Interview with Michael Bernhart1) Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became an author.
A familiar story: Much like the disgruntled admen of Madison Avenue who labor in the evening over their own redemptive great works of fiction, I started on a novel in the mid-80s as an antidote to a bad professional and life situation. This may work as an escape, but it isn’t a guarantor of good literature. The result – in my case – was a peevish, angry half of a book; the hero is unlikeable – as are all the other characters, come to think of it. Thirty years later I’m still trying to salvage that book.
Capitalizing on one advantage, I’ve enjoyed a singularly rich and diverse (and lucky) life. If I were to peal out the list of places I’ve lived and jobs I’ve held it would come across as boasting. It’s not; it’s gratitude, mixed with wonder. (Dumb luck is important.) The consequence is I can draw on first-hand knowledge of life on five continents and a variety of interesting occupations.
2) What would you say is the best description for your series of books based on Max Brown?
I’ve attached the label ‘philosophical thriller’ to the series. Pretentious? Of course. There is dry/wry wit, which seems to be my forte as a writer, and a travelogue-esque element as the settings are unfamiliar – and interesting – to most readers.
3) What inspired you to create this series and delve into this genre in particular?
Evil. Each book explores a different face. Jane Austen famously said it all comes down to love and money. I disagree; there’s more. As we move up the evolutionary ladder the higher-level species show an increasing propensity for dysfunctional mayhem. Animals fight and kill for survival, either as individuals or as a species. Humans often fight for the sheer hell of it, and to their disadvantage. Why? Paradoxically, the modern religions we’ve created – notably Christianity and Islam – take as their starting point that God is omnibenevolent, omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. How can a caring, ever-present, and all-powerful deity be supervising a world that’s convulsing with outright wickedness? It doesn’t square.
There’s no easy explanation for that inconsistency (called theodicy in religious debate) but I did feel some mileage might be gotten out of a closer look at the wellsprings of evil. Hence, greed, lust, ideology and acculturation are central fixtures in the novels. No answers, but if I got it right the questions may have been framed a little differently than in other novels.
4) If you could sit down for a drink with any character from your books, who would it be and what would you ask them?
Ronnie the Redoubtable Scot, a favorite of many readers. I didn’t treat Ronnie well at the end.
I’d ask Ronnie why he does what he does. He’s dedicated his life to the dangerous and underappreciated task of clearing landmines. One of those noble souls quietly trying to clean up humanity’s messes. And a wise-ass.
5) What would you say is the biggest challenge you face as an author when it comes to gaining a readership and marketing your book?
That is the biggest challenge. Each and every blessed day 2,700 new novels are pushed out on an indifferent reading public. Some of them must be good, but average sales are 250 copies, many to family, friends and the author him/herself. How do you break out of the pack? I have no idea. Writing is a losing proposition.
The big houses talk airily about quality control, but there’s little evidence they practice it (e.g., James Patterson continues to be published). I’d like to think the truly good and innovative literature is coming from the independents. The better reviewer/bloggers – like this one – provide a guide and filter but the number of their followers is typically small.
Are these counsels of despair? Hell yes. If it weren’t for rampant narcissism no one without a signed deal would write.
6) What advice would you give to any new or aspiring authors out there?
I’d like to tell you to scram; we don’t need more competition. More seriously? Read.
7) Any plans for more books in the Max Brown series or any other books on the horizon?
A very difficult one. One of the fascinating jobs I alluded to above was directing a women’s health program in Jordan. Under the umbrella of women’s health I took a brief run at honor crimes . . . and withdrew from the field, unsuccessful. In the current Max Brown novel his wife has liver cancer which leads them to the ‘red-trade’ of organ harvesting and illegal sales. I tie this to honor crimes where victims are plundered for saleable kidneys, livers, etc. Given these topics, it’s been difficult to keep up the dry/wry wit that has received favorable comment in the past.
This is a picture of the author. Some kind folks at a new age festival captured my aura on their aura-cam. They gushed that it was an exceedingly auspicious aura, and they looked sincere when they said it. At least they didn’t ask for money.