Monday, June 21, 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.

My Q&A with the author:

Does the title take the readers into the story?

A title can tell the reader what kind of book it is, whether it is, for example, a murder mystery, a love story, or a courtroom drama. At other times, it can tell something about the story itself, something that, after you have read it, makes it easy to remember. The title The Great Gatsby does not tell you anything about what kind of novel it is, but, once you have read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, that title stays with you forever. The Privilege tries to do both these things.

The Privilege refers to the attorney- client privilege, the privilege that requires a lawyer to keep secret anything his client may tell him. Defending a client for a murder he did not commit, Joseph Antonelli is losing at trial when a new client confesses, or seems to confess, to the crime. How can Antonelli save an innocent man without violating the privilege with the guilty man? That question is difficult enough, but Antonelli will also have to find a way to save himself when he finds himself a pawn in a game he does not understand, a game in which other murders will be committed, other innocent defendants will be put on trial, and, unless Antonelli agrees to represent them, the evidence that can prove their innocence will never be revealed. The mystery is not who committed murder; the mystery is why it is so important that the innocent be put on trial and why Antonelli defend them.

The Privilege does not refer to the attorney-client privilege alone; it also refers to the privileged lives of men and women who have too much money and too little conscience. It also refers to the privilege of being gifted with the kind of remarkable intelligence that allows the driving force behind the action of the story to control things in a way, and for a reason, that, for a time at least, no one is able to grasp.

What is in a name?

The Privilege is the ninth novel in which Joseph Antonelli is both the narrator and the main character. He was given the name because I wanted to have an Italian, or, more specifically, a Sicilian, who, instead of a low-life mobster, was as good a courtroom lawyer as there was, someone serious about what he does, and serious about the world around him. I named the woman he is with Tangerine, for no other reason than that I have always like the song by that title, and because the words of that song come closer than anything else to describing the heart-throbbing, breath taking, effect she has on everyone who sees her.

How surprised would your teenager reader self be by your novel?

When I was a teenager, people were reading Faulkner and Hemingway and Fitzgerald, and everyone was talking about what they read, serious novels that dealt with some of the tragedies of life. So, in that sense, I would not have been surprised. There has been an element of tragedy in most of what I have written. The innocent may be acquitted in a courtroom drama, but someone lost their life, and no one has been held responsible, and the defendant, the innocent defendant, has been put through hell. At least most of them. Not, as it turns out, Alan Boe, as the reader of The Privilege will discover. The Privilege is a tragedy, but for a somewhat different reason than is usually the case. It has less to do with what happened to the victim, or I should say, victims, than what happens to everyone else, including, perhaps, even the reader.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I usually know when I start the way I want the story to end, but I did not know even that when I wrote The Privilege. I knew that I wanted to write about the dilemma posed when Antonelli learns from one client what had really happened in a case he was on the verge of losing, but it only started to come together as I wrote it. The story, as often, or even as always, happens, began to tell itself. That is not as strange as it may seem. How often do we hear someone say that a thought suddenly came to them. We never ask, where did it come from? It happens when we began to concentrate on something; it happens when we start to write.

The beginning, as someone used to say, is more than half. Everything follows from that. It establishes time and place, and it sets the mood. Edith Wharton, the great novelist, insisted that the essence of the story, the whole story, should be found on the first page.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

The Privilege, like the other Antonelli novels, is told in the first person. Writing in the first person as Joseph Antonelli, I am Antonelli. But Antonelli is not me, if you collect my meaning. Writing about other characters is like observing someone - you see them, you hear them, you make judgments about them, but you do not, as such, identify with them. The main thing is to make them as lifelike as you can. That does not mean they have to resemble, in whole or in part, anyone you know, or even anyone you have any reason to think could ever exist. One of the main characters in The Privilege, Alan Boe, is a complete impossibility - and one of the most lifelike characters I have ever known, if you will permit me to say this of a purely fictional character of my own invention. But even Alan Boe is drawn from experience, a reading of ancient history. He is what Socrates might have been like had he been born here, in America, sometime in the middle of the twentieth century.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Years of trying cases in the criminal courts gave me a knowledge of the way in which a trial is organized and conducted, and a sense of the intangibles that affect what a jury will do. The years I had the great good fortune to work for Phil Hart, the most respected member of the United States Senate, gave me whatever insight I might have about the shifting boundaries between politics and the law, and, more importantly, the effect someone’s character has on their ability to persuade.
Visit D.W. Buffa's website.

--Marshal Zeringue