Q&A with Joseph Reid, Author of False Horizon

Joseph Reid is the author of Takeoff, which introduced air marshal turned investigator Seth Walker. The son of a navy helicopter pilot, Reid was a marine biologist before becoming a patent lawyer who litigates multi-million-dollar cases for high-tech companies. He has flown millions of miles on commercial aircraft and has spent countless hours in airports around the world. A graduate of Duke University and the University of Notre Dame, Reid makes his home in San Diego with his family. His second novel, False Horizon (available June 18, 2019), continues Seth Walker’s saga.

Recently, the author generously shared his thoughts on balancing a self-contained story with a continuing series arc, the parallels he shares with his protagonist, how he researches and conveys the technological components of his work, and the ways in which place influences plot. Reid also offered a tantalizing hint about what comes next . . .

False Horizon is the second book to feature Air Marshall Seth Walker. In what ways does this book serve as both a standalone story and a continuation of the overall arc you established with Takeoff?

The idea is that False Horizon should stand on its own. It is a self-contained adventure, with a beginning, middle, and end, and I have done my best to ensure that a reader does not need to have read Takeoff to understand any of the action or plot lines in this book.  That said, there is certainly continuity there, i.e., the events of the previous book are still bearing on Seth as a character. Takeoff was his very first case, so as he approaches this second case with that prior experience under his belt, it necessarily informs the way he operates, his confidence and competence. In addition, Seth isn’t alone in his universe; there are friends/contacts/coworkers readers met in Takeoff whom they’ll get to know better in False Horizon.

What of your own background informs your protagonist’s character? Conversely, what do you consider to be the greatest difference between yourself and Seth Walker?

The biggest similarity between Seth Walker and me is that we are both Navy brats. We both moved constantly as children, an experience that necessarily impacts how we interact with people, and we both grew up with military fathers, which informs some of the values we share. That’s about where are the similarities stop, though. Seth sees the world through his training and experiences as an electrical engineer, where I was a biologist—that’s a pretty big difference. Seth also has a peculiar brain condition which, thankfully, I don’t.

Part of my job is staying up with tech trends—where technology is going, what’s “next”— and so when I sit down to plot out a new novel, one looming question is always what aspects of technology I would like to bring into it.

Tell us about the technology you reference in this book. What is your research process like, how do you endeavor to simplify complexities, and in what ways does your role as a patent attorney play into this?

Yes, my day job as a patent attorney *definitely* plays into this. Part of my job is staying up with tech trends—where technology is going, what’s “next”— and so when I sit down to plot out a new novel, one looming question is always what aspects of technology I would like to bring into it. Because I’m somewhat accustomed to researching new areas of technology, I definitely have some go-to sources that I always hit for background. And, part of my job as a litigator is simplifying complex technology for judges and juries, so I try to bring those same skills to bear when writing the books. Hopefully, readers come away feeling like they have learned a little bit and then have a basic understanding of how certain things work, even if it is at a high-level.

You use the realm of fiction to explore factual issues. What is the benefit of doing so – and how does the case at hand lend itself to bigger picture concepts (such terrorism, fracking, and drugs)?

Hopefully, there’s a positive give-and-take to it, a kind of virtuous cycle. On one hand, you hope that you are informing the audience as a factual matter about issues they may have heard of, but may not have explored in depth or completely understand. Conversely, including details or issues from the real world ought to increase the stakes by grounding the story in a world the reader can automatically relate to.

The narrative plays out against the backdrop of West Virginia. In your opinion, how does setting enhance story – and what about this locale seemed to fit the book’s plot?

I have a very warm spot in my heart for West Virginia. I spent a year there as a child, and then I have had reasons to go back many times since. It is an incredibly beautiful place, a complex place, and a place that I think people are less familiar with. Setting the story there was in some ways a bit of a love letter to the state. It was also a function of Takeoff being set in the southwest, and then coming into this story wanting to do something very different. Once I had the setting in mind, that then informed the issues that factor into the plot. Fracking, the opioid crisis, the future of coal mining—these are all issues West Virginians are having to confront every day.

Leave us with a teaser: What comes next?

Readers of either book will have seen that, despite all of Seth’s talents and all of the things he can do, he feels like he has made some mistakes and he has some significant skeletons in his past. To date, though, those have mostly been backstory— they help inform us about who Seth is and why he does what he does, but they have not had a direct bearing on the cases Seth has been investigating. But that may all be about to change.

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