This week we’re getting to know Joseph Malik, author of the unique fantasy novel, Dragon’s Trail, the first book in the Outworlders series. It’s difficult to compare this book to others as it’s so unique, but it’s got all the intrigue and suspense you’d find in a James Bond film, wrapped up in an intricate and complex fantasy world to rival any Brandon Sanderson novel.
Once dubbed “The Deadliest Man Alive,” Jarrod Torrealday is a former Olympic saber hopeful and medieval weapons expert banned from competition for killing another fencer in a duel. Despondent, volatile, alcoholic, yet still one of the greatest swordsmen alive, he now works for third-rate fantasy films as a technical consultant and stuntman.
When Jarrod accepts the gig of a lifetime from a sorcerer looking for a hero, he finds himself facing an invading army in a world inhabited by creatures from Earth’s mythical past. He soon learns that the enemy mastermind is also from Earth, and has laid the foundations for a new kind of war.Seamlessly blending hard science with elements of classic sword and sorcery, Dragon’s Trail is an international bestseller that’s being hailed as the pioneering work of a new genre: the Fantasy Technothriller.
Joseph Malik is an eligible author for the 2018 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in Science Fiction/Fantasy. In addition to fiction, he writes and lectures on advanced intelligence theory and asymmetric warfare for the U.S. military. He has worked as a stuntman, a high-rise window washer, a computational linguist, a touring rock musician, and a soldier in the United States Special Operations Command. A veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, he lives in the Pacific Northwest along with his wife and their two dogs.
Dragon’s Trail is his first novel. A sequel, The New Magic, is scheduled for late summer 2018.
1. Tell us a little about you and what you’re working on.
I’m one of the world’s deadliest nerds. I work in strategic intelligence, I’m a former stuntman and competitive boxer, and I write intensely detailed, hyper-realistic fantasy novels. I based my worldbuilding off of first-hand experience, sometimes gained at terrific risk to life and limb.
Right now, I’m working on the sequel to my debut. It’s at my editor, and I’m expecting the first round of line edits tomorrow, actually, so right now most of my writing time is spent underneath my desk, hugging my knees and rocking back and forth. And drinking. On the other hand, the manuscript survived developmental editing, so that was something.
You As A Reader
2. When did you first fall in love with books?
I was reading at an early age, and was reading to my grade school classes at story time.
3. What’s your favorite book from your childhood?
I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sallew, by Dr. Seuss. “But I’ve bought a big bat. I’m all ready, you see. Now my troubles are going to have troubles with me!” Words to live by.
4. Of the books you’ve read, which one changed you the most?
Gravity’s Rainbow. 700 pages of backwards-talking, hyperintellectual brain-porn. It’s like a Tough Mudder course for your language center. It made me realize that books were more than the words on the page. The actual sounds of the words make pictures in your head that are different than the meanings. Words as art.
5. What’s the last book you read and your current favorite?
The last book I read—just last week, actually—was Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft. And, holy crap. It’s enough to make me want to sell my laptop and go live in an Ashram in Tibet for a few months to find my center. It’s neck and neck for current favorite with All Our Wrong Todays, which is an amazing take on time travel. Just genius.
6. If you could meet any author, alive or dead, who would it be?
I’d like a saber match against Robert Heinlein in his prime, but I’d settle for getting into a bar fight beside Harlan Ellison.
You As A Writer
7. When did you first know you were a writer?
In high school, when I wrote my first novel, about a bunch of gamers who find themselves magically transported to their game world. I guess nowadays it would be LitRPG, but it was 30 years ago. If self- publishing had been a thing back then, I’d own the world right now.
8. Do you remember the first story you ever wrote? If so, what was it about?
The first story I wrote was a piece about time travel, in grade school. I don’t remember the specifics. It was some kind of time travel love story.
