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Symphonie Fantastique

Paul West’s Congratulatory Letter to Mark Seinfelt on Symphonie Fantastique

                                                                                                                                            11 Sept 2009

Dear Mark,
It is tumultuous, overpowering, and yet meticulously planned. Being virtually one-eyed, I shall be ages poring over it (such little print), but I shall get there eventually. It’s so copious all patient of delivery. I’ve been dipping, of course, and admiring the impetus which has kept you going for years. Few people have the oomph to rise to this for a second novel. It beats The Place in Flowers by almost 100 pages (though now called something else in its new sumptuous French edition). Congratulations on a superbly literary feat. What next?
All best,
click to view original letter

New fiction collection tells sophisticated ghost stories. Symphonie Fantastique, by Mark Seinfelt, tells tales of obsessed and troubled characters haunted by paths not taken or explored in life, former lovers, deceased family members, strangers, dark spirits and war.
The Free Library
Mark Seinfelt brings readers a whole lot of story under one cover. Symphonie Fantastique is a collection of stories from Mark Seinfelt, each novel length in their own right being presented under the banner of a single cover. An author doubting how he spent his life, a shut in remembers his father, the pain of love, and a tortured nurse are all the subjects of Seinfelt's writing. Symphonie Fantastique is an intriguing read that'll please many a reader with its variety of fiction.
Word Patriots
Dave Kress, author of Martians and Hush

