Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Ten Signs That You Might Be an English Professor @cynthiakuhn

 LUCY BURDETTE: Who doesn't love a brainy heroine who solves a mystery using her smarts rather than with weapons and body blows? Me too, that's why we thought you'd love meeting Cynthia Kuhn, and hearing about her debut academic mystery. Congratulations and welcome Cynthia!

CYNTHIA KUHN: Thank you, Jungle Reds, for letting me visit today! A new academic mystery, The Semester of Our Discontent, is out this month: after working in academia for two decades, I was compelled to create a fictional university where amateur sleuth Lila Maclean, a new literature professor, encounters a variety of challenges and mysteries. The following list is a tiny homage to those who persevere in the profession…

“Ten Signs That You Might Be An English Professor”

1.     You love when people quote literature, in any situation.
2.     You have skipped a social function or stayed up all night to finish commenting on student essays.
3.     Your writing hand is often in one of three positions: cramped, clawed, or gnarled.
4.     You have burst out laughing when someone claimed that college teaching is “where the money is.”
5.     You have been involved in passionate conversations about grading rubrics.
6.     You enjoy a good piece of literary criticism, including the footnotes.
7.     Your wardrobe contains more than the usual amount of tweed, features an astonishingly heavy bookbag, and/or is embellished with chalk dust.
8.     You can rarely get through an essay paragraph without using “i.e.,” “e.g.,” “therefore,” “furthermore,” or “moreover.”
9.     You are so overwhelmed by the brilliance of a given text that you find yourself with a lump in your throat during class discussion.
10.  You read for work, you read for pleasure, and if you ever have free time, you read some more.

Reds, what are some of your favorite characteristics (or memories) of your English professors?

Cynthia Kuhn writes the Lila Maclean academic mystery series. Her work has appeared in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Literary Mama, Copper Nickel, Prick of the Spindle, Mama PhD and other publications. She teaches English at Metropolitan State University of Denver, serves as president of Sisters in Crime-Colorado, and blogs with Mysteristas. For more information, please visit cynthiakuhn.net or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

About the book: English professor Lila Maclean is thrilled about her new job at prestigious Stonedale University until she finds one of her colleagues dead.  She soon learns that everyone, from the chancellor to the detective working the case, believes Lila—or someone she is protecting—may be responsible for the horrific event, so she assigns herself the task of identifying the killer.

More attacks on professors follow, the only connection a curious symbol found at each of the crime scenes. Putting her scholarly skills to the test, Lila gathers evidence, but her search is complicated by an unexpected nemesis, a suspicious investigator, and an ominous secret society. Rather than earning an “A” for effort, she receives a threat featuring the mysterious emblem and must act quickly to avoid failing her assignment…and becoming the next victim.


  1. You know you're an English professor when your first extravagant leather purchase is not a handbag, not shoes, but a briefcase from Coach.

  2. Congratulations, Cynthia . . . I’m looking forward to reading your book.
    I love the “clothes embellished with chalk dust” . . . definitely a sign you just might be a teacher.

  3. Love these! Although - do universities still have chalk boards?

    I never had an English teacher since high school, and Mrs. Ackerman was taskmaster enough for years to come...

    Congrats on the new book! It's on my TBR pile.

  4. Best English teachers ever--both high school (Miss Purcell and Dave Kile) and college (Joel Rudinger and my advisor, Larry Smith, who now runs Bottom Dog Press)--I was an anthropology major all the way through, but English classes were packed into my schedule for fun--might as well have been a dual major, except then someone else would've dictated which English classes I could take!

    I'll be looking for The Semester of Our Discontent!

  5. Congratulations, Cynthia. I have to read your book! As an adjunct law professor for more than 30 years, I discovered I probably should have been an English professor. I may have spent more time talking about how students could write better than about the law. But you can't persuade if you can't write.

    I always felt academia made a perfect setting for a murder.

    And yes, Edith, we still have chalkboards, along with all sorts of electronic devices.

  6. Hearty congratulations, Cynthia! Have friends who are academics and am surprised, after hearing them talk, that there aren't MORE murders in the proverbial ivory towers....

