is loosely based on vignettes and characters I made up when I was in elementary and middle school. I drew pictures of wizards and maps of a fantasy world. The narrative bopped around in my head for years and years. I even wrote some scenes as a teenager that I found recently. It’s funny to see how many original story elements have survived.
What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies?
My writing has changed tremendously, to the point that pages I wrote at the start of the program don’t even sound like me now, two years later. As I revise my manuscript, a big part of what I’m grappling with is how to match the older pre-Hamline stuff with my new voice. I’m a cleaner writer now. Less flowery. Less verbose (that might be a lie). Less adjectives and hopefully a few less adverbs. Stronger nouns here and there. I’m so much more well-read thanks to the program, and that has made my writing better too. I also had a life-long allergy to structure and this program taught me (the hard way) that avoiding outlining and planning can be a recipe for disaster. I will always be pantser at heart; I need to find my story through writing it. I need to explore and discover and meander. But now I know the terrifying truth, that one day all of it will get swept aside in revision. Last semester I had to start from a blank page with my novel. It was the hardest, most valuable thing I could do, and I wouldn’t have known how to tackle such a daunting task without Hamline.
Any thoughts for entering students or for people considering the program?
When I was applying to school, everyone I spoke to RAVED about Hamline. So much so, it got a little weird. Believe the hype. Join us. Once you’re here, devour every opportunity you can. Lots of things will seem scary at first (student readings! Critical thesis lectures!! Saying hi to a teacher!!!) but if you push yourself, you will be rewarded.