Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Meet the Grad: Ann Karazeris

On Sunday, January 15, 2016 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. 

During the months of December and January we will be featuring our soon-to-be alumni as they look back on their time at Hamline University. Today's new graduate is Ann Karazeris.

What do you do when you’re not working on packets?

I think about working on my packet. And when I’m not doing that, I work in the Office of Graduate Admission at Hamline helping other writers realize their dream of becoming a published author. By the way, we’re currently accepting applications for Summer 2017. 

How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?

If I’m not mistaken it was Google.

What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?

I was an advertising Copywriter in my former life but always dreamed of taking the leap to become a “real writer”.  It was a very emotional decision for me to leave the world of salad dressing and semiconductor chips but I think I made the right choice.

What do remember most about your first residency?

Wanting to quit. I had just finished one of the three-day intensives on making a living as a working writer and it scared the bejeesus out of me. I was convinced I couldn’t do it. But a very wise woman sat me down and told me to stay the course. She said the program would keep me anchored and give me a sense of purpose. By golly, she was right. That wise woman was Mary Rockcastle, the Director of the MFAC program.

Have you focused on any one form (picture book, novel, nonfiction, graphic novel) or age group in your writing? Did you try a form you never thought you’d try?

I’ve focused primarily on YA fiction, mostly novels and short stories. However, in my third semester I tried writing a nonfiction picture book biography and horror picture book. Tried being the operative word. I think I’ll stick with making stuff up.

Tell us about your Creative Thesis.

My thesis is a novel I started as a second semester student. It’s YA contemporary fiction about a girl who loses her short-term memory due to a horrific trauma. She tries to figure out what’s happened to her so she writes herself Post-It notes and sends herself texts/videos. I’d tell you the ending but I don’t want to give it away.

What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies?

Aside from becoming a more confident writer, my writing seems to be more on the dark side now. I embrace the macabre. I love horror fiction. The creepier the better as far as I’m concerned. But, I don’t think I would have had the confidence to pursue this type of writing had it not been for the MFAC program and the wonderful, supportive Hamline community.

Any advice for entering students or for people considering the program?
Yes, and here it is: be a sponge. Soak up everything you can from as many people as you can – faculty, fellow students, alumni, guest speakers and writers.  You’re in a literary mecca with some of the most creative minds in the industry. Be porous. There’s a lot to learn. And for heaven’s sake WRITE. That’s the only way to realize your dream. Believe me, if this small town girl from Detroit can do it, anyone can.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Meet the Grad: Tasslyn Magnusson

On Sunday, January 15, 2016 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. 

During the months of December and January we will be featuring our soon-to-be alumni as they look back on their time at Hamline University. Today's new graduate is Tasslyn Magnusson.

What do you do when you’re not working on packets?

Sometimes I secretly help people raise money for good non profits but I'm trying to quit that habit. Mostly I write, read, and parent.

How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?

I knew the amazing Anne Ursu and saw her passion and dedication to the program and sharing kid's literature with the world.

What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?

I wrote as a kid and through high school and a bit in college. But in the past couple of years before MFAC I wrote short incredible creative passionate pieces to ask people to give me their money which were a mix of fiction and creative essay. I much prefer writing for kids. It's a lot more honest.

What do remember most about your first residency?

Feeling like I belonged. That suddenly everything made sense in my world. That I never wanted it to end. And it was cold. And I live here. 

Have you focused on any one form (picture book, novel, nonfiction, graphic novel) or age group in your writing? Did you try a form you never thought you’d try?

I came into the program claiming I wanted to write non fiction for YA and worked with Claire Rudolf Murphy. After the first packet she and I agreed that I really was writing fiction and I should be happy about that - which I was. And probably loved middle grade. Everybody in workshops suggested I turn what I had written into a novel in verse and so second semester I worked with Ron Koertge. I was a poetry baby and had to look things up all the time - what is a sestina? Sonnet? I wrote a novel in verse and fell in love with poetry and the whole verse novel form. So much that I examined white space in verse novels for my critical thesis with Phyllis Root. And wrote two horror picture books. Everybody should work with Phyllis for their critical thesis. She is amazing. I continued to work on the verse novel and got Ron for round two of verse novels. Or so I thought. Then promptly (or not so promptly or not so willingly) I turned that verse novel into prose. I really miss my verses but there is always time for more. Plus, the story works better this way.

