Monday, June 14, 2021

D.W. Buffa

D.W. Buffa was born in San Francisco and raised in the Bay Area. After graduation from Michigan State University, he studied under Leo Strauss, Joseph Cropsey and Hans J. Morgenthau at the University of Chicago where he earned both an M.A. and a Ph.D. in political science. He received his J.D. degree from Wayne State University in Detroit. Buffa was a criminal defense attorney for 10 years and his Joseph Antonelli novels reflect that experience.

The New York Times called The Defense "an accomplished first novel" which "leaves you wanting to go back to the beginning and read it over again." The Judgment was nominated for the Edgar Award for best novel of the year. The latest Joseph Antonelli novel is The Privilege.

D.W. Buffa lives in Northern California.

Here is Buffa's take on Joseph Conrad's Lord Jim:
Time moves backward, all our dreams of the future become part of an irredeemable past, what happened long ago the mark of Cain, if we are unfortunate, the burden of our existence, something we do not want to remember and can never forget. It is what Joseph Conrad tells us Marlow tells a few friends, seamen like himself, men who often listen to Marlow tell stories about the sea. Marlow tells them, not just what he observed about a young ill-fated Englishman called Jim, not just what Jim has told him, but what others told him as well, the partial stories that shed their different light on a man who wanted to be a hero and, on the occasion when he could have shown great courage, acted the coward instead. Marlow tells the story of a failed romantic, a hero in all his youthful 19th century dreams, the story of how, because of that failure, he became Lord Jim.

Marlow tells the story, but only after the story is well under way. Jim is a young officer on a rusted out old merchant ship called Patna which is transporting eight hundred Muslim pilgrims across the Indian Ocean. Staring out across a calm and endless sea glimmering in the light of a thousand shining stars, he “seemed to gaze hungrily into the unattainable, and did not see the shadow of the coming event.” His thoughts were “full of valorous deeds: he loved these dreams and the success of his imaginary achievements.” Suddenly, without warning, the ship hits something and the bow starts to rise straight up. Jim hurries below to inspect the single thin bulkhead and discovers that it is about to buckle and break apart. There are only minutes, perhaps only seconds, before the ship sinks and everyone on it goes down to their death. The captain and the other officers make for the lifeboats and with great difficulty manage to get one of them into the water. But Jim will not leave the ship. Out of their heads with fear, they scream that the ship is going down, that there is not anything he or anyone else can do, and he has to jump. As they pull away, the lights of the Patna disappear. The ship and its eight hundred passengers are lost.

But the Patna does not sink; everyone on board is safe and the ship makes it back to port. Facing an official inquiry, the captain and the others run away. All of them except Jim. It is now, when the inquiry has started, that Marlow meets Jim and begins to tell the story. Jim tells him that the captain and the others, “all got out of it, one way or the other, but it wouldn’t do for me.” One of the judges, a captain, someone “second to none - if he said so himself,” asks Marlow to give Jim money so he can get away. Marlow considers Jim’s refusal a “redeeming feature” in his case.

Jim believes that he had done, “as any other man would have done in his place, that the ship would go down at any moment….” He tells Marlow that “he wouldn’t be afraid to face anything,” and that “there was nothing he couldn’t meet.” To show he means it, he insists that when he was in the lifeboat and the chief engineer said that he had seen the ship go down, “It seemed to me that I must jump out of that accursed boat and swim back to see.” Marlow is astonished. It was as if Jim’s “imagination had to be soothed by the assurance that all was over before death could bring relief.”

A long time after the inquiry, Marlow meets a French lieutenant who had been on the ship that found the Patna and brought her safely to port. He had spent thirty hours on the Patna and left no doubt that it was something of a miracle that it had not sunk. Marlowe then tells the French lieutenant what happened at the inquiry and, as best he knows, what happened to Jim during the next three years. Stripped of his seaman’s papers, Jim goes from one job to another, always driven out of each place he goes by the rumor of what he did, until Marlow helps him find a place where he can, finally, be left alone. From the shadow of death Jim had been brought to the shadow of madness, cut off from “the rest of mankind, whose ideal of conduct had never undergone the test of a fiendish and appalling joke.”

For those who have an interest, a serious interest, in how a great writer writes, it is important to notice what Conrad is doing. For the first thirty pages, Conrad narrates the story the way any author would do, as the impartial, anonymous voice that sees everything, including what goes on inside the mind of each of the novel’s characters. Then Marlow, a character of Conrad’s invention, takes over, and instead of a neutral, omniscient narrator, the story is told the way you or I would tell it, through a single, and singular, set of eyes. But while Marlow tells the story, part of the telling is telling what others have told him.

