Category Archives: SHUres

Graduation and Career Change

The winds of change are upon me. I’m not entirely sure how well I will come out of this change. I find myself in a position to change my day job once again. This time, the change of jobs is also a change of careers.  While related to my current job, my new form of employment will let me use more of the skills I’ve developed throughout my time in the MFA program at Seton Hill University, and not in ways I had expected.  I realize now that I have not spent much time reflecting on my graduation. The entire experience still hasn’t settled into my mind.

The final week in the MFA program came in a whirlwind. After a few weeks of 60+ hour work weeks to finish a project I wasn’t prepared to do, I boarded a plane in Salt Lake City to fly out to Pennsylvania for my final residency. I felt completely unprepared for the residency compared to previous semesters. I had not been able to get to the workshop pieces I had to critique, I still had not practiced my thesis defense (in truth, my defense was still unplanned at that point), I still needed to work on my pitches for the visiting editor, and I was nominated to give the commencement address at the end of the week. While I prided myself in keeping the last a secret from my wife and family, my anxiety was reaching high points. However, if I have learned nothing else from salary employment, it is budgeting project deadlines.  I had to force myself to only work on what was due the next day.

First, my thesis defense. I had a basic intro noted in a notebook, but had not figured out which scenes from my thesis novel I would be reading. I honestly had not finished what I was going to say and read until the hour before I was to present. I refused to allow my wife or family to come out to the reading because I knew it would be harder for me to focus and remain calm. Instead, I set up my computer with Livestream so I could stream and record the presentation.  There were maybe twenty people in the room, but many more watched the presentation afterwards so it seemed to work well. My thesis defense can be viewed here:

D.K. Godard Thesis Reading and Defense

Thursday and Friday kind of went by in a blur with the nights and early mornings spent critiquing the pieces I had left to do and attending thesis readings from my classmates. Friday night was the second SHU book signing I participating in. Last year I sold more novels than I did of my non-fiction work. This year was a complete opposite. Interesting to see how different the market can be venue to venue, year to year.

My wife and father-in-law arrived that night and were able to see me at the book signing for a bit.  The next day I pitched to a professional editor who came as a guest speaker and she requested to see some of my work.  Still, I did not tell my wife and family about giving the commencement address the following day. I am sure I still appeared nervous and frazzled even though they thought I was done with all of the stressful parts of residency.  I went back onto campus early Sunday morning so I could finish writing my commencement address and practice it without giving the secret away to my wife.

By the time commencement arrived, I was lined up outside the hall with the rest of the graduates in our robes when my wife and parents came to say hi.  They had come in through the back and hadn’t seen the program yet.  After they went in, I turned to my class and said “they still don’t know I am giving the address.” A few minutes later, the family came marching out again shocked and surprised I had kept them in the dark for so long. I am grateful for technology because they recorded the address: shown here.

Seton Hill June 2014 MFA Writing Popular Fiction Commencement

Now, a month and half later, I still have to look at the diploma on the wall to remind myself it is over. I will try to attend the alumni conference each June. I am trying to work in some way my family can come with me as a vacation, but there isn’t much for them to do in Greensburg.

I am impatient with my degree. I have applied to various teaching positions, editing, copywriting, and technical writing positions without much luck. However, an opportunity came up for me to rejoin an old team and a new career path. I won’t be using my writing skills as heavily as I hoped, but I will be using the classroom planning and curriculum design aspects of the teaching component from my degree.

The change is here and that is all that is important. It has been so easy to fill my free time with job hunting instead of writing. Hopefully, I can change that after I start the new position.


January 2014 Writing Popular Fiction Residency

It is almost embarrassing how long it has been since my last blog post.  Last residency, I did a decent job of recapturing each day the morning after.  I clearly didn’t do that this time so this post will be longer than most.  Hopefully, a future Seton Hill Master of Fine Arts candidate (MFA) in Writing Popular Fiction (WPF) will find this post before their first residency and find something of value in it.  If not, well, at least this serves as a form of journal for myself.