Tell us about your Creative Thesis.

It's a story about a boy, Joey, who lives with mom and little sister Else. Life is going okay, not great, but not too bad. He finally gets permission from his mom to learn minecraft - all his friends have played for over six months. Else lives as a dog about half the time which is just about all he can take. But then his mom starts to get even weirder than normal, stops cooking, stops going to work, stops really taking much care of them. Or good care of them. And Joey's forced to figure out what to do next at home, at school, for Else, and for himself. That journey involves a few challenges, particularly in the kitchen, but a part that I love - Joey makes friends with the butcher at the grocery store. What middle school boy wouldn't want to hang out with the knives and other cutting implements? 

What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies?

I work harder than I ever thought I would. And love it even more than I could imagine I would. 

Any advice for entering students or for people considering the program?


Be willing to try anything in front of you - any writing exercise, any adviser. You never know how they or it will transform your world.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Faculty Voices with Ron Koertge: Make Every Word Count

As some of you know, Chris Heppermann and I wrote a trilogy for young readers. Basically aimed at pre-teen girls featuring -- wait for it -- three pre-teen girls. Oh, and a witch. Backyard Witch, as a matter of fact. But don’t leave your seats while the blog is in motion. Afterwards, you may rush to Amazon.

Writing with Chris was fun; writing for younger kids was fun. I’d never done anything like that, but Chris knows the kid-business and is great at structure. I like to just sit around in my smarty pants and emit evenly-spaced bars of irony and jest. (And that’s me emitting, okay. Not my pants.)

Now she wants to work on something even shorter. For even younger readers. Sure, I’m game.

So we think of some characters and some problem-to-solve. Wendell as a bored, over- sheltered little bear and Goldy as the fearless daughter of avant-garde artists.

Chris told me what to do -- Punchy. Short sentences. Not much description since an illustrator will do that. Here’s my opening:

*    *     *

“Wendell, are you all right?”

Wendell looked into his empty bowl. “Almost finished, Ma.”

“But you’re all right.”

“I’m just on the patio.”

He made his spoon clink against the blue bowl so he could stay outdoors a little longer. So his mother would think he was occupied. And safe.

Not even twenty yards away, stood the woods. Tall trees making the usual dark canopy. A familiar path leading toward the sun-dappled clearing, then circling back toward his house. A path he walked every day with his parents while the porridge cooled. Every day. Day after day.

He could see other paths, dimmer ones. Where did they go? And who made them?

With a sigh, he carried his bowl indoors and put it on the sink.

“Such a good little bear,” said his mother patting him on the head. “Time for a nap now?”

“Mom, I just ate breakfast.”

*  *  *

And here’s Chris’s:

On the wall of Wendell’s bedroom was a map that showed all of the places he could never go:

Up north to the bridge. “You might fall off,” said Mama.

Down south to the lake. “You might fall in,” said Papa.

Out west to the cave. “Full of scorpions,” said Mama. 

Out east to the meadow. “Who knows what’s over there,” said Papa.

“I’ll be careful,” said Wendell.

“It’s time for breakfast,” said Mama.

“How am I supposed to be an explorer when I grow up if you never let me explore?” said Wendell on the way downstairs.

*    *    *

I looked at hers and thought, Oh, yeah. So that’s what you meant. Harder than it looks, but aren’t most new things? I’m not giving up. I’ll think haiku. Make every word count.

Stay tuned.