Marlow has spent his life at sea, and knows what it is like for someone like Jim to stand “on the brink of a vast obscurity, like a lonely figure by the shore of a sombre and hopeless ocean.” All that would soon change, as Marlow anticipated. “The time was coming,” Marlow explains, “when I should see him loved, trusted, admired, with a legend of strength and prowess forming around his name as though he had been the stuff of a hero.” The legend would begin from a place where stories of Jim's past would never be heard, “three hundred miles beyond the end of telegraph lines and mail-boat lines,” where “the haggard utilitarian lies of our civilization wither and die, to be replaced by pure exercises of imagination, that have the futility, often the charm, and sometimes the deep hidden truthfulness, of works of art.” A place, that is to say, where the legend of Lord Jim would not be a legend at all.

Virginia Woolf, who wrote a review of Lord Jim in the l920’s, observed that although Conrad’s “characters remain almost stationary, they are enveloped in the subtle, fine, perpetually shifting atmosphere of Marlow’s mind; they are commented upon by that voice which is so full of compassion….” Ford Madox Ford wrote that he got to know Conrad as “little by little, he revealed himself to a human being during many years of close intimacy. It is so that, by degrees, Lord Jim appeared to Marlow, or that every human soul by degrees appears to every other human soul.” And then he added, “Conrad was Conrad because he was his books. It was not that he made literature: he was literature….”

Read this Joseph Conrad story, read the story Marlow tells you, the story, the tragedy, of this failed romantic, a hero in all his youthful l9th century dreams who became notorious as a coward and who then became known as the heroic Lord Jim. The story, when you read it, is not fiction, a made-up story of the past; it is more real, because more lasting, than anything you read in the papers or see on television. The story Lord Jim is what being timeless means.
Visit D.W. Buffa's website.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Debra Bokur

Debra Bokur is the author of The Fire Thief and The Bone Field (Dark Paradise Mysteries, Kensington). She’s traveled the world as a writer, journalist and staff editor for various national media outlets, with more than 2,000 print pieces carrying her byline to date. Her work has garnered multiple awards, including a 2015 Lowell Thomas Award for Travel Journalism. For more than a decade, she served as the poetry editor at a national literary journal, and her poetry and short fiction have been widely published. Among her favorite writing credits are a series of original literary essays commissioned by the Celestial Seasonings tea company that appeared on the artfully illustrated boxes of ten separate tea flavors. She continues to travel in her capacity as the Global Researcher and Writer for the Association for Safe International Road Travel, and as a monthly columnist for Global Traveler Magazine.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman

My husband gave me a copy of this book as a gift years ago, following a long discussion about how the perception of time can be highly subjective: Not to discount the veracity of clocks, of course, but how an actual segment of time—like a minute or an hour—can seem to pass at a different speed for different people. This can be heightened by the season, with winter seeming to last forever for everyone except me; or how summer may appear to be fleeting. The speed of time might even depend upon what you’re doing. For me, no matter how long I try to linger over a slice of apple cake, it seems like time flies by and the cake is gone before I know it. Lightman, who is both an author and a physicist, takes this thought and presents it in a series of chapter-stories; each of which presents the passage of time in a different way using Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity as context. This theory suggests that the passage of time, or the discernment of it, is relative to the lens through which it is perceived. Context becomes everything, and in this small book, Lightman treats the topic with brilliance and imagination. The writing is consistently lyrical and mesmerizing, and I pick it up every so often to enjoy again, always discovering something new and beautiful in each reading. It’s become one of my favorite books to gift to others.

Call this Room a Station by John Willson

I’ve long been a fan of the compelling poetry created by poet John Willson, and was pleased to discover that he’d published a collection. In Call This Room a Station, Willson has assembled his poems in a way that reflects a journey through joy, loss, and a return from despair while employing imagery from an actual expedition across the world as framework and setting. Nature is one of the recurring themes in Willson’s moving poems, and I find myself repeatedly returning to specific pieces, including “Eagle, Border Waters,” and “Morning,” which ranks as one of the most beautiful poems I’ve ever read.

How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan

As a rule, I don’t read a lot of nonfiction, but anything by author Michael Pollan is an absolute exception. Pollan teaches writing at Harvard and the University of California, and readers of The New York Times Magazine will be familiar with his byline. I’ve found his previous works on plant life, the human relationship with food, and how we experience the natural world to have been exceptionally enthralling. Right now, I’m in the middle of one his latest works, How to Change Your Mind, which explores the human fascination with psychoactive plants and delves deeply into ongoing clinical and scientific research into psychedelic drugs including LSD, psilocybin, Ayahuasca, and 5-MeO-DMT. Pollan details research being conducted at Harbor UCLA Medical Center, Johns Hopkins, Imperial College in London, the University of Zurich, and NYU, all of which is seriously examining how even a single psychedelic experience may offer curative benefits for numerous conditions including depression and addiction—while also providing perspective and comfort to patients with terminal illnesses regarding suffering, death, and the very nature of existence. It’s a truly compelling read.
Visit Debra Bokur's website.

Q&A with Debra Bokur.

The Page 69 Test: The Fire Thief.

My Book, The Movie: The Fire Thief.

--Marshal Zeringue