Sunday, June 30, 2024

David Housewright

A past President of the Private Eye Writers of America, David Housewright won a prestigious Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America and three Minnesota Book Awards for his Rushmore McKenzie and Holland Taylor private eye novels as well as other tales of murder and mayhem in the Midwest.

His new novel is Man in the Water: A McKenzie Novel.

Recently I asked Housewright about what he was reading. His reply:
I tend not to read other writers’ books while I’m working on my own. Fortunately, I finished my next book about six weeks ago and sent it off to my publisher. I’ve been binging ever since. Two books stand out.

The first is Small Mercies by Dennis Lehane. I’ve always maintained that the best crime novels are always about more than the crime and whodunit; are always about more than who killed Mr. Body in the library with a candlestick (It was Miss Scarlet, by the way. It’s always Miss Scarlet). This book deals with race hatred, family, the criminality of power, personal salvation and so much more. It is thought-provoking as well as dark and suspenseful. A terrific book!

The second is Once in a Blue Moon Lodge by Lorna Landvik. Landvik might have the most authentic Minnesota voice of all the very many great writers from my home state. It is most decidedly not a crime novel, in case you’re wondering, and deals with love – love between parents and their children, between husbands and wives, between lovers, between people who are unrelated but considered family. It is also thought-provoking as well as warm and funny.

I recommend that read them back-to-back like I did.
Learn more about the book and author at David Housewright's website and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: The Last Kind Word.

The Page 69 Test: The Last Kind Word.

The Page 69 Test: Stealing the Countess.

The Page 69 Test: What the Dead Leave Behind.

The Page 69 Test: First, Kill the Lawyers.

The Page 69 Test: In a Hard Wind.

Q&A with David Housewright.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 22, 2024

Yoon Ha Lee

A Korean-American sf/f writer who received a B.A. in math from Cornell University and an M.A. in math education from Stanford University, Yoon Ha Lee finds it a source of continual delight that math can be mined for story ideas. Lee’s novel Ninefox Gambit won the Locus Award for best first novel, and was a finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, and Clarke awards; its sequels, Raven Stratagem and Revenant Gun, were also Hugo finalists. His middle grade space opera Dragon Pearl won the Mythopoeic Award for Children’s Literature and the Locus Award for best YA novel, and was a New York Times bestseller. Lee’s short fiction has appeared in publications such as, Clarkesworld Magazine, and Audubon Magazine, as well as several year’s best anthologies.

Lee’s hobbies include composing music, art, and destroying the reader. He lives in Louisiana with his husband and an extremely lazy catten.

Lee's new novel is Moonstorm.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
The last book I read was an ARC of James S. A. Corey’s The Mercy of Gods. I knew I was going to like this, as I enjoyed The Expanse, but I did not expect to be snarling carnivorously at everyone who came in between me and my reading experience! Besides, my catten is better at carnivorous snarling anyway. (Kidding. She is a giant round marshmallow.)

I’m betraying my age, but The Mercy of Gods is like the best parts of William Sleator’s supremely creepy psychology experiment children’s horror novel House of Stairs if you mashed it up with the far-flung alien empires in C. J. Cherryh books like Hunter of Worlds and The Faded Sun, and added heavy doses of microbiology, ineffable mystery, and body horror. We start with a planet settled by humans, but to which humans are not native; the humans themselves have no idea how they got there. On the eve of a triumph in microbiology research, that world becomes the latest conquest by aliens who rate other species as (a) useful (b) extinct.

This book absolutely grabbed me because the authors take the opening gambit of telling us, from the viewpoint of an alien, that the humans win in their rebellion. We already know the outcome. So the question then becomes not “Will the humans win?” but “How will they win, and will the price be worth it?” I see possible glimpses of the former, and am terrified already of the latter.

Beyond that, I am ride or die already for the two lead characters: Dafyd, who looks like a useless nepotism hire bench monkey except he’s a genius at interpersonal/soft skills except when it comes to his own love life; and Jessyn, a scientist whose struggles with anxiety and depression in some ways make her the best prepared to deal with hostile aliens.

