My son Dash and I are starting school on the same day this year. This morning—Monday, August 26—he’ll begin second grade, and I’ll be heading to George Mason University to teach two classes: a literature course, “Women of Mystery,” and a creative writing seminar, “Writing Suspense.”
I’m not sure what Dash’s teacher has on her syllabus for the semester ahead (we’ll find out at Back to School Night in a couple of weeks!) but I’ve been busily preparing my own—updating “Women of Mystery,” which I’ve taught before, and starting from scratch on “Writing Suspense,” first time I’ve taught this special-topics course.
People regularly ask what I’m teaching on my syllabus, so I thought I’d sample some of the readings here:
- “Women of Mystery” begins with stories by 19th- and early 20th-century writers including Harriet Prescott Spofford, WW (Mary Fortune), C.L. Pirkis, Baroness Orczy, Anna Katherine Green, and Pauline Hopkins before exploring iconic authors and books, including the Nancy Drew story The Mystery at Lilac Inn, Agatha Christie’s A Murder is Announced, a batch of mid-century domestic suspense tales from Sarah Weinman’s anthology Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives, and Sue Grafton’s A Is for Alibi. The newest title on the reading list was just released this summer: Laura Lippman’s Lady in the Lake, and I’m thrilled that Laura plans to visit with the class to discuss the novel.
- “Writing Suspense” is more of a short story workshop, but the first half of the course is devoted to exercises, guided by reading from both craft books and from distinguished authors providing models of suspense. The main text is Benjamin Percy’s Thrill Me, but students will also get short excerpts from Jane Cleland’s Mastering Suspense, Structure & Plot, Hallie Ephron’s Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel, and Patricia Highsmith’s Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction. As for the models they’ll be following, I hope I’m drawing on a wide range of authors, both literary and genre and across genres too: Lee Child, David Dean, Jeffery Deaver, Ralph Ellison, William Gibson, Patricia Highsmith, Shirley Jackson, Stephen King, Laura Lippman, Cormac McCarthy, Margaret Millar, Zoe Sharp, and Gabrielle Sierra.
Thinking about the semester ahead, I’m thrilled myself to see where it all goes—and hope the students will be as well.