Please welcome my special guest, thriller author, H.W. “Buzz” Bernard. Buzz is here today to talk about his latest book, Plague. He is a writer and retired meteorologist. His debut novel, Eyewall, which one reviewer called a “perfect summer read,” was released in May 2011 and went on to become a best-seller in Amazon’s Kindle Store. His second novel,Plague, came out in September 2011 and is currently at work on his third novel, Supercell.
Before retiring, Buzz worked at The Weather Channel in Atlanta, Georgia, as a senior meteorologist for 13 years. Prior to that, he served as a weather officer in the U.S. Air Force for over three decades. He attained the rank of colonel and received, among other awards, the Legion of Merit.
His “airborne” experiences include a mission with the Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunters, air drops over the Arctic Ocean and Turkey, and a stint as a weather officer aboard a Tactical Air Command airborne command post (C-135).
In the past, he’s provided field support to forest fire fighting operations in the Pacific Northwest, spent a summer working on Alaska’s arctic slope, and served two tours inVietnam. Various other jobs, both civilian and military, have taken him to Germany, Saudi Arabia and Panama.
He’s a native Oregonian and attended the University of Washington in Seattle where he earned a bachelor’s degree in atmospheric science; he also studied creative writing.
Buzz currently is vice president of the Southeastern Writers Association. He’s a member of International Thriller Writers, the Atlanta Writers Club and Willamette Writers.
He and his wife Christina live in Roswell, Georgia, along with their fuzzy and sometimes overactive Shih-Tzu, Stormy.
Thank you for this interview, Buzz. Can we begin by having you tell us why you chose the thriller genre? Did you read a lot of thrillers in the past?
Yes. I’ve always been a fan of the thriller/suspense genre; I love the adventure and escapism it offers. When I was in high school (“Did they have automobiles back then, Gramps?” my grandson once asked) I was criticized for devouring Zane Grey novels instead of reading Shakespeare or John Steinbeck or F. Scott Fitzgerald. Yeah, I know Zane Grey wrote Westerns, but they were pretty thrilling stuff to me.
Q. Who was your favorite character in Plague and why?
That would be my protagonist, Richard Wainwright. Richard is a former high-profile and very successful CEO who has largely withdrawn from life, both professionally and socially, following the premature death of his wife. But after reluctantly accepting a position as a temporary CEO at a biotech company, he stumbles onto a terrifying bioterrorism plot. It’s the classic story about “There I was, minding my own business . . . .”Richard’s life, needless to say, undergoes an abrupt, and very dangerous, change. Even more surprisingly, he rekindles a long-ago, almost forgotten romance from his college days.
Q. Who was your least favorite character?
Surprisingly, not my antagonist, a brilliant but psychopathicmicrobiologist. I find him to be a rather interesting, complex individual. I guess my least favorite character is a municipal detective, Stoney Jackson, a kind of old school, narrow minded, in-your-face guy with a keen dislike for people like Richard who he views as modern day robber barons.
Q. Can you tell us about the setting and why you chose it?
The setting is Atlanta, Georgia, my home town. It seemed a natural. Atlanta is a major metropolitan area with a diverse population. It boasts the busiest airport in the world, is home to Fortune 500 companies as well as high-tech startups, and is headquarters for the CDC (Centers for Disease Control). The CDC, in the novel, is where my second favorite character, Dr. Dwight Butler, works. Dwight is a free-spirited virologist who shows up to work in shorts and sandals, is an endless source of aggravation to his boss and at one point in his life raced sports cars. He becomes a hesitant ally of Richard’s in a desperate hunt for a bioterrorist about to release weaponized on Atlanta.
Q. What was the hardest part to write?
The book actually required a lot of research. I wanted to get the facts straight on Ebola, understand how it replicates, how it causes death and how a weaponized strain of it might be developed. I also read up on the background of biowarfare. The U. S. and Russia were the major players during the Cold War, but I was surprised to learn that South Africa also figured into the mix.
Q. What was the inspiration behind the story? Where were you when you came up with the idea?
The inspiration for Plague sprang from, ironically, a nonfiction book: Richard Preston’s 1994 spine-tingling best seller about the Ebola virus, The Hot Zone. As I read Preston’s book I became fascinated by Ebola and, quite frankly, scared to death by the thought there might be an airborne version of it. Thriller writers, naturally, love things that scare folks. So, I began thinking about how I could craft my fright into a terrifying novel.But that didn’t didn’t happen immediately. I didn’t really embark on becoming a novelist until 2000. It took another three years after that before I began crafting Plague. Even then, I set it aside for awhile to work on what eventually became my first published novel, Eyewall, and didn’t get back to Plague until 2010. The final version of the novel is the product of about five rewrites, both major and minor.
Q. Do you plan on writing more thrillers?
Oh, yes. But I’ll lean away from the more traditional-type thriller, which I consider Plague to be, and go back to my “roots,” a la Eyewall, my first novel. Eyewall, as the title might suggest, was about a Category 5 hurricane and the people caught in its fury. I’m currently writing a novel with the working title of Supercell, as in supercell thunderstorm, a drama set against the background of tornado chasing on the Great Plains.
Q. Thank you again for being my guest at The Writer’s Life. Is there anything else you’d like to say?
It was my pleasure being your guest. I hope we can get together again sometime. In closing, let me say to thriller devotees that I think they’ll enjoy Plague. There are twists and turns in the novel that even I didn’t see coming until I typed them it out. That’s why it’s so much fun being a novelist.