Kudos (or as they now say, props) to Mark Seinfelt for his intriguing collection of fiction Symphonie Fantastique which, if for nothing else, but for much else as well, recalls for us the somewhat obscure genre of the fantastique, a genre that predates but is also important for the development of the more familiar (and commercial) genre of fantasy. The fantistique has something in common with magic realism as well: both genres explore the irruption of phenomena often classified as supernatural into our daily lives, into the world we take as real. But whereas characters in works of magic realism treat these phenomena as mundane, in the fantastique, typically, the mode of response from characters is one of refusal: that is, just as we readers remain skeptical of ghosts, UFOs, and the yeti, so do the characters in the world of the fantastique--although this skeptical refusal may display itself as terror, shell-shock, or simple doubt.
But Seinfelt's collection is not merely a rekindling of a classic genre; it is also an extraordinary formal exercise that draws on what is perhaps the most important piece of program music from Romanticism's early period, Hector Berlioz' Symphonie Fantastique: An Episode in the Life of an Artist, in Five Parts.
Ultimately, Seinfelt's book, even though it is in many ways fully immersed in the present, and even though it is fully aware of (and able to expertly manipulate and deploy) tropes both modernist and post-modernist, ultimately the book is itself thoroughly Romantic. But Seinfelt's Romanticism wisely tries neither to simply go back to those so-called good old days nor to try for some ironic, diluted neo-Romanticism. Rather, in an original and audacious series of moves, Seinfelt's work uncovers the Romanticism that never went away, the Romanticism that always haunts us, even in our most thoroughly modern and post-modern moves and moments.
Drawing inspiration and themes, and even form from Berlioz' Symphonie Fantastique, Seinfelt's likewise tells the story of "an artist gifted with a lively imagination" who finds himself in the "depths of despair" because of "hopeless love" --although in Seinfelt's hands (or words), this foundational motif is explicit only (or perhaps only comes to the surface) in the book's third movement, and the gifted artist has not "poisoned himself with opium" as he has in Berlioz, but rather has become addicted to language--a language that is relentlessly--and brilliantly--revealed by Seinfelt as two-faced, both in the Janusian sense and as insincerity, but a particularly engaging and rollicking quasi-sincerity that shows itself in numerous meta-fictive and cross-genre moments throughout the collection.
Similarly, as does Berlioz, Seinfelt also eschews or modifies the classical four-movement structure of the symphony and opts instead for a five-movement structure. Berlioz gave his Symphonie's movements the titles, Daydreams and Passions, A Dance, Scene in the Country, March to the Scaffold, and Dreams of a Witches' Sabbath, and in fact, in very intriguing ways, Seinfelt closely mirrors Berlioz' movements--although, because the titles of Seinfelt's five movements are not exactly the same, perhaps "shadows" is the more appropriate word than "mirrors."
First Movement: Seinfelt's 'Daydreams and Passions" takes the title "At Last the Distinguished Thing--or--Two Masters,"which relates the last days of Henry James through multiple narrators, including, among others, James' valet, his sister-in-law, and at last, James, the gifted artist himself. Daydreams and Passions, indeed! Here we encounter numerous passionate daydreamers, figures mostly at the outskirts of James' existence but figures who, nevertheless, give us a dreamy, if despondent, master of language, one whose chief passion, chief dream--language itself--is, in typical Seinfelt fashion, also the master's nemesis, his nightmare. At the very end (and I should note that while Seinfelt's linguistic and stylistic dexterity shows itself constantly, he is himself a true master of ends, final words), James both accepts his imminent demise but in an intriguingly odd motley of responses: calling out to death for release, for freedom, James also hesitates, wonders if death will bring him to a hell made not of fire nor ice but of words, of writing, of eternal writing.
Second Movement: As in Berlioz' "A Dance," in Seinfelt's second movement, "Steiglitz' Folly," the gifted artist finds himself "in the most diverse situations in life, in the tumult of a festive orgy," but here the festive orgy is the first gulf war, and instead of finding himself stretched between the peaceful contemplation of nature and thoughts of his beloved, Seinfelt's William Steiglitz remains glued to his TV while dreams (and passions) of his dead father haunt him--this man had tried to make his son in his own image, at the intellectual level, and his ghost hasn't given up. Given the ghost's mysterious "harping" that accompanies Steiglitz' dreams, Steiglitz finds himself performing a passionate, and macabre, dance if ever there were one (just as Steiglitz and his father's ghost are locked in dark two-step, so are the American civil war and America's first gulf war): possibly this is also Seinfelt's sly and punning way of reminding us readers that Berloiz' chief complaint about his Symphonie had to do with he difficulty of getting it performed due to a harp shortage plaguing Europe at the time!
Third Movement: Berlioz' "Scene in the Countryside," at least in his own program notes, mingles fear and happiness, hope and despair, all filtered through a distinct, overpowering loneliness, and this too Seinfelt shadows, though to this heady cocktail he also offers his signature wryness and formalistic dexterity. This movement, titled "The Mozart Machine" tells the story of two star-crossed lovers, two gifted artists thwarted, though perhaps not permanently, by persistent bad luck. We first meet the central character, Michael Bolanger, as a precocious undergraduate, a young man who wants more than anything to write a book and to find true love. His other is Elis Hexfore, a somewhat older but completely bewitching (perhaps Seinfelt is already preparing us for his fifth movement) poet who comes in and out of Bolanger's life, an extraordinary woman who seems distant not only to Bolanger but to herself as well. As their relationship waxes and wanes, Bolanger begins to find his voice his metier, his chops and finally finishes his first important book. Alongside this pastoral duet on alpine horns (besides numerous picnics and cookouts we also are treated to some very engaging spelunking), we meet numerous, one might even say a cavalcade of other characters who often supply quasi-narration to the movement: a whole slew of artists, writers, thinkers, wise-guys, suicides, and so on each have their own say in one way or the other, offering us readers not only perspectives on them as characters, but more importantly, adding precious tidbits of Bolanger and Hexfore's story (especially the muted but nevertheless powerful force and presence--both in life and, again, as a ghost--of Bolanger's beloved grandfather). A delightfully complex and refreshing reworking of the more traditional and familiar tales of doomed or almost doomed romantic and artistic desire, the movement includes another layer of intriguing complexity: several sections of the movement are what seem to be non-fiction pieces about the Author himself, but which are probably more accurately described as further fictions, deeper levels or layers of fiction in which another writer and his love court and skirt each other. In the end, as in Berlioz' third movement, hope is restored, but as hope it is always uncertain, always in the offing, always a matter of faith rather than fact, offering as much riot as tranquility.
Fourth Movement: Titled "Intrusive Voices," Seinfelt's fourth begins with a particularly illuminating quote from Joyce's Finnegan's Wake: "I was veribally isolate I from my multiple Mes." And Intrusive Voices traces this Joycean tidbit in all its glory as it relates the story of Anton Rausch's fragmented personalities marching to the scaffold. Here, though, the scaffold leads itself to something if not exactly hopeful, then at least somewhat optimistic. After having ranged through numerous voices, we find Anton himself at the end (as we do in most of these movements, the final passages are given to a central consciousness that has been perhaps controlling everything--including us!--all along), Anton musing on what his lives add up to. In a moment described as his final epiphany, Anton realizes, "He had led other lives. He had composed heroic operas and had written the greatest plays and music dramas the planet had ever known as well as served a Germany's greatest exalted statesman! He had been Wagner, Bismarck, and Shakespeare. He had been everyone who ever lived." At the very end, Anton sees himself as sounds, as words--Seinfelt's own idee fixe?--words that as sounds "would never cease to be."
Fifth Movement: In place of Berlioz' "Dreams of a Witches' Sabbath," Seinfelt gives us a fifth movement titled simply, "Appendix." But simplicity is the last thing this concluding movement provides us with. Of Berloiz' concluding movement it has been said that it is, "the most obviously provocative of the whole symphony," and the same could be said of Seinfelt's "Appendix." Presented ostensibly as "Two Short stories and an honors essay by Michal Bolanger," a note at the end tells us that these selections are, in fact, works by the author (which of course we knew they were, since Bolanger is, as far as we know anyway, a fictional construct of Seinfelt's!). Here we have Seinfelt at his slyest and most creative! His free-wheeling dream (Bernstein called Berloiz' movement the first instance of psychadelia in music), complete with endnotes and a final note, again, from the author, leave us readers in a thoroughly remarkable place of hope, fear, optimism and pessimism, sincerity and insincerity, confidence and uncertainty, in short, in place where words dwell, romp.
If Seinfelt's work has a weakness, it can probably be found in the perhaps-too-hermetic feel it often exudes. While explicitly written as part of our time, it is also explicitly not contemporary feeling, even when the events being portrayed are current (more or less): in addition to the wonderful word work and linguistic flourishes, and perhaps hampering them to an extent, there is also a tenaciously hermetic feel to the work. This is not necessarily a problem in and of itself--in fact, in many ways I applaud such authors, those who deftly, purposefully, craftily, and of course craft fully carve out a space completely idiosyncratic.
In the end, it's Henry James even more than Berloiz whom we readers sense looming over-above the project as a whole. From the explicit story of James' death in the first movement, through the numerous references to James in other parts of the collection, to the numerous "liftings" of James words, images, and themes peppered throughout the work, Seinfelt is expert at "channeling" James, finding unique, fascinating, and above all else, rhapsodic ways of showing us how the master of the nineteenth century might have fared in the twenty-first. Of course, in certain especial intriguing ways, Seinfelt may have one-upped Hank (as the narrator(s) of The Mozart Machine might have dubbed James): unlike the master's (and the master himself), Seinfelt's narrators (and perhaps Seinfelt, as well) feel equally at home in the drawing room, the bedroom, and the barroom! As a result, the author and the narrators can delve into zones (both Miltonic and other) that would have frozen the master in his tracks. And if for nothing more than this, but for much more than this as well, again, props to Mark Seinfelt! Dave Kress, author of Martians and Hush Word Patriots, July 4, 2011
Final Drafts

