The End Is Near

The End is NearThese little residency recaps are getting harder to do the farther I get into Seton Hill’s Writing in Popular Fiction Program. All I want to do is tinker with my novel or craft a new short story. Speaking of, I have one that’s been accepted for publication in a small-press magazine. When it’s released, I will be sure to share access to the tale everywhere I can.

My fifth residency in the program is now over. It tore through my life like a tornado. By the end, I was thanking Cthulhu for my survival. Each residency has gone by faster than the last one. If you enter the program, you should prepare for that eventuality with the appropriate time dampening technology. It’s too late for me to salvage this past residency, but it’s not too late for you to salvage your future one.

That said, I managed to retain a few awesome lessons despite the residency’s speed. Most painfully, I learned that you should apply sunscreen when driving from Greensburg to Camp Hill. I arrived home in a sun-soaked delirium with cooked skin. Less painfully, I learned that the New Pulp genre is as cool as Old Pulp, where H.P. Lovecraft rose from. Heidi Ruby Miller taught a great class on the subject. I also learned, from Jason Jack Miller, that Folk remains a pretty great source for the creation of new fiction. On my third day of the Residency, I got a fantastic crash course on sending out novel queries from a real-life publishing agent, Ms. Rachel Ekstrom Courage. Lastly, I received a spookily good lesson on the Five Senses of Dread from Dr. Michael Arnzen. On top of those modules, I got to take part in a variety of workshops with dozens of talented writers of multiple genres. Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned that I got to listen to two entertaining and enlightening talks from romance author Beverly Jenkins.

Now, with all that said, I didn’t just occupy my time learning while I attended classes. I also got to convey the lesson I spent the last part of my Teaching Popular Fiction class preparing. Thanks to fellow writer Dana Jackson, I even managed to do so with the inclusion of a YouTube clip I wanted to show (Seton Hill’s technology infrastructure is made for Macs, and I own a PC). My lesson on How to Write a Satisfying Ending came out fine, if a little fast due to my nerves. I still wish I could have delivered the lesson earlier in the residency, but the schedule disagreed with me. Either way, I made it through the class and the week. If I can finish editing one hundred and thirty-six pages and respond to my mentor’s feedback, I will be graduating during my next trip to Seton Hill in January. That’s something I wasn’t even sure would happen at the beginning of 2017. What a difference a year, combined with a huge amount of hard work, makes.

Until Next Time,
-J.D. Cook

A Short Lesson

I wanted to share this fun assignment I did for Seton Hill’s Writing in Popular Fiction Program. I needed to teach a simple process for my Teaching Popular Fiction class. I decided to instruct viewers on how to play Game of Thrones: Westeros Intrigue. It’s a super simple card game I’ve had for a few years now.  Initially, I filmed a great video with the help of my brother, but the game I originally chose, Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu, was too long to adequately explain in the assignment’s four-minute time limit. So, I scrambled to put this together with the help of my amazingly wonderful fiancée.

The Road Goes Ever On

The Road Goes Ever On

Isn’t it unbelievable how fast time passes? In January of last year, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to finish my second novel. Now I’ve got a three hundred and fifteen-page fantasy epic that consists of 95,831 words.

My thesis novel is tentatively titled, The Swords of Fellowship, and I am immensely proud to have finished the rough draft. My mentors and critique partners have offered encouragement, support, and help the entire way. In nineteen months enrolled in Seton Hill’s Writing in Popular Fiction Program I’ve learned more about writing than I had in my previous twenty-six years of life.

I’ve also been able to network with some incredibly talented, friendly, and interesting writers because of the Writing Residencies. This past January, I met young adult writer Gretchen McNeil. She wowed me with her insanely cool story concepts and life story. I’m looking forward to downloading a copy of Relic, a novel she wrote partially inspired by my favorite horror film, the Thing. It will be a perfect book to read since I just got a copy of the Thing board game for Christmas.

Back in the June Residency, I got to meet Hank Phillippi Ryan. She’s an Emmy Award Winning Investigative Reporter turned mystery novelist. I’m planning to reach out to her regarding a Lovecraftian story I’m writing with a female reporter as the protagonist. Every speaker we’ve gotten to hear at our residencies has been outstanding thus far.

