Interview with D. W. Buffa about Evangeline

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In an interview with his publisher at Blue Zephyr, D.W. Buffa speaks about his inspiration for Evangeline, a novel released in Germany and Australia but not in the U.S.- until now. Already released on Amazon Kindle and other e-book readers, Evangeline will be available in print on September 1, 2010 for American readers.

An emotionally charged novel, Evangeline puts its readers on tenderhooks as the story unfolds, challenging the notion of right and wrong, and introducing shades of gray that blur the lines of morality.

An interview with the author

Blue Zephyr:  What was the reason you decided to write Evangeline?  It’s rather different from your other novels. It’s different, really, from any courtroom drama written by anyone.

D.W. Buffa: There was an English case, decided in the l9th century, which I read when I was in law school, about a shipwreck in which the survivors, who were forced to resort to cannibalism, were tried for murder.  I had often thought it would make an interesting novel, set not in the past but in the present.  I did not do anything with it at the time, and then, in a conversation with a German publisher I mentioned the idea.  He had just left his position at one of the largest publishers in Europe to start his own publishing house, one that would only publish books that had some connection with the sea.  When he heard what I was thinking about, he told me that if I told the story in the courtroom, had everything come out in the course of a trial, they would be very interested.  As soon as he suggested that I tell the story in the courtroom, everything seemed to fall into place.  The book seemed to write itself.

Blue Zephyr:  So Evangeline was published first in Germany, and to considerable critical acclaim, as I understand it.  But tell me… didn’t something happened that caused a stir with the sales staff, something that hadn’t happened before?

Buffa:  That is true! Two of the salesmen, both of whom had been in the business for more than thirty years, told the publisher, independently of one another, that it was the first time they had read a manuscript and actually cried.

Blue Zephyr:  I can certainly sympathize… I cried the first time I read it, too. On a different point, though, in your first seven novels the main character was Joseph Antonelli, but there is a different courtroom lawyer, William Darnell, in Evangeline. Why did you make the change?

Buffa:  I was under contract to write one Antonelli book a year, and I had just finished the sixth novel, Breach of Trust, so I wanted to try something a little different.  One of the first decisions you have to make when you start to write a novel is who is going to tell the story.  In the Antonelli novels, he tells the story.  This allows you to keep the same voice, but it also imposes a limit on what you can tell.  Antonelli can only describe things he witnesses himself or what others tell him; he cannot describe a conversation that takes place between two other people in private.  Evangeline is told by that impersonal narrator we are all familiar with, the voice that describes everything but has no existence of its own.
There was also another reason that instead of Antonelli I chose William Darnell.  It was important to me that the defense attorney was someone old, someone who faces his own mortality, not as some distant prospect, but every day. I think it makes a real difference to the story.

Blue Zephyr:  Because the proximity of death is what Evangelineis all about?

Buffa:  Yes, that as well as what death means, and how we face it.  ‘Evangeline’ is this astonishing sailing craft that can go anywhere, but despite all the technology it has, it goes down in a once in a lifetime storm off the coast of Africa.  There is no time for anything except to try to get on board one of the lifeboats and then no chance of rescue.  The run out of food and water.  The question becomes who should die so the others can live.  The captain, Vincent Marlowe, takes the responsibility for everything that happens.  Finally, after forty days, when those who are left and themselves all nearly dead, they are rescued.  Marlowe is charged with murder.

Blue Zephyr:  Marlowe?  That was the same name as the narrator in a number of the novels Joseph Conrad wrote.

Buffa:  The choice was no accident, but a silent tribute to a great writer.  Conrad’s Marlowe was a great storyteller.  Vincent Marlowe, the captain of Evangeline, does not want to tell his story at all.  And when he finally does, there seems to be no decision any jury can make.

Blue Zephyr:  When I started reading it, I thought at first it was going to be a tale of survival, but it isn’t that at all, is it?

Buffa:  No, it’s a story about the things worth dying for, and, because it’s really the same thing, the things worth living for.

Blue Zephyr:  Thank you for taking the time to share the inspiration of Evangeline with us. We’re all looking forward to the release of the printed version in the U.S. and, on a personal note, I hope to see William Darnell come back in many novels yet to come. I think Antonelli fans will be pleased by your new character.