Paul West’s Foreword to Mark Seinfelt’s Final Drafts
For years now, Mark Seinfelt has lived with his maternal grandfather atop a mountain in Central Pennsylvania, no doubt initiating himself into hypoxia and strengthening his already intense regard for Thomas Mann.
Up there, as well as composing half a dozen novels he has prepared a magnum opus devoted (in the fullest sense) to literary suicides of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This could have been a mawkish and monotonous undertaking, yet it has not turned out that way. Mr. Seinfelt has no ax to grind, no emptily charismatic academic theory, making tidy what is messy and unknown. Instead, he allows his suicides their full autonomy in a series of candid portraits that, while telling us as much as we need, reveals his subjects in the full dignity of their internal commotion: deciding to think again, then deciding to think no more, Hamlets of self-infliction, Prufrocks of the profane.
I know of no other such book, done with un-Procrustean passion and knowledgeable balance. Mr. Seinfelt does not stereotype or group his people, and he casts a humane eye on those whose alcoholism, say, seems a suicide of chronic contrivance, or even on such a canker of nature as Hitler, whose destructive habits had a self-destructive core. This is not psychological criticism, though Mr. Seinfelt movingly explores his suicides’ minds, the manger of their dismal deaths. Nor is the book prissy moralizing, though its author is clearly on the side of life, the angels even (as Disraeli said), averring in his very first sentence that “If our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thoughts, then perhaps our saddest songs are those that tell of sweetest.” Human paradoxicality is his theme and, to lift a title from that all but forgotten novelist C.P. Snow, “variety of men” (and women).
His ideal introducer would be one of his own ill-fated dramatis personae: vain hope. He takes full account of the suicidal in most human beings, studying and tracking it in twenty-five exponents of felo de se as if it were a gift, in some the inevitable cost of a stance or vision too near the edge, too obsessed with the unknown region. Too hopeful, too desperate. Above all this is not a case of samples fudged up by a didactic witchdoctor hawking the cowflop and dust of a sometime Ph.D. dissertation. Indeed, it is that noble assembly, too little honored in our dumbdown time, the collection of compatible essays, set up to evince the culpable severity of the pensive life, the sometimes mordant sensitivity of the constant observer, the self-elegist apostrophizing self from amid the wreckage of a life too fervent or too fierce, or conducted with a limp wrist, a muddled eye. The human capacity for getting things wrong (expecting too much or too little) is Mr. Seinfelt’s Wagnerian Leitmotif, and he discusses his entrants and their exits with worldly concession, always aware that life is a given, a gift, ever available for being snuffed out.
A sentient reader, who has not trodden any crack of this fatal path, will no doubt develop favorites and pet peeves by book’s end, perhaps even coming to believe there is a decorum in suicide, a finesse of drab finality. Mr. Seinfelt gets into little of this, remaining the well-educated bracelet of bright hair about these bones. His is a young man’s book of the dead, and refreshingly so, in which he unpacks his bags in the morgue and sets up his own bright stall, with an uncommonly large and varied array of literary wares at his disposal, almost, as it were, learning his trade from those it killed.
The familiar quietuses of Woolf, Crane, Berryman, Mishima and Hemingway appear here, as they must, in the context of less familiar ones–Trakl, Teasdale, Zweig, Lockridge, Lowry, Kawabata, Gary, and Kosinski–the whole procedure acquiring a frantic normalcy as the record continues, making the reader wonder perhaps why we don’t all do it, having had our say and not profited spiritually from it. Among the forgotten there hovers Tom McHale, author of Farragan’s Retreat and other sprightly novels, reviled in a glossy magazine’s perfunctory obituary paragraph for having quit the kitchen, unable to stand the heat. Read this book and be astounded how many authors have done away with themselves: the poisoned, the burned, the beheaded-by-friends; jumpers, danglers, asphyxiants, not to mention lushes and junkies committed to the inevitability of gradualness, with the absurd of old always in the offing. One comes away from Mr. Seinfelt’s honorable roll-call mystified by the prodigious things these people, we authors, keep trying to do: justify the ways of God to men, after Milton, or transcend the human condition altogether. Perhaps we shall see more such exits as profit-mad publishers of no taste lean on their most bellelettristic performers, people of consummate gift for whom an entertainment-hungry society has no further use amid the shenanigans of how-to, celeb non-books, and airline reading that amounts to a tooled vacancy wrapped in simply worded covers. Maybe, one day soon, rejection slips will have a cyanide spot which the unhappy recipients will be invited to lick. The fate of the thoughtful among the thoughtless has always been a nightmare, and Mr. Seinfelt sharply brings us up to speed on our own time’s version of it. He sets us wondering all over again: What kills? Indifference or stress?
Someone from another, superior planet might wonder at this trade of letters that kills more than do stockbroking, teaching, or aeronautical design. Mr. Seinfelt brings many drear, cumulative moments to life, proffering the idea, perhaps, that suicides are self-saviors, survivors are the real suicides, the difference between them being mainly a matter of emphasis. One wonders. As Boethius says in The Consolation of Philosophy, he who wants his wound healed must first expose it. Here then are miscellaneous wounds exposed as much as possible, culminating in what many may now refer to with solecistic fecklessness as the coup de gras (a lot of dead ducks). Ultimately, Mr. Seinfelt seems to seek in these baleful memorials a precise account of the grace (coup de grace) administered to oneself, whether it works any better than arranging pain, flux, and joy into words for fifty years or so. Whoever bites the bullet need not eat the gun.

