Reading in the Genre

If you want to write a spy novel, you have to read in that genre and learn from the “best”.  Unfortunately, there is a lot of dispute over who the “best” really are. I pulled up one such list recently from Gayle Lynds’ blog This was put together by Peter Cannon of Publishers Weekly. Gayle Lynds  is understandably proud that one of her books is featured on this list.

These lists are probably greeted with heated discussion and much disagreement. Areas of disagreement could be the definition of what a Spy Novel is, the definition of what “best” means, the personal preferences of the list maker, the age of the person who made the list, and even personal agendas are also possible. This list does seem like a good starting point for a novice like me. I am sure there is something valuable to learn about the craft of writing in this genre from each of them. THE SPY WHO CAME  IN FROM THE COLD was the book that started me on this journey, so this is probably a very good list. There are still a few works on here that I haven’t read yet.

In addition to the classics, I am trying to read the current best selling authors as well.

The only downside of this journey is that it is so enjoyable that it crowds out time for writing. I have to find a way to deal with this “difficult” problem. I don’t feel this is a problem unique to me. I would be anxious to hear of any solutions that worked for other authors. The balance between learning and doing is challenging.

The list is shown below:

  1. John le Carre, THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD (1963)
  2. Robert Ludlum, THE BOURNE IDENTITY (1980)
  3. Frederick Forsyth, THE DAY OF THE JACKAL (1971)
  4. Ian Fleming, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1962)
  5. Graham Greene, THE QUIET AMERICAN (1955)
  6. Len Deighton, THE IPCRESS FILE (1962)
  7. Ken Follett, THE EYE OF THE NEEDLE
  8. Gayle Lynds, MASQUERADE (1996)
  9. Joseph Finder, THE MOSCOW CLUB (1991)
  10. Helen MacInnes, ABOVE SUSPICION (1939)
  11. John Buchan, THE 39 STEPS (1915)
  12. Norman Mailer, HARLOT’S GHOST (1991)
  13. Daniel Silva, THE UNLIKELY SPY (1996)
  14. Erskine Childers, THE RIDDLE OF THE SANDS (1903)
  15. Colin MacKinnon, MORNING SPY, EVENING SPY (2006)

Cost of Higher Education

The school I attended cost $1,000 for a full semester when I was a student there 50 years ago. Today, that institution costs $43,700. I am not the greatest spreadsheet manipulator in the world, but I believe that represents approximately an 8% growth rate over that time. I was honestly surprised when I made that calculation. I expected a much larger growth rate, given all the rhetoric these days about the cost of higher education. This is a sample of one private university in an urban area, and does not include the cost of room and board, and hence includes tuition only. What happened?

The answer became a little clearer when I compared it to a few important things in life that I could recall without doing a lot of research. Two of those things were the price of gasoline, and my own salary. Both of those things exhibited much smaller growth rates over the course of the same time period. On the other hand, the cost of medical care most likely grew at a much larger rate over the same time period. My “medical cost” analysis is based strictly on a feeling in my gut rather than any hard data. I would bet on it though.

Based on that “extensive” research, it looks like a lot of other costs (with some exceptions like medical care) and revenues grew at a rate a lot less than higher education. The result would be that higher education takes a larger share of overall household expense than it did 50 years ago. In addition, a lot more households in the United States are sending their children to college than they did 50 years ago. Households are also sending their students to stay on campus than they used to so they are incurring room and board expenses as well. When I started college, I lived in a suburban area and most of the children in that area at that time were largely first-generation college students. They lived at home and commuted to one of several nearby colleges. Few of my peers went away to college.  Nowadays, second generation parents want their children to experience “the full college experience” that they feel they missed out on as commuter students. Obviously, it  costs a whole lot more to live on a campus that may not even be all that close to home. Psychologically, those additional costs wind up being considered “higher education” costs.

To summarize, it looks like the higher education tuition bill is taking a larger bite out of household spending than it did in the past. Higher education costs have risen somewhat higher than other important costs, such as gasoline. In addition, households are demanding a lot more services (room and board) from higher education, so the definition of “higher education costs” is expanding over time as well.

What Changed in Higher Education?

I have taught at the university level for a very long time.  Most of my adult career has been at the same university, so most of my comments here have been gleaned from that experience.

I won’t disclose any salacious details about my life at that university. Sorry to spoil anyone’s fun, but I have nothing but very warm memories of my days there.

My intention in future posts is to answer the question “What changed in higher education during the years I spent there?”

A quick answer would be “1) It got a lot more expensive,  2)  it grew like wildfire, 3) Technology really changed things, 4) It is in for a day of reckoning.”

Future blog posts will explore why this happened, and explore if the changes are a good thing or a bad thing. The issues are far more complex than they may seem on the surface. Also, this blog is a way to help me to “think out loud” and perhaps reach some different conclusions than the ones I have now.


I signed up for something called BookBub this week. An advertisement on Twitter caught my attention. This isn’t a complete review since  it will take some time to evaluate it. I signed up for it because it promised electronic books for free or a reduced  price.  I also wanted to learn more about the electronic book market. I am a book guy, and have been reluctant to go electronic, but my resistance is weakening. I purchased a Kindle, and I want to  learn about the electronic book market since I will have to deal with it if I ever actually publish anything. For me it is a brave new, unknown world.

BookBub claims to be something like Groupon for electronic books. They will alert you to “bargains” in the electronic books market.  Some books are free, and they  run to up to $2.99 each. You can select a particular genre (I selected Thriller). You can select more if you so desire. You can follow selected authors to see if they have any bargains available. You can also choose one or more platforms. I chose Kindle. The sign-up process was easy, no credit card was required, but they did want your email. I smell a daily email coming as a result.

BookBub did suggest a lot of books in my genre. As a test, I selected several free spy novels.

The Grave Man – A Sam Prichard Mystery (A Sam Prichard Mystery Thriller Book 1)

Any Means Necessary (a Luke Stone Thriller-Book #1)

Never Say Spy (The Never Say Spy Series Book 1)

These are not from authors I am familiar with, and I am not sure who any of the publishers were. Attractive cover art was shown for each book on their suggestion list. I feel it won’t hurt to read some unfamiliar authors. I hope to be one myself, if things go well for me, so I need to see how and why they publish that way. They exhibited the skill and determination to These authors all appear to give away one book for free, but charge something for the other books in that series. Seems like a good marketing technique to get someone to try out an author. It worked for me. There are many good books that for whatever reason do not get published by a mainstream press. Bookstores concentrate on the more popular writers, so BookBub seemed to be a good thing for me.

After I selected the book, BookBub  sent me to Amazon to complete the purchase process. The book was, in fact, priced at $0.00 and I was informed that it was available for my Kindle. No glitches or surprises.

If any of my readers has any thoughts about BookBub, I would be happy to read them. This is a new world for me, and I need all the help I can get. I will try to keep you informed about my BookBub thoughts.