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