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    Educating Heidi

    Regina Harvey Icon

    So, before I go and spill all my writerly resolutions for the new year, I thought I would take one of them and ask for your help with it.

    Whenever any newbie or aspiring writer asks me for advice (and this happens sooooo often ’cause I’m sooooo successful), I always end whatever nit-picky, technical advice with the suggestion that they simply READ. A lot. Everything. Good and bad books, genres they don’t think they’ll ever write in. Everything and all the time.

    I always try to take my own advice. But, as with the advice I give my children to always floss, I don’t always, every day, follow my own advice. (Don’t tell my dentist, please.)

    I don’t think I read nearly enough. I typically limit my fiction reading to bedtime and, depending on the stresses of the day, that session may last anywhere from twenty minutes to two hours. It needs to be more.

    And I don’t think I’ve read nearly as widely as I should. I undertook a challenge two years ago to read something out of every sub-genre in crime fiction over the course of the summer. It was enlightening, but I’m not sure the examples I picked were representative of the best each sub-genre had to offer.

    So, here’s the challenge - for me and for you:
    In the new year, I propose to read books only in one genre or sub-genre for every month of the year. What I need from you is help in deciding which representative books to choose.

    For example, in January, I propose to read only noir. But I don’t just want any noir, I want the most stellar examples, the most ground-breaking and influential pieces ever written. Only problem is, I don’t know exactly which books that indicates.

    So, help me here. For whichever sub-genres you feel knowledgeable in, name four books I should read to enjoy and educate myself further. I may have read some of those you suggest, but I’d like to know that too. And, in the new year, I plan to blog once a month on the experience of “Educating Heidi.”

    Here’s the list:
    January: Noir
    February: Romantic Suspense
    March: Cozies
    April: Espionage
    May: Thrillers
    June: Traditionals, not too Cozy
    July: Vintage (pre-1960)
    August: Fem-Jeop
    September: Paranormal
    October: Horror (with some mystery element)
    November: PI
    December: Anything Holiday mystery

    Thanks in advance for the help and maybe some of you will join me in the challenge.

    11 Responses to “Educating Heidi”

    1. I can always track my writing peaks and valleys to how much I’m reading. For me, the more I’m reading, the better and more I’m writing. Inspiration? Dunno.

      But if I go a week or two without reading, my writing output drops significantly.

      I like your challenge, but can I swap November and March?

      by Guyot on December 21st, 2006 at 12:30 pm

    2. Swap them for each other? Or swap them out enitrely? Really - even a hardened crime writer can use a cozy now and then. I’ll allow you to exclude all cat books, how’s that?

      by Heidi Vornbrock Roosa on December 21st, 2006 at 1:41 pm

    3. January: Noir

      For a good overview of classic noir, Heidi, I recommend the two volumes Library of America did on American crime novels (edited by Robert Polito, who wrote *Savage Art*, a great biography of Jim Thompson.)

      *Crime Novels of the 30s and 40s: American Noir* features six complete titles from the first wave of gnarly pulp fic (text from LOA’s website):

      “*American Noir of the 1930s and 40s* begins with James M. Cain’s pioneering novel of murder and adultery along the California highway, *The Postman Always Rings Twice* (1934), which shocked contemporaries with its laconic toughness and fierce sexuality. Horace McCoy’s *They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?* (1935) uses truncated rhythms and a unique narrative structure to turn its account of a Hollywood dance marathon into an unforgettable evocation of social chaos and personal desperation. In *Thieves Like Us* (1937), Edward Anderson vividly brings to life the dusty roads and back-country hideouts where a fugitive band of Oklahoma outlaws plays out its destiny. *The Big Clock* (1946), an ingenious novel of pursuit and evasion by the poet Kenneth Fearing, is set by contrast in the dense and neurotic inner world of a giant publishing corporation under the thumb of a warped and murderous chief executive. William Lindsay Gresham’s controversial *Nightmare Alley* (1946), a ferocious psychological portrait of a charismatic carnival hustler, creates an unforgettable atmosphere of duplicity, corruption, and self-destruction. *I Married a Dead Man* (1948), a tale of switched identity set in the anxious suburbs, is perhaps the most striking novel of Cornell Woolrich, who found in the techniques of the gothic thriller the means to express an overpowering sense of personal doom.”

      Unfortunately, it looks like they don’t have the second volume (*Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1950s*) described on the LoA website anymore, but it’s still for sale at Powell’s, Amazon, etc.:

      “This volume focuses on fiction written after the crime genre had acquired conventions that younger writers toyed with and sometimes broke. The movies made from such stories were equally radical. Patricia Highsmith’s *The Talented Mr. Ripley* is the source for René Clément’s bristling Purple Noon, a movie that features Alain Delon’s quintessential performance. David Goodis’s *Down There* inspired Francois Truffaut’s neo-noir masterpiece *Shoot the Piano Player*. Jim Thompson, the brilliant author who scripted *The Killing* and *Paths of Glory* for Stanley Kubrick, wrote several novels that have been turned into movies, including *The Grifters* and *The Getaway*. He is represented here by one of his most uncompromising works, *The Killer Inside Me*, which was filmed by Burt Kennedy in 1976. Charles Willeford’s *Pick-Up* and Chester Himes’s *The Real Cool Killers* have not yet been made into movies, but the blistering prose and nihilistic worlds of these authors, and of all the writers represented in this volume, is astonishingly cinematic.”

      February: Romantic Suspense

      Susan Isaacs is amazing at this, I think. THE MAGIC HOUR and AFTER ALL THESE YEARS are my faves.