  7. So great to see Cynthia here at Jungle Red. I loved The Semester of Our Discontent and look forward to the next Lila mystery.

    Many of these signs would also apply to English majors. As one who survived that gauntlet, I can attest. But the skills I learned from those years have served me well in my life.

    Makes me think of the great song from the musical Avenue Q: "What do you do with a B.A. in English?"

  8. Love this list. Welcome, Cynthia!

    Your post reminded me of Carolyn Heilbrun, writing Amanda Cross, who set the standard for me - She knew from whence she spoke when it came to describing the kind of guts it took to be the first woman professor in an English department.

    Opening "Death in a Tenured Postiion"at random: "I will not say 'chairperson.' I think that's a revolting term. I will not destroy every sentence with him/her, he/she, or other nonsense." (This is the character who becomes the murder victim.)

  9. Love the set up!

    No chalkboards in our classrooms, only streaked white boards with smelly markers. But the clothing is pretty apt.

    Let's not tell my students I only scored nine of the ten, okay? (I'll let you guess which one I missed!)

  10. Welcome Cynthia! I don't know why I never considered being an English major--I did French literature instead! I suppose when it comes to murder, any department will do:).

    Yes Hallie, I so enjoyed Carolyn Heilbrun!

  11. Cynthia!!!

    Yeah, Kristopher is right. A lot of these apply to English majors (cough, cough).

    I just did a college tour for my girl last weekend at my alma mater. All the chalkboards (and resulting dust) appear to be gone in favor of whiteboards and technology (smart boards). This is true even at my girl's high school.

    Sigh. My kids will never know the joy - or agony - of clapping erasers so they'll work reasonably well again.

  12. Hi Everyone! Thank you for stopping by (and Reds, thank you for letting me visit)!

    Connie, that's great! Thanks!

    Joan, thank you! And chalk dust...sigh.

    Thanks, Edith! We have chalkboards and whiteboards (markers) and smartboards (tech). All kinds of boards...

    FChurch, thanks. There's something to be said for choosing your own English classes--absolutely. Sounds like you had some great profs.

    Hi Michele--thank you! And law is very impressive! ps "you can't persuade if you can't write" = gold.

    Susan, ha ha! And thank you. :)

    Thanks so much, Kristopher. And you're so right about it being applicable to studying English as well as teaching it!

    Hallie, thank you! Thrilled to be here. What a wonderful comment...Amanda Cross is one of my heroes. I am a big fan of her literary criticism too (as Carolyn). Wish she were still here, writing more.

    Cyndi, how lovely that you are done with chalk dust madness! And you still get an A.

    Lucy, French literature sounds fabulous. I hope you were able to travel to France as part of it? And thank you for the kind welcome!

    Thanks, Mary! The issues related to whiteboard markers and the reliability of smartboards are a whole 'nother story... ps: English majors unite!

  13. Oh, this is so wonderful! Hurray.

    Many things: I always thought I would be an English teacher. Inspired, in part, by the fabulous Thomas Thornburg, my high school English teacher, who I still think about every day. What a brilliant, brilliant, genius of a man--and he changed so many lives. Hi, Mr T! (He lives in Montana now ,and his wife is a writer! LOVE them.)

    I was an English major in college--thanks to the incredible Professor Alice Blitch,

    Also--in my Charlie books, of course, the love interest is an English teacher! I'd decided we'd had enough detectives and swat guys and Seals. (Not that there's anything wrong with that) and decided it was time for an English teacher to be a cool smart sexy hero. Right?

    We're kindred spirits, Cynthia! xoxo

  14. I love a good academic mystery and yours sounds like a hit. I love the list of ten signs--they bring back memories of years standing in front of students and wondering what they were thinking.

  15. Hi Cynthia! I love academic mysteries, and oh, yes, Amanda Cross/Carolyn Heilbrun, who was one of my inspirations for Dreaming of the Bones.