This was a hard residency for me to attend in many ways.  It’s my second to last one as a student in the MFA program.  In June, the experience will be completely different because I will be reading from my novel on one of the nights and then graduating on the final day.  While I knew many of the students that had graduated in previous terms, it hit harder at this graduation because those graduating were people who started just before me and the ones I knew the best.  I had actually applied to the program to start with their group, but the seats were already full and I was asked to wait until the following term to start.  It was hard to decide which thesis readings to attend each night because I had spent so much time around these people and wanted to listen to all of them.  They are truly remarkable writers.

At the beginning of every residency, Dr. Al Wendland, the program director, hosts a opening reception and sets the theme for the residency.  The theme this time around was how to bring more emotion into your writing and in your genre.  I felt this was a perfect focus and would work well with my teaching module later in the week.

The first morning of every residency, we are split into mixed genre groups to discuss the common reading for that term.  I started the program with Mystery and we read The Snowman by Jo Nesbo.  Next, we read The Hunger Games for our Young Adult selection.  We moved on to Romance (although it ended up being a poor excuse for a YA Romance) and read Fated.  Last June was Science Fiction and Ready Player One (very fun read for those that grew up in the 80s and appreciate the pop culture references).  This semester was the Horror genre and we read NOS4A2 by Joe Hill.  I liked the paranormal aspects of the novel and the unique powers with a cost system he created, particularly with Vic.  But I had to skip a lot of pages when other characters came on the page because I do not like reading about children in harm or people thinking about doing horrible things to children.  I get that a lot of the Horror genre is about the loss of innocence, but I can’t do stories involving harming children.  Regardless, we had an interesting discussion about the Horror genre as a whole and the book individually.  In the end, I was more set than ever to pull pieces from my thesis novel so that it would stay as Dark Fantasy rather than Horror.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I have anything against the Horror genre.  I certainly believe that good stories have many elements of Horror within them to help raise the stakes for the characters.  I just can’t bring myself to embrace certain subjects and write about them to be in the Horror market.  Just a personal thing.  My mentor writes Horror.  I requested him partly because I expect him to be able to help me see the line between Dark Fantasy and Horror so I can stay on the side where I am comfortable.

As this was my fifth residency, I was required to take a session on reading my own work aloud as well as what is expected of us when we read from our thesis at the next and final residency.  I’m glad I took the module last June on reading aloud because we had more time for reading our own work and getting feedback.  This shorter session was more about how much time we should plan on reading from the novel in June so there is time to answer questions.

After lunch I attended the module on Planning and Plotting the Romance Series with Felicia Mason (Amazon Booklist).  It was an amazing module.  Being one of two guys in the entire class, I was a little nervous.  But they all encouraged and praised us for venturing out and we got fat on chocolates and cookies.  The best part of the module was the application.  Rather than just lecturing to us about techniques used in plotting and planning a book series, we went through various stages of brainstorming the general series idea and then the process of coming up with the general idea for each book in the series.

Sunday started with the first session of writing critiques.  It’s one of my favorite parts of residency.  Your own work of 10 pages is critiqued on one of the days while you work with others in the program on theirs on the other days.  I have been in some nasty workshop sessions before coming to Seton Hill.  You don’t get that in this program.  We are all there to learn and help each other grow as writers.  Occasionally, someone will take the critiques hard.  But they usually are able to see, soon afterwards, that they weren’t being attacked at a personal level and that their writing can improve with advice given in the session.  Selfishly, these sessions also help me see how much I’ve learned in the technical aspects of writing and it is fun to submit the first 10 pages of a new idea to see how it is received as a concept for work after I finish the program.