      March: Cozies

      Elaine Flinn’s three Molly Doyle novels can’t be beat–TAGGED FOR MURDER, DEALING IN MURDER, and DEADLY COLLECTION. Not sure if they’re traditional or cozy–Molly swears and drinks Jack Daniels and smokes. You be the judge…

      April: Espionage

      Eric Ambler’s A COFFIN FOR DIMITRIOS, Graham Greene’s OUR MAN IN HAVANA, and anything by Alan Furst.

      May: Thrillers

      KILLING FLOOR, TRIPWIRE, and THE ENEMY by Lee Child. THE CHARM SCHOOL by Nelson DeMille. Ian Fleming.

      June: Traditionals, not too Cozy

      Daphne du Maurier? REBECCA… Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine CHIMNEY SWEEPER’S BOY, HOUSE OF STAIRS, A DARK-ADAPTED EYE. Minette Walters THE SCULPTRESS, THE SCOLD’S BRIDLE. I think of these as traditional, but they’re nice and dark. Ayelet Waldman’s Juliet Applebaum books–NURSERY CRIMES, A PLAYDATE WITH DEATH, etc.–wickedly funny AND deep.

      July: Vintage (pre-1960)
      August: Fem-Jeop
      September: Paranormal

      Madelyn Alt’s THE TROUBLE WITH MAGIC. (If this was a list for anyone but you, Heidi, I’d be bummed not to be able to recommend reading Suny YET)

      October: Horror (with some mystery element)
      November: PI

      Dashiell Hammett MALTESE FALCON, Raymond Chandler FAREWELL MY LOVELY, James Ellroy THE BLACK DAHLIA (even though narrated by a cop), John D. MacDonald THE DREADFUL LEMON SKY,
      Laura Lippman’s Tess Monaghan books, especially BY A SPIDER’S THREAD. Robert Crais–FORGOTTEN MAN and LA REQUIEM. Dorothy Sayers HAVE HIS CARCASE and GAUDY NIGHT (not sure if these fully count as PI books.) Louise Ure’s FORCING AMARYLLIS (jury consultant protag, but she got the best first Shamus so I’m counting her as a PI).

      So many more but I have to deal with real life here… And how ’bout police procedurals?

      by Cornelia Read on December 21st, 2006 at 1:52 pm

    4. After much heavy and deliberate thought between my morning scotches I had a whole list of noir titles to give you. Really. At least two. But then Cornelia had to jump in and now I feel all inadequate. Not that the two are necessarily related, of course. Cornelia just makes me feel sort of generally inadequate.

      However, I notice that she’s left the horror genre untouched, so…

      Ghost Story by Peter Straub

      Hell House by Richard Matheson

      Cabal by Clive Barker

      Last Call by Tim Powers (as well as the two sequels Expiration Date and Earthquake Weather)

      by Stephen Blackmoore on December 21st, 2006 at 2:46 pm

    5. Heidi, sawp them for each other. I’ll need eleven months to work up to a cozy. {insert emoticon}

      Cornelia, don’t let Elaine catch you listing her books under cozies!

      by Guyot on December 21st, 2006 at 2:56 pm

    6. Well, Paul - you can swap out cozy for police procedural if you absolutely must since Cornelia’s called me on that ommission (though privately, I think you should buck up, be a man, and just read a frickin’ cozy).

      Stephen - Cornelia makes all of us feel inadequate. I still don’t know how to upload photos too well to the blog - Cornelia blows me way out of the water on this one every week. Maybe that’s what she should give me for Christmas - a photo upload tutorial. Or…offer to critique Taking the Village, which will be finished as soon as I find the time to take one of the homicide detectives out to lunch and hit them with my final list of fill-in-the-blank edits.

      Actually, Cornelia - that list is enough of a present right there. I’ve read maybe three of them so I have my work cut out for me.

      But I’m liking this so far - give me more, give me more…

      by Heidi Vornbrock Roosa on December 21st, 2006 at 3:23 pm

    7. Heidi - I can promise I’ll be thinking of titles for you well after the month you mean to read the sub-genre has passed … But, for the time being, I have two suggestions:

      Romantic Suspense: Carnal Innocence, by Nora Roberts (always assuming it hasn’t come your way already). There’s a reason for her presence among best-sellers, and this is one of my favorites - the romance is fun, the suspense well-sustained, and there’s plenty of humor as well as strong sub-plots to keep things really interesting.

      Vintage: The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. (It could also go in the Traditional but Not Cozy category, but you didn’t have any Vintage suggestions yet.) It features her recurring policeman, but in a situation in which the mystery does not involve an actual corpse. It’s fascinating and thought-provoking; the title comes from the expression that ‘truth is the daughter of time.’

      And I’m making notes from Cornelia’s suggestions, and will be checking back to see how this project goes - great idea!

      Happy holidays!

      by Kate on December 22nd, 2006 at 9:50 pm

    8. Thanks for the Christmas shopping list… As far as books go, Heidi isn’t the type to let on what she wants. So I am always providing gifts that will be re-gifted shortly after the new year.
      A loving husband,

      by Michael on December 23rd, 2006 at 8:01 am

    9. Hi Mike–I forgot Harley Jane Kozak’s books, DATING IS MURDER and DATING DEAD MEN. Sorry to make your list any longer!

      by Cornelia Read on December 23rd, 2006 at 12:49 pm

    10. Thanks for adding to the list, Kate. Keep adding as you think of them - I’m not going anywhere.
      And Cornelia, I’ve got the first Harley Jane, but not the second (hear that, Michael?) Thanks for reminding me I liked her work.

      Happy Happy to everyone!

      by Heidi Vornbrock Roosa on December 24th, 2006 at 12:07 am

    11. […] For a peek at what all this fuss is about, click here. Basically, in my endless search for enlightenment, I have chosen to undertake a genre journey, and to send you all some postcards from each trip. […]

      by The Good Girls Kill For Money Club on February 1st, 2007 at 10:32 am

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