In the coming semester, I’m going to be learning about how to teach creative writing. This is a subject I am almost as excited about as writing itself. I can’t wait to learn how to pass on the lessons I’ve learned. Although, I am a little sad that I won’t be reading genre books for my class this semester, as in past ones. Last semester, I read A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin, which quickly became one of my favorite fantasy stories. I also got to read terrific books like A Wrinkle in Time and Nine Princes in Amber.

Before joining this program, I’d never been able to submit my stories to magazines, ezines, or podcasts, aside from some stuff used in my college newspaper. Now I’ve sent my second short horror story out for possible publication. Keep your fingers crossed for me. Hopefully, I’ll be able to update this site with more exciting news over the next year.

Until Next Time,
-J.D. Cook

The Semester of Madness

Grave of Lovecraft

My second semester is a dead dragon, laying slain in my rearview window. That’s not to say the battle wasn’t fierce. In fact, I wasn’t sure I’d be continuing in the program. My writing has improved, but it’s been a slow process. I still have a long way to go, even if my thesis novel is at 159 pages. That said I celebrated a milestone this semester.

I received my first rejection letter. While this might not seem like such a good thing, it is. There was a time where I had no idea how to go about submitting work for publication. The Writing in Popular Fiction Program at Seton Hill has given me an endless number of places to send my work. It’s also eliminated my fear of rejection. Well, it’s at least lessened it considerably. Right after I got my first rejection, I sent out my story for publication with another online magazine.

Aside from writing, I also got to read more terrific books this semester. My favorite was N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season. It’s just a delightful read, and I highly recommend checking it out. Along with that, I got to check out The Three Body Problem, Every Anxious Wave, The Goblin Emperor, The Martian, and The Eterna Files. They were all enjoyable Science Fiction and Fantasy reads. Yet, it was horror that consumed my mind this semester.

Back in High School, I discovered H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness. It was an enthralling and creepy read. After that, I devoured any of his stories I found. Then time passed, as it usually does, and it wasn’t until college that Lovecraft came back into my consciousness. This was because my friends and I discovered the board game Mansions of Madness. Once again, I descended into his entertaining mythos. This past semester I heard his call again, but this time it was a bit more literal.

While at work I found many of his best stories on Spotify, and I was able to listen to them when my workload was light. I also received the board game Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu for Christmas from my amazing fiancée. The cherry on top of my most recent Lovecraft obsession was getting to visit him in person. No, I’m not mad. I took a trip to Providence Rhode Island to see a friend, and while I was there, I stopped by his grave. We also checked out the Lovecraft Arts and Sciences store, as well as some local Lovecraft spots. It was a great trip. Anyway, the Lovecraft fever is still going strong as I just bought Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition.

My second semester in this program wasn’t a cake walk, but I felt more confident than during my first. Just knowing how the program operated was a major help because I could better budget my time. Something that is not always easy with a full-time job, a fiancée, friends, and a black cat. Now I am eagerly awaiting my third residency with a healthy dose of cautious optimism.

Until Next Time,
-J.D. Cook

Cold Realizations (The Training Continues)

Greensburg in the Winter

After a long cliffhanger of five months I am finally ready to reveal that I did indeed switch my writing project. I consulted a few oracles, spoke to a priest, and finally performed dark rituals in the woods to reach my decision. The smoke monster in my campfire told me I would need to change my writing project to progress as a writer, and I have yet to regret taking it’s advice. In all seriousness, I consulted with my mentor, and he was kind enough to let me change projects. I jumped my genre all the way from science fiction to fantasy. So, I really didn’t go very far, as I’m still doing speculative fiction.

What did I learn in my first semester at Seton Hill, you ask? Primarily that I knew very, very, very, very, very little about grammar. I honestly think I somehow learned all the British versions of English grammar at some point. I have no clue how, but there had to be a reason I was putting the period after the quotation marks, right? I also learned that I needed to grow a thicker layer of skin. I’ve always been averse to criticism, and I think one of the best things I’ve gained from my first semester at Seton Hill has been an improved ability to receive criticism. Now I only cry for a few hours when I get a critique back. Kidding, of course.

