Jason searched for the Golden Fleece, Indiana Jones for the Lost Ark of the Covenant, and Robert Langdon for the Holy Grail (maybe someone should tell him that his buddy, Dan Brown, already found it), but writers appear doomed to wander the earth in search of something far more elusive. No, not story ideas: recognition.
I doubt many would disagree that it’s virtually impossible to land on a writing site today without finding some form of promotional activity under active discussion alongside a flood of subtle and not so subtle self-promotional efforts. I’m not judging, we’re all “guilty” of it, including moi, seeking to find a place among the millions of books in the market place.
I do admit that all this talk of promotion—how to do it, how not do it, how important it is, how unimportant it is, how subtle it must be, how blatant it must be—makes me wonder how much of it makes any real difference in the long run. Is the effort more akin to buying a winning lottery ticket than receiving a well-earned reward for diligent hard work, or does it lay somewhere between those extremes? I have my own take on the question, but this post is not about that. It’s about a decision I made in the hope of helping at least a few published, non-published, and aspiring writers reach their own conclusions on how best to shape their writing lives.
If that sounds pretentious, let me make something perfectly clear: I have no discernable qualifications for the task I’m about to undertake, which to some wags makes me eminently qualified for the challenge I’ve accepted. College-level teaching.
Yes, I yielded to an invitation from the President of my alma mater (Washington & Jefferson College) to teach a full credit course next January on a writing subject of my choice. I was deeply honored…followed by an “I just agreed to WHAT?!” moment.
No way will it be a creative writing course or literary survey. Too many good ones are already out there, offered by folks far more qualified than I. My thoughts are still percolating, but they’re headed toward an exploration of the Four Stages in the development of a mystery novelist: Wanting, Struggling, Attaining, and Enduring. It’s about what to expect and where to find your highs among all the lows along the way to attaining the measure of success you’ve set for yourself.
I’m still working on the course outline. And that’s where I need your help.
Though it will not be a survey course, it’s obviously still important to present an overview of the history of our genre. What I’m looking for is a book that addresses the defining mysteries, ones students should at least be aware of in advance of the course. I know that Declan Burke and John Connolly have a new book out there (Edgar nominated, Books To Die For) but aside from their effort, do any others come to mind?
And this may not be the last time I seek your assistance. Depending on how things develop, I might even try to lure some of you away from your comfy cozy keyboards into the freezing January wilds of Southwestern Pennsylvania for the altruistic purpose of deflecting inevitable assaults upon my all knowing wisdom by hard-charging students.
If it all works out (translation: I have fun with it), who knows; I might hold a summer session at the University of Mykonos.