As Dixie and I attempt to reanimate the drowned corpse of our former stockbroker (after our Facebook shares bounced), we’re joined by author and neurologic surgeon Brian O’Grady. He takes one look and says, “Leave the poor stiff alone, he’s dead.” Deciding that a medical degree trumps our journalism background, Dixie and I dump the body back in the ocean and sit down with Brian to talk about his new medical thriller AMANDA’S STORY.
In your debut novel, HYBRID, we were introduced to not only a deadly virus that leads to a gruesome, agonizing death, but the character of Amanda Flynn, a woman who survived the EDH1 virus, but with a few frightening changes. What can we expect in: AMANDA’S STORY?
First AMANDA’S STORY is a prequel. It tells the story of how a grieving widow transforms into what Amanda herself believes is a sociopath. What surprised me with HYBRID was the response readers and critics had to the character of Amanda Flynn. She does indeed play a pivotal role in HYBRID, but I personally thought there were other characters that were simply more compelling. My publisher, Lou Aronica, suggested that I write a short novella that gave Amanda a background, and 110,000 words latter I had a new perspective. Writing a prequel is a little like cheating, you always have a general direction (when I started HYBRID I had no idea how it would end), so I was able to concentrate more on the depth of Amanda, and how an ordinary person could find herself doing extraordinary things. I enjoyed riding the slippery slope with Amanda.
As a practicing neurologic surgeon, you obviously have an extensive medical background. So we have to ask, are you trying to scare the crap out of us?
As far as scaring people, that was never my intent, but perhaps a little awareness of the fragility of our social structure and human existence isn’t such a bad thing. The science of the Hybrid virus is very real. I took no literary or scientific license in creating it. Forget chemical or nuclear weapons. Within reason, our society is relatively invulnerable to chemical or nuclear attack. Just as 9-11 showed the world, we could be hurt, but fundamentally we remained unchanged (aside from a greater resolve). The true weapons of mass destruction are undetectable microbes that have the ability to quietly disseminate and unravel our social fabric.
It’s always interesting how so many accomplished thriller writers are also very accomplished in other careers. How has being a brain surgeon influenced your writing?
That’s not a question I can answer without sounding a little self-aggrandizing, which will make me vomit. For me, writing is an escape from the realities of neurologic surgery and in some respects allows me to vent my unrealized emotions. Several times, my wife has read a passage and then looked at me with an expression that borders on panic and asks how did something so dark come out of my head? We both know the answer all to well.
Your books are also full of hope and bravery, such as when Amanda refuses to be collateral damage. Do you see hope for mankind?
Boy that’s a tough question. I believe in the commonality of individuals (is that an oxymoron?). Basically, we are fundamentally all the same (OK there are some notable exceptions). Change a few biographic features of the jihadist who blows himself and a bus load of tourists to oblivion and he becomes one of those tourists. When we as individuals and as a species realize that, there will be cause for hope. The trick is not destroying ourselves before that day.
You are also into Ironman triathlons. Is that simply to make me and Dixie look bad, or do you find the discipline and exercise help you focus on your writing?
I do Ironman races so I don’t get fat(er). By no means am I any good at them. I’m a middle to back of the pack finisher and perhaps that’s why I keep doing them. Improvement is something to strive for and the time on a watch is a very objective measure of that improvement. Besides if you have ever seen the finish of an Ironman race, the energy and excitement of the crowds and communities that support these races, it is easy to see how people become hooked.
What’s next for Amanda and Brian O’Grady?
I don’t know what’s going to happen to Amanda. There is a seven-year gap between AMANDA’S STORY and HYBRID, and Amanda Flynn has to move from being very unstable to realizing some inner peace in those years. I don’t know how she’s going to get there, or even if I will take her there. I still have this grand idea for the memoirs of the 53rd president, a sort of how we got here novel, but I’m having a hard time squeezing in the education and research that are required to give the project the validity it deserves.
AMANDA’S STORY is Brian O’Grady’s second novel after his best-selling debut with HYBRID. He is a practicing neurologic surgeon and, when he is not writing or performing brain surgery, he struggles with Ironman triathlons. He lives with his wife and two dogs in Washington state.
To learn more about Brian, please visit his website.