As a young Air Force pilot, Richard was diagnosed with cancer and learned that he had only a few months to live. But he beat the odds. He earned a management degree from the University of Notre Dame and after leaving the Air Force he ran three successful companies involving advanced security products and hi-tech displays used by US embassies and government facilities worldwide. He was an active member of the California Crime Prevention Officer’s Association and has been published with cover stories in Security magazine and ASIS Security Management magazine.
Cancer killed Richard Bard’s career as a USAF pilot. But it didn’t kill him. Thirty-six years later he’s still going strong. Now he writes about second chances in the Brainrush thriller series. When asked what he hopes to achieve as a writer, he said, “The dream for me is to be walking through an airport and notice someone with her head buried in the book. Many readers have said they found it impossible to put down. For me, that's the ultimate compliment.” Bard currently resides with his wonderful wife in Redondo Beach, California, where he remains in excellent health..
The following trailer features me as a kid. I'm the little guy on the left. Silly, but fun!
What inspired you to write?
As part of a military family I traveled all over the world. I experienced more than my share of tearful good-byes as my family hopped from country to country, state to state. It seemed like every time I got settled in to a new home—sometimes even a new language—Dad got transferred. I learned to make new friends easily enough, but it was movies and books that ultimately became my constant companions. I can still remember ditching second session of Saturday catechism on base in Wiesbaden, Germany, so that my brother and I could sneak into the matinee. (Popcorn was only twenty-five cents!) I read my first 'chapter' book when I was six-years-old. It was Fulton Oursler's 1949 novel The Greatest Story Ever Told. I can still remember my wonder and excitement as the story took me away. It’s still on my shelf. I've consumed books ever since, always fiction, always action/adventures and/or thrillers. And to this day I still go to the movies at least twice a week. Fifty years of films and books have fueled an active imagination filled with stories crying to escape. When I exited the business world a few years back, I decided it was time to open the floodgates. With the help of a bunch of classes and terrific instructors at UCLA-extension Writer’s Program, I started writing. And writing. And writing. I couldn’t get enough of it. (Still can’t!) There’ve only been two ‘jobs’ that I’ve had in my career that I really loved. The first was flying; the second is writing. I couldn’t be happier.
Brainrush is a story about second chances and embracing each day of your life as though it's your last. It was a natural first step in my writing since the protagonist’s emotional journey—as an ex-Air Force pilot who faced a terminal diagnosis—parallels my own.
How do you want readers to perceive your book?
The dream for me is to be walking through an airport one day and see someone with his or her head buried in the book, flipping the pages with unbridled intensity. I've had many readers who commented that they found it impossible to put the book down. For me, that's the ultimate compliment.
What distinguishes BRAINRUSH from other thrillers?
I've been told that the book is very cinematic. And the story-line is definitely not your run-of-the-mill thriller. It's stocked full of unexpected twists and turns with an ending that Publisher’s Weekly described as "particularly outrageous and fitting.”
What’s BRAINRUSH about?
Here’s the flowery answer: It’s about the nobility of man as a species. It’s a story about living to our true potential as human beings, about overcoming the obstacles that life throws your way in order to follow what’s in your heart, and to do so with dignity and respect. It’s about rejecting the easy way out unless it’s truly the right way in. It’s about enjoying each and every day for what it has to offer. It’s also about not accepting violence as a solution, but not being afraid of using it to protect the ones you love. It’s about a dying man with only weeks to live, making every day count, not just for him, not just for his friends and loved ones, but for the entire human race. (Whew!)
Where do you write?
I used to find daily inspiration at a small eclectic coffee shop by the beach, but now I tend to spend most of my time in my home writing cave. Now that I have a Nespresso machine, the coffee’s better at home. ;)
Do you use outlines?
I like to incorporate three or four separate track-lines in my stories. That usually involves a complicated weave from a structural standpoint, but one that needs to flow non-stop for readers. For me, the only way to effectively accomplish that is with a scene-by-scene outline or storyboard. HOWEVER, once the outline is complete and I start writing, then the characters take over and the story takes on a life of its own. I’m still amazed by the dramatic difference between the final version of Brainrush and the original outline.
How do you keep the story engaging?
That’s simple. At the end of key scenes I ask myself, “What’s the worst thing that could happen to the characters right now?” Then I make it so!
Why the interest in enhanced mental abilities?