9. What has been the most difficult part of your writing journey? The best part?
The most difficult part has to be the rejections. I was told again and again that what I was writing would never sell, and that there was no market for a hyper-realistic fantasy. After about fifteen years, I finally hung it up and quit submitting and just wrote for myself. At one point, I’d forgotten about it altogether; I was injured on deployment about five years ago, and found the manuscript on an old hard drive in the hospital, and did my final draft while convalescing. I then got turned down ten more times before releasing it through my own publishing company in late 2016.
The best part, definitely, has been the research. I spent over a decade researching the mundane elements of the worldbuilding firsthand in order to build a believable baseline for my fantasy society. This gave me the chance to learn fencing, horsemanship, martial arts, blacksmithing, and much more. I honestly didn’t know that other fantasy authors didn’t do this; I thought that rappelling off mountaintops, riding horses, and swordfighting was just part of the job. Best gig I’ve ever had.
10. Of all the writing advice you’ve received, what helped you the most?
Write the ending first and plot backwards.
11. Tell us about your current project and any others you’re working on.
My current project is my sequel, The New Magic. As I’d said, it’s at my editor; I should be getting the line edits back tomorrow.
This was a fun book to write, because the series is an allegory for the effect of weapons technology on intractable conflicts—something I have a professional interest in—and this novel, as a sequel, is where we really start to see the follow-on effects of all the hell that the heroes raised in Dragon’s Trail. In the first book, Dragon’s Trail, the heroes go into another world rocking a slew of technological advantages, and it’s a bit of a romp while they turn the world on its ear. It’s fun; it’s a superhero story.
In The New Magic, they find themselves up against a villain who has the same advantages that they do; he’s come to their new world from Earth, as well, bringing the same weapons and training that they did. It’s the first part of a second act, so it’s quite a bit darker, and it has deeper themes. They’ve definitely changed the world on a lot of levels, and in this book, they start to see the scope of what they’ve caused.
The New Magic starts to delve into the disconnect that arises when a leader has a disparate and alien intellectual history from the people he’s responsible for, which is one of the main themes of the series. We really dig into that this time. These guys from Earth take radical action to secure what they perceive as everyone’s interest, but they do this based on a value set that the local people don’t share. And that’s fun to play with. I don’t think we see that enough in portal fantasy; I think it gets glossed over, and so often the hero from Earth who does “right” carries the day by doing something that lines up exactly
with what people believe, although the people have no familiarity with Plato, the Sermon on the Mount, or Hammurabi. They just look at the hero and say, “Oh, yeah. That makes sense.” It strikes me as racist and weird to make the assumption that our morality is absolute. This gives my heroes more obstacles than most. Even when they win, they get chewed out.
So, yeah. In The New Magic, I get to explore some of the allegorical subtexts in greater detail and dig into the thematic arc a lot more than I did in Dragon’s Trail. Dragon’s Trail touches on meta-ethical moral relativism—and quite literally, at one point; in a conversation between the hero and the villain over drinks where they discuss moral absolutism and justice as an artifice—but the series as a whole will refer to it in a more subtle way. At least, this is my hope. We’ll see what my editor says.
Fun Stuff About You
12. Besides writing and reading, what are some of your other interests?
A lot of the things that I learned while researching this series have become hobbies. I fence, I box, I hike, I get along well with horses. I minored in linguistics, and language fascinates me: sociolinguistics, philosophy of language, the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. On the non-fantasy- author side, I work in strategic intelligence, so there’s a great deal of specialized knowledge involved. Every morning, walking into the office, I know something new by the time I sit down at my desk. It keeps me intrigued.
13. If you could become an instant expert at any one thing, what would it be and why?
Internet marketing. I’d make my books instant viral successes and go live in a seaside villa in Flanders and write the rest of the series.
14. You’ve just won an all expenses paid trip to anywhere in the world. Where would you go?
Iceland. I just returned a couple of months ago, and I didn’t have nearly enough time to do everything I wanted.
15. How can people connect with you?
16. Anything else you’d like to tell us?
Thanks so much for this. I enjoyed it immensely.
Thank you so much for letting us get to know you better. You’re writing style is certainly unique and super engaging from page one!
If you’d like to explore Joseph’s book, you can find it on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.