I think the biggest thing I learned, or rather, reaffirmed, is that as an author I need to stretch and write what I feel compelled to write, not just what I believe will sell the best.
Russell Blake – 21 August 2013
The Black Flap
A controversial, frightening bio-thriller that blurs the line between truth and fiction, Upon A Pale Horse raises disturbing questions about the man-made origin of nightmare epidemics, and posits a conspiracy so plausible that it will linger long after the novel’s shocking conclusion.
When young attorney Jeffrey Rutherford’s brother is killed in a plane crash minutes after takeoff from JFK, his life is turned upside down – especially when he discovers that his brother’s career wasn’t what it seemed. Jeffrey’s staid existence is upended as he races to unravel a Gordian knot of deceit and betrayal, and ultimately must battle an unstoppable adversary bent on systematic global genocide.
About the book
What is the book about?
Upon A Pale Horse is a chillingly plausible bio-thriller about the lab origin of certain plagues, and a cabal of powerful interests preparing to launch one into the world. Jeffrey Rutherford, a young attorney, discovers a disturbing secret about his brother’s past when his plane goes down moments after takeoff. Jeffrey’s search for the truth becomes a race to stop an all-powerful adversary from doing the unthinkable.
Think The Firm crossed with Contagion or The Andromeda Strain and you’re in the ballpark.
When did you start writing the book?
I think it was April, 2013.
How long did it take you to write it?
Roughly 60 days, including multiple drafts.
Where did you get the idea from?
I was researching something else for a different book when I stumbled upon some scientific data that made no sense to me and seemed illogical and contradictory. I figured I had to be mistaken, so dug deeper. What I discovered so troubled me that it inspired this fictional treatment of the subject.
Were there any parts of the book where you struggled?
Try every part of it. I debated shelving the book once I’d finished it. The subject matter is too controversial. I had several people ask me whether I wasn’t afraid someone might show up on my doorstep and shoot me, or my car blow up, or my food wind up poisoned. I already know this isn’t going to make me any friends with the U.S. government or with Big Pharma – two of the most powerful entities on the planet. And the ending…I rewrote the ending from the original one because it was just too dark and ugly for most people. I agonized over releasing the book, as well as the ending. But what I wound up with works well, and I think I was right to change it.
What came easily?
The main character and his character arc, as well as his romance. I also upped my game on the descriptive prose and let myself run a little more than usual. I’m a fan of writers like James Lee Burke who can paint vivid images with words and establish a sense of atmosphere that’s palpable, and I try to do that in every book. In Pale Horse, I think I hit the notes well without being overly self-indulgent.
Are your characters entirely fictitious or have you borrowed from real world people you know?
Do you have a target reader for this book?
One reviewer said every thinking person in the world should read it. I thought that was too limiting, given what’s on the bestseller lists, so I would say let’s not restrict it to just the thinking ones. Seriously, though, fans of Crichton, Cooke and Grisham will enjoy this novel quite a bit.
How was writing this book different from what you’d experienced writing previous books?
I’m usually not scared as I write. On this one I was. I was researching more as I penned it, so I learned more as I went along, and the line between “that could happen” and “crap, it looks like that’s what did happen” blurred. It’s why I include links in the Afterword so that readers can do their own research. Read the book and you’ll see what I mean.
What new things did you learn about writing, publishing, and/or yourself while writing and preparing this book for publication?
I think the biggest thing I learned, or rather, reaffirmed, is that as an author I need to stretch and write what I feel compelled to write, not just what I believe will sell the best. I had originally slotted in starting my noir Hollywood PI series, Black, when this idea came to me, and I almost didn’t write Pale Horse because I was so inspired to begin Black. I’ve done that a few times – I have a finished outline for a sequel to my bestseller Fatal Exchange that I have never found the time to actually write. But I pushed Black off, even though I know it’s likely to be far more successful commercially than Pale Horse (because it’s a series, it’s light mystery with humor, it doesn’t require a lot of thinking – sort of a guilty pleasure read, a la Connelly’s Harry Bosch), because Pale Horse seemed like it was an important book. But it’s a stretch in terms of genre (bio-thriller, vs. my usual action/adventure thriller) and is a stand-alone novel, both of which make it tougher to sell. So what I learned on this one was that it doesn’t have to always be about writing what I think will be a bestseller.
As I said earlier, I also upped the ante on craft, but then took a new approach to editing, where I was ruthless. The end result speaks for itself.
End of Interview: