Description. How Existentialism Almost Killed Me: Kierkegaard Was Right is the fourth and final novel in a series that tracks the life of Max Brown as he grudgingly matures. Provisionally dubbed a philosophical thriller, this novel finds Max Brown and his wife Sally staring down middle-age and an empty nest. In an ill-advised attempt to restore meaning to their lives, they allow themselves to be herded into a trivial assignment as CIA contractors. This morphs into a real and dangerous assignment taking on remnants of the Khmers Rouges in Cambodia and Thailand who are producing and selling counterfeit drugs. The battle is waged on elephant back, in a Thai brothel, in Cambodian minefields, and in the strongholds of the KR in western Cambodia.
The author ran a healthcare program in Cambodia; one of the challenges was fake drugs. A positive consequence of this experience: the context and problem are faithfully portrayed.
The series. The novels track the life of a man who earnestly wants to avoid trouble but whose behavior, or circumstances, repeatedly drops him into it. He becomes a smartass as a defense against a pretentious name, Maxwell Smythe Brown IV; this trait – which he doesn’t seem able to shed – keeps him in hot water. But there’s also depth: an enduring obsession with the paradox of a benevolent creator presiding over a universe chock full of wickedness.
The series has two running themes. The first is the above-mentioned life-stage progression; each novel finds Max dealing with a new set of issues common to men his age. The second running theme is the nature of evil, and, conversely, God. A different face of evil is examined in each novel. In the fourth it’s the Khmers Rouges, and they can do evil like no one else.
Buy: ebook and trade paperback available at: https://www.amazon.com/author/michaelbernhart
Hard cover available at: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/michael+bernhart
Author website: http://www.houghpublishing.com.
What genre do you write?
The (pretentious?) label I’ve co-opted is philosophical thriller. These are not the first novels to mix philosophy with chase scenes, but a conscious effort is made to weave larger questions into the narrative and structure of the books.
Who or what was your inspiration for writing?
Like many others, I started writing as an outlet when I was in an unhappy situation. Also like others, the product that one generates under those circumstances projects deep bitterness. It takes a lot of reworking to convert that raw material into something a reader is willing to spend time with. Yes, authenticity is a wonderful thing in literature, but do you really want to immerse yourself in 400+ pages of thinly disguised self-pity?
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I have a vintage airplane (Mooney 20E) that I use to bore holes in the sky. A magical machine. It brought me through severe thunderstorms just yesterday to a safe landing. In fact, I think I’ll take a break from these questions and go up to the airport and give that venerable bird a hug.
Who are your favorite authors and why?
John le Carré, Garrison Keillor, and Bill Bryson used to be my favorite authors. Bryson for his easy and infectious humor, coupled with wonderful nuggets of information; Keillor for his insights and beautifully crafted (and clever) short pieces; and le Carré for his meticulous research and gripping structure. I say they used to be my favorites. Now I get depressed when I read them; how do they do it?
Name one thing that your readers would be surprised to know about you.
I am a considerate, creative, and indefatigable lover.
Your Writing Process
What excites you about writing?
I like to lie. I’m too old to enter law school and become a lawyer and too thin-skinned for politics; the only other profession left open to a congenital liar is writing.
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
I advance the plot during the evening when I’ve had a few. In the cold, harsh, sober light of day I clean it up.
Then I rewrite ad nauseum, especially after publication. An unheralded revolution in publishing is the potential for the self-published indie to improve a novel forever. Thanks to the permissive policies of CreateSpace, Nook, etc. an author can revise and re-upload infinitely. If the author’s paying attention to constructive feedback, he or she can steadily work toward a decent book. The traditional publishers, in contrast, are stuck with the original version until the last Remainders table has been cleared.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Hell yes. Scram, vamoose, get! The industry is choking on an excess of books. Three thousand new novels every day. I don’t need any more competitors.
Is there any other genre you have considered writing in?
Romance. I find it cloying to the point of nauseating. Could I do that? No, but the challenge is intriguing.
Most people envision an author’s life as being really glamorous.
Most people are wrong.
What would you like readers to know about you, the writer?
I am a considerate, creative, and indefatigable lover.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
“Stay away from that woman, Mike. She’s trouble.” Advice that went unheeded.
What story haven’t you written yet but would like to? A NY Times bestseller. Is there anything holding you back from writing it? A shortage of talent.
What kind of research do you do for your books?
This question merits a lengthier reply. Thanks to the efficiency of internet search engines, an author can lard up a novel with excruciating detail in an effort to lend the work verisimilitude. You’ve seen it: the make and model of the gun the hero/perp/bystander is packing. Maybe some ballistics info is included. A note to those authors: it isn’t working.
Perhaps this is why we hear the repeated refrain, ‘Write what you know.’ I’ve had the good fortune to live and work in many parts of the world – some of them pretty dismal. That broad experience doesn’t ensure a readable novel, but it protects your work from the patent artificiality that undermines much of what we find on the shelves today.
Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?
Half and half. I wonder which half comes across as more credible? Reviewers are fond of noting that my characters are “over the top.” Almost no one of my circle of (dull) acquaintances is over the top. In fact, few of them are even likeable, a requirement for inclusion in a readable novel.
Is there a character from one of your books that resonates deeply with you?
Ronnie the redoubtable Scot in the fourth novel. Everyone likes him. I may have made an unwise decision re Ronnie.
Do you have any final comments you would like to make?
The great lover bit. Did you catch that?
Other Fiction by Michael Bernhart
How I Made $3,200,000 from My Hobby
How Ornithology Saved My Life
How Speleology Restored My Sex Drive
How Existentialism Almost Killed Me: Kierkegaard Was Right