I have an idea for a series, but I can’t decide if I want it to be a mystery or a romantic suspense series.  In a past residency, I took a module on planning the mystery series.  A common theme that worried me about my idea was that in a true mystery, nothing can happen in the story that isn’t directly related to the mystery.  Including relationship scenes.  I think my misconception of this stems from watching shows like Castle which gives us the human element of the story as well as the mystery.  That is why I took the Planning and Plotting a Romance Series and the Cozy Mystery module so I could hopefully find where my series idea best fits.  The Sunday module on Writing the Cozy Mystery by Barb Miller (Author website) was especially helpful if I want to turn it into a mystery series.  I feel cozy mysteries are an avenue I could explorer because it isn’t required of the writer (and in many ways enforced) to put in lots of gore and sex into the mystery story.  Now that I have kids, I have a hard time thinking about writing anything too graphic.

Sunday evening we met with out mentors to plan our the goals and deadlines for the oncoming semester.  As this is my last semester in the program, I have to finish my thesis novel and have it edited and turned into Jon Sprunk (Author website) and Scott A. Johnson (Author website) by April 15!  I’ve got some work to do.  It’s really not that bad.  Only two pages a day.  At 25o words a page it’s only 500 a day.  I already typed out well over that for this post alone.  The problem is sitting down and getting the words to come.  I’ve been struggling in that department for a while now.  I keep getting ideas for other projects and not for my thesis.  Focusing my time and energy on this thesis is going to be a challenge.  I’ve planned out what needs to happen from this point in the novel until the end.  I’m just having trouble finding that word to start off the next section.  I’m tempted to skip this immediate scene in the novel and go write the end and then come back.  But then I’m worried that I’ll get stuck there and jump again and never finish a scene.  Oh, the problems of a writer 😉

This residency also marked a big milestone in the program.  I had to teach for 45-50 minutes to a class of my fellow students and a faculty grader Monday morning.  I was probably more nervous the night before as I made the preparation of the ballistics gel than when it was my turn to teach.  The session went very well.  Everyone seemed to have a good time hitting the ballistics gel to get a better understanding of what happens when their characters hit another person.  I’ve made the gel before, but this time I put pork ribs on one side so they could hear and feel the difference when hitting the block on the gel side versus the rib side.  Afterwards, they drafted a paragraph of action using what senses they experienced to bring new details to their writing.  In my discussion with the faculty grader afterwards, we agreed that the only thing I really could do to improve the session would be to have them draft the paragraph first, then do the demonstrations, and then revise the paragraph afterwards.  I’m just glad that the demonstration worked as well as it did and that I passed my teaching module.  Again, a big milestone in the project.  All that’s left is to turn in my completed thesis!

Honestly, after my teaching module, the rest of the residency was a blur.  I didn’t care if my workshop piece flopped because my intent was to submit the first pages of an idea and see if it was interesting for readers or a complete dud.  I took a lot of notes in Nicole Peeler’s (Author Website) finding an agent and writing query letters.  I’m hoping that I feel more confident with my thesis novel when it is finished and inspired to send it out to agents.  My workshop piece was Tuesday morning and did about as well as I expected, another idea to put on the shelf until this program is over.  Afterwards, we had some sessions with our guest speaker Philip Palmer on Fiction Masterpieces and Truth in Fiction.

The final day of residency is always the fastest and not just because it’s shorter.  The schedule is flipped a little with the final module in the morning and then workshops after lunch before graduation at 3:15.  In the morning module, I attended Scott A. Johnson’s session on Rituals, Religions, and Magic in fiction.  As I’m using all three in my thesis novel, I would have been pretty stupid to not attend that module.

I’m not ready for this program to be over in June.  If I can just sell enough books to have the money to come out every June for the alumni In Your Write Mind conference and book signing that corresponds with the dates of residency, I’d be happy.  The atmosphere in this program is powerful and energizing.  And the connections and friendships we make are life long and life changing.  I know I’m a stronger writer because of this program and I want to stay involved and give back as much as I can.

And with those words, my recap is done.  I’m off to another week of my awesome day job (not being sarcastic here, it’s pretty sweet and the company is awesome) and hopefully finding the time each day to write my two pages!

To all that may read this, thank you for your time and may your own writing endeavors and dreams come to fruition.