*Ron Koertge is a faculty member at Hamline's MFAC program. He writes poetry for everyone, fiction for young adults, and recently co-authored a young reader series. You can discover Ron's literary work by visiting his author's website or visit his faculty page to learn about him as a professor at Hamline University.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Alumni Voices with Ellen Kazimer: Writing and Revising While Building a House

An unexpected job relocation landed us in Georgia and, rather than rent or buy; we decided to build a house. A fortunate set of circumstances indeed, but it has eaten up my precious writing time. I usually write in the morning, when I am fresh with ideas. Lately, however, my early morning ideas have more to do with my house-in-progress than my work-in-progress. The two endeavors are rather similar in some ways.
Both building and writing need a basic structure upon which to create. A novel requires a basic plot structure, setting, characters, and a theme. A house needs a foundation, load-bearing walls, plumbing, and insulation before it turns into a home.
Along the path to writing a story and building a home, there are so many choices to be made. It is almost paralyzing. Many days, I have felt unable to make a decision on my house-in-progress or my work-in-progress. In her book, Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel, Lisa Chron writes, “Myriad studies have shown that the more choices we have, the less likely we are to choose anything. Not only that but limitless choice tends to trigger anxiety.”
I am constantly revising my house-in-progress and my work-in-progress. Like cutting out a darling sentence that no longer works, I’ve had to let go of items I loved that no longer go with the house-in-progress. I’ve also had to strike out my vague, overused nouns from my vocabulary like “whatcha ma call it” and “thing a ma jig” for precise builder nouns like “newel” and “corbel.” Then I wake up at two in the morning with the dreaded realization that a small change I made means a complete overhaul throughout the house. It may even cause a delay in the house being completed. But it must be done. This too, has happened in my “work-in-progress.”
Despite my doubts and anxiety, I move forward one step at a time focusing on what is important to me, to my house, and to my manuscript. What I value is a comfy home and a compelling story that invites you to pull up a cozy chair, sit a spell, and read.

Ellen Kazimer is a 2014 graduate of Hamline MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. She writes picture books, nonfiction, and middle grades novels. Her full bio can be found on her website http://ellenkazimer.com.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Publication Interview with Marsha Wilson Chall and Jill Davis: The Secret Life of Figgy Mustardo (by Mark Ceilley)

Today I have the honor of interviewing Marsha Wilson Chall, the author of the new picture book, The Secret Life of Figgy Mustardo, and her editor, Jill Davis.

Marsha Wilson Chall grew up an only child in Minnesota, where her father told her the best stories. The author of many picture books, including Up North at the Cabin, One Pup's Up, and Pick a Pup, Marsha teaches writing at Hamline University's MFAC program in St. Paul, Minnesota. She lives on a small farm west of Minneapolis with her husband, dog, barn cats, and books.

Jill Davis has been an executive editor in children’s books at HarperCollins since 2013. A veteran of children’s books, she began her career at Random House in 1992, and worked there at Crown and Knopf Books For Young Readers until 1996, after which she worked at Viking until 2005. After that, she held positions at both Bloomsbury and FSG. She is the author of three picture books, editor of one collection of short stories, and has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University

Mark: The Secret Life of Figgy Mustardo came about in a different way. You were asked to write a story based on illustrations of a character. Could you tell us about this process and a little about the story?

Marsha: You're right that this story evolved differently than my others. My amazing editor, Jill Davis, sent me Alison Friend's thumbnails of an adorable canine character she had named Figgy Mustardo in a variety of human-like poses and costumes. For me, it was love at first sight! So I set about the process of creating Figgy's story based on my impressions of him through Alison's art and then, via Jill, Alison's written notions of his characterization and story ideas.

An imaginative, spirited fellow, Alison visualized Figgy zipping through many adventures on his scooter. In the book, I took the liberty of changing the scooter to a race car and also cast Figgy as a rock star and a pizza chef who organizes and stars in a neighborhood rock concert, pizzeria, and stock car race with his animal friends. Lots of Figgy fun, but this did not a story make. I needed to know why these activities mattered to Figgy and how he grew as a character.
I also had to think about the nuts and bolts of how Figgy might transform from dog to dilettante. I was fairly certain of my own dog's boredom and loneliness while our family is away, so I started my story exploration there. We all know that dogs, as social creatures, dislike being left alone and are often fraught with anxiety leading to certain not-so-flattering behaviors and/or the escape of sleep. A story with a sleeping dog would not be too interesting, so I chose the much more exciting, destructive route. What if Figgy ate things--any things--in his frustration, fell asleep, and dreamed about himself as a manifestation of what he ate? We all know "you are what you eat," so in Figgy's case, for example, he eats Mrs. Mustardo's Bone Appetit magazine, falls asleep, and dreams of being Italian Pizza Chef Mustardo serving Muttsarello and Figaro pizzas to adoring gourmands. When he wakes, he knows his dream is a sign, so he makes a real one of his own, "Free Pizza," and serves his entire animal neighborhood at Figgy's Pizzeria.