What Mark Seinfelt has done in his new study is to give us the stories, the screams, and, inasmuch as they can be determined, the reasons for suicide of 50 celebrated writers of the past 100 years. Defining his parameters, Seinfelt notes that suicide was a rare phenomenon among writers and artists before 1900. In Greek and Roman times, when self-murder was often viewed as a noble way to defy persecution or stand up for one's principles, such figures as Socrates, Cato, and Seneca chose suicide as a virtual affirmation. But in our century, only a few ideologues have deliberately sacrificed themselves to a cause, a protest, or a dogma. In the literary world, Yukio Mishima is perhaps the most striking example of such martyrdom.
Prometheus Books
Some of the greatest writers in the history of the art-Hart Crane, Ernest Hemingway, Jerzy Kosinski, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and Virginia Woolf-all chose to silence themselves by suicide, leaving their families and friends with heartbreak and the world of literature with gaping holes. Their reasons for killing themselves, when known, were varied and, quite often, unreasonable. Some were plagued by depression or self-doubt, and others by frustration and helplessness in a world they could neither change nor tolerate.
The Oakland Press
Panorama Books - Book offers insight into suicides of famous writers
By Ginny Stolicker of the Oakland Press
The title or the subject matter of suicides should not intimidate the reader. Instead, there is an opportunity to read and maybe gain some understanding of why these talented writers would end their lives.
Hart Crane, Ernest Hemingway, Jerzy Kosinski, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and Virginia Woolf are among those whose suicides are explored. For some, there is still a question as to whether the writer truely intended to commit suicide.
Poet Sylvia Plath had failed at suicide attempts several times through the years.
A few days before her suicide, Plath wrote "Edge," a poem explaining what she hoped killing herself would accomplish. In the poem, however, babies die. But at her home in London, she made certain that her two children would live no matter what she did to herself.
After sealing up the kitchen, at 6 a.m., Feb. 11, 1963, Plath turned on the gas. An au pair was to arrive at 9 a.m. Some speculate Plath knew this, hoping to be saved at the last minute. However, the au pair was unable to wake a nearby tenant, who could have let her into the poet's flat. The man did not respond to the pounding on the door because he was overcome by gas that seeped through the floor from Plath's kitchen. By 11 a.m., the girl managed to get into Plath's apartment with the help of another tenant. Plath's body was still warm.
"On the kitchen table lay the note with her therapist's phone number asking that he be called -- that this was an emergency and that she needed help," wrote Seinfelt.
Another poet, Anne Sexton, left little chance of discovery with her suicide. Earlier in the day, Sexton had made final revisions and corrections on the galley of "The Awful Rowing Toward God." She'd left a poem for her therapist when she visited that day, Oct. 4, 1974. She also left her cigarettes and lighter in the therapist's office. Seinfelt wrote: "She left no suicide note. After removing her rings from her fingers and depositing them in her purse, she wrapped herself in an old fur coat of her mother's as if to 'rewomb' herself. After drinking several tumblers of vodka, she refilled her glass to take with her to the car, then stepped out to the garage, shutting all the doors before getting into her red Cougar and sitting behind the wheel, she turned the key in the ignition and put on the radio."
While the focus of the book may be the suicides of respected writers, Seinfelt offers much more. For each of the writers, there are short biographies of their careers giving keen insight into their lives -- and unfortunately into their deaths.
Review by Randall Curb
The actress Rachel Roberts wrote in her memoirs "everybody has a story -- and a scream." The Italian novelist, Cesare Pavese said, "No one lacks a good reason for suicide." Both Roberts and Pavase killed themselves.
What Mark Seinfelt has done in his new study is to give us the stories, the screams, and, inasmuch as they can be determined, the reasons for suicide of 50 celebrated writers of the past 100 years.
Defining his parameters, Seinfelt notes that suicide was a rare phenomenon among writers and artists before 1900. In Greek and Roman times, when self-murder was often viewed as a noble way to defy persecution or stand up for one's principles, such figures as Socrates, Cato, and Seneca chose suicide as a virtual affirmation. But in our century, only a few ideologues have deliberately sacrificed themselves to a cause, a protest, or a dogma. In the literary world, Yukio Mishima is perhaps the most striking example of such martyrdom.
Sometimes it seems that once Freud unlocked the subconscious -- and he has several writers as analysands -- a Pandors'a box of suicidal impulses was opened among the literati. Chronic depression, madness, alcoholism, drug addiction, existential despair, inconsolable feelings of worthlessness -- all these things had plagued writers in earlier epochs. Yet suicide, once considered the gravest sin, was usually held at bay.
Only in a century of unprecedented martial slaughter, nuclear holocaust, and genocide has it become a near-commonplace of intellectual life. For the Dadaists (whom Seinfelt does not address), it was the only act that made sense in a world in which reason played no part.
It is not Seinfelt's intention to illustrate theories or put the suicides he recounts into an overarching historical/psychological paradigm. His approach is that of the mini-biographer, with each writer's life story discretely sketched, his or her career outlined, and the events leading up to suicide summarized. The chapters, one per writer, are often meager on analysis, but are satisfyingly generous on vital detail. About a few of the most famous authors, such as Hemingway and Virginia Woolf, Seinfelt is both short-sighted and uninspired. But with writers less read, like Hart Crane (the subject of his longest chapter) or Stefan Zweig, he performs a more valuable service than merely rendering a downward spiral: He makes you want to read their work.
Final Drafts is an intriguing bed-side-table book, better for dipping into than for reading at a stretch. The stories are necessarily grim and disturbing, but the subjects rarely fail to fascinate.
Centre Daily Times - Book Beat
Centre Daily Times, Sunday, October 10, 1999
The Last Chapter
Philipsburg man's compendium of literary suicides is a look at the dark side of writing life
By Barbara Brueggebors

Ernest Hemingway shot himself. Sylvia Plath took sleeping pills and stuck her head in the oven. Vachel Lindsay downed a bottle of Lysol.
Constance Woolson dove from a second-story window. Yukio Mishima committed hari-kari. Jack London drank himself close to death and then took poison -- suicide on the layaway plan, so to speak.
"This is dark," Mark Seinfelt concedes of his first published work, "Final Drafts: Suicides of World Famous Authors."
An understatement, surely.
Seinfelt's book, due out Nov. 1, explores the whos, whats, whys, and wherefores of 56 literary suicides of the 20th century.
Twenty-five writers rate a chapter apiece; the remainder are examined more breifly.
A chapter titled "Seven Possibles" handles those on whom the coroner's jury is still out. Included in this bunch are Ambrose Bierce, who disappeared into Mexico in 1913; Randall Jarrell, who walked in front of a car (having slit his wrists six months earlier), and British adventurer, soldier and scholar T.E. Lawrence who rode a motorcycle into oblivion.
Seinfelt's book covers both the leading lights and lesser lights of literature with suicides spanning the period 1894 through 1997.
"I look at this as a historical book...a millennial book...a way of looking at the 20th century as events unfolded," Seinfelt says. "I live in mortal fear I'm going to pick up the paper some morning before this year is out only to find that John Updike or somebody else has offed himself."