#SHURES June 2013 Residency for Writing Popular Fiction – Day 5

The last day usually goes by in a blur.  We’re all dog tired from the week of work and especially the long night party the night before.  We have our final module of the residency and then all but those graduating have one last critique session.  The main point of the final day is really the graduates.  It’s sad that so many of the people I looked up to will not be here next residency.  But we wish you well!  Congrats and we’ll be looking for your published novels.

#SHURES June 2013 Residency for Writing Popular Fiction Day 4

What an awesome way to start the day.  When you reach your 5th residency in the program, you have to deliver your 45 minute teaching module.  The students I attended covered Showing vs Telling, Dynamic Characters, and the 15 beat story structure.

Oh man! They completely saved my thesis!  Especially the 15 beat story structure.  I actually feel confident that I will finish the thesis this term so I can spend the last term editing the work.  I don’t have to stress about how I’m going to make it work anymore.  I just have to find the time to sit down and write.  Good thing the few favorite shows I watch won’t be back until the fall.

After the lunch break, we had the guest speaker sessions with some visiting agents who read through our query letters or sample writing to give us advice on what to fix to be more effective.  Lots. Of. Notes.

Long dinner break where I sat down and applied the 15 beat story structure to my thesis!

Quick Q&A session with the agents about what are the best practices and what is being read.

Afterwards, the Alumni of the program held a Princess Bride themed ball and raffle.  I made an appearance, but I’m so burned out from the week that I left early to get some sleep.

#SHURES June 2013 Residency for Writing Popular Fiction – Day 3

I never sleep very well when I come to residency.  However, exercising for the last few months and especially every morning of the residency has helped….. a little.

Here’s what happened on Day 3 of the residency.

  • My short story piece is up in the workshops

The good news is that they all felt exactly the right way about the main character.  They hated him and didn’t feel bad for him when he dies in the end.  That’s awesome for me as it was written for the horror module of last semester.

  • Lunch with critique partners

My two critique partners are guys I already know.  We all came into the program at the same time and have worked together enough to know how we work and what we can expect.

  • Afternoon module “Perk up that Plot”

This was a very popular module.  We were in one of the larger room because of how many people signed up for it.  First, it is comforting to see how many people suffer from the same problems I do in my writing.  So I really feel like I belong.  It was a three hour module so I’m not going to post even a fraction of everything that was taught.  But I am taking away a lot of helpful information and exercises to keeping my plot going and how to get myself out of a stuck part.

  • Thesis presentations this evening

All I can say is that each graduating classes impresses me more and more with their creativity and proficiency in the craft.  I hope that next June, when I graduate, that I won’t ruin the tradition and standard.

  • My first public book signing :0

Every June, the Alumni of the program hold a writing conference during the day and have a book signing on one of the nights.  They’ve been nice enough to open it to those of us in the program that have books out.  I sold a few copies of my Non-fiction work and the novel that was published in 2009.    Overall, a fun night.  Thanks to all that attended and thanks to my wife for supporting me in this endeavor.

Day 4 Saturday

Morning workshops and Teaching Modules

Guest Speakers in the Afternoon and Evening where I get to have my query letter critiqued by the quest speaker.

Day 5 Sunday -Final day

Final Module

Final Workshops

Graduation Ceremony

#SHURES June 2013 Residency for Writing Popular Fiction Day 2

First day of workshops.  I tried my best to scare the noobs.  Just kidding.  They seemed to take the whole process rather well.

The afternoon module that I took was on Scene craft.  If I retain nothing else from it, I know that I’ve got to have conflict in every scene.  Right now, the only conflict I have in many of my scenes is that I don’t have any conflict.  Bah!  Lots of reworking to do.

Last night I met with my mentor and got great feedback on how to move forward.  Here are the bullet points:

  •  There’s always more research I could be doing regarding the subjects I use in my work.
  • I’ve got to work on my self confidence otherwise my writing will suffer.
  • My characters have to make stronger choices
  • I need to show that I’ve weighed out their choice instead of just having them make choices because I said so.
  • Got to rework the injury of my main character so it’s more clear.
  • And I’ve got to not be so scared of my own darkness so I can write the tale that needs to be told.

