Joseph Reid, M.S. ’97, is a patent lawyer by day and a writer of thrillers by night — or at least the very early morning.
His days start at 4 a.m., writing in his office until daybreak, when he takes his kids to school and goes on to work. He sometimes ends his days editing. “It is a juggle sometimes,” he said. “I’m blessed that I’m not the kind of person who has ever needed a lot of sleep.”
His career path first led him to biology and a master’s degree in physiology from UC Davis. Reid said he intended to become a research biologist, but concerns about the job market ultimately steered him toward law school. A voracious reader, Reid said he would often write in his spare time. His first book, 2018’s Takeoff, introduced his series focused on aviation and technology and his protagonist Seth Walker.
Here, Reid discusses his new book, False Horizon (Thomas & Mercer, 2019), out in June, with UC Davis Magazine editor Jocelyn Anderson.
Jocelyn Anderson: Given where you are now, how do you look back on your time at UC Davis? Does it feel like another lifetime ago?
Joseph Reid: Oh, no. I learned plenty there that I pull in. I have a ton of substantive knowledge that works its way into books. In a bigger picture, I think a lot of graduate school is learning about researching and how to go deep on something. Graduate school is the ultimate deep dive. These books — that’s what it is. For False Horizon, for example, [I explore] fracking, drones and the drug epidemic. To be able to do them justice, I had to do a deep dive on all three. These are lessons I learned bopping around Briggs Hall.
JA: How did you decide to become a writer?
JR: It’s one of those things that was associated with everything I did. But I never thought I could make a living as a writer. When my wife was pregnant with our first child, we took a trip to Tahiti. I read voraciously, and I brought a bunch of fiction books with me and wondered what it’s like to write one. When we came back, I was keeping odd hours with the baby and started practicing as a hobby more than anything else. My older daughter is now 14. So I kept working at it here and there in off hours.
JA: Did you foresee Takeoff as part of a series from the beginning?
JR: Yes, I started playing with this idea of an air marshal as a protagonist with aviation and airports as the setting. I did envision it as a series, and Seth has some dark things in his past, and there are some mysteries about him that are hinted at but not revealed. All of that is in my notebook — I know where it’s going. So it’s meant to play out over a series of adventures.
JA: Why did you make your regular setting airports?
JR: I’ve flown all around the world for work. My dad was a pilot. He flew helicopters. So even as a kid, I had a great affinity for pilots and planes. You start looking around. Airports are a lot like Disneyland. There’s the layer you see and then a whole layer underneath. You don’t see it passing through, but all these things happen [behind the scenes]. So I’ve tried to peel back the layer and let people see parts of the aviation industry or airports that they don’t normally see. And that’s a lot of fun.
JA: In False Horizon, Seth Walker is in a completely different set of circumstances from the first book — West Virginia with ecoterrorists and drones and frackers. How do you get the ideas for your books?
JR: I’ve always been very interested in technology. I’m always staying current on what’s happening. With Walker, I deliberately made him an air marshal. So much happens in and around aviation right now, whether it’s smuggling or terrorism or drugs, you get to play with a lot of current events and hot topics. Every adventure I can have him in a different place.