    I had a good English teacher in 10th grade, whose name, sadly, I don't remember... And I was a biology major in college, so only took two English courses! My favorite English professor is one who didn't teach me--my friend Carol Daeley, who sometimes comments here. Until she retired last year she taught a detective fiction course every semester at my alma mater. I would have LOVED to have taken every single one of her classes, and I'd have been a lot smarter!

    Cynthia, congrats on your book. Looking forward to it!

    1. Dreaming of the Bones is one of my favourite books, period. Such gone story telling, Deborah.

    2. Such FINE (not gone) storytelling!!

  16. Susan, I taught my first college level class at Yale. I found out soon enough in evaluations what they were thinking--and some of it was not at all kind.

    Debs, I missed all the amazing classes on writing in college--sigh...

  17. Hank, thank you! Your teachers sound fantastic--you've done them so proud, goes without saying. And yay for the cool smart sexy hero English teacher hero in your books! Kindred spirits = <3

    Thanks, Susan...and yes, I often wonder that too. :)

    Deborah, she was one of your inspirations? I must read your book immediately (don't know how I missed it)! Love that your favorite English prof is your friend. Thanks for the kind words.

    Lucy/Roberta, I don't know any prof who enjoys reading evals. Hereby propose a new method for the reading of evaluations. We could each bring a bottle of wine to a central location--then read and sip (and probably sip again).

  18. Although I went more the accounting and IT route in college, I really enjoyed my English teachers in high school. If my focus hadn't been in another area, I would have taken more English and writing classes in college.

    I first heard about Cynthia's book thanks to Kristopher's blog about it, and I put it on my TBR list right away.

    Looking forward to reading this new series!

  19. Read this book and loved it. Gave it five stars and I'm longing for the next. My college English professors didn't have that much of an effect on my life. It was the early 1970s and most seemed more involved with themselves than their students or their subject. Example, one who used to love to throw parties, but when you arrived at his house you found he had bricked his front door opening closed. The quiz was figuring out how to get around the closed door and into the party. Answer - the entire sophomore honors English class became second story jobbers! We were reading Chaucer that semester, in olde English. I loved it, and can still see parts of the tales in my mind. Then there was the Shakespeare professor. He would climb to the top of a three stair flight building and toss the papers down. Where they landed determined your grade. A different concept of grading on a curve.

    My high school English teacher was my beacon. She taught me that I could write, and write well. An amazing woman.

  20. KAit, that is too funny!

    Oh, Angela..we'd all have taken more English, right? Even though I took ALL i could--even a seminar in ALice in Wonderland. My parents were appalled, but it was terrific.

  21. Oddly enough, I can't recall any of my lit professors in college. As a theatre major, I know I took several classes around plays. I had some wonderful English teachers in High School, and did AP English in my senior year. I still have my ancient, battered NORTON'S!

    The Smithie was an English major, although somehow she got through college without ever reading the Victorian novelists, which seems like cheating to me. She's a librarian now, so that worked out quite well.

    Has anyone hears on of the Prairie Home Companion's ads by the Professional Organization of English Majors?

  22. Yes, Julia, I love those ads!

    Cynthia, your book will need to go on my TBR pile. I need a higher ladder...

    I was an English major, like so many others here. I do remember an exam that required careful reading of the footnotes in our assigned reading!

    My Shakespeare professor told us that people who love Shakespeare often confuse the plays they've read with the plays they've seen. I've found this to be true for me.

    Deb Romano

  23. Angela, thanks so much! And hooray for high school English that stays with us. I still remember those classes vividly, too. Everything from acting out JULIUS CAESAR to being horrified by THE LORD OF THE FLIES to feeling excessively parched while reading THE GRAPES OF WRATH...

    Kait, you are so very kind, thank you. And your profs sound fantastic! I've heard of that method of grading before...never used it but know some who have. And the bricked-up front door thing is incredible!

    Hank, I have taught Alice several times--it's one of my favorites. Absolutely brilliant.

    Julia--yes, the Nortons! Suspect those anthologies may be at least partially responsible for my carpal tunnel but ah, so many wonderful texts in one place. Happy for The Smithie--it must be a lovely thing to be a librarian.