In any case, I have already penciled “MOAR CARNIVOROUS SNARLING” into my planner for whenever the next book drops!
Visit Yoon Ha Lee's website.

The Page 69 Test: Revenant Gun.

My Book, The Movie: Ninefox Gambit.

Q&A with Yoon Ha Lee.

The Page 69 Test: Fox Snare.

My Book, The Movie: Moonstorm.

The Page 69 Test: Moonstorm.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

D.W. Buffa

D.W. Buffa's newest novel to be released (July 2024) is Evangeline, a courtroom drama about the murder trial of captain who is one of the few to survive the sinking of his ship.

Buffa is also the author of ten legal thrillers involving the defense attorney Joseph Antonelli. He has also published a series that attempts to trace the movement of western thought from ancient Athens, in Helen; the end of the Roman Empire, in Julian's Laughter; the Renaissance, in The Autobiography of Niccolo Machiavelli; and America in the twentieth century, in Neumann's Last Concert.

Here is Buffa's take on Hermann Hesse's Demian:
Thomas Mann and Hermann Hesse both won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Both were born in Germany, and both became citizens of other countries. There was something else these two remarkable writers had in common: their greatest works would not have been possible had Friedrich Nietzsche never lived.

In the introduction to Hesse’s novel, Demian, Thomas Mann wrote:

The electrifying influence exercised on a whole generation just after the First World War by Demian…is unforgettable.” Unforgettable because, “With uncanny accuracy this poetic work struck the nerve of the times and called forth a grateful rapture from a whole youthful generation who believed that an interpretation of their innermost life had risen from their own midst - whereas it was a man already forty-two years old who gave them what they sought.”

Hesse had written Demian over a few months in l917, the third year of the war. It was published just after the war, in l919, the same year he wrote an essay entitled “Zarathustra’s Return” in which he acknowledged “his enormous debt to and reverence for” Nietzsche. The debt could not have been greater. In Steppenwolf, Hesse’s most famous novel, Harry Haller turns his back on what the l9th Century has produced - the bourgeois, Nietzsche’s “last man,” - with as much disgust as Flaubert expressed in Madame Bovary. Through the French Revolution and the forces of industrialization, the world had been turned upside down. Money, comfort, work - everything looked down upon by the aristocracy - was now looked up to as man’s greatest achievements. The noble sense of a scale of rank and values had been replaced by the demand for equality and the right of everyone to their own, uninstructed, opinion. The sense of reverence for the customary, the established way - the morning prayer, as Nietzsche had put it - had been replaced by the morning paper - the daily report of whatever was new. Everyone had become an actor, showing others what they thought others wanted to see, and then, believing what others thought about them, thought that was who they were.

The bourgeois, according to Steppenwolf, which is the name Harry Haller has given himself, is incapable of giving himself entirely either to God or to the flesh. The “absolute is his abhorrence.” He will never follow one path or the other; he always seeks the safety of a middle ground. “He may be ready to serve God, but not by giving up the fleshpots.” The bourgeois is the very definition of mediocre: “a creature of weak impulses, anxious, fearful of giving himself away and easy to rule. Therefore, he has established majority for power, law for force, and the polling booth for responsibility.”

The choice of the name Steppenwolf is not accidental. Haller has both a “tamed or sublimated nature” and the raw nature of a wolf, a savage creature for whom cruelty has no meaning. But, as Nietzsche taught, the self is not divided between these two natures, a rational and an irrational part as the ancients understood it, but a “hundred or a thousand selves.” In a not completely veiled allusion to what happened to Nietzsche, the madness that put him in an asylum, Steppenwolf writes that if someone of “unusual powers and unusually delicate perceptions sees that the ‘self is made up of a bundle of selves’” the majority “puts them under lock and key, calls science to aid, establishes schizophrenia and protects humanity from the necessity of hearing the cry of truth from the lips of these unfortunate persons.”