'Ultimate taboo'

Until the 20th century, Seinfelt speculates, the "ultimate taboo" against suicide kept many writers who otherwise would have done themselves in from actually doing the deed.
Since then, he says, it's been Katie, bar the door.
"It's always been known that creative people are subject to a high degree of manic depression," he adds. "The question is why has this century been so lethal to creative personalities."
"Final Drafts" offers answers: wars, societal changes, the Cold War, literature's slow but sure decline on the scale of importance.
"There is always a mirror between the writer and society, and 20th-century society was destructive," Seinfelt says. "This century -- for the human race in general -- has been a suicidal century."
Seinfelt, 37, grew up in Indiana, Pa., where his father is an English professor. He was raised on a steady diet of literature -- the works of Thomas Mann, James Joyce, and William Faulkner being special favorites.
Educated at Penn State and Washington University, he earned three degrees in English and creative writing. For the past six years, he has lived in Philipsburg, making his home with his maternal grandfather, local historian J. Clair Simler, still hale and hearty at 92.
Along with his writing, Seinfelt works at various other jobs. He was a social worker in a nursing home at one time. ("I have a novel about that experience," he says.) Recently he headed the Philipsburg Historical Foundation's Simler House restoration project.
Seinfelt has written five novels -- none of which has yet found a publisher.
"Quite frankly, that's why I wrote this, " Seinfelt says, patting his "Final Drafts" manuscript, the hint of a chuckle in his voice. "People wouldn't look at my fiction."
Thinking about topics for a work of nonfiction, it struck him there were any number of individual biographies of writers who had committed suicide but no one book giving a group picture.
Consequently, he sees "Final Drafts" both an interesting read and a valuable reference tool.
"It's nice to have all this in one place," he notes, adding that, ideally, the book will send readers back to his subjects' own works.

Novel in the works

Seinfelt spent four years researching and writing "Final Drafts", alternately working on it and his latest novel, a 470 page manuscript titled "Henry Boulanger of Mushannon Town."
"It was good to be doing both at once," he says, explaining it was a literal case of fiction as an escape mechanism.
Assembling the list of author-suicides turned out to be Seinfelt's toughest chore.
"When I started, I thought I'd probably have 13 or 14 chapters and I ended up with 25 -- plus the others that recount more suicides in lesser detail," he explains. "A number of these author-suicides I knew, of course," Seinfelt adds. "But I just kept finding them, and various friends would mention others to me. The book just grew."
Seinfelt is quick to mention that the most controversial thing about "Final Drafts" is the chapter on Adolf Hitler, whose "Mein Kampf," written in the early 1920s, became the bible of the Nazi Party.
But if it's an apology you want for Der Fuhrer's inclusion, you won't hear it from Seinfelt. "It may be surprising, but it is indeed apt," he says, noting that the horrors Hilter set in motion pushed many other author-suicides -- including émigré Austrian writer Stefan Zweig -- over the brink.
"Thomas Mann said that Hitler was, at center, an artist," Seinfelt adds. "I feel there's a darkness in a lot of creative people."