Most importantly, I needed to develop a motivation for Figgy's adventures; how were these events connected to him? What did they mean? How would they affect Figgy's world outside and inside? The answer arrived in the form of loss; every animal neighbor came to Figgy's concert and pizzeria and car race except Figgy's family, the Mustardos, especially George (his boy). In desperation, Figgy creates the sign "Free Dog" to find a family who will talk and walk and play with him like all the other families he sees through his window. Where are the Mustardos? The family Mustardo arrives in time to show Figgy how much they care with a promise to take him wherever they can and to provide him companionship when they can't in the form of new pup named Dot. Figgy and Dot go on to enliven the neighborhood with Free Shows nightly.

Mark: What kind of revising/editing process did you and Jill go through?

Marsha: Once I knew my character and his problem, I dashed off the story, sent it to Jill who loved it at first sight, then sat back satisfied with a good day's work.

Ha! Not the way it happened, but I did write a first draft within a few days that Jill found promising. So many drafts later that I can't even recall the original, Jill exercised plenty of patience waiting for the story she and Alison hoped I could write. I know she'll protest my tribute, but I have never worked with an editor so open to my trial and error. Her abundant humor carried us through the process that I think would have otherwise overwhelmed me.

      Mark: Will there be any more books with Figgy and his further adventures?

Marsha: Figgy hopes so and so do Jill, Alison, and I.

For now, I hope Figgy wags his way into the hands and hearts of many human friends where he belongs.


Mark: How was this project different having a character first and then having to find a writer to tell his story?

Jill: It was kind of hard. The illustrator had invented this little dog who she wanted to be an adventurer—yet she wasn’t sure how to make the story happen. When I saw the dog, I thought of Marsha’s One Pup’s Up—and I knew how talented she was. Seemed like a slam dunk! But all of us—Marsha, myself, and the illustrator, Alison Friend had to share plenty of feedback, edit, and revise a bit before Marsha was able to tell both the story she envisioned as well as the story Alison had in mind. Marsha pictured Figgy at home, and really loved the idea of using signs. Alison seemed to feel Figgy was some kind of James Bond. So how were those two visions going to meet? They finally did when Marsha realized that Figgy would go to sleep and dream about his exciting alter-ego. And we all loved the idea. The book may seem a little bit sad because Figgy is always being left at home, but Marsha told it in such a great way, that Figgy showed his grit! If he’s hungry, he eats what’s there—but then the magic happens and he goes to sleep and dreams of something related to what he ate. It’s so fun and so imaginative. I love what Marsha did with Figgy’s story, and Alison did, too.

      Mark: What was it like to work with Marsha in this new role as editor after being her student in the MFA in Writing for Children program at Hamline University?

Jill: It felt very wonderful and natural. Marsha does not use intimidation as a tactic in general. She’s the rare combination of brilliant and super silly. That’s one reason she’s so loved at Hamline and in the continental United States, generally speaking.

There were times when she should have been frustrated or wanted to spit at me, but she was cool as a cucumber in the freezer in the North Pole. So professional and what I loved also about working with her is how much I learned: a lot. I learned how she makes use of repetition, alliteration, and very careful editing. I can be sloppy, but Marsha walked straight out of Strunk and White. She’s exact and wonderfully detail oriented. She was also involved at the sketch stage. Actually at several sketch stages. We worked on the phone, we worked at Hamline, and we worked until we thought it felt perfect. And she loved it because she could use it in her teaching! And I just loved working with Marsha!

