In about a week and a half, the family and I will be relocating north and west, to Leipzig, where I’ll begin something I’ve never done before: teaching. Two classes, The Collaborative Novel and The Spy Novel.
Given that the idea for The Collaborative Novel—a class in which everyone works together to write a single novel—came from David Liss, as soon as the school said it sounded good I contacted David and asked for his advice: How the hell does one organize such a thing? His answer? “I dunno.”
Well, he did have some ideas, in particular that the first phase would be outlining. This made sense, as David is an outliner. However, I’m not, and I finally decided that my continual interjections of, “Now, this isn’t how I write a novel” would become pretty tedious. So I’m keeping it simple. The first day we throw around ideas until we have some idea of our genre and an opening scene. Then, I go home and write a first chapter. We workshop it and think about the next few scenes. Students receive their chapter assignments. The important thing is that, throughout the semester we’ll continually reassess the story as a whole and leave ourselves open to rewriting anything. The act of reassessing should allow plenty of openings for discussions on the craft.
Though this leaves plenty of room for error, the fact is that the class is an experiment, and as such failure is always a possibility. I find I’m actually more concerned about The Spy Novel, a literature course. Not with the list. It’s not a comprehensive survey of the genre, really, just a collection of things I like that give a vague sense of the genre’s movement:
excerpts from Ashenden: Or the British Agent by W. Somerset Maugham (1928)
A Coffin for Dimitrios/Mask of Dimitrios by Eric Ambler (1939)
The Quiet American by Graham Greene (1955)
From Russia With Love by Ian Fleming (1957)
The Miernik Dossier (1973) by Charles McCarry
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Carre (1974)
Berlin Game by Len Deighton (1983)
Kingdom of Shadows by Alan Furst (2000)