Steppenwolf is not a novel in the usual sense. It does not attempt to trace the development of the various characters of a story through their relationships; it is a report of what Steppenwolf has written down, his reflections on the disordered times in which he has the misfortune to live. Reading Steppenwolf is like reading what an intelligent student might write about what he had learned from a teacher who had himself studied under the one of the most remarkable minds of the last two hundred years; it is like reading what someone with an unusual gift for literature might write about what he had learned from reading Friedrich Nietzsche.

Harry Haller - Steppenwolf - suffers from the loneliness of his knowledge, his understanding of the fatal deficiencies of what Europe has become: a “cemetery where Jesus Christ and Socrates, Mozart and Haydn, Dante and Goethe were but the indecipherable names on mouldering stones…,” a civilization where the bourgeois are prevented by the very machinery that controls their time measured existence from “recognizing the stupidity and shallowness, the hopeless tragedy and waste of the lives they lead.” This includes especially the scholar who “believes in the value of more knowledge and its acquisition, because he believes in progress and evolution.” Haller, the Steppenwolf, can see the future: the next war “will be a good deal more terrible than the last.”

Like Steppenwolf, Demian is a very short novel, barely a hundred fifty pages, but every page holds your attention. This, in part, is because you know in advance, as it were, the effect it had, that “electrifying influence” Thomas Mann writes about in his introduction. Everyone knows that Nietzsche, though he despised both German anti-semitism and German nationalism, had something to do with fascism as it took form in Europe. But for every person who read Nietzsche, hundreds, and more likely, thousands, read Hermann Hesse. Demian had an effect that no other novel had on young Europeans since Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, nearly a hundred years earlier. Werther led more than one young man to commit suicide out of his own feelings of love lost despair; Demian helped lead an entire generation to the Third Reich and the suicide of Europe.

The story of Demian is told by his young friend, Sinclair, who was drawn to him when Demian, new to the school Sinclair attends, gives him his own interpretation of the Biblical story of Cain and Abel. When Cain kills his brother, he is “awarded a special decoration for his cowardice, a mark that protects him and puts the fear of God into all the others, that’s quite odd, isn’t it?” What really happened, Demian explains, is that “a strong man killed a weaker one and all the weak became afraid of him. Cowards, afraid to fight, they say that God has put a mark on him and that this is the reason - not their cowardice - that they don’t do anything about it.”

The distinction between the strong and the weak, and the way the weak conceal their weakness and weaken the strong, are the central elements of the story, the explanation of everything that is wrong in Europe and the prescription of what needs to be done to make things right again. Everywhere, Demian insists, you see the “reign of the herd instinct, nowhere freedom and love.” It is what the 19th Century has done. “For a hundred years or more Europe has done nothing but study and build factories! They know exactly how many ounces of powder it takes to kill a man but they don’t know how to pray to God, they don’t even know how to be happy for a single contented hour.”

The herd instinct can be overcome, or, rather, there are some, always a few, who are different from the herd. “Those who are too lazy and comfortable to think for themselves and be their own judges obey the laws. Others sense their own laws within them; things are forbidden to them that every honorable man would do any day in the year and other things are allowed to them that are generally despised.” It is the struggle, the life and death struggle, that the individual has with himself. At one point, Demian insists that the only reality is the one that is contained within ourselves, and this is the reason why each man has one vocation - to find the way to himself, to discover his own destiny and “live it out wholly and resolutely within himself.”

Finding the way to our true self is not easy. “Every god and devil that ever existed…are within us, exist as latent possibilities, as wishes, as alternatives.” How to choose, how to know what is better, what is worse; how to decide this, or anything, if you are, like Sinclair, an unusual boy of eighteen who frequently considered himself a genius, and just as frequently, crazy? When he enrolls in the university, he lives in an old house near the town hall. On his table are a few volumes of Nietzsche, volumes with which he becomes intimately familiar: “I lived with him, sensed the loneliness of his soul, perceived the fate that had propelled him on inexorably; I suffered with him, and rejoiced that there had been one man who had followed his destiny so relentlessly.”