Mark:  Thank you, Marsha and Jill for taking the time to tell us about your collaboration on The Secret Life of Figgy Mustardo.   The book is now available at your local independent book store.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Publication Interview with Jane O’Reilly: The Secret of Goldenrod

Author and MFAC alum Jane O’Reilly* talks about her debut novel, The Secret of Goldenrod. Learn about her writing process for this mysterious new middle grade masterpiece.  The images bellow are from the sold-out launch party at the Red Ballon, held earlier this month.

Tell us about your book.
The Secret of Goldenrod is a little bit of everything—mystery, fantasy and coming of age. The main character, Trina, almost eleven, travels the country with her dad, picking up odd jobs and house remodeling projects. When they are given a year to fix up an abandoned Victorian mansion named Goldenrod, in the town of New Royal, Iowa, Trina is excited. This will be the first time in her whole life she has ever lived anywhere long enough to make friends.

Do you have a favorite part of the book or a favorite character?
I love the chapter in which Trina goes to the library. It’s a massive, elegant library way too big for the town. But that’s part of the mystery. In addition to meeting wonderful Mr. Kinghorn, the librarian, Trina learns some secrets about the New Royal townspeople. Plus, something very special is in her pocket the whole time.

Did you ever workshop this story at Hamline?
I workshopped the first chapter at an alumni weekend at Hamline. I remember that Kendra Marcus, of Bookstop Literary, sat in on that workshop. I felt like Trina that morning—excited and nervous. Kendra made a suggestion that ended up in the book.

When did you first begin working on it? When did you finish?
I began working on the story in the winter of 2011 and felt I had a reasonable draft within a year and a half. Revising it, sending queries to agents, landing the marvelous Sarah Davies as an agent, revising twice for her, waiting as she found not one but two publishers (Egmont, the book’s first home, closed its doors just after I finished the first revision) and revising again for Alix Reid at Lerner, over a period of six months, added four more years to the process.

As the work progressed from inception to copy-edited version, what were the major changes? How did those changes come about?
Oh, man. The first draft had a prologue loaded with backstory. On top of that, because I always knew that the house was a character, the first draft handled the story in alternating perspectives—Trina’s and Goldenrod’s. Fortunately, I couldn’t keep that up. Better yet, very few people saw that draft. Once I started working with Alix at Lerner, all my effort to get an inciting incident into the first chapter went out the window and a major happening moved from page 12 to page 60-something. Alix suggested we see Trina more firmly in her world, dreams, problems, etc., before we saw her world change. I think her advice was spot on. Although that change was deemed by some as a “slow beginning,” plenty of stuff happens if you don’t know what’s coming.

What research did you do before and while writing the book?
Because of my real estate background and my childhood, I know a lot about old houses. Still, I was forever researching stuff from Victorian design elements to growing seasons— building codes, lights, radiators, girl’s clothing, and, of course, goldenrod. I also researched small towns in Iowa and distances between them and bigger cities. The first name of the town near Goldenrod was simply Royal. When I discovered there really was a Royal, Iowa, I changed the name to New Royal.
Where did you do most of the writing for this book?
In my writing room at the time—overlooking the garden. The revisions took place in my son’s old bedroom. So much time has passed from start to finish, our house has changed.

Any final thoughts you’d like to share?
The biggest, most rewarding lesson has been this: Don’t ever give up on your dreams. But sometimes you have to be prepared to change them.

*Jane O’Reilly grew up in a very old house in Fort Snelling on a Mississippi River bluff. She is the recipient of a McKnight Fellowship in screenwriting and holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University (MFAC 2009). Today she lives with her husband, cat and dog in a very old house in the Tangletown neighborhood of Minneapolis. The Secret of Goldenrod is her first published novel.

You can learn more about Jane on her author's website.  If you want to know more about The Secret of Goldenrod, check out this Kirkus Reviews post.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Alumni Voices with Polly Alice: Something About Writing

Dear Hamline MFAC friends,

I’m writing you from HU 211 where I now teach English 101 twice, two days a week. The inner city campus of the local community college has somehow decided to welcome me on board. Just four blocks from my former art studio, the campus is one large system of buildings with a view of uptown from where I park my Soul in the back lot every Monday and Wednesday. My classroom is filled with the slim table desks and chairs, four posters of Frida Kahlo, a twenty-foot white board, and an ad from the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art exhibit from 1992. The lighting isn’t too terrible. The carpet is a nice gray check, and as they said when I first came in, I’m “exactly the kind of person they are looking for.” I have no idea what that means.