    Amanda, I thought "gone" was a new slang word and quite liked it.

    Deborah, thank you for adding it to your TBR list. Hope you enjoy. And ah, footnotes. ;) Very interesting point about the Shakespeare plays.

  24. I was an English Teacher once upon a time. I'm sure the Middle Schoolers labeled me the "Mean Nun" back then.

    My most memorable teacher--whose name I'm embarrassed to have forgotten after 30+ years--would talk about "the latest book" she'd written, and then tell us the story of how she and her mother escaped from Germany just before WWII. Her life was much more fascinating than the literature class!

  25. My seventh grade English teacher suggested that I could be a writer. I am eternally grateful to her.

  26. Terrific post, Cynthia. I taught writing to junior high and high school students for years. Loved teaching, loved the kids, hated the homework even more than they did. LOL! My hand still hurts thinking about writing all those notes.

    I had an art history teacher in college who handed me back one of my assignments, saying, "You must have had terrific English teachers." I answered, "I did, but I think I learned more about writing and composition from my speech teacher." Hands down, my speech teacher helped me learn to look logically at what I wanted to say each time. I still use the lessons she taught.

  27. My fav high school English teacher, Mr. Aleman, taught me creative writing one-on-one after school, & even drove me home from school on occasion. I suspect that wouldn't happen today.

  28. My eleventh grade English teacher. She once wore the same outfit three days in a row (no lie--we counted), but I still remember the books I read that year and her love for the subject. (Congratulations on your recent release, Cynthia! I'm looking forward to reading it!)

  29. Ms. Thompson was my favorite English teacher. The first person who thought my writing was funny. Congratulations on your release, Cynthia!

  30. Alice, "the Mean Nun"...you? No way. I imagine you up there delighting each and every student with your wit! Your teacher sounds amazing, too.

    Julie, how wonderful!

    Thanks, Ritter! The never-ending homework for teachers as well as students is definitely a consideration. ;) The speech teacher you had sounds fabulous.

    Cindy, wow! He sounds like quite a mentor and is probably busting his buttons at your books successes.

    Thanks, Wendy! Appreciate the kind words. Loved hearing about your teacher's lasting impact.

    Terri, Ms. Thompson was maybe the first but certainly not the last! How cool. And thank you!

  31. Hey Cynthia! Love the list. My 9th grade English teacher made the most impression in my writing life. While "analyzing" one of Thorndike's works going through a typical "what do you think the author meant" lesson, I decided right then I was going to be a writer and write a masterpiece that every school age kid would suffer over wondering what I meant :)

  32. Stopping in late, but I just wanted to say that this is a book I've had my eye on, and I'm hoping to get to it soon. Having taught secondary English and worked with writing portfolios in both elementary and secondary, the ten signs seem a good fit for me. I had two memorable English teachers. My Creative Writing course my senior year of high school was a rude awakening for someone who had always excelled in English. He taught us that we had lots to learn about writing, and he taught us lessons that have greatly benefited me throughout life. My second English teacher that was special was a professor in college who wrote on one of my papers that I chosen well when I chose to major in English.

  33. Thanks, Lynn, and what a great story! A eureka moment. :)

    Kathy, thank you! Ooh--that is inspiring. Maybe #11 could be "You have spent time strategizing the best way to transport multiple classes worth of portfolios from one place to another"? Such stacks to manage! :) Loved your teacher stories.

  34. Such a fun list, Cynthia! And yes, yes, yes, yes.... oh, right down the line. :-)
    Looking forward to seeing you at Malice and to the new book!

  35. Sounds like a great book - have added it to my list

  36. Art, you know firsthand and could probably add many more! Thanks and see you soon!

    Thank you very much, Mar!

  37. Your list is spot-on for high school English (language arts) teachers. Grading was my main activity with sometimes as many as 180 students. A friend opted for college level and less starting pay in order to have time to write.
    I used to entertain my students with descriptions of teacher arguments over "Path not Taken" and whether choose-your-own-adventure books were second person. Going to go find your book now.

  38. Hi Storytellermary--thanks so much. Love your description of teacher arguments... :)