Believing in what Nietzsche had written, he believes Demian is right that, “The world, as it is now, wants to perish - and it will.” And when it does, the will of humanity, what Nature wants for man, what is written in the individual, as “it stood written in Nietzsche,” will “come to the fore again.” There is only one task for Demian and Sinclair and others like them: to represent an “island in the world,” to wear again the sign of Cain, to be “considered ‘odd’ by the world; yes, even crazy, and dangerous.” Humanity, for those who bind themselves and their opinion closer to the herd, is something complete that must be maintained, but for those who wear the sign humanity is a distant goal. And then, repeating Nietzsche’s prophecy that the Twentieth Century would be more warlike than any other time in human history, Demian says of the war he sees coming: “People will love it. Even now they can hardly wait for the killing to begin - their lives are that dull!” This is only the beginning. The new world has begun, and it will be “terrible for those clinging to the old.”

And, like nearly every prophecy Nietzsche made, the prophecy came true. The war came, and it was even more terrible than he, or Hermann Hesse, could have imagined. Leo Strauss, who lived through it, once remarked that those were fortunate who preferred the novels of Jane Austen to those of Thomas Mann. He could have said the same thing about the novels of Hermann Hesse.
Visit D.W. Buffa's website.

Third reading: The Great Gatsby

Third reading: Brave New World.

Third reading: Lord Jim.

Third reading: Death in the Afternoon.

Third Reading: Parade's End.

Third Reading: The Idiot.

Third Reading: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Third Reading: The Scarlet Letter.

Third Reading: Justine.

Third Reading: Patriotic Gore.

Third reading: Anna Karenina.

Third reading: The Charterhouse of Parma.

Third Reading: Emile.

Third Reading: War and Peace.

Third Reading: The Sorrows of Young Werther.

Third Reading: Bread and Wine.

Third Reading: “The Crisis of the Mind” and A Man Without Qualities.

Third reading: Eugene Onegin.

Third Reading: The Collected Works of Thomas Babington Macaulay.

Third Reading: The Europeans.

Third Reading: The House of Mirth and The Writing of Fiction.

Third Reading: Doctor Faustus.

Third Reading: the reading list of John F. Kennedy.

Third Reading: Jorge Luis Borges.

Third Reading: History of the Peloponnesian War.

Third Reading: Mansfield Park.

Third Reading: To Each His Own.

Third Reading: A Passage To India.

Third Reading: Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

Third Reading: The Letters of T.E. Lawrence.

Third Reading: All The King’s Men.

Third Reading: The Roman History of Ammianus Marcellinus.

Third Reading: Naguib Mahfouz’s novels of ancient Egypt.

Third Reading: Main Street.

Third Reading: Theodore H. White's The Making of the President series, part I.

Third Reading: Theodore H. White's The Making of the President series, part II.

Third Reading: Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

Third Reading: Fiction's Failure.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Kimberly S. Belle

Kimberly Belle's new novel, The Paris Widow, “continues the author’s winning streak” according to Publishers Weekly. Her previous novels include The Marriage Lie, a Goodreads Choice Awards semifinalist for Best Mystery & Thriller, and the co-authored #1 Audible Original, Young Rich Widows. Belle’s novels have been optioned for film and television and selected by LibraryReads and Amazon & Apple Books Editors as Best Books of the Month, and the International Thriller Writers as nominee for best book of the year. She divides her time between Atlanta and Amsterdam.

Recently I asked Belle about what she was reading. Her reply:
Gothictown, a 2025 release by Emily Carpenter, a story about a family who moves to Juliana, Georgia to start over after the pandemic and gets way (way!!) more than they bargained for. I’m a huge Carpenter fan, so when she offered me an early read, I happily accepted and am gobbling the story up. It’s creepy in the best possible way.

I’m also just starting Ruth Ware’s One Perfect Couple. Ruth is one of those authors I don’t care what the book is about; I just know I want to read it. She’s also an upcoming guest of the Killer Author Club, a bi-weekly author interview series I host along with fellow authors Heather Gudenkauf and Kaira Rouda (for schedule, see I’ll definitely be fangirling!
Visit Kimberly Belle's website.

The Page 69 Test: Dear Wife.

Q&A with Kimberly Belle.

The Page 69 Test: My Darling Husband.

The Page 69 Test: The Paris Widow.

--Marshal Zeringue