Release Date: November 1, 2016
BUFFALO, N.Y. – David Schmid, an associate professor in the University at Buffalo Department of English, will chat live with online guests on Nov. 9 from 6-7 p.m. about a new course he’s presenting on mystery and suspense fiction for The Great Courses, a recorded library of non-credit college-level lectures designed for lifelong learners.
Schmid’s course, The Secrets of Great Mystery and Suspense Fiction, is a collection of 36 half-hour lectures he recorded over the summer.
The web chat gives potential students a chance to speak directly with him and ask question about course content, his approach and interests.
Registration for the chat may be completed online.
The project, the first entry into online learning for the dynamic classroom teacher, began three years ago, when he received an email asking if he’d be interested in hosting a course.
Always looking for opportunities to reach beyond the academic audience, he soon met with a company representative to discuss a proposal for 24 lessons. From there, like a character in one of the stories Schmid teaches, he was led toward the unknown.
Oh, it was nothing nefarious, but he would later figure out that the unknown, in this case, was his audition lecture.
“I’m glad I didn’t know it then because I probably would have been much more nervous,” says Schmid, an expert in cultural studies, crime and contemporary British and American fiction.
His audition was a smash and producers asked if he would be willing to record 36 rather than 24 lectures.
“They say ignorance is bliss and this is a great example,” he says. “If I knew what I was letting myself in for, I might have thought twice.”
To hear the volume of the work involved is to understand why.
He started writing immediately and was up to about 140,000 words by the time he finished writing his course. That’s about the length of a nearly 350-page book, which he had to present as the series’ individual lectures.
Schmid’s schedule involved taping four episodes a day for two weeks on a set that combined elements of Sherlock Holmes’ studio at 221B Baker Street with suggestions of the typical private investigator’s office. Takes and retakes were followed by post-production that added graphics and sound effects. The finished product is highly visual, but students also have the option of an audio-only presentation.
It’s a complicated process that unintentionally speaks to one of the genre’s defining elements.
“I want participants to understand that popular fiction and mystery and suspense fiction is far more complex than they might initially assume,” he says.
In addition to that complexity, Schmid says there is a certain secret to success for genres that prove enduring, the essence of which comes down to both continuity and innovation.
“If you look at the long history of mystery and suspense fiction you will see a genre that is constantly willing to reinvent itself, to go back to square one and re-examine the things it’s based on, yet at the same time there continues to be this interest in the world around us and trying to make that world fit into some sort of pattern that tells us, despite how it sometimes appears, that the world is an ordered, comprehensible place,” he says.
“We get to both experience the extremes of chaos and disorder and violence, and then, depending on which variety of the genre we’re reading, order has been restored and that combination of excess and order is very appealing to a lot of people.”
Schmid has designed the series to be taken as a succession of lectures, but each session can stand on its own or as part of thematic cluster that explores characteristics like setting, main characters or sub-genres, for instance.
The course begins its exploration through the genre’s 160-year history with Edgar Allan Poe’s “Tales of Ratiocination” and continues through the latest episodes of “Sherlock” with Benedict Cumberbatch.
“I start with Poe for the sake of convenience, but also because this tends to be the consensus,” he says. “There are only three tales (‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue,’ ‘The Mystery of Marie Roget’ and ‘The Purloined Letter’), but they introduce what would become so many foundational elements of mystery and suspense fiction that it was a logical place to start.”
Along the way, students will learn the history of the genre, its conventions and how mystery and suspense have eerily borrowed from reality.
“Mystery and suspense gives us such a great window into any particular society at any given point in time, because you can tell a lot about a society – its fears, anxieties and comforts – from fiction in general, but mystery and suspense in particular,” says Schmid.
“The genre is tailor-made to discuss the sort of complicated relationship between good and evil; order and chaos; resolution and suspense. All of these things can be worked out in myriad ways, and as the genre moves through time and as changes take place you can see a reflection of larger social changes taking place as the genre evolves.”
The upcoming Presidential election is among those changes and Schmid’s chat happens to be the day after Election Day.
“Think of the chat as a post-election celebration,” he says. “Talking about mystery and crime is a good way to unwind.”