Today we welcome Buzz Bernard.
Book ‘Em: Tell us about you and your life outside of writing.
Buzz Bernard: I’m supposed to be retired—I’m formally retired from the Air Force and The Weather Channel—but I’m not, at least not completely. In my so-called Golden Years, I’ve become a novelist (currently working on number six), a president (honchoing the Southeastern Writers Association), and a (very poor) golfer . . . all to my wife’s semi-chagrin. She thinks I really should be totally retired. We’ve managed to reach a peaceful detente, however, and live quietly in our home on the north side of Atlanta.
Book ‘Em: Which books have you written? What are they about and why did you choose to write them? Do your books have a message? Are they fiction or nonfiction?
Buzz Bernard: I have five novels—unique thrillers—in publication: Eyewall, Plague, Supercell, Blizzard, and Cascadia. Three of them, Eyewall, Supercell, and Blizzard are set against meteorological phenomena. Since I’m an atmospheric scientist by trade and training, they came naturally to me. Plague centers on weaponized Ebola. Cascadia revolves around the recently discovered threat of a major earthquake and tsunami in the Pacific Northwest where I was born and raised. All of the books are fact-based. Just to be clear, I don’t write science fiction.
Nor do I write books with a message. As NYT bestselling author Reed Farrel Coleman reminded me recently, “We [as novelists] are in the entertainment business.” My goal is to entertain, not preach.
Book ‘Em: Do you have a work in progress?
Buzz Bernard: Yes, it’s called Firewind. It’s an historical thriller set against a legendary forest fire that devastated much of northwest Oregon in 1933.
Book ‘Em: What was the most difficult section/piece you ever wrote? What made it difficult? What sort of research do you do for your work?
Buzz Bernard: The most difficult sections I wrote were some of the descriptive scenes in Plague which dealt with microbiology and viruses. Since I don’t have a strong background in biology, I had to do a tremendous amount of research for those scenes. I faced the same challenges for Cascadia. For that novel, I did a great deal of research and contacted a number of experts on earthquakes and tsunamis—geologists and seismologists—to make sure I got things right. For the other books, well, those were more in my “wheelhouse,” meteorology, but I still bounced what I wrote off of experts to make certain I
didn’t screw stuff up. To add credibility to couple of my novels, I flew with the Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunters (for Eyewall) and went on a tornado chase (for Supercell).
Book ‘Em: Which books and authors do you read for pleasure? Is there an author that inspires you?
Buzz Bernard: I enjoy reading espionage/spy thrillers, particularly those by Daniel Silva, David Ignatius, and Alan Furst. Although I’m not a fan of mysteries per se, there are two mystery writers at the top of my must-read list: James Lee Burke and Reed Farrel Coleman—both are superb at creating character and setting. A couple of other authors I really enjoy are Brad Taylor and Tom Young, both of whom craft wonderful military thrillers. The author who inspires me most, however, and whom to some extent I attempt to emulate, is James Lee Burke.
Book ‘Em: Was there a person who encouraged you to write?
Buzz Bernard: My father was a prolific author of college-level text books, and he always encouraged me to write. In addition to studying atmospheric science at the University of Washington, I took several creative writing courses. The first five books I wrote—back when dinosaurs stalked the earth—were nonfiction trade books, but I later discovered writing novels was a lot more fun . . . and more lucrative. That’s where my passion lies now.
Book ‘Em: What would you say are your strengths as an author?
Buzz Bernard: I’m probably strongest at creating settings (narrative descriptions) for my stories.
Book ‘Em: How often do you write, and do you write using a strict routine?
Buzz Bernard: Given that I’m supposed to be retired—and whether I like it or not, I am getting along in years—I don’t adhere to a strict routine any longer. I write when I have time, and am not bound by schedules or deadlines.
Book ‘Em: Five years from now, where do you see yourself as a writer?
Buzz Bernard: I’m a bit long in the tooth to worry about five-year plans, and besides, given the current turmoil in the publishing industry, I’m really not interested in trying to figure it out. I’ll be content writing when I can and staying involved with the writing community, especially through the Southeastern Writers Association and the Atlanta Writers Club.
Book ‘Em: If you could offer one piece of advice to a novice writer, what would it be?
Buzz Bernard: LEARN THE CRAFT, whether it’s writing fiction or nonfiction. Attend workshops, seminars, and conferences. Join a critique group. LEARN THE CRAFT. The publishing business is fiercely competitive. You’ll need every single advantage you can grab to be successful.
Book ‘Em: What would you consider the best compliment a reader could give your book?
Buzz Bernard: “I recommended your book to a friend.”
Book ‘Em: Provide an excerpt of your writing that you would like to share with our members.
Buzz Bernard: This is an excerpt from my work-in-progress, Firewind. The protagonist and a man named Bull are sprinting uphill, attempting to outrun an explosive wildfire.
Now, motivated by naked fear, I clawed my way upward, Bull at my side panting and cursing. Thick stands of cedar, hemlock, and fir made it impossible to follow a straight course. Instead, we wove our way toward the crest, thrashing and stumbling, and at other times scrambling over brush-covered blockades of decaying deadfalls and rotting stumps.
A black bear, its fur smoking, sprinted past us without so much as a glance in our direction. A family of elk, heads held high, eyes rolling in terror, followed close behind.
I lost contact with Bull, but didn’t care. I continued to plow toward the hilltop, the clutching underbrush, thorny brambles, and saw-edged leaves ripping my clothes and slashing my skin. My breath came in huge retching gasps, my lungs pleading for oxygen but finding nothing but smoke. Leaden with fatigue and fueled only by adrenaline, my legs pumped involuntarily, propelling me forward in a race I felt predestined to lose.
I didn’t turn to look at my pursuer. I didn’t need to. The terrible roar, only a stumble behind me, overwhelmed my senses. The forest had become a crematorium, an apocalyptic amalgam of black smoke, red embers, and white heat.
I sensed my hair being singed, my clothes smoldering. My focus narrowed and sharpened. Fear and guilt disappeared. Even the concept of mortality fled. Nothing else mattered save my next leaping stride, and the next, and the next. It were as though my existence had dwindled to a single functioning synapse between my brain and my feet.
Then it appeared, the finish line, the crest of the hill, only seconds away. Maybe, just maybe . . . But I stumbled over a root camouflaged in thick layers of duff. I sprawled onto the forest floor, physically spent, mentally drained. Firebrands showered down around me in a blazing requiem to a failed life.
I closed my eyes and accepted my fate.