For six hours a week, I have to find something to say, something about writing. Looking into the vast subject of words and how we use them, I’m searching for all the unspoken things from my undergrad classes. What I say from week to week must build a bridge to a place that students may care to go.  Students who overwhelmingly chose to write their first essays on why college is not really that important to getting a great job. Students who catch up on sleep outside the adjunct office, or watch TV by phone in between classes. Students who have said, they really like my class.

So every time I prepare for class, I ask myself what I’m going to say that’s worthwhile. Because I’m someone who loved to skip class, sneak out when the professor’s back was turned, write all my assignments at 2 am the night before without revising. There was the time I left class because the professor touched the end of his nose too often. A couple of times I skipped Ethics because the rather overheated professor like to raise his arms a lot. Once I even spoke loudly about a teacher’s pedagogy as he came up behind me on the sidewalk. If there is one thing I’ve come to recognize the last few years, is what youth really means. The hilariousness of it. The wonderful bliss of ignorance. The amazing aptitude for discovering something new.

Every time I prepare for class, I ask myself what I’m going to do to make it interesting. I remember the professor who introduced me to poetry. Writing a paper about that poem, changed the entire course of my life, made me who I am as a person, and continues to effect each and every thing I do: how I think, how I process, and how I chose to pursue my creative life. I remember the lectures that brought me to tears, made me wonder about the universe, or helped me understand just how little I really knew about the world.

Every time I prepare for class, I ask myself where I want these students to go. My answer: I want them to fly into the future on wings made of words, words made into sentences - sentences formed into a path they can walk on; into the place they were meant to be.

I guess I’m surprised to suddenly become an English Professor. I think I like it.  

Polly Alice author and illustrator, opened New Thing Art Studio in 2015 back home in Kansas City-- where she paints, illustrates children’s books, and teaches college writing. Her work is often mixed media. “I create my art to be more like poetry: to have symbolic meanings layered from dream images and memories.” Her work centers on healing, small loves, and the every day. Polly is a proud Hamline MFAC alumna. She won the 2014 Ernest Hartmann award from the International Association for the Study of Dreams from Berkley CA for her research on self awareness for writers and artists through dreamwork. She loves letters. Write her anytime and you’ll be sure to get one back. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Faculty Voices with Marsha Qualey: The Big One - Conflict and Antagonists

We focused on plot this past residency. I welcomed this topic immersion because for the last several months I have been writing short stories after years of novel writing, and I have been hugely challenged by the need to pare down the scope of my storytelling. How much plot can a 5000 word story handle? How do I know what is essential? What should I spend time on?
The residency session I concocted and led (with gracious participation from very game students; thank you, all) was, frankly, quite self-serving as it was an exploration that’s relevant to my own writing questions.

In the session we first discussed the types of conflict in fiction as outlined by Victoria Lynn Schmidt in her book Story Structure Architect:

Relational Conflict 
This is the main character in conflict with another human

Social Conflict
The Main Character faces the group and the cultural/social/legal limits of that group--a religious organization and its laws, a secular institution and its laws, or maybe a book club and its expectations.

Situational Conflict
The main character is challenged by something that occurs or arises in the natural or human-made world, maybe tornadoes or fire or being lost in the woods or swimming among sharks.

Inner Conflict
The main character is challenged by the self—by habits or uncertainty or memories or any of the many physical or emotional elements of that person.

Paranormal Conflict 
The main character is challenged by technology, science, or the limits of what is possible: unleashing a new strain of bacteria, dealing with superpowers, ghosts.  

Cosmic Conflict 
The main character deals with fate, destiny, or God

Then we did a close reading of a few scenes from The Goose Girl, one of the residency’s common books and discussed what types of conflict were present in the scenes. Were the scenes loaded with too many types? How much is too much? What types of conflict might be best for what types of scene?

