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(I thought I’d be able to pack all my thoughts into one post, but it ain’t happening, so this “Bad Ass MFA” is going to become a series!)

As some of you may know, I took a huge plunge this summer. Ever since I decided to pursue writing professionally, the idea of an MFA has floated through my mind every now and again. The local programs, where I would have the chance to maybe receive funding while teaching and learning, are awesome, but very, well, literary. There’s nothing wrong with being a literary author, but I’ve been playing with words long enough now to recognize that that’s just not me. I like to blow things up, and I play in genres like paranormal and historical, and (gasp) my fiction is, so far, exclusively YA and NA.

True, there are MFA programs in Children’s Literature, but none of them had quite felt right to me whenever I was daydreaming. And then, my SCBWI spring bulletin came, with a short article about low-residency MFAs in kid lit. In passive boredom, I Googled one of the schools I hadn’t heard of, Hollins University.


In seconds, I was hooked. I pulled together my application materials, made it in well before the extended deadline, and, before too much time had passed, I packed up my car and headed off to Virginia to live in a dorm for the summer.

IMG_2102Yes, a dorm. I just turned thirty this year, and yet I spent my summer in a tiny dorm room, sharing a bathroom with a bunch of other women, and eating in a school cafeteria. It was…an experience! (And I think I’ve got a new appreciation and understanding of my NA characters when they head off to college…it was good to have the reminder of what that feels like!)

IMG_2043But aside from the growing pains involved with trying to recapture my youth, the program was amazing. The campus is an idylic grove of Southern charm and isolated beauty, and every time I wandered around campus, I expected to see fairies (more on what I did see in another post). My classes were intense and stimulating. This summer, I didn’t take any creative writing courses; the degree is split between creative and critical courses (another reason I fell in love with it), and I spent my summer studying the history and criticism of children’s literature and immersing myself in myth and folktales in children’s lit. Can we just stop and drool for a moment?

So, for this first installment of my Bad Ass MFA memories, I thought I’d wrap up by sharing three things I learned this summer:

1. Integrating my teaching and my writing selves is one of the best choices I’ve ever made. (I’d begun this process before heading to Hollins, but after an intellectual and creative summer, I’ve really embraced the idea of letting these two halves join together to form one, cohesive, complete Jen).

2. Stepping away from routine is a wonderful way to rejuvenate my creativity, and I don’t HAVE to only do work at my desk. In fact, this summer helped me realize that in the past year, I’ve begun to move away from my office, and that’s okay. New spaces = different creativity.

3. Ideas are everywhere, particularly in the simplest moments.

To that end, check out this awesome lecture that Judy Schachner gave at Hollins this summer about her career as an author/illustrator: just one of the many amazing speakers I had the chance to learn from this summer!