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