Mark Seinfelt with his manuscript of "Final Drafts"
Rambles Net Reviews
Gregg Winkler, March 20, 2010
Mark Seinfelt takes on death and writing in Final Drafts: suicides of world famous authors. Final Drafts is an amazing look at the mind-boggling frequency in which influential writers take their own lives. Examining writers spanning the entire 20th Century, Seinfelt takes his readers on some of the most uplifting and depressing trips I have been on in a long time. In each chapter, Seinfelt paints for us a beautiful picture of the lives of our doomed authors, the significance of their work, the temperament of the culture and times, as well as a moving depiction of the authors’ final acts. Each chapter celebrates the lives of the authors, examining their works, oftentimes pointing out how in many cases the concept of suicide has raised its ugly head in each of their lives. In nearly all cases, Seinfelt shows us the authors’ greatest moments, and then in a flip of the page, shows us those same authors at their most vulnerable. Each chapter ends on a downer.
Review of Mark Seinfelt's Final Drafts: Suicides of World-Famous Authors
Elisabeth Lanser-Rose
When I first opened Mark Seinfelt's collection of self-annihilating biographies, Final Drafts: Suicides of World-Famous Authors, I felt two strong misgivings pitted against one powerful human proclivity. First, as I writer myself, I have a misgiving about the pall that suicide spreads over a life's work. It makes everything the writer ever penned creepy, Edgar Allen-esque, and it shouldn't. Second, as a teacher of young writers, I hate the glamour that a writer like Sylvia Plath gives to suicide. Young adults don't need any temptation to tip themselves off the top of the Sunshine Skyway--in the age group of 15 - 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death. Despite those hesitations, as a fellow mortal, how can I not run right up to the railing of literary suicide and have a good, long look-see?
It's a shame that suicides render their legacies into something Edward Gorey doodled. Most writers I know are biophilic. Art is life responding to life by exuberant mimicry, choiring the proper praise, to paraphrase Annie Dillard, or intensifying the world, to quote Paul West, by "making it pleasurably palpable, not only to suggest the impetuous abundance of Creation, but also to add to it the expansive power of the mind itself, its unique knack for making itself at home among trees, dawns, viruses, and then turning them into something else: a word, a daub, a sonata." To drape a living work of literature in the shroud of its author's suicide seems . . . perverse.
You may have heard, Edward Albee recently found himself having a good stretch on the rack for something he said when he was presented with the Pioneer Award, which honors those who have broken ground for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender literary pursuits. In accepting this honor, Albee told the audience, "A writer who happens to be gay or lesbian must be able to transcend self. I am not a gay writer. I am a writer who happens to be gay." He continued, "Any definition which limits us is deplorable." If we risk limiting a work by labeling its author "the gay writer" or "the female writer" or "the Jewish writer," aren't we doing likewise when we call the author "a suicide?" I think so. It is deplorable. For example, it can turn Hemingway's entire body of work into one long suicide note.
As for glamorizing suicide, I refuse to let my students believe their writing lives will be maddened by constant siren song. That may be why I approached Final Drafts with skepticism about one of its underlying premises, that artists, and particularly western writers, are more prone to suicide than anyone else. I want to reject the notion that all writers are just too precious for this world, just as I reject the idea that writers shouldn't be taken seriously because they're all lunatics, warped, self-absorbed ghouls who can't be trusted not to drink themselves to death, throw themselves out windows, blow their brains out, stick their heads in ovens, or hit themselves in the heads with hammers.
Those of us who would like to believe that writers are victim to self-inflicted homicide no more than the rest of the world's population may take some comfort in the fact that dentists also get voted "most likely to off themselves." So do other medical professionals, policemen, crossing guards, miners, businessmen, repairmen, wholesalers, retailers, and construction workers. It turns out, at least according to a 2001 report by the American Psychological Association, that any correlation between suicide risk and profession seems impossible to determine. Instead, the top predictors for suicide are: diagnosable mental disorder, co-morbid substance abuse, loss of social support, and availability and access to a firearm. According to World Health Organization statistics, you're most likely to kill yourself not if you're creative, but if you're elderly, male, and considering a do-it-yourself death in Russia.
In a 1999 study the National Institutes of Health investigated the alleged affiliation between artists and self-murder. They studied suicide among eminent artists of all kinds: architects, painters, sculptors, writers, poets, and playwrights. They found that suicide risk among artists is highest among the elderly males--a rate that corresponds with general populace. They reason that among artsy suicides, it isn't the artistic bent per se that's deadly, it's the adverse financial circumstances and the stress of public rejection.
They also postulate a link between creativity and mental disorders such as manic-depression. In fact, Seinfelt ends Final Drafts with an exploration of the connection between manic-depression and creativity.
If writers aren't necessarily more prone to suicide than anyone else, perhaps they're simply more prone to write about it than dentists are.
Write about it is something that Mark Seinfelt does lovingly well. In his introduction he quotes A. Alvarez, author of The Savage God, "Western writers have always been intrigued by the ultimate taboo of human behavior." Whether you're a writer or not, we are all fascinated by the ultimate of anything, by taboos, and by death itself: the most mysterious, inevitable, and dreaded event. We're helplessly enthralled by murderers, and who wouldn't be deliciously scandalized by strangers who murder themselves?
Yet Final Drafts is anything but lurid. Seinfelt's book is a series of intimate, tender, gorgeously rendered eulogies for writers of great acclaim, from the notorious to the adored, who, one way or another, caused their own demise. Although their suffering is acute, and his ability to draw that suffering to the page is masterful, Seinfelt's language is so exquisite that it softens the anguish, as a loving hand tucks a blanket under a chin. Experts say that suicide is not a death wish or a bid for attention, but an expression of extreme distress. Final Drafts is written by a gentle, erudite, and eloquent man who loves literature and anyone who creates it. It is above all else a product of his admiration for their life's work, which he presents in deft accounts, and a manifestation of his compassion for the writers who suffered exquisite and fatal distress.
Between these pages Seinfelt attempts "to relate not only the facts of twenty-five past-century authors' lives and deaths but to capture their mindsets at the moment when they each decided to rush into the secret house of death, ere death came to them."
Mark Seinfelt invites us fellow mortals into fellowship with the many faces of mortality, for they are our faces too. As Paul West writes in the forward, Seinfelt "reveals his subjects in the full dignity of their internal commotion: deciding to think again, then deciding again to think no more."
He begins by musing that "If our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thoughts, then perhaps our saddest songs are those that tell of sweetest." This book is Seinfelt's saddest song, a sweet elegy for the writers who took their own lives in the last century, who saw themselves, he writes, as exemplars of what was best in their society's culture, when the bloody events of this century called the value of these very cultures into question." In his lovely last lines, he wonders if contemporary writers may be burdened by a sense of futility in the face of the acclaim they see showered not on their own efforts, but instead upon actors, athletes, and musicians. In the final lines of Final Drafts, he quotes Romain Gary, who wrote "the world now confronts a writer with a question that is mortal for every kind of artistic expression: that of futility. Not even the lyrical illusion remains of what for so long literature wished, and believed itself to be--a contribution to the development and progress of mankind." Final Drafts is a contribution to the progress of mankind. It is itself a literary work of elegiac power, a reclamation of all the passionate genius we lost with each life lost. By force of its own gorgeousness, it lightens the stain of suicide that Alvarez calls "a dye that cannot be washed out." It lifts the tabloid taint of suicide from the art to which they gave life. This is a book for those of us who love and live literature, a celebration of writers free of labels to limit them.
Henry Boulanger

Author Pens Historical Fiction Novel Stressing the Importance of Freedom and Patriotism Henry Boulanger of Mushannon Town by Mark Seinfelt is a story about a man's expedition into the Pennsylvania wilderness to found the town of Mushannon.
Inventing a New World by Jason Charnesky

Friends who have done a lot of traveling through the back ways of America report that Central Pennsylvania, that mountainous stretch of small towns south of Route 80 and north of nowhere, has perhaps the ugliest looking population in the entire United States. Not simply that the people here are plain, but that one sees the same type of plain face, a sort of rural family resemblance, running throughout the valleys of the slate belt, the coal belt and the lost lumber empires of these Pennsylvania woods. The run down little towns are populated with a squat, flabby, no nonsense folk, laconic to the point of taciturnity. One might think that for a couple centuries anyone who was good looking enough or smart thinking enough moved on elsewhere, leaving only the modestly endowed to mate among themselves. And in this, you’d be more or less correct.

