Friday, October 26, 2012

Author Interview: Wil Mara

I am pleased to welcome Wil Mara, author of The Gemini Virus, which released in October 2012.  This is one of those novels that tends to give me the chills as it deals with the possibility of a pandemic virus sweeping through our world and the chaos that erupts as a result.  Having studied the Spanish Influenza of 1918-1920, I definitely understand how possible something like this could be and how devastating this would be in our world today.  Wil Mara is also here to discuss the inspiration to this novel, the challenges to writing a novel such as this, his future projects, as well as some fun and interesting Hallowe'en tidbits.  But before we get this, take a look at a summary of The Gemini Virus.

Bob Easton thinks he has a cold. Before he dies in agony, four days later, he infects dozens of people. Local health agencies become quickly overwhelmed by the sick and dying and beg the CDC for help. Dr. Michael Beck and Cara Porter, a member of the Epidemic Intelligence Service, race to identify the deadly bug. They can't cure it until they know what it is.

Dennis and Andi Jensen and their children are terrified. Schools and offices close. Fresh food disappears from store shelves. Three of their children's friends die. Their neighbors are dying or running away, fleeing the unstoppable infection. Desperate, the Jensens join the exodus, making a nightmarish journey to their isolated mountain cabin along empty roads, through abandoned towns, past looted shopping malls. 

The superbug—and the panic—quickly spreads beyond America’s borders. On a packed plane, someone coughs—and at their destination, the pilots are told, “you can’t land here.” US military bases are quarantined. Yet the virus continues to spread. Some believe the plague is man-made. Others see it as a sign of the end times.

In the lab, Cara Porter makes a potentially fatal mistake. In the mountains, Andi Jensen tells her husband that she doesn’t feel well. 

The world is running out of time.

