H.W. “Buzz” Bernard’s new science thriller, SUPERCELL, is his third novel and comes out this month as a trade paperback from BelleBooks.
Can you give us an elevator pitch for SUPERCELL?
Sure. And you can have your choice of the second-floor and out-the-door “quickie” pitch, or the slow-ride-to-the-penthouse pitch.
Quickie: They’ll pay him a fortune to find a violent tornado for their movie. He knows the risks all too well, but he never imagined just how dangerous the perfect storm could get.
Slow Ride: Chuck Rittenburg was the most renown storm chaser in the country until a bad decision resulted in the death of a young couple who’d paid to ride along. A decade later, broke, divorced, and estranged from his college-age children, he’s got nothing left to lose. When a film producer offers Chuck one-million dollars to help find and photograph a devastating tornado in Oklahoma, Chuck sees a chance to earn his kids’ respect again—and maybe his own.
The situation quickly becomes about more than tracking a monster tornado for Hollywood. FBI Agent Gabi Medeiros insists on riding along. A burglary ring is targeting tornado-ravaged neighborhoods, and their tactics now include murder.
With the stage set for a major heist, a deadly supercell, and a confrontation between Man and Nature on an epic scale, Chuck and his crew will be lucky to escape in one piece.
You were a meteorologist before, does that background and knowledge of weather and how it really happens come through in your writing? Can the reader assume the technical “stuff” in SUPERCELL is correct?
Absolutely. In fact, a lot of people mentioned to me how much they learned about hurricanes and hurricane hunters in EYEWALL. The same will be true in SUPERCELL. It’s not science fiction, it’s science fact . . . stretched to the extreme, of course. The chase sequences in SUPERCELL are the real deal and—ah, I can see you’re champing at the bit to ask the next question.
Have you any firsthand knowledge on chasing tornadoes?
Much to my wife’s chagrin, yes. Although I worked with both severe weather experts and experienced chasers at The Weather Channel, I realized I couldn’t write authoritatively about storm chasing until I’d “been there, done that.” So I went on a chase in the spring of 2012 with an outfit called Silver Lining Tours. In the novel, I riff on some of my experiences.
Storm chasers seem like an adventurous type, judging from media footage. What is your professional opinion of them and the risks they take?
If you really know what you’re doing when chasing storms, the risks are minimal. For instance, the group I traveled with, Silver Lining Tours, never put people in harm’s way. “I always have an escape route planned,” the tour leader, Roger Hill told me. Yes, there are a few chasers, known as “yahoos” in the chasing community, who act irresponsibly. But the majority are smart and careful. You don’t have to pet a rhino on his nose to see what he looks like. In the novel, there’s a scene in which an inexperienced chaser decides to tackle a dangerous storm on his own. The outcome isn’t good.
What got you interested in writing and why thrillers?
Perhaps writing is in my genes. My father was a prolific college textbook author and encouraged me to write. And read. It turned out I enjoyed both. By the time I was in high school, I was cranking out short stories. In college, even though I was an atmospheric science major, I took creative writing courses (feeling like a fish out of water among all the English and lit majors). Why thrillers? It’s what I enjoy reading. As a kid, I devoured Zane Grey’s westerns and C. S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower series. (I was also roundly criticized for not spending more time with the “classics.”) Later, I got turned on by Robert Ludlum’s thrillers and James Patterson’s early novels. Now it’s Daniel Silva and Alan Furst.
Has your knowledge of weather and how it works ever gotten in the way of your storyline? If so how and what did you do? Or do you draw on that knowledge for your writing?
I do, in fact, draw on my knowledge of the weather and environment when I write. It strengthens my narrative scene setting. Ironically, my background may get in the way of other writers. I try not to be nitpicky in my critique group, but I have had to tell people ‘No, you can’t have dew on the grass when the wind is blowing.’ I also remember reading a passage in a published novel once that made me say a foo-foo word aloud. It was something to the effect that Thunder rumbled, followed by the subsequent flash of lightning. (If that doesn’t bother you, don’t worry about it.)
What’s with you and weather? You were a colonel in the Air Force and a weather officer, has that found its way into your books?
As much as I love writing, weather always came first. I knew from the time I was about eight or nine years old I wanted to be a “weatherman.” I earned my degree in atmospheric science at the University of Washington. This was back in the days of the draft. So rather than risk being drafted and ending up crawling through mud with a rifle, I decided the better route might be to get an Air Force commission out of ROTC. I knew the Air Force needed weather guys.
Although I don’t write military thrillers, there’s usually a military “connection” in my novels. In EYEWALL, the protagonist is an Air Force reservist, a pilot with the Hurricane Hunters. In PLAGUE, the protagonist is an ex-Marine officer. And in SUPERCELL, one of the key characters is former Army, Special Forces. I think it’s important to remind people that the military has been and remains a key contributor to the positive character of so many of our citizens.
SUPERCELL is your third book. Was it easier or harder to write? Why?
One small correction. SUPERCELL is my third novel. I had five nonfiction books, about weather and climate, published before becoming a novelist. But to answer your question, writing SUPERCELL was definitely easier than getting the first two novels done. Novel writing is like any business, I suppose. As you learn the ropes, things get easier. Being a novelist means mastering a craft. You have to pay your dues. With me the dues were four different manuscripts over a ten-year period.
Your background takes in a lot. Your tour in Vietnam, airdrops over the Arctic Ocean, working on Alaska’s arctic slope, have these adventures helped you as a writer? How?
As I mentioned earlier, I did incorporate elements of my tornado chasing “adventure” into SUPERCELL. I also flew a mission with the Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunters a number of years ago, and that experience was integrated into EYEWALL. I’ve never used anything directly from the time I spent in Vietnam, but in SUPERCELL, there’s a character, Sam Townsend, who remains haunted by his experiences in that war. He was a combat solider; I wasn’t.
Will you be doing signings for SUPERCELL? If so, how can readers find out?
Right now, the only scheduled signing is at the launch event for the novel in metro Atlanta. I may do another signing next spring, near the start of tornado season, in Oklahoma City. Readers can stay apprised of what’s coming up either on my website or my Facebook author page.
Are you working on a new book now, or taking a break, or researching?
I’ve begun work on what will be my third novel, BLIZZARD, in a weather-thriller trilogy. Ironically, I never set out to write a trilogy, and no one suggested I should; it just worked out that way.
You have a blog, something many writers start and then slow down if not quit. How have you been able to keep it up and still write?
It can be a challenge to keep up with a blog, and in truth, I don’t always. But I do try to churn out three or four a month. I think it’s a little easier for me, since I really have two major topics I can blather on about: writing and weather. I try to bring a little value-added perspective to each.
If readers want to know more about you or your books, where can they find that information?
The most comprehensive information about me and my books can be found on my website. The site, by the way, has just been revamped and upgraded, so I’d love to receive some feedback on it.
Anything else you’d like to add?
To my readers: I truly appreciate your reviews, especially on Amazon. It’s word-of-mouth advertising that allows writers like myself, who aren’t “big names,” to be competitive in a business dominated by star power and big bucks. Thank you one and all.
H. W. “Buzz” Bernard is a writer, retired Weather Channel meteorologist and USAF veteran. His debut novel, EYEWALL, which one reviewer called a “perfect summer read,” was released in May 2011 and went on to become a number-one best seller in Amazon’s Kindle Store. To gather background material for SUPERCELL, he chased tornadoes on the Great Plains. In other adventures, he’s flown through hurricanes, 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 in Vietnam. He’s native Oregonian but now calls Roswell, Georgia, home.
To learn more about Buzz, please visit his website.