Well, it’s been nine months. I’d say that a lot has happened, but that’s kind of an understatement.

COVID hit Washington State early, in late February, right after RadCon. The Army wasted no time in designating me “Essential Personnel” and I’ve been pretty much alone in my office for the past eight months, holding down the fort as my team rotated through an abbreviated schedule. Halfway through this, the rest of my team was terminated, leaving me to do the work of three people. We write strategic papers, so that’s . . . well, a lot of writing. Hard writing; academic writing. Un-fun writing.

Burns-you-out writing.

For a while I was working one week on, one week off, but the weeks off haven’t given me much respite. Professional decorum prevents me from saying anything disparaging about my commander in chief, but I will say that, as a strategic analyst studying and assessing potential flashpoints and reporting directly to a briefer for a Combatant Commander, the policy disasters of this administration have made my past few years of fantasy writing feel like trying to write a novel while a smoke alarm is going off. Literally every week brings a new international-relations nightmare, and with each comes late nights and early mornings retooling analytic lines, rewriting papers, scheduling meetings, planning new projects, identifying new areas of focus, and dealing with new floods of panicked phone calls and strident emails. When I’m home–less and less, recently–I’m tearing my hair out and drinking, beating my head against my desk, or doomscrolling and contemplating heading out to the National Capital Region to throw some dumbfuck appointee’s desk through a window.

Hoffman Helped Us Remember Avrakotos - Business Insider
My last team literally gave me a plaque at the end of the project with a Gust Avrakotos quote on it. Draw your own conclusions.

I’m going to try to get the third book in The Outworlders out in 2021. I think–I think–I’m on the final draft, and about halfway through, although it’s going to need a huge edit to remove a subplot because of a complication I’ve run into with my other work in progress: declassification and security review at the Pentagon.

My next series, tentatively entitled Stonelands, is a contemporary military SF thriller about a modern-day Special Operations team exploring the world from The Outworlders. Think Janissaries meets Dragon’s Trail, with an overarching sense of impending dread as if Stranger Things was told from the perspective of the guys in the lab with the flamethrowers. It’s a much bigger book and it moves much faster than anything I’ve done before. As it stands, the characters are all introduced by page six and they’re in another world by page twenty-two.

However, because of the subject matter–it’s based heavily on my real-world experiences in Special Operations, from SOF tradecraft to intersectionality issues facing the modern-day operator–it has to go through a full security review to ensure I’m not spilling classified information. Due to COVID-reduced staffing, this is taking 6-12 months for each pass for a novel right now. It requires a pass before it goes to editing, and a final pass after final edits before it goes to press. So, don’t hold your breath. 2023 if we’re lucky.

The third book in The Outworlders, working title By the Sword (nee Coin of the Realm but I mean, come on, working title), initially had a contemporary military subplot tying into Stonelands, but my Site Security Officer lost his shit when he asked me what the plan was to wrap up the series, and, well, if I don’t remove the military bits, it will also take another year or possibly two to get through security review. So it’s going to need some heavy content edits if I’m going to get it out next year. I’ve just finished plotting them, so that’s something.

My plan is to finish the final draft of Stonelands by January and send it off for the first round of review, then rework By the Sword and ship it off for edits by summer for a fall release. I might just push it back to January 2022, because releasing a novel in the late fall really sucks; there’s a dead zone in book purchasing between mid-November and Christmas Day and I don’t know why I insist on doing it.

In the meantime, I’m on Twitter quite a bit. Find me at @jmalikauthor. Not a lot of time to update my site or my Facebook pages, and I apologize. I’ll do what I can. This tour lasts until March, and then I have a year at home to get some serious writing done, again. We’re almost there. It’ll go by before you know it.