Author Joseph Malik writes fantasy thrillers at a level of detail and accuracy that has readers asking him how to get there. He is a member of SFWA. Please welcome him to No Wasted Ink.
My name is Joseph Malik. I’m a fantasy author and a soldier in the United States Army. I was raised on the Blackfeet Reservation in northern Montana. I live in Washington State. I’m married, no kids, two dogs.
When and why did you begin writing?
My mother wrote romance novels on contract for one of the big publishing houses when I was a kid. I think I started writing stories when I was five or six. I wrote my first full-length novel in high school, about 400 pages.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I don’t think there was ever a point when I didn’t consider myself a writer. I used to write short stories in the margins of my textbooks in grade school during class.
Can you share a little about your current book with us?
My current book is called The New Magic. It’s the sequel to my debut novel, Dragon’s Trail, which exploded last year. It was a Kindle Top 100 bestseller in four countries last year and has sold over 10,000 copies, receiving mainstream critical acclaim.
The books are fantasy technothrillers, epic fantasy novels whose plots hinge on intensely researched technical details. Think The Hunt for Red October but for knights in armor instead of nuclear submarines. The New Magic introduces a theme that we see in a lot of technothrillers, using our humanity to overcome a looming technological disaster. The New Magic is a sequel, but I wrote it to stand alone, with the first book functioning as a prequel/origin story if readers discover them that way.
The New Magic is a gritty fantasy written for adults, with graphic violence, sex, and profanity, but there are no scenes of sexual violence and no sexual violence in any of the female characters’ backstories. I engineered it out of the society when I did my worldbuilding. The rape trope is lazy writing, it’s dismissive, and it needs to be culled from fantasy.
Do you have a specific writing style?
Most definitely. My books are epic fantasy but written in the style of modern action thrillers. I write in omniscient third with a moderately opaque narrator. It’s an older style that hardly anyone uses anymore, but I love the way it tells the story. It marries up with fantasy beautifully.
How did you come up with the title of this book?
“The New Magic” is a reference from the previous book; these books are portal fantasies featuring people from Earth who end up in another world. “The New Magic” is the locals’ name for technology.
Also, in The New Magic, a sorceress resorts to very old, forbidden magic in order to combat the influx of technology and level the field; the old magic is so old that it’s been forgotten, so it’s effectively new again. The further I get into the series, the more self-referential the titles become.
Are experiences in this book based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Almost everything is based on events in my own life.
I did the majority of the worldbuilding for these books hands-on, taking several years while I was learning how to write to also learn swordsmanship (foil and saber in college, then rapier and eventually greatsword), horsemanship, blacksmithing, martial arts (boxing and judo), mountaineering, traditional archery. I built a fully-functional conlang (constructed language) and taught myself to speak and write it, I traveled to Europe to pace off castles and ruins, and much more. I served in Special Operations in the U.S. military, which afforded me the opportunity to learn a lot of really cool things that most other authors just don’t get their hands on: austere medicine, improvised weapons, how to track a man through the desert.
I think one reason that Dragon’s Trail sold so well, and why there’s such a buzz about The New Magic, is that nearly all of the mundane details in the fantasy world of this series are functional. They may not be historically accurate—the heroes didn’t travel in time, after all—but they all make sense and nothing is hand-waved; everything short of the magic would really work, from the phases of the moon, to the economy, to the splinters in the floors. This level of authenticity and believability appeals to the fantasy reader who has a level of knowledge about some type of arcana resident in fantasy tropes; say, a reader who competes in fencing, or studied medieval history, or owns a horse.
The flip side to this, though, is that the unprecedented level of technical accuracy, coupled with my background in Special Operations and intelligence, has spawned emails and messages from readers who seem convinced that I was part of some kind of Black Ops program that explores other worlds. My inbox is an adventure. There is such a thing as being too accurate with your worldbuilding. I get asked where the portal is more often than you’d think.
What authors have most influenced your life? What about them do you find inspiring?
Harlan Ellison and his entire raised-middle-finger attitude. I think that, especially now that I’ve been at this for a while, I enjoy the stories about him more than his actual writing. Tom Clancy, for getting things so right that he got in trouble for it. Douglas Adams, whose Hitchhiker’s Guide series transformed my way of looking at the world when I was younger.
Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?
The cover for The New Magic was designed by Lynn Stevenson. She was a colleague of my wife’s; my wife is a business development consultant for tech firms. I originally bought a pre-made cover for Dragon’s Trail that needed some tweaking, and my wife recommended Lynn, who did a masterful job. When I wanted to use elements of the Dragon’s Trail cover as a series brand, I went back to Lynn, and she put together the cover for The New Magic.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Craft trumps everything. Nothing else will do as much for you as time behind the keyboard or with your nose in a book, tearing words apart late into the night to see how they work.
My debut novel sold spectacularly and continues to sell well, but I’d been writing fantasy novels for the better part of 30 years, trying to get traditionally published, before I released it. It was probably my tenth or twelfth completed novel, and none of the others would have done nearly as well. Most of them were terrible. And the early things you write are going to be terrible. They just are. It takes years and sometimes decades to find your voice. That’s hard to hear, especially for young writers in this day and age of instant gratification and becoming YouTube famous; everybody wants to be a successful author and get an Oprah Book Club sticker the day after they type THE END for the first time, but that’s not how this works. You don’t go buy a violin and then audition for an orchestra in six months. This is that. Study. Practice. It will pay off, but it takes longer than you think.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Thank you. Every one of you. This has been amazing, and there’s much more to come.
The New Magic