Since I've gotten a few questions about Seton Hill, I want to offer up some info. As I said in my last post about SHU's WPF program, I've only completed one term. I don't have a lot of experience, so I don't claim to be the go-to gal for this information. But if I can fill in some gaps for someone and either make the decision to attend easier or reduce anxiety about what goes on at residency/during the term, I'll consider this a post worth having.
You spend two years writing your thesis, which you begin immediately. The thesis is a complete, market-ready novel of popular fiction. (Children's books are a different thing, and I'm not sure what that requirement is.) To support your thesis and your edumacation, you also journal the reading you do for school and write a critical genre essay. During your final residency, you present a one-hour workshop for other students, and you present your thesis (yes, that means you have to read it, out loud, and then answer questions from mentors and students).
I've already gushed about the faculty at SHU. They are incredible. So is the administration at the school. My undergrad experiences left me thinking that all schools see students as faceless, nameless numbers who must be dealt with and promptly forgotten. SHU is the polar opposite. I showed up a day early to residency in January because flights from San Diego to Pittsburgh start early and end very late, and I would miss orientation if I flew in that day. It had snowed, and the view of campus coming up the hill were incredible. I'd heard students call the campus Hogwarts, and there's a very good reason for it. I think JK Rowling had SHU's campus in mind when she created her school.
I walked around campus, found the admin building, and went in. My undergrad experiences have included issues with parking, so I decided to get the word straight from admin's mouth about where to park, how to obtain a pass, etc. I'm sure now they thought I was a complete goof, but they let me know that parking was free during the winter break (when winter residency takes place) and to park in the lot closest to the building.
Needless to say, I nearly passed out from shock and delight.
Orientation began the night before residency kicked off. The talk went quickly, leaving plenty of time for everyone to chat, nosh on niblets, pick up information, and check out the schedule board. A graduate of the program gave all the newbies (first term students, aka 1s) a tour of the building where classes take place and even showed us where restrooms and the dining hall are.
I'd already met one of my critique group partners at a dinner some of the students put together off-campus prior to orientation, so I had someone to sit with and talk to. Even if I hadn't run into her, everyone I met was so friendly I doubt I'd have felt wallflowerish for long.
The days started at 9am and ran late into the evening, even if the schedule for that night was a social event or thesis readings (which are awesome fun). Though I didn't know a single graduating student (known as 5s, since they are completing their fifth residency), I found myself cheering on plenty of them and being bummed when two I wanted to attend ran simultaneously.
The most difficult portion was the workshop. I was the first person to be critiqued on the first day of workshops, and since I didn't know what to expect, I freaked out. All on the inside, of course. The feedback was really helpful, and being in several large critique sessions showed me that other genre viewpoints can help you in your own genre. (As an aside: The pages I workshopped formed the opening scene of the novel I entered in the Sandy.)
Speaking of extra-genre perspective, each term, everyone in the program reads a book that represents one of the genres the program covers, and then we break into groups to discuss it. Last residency, we read Bet Me by Jenny Crusie, and discussed it and the romance genre. This residency, we'll discuss Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora, and from some of the comments I've seen, I can tell it's going to be a fascinating hour.
There are four module sessions (three hours of learning) during each residency. Last residency, I took Point of View: A Guide for the Baffled - A Balm for the Bewildered with Tim Esaias; Function, Framework, and Formula with Anne Harris; Business of Writing with Victoria Thompson; and To Wand or Not to Wand: Creating a Magical System with Maria Snyder. Next week, I want to take Conflict and Plot with Tim Esaias; Write Short to Break In and Break Out with Dr. Lee McClain; Showing, Telling, and Style with Dr. Al Wendland; and Selected Elements of Style with Tim Esaias. Sounds like fun, doesn't it?
Did I mention I can't wait?
During the Term
At residency, when you meet with your mentor, you come up with the work you'll do over the next four months. You sign a contract that specifies those details and then, when res is over, you get to work. What's in the contract?
You choose the number of pages you'll complete over the course of the semester. For example, my goal was 120 pages, so that worked out to 30 pages per month. You also choose books to read. One should be a critical or historical text related to your genre. Another should be a how-to book (for example, I chose to read James Scott Bell's Plot since that's usually where I fall down in a story). At least three more should be genre reads or more how-to. The critical/historical texts and the genre reads should be used for the genre essay you write during your fourth term.
Each week, you're expected to post at least one time to the discussion boards. There are also three online chats during the term - four chat rooms have specific topics, and one is free range. It's a good time to pick the chat leader's brain or even just experience the community.
As I head into my second term, I'm excited to keep moving, but I don't want it to end. I'm having such a blast, learning so much, and feeling so connected to a wonderful community of writers, that I can't imagine not having this anymore. I guess I'll have to take a page from those who've graduated and just plan to come back in the summers for the WPF Retreat.