Local author launches latest novel at Books & Company this Friday
Brian Flack says storytelling is at the heart of his latest novel, When Madmen Lead the Blind, but he isn’t just talking about his prose itself. A principal character is a storyteller himself.
Greek immigrant Praxiteles Moussakas is visited by three different characters. Each is already dead and, in some way, he was directly or indirectly responsible for their death. They want to help him.
“When we first meet him in the novel, he’s despairing over his lot in life and his thinking that he, too should be dead. That’s the last thing the three characters who are already dead want to happen,” Flack explained. “So they visit him and what he does after that visit is important because he is a storyteller. He takes his ability to be pragmatic and tell stories and extrapolates that into a religious reckoning, which is basically at the heart of this novel.”
The stories the characters offer Moussakas are essentially versions of the same tale, but they disagree on the facts. That may be because of the twist the author puts on his characters. One has forgotten who he is, another doesn’t care who she was or had been, and a third character knew exactly who he was and what task he was supposed to complete in his lifetime.
Those differences and decisions people make about what to include and exclude in an account of a historical event can make a huge difference in comprehension and accepted fact. And what of the idea of the influence a particular storyteller has on others. Flack delves into that.
“There’s a couple thousand years of history that is dealt with here. We all know the major historical events. They come to us by reminiscence and the written word and we think we’ve got the true story behind it, but what if…?” he said. “What if those stories have alternative interpretations? What if there were things that happened behind the common veneer that we all understand to be the story?
Then, he asks what would happen if those alternatives change the story in question. Flack said he likes his novels to explore ideas and provoke deeper thought.
“It’s not a genre novel. It’s a novel of ideas. I wrote a novel about aging when I was very young, the main idea in another was suicide, and in another, sibling rivalry. It’s not like ’Someone gets killed on Page 2 and someone has to figure out who did it.’”
Ultimately, the author feels audiences will relate.
“Storytelling lies at the basis of our culture. I’m telling you a story right now. If I was to ask about your job at this place, you’d be telling me a story,” he said to a Gazette interviewer. “When we go to dinner with people, we tell each other what happened that day or week. It’s integral, both on a personal, incremental basis and our historical universal basis. It works across the spectrum and defines, in a way, who we are. I haven’t read a lot of novels where storytelling is the theme. In this one, it is.”
It took Flack between four and five years to develop his latest title from concept to final draft, which is actually quicker than the seven or eight years he used to spend while working in academia. About half the time was spent researching — much about Greece and some about Christian theology. More time was spent thinking about different concepts and story arcs. Often, Flak would follow a regimen of writing and researching between four or five hours a day, then living his life.
This is also the first book he’s written with the aid of a computer.
“Every other book I’ve written, I’ve written by hand. It’s been an interesting experiment to do this on a computer. It’s a different style and form of writing,” he said. “I’ve always liked pen and ink. My hand moves the same speed as my brain, but when you’re typing your fingers are moving much more quickly. I wondered if I missed anything, but that wasn’t the case.”
The novel is the third Flack has published through his label, Point Petre Press. He spent plenty of time conversing with trusted people to ensure he got his message across as desired. He also took some time to think about appearance and readability. The design follows a minimalist look Flack favours that he is hoping to make a signature for his publishing company. The cover is subdued with not a lot of colours or images — just a simple taxi, illustrated by Susan Straiton, reflective of Moussakas’ work.
The 400 pages of text are well spaced and Flack is pleased with the feedback he’s received about readability.
When Madmen Lead the Blind will be formally launched Friday, Sept. 21 at 7 p.m. at Books & Company. Flack will be present to read and sign books. Wine will be available, courtesy of Half Moon Bay Winery.