In Search of YOU.

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. 🙂



19 Responses to In Search of YOU.

    • Thanks, Liz, for calling that to my attention. I love Lesa, and am honored she compared my work to that of my good friend, Leighton Gage…whose new book, “Perfect Hatred,” is terrific.

  1. Jeff–of course I would be there in a heartbeat and spend some time at the Heinz museum. As to the course. I taught a course at Fort Hays State University–Writing for the Popular Press. It was great fun and since I had a chance to teach again, I considered postponing the move to CO. Best of luck, I know you will be terrific.

    • Funny you should mention the Heinz, Charlotte, but as you enter please be careful where you step. My family made a “buy a brick” donation to that museum honoring the history of Pittsburgh and pure serendipity had our brick end up in the floor at the entrance!

  2. I found Walter Mosley’s DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS a wonderful introduction to Mystery Fiction in both Reading Mystery Fiction and Writing Mystery Fiction courses at the college level. It’s absolutely amazing what he accomplishes in the very first scene of the book–almost shorthand for developing plot, character and setting.

  3. I admire your nerve in getting up in front of folk and talking! The very idea gives me the cold collywobbles, and indeed I have been known to point out the last time I did that very thing I wound up married to Eric!

  4. Good luck with the course, Jeff, it sounds like tremendous fun. I wish PA were within reasonable distance because I’d be there in a flash. Especially if it were in the middle of summer. I could mention several books on the philosophy of mystery writing, but if I think of a good one on the .history of mystery writing, I’ll let you know

  5. Congrats on the gig, Jeff! I love to see popular fiction writers teaching in colleges. Real world advice about the sort of books the majority of readers read and writers write. Sorry, I don’t have a book to recommend, nor any insight into all this promotional stuff. A little bit of noise coming from authors seems to be necessary in order to let the world know our books exist, but I think the loudest noises must come from readers/booksellers talking to each other about books they love. We’ve got little control over that. There does seem to be some correlation between the buzz generated by the distribution of a large number of ARCs or galleys and sales, so I’m going to try spreading the word about NetGalley in hopes more readers take advantage and post reviews.

    • Thanks, Bernadette, and when the day comes that someone actually figures out what works, I’d rank it right up there with discovering a cure for the common cold….something I’ve just picked up from the loveliest sort of petrie dishes in the world: grandchildren. 🙂

  6. Jeff,
    “Guilty Parties” by Ian Ousby is an entertaining look at the history of mystery writers and their novels. It opens with a wonderful quote from Hammett’s “The Dain Curse.” The Continental Op is talking with the novelist Fitzstephan.
    “Are you — who make your living snooping — sneering at my curiosity about people and my attempts to satisfy it?”
    “We’re different,” I said. “I do mine with the object of putting people in jail, and I get paid for it, though not as much I should.”
    “That’s not different,” he said. “I do mine with the object of putting people in books, and I get paid for it, though not as much as I should.”
    “Yeah, but what good does that do?”
    “God knows. What good does putting them in jail do?”

  7. It’s good to have new challenges in life, isn’t it? 🙂 Good luck with this – it could be a lot of fun. I hope you will come back and tell us how it is going.

    I don’t have the perfect book for the history of the genre (suggest you throw this up on DorothyL if you don’t get help here ) but I have a couple that might be useful for discussion topics. Neither is completely up to date, but they are full of ideas and experience. Do you know the MWA anthology Writing Mysteries? It is a fat collection of essays, many from the best in the business. And overall, I think one of he best books on writing came from Lawrence Block, who certainly knows what he is talking about. Telling Lies for Fun and Profit.

  8. Good luck with it, Jeff. I like that you’re trying to do something different. I am currently teaching an 8 partcourse on Writing Popular Ficton at my local library, and just loving it. I can be lured south! To Penn. that is. And even further south to Mykonos.

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