Types of conflict are nearly interchangeable with types of antagonists. I concluded the session by encouraging the writers to make their own conflict/antagonist list for each of their own stories. What are the specific conflicts or antagonists a protagonist might encounter? This is crucial world building. 

In her lecture “Bad Luck and Trouble: Antagonists in Fiction”, Laura Ruby told us that the most important antagonist “is the self.” Similar, one could say, to Schmidt’s “Inner Conflict.” I agree with Laura (who wouldn’t!) but my final caution to the residency students in my session was about this very important antagonist: Use this conflict sparingly in scenes. This is especially and most obviously true of action scenes, of course, but all scenes can bog down when they focus on inner turmoil. Once established, the inner conflict is part of the reader’s base knowledge and the writer need only—at most—quickly signal that inner struggle. Unless there is a change about to occur that will alter the plot trajectory, it might be a good idea to bury the self.

Marsha Qualey has been a faculty member in Hamline's MFAC program since it began. She is the author of several YA novels, one novel for adults, and several work-for-hire books for younger readers. For more information please visit her website.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Alumni Voices with Bill Kennedy: The Library's Leadership Role

How is the library's role measured?

Is it a number? The James River Valley Library System ranks very well in the categories tracked by the North Dakota State Library. Jamestown is #10 in population in North Dakota and is ranked #8 library in the state in number of visits in 2015. This is a good number.

Or is it learning opportunities that change lives? A story that makes a connection?

Over the past few months, I have collected stories from a cross section of past and present community members and friends that illustrate the role the library plays in the community. Here are a few of those stories based on interviews and my own reading.

English Lecturer, University of Wisconsin, Stout

Libraries have always been important to me. They were especially important for the year and a half after college. I took a year off before grad school to work as a caddy in Chicago and on the Oregon coast, and travel through Australia. Because I never stayed in one place very long, I depended on public libraries for internet so I could stay in touch with friends and family, keep up with current events, research graduate programs, and communicate with the graduate programs I was considering. As an aspiring writer, I depended on libraries as my source for books and films and was able to continue educating myself during that time between college and graduate school.

Elementary Faith Formation Coordinator, St. James Basilica
L-R Annie, age 8, Isaac, age 10, Seth, age 6, Katie and Jacob, age 12

As a parent of four kids, I know that children's literacy is of utmost importance.  I also know that it is not easy in our modern world of screens everywhere.

I know genetically my kids are not all made up exactly the same and therefore reading comes easy to some and not as easy to others.  That is where the community library comes to the forefront in our family.

My children don't always love to read, and sometimes they do not want to go to the library, but when I get them there they almost always find something of interest.

I have made it our weekly habit, since they were babies, to go to the library in the name of literacy for my kids. The library is a place children of any age or economic level can come and experience books beyond their imagination.


Louis L’Amour was born in Jamestown, ND in 1908. By the time of his death in 1988, he had written 89 novels, a book of poetry, 14 short-story collections and two full length works of non-fiction. There are more than 200 million copies of his books in print. 45 of his novels have been adapted for Hollywood and TV.

Quotes from Education of a Wandering Man, Bantam Books, 1938

"Education is available to anyone within reach of a library." Page 2.

"All of us had library cards and they were always in use. Reading was as natural to us as breathing." Page 6.

 “The first (non-fiction book) was, I believe, a book called The Genius of Solitude, which I found in our Alfred Dickey library in my hometown.” Pages 13-14.

North Dakota State Representative, District 12
Anthony, Alyse, Jessica, Kenlee, at the ND State Legislature

I have many fond memories of Alfred Dickey library and the bookmobile growing up. Now I take my step daughters there often in the summer and they love it. The library has always been a special place for me. It was summer reading programs, being able to rent a movie after reaching a goal, and spending time with my mom during the summers.

It is a great equalizer. Everyone could come, check out books and explore their interests, a true place of community. I remember when I reached my first achievement at a young age in the summer program, I swear my mother still has my treasure chest toy yo-yo somewhere. I was so proud of that, I worked hard and earned something.