My mother always said, “Ricky, you can do anything you set your mind to.” I believed her. If I failed at something, I figured it was simply because I hadn’t done it right. So I’d try again. I can’t tell you how many times I sat in church, or class, or the library and stared at the back of someone’s head, focusing my thoughts, willing them to turn around, or sneeze, or twitch—anything! (Yes, I really did that.) Of course it never worked. But I never stopped trying, no matter how impossible it seemed. I’d hear stories about people with photographic memories, or ESP, or incredible math or artistic skills, and I’d think, “Hey, if they can do it, why can’t I?”
Some people are so gifted that their abilities boggle the mind. Like Kim Peek, the autistic savant that inspired the movie, Rain Man (1988), whose incredible brain allowed him to recount countless ball-player statistics in exacting detail. He even memorized a good portion of the phone book, among other things. Or the legally blind crayon artist, Richard Wayro, whose works sells for up to $10,000 each, one of which resides on the Pope’s wall. Or what about Stephen Wiltshire? After only a fifteen minute helicopter ride over London he spent the next five days drawing a highly detailed 12-foot mural depicting seven square miles of the city, right down to every street, building and window. Incredible.
Remember the movie, The Edge (1997) with Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin? The two characters find themselves stranded in a dangerous wilderness facing down a murderous bear the size of two Hulk Hogans. They run; the bear follows. They’re left with no option but to try and kill the monster. Hopkins’s billionaire character (who coincidentally has a photographic memory) recalls reading a book that described how the Indians of old would bring down a bear—fashioning twelve-foot spears from thick tree limbs, poking at the bear until he stands to his full-height, and finally bracing the spear against the ground as the bear makes his downward lunge, impaling himself. Baldwin’s character thought the idea was suicide. But over and over again his sage billionaire companion insisted, “What one man can do, another can do.” As you might expect, Hopkins was right. They killed the bear. And to this day his mantra echoes my own belief: What one man can do, another can do.
My research for the Brainrush series revealed that there are a growing number of accounts of ‘ordinary’ people that develop incredible mental and physical abilities following trauma to the head. In one example, ten-year-old Orlando Serrell was hit in the head by a baseball. A few months later he was able to recall an endless list of license-plate numbers, song lyrics, and weather reports—as if a switch had suddenly been thrown in his brain. That suggests the abilities were resident in his brain in the first place, just waiting to be unlocked, right? This ‘sudden genius’ or ‘acquired savant’ has been the focus of study by Dr. Darold Treffert, a recognized expert in the field. His book, Islands of Genius, is packed full of similar examples.
Other groups, including one led by Dr. Alan Snyder who holds the 150th Anniversary Chair of Science and the Mind at the University of Sydney, are working on methods to unlock these abilities—without the need for a fastball to the noggin. What’s it going to be like, when each and every one of us is able to tap into that well of creative genius?
The world as we know it will cease to exist.
So I guess my mom was right. Not just about me, but about all of us. We can do anything we set our minds to. For me, I’ve decided to write. Maybe later, after the technology’s been developed to throw that switch in my brain, I’ll become a concert pianist. In the meantime, if you’re sitting in church or the library someday and you suddenly twitch or feel an unusual tingling at the back of your head, turn around and make my day. :)
Why the focus on autism?
When I started my research in 2008, the Autism Society of America posted statistics showing that autism affected 1 in 150 births. In 2011 it increased to 1 in 110 births. It is the fastest-growing developmental disability in the world, with 10-17% annual growth and annual costs in the U.S. alone of $60 billion. With early diagnosis and intervention the costs of lifelong care can be reduced by two-thirds. More importantly, the quality of life for those affected can be significantly improved. Autism and other spectral disorders affect us all in one way or another. The more visibility the topic receives, the better the chances of early detection, treatment and, hopefully, a cure.
My father had a genius level IQ. He died of Alzheimer’s, betrayed by his brain. I can’t begin to imagine how horrible that must have felt for him. It’s difficult to wrap words around my motivations. But, somehow, shining a positive light on autistic children in my stories seemed like a natural thing to do.
Who are your favorite authors?
Wow, there are so many that I’ve enjoyed over the years. Here are a few of them, in no particular order: James Patterson, Brad Thor, David Baldacci, Robert Ludlum, Eric Van Lustbader, Clive Cussler, James Rollins, Preston & Child, John Grisham, Terry Goodkind, Robert Jordan, Dale Brown, Robbin Hobb, Steve Berry, Michael Crichton, Terry Brooks, Dan Brown, Tom Clancy, Dean Koontz, Stephen King, and Bernard Cornwall.