So it takes a particularly gifted eye and an especially rich historical imagination to see that beneath the apparent plainness of this region lie wild stories of brilliant men, geniuses of science, masters of business, and exotic émigrés from the most cultivated courts of Europe. It was here along the banks of the Susquehanna River and its tributaries that amazing utopian dreams, crazy beyond the possibility of realization, took root for a brief historic moment. Joseph Priestly, the British scientist who discovered oxygen and invented carbonated water, came to these mountains when he was forced to flee the English mob that burned his library to the ground. Lorenzo Da Ponte, the poet and librettist of Mozart’s greatest operas, escaping debts and scandal, set up shop in Northumberland County hard by the Susquehanna. Before Marie Antoinette met her end at the edge of a guillotine blade, a plan was hatched to spirit her away to America, to these Pennsylvania forests where the town of French Azilum was constructed as a sort of acadian Versailles, which could offer asylum to the aristocratic refugees of the French Revolution. And the young Romantic poets, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and his brother-in-law Robert Southey devised a utopian political philosophy, Pantisocrasy, which was to have its home in the wilds of the Susquehanna.

It is this wild, utopian and largely forgotten Pennsylvania that Mark Seinfelt masterfully conjures before us in Henry Boulanger of Mushannon Town. The protagonist and narrator is as well read as Joseph Priestly, as picaresque as Da Ponte, as garrulous as Coleridge, and as familiar with the courts of Europe as Marie Antoinette herself. The tale he tells will take us from the courts of Europe across the Atlantic to the American Revolution and the building of a new nation. More specifically, Henry Boulanger relates the creation of Mushannon Town, a city built from scratch and based on hope. The theme of the novel is the fate of such hope in the face of history, necessity and calamity.

The best literature not only tells a great story, it challenges us to learn a new way of reading. In Henry Boulanger, Seinfelt creates a polyglot, multifarious and ruminative character, possessed of immense intelligence and sweeping historical perspective. Since Boulanger is an old man already as he sets out to tell his tale, we are given a narrator who has lived so long, who has seen so much, and who has such a burning need to tell us all, that a simple English sentence cannot contain his multitudes. Boulanger is not a simple man. He does not speak in simple phrases. As so often happens when the old folks speak of the past, every object is tied to events and persons now ages old but equally important to the speaker, and especially present in his mind as he speaks. Seinfelt’s achievement,and it is a large one, is the fashioning of a prose style that can contain all the contradictions, interruptions, self-corrections and flat out weirdnesses of this man of the world looking back over the two or three worlds his life has spanned. This is not an easy read. But Henry Boulanger is not an easy man to know. He requires our attention and repays it with a fullness of reference which, once we get the hang of reading through sentences of such complexity, gives us the world in its fullness. And that’s what historical fiction, at its best, is all about.

Granted, this is writing that demands much of the reader. Seinfelt somehow manages to wed the sentential mastery of Henry James to the gonzo-historical goofiness of Thomas Pynchon. But the power of this writing is that if we are willing to learn its complicated music it will transform the prosy world we return to once our reading is done: these little towns and the plain-faced people of Central Pennsylvania, within whom lies the seeds of utopia and the tragic story of its demise.

Greensburg, Pittsburgh, Sunday, May 16, 2010
Indiana native nets award with novel based on ancestor’s Revolutionary Life
Mark Seinfelt, an Indiana native who now resides in Philipsburg, has received the 2010 Pinnacle Book Achievement Award for his first published novel, “Henry Boulanger of Mushannon Town.”
The book was honored in the historical fiction category by the North American Bookdealers Exchange and will be showcased at upcoming book trade shows and on NABE’s website.
The novel is a fictionalized account of the life of Seinfelt’s maternal ancestor John Henry Simler, one of Philipsburg’s original 12 settlers, a Revolutionary war soldier and a shoemaker at the court of Versailles.
Former Steelers head coach Bill Cowher also is a descendant of Simler, according to Seinfelt.
The novel also touches on an effort to settle French émigrés in Pennsylvania following the French Revolution.
In 2008, the book was a semi-finalist in the Breakthrough Novel Award contest and was subsequently published by the Amazon subsidiary Book Surge/ Create Space.
Seinfelt’s other published works include “Symphonie Fantastique,” a collection of four novellas and an essay, and “Final Drafts,” a non-fiction examination of the lives and deaths of 25 authors who committed suicide between 1894 and 1991–including Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath.
Seinfelt holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Penn State and a master’s degree in writing from Washington University in St. Louis.
He serves as a trustee and grant writer for the Philipsburg Historical Foundation and as secretary for the Committee for a Moshannon Valley Veterans Memorial. He is and avid reader, sportsman, and amateur pianist.
The NABE Pinnacle Awards annually honors top genre books published by independent publishers.
Baldr and Beatrice