I want that for my girls and luckily they both love going to our local library. They are also part of the summer reading program and we go to Lego club once every two weeks. It's a wonderful experience I feel blessed to share with them, and libraries make it possible.

Homeschool Mom

I began using the children’s library on a weekly basis when my oldest children were three and five years old. All of my children became avid readers, and most of them were reading by age five. My local library made homeschooling my five children much easier because I was able to find a multitude of books to interest all of them. Once a child loves books, all of education opens up to them and they are able to learn rapidly. I am thankful to my library for providing these books for us, and for ordering books that I could not afford to purchase myself.

Several of my children love to write, and as part of our homeschool curriculum they write their own stories. Steven has a strong desire to publish his work. He completed a rough draft of a comic book. My local librarian, Jennifer, offered to help us self-publish it. She took an interest in Stephen’s book Chet Chetterson’s Adventures, and her enthusiasm propelled us toward completing our immense project of rewriting and self-publishing a book. She brought books into the library on how to draw comics, as well as current examples of comic book stories. Once we had created the comic book, Jennifer helped to organize a book-signing event and publicity in the newspaper. I am amazed and thankful for all her help. This experience has helped my son go deeper into the creative process and gain a new appreciation for his education as a means to get where he is going in life.

Retired 2nd grade Teacher, Reading Specialist/Read180 Teacher
Currently Coaching 7th Grade Girls Basketball, Elementary Track & Field
Deb and Students

The James River Valley Library plays a very important role in the elementary classroom.  I have taught children for 30 years, and have depended on and worked closely with the library throughout each school year, at all levels of teaching. I have used the library for thematic teaching units, to find as many resources as possible in order to pique a student's interest on a topic. I have borrowed books on a monthly basis to use for oral reading when studying heroes such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, Mahatma Gandhi, and Ruby Bridges.                      

I love calling the librarian and upon communicating the need, she gathers the books of interest for me. When I arrive, the books are ready. Many teachers in our district use the library in the same way. We encourage our students to get involved in the library programs throughout the school year and the summer.  We have a direct connection with the librarians. I can't put enough emphasis on the importance of a great relationship between our elementary schools and JRVLS.

Community Activist:  Little Libraries, Community Gardens, Seed Library
Laura Miller Today, Donald Kershaw Age 7

There comes a time when all the king's horses and all the king's men can never fix Humpty Dumpty again. My brother Donald, at the age of 77, had come to that point after
a number of medical diagnoses had chipped away at his robust health.  The final diagnosis was male breast cancer. He gave up his beloved Volvo, his apartment and his independence and moved into a nursing home in Normal, Illinois. Soon he was too frail for more surgeries. Powerful prescriptions had lost the power to heal him. Donald was face to face with a point of no return. I brought him to Jamestown.

It was now time for me to help him prepare his last life and death decisions. We had not grown up together. We were a family of five children born during and shortly after the depression, growing up separately in foster care and in children’s homes. Nevertheless, we were close.

In these last years he was no longer my mentor. I was his mentor and I was his friend. Most of all, I was his sister. In October, 2015 the Friends of the James River Library System kicked off a series of programs aimed at helping the public understand how to prepare for the final days of life. I attended each of these programs and at the end of each session felt more prepared to help my brother and myself.

During the second session led by Michael Williams, owner and funeral director at Williams-Lisko Funeral Home, I learned that the University of North Dakota Medical School had a deeded body program where my brother could donate his body after death to the study of medical students. This had been Donald’s long time wish even in his young and healthy days.

My brother passed on June 11, 2016. Thanks to the James River Valley Library System I had in short order learned to navigate the paths to making final preparations. I can now take comfort in knowing he was able to complete a final wish and I have gained knowledge in making my own preparations.

*Bill Kennedy grew up in a library, his house. He spent many years in the apparel industry traveling the world looking for trends. Bill received his MFA in Creative Writing for Kids & YA at Hamline U in 2009, the second graduating class.  He and his wife teach creative writing to students from elementary school to long term care facilities. He is the author of three books.

Bill’s day job is raising awareness and money for a renovated and expanded library as the Development Director for the James River Valley Library System (JRVLS) in Jamestown, ND.