If you have not had the opportunity to read my review of “The Target” by Bill Bowen, you can find it here. “The Target” is a fresh perspective on the nuclear thriller, and asks questions about the nature of the war on terror and what role, if any, deterrence will play in that conflict. I had the chance to talk with him recently about the motivations of his characters, the things that scare him most in the world, and – of course – his plans for the coming zombie apocalypse.
The Word Zombie: This is your first novel. How did your time in military intelligence and at the Department of Defense prepare you to write “The Target”?
Bill Bowen: The most relevant are the three years when I served on the staff of the Secretary, working with the CIA, the State Department, and the White House. I developed both a deep respect for the integrity of career military personnel and a skepticism for the institutions. I believe that I understand how middle grade, middle class veterans view their service and the country.
The Word Zombie: Through Aisha, we get a view of Islam and Islamic society that many here in America are not exposed to. How did you develop Aisha’s voice?
Bill Bowen: I have a daughter who holds a PhD in Islam from Harvard and teaches at a Muslim university. Because of her I have lived in Cairo, met many Muslims, and thought a great deal about their perspective. As I developed Aisha, my daughter would advise me to read an author from Morocco or a newspaper from Lebanon. Mike Curran was easy; but Aisha is probably the most interesting character for me.
The Word Zombie: In the end, a choice has to be made about what “the target” will ultimately be in the story. Did you know what that choice would be from that start, or did you discover it through the writing process?
Bill Bowen: I actually began my story outline with the ending and worked backward to see how it was possible. Once I had determined that the government couldn’t do what I wanted to do, I settled on a group of individuals who really did figure out how to overcome the obstacles and put the plot together.
The Word Zombie: The central character, Mike, travels a road and makes decisions that some would consider an “ends justify the means” philosophy. How would you respond to that viewpoint?
Bill Bowen: Mike certainly makes a series of decisions that many of us might briefly fantasize about but would never seriously consider. I wanted him to be a very common person. I am not trying to justify his actions – any more than other authors would for an arch villain. But, I do want the reader to understand his agony, feel some sympathy for him, and believe that somebody could do what he does. This is a good book club discussion.
The Word Zombie: The Sun Tzu quote you use in the book councils trying to understand your enemy and avoiding conflict as a first result – the use of overwhelming force as a last resort. Have we crossed Rubicon yet in our relationship with radical Islam?
Bill Bowen: I don’t think so at all. In the spirit of Sun Tzu’s “profound understanding”, I do not think that there has been much respectful inquiry as to the Muslim perspective. Much of the rationale for the Union Station bombers is very legitimate. Our reaction to 9/11 has been understandable but the next step should be listening.
The Word Zombie: As I mentioned in my review, “Barbara from Berkley” voices not only classically progressive thought, but also has a bit of a libertarian streak in her commentary. How do you view the left / right, Democrat / Republican paradigm that so much of today’s politics is consumed with?
Bill Bowen: I live in San Francisco, in the shadow of Berkeley. The Berkeley of the 60s would have been anti-establishment of any type; the Berkeley of this century believes that big government is the answer to the oppression of the masses. Barbara is more from the 60s with a healthy dose of cynicism about anybody who wants to exercise power in the name of others. I enjoyed creating Barbara and wanted to have her offer a third point of view to balance the military veterans and the moderate Muslim woman. The difficulty was in getting liberal enough words out of my pen.
The Word Zombie: As you look at the state of world affairs today, what are the three things that scare you the most?
Bill Bowen: First is nuclear terrorism. Second is the likelihood that our democracy will not allow leaders to take the steps necessary to restore fiscal responsibility. Third … perhaps that my concept of God is wrong and that there really is a Hell. (That’s a joke, maybe.)
The Word Zombie: Can you tell me a little about your blog – www.RightinSanFrancisco.com?
Bill Bowen: The tagline is “A voice of reason, published each Friday from the capital of Liberalism”. The positioning is a bit right of center on national security and economic issues and a bit left of center on social issues. I try to be objective (linking to lots of sources) as I develop one subject each week and welcome comments. Most of the discussion is about national politics or economics, although California gets a fair share of coverage. Hopefully my belief in the innate wisdom of the American public comes through as well as a sense of irony.
Thanks for mentioning the blog. I would encourage your readers to try one or two samples.
The Word Zombie: What can we expect to see next from Bill Bowen?
Bill Bowen: I am currently working on a book whose premise is that as a condition for joining the union Texas retained the right to secede and that the country could drift enough to the left to trigger a movement. Of course there would be objections, some peaceful and some violent. One or two characters from “The Target” will be involved, although some are not available. I hope to publish early in 2012.
The Word Zombie: Last question – once the zombie apocalypse occurs (and I think we can all agree it’s a matter of when, not if), will you be going it alone, or looking to join up with a ragtag group of survivors? Also, do you prefer long-range weapons (guns, flamethrowers) or melee weapons (classic baseball bat) when dealing with a zombie uprising?
Bill Bowen: I have found in the preliminary skirmishes that the melee weapons work best. I don’t understand the question about a ragtag group of survivors – our local militia is well equipped and trains every full moon. We are ready, but not accepting any new members.
I want to thank Bill for taking the time to chat with me. If you want to read more about him or his thoughts on events of the day, check him out at www.RightinSanFrancisco.com.
© 2010, The Word Zombie. All rights reserved.