1) To start off, can you tell me a little bit about yourself?  How did you become interested in writing science-fiction novels? 
I’ve been a sci-fi fan all my life. There were paperbacks lying around the house when I was growing up, and all the biggest names—Bradbury, Asimov, Matheson, Clarke, etc. I’d read the synopses on the back, and the stories always sounded interesting to me. I can’t tell you how many hours I sat in my attic with one of these books in hand; if the house had caught fire, I swear I wouldn’t have noticed. It was escapist storytelling at its finest, and almost always with some kind of moral underpinning. That dimension gave it real value to me. It was entertainment, but entertainment with a substantial message. Sci fi, I realized in time, was a wonderful way to present important themes to the world without sounding too preachy. As an author, you had a lot of room to run.
2) Can you tell us a little about your novel, The Gemini Virus?
It’s the story of a supervirus that just shows up one day and begins rapidly burning through the population. The WHO, CDC, and all other healthcare agencies are unable to stop it—in spite of all their experience and empirical data, this one’s the heavyweight of heavyweights. It’s highly contagious and kills very quickly. And each person who gets it goes through horrific suffering. The story is told from the viewpoint of several characters. One is an epidemiologist from the CDC who’s been charged with the task of backtracking the virus in the hope of figuring out how to stop it. He’s a very talented guy, but he’s also dogged by personal demons, as is his faithful assistant. Then there’s a suburban family of four, who struggle with the notion of abandoning their community and then try to outrace the pandemic while holding their domestic life together in isolation. There’s also the geopolitical facet of the book, where the American government is trying desperately to respond to the situation while the death toll continues to mount and some unsavory factions from overseas become involved. So there’s a lot going on.
3) What inspired you to write The Gemini Virus?  How much research was involved in the writing?
One of my favorite sci-fi subgenres is the virus-no-one-can-stop story, and I very much wanted to contribute to it. And since so few books in this vein have been presented to the general reading public lately, I saw an opportunity to do it in a fully modernized context.
As for the research, that required quite a bit of work and time. I got in touch with two very experienced figures in the world of virology, both authors in their own right, in order to assure that all the science in the book would be realistic and credible. To that end, the safety buffer that enables readers to think, Well, it’s scary, but at least it can’t really happen, is completely stripped away. And that’s exactly what I wanted—a nightmare scenario that could occur in the real world.
4) What was your greatest challenge while writing this novel?  How disturbing was it write about something that has the potential to happen?
The greatest challenge was making sure all the science fit together. This meant tweaking certain passages multiple times and discarding others. It also meant enduring the painful experience of having someone tell you that something you wrote is flat-out wrong. But I soldiered through all of it because I wanted to be able to give readers the most compelling—and unsettling—story possible.
As for disturbing, good Lord, yes. Writing about this stuff was tough enough, but reading about it during the research phase was even worse. Stories about grieving parents in Africa having to toss the disease-riddled bodies of their dead children onto huge funeral pyres, and how healthcare workers from other nations who witnessed this could never get the scent out of their noses. It was beyond awful.
5) Who was the most fun to write about?  Which character presented the biggest challenge?
The epidemiological characters—Michael Beck and Cara Porter—posed the biggest challenge, simply because I’m not an epidemiologist. Again, I wanted to get the details right, so I consulted with people who’ve done this kind of work before, plus I read about a million pages of material concerning their profession. (If you’re ever in need of these services and there isn’t a ‘real’ epi on hand, I’m your man in a pinch.) At the same time, however, they were a lot of fun because I got to learn something new and interesting. Epidemiologists are the detectives of the virological world. 
6) What are 3 things that are 'must haves' when you write? Do you have any writing rituals?
I seem to do my best work when it’s quiet (which sometimes means locking myself in a small room and putting on some source of ‘white noise,’ e.g., fan, heater, etc.), when I have the most energy (i.e., in the morning), and when I have a cigar going. I know, I know—the latter’s going to kill me eventually. I live without it most days, but sometimes the urge becomes too much.
7) What was the most interesting thing you learned during the course of research for your book? 
That a pathogen like the one described in Gemini is not only possible, but long overdue. Mathematically, the human race has been beating the odds for quite awhile now—and that kind of luck always runs out eventually.
8) Can you share with us any projects that you are currently working on or plans for the future? What can fans expect next from you?  ?
The next book in the disaster series is tentatively titled Fallout. I’ve been working on it for a few months now, and my editor and I are both pleased with the storyline. But I don’t want to reveal anything else about it at this point. I’m not trying to be coy or curmudgeonly, I just want readers to be delighted by the surprise of it.
And beyond Fallout, I have a fourth disaster story that I’ve been putting together for several years. It’s very fresh and exciting, and it could conceivably stretch well beyond 500 pages. Again, I can’t give out any details now, but I think it’ll be worth the wait.
9) Favourite authors? Role models?
There are so many novelists I whose work I enjoy, even beyond science fiction. I’ll give just about anything a try. If an author’s work strikes me in That Special Way, I’ll become a fan and seek out everything else that he or she has written. I love discovering new authors and new stories.
As for role models, pretty much anyone who has succeeded without compromising a basic set of moral standards; someone who ‘made it’ without crossing the wrong lines. I’ve always admired and tried to emulate that. 
10) As an author who has published previous novels, I am curious as to your thoughts with regards to the publishing industry?  Have some of the changes affected your publishing and marketing process?
The Internet and the digitalization of everything has had the biggest impact, both on myself and the industry at large. Authors make better royalties on eBooks, but then there are all the security issues. And the Internet has become a wonderful tool for getting the word out (case in point), but it has also drastically reduced the number of live author events, e.g., talks and booksignings, etc. As a result, that personal touch between author and reader is being lost. So there are ups and downs to this latest step in publishing evolution. I want to say, “Let’s see how it all turns out,” but then again I don’t think evolution is a process that will ever come to a conclusion. You just need to learn to move and groove with the times.
11) What do you like to do when you are not writing? What is your ultimate luxury?
I like to spend time with my wife and daughters. That’s my greatest joy and my greatest privilege. It doesn’t matter what we do as long as we’re together. They’re my sustenance and my antidote.
12) Is there anything else you would like to share with your readers?
Thank you very much for taking the time to read through all of this. If you have any remaining questions, you might be able to find the answers on my web site— 
13) And now for some Hallowe'en fun!!  Favourite Hallowe'en memory? Favourite costumes? Have you ever played a Hallowe'en prank on somebody?
I was born and raised along the Jersey Shore, and our winters could be brutal. I remember one Hallowe’en when it was so frigid and windy that none of the neighborhood kids wanted to go out in their costumes. So I talked two of my closest friends into doing just that. My brilliant theory was that, due to the weather and the lack of ‘consumer interest,’ every home would have so much spare candy that they’d be giving it out in handfuls. And I was right—when the night was over, we each had four pillowcases stuffed to the splitting point.
Three days later—no joke—I had to have my stomach pumped.  So much for brilliant! What an idiot.


  1. Excellent interview!

    Wil, it sounds like a hell of a premise for a book!