Tuesday, June 14, 2016

It's That Time Again!

Twice every year (January and June), I travel to the wooded wilds of Pennsylvania to the quaint village of Greensburg. There, I teach in the low-residency MFA in Writing Popular Fiction program at glorious Seton Hill University. During the week-long residency, I (along with people far better published than me) attempt to take students and mold them into something that they most desire: Professional writers of popular fiction.  Aspirations of sci-fi, romance, horror, children's lit, mystery, steampunk... You name it, we have someone who writes it. We take those aspirations and distill them down into something workable. We take the unpolished turd, as it were, and polish that sucker up nice and shiny, until it's something that a student can submit to an editor or agent with pride. And we break egos and dreams by the dozen.
Hello, Ones...
Just kidding about that last part. Our job is to nurture, and that's what we do. Students draw on various experience levels to try to make it in this disturbing profession. Its a unique and remarkable blend of creativity and chaos when the students are in town, and from workshops to modules, there are always ears to listen to pitches, human backstops against whom to bounce ideas, and opinions about how to improve your manuscript.
Pictured:  Workshop
But this term, the June residency, is always special. It's always something a little different. See, this is the term when all the alumni come back to throw themselves back into the volley of insanity, and that's something truly special. See, a few years back (I've been teaching with the program for nigh-on twelve years, so I can't remember when it happened), a bunch of graduating students realized how special the program was, and also that they didn't actually want to leave. They realized that Seton Hill doesn't just look like Hogwarts, it is really a magical place. So they began showing up anyway. Remember that creepy guy who graduated from high school and just never left? Same thing, only with insane writers. 
So out of this need to still be involved with the cadre of writers, the alumni founded the In Your Write Mind (IYWM) Writer's Retreat. And boy did it grow. They now feature modules of their own, guest speakers, an ENORMOUS book signing, agents, publishers, fellow writers, editors... It's become quite a to-do. And it's fabulous. And I look forward to it every year. Why? Because I missed all these crazy bastards. Many of them were once my students, and they've gone on to publish extensively. And I couldn't be more proud for them. But they're not my students anymore. They're my colleagues. They're my friends. They are my tribe. We are cut from the same cloth, which, oddly, is made from paper. And just being around them gives my creativity a boost. 
Pictured: Recharging my Creative Batteries
I love these people. They're the family I never knew I wanted, until I got them. 

Which brings me to my point: Every year about this time, I publish a blog full of helpful hints for all the incoming ones. The points become more and more important as time goes by. So I just wanted to reiterate a few of my favorites:
  • Listen - There are people in the program with more experience than you. Also with less experience. Open your ears and you'll get gold in the form of sage like wisdom from everywhere, and from places you least expect it. 
  • Socialize - Don't sequester yourself with your fellow ones. By the end of the first full day, you should know the names of at least five people who are not in your incoming class. They can show you the ropes. 
  • Be Nice to EVERYONE - Because you never know who you're talking to. Wondering the halls in the past have been editors, famous authors, Hollywood producers (no kidding... Sweetest guy in the world), and other people who will remember you. You want them to remember you in a good way, not as that asshole who was so full of himself. 
  • Check the Ego at the Door - Listen, everyone in the program is after the same thing:  To get better. And they also have another goal in mind:  To help you get better. Take the advice in the spirit in which it is given and don't swell up that someone dared to not like your high-fantasy-elfquest-ripoff-story-about-a-fish-out-of-water-girl-with-big-purple-wings. Listen, learn, and accept the words with humility. It doesn't mean everyone gives good advice... There are some real nut jobs. But you have to decided what advice is good or bad on your own. Just try not to burn any bridges while you're at it.  
Pictured:  Your relationships.

This term, I'm teaching several courses: The Language of Fear, Characterization and Dialogue, Using Magic in Popular Fiction, Worldbuilding 101, and Primary Research: Why You Need It. I'm also leading four workshops and attending at least three thesis defenses. It's going to be a busy week for me, but worth it. So very worth it. 

So, to the ones, welcome aboard. This is a tough program, and people do wash out. It's time to get serious about your craft. But if you work hard, you will never have more fun in your life. I look forward to meeting you. And to the rest of you still in the program, a few of you still owe me a blood sacrifice. I'm coming to collect. 

And to all the alumni... Gods, how I've missed you all. I hope you came with your chaos-boots on. It's going to get weird. 

Until next time...



  1. Coming to PA? Are you making plans to attend Evergreen Thursday again while you're out here? :D

    1. I won't be able to make it. Teaching five modules, four workshop sessions, three thesis readings... AND A PARTRIDGE IN A PEAR TREE!!!!