On Sunday, January 19, 2020, 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 Tracey Sherman. She lives in Stafford, Virginia.
What do you do when you’re not working on packets?
I’m hardly ever not working on packets! But I do bring my work along with me when I travel with my husband. I hole up in the hotel and write while he’s working and we’ll go out in the evenings, maybe to dinner, maybe on a walk along the beach. I try to get ahead when we visit family so I can relax and enjoy time with them. I love working with my hands, too, in all sorts of crafts, but have put most things aside for the time being except for some contemplative knitting. Going to the movies is a special treat!
How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?
I heard of Hamline years ago when I was researching low-residency writing programs. Some things just stick. Some things are meant to be!
What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?
In the mid-1980’s, when I was working on my undergrad degree, I struggled with what I wanted to do with my life. That changed when I took a children’s literature course and found my calling: I would become a writer! I’ve dabbled in writing ever since, finding small successes along the way, including publishing four stories in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Thirty years after earning my BA in English, after my three children were raised and on their own, and after my husband took a job that relocated us far from family and home, I came to Hamline to honor my writing dreams and goals, to grow myself as a person, and learn the craft of writing for children.
What do you especially remember about your first residency?
I must admit I had two first residencies. I started the program, ran off after a few days, and it took me almost a year to gather my courage to come back and try again. I remember feeling afraid that I wouldn’t be able to juggle the work along with family and life responsibilities. But I also remember the warmth and caring spirit of the people in Hamline’s MFAC community, from Mary Rockcastle, to her wonderful staff, to the awesome advisors, to the students, present and former—that’s what brought me back. When I came back for my second first residency, it was with the knowledge that it was now or never, and that any worthwhile commitment requires setting priorities and making temporary or short-term sacrifices.
Tell us about your Creative Thesis.
My middle-grade novel, Whispers of the Heart, tells the tale of thirteen-year-old Jacob Graham, who steals a handful of coins from the town wishing well to help his mother make ends meet. Jacob discovers that he has stolen not just money, but wishes—wishes that he must now grant, including his own, made in second grade, to have friends and fit in. As the wishes unfold through lifelike dreams and Jacob works to grant them, he learns about himself and his family, and that he does have a place in his hometown; he just has to trust himself.
What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies?
I have learned to be a more purposeful and thoughtful writer, with an eye towards:
cutting fluff and focusing on the meat of the story;
satisfying and meaningful endings;
word count as driven by the market.
I know now to trust my writing process. Even if I don’t know where a story is going, if I keep at it, I will find my way. I learned in critical work, especially in studies for my critical thesis, that hope is comprised of goals, pathways and agency. In other words, our main characters must drive story action and be their own heroes. This is also true of ourselves in life. I dare say that hopeful stories for children are the best kinds of stories!
Any thoughts for entering students or for people considering the program?
Probably too many…. May I list them?
Believe in yourself and your dreams and goals. Don’t ever give up!
You’ll take away from the program what you put into it. Give it all you’ve got and you’ll come out with so much.
Trust yourself and take the packet assignments one step at a time, one task and then another….
Relax and enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It will grow your writing. It will also grow you as a person in ways you never expected.