Photo by Joel Jares
Currently live where?
Grand Junction, Colorado (the other side of the state)
Anything else, like website/blog/Twitter you are ok sharing?
My website is www.peterforbes.com, which is mostly a portfolio for my films, although I will redesign it at some point to feature my books too. I’ve been dormant on social media for a while (it got too stressful and distracted from my actual writing), but if I transition back into it, I’ll add my social links to the website.
What do you do when you’re not working on packets?
When I wasn’t working on packets, I was stressed out that I wasn’t working on packets. I’m a terrible procrastinator, relying on deadline pressure to incite a panicked compulsion to write. Once I start, I type furiously as if the hounds of narrative hell are just a few keystrokes behind. It’s really only been this year that I feel I’ve started building resilience and discipline to spread out the work so I don’t kill my adrenal glands writing for twenty hours straight. Coffee just doesn’t have the same kick it had in undergrad, and now that I’m married with stepkids, I can’t just pull all-nighters every month and still be present with the people I love.
How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?
Writing for children has been in the back of my mind for years. When I was a kid, I secretly stayed awake at night for hours under my blankets by flashlight, writing fantasy inspired by Lewis Carroll, C. S. Lewis, and J. R. R. Tolkien. Even after graduating college, I found myself still browsing the kids and young adult sections in libraries, picking out classic and contemporary fantasy and fairy tales, and still mulling over the stories I began when I was a teenager. Children’s literature was special and I just couldn’t shake the desire to write it. Even so, it’s embarrassing to admit, but I think shame partially held me back from applying to an MFA program in children’s writing. I’d ingested some broader cultural misconception that children’s books are not serious literature. And deeper than that, I was afraid that I wouldn’t find any success in embodying the stories on the page that I had in my heart—it was so much less threatening to keep a story beautiful and intact in my imagination than risk debasing it on paper. I could barely admit it to anyone, but instead of secretly writing under my blankets, I quietly researched children’s writing MFA programs and imagined what it might be like to attend one. Hamline was one of those.
What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?
Just before applying to Hamline, I had nearly finished another MFA in film, where I focused on directing and screenwriting. While fiction writing and filmmaking are very different crafts, I found that there was also significant overlap because both are about narrative storytelling. There’s a strong complementarity, and I found that many of the things I studied in both programs are cross-applicable. (In fact, one of my film directing professors used Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are along with other picture books to teach visual composition, image selection, and pacing.)
What do you especially remember about your first residency?
This was the first residency after the Covid pandemic started, and so it was entirely virtual. I remember how incredibly warm the MFAC community was. In spite of the tiny Zoom windows and recorded lectures, I still felt like I was spiritually present with an incredible cadre of faculty and students.
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?
Hamline’s program felt kind of like a great buffet with your favorite dishes plus new delicious food you’ve never tried. I wanted to write everything, which is just impossible because there’s not enough time, but I wrote middle-grade fantasy (of course), a middle-grade graphic novel, and picture books. I was surprised how much I loved writing picture book manuscripts, which felt similar to screenwriting. Picture book text can inspire and provide narrative structure for an illustrator, just like a screenplay can inspire and provide narrative structure for a film director.
Tell us about your Creative Thesis.
My creative thesis is a first-person, middle-grade fantasy novel, The Confessions of Aaron Stuart.
Aaron is a 13-year-old growing up in the desert wilderness of Colorado, where he is homeschooled by his very conservative religious parents. His neighbor Christie is his best friend, but when Aaron’s parents decide that she’s not a good influence for him anymore, they forbid their friendship. Devastated, Aaron runs off into the desert, where he discovers an ancient door in a gulley—a portal to a bubble universe inhabited by biblical figures from the time of Noah’s Ark and the Flood. There he finds a new friend, Opal, but her family fears that Aaron not only threatens her goodness but could release a supernatural evil that would destroy their entire world.
Sherri L. Smith, my supremely gifted fourth semester advisor, helped me finally articulate the impossible thematic question that had gnawed at me since I started the first draft: What does it mean to be good? That question has helped form the novel’s narrative backbone.
I feel like Aaron’s candid voice is naturally funny, thankfully, which makes writing the story through his eyes a lot of fun to write, even when he gets caught up in some scary stuff later on.
What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies?
I started to figure out how to revise well at Hamline.
I used to be scared about revision, either that I would “break” whatever was good in a first draft or I’d just feel lost about where to even begin or what my narrative goals should be. Sometimes I threw up my hands and went straight into a complete page-one rewrite, making changes so drastic that I was basically writing another first draft. Of course, this just started the cycle all over again. I stressed out trying to put down perfect first drafts that I forgot how to enjoy the writing.
I thank the amazing Laura Ruby for her lecture on revision at the summer 2021 residency, which helped change my idea of revision. It finally clicked for me when I realized that revising is kind of like how I’ve seen potters throw clay. A potter pulls and pinches the clay, shaping and reshaping the vessel. Only after the potter finishes forming the vessel’s shape is it put in the kiln to harden. Revision is like throwing clay: molding each draft, working out the lumps, finding the novel’s form. This kind of revision invites play and exploration because it allows drafts to be malleable, not stiff objects that shatter under pressure.
Now I feel a growing “roundedness”—I’m not sure how else to put this—when I’m revising, as if each revision is a two-dimensional slice that stacks up on top of each other until the work takes a full three-dimensional shape. Once the work’s shape feels like it’s taken full shape, I’m pretty much done with the possibility of some polishing. (I’m not sure yet how this revision process will work with editorial feedback from a publisher, but I look forward to figuring it out.)
Any thoughts for entering students or for people considering the program?
Start reading the required books as soon as you can after you get the booklist! Time slips by so fast in this program, and the more books you read at the beginning of the semester, the more time you’ll have to focus on your critical and creative work later on.
In your third semester, you’ll be mostly focused on writing your extended critical essay. Before you pick a topic for it, consider things that you already like to obsess over or talk about, especially if you would feel vulnerable writing about them. Is it possible to explore one of them through the lens of writing for children? You likely find that this approach will also help you in your creative work, since personal, vulnerable writing usually pulls from the same well of experience for both critical and creative work.