It wasn’t all brutal realizations though. I got to read fantastic novels like Starship Troopers, The Man in the High Castle, Dune, and The Dispossessed. Dune has proven extremely useful to me, as my current writing project was directly influenced by something stylistic the author, Frank Herbert, did. I am actively referring to it as I continue to write my own work. Speaking of, I’m currently up to 20, 864 words on it. There’s still a long way to go but I really like where the story is progressing. My one-time girlfriend was extremely enthusiastic about it as well, when I accidently sent her a copy of it. I say one-time because I recently proposed to her. As of November 5th, we are engaged (Pause for applause).

Back to the Creative Writing Program at Seton Hill though. The second residency is infinitely superior to the first. I knew where to go, mostly, for one thing. I got to see the friends I made during the first residency with the added benefit of knowing who they were ahead of time. I also got to win a few craft books, and meet celebrated fantasy author N.K. Jemisin. Most importantly, I got to learn more about my craft while being able to apply it to a project I was passionate about. Every instructor is a fountainhead of knowledge on writing. What more is there to say?

It was brutally cold. Greensburg Pennsylvania in January is not the most pleasant place to be. I grew up in a Pennsylvania mountain town, but I have never had to drive so many large hills in wintery conditions as I did during my second residency. I’m shivering at the thought of it, and I love winter. So, in that one regard, my first residency in the summer has a leg up on my second. Thankfully I’m back home, in the relatively warm, Harrisburg now. I recently rearranged my desk space, and am prepared to get back to work for my second semester at Seton Hill. I may even be ready to provide a sample of my writing by the next time I post here.

Until Next Time,

-J.D. Cook

The Training Begins

The Training Begins (Batman Style)

I have loved stories for as long as I can recall. There’s always been something supremely satisfying in relaying one. I distinctly remember the moment I decided telling stories for a living was what I wanted to do. Jurassic Park: The Lost World had just been released so I couldn’t have been more than six. I wanted to explain the story to my Mother in perfect detail. So I wandered off into my office, the kitchen floor, and drew out every shot of the movie I could remember. Afterward I presented, what was essentially a giant flip book, to her. I don’t remember her reaction to it; I just remember how supremely satisfying the creation of the book was.

Fast forward to the present day. I just returned from my first residency at Seton Hill University. I have enrolled in a creative writing program, to finally go professional. Since the age of 11, I have been seriously attempting to build as many great stories as possible. My first was a fantasy story I developed with my dad. The second big one was a mafia story set in my hometown based partially on real events. Those two loom large because they were such formative moments for me creatively, but I’ve written steadily(ish) ever since. I even completed an unpublished novel at age 19. Anyway back to Seton Hill.

They put on one heck of a residency. Overwhelming, but still great. My mind’s been buzzing with thoughts on writing since I got back. I also got to meet an amazingly diverse group of writers. They spanned multiple genres and proficiency ranges. I even gained a newfound respect and interest in the romance genre. It was pretty humbling to sit across from a New York Times Bestseller one evening while downing beers; she’s a wonderful person by the way. I would like to think I even gained a group of new friends throughout the whole adventure.

After residency, the real work began. I ran to my desk full of gritty determination to write my ass off. I got to 10,000 words, and since then I’ve slowed down a bit. Life has not done the same. Flat tires, bills and increased work responsibilities continue to pile up. Sometimes I literally feel like I’m drowning under the mountain of everything I have to do. Usually, my girlfriend, or my cat, reminds me not to fret so much during those occasions. A quick side note on my girlfriend, and my cat, one just won an award for painting the other. Can you guess which did which? (The artsy one of the two also doodled one of the headers for my site.)

I know what you’re thinking now. What the hell is this guy rambling about? Well, I just got my first Seton Hill critique back concerning those 10,000 words mentioned above. It wasn’t great. Not the worst critique I ever got though, a relative once called a story of mine, “bullshit.” It was still enough to make me consider scrapping the project I’ve been working on instead of one I may dig more. To toss away so many words pains me. How do you determine if an idea is creatively worth sticking to? I’m not yet entirely sure. I need to make up my mind soon. I guess I will leave you with a cliffhanger as I ponder my decisions and consult my writing mentor.

Until Next Time,

-J.D. Cook