Saturday, July 28, 2012

MFAC - July residency at Hamline

Hot on the heels of the SCBWI conference in Sydney (end of June), I flew out to the US for the next residency in the Master of Fine Arts (Writing for Children and YA) I'm studying at Hamline University. Every six months I go to Hamline in St Paul (Minnesota) for a 12 day intensive residency, and the rest of the semester I work at home with an advisor online. I can now say I am officially past the halfway mark!

It continues to be just about the best thing I have ever done, for my writing and for myself. As I hoped, the faculty at Hamline are amazing and each semester the advisor I have had has pushed me to explore further and deeper into writing than I imagined I could go. This past semester I focused on picture books, and as well as four essays, I wrote and revised eight picture books. Some were notes and rough drafts from my notebooks, but some were completely new and sprang from the reading and thinking and writing I was doing.

The July residency focused on setting - this is something I have struggled with for a long time. A strange thing to admit, you might say, given that I've been writing a good amount of historical fiction in the past few years. Yet it's in historical fiction that skills in writing setting are most sorely tested! How to make setting relevant and meaningful, rather than just a factual background, and how to relate it to both plot and character without overdoing it. I learned plenty about all of these aspects.

We also had an immensely useful workshop with Swati Avasthi (Split ) on managing time in fiction, two great lectures from Anita Silvey about classic and contemporary fiction in middle grade and YA (what books do you think will be classics in 20 years time?) and I heard Gary Schmidt lecture for the first time - he talked about the importance of strong minor characters. As always, our workshop groups were dedicated and thoughtful, providing wide-ranging and useful feedback on everyone's work.

One of the highlights for me was a double workshop/lecture by Marilyn Nelson on poetry - she has actually convinced me to give writing poetry in rhyme a serious try (don't faint, those of you who know my abhorrence of rhyme!). Then Ron Koertge taught everyone how to write a pantoum, which led to me writing one sitting in a cafe in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, a few days later. And what could be better than having Chris Crutcher as special guest on the last day (and at the graduation)? This semester I will be working on my critical thesis - that means 40-50 pages of critical writing on a topic of my choice. I'm going to be investigating verse novels, so it's a great reason to sit down and read a few dozen of them, including re-reading some of my favorites. Can't wait! (Below are some of our faculty)