I didn’t sleep much last night.  I don’t sleep very well normally.  I especially don’t sleep well in hotels.  Last night, I had the added problem (which I haven’t had in a long time) of having too many ideas for my thesis running around in my mind to be able to relax and sleep.  That actually felt good.  I’ve been stuck since the last submission in May.  It’s nice to have ideas flowing again.


  • My short story piece is up in the workshops
  • Lunch with critique partners
  • Afternoon module “Perk up that Plot”
  • Thesis presentations this evening
  • My first public book signing :0

#SHURES June 2013 Residency for Writing Popular Fiction – Day 1

The first day of residency is always fun because we are mixed together to discuss the common reading and get to greet each other.  It’s nice to see old faces and greet the new crowd.

The first module I took was a reading your own work out loud course with none other than my mentor Scott Johnson.  The best part of the module was when we were required to get up and read our own work for four minutes and get critique feedback from our classmates.  Very nerve wracking because I have no problem reading something that is not mine.  But get up and read my own stuff, no thank you.  I learned a lot.  Especially about what I have to work on.  Awesome first day!

#SHURES June 2013 Residency for Writing Popular Fiction – Opening Reception

Last night was the Opening Reception for the June 2013 residency for the MFA in Writing Popular Fiction group. This is my fourth time.  Which means a year from now I will be attending my final residency.  After a bit of socializing since we mainly see each other online, we began the program with the director Al Wendland. As is customary, he presented the theme for this residency.

What would you change about the genre in which you write?  With the follow-up question of how will you make that difference?

I believe that Dr. Wendland would be proud to see that these questions carried us into the night well after the reception.  What were my answers? I don’t like the super villains of scifi and fantasy that want to destroy the planet and everyone on it.  It really seems stupid to me that you’d want that of all things.  You’d be dead as well.  To keep it more general, I don’t like the weak villain because that’s not what you see in the world.  I want someone cunning and charismatic who blurs the line.  That’s what I’m trying to do in my writing and how I will make a difference in the genre.  I want to stay clear of the ridiculous villains.


I had a discussion with my classmates on YA in relation to these questions.  I’ve written middle-grade and YA and always thought of them as sub-genres to the scifi or fantasy genre I was working in.  However, Tonya Burrows, a romance author with two books recently released, brought up an excellent point.  Focus on the main part of the story.  If the main part of the story is romance then it is a romance novel with the other elements in it.  So what I wrote were YA novels with scifi or fantasy in them.  That would support the argument that YA needs to have its own genre with the sub genres being mystery, scifi, fantasy, romance, etc.

Today is the first day of residency with our first modules.  Wish us luck!

Residency nightmare

My dreams are the most vivid if I’ve woken up in the early morning and then went back to sleep. This morning I dreamt that I had slept in to 1pm on a residency day. I got onto campus to find it completely different with walking statues and crumbling stone walls. And there were more people on campus than I usually see at a residency. But none of them knew where 4th Admin was. So infuriating! And then I woke up. What a waste of dream time.

Day 7 -January WPF residency and the return

The final day of residency is always bittersweet. We’re really feeling the sleep deprivation and missing our homes and families. But we also don’t want the week to end just yet. The last day is a short day. We have our final module in the morning and then the last workshop session and the graduation. We’re done around 4pm and after congratulating the graduates our numbers gradually dwindle as people leave.
Most of us stay around one last night and go out to dinner.

In the past residencies, I was so tired I’d just go back to the hotel room, call my family, watch a movie, and go to bed. But I was actually social this time around and stayed in the lobby with classmates and instructors. I don’t drink but still had fun with everyone. But now that is all over and I’m sitting once more in the airport. It’s not as crowded as I thought. I just want to get home to my wife and girls. Maybe I will write on the plane. Maybe I’ll read Hexed by Kevin Hearne. Maybe I’ll sleep.