Word Patriots
Ed Desautels, author of Flicker in the Porthole Glass

In Baldr and Beatrice, Mark Seinfelt offers a dense, complex, imaginative, and ultimately moving novel of love deferred and regained. He’s divided the work into two astonishingly contrasting parts. Or, perhaps, he’s given us a compound offering of two novels, the first a serious novel masquerading as fantasy fiction rendered in lush, operatic prose that spins the lore of several cultures into a tale of archetypal, identity-shifting lovers; the second a comparatively deadpan roman a clef counterpoint that explains, reflects, and interpenetrates the more fanciful work preceding it.
The two halves of Baldr and Beatrice are titled Waikan and Worak, names derived from Winnebago Indian mythology. The former, Waikan, indicates a narrative thread in the Winnebago lore that pertains to a realm long gone and inaccessible, a sacred realm of god, spirit, devil, and monster in which the impossible is commonplace, nothing ends tragically, and death is but a temporary inconvenience. Worak, on the other hand, tells us of the world we know, the ordinary world in which we humans hump along from day to day and which, owing to our mortality, must always end tragically.
            In this world of Winnebago lore, the godly Waikan may move into the earthly realm of the Worak, but things don’t work the other way around. And so is the case with Baldr and Beatrice, the mythologically star-crossed lovers whose exploits we follow from the fantastic Waikan section of the novel into the quotidian Worak narrative, where they appear in near-present-day Pennsylvania as Richard and Natalia (who goes by the more prosaic name, Lynn). Those familiar with Norse legend might now well be asking how it is Baldr, the shining second son of the god Odin, appears in the context of a Winnebago mythological structure. It’s a good question—one that offers a key into the whole of Baldr and Beatrice— and I’ll return to it in a moment.
As it turns out, Winnebago and Norse aren’t the only mythologies shouldering their way into the scrum of mythos animating the Waikan half of Seinfelt’s novel—pagan and Christian myths also season the story, as do the tales of the Brothers Grimm and the jury-rigged tradition that flows out of the wellspring of Christian hegemony over pagan cultures, the kind of thing you find in such picturesque fairy tales as a Christmas story that pins the birth of Christ to the winter solstice and which borrows the Yula Alf, nowadays known as Santa Claus. Indeed, Beatrice is convinced Baldr is an incarnation of Christ (a conviction that nets her some measure of abuse). The reader also encounters comparatively arid histories of the white man’s push into Native American territories (including that of the Winnebago) and the so-called Indian Wars that resulted. These realms of myth, history, and religion mix and mingle, wax and wane; some dominate certain passages only to defer to their counterparts in others, roaming a trail that crosses time and space, that trespasses an operatic Thuringia of the mind into a deerskin-clad Spirit Lake of lapidary emotion.
In this Waikan multiverse, Baldr and Beatrice seek each other out over many eons and worlds, beset by misery and tormented by demon and ill-intentioned relative alike, destined to encounter each other for only the briefest, if sweetest, interludes. Baldr’s quest winds through vast surges of space and time, and he presents himself to Beatrice in many forms and guises, including that of a translucent fawn. These leaps put you in mind of the gravity defying narrative spun by Virginia Woolf in her novel Orlando. Seinfelt juxtaposes them against prolonged, diaphanous moments of charmed focus as delicate as they are fulgurating with resonance and allusion. At times, the narrative seems to become a pastiche of mythology itself—witness one particularly hilarious scene in which the Winnebago god Red Horn, needing to commandeer some transport quick-style while doing battle with a host of evil spirits, “sleigh jacks” the Yula Alf (Santa Claus), only to be confounded by a resolutely immobile Donner and Blitzen (horses in this telling). Once he gets them going, he’s chased across the night sky by a slavering pack of devil dogs!
Both Beatrice and Baldr are ably chaperoned, Beatrice by her grandmother Oma and Baldr by Red Horn, the master storyteller. Red Horn’s appearance serves as another clue into Seinfelt’s narrative strategy, for as we move into the novel’s quotidian, Worak half, we begin to learn more about this “present raconteur,” the aforementioned Richard, who also has benefitted from the mentoring of a master storyteller—indeed, three of them: the real-life novelists Paul West, William Gass, and John Hawkes. From these mentors Richard has inherited a profound appreciation for the many ways in which literature, lore, history, the written word, inform and enrich our life and which, perhaps, save us. A brief biographical name-check also points to the roman a clef at work in the Worak half of the novel, thereby pitting presumed actual events against the rich mythological tapestry woven in the novel’s opening half. The juxtaposition is but one of the many ways Seinfelt plays each half of the novel against the other.
Richard ekes out a living as unofficial chief historian and unflagging booster of a small, derelict central Pennsylvania town originally settled by his ancestors, penning historical novel and grant proposal alike. There he fights his own everyday demons, like the do-nothing curmudgeons on the town council who oppose his bid to save the town’s oldest home, and his own inclination toward hopelessness and drink. And like the Baldr presented in the Waikan half of the novel, Richard, too, lives his life at a remove from his true love, Lynn, a college flame, married and now divorced and working to support two sons. She lives in an area of Wisconsin once inhabited by the very Winnebago whose lore structures the narrative in the novel’s opening section. As Richard combats his demons and works to reconnect with Lynn, to rediscover a love they once had, a love deferred, we come to see him making sense of his life through the one true power he possess: that of the written word. Steeped in history, literature, the lore of many traditions, Richard taps this power to forge a lore customized to effect a personal peace, harmony, and understanding through the very act of its creation.
Interestingly, though the prose and pacing of the Worak section is willfully flat—which is in keeping with the workaday Worak spirit of the narrative—this half of Baldr and Beatrice tugs at the reader in a subtle, yet powerful, tide of emotion. You see, the Waikan half of the novel includes a recurring leitmotif in which Baldr’s transformation to Worak cannot be complete until he can convince a shadow to move with him through time. In a sense, the Waikan half of the novel itself becomes a shadow for the Worak half, moving with it, shading the everyday, commonplace events with meaning, and investing it, by contrast, with touching humanity—all the more so because Richard, our ever present raconteur, has cast himself and Lynn as the Worak embodiments of Baldr and Beatrice. It could be they really are—would there be a way to disprove it? But, whether they are Waikan become Worak, or whether some past life as archetypal lovers in the realm of the gods is little more than the rich word play of Richard’s imagination, there can be no doubt that Richard and Lynn exist in the world we know. And even as they make slow, unsteady steps toward uniting their lives again in love, they have entered the realm of tragedy, a realm in which all quests succumb to inevitable decline and death and in which we Worak call upon our powers of language and invention to write up our existence, validate it, celebrate it, and connect to all manner of eternities in ways that give us some measure of command over our fate.
The power of love, naturally, fuels much of this lore. In Baldr and Beatrice, Mark Seinfelt has offered us a lyrical, compelling double rendering of love: one mythical, the other mortal. Held up to each other, these renderings reflect in an infinite regression of desire, transcendence, and the profoundly infinite rewards of precious, fleeting moments spent in the company of the one we love.
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