• Profile: Geoff Herbach

    Profile: Geoff Herbach

    If you ask him, Herbach is a mess. But the mess must be the productive kind, as this alumnus (MFA '06) has been involved in numerous projects in the literary arts and is about to release his second book, Stupid Fast, a novel for young adults published by Sourcebooks. Recently, fellow fiction writer and GLS graduate, Evan Kingston (MFA '11), conducted an online interview with Geoff, asking him to reflect on a range of topics, including first-day jitters and the joy of borrowing heavily from one's mentors.  

    Evan Kingston: Try to think back to the afternoon right before your first class in the Hamline program. What were you doing? What were you worried about? What were you looking forward to? 

    Geoff Herbach: I worked a technology job in a corporate campus some place in Roseville. As I had no idea how it happened that I got there (writing code, which I can't do very well, in a cubicle), my desire to do this thing, something I really cared about, caused me to leave work early, go to Gingko [Coffee House], drink coffee, and sort of tremble in my khakis. I so wanted a reason to write and write and write.  

    EK: What would you tell yourself, knowing what you know now? 

    GH: This will not be easy, but everything is about to change and it's going to be good. 

    EK: I think that for a lot of students entering the program, just finding the confidence to write and share their work is a big challenge. Can you talk about what your time in the program taught you about your creative process and the work it takes to be a writer?

    GH: Before I got to the program, I spent a lot of time thinking about being a writer. "Wouldn't it be great and soulful?" What I got right away from [GLS faculty member Deborah Keenan] in the MFA Core course is that writers 1) Actually write (what a shock) 2) Think about writing not as a lifestyle ("I'll have a little place in Paris with a typewriter"), but as their default activity ("I will read every essay George Saunders has ever written and practice writing concluding paragraphs like him.").  Being in the program made me move from a notion of "writer" to action. 

    EK: As students gain confidence and find their voices in the program, craft becomes the real concern. What craft lessons from your MFA experience stand out in your mind as the most useful or surprising?

    GH: Well—this is a bit dorky—I didn't know the difference between scene and summary. I naturally wrote some scenes before Hamline but wasn't aware of what I was doing. Now, I love to play with balancing scene and summary and throwing mini-scenes in the midst of summary. Love the awareness. I'm also a point of view geek because of [GLS faculty member] Sheila O'Connor. I will mess around with time and emotional distance in point of view just for fun.   

    EK: Since graduating from the program, you've published one book (The Miracle Letters of T. Rimberg, Three Rivers Press) and have another one out soon (Stupid Fast, Sourcebooks). Can you talk briefly about how writing after the program is different from writing in the program; how writing to try to be published is different from writing for a workshop or a grade; and how to stay motivated without a professor giving you deadlines?

    GH: It actually hasn't felt that different (except I am contractually obligated to do what an editor tells me to, eventually -- the market has no place for my 100,000 word books, but seems to accept 70,000). When I revise and hit a part that isn't working, I picture Sheila rolling her head around, saying, "What are you doing?" Then I cut. How I worked in the program has served me well up until now. I say now, because I'm under contract for a new book (Nothing Special) due to the publisher on July 1, 2011, which sold on a summary and an outline. I have to fulfill the contract and am stressed to the point of paralysis. Nothing has prepared me for this. I'll let you know how that goes.

    EK: Was there much of a sense of community in the program while you were enrolled? Have you stayed in touch with your classmates and teachers since? Any hints for current students on how to stay connected to a writing community after graduating?

    GH: There was a sense of community. My MFA Core class hung out together. I'm still in contact with many of them. I still do work with several Hamline people (write radio and screenplays with a couple, live with another). People I hung with started The Lit 6 Project, Electric Arc Radio, Talking Image Connection, PowderKeg Live, and Radio Happy Hour. We all just did group writing stuff and when you do stuff, you build the community. If you're at all socially-oriented (not everybody is, and that's okay), do group creative work. That's my advice. We're coming up on the better part of a decade and are still doing. And, yes, I love my teachers and try to stay in contact as much as they will allow me to. 

    EK: You've gone on to teach writing since earning your MFA. Is there anything specific to the MFA program and its professors that you try to bring into your own classroom?

    GH: I think about Deborah's openness and warmth everyday and try to emulate it in my classroom (permission is such a big deal). My fiction classes are about 50% material lifted from Sheila. She's a serious gem.