Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Source: Juan Padrón design


Another city, another quarantine. My wife and I flew into London last week on a twice-postponed visit to see a terminally ill friend. UK visitors spend a minimum of six days—and up to ten—confined to a hotel room or residence, then are free to travel on receipt of their second negative PCR test. I used the lockup period to finish the second big edit of Hard Road: Deadly Horizon. I also worked out the launch calendar, conferred with my editor and discovered that mid-June is the earliest workable release date.


My wife’s second-most frequently asked lockdown question is, What do you do at that desk all day? I thought you finished the book two weeks ago? (The number one query is, Have you been eating the potato chips again?) She has a point (on both counts). When is a novel “finished”? One could rewrite and revise forever, but at some stage, an author cuts the cord and launches. Today’s short blog walks the reader through the six or seven iterations one of my books goes through before it ends up on your phone or Kindle.


Since I last blogged in January on Covid-19’s origins, the lab leak hypothesis has gone from “debunked hoax” to the cover of Newsweek. The single best document was a March 4 letter signed by twenty-six prominent scientists stating that the WHO investigation did not “constitute a thorough, credible and transparent investigation.” (See Open Letter Covid 19 Origins 2021 March 4.) March 26, former CDC director Robert Redfield told CNN that he believed that Covid-19 did originate in a China lab. (See CDC ex Director says Covid 19 came from Wuhan lab Telegraph 2021 March 26.) Succumbing to public pressure, on March 30 WHO head Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus petitioned his China benefactors to undertake deeper, independent analyses into the virus’s origins, tacitly acknowledging that the WHO’s whitewash investigation resolved nothing. (See CNN WHO Tedros calls on China to Reinvestigate Covid 19 Origins 2021 March 30.)


Fans of podcasts should check out Joe Rogan’s guest, Josh Rogin (no relation) on #1640 (aired April 28. It’s free on Spotify ( and start at the 45-minute mark: it’s lucid, balanced and damning; skip ahead to 88 minutes for new, blockbuster revelations). Rogin is an investigative journalist who wrote a new bestselling book, Chaos Under Heaven: Trump, Xi and the Battle for the Twenty-First Century. Rogin correctly notes that Anthony Fauci, the hero of the pandemic, is also the single biggest proponent (and funder) of gain-of-function research in the U.S. and the indirect cause of the lab leak via NIH grants to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The U.S. government’s fingerprints are all over the ugly Covid-19 origin story.


Meanwhile, back in London my wife’s and my time in splendid isolation ended a few hours ago on receipt of our second negative tests. We both were shot twice over two weeks before stepping on a plane, and the empty flight and airport weren’t likely vectors, either. In a few hours, we will step out into an almost-deserted London, able to walk the streets but unable to eat or drink indoors.


Anyone who hasn’t yet purchased Dark Cure (4.3/5.0 Amazon and Goodreads ratings) can do so on Amazon either via Kindle (US$3) or paperback (US$14). (See Dark Cure Amazon Kindle U.S.) If you’ve already read Dark Cure, please leave a review on Amazon and Goodreads (Goodreads Dark Cure).


Bradley West, London, April 29, 2021


A Philosophical Divide: “Pantsters” versus “Plotters”



Source: (


Broadly, novelists work in one of two ways. Outliners (“Plotters”) invest substantial time upfront to flesh out plot, settings and characters to create a framework they later fill in. The wonderful British espionage and historical fiction/non-fiction (and cookbook) author Len Deighton is an extreme example, spending up to a year researching and planning before writing precisely to his dense outline. At the other end of the spectrum, prolific horror-thriller novelist Stephen King creates entire universes (or just books) out of one idea—a dog possessed by an evil spirit, an insane fangirl, a plague that wipes out most of humanity—and improvises as he goes. That’s the quintessential seat-of-the-pants (“pantster”) approach.


When I began in 2014, I was a plotter. I started Sea of Lies with a single-spaced, twenty-nine-page outline in addition to the deep research on the conspiracies I wished to incorporate, starting with MH370. Despite my best intentions, the novel diverged from the outline on page four and never returned.


Fast forward seven years and my fifth book, Hard Road: Deadly Horizon, was ninety percent improvised and ten percent planned. I still researched topics (e.g., Covid-19 and biker gangs in this case), but I gave up outlining beforehand or scripting character arcs too precisely. I wrote a one-page synopsis (bearing little resemblance to the finished book) and sketched character traits, and went from there. For me, the magic in writing emerges when the characters interact and act in ways their creator hadn’t expected. The better the author knows his fictional cast, the more he trusts himself when the plot jukes instead of jives and the players face unanticipated choices. The author follows his instincts, and the book takes a new direction: farewell plotting, hello pantstering.


In light of the free-form creation process, finishing the first draft is a big enough deal that I don’t focus too much on character, voice or plot nuances. When you live chapter-by-chapter and aren’t certain you aren’t writing yourself into a dead-end, the author doesn’t focus too hard on the details.


Pantstering liberates and saves time upfront, but it also puts the author on a tightrope. One of King’s metaphors in On Writing describes how writing a novel is like driving a car on a foggy night. The author has to keep the car on the road by focusing on what’s in his headlights and not worrying too much about what’s off-camera. Just keep driving through the fog until you’ve reached a good stopping point, and only then look at the actual destination.


The book that results from the end of draft one isn’t close to a finished product, at least not for me. On the other hand, if you’ve got a book in there, then you have reason to celebrate as you haven’t wasted the last three-to-six months of your life.


Assembling the Pearl, One Mucous Layer at a Time



Source: HowtoGetRid (


Once I’ve finished the first draft, I leave it for at least a week to create distance. After three-plus months away, when I start on the first heavy edit (version 2.0), I won’t recognize some of what I wrote so long ago . . . . Now and again, I scratch my head and wonder what in the hell was I trying to achieve with [this character] or [that scene]?


The major difference between the first draft and the first edit is that version 2.0 contains the near-final form plot points, transitions and character interactions. I’ve cut subplots that didn’t work and dialed back or eliminated character digressions that subsequent events didn’t justify (e.g., maybe I killed off the character). The second draft takes time, but there’s less pressure to be creative and justify the novel. Absent existential anxiety, improving the storyline, flow and dialogue become the focuses.


Version 3.0 swaps the cleaver for a scalpel. This time through the book, I carve out excess words, ideally paring at least ten percent. After completing the second edit (where I am today with Hard Road), I send the book to the editor and wait for his suggested changes which I’ll either accept, reject or discuss. He’ll pare a further ten percent without changing the voice or eliminating anything important. Call that version 4.0.


I’ll then re-read the “final” (hah!) book and make various small edits and, always, a couple of more substantial changes. This is also the time to run an automated grammar and spellcheck review (as there’s no reason to do so earlier when everything is still subject to change).


If I use a proofreader (which I’ve done for previous books but am undecided at present), that’s another two weeks and version 6.0 results.


At that stage, the book is done, but it’s not laid out. The clean format and mix of fonts the reader views come only after long, maddening hours applying different templates to create a master eBook and paperback (the two versions differ). There’s also the back matter (acknowledgments, previews of other books, review requests and previous reviews for the back catalog) to complete, format and upload.


Once that’s all done, the onion has seven layers and the finished product is ready to launch, but only after the author completes the fifty-plus to-do items in the launch calendar. The results are a book the target readers enjoy and, ideally, a virtuous circle of sales and favorable reviews.


The readers judge whether the novel is a tear-inspiring onion or a gem. All I can say for certain is that writing for an audience is more of a job than a hobby, but it helps if you love what you do, too.


If you’ll excuse me, we are off to have tea with the Queen.