June 3, 2014

Dragons and Dreams of Vengeance: an interview with Mark Murphy, author of "The Curse of the Thrax"

About Mark Murphy: He's a nationally recognized physician and award-winning writer whose first novel, The Shadow Man, was published in 2012. He has been selected for membership in "America's Top Doctors" every year since 2003, and has been voted as "Savannah's Best Gastroenterologist" by the readers of Savannah magazine every year that award has been given. Dr. Murphy writes a regular Op-Ed column in the Savannah Morning News, has been a student at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival a number of years, and is a member of the Board of Directors of the acclaimed Savannah Book Festival. Dr. Murphy married his high school sweetheart; together, they raised two sons. They now reside in a house on the Vernon River near Savannah with a menagerie of semi-wild animals—but no dragons. At least, not yet. http://www.mark-e-murphy.com/

About THE CURSE OF THE THRAX: The children of the Godswood Village grew up hearing stories about the Thrax, a fearsome dragon “with scales like iron plates and teeth as long as battle swords.” Because the Thrax had not been seen in over 100 summers, these always seemed like fairy tales to Jaykriss, the 14-year-old son of Glyndich, the powerful village War Chief.

Until the Thrax returned—and killed Jaykriss’s father.

Jaykriss dreams of avenging his father’s death by subduing the Thrax and recovering the Bloodsword, a treasured family heirloom Glyndich lost while battling the dragon. But can he? 



Can you give us a brief summary of The Curse of the Thrax?

Jaykriss is a typical teenager. He’s bored with school, the girl he loves doesn’t even know he’s alive, and he and his mother disagree—a lot.

Not everything is typical in Jaykriss’s life, however. Glyndich the Great, Jaykriss’s warrior father, died fighting a dragon—and in doing so lost the Bloodsword, a treasured heirloom that is the family’s symbol of power.

Jaykriss lives in the Godswood,a tiny village deep in the forest near the ancient Priestbain, the fortress home of the Godswood priests. The priests rule the Godswood through their close relationship with the all-powerful Dark King. Jaykriss and the rest of the villagers just barely get by, surviving despite plots by the priests, constant threats by groups of half-human mutants—and, of late, by the Thrax itself, an enormous dragon once thought to be extinct.

But one day, all of that changes.

On a routine hunting trip, Jaykriss and his best friend are chased by the Thrax. Terrified, they seek refuge in a forest cave hidden behind a waterfall. The cave shelters an eccentric hermit, a refugee from the Dark King, whose home is filled with books from ancient times. The hermit teaches Jaykriss that all is not as it seems in his world. The mutants and dragons are actually relics of a biological disaster that ravaged the planet years before. The Dark King, revered as a god, is a vicious ruler who will do anything to stay in power. Jaykriss realizes that although he is not a warrior like his father, he can use his instincts and intellect to confront the Thrax, recover the Bloodsword and save his family. He may, in fact, be The One Who Leads, prophesied to save the entire human race. But is Jaykriss ready for his destiny--or will it consume him?

Here’s my timeline: The Curse of the Thrax comes out June 1. Right now, I’m working on a romance novel, set in the 1960’s, called The Lost Year. I should finish that sometime this summer. I’ll start work on Book Two of the Bloodsword Trilogy after that--I’ve already completed the outline--and I expect that will take me 9 months or so to finish, and a few more months to edit, market and publish. So the second book in this trilogy should be out around the summer of 2016.


This story is really an amalgamation—a coming-of-age story combined with a fantasy tale set in a unique dystopian universe. It tells of a boy striving to become a man without the guidance of his father. He also discovers that the order of the world be has grown up in is vastly more complex than he ever imagined. Things he thought were absolute truths were, in fact, lies; institutions he had been told could be trusted were, in fact, inherently untrustworthy. Religion, politics, relationships, the twisted tangle of people grasping for power and influence—all of the trappings of adulthood are coming to fruition in Jaykriss’s young life. I’m biased, of course, but I think it’s a rollicking adventure set in the firm foundation of a boy trying out his (figurative) wings for the very first time—something we can all identify with.

What inspired you to write Jaykriss’ story?


I have two sons who I have watched grow into fine young men. They have been fortunate enough to have two loving parents to help them with advice and life examples. But like all parents, I have worried at times what might happen to them if something happened to me. Would they understand the value system I would want them to have? Have I provided them with a robust enough framework for dealing with life’s adversity? In this story, I gave Jaykriss a loving father—and I snuffed him out before the story ever starts, so that the reader only sees him in Jaykriss’s memories and flashbacks. Still, Jaykriss ends up as a fundamentally decent person—and he draws deeply on the many lessons his father taught him. I thought that premise made for a compelling story. I then created a fantastic world filled with secrets and unexpected creatures—sort of like real life adolescence, actually, except that these secrets and creatures are elements that we are not familiar with. And that makes it more interesting.

What is the greatest lesson that Jaykriss learns in his adventures?


I re-hashed a saying from T.H White’s “The Once and Future King” in this work—“Might does not make right; right makes might.” It’s a statement Jaykriss recalls from his father’s repertoire, but it’s at the core of Jaykriss’s belief system. The Dark King is the embodiment of the Machiavellian idea that absolute power corrupts absolutely. He abuses his vast power and influence to subjugate his people and keep them in the (intellectual) darkness, shrouding himself in mysticism and thinly-veiled threat. From Zamarcus, Jaykriss learns about science and literature and all of the things the Dark King has tried to keep hidden from the people in order to stay in power. Jaykriss is determined to set things right—and, in so doing, to break the choke-hold the Dark King has on knowledge (and upon his people). Learning what his skills are (intuition, perceptiveness, and an insatiable need to do the right thing) as well as his weaknesses (he is not the warrior that his father was, for example—but his father is dead, after all, and Jaykriss is not) can help Jaykriss to grow into the complete person he will become by book 3 in the trilogy.

When you were becoming an adult, did you have an experience that taught you what Jaykriss learns?


Several. Here’s one example: My mother died at a very young age. She was always a powerful source of advice for me. Having her life end prematurely forced me to grow up faster—but I found that I had absorbed a lot more of her life lessons than I had realized. She speaks to me every day. Jaykriss hears his father speaking inside his head all through this novel—cajoling, encouraging, shepherding him along life’s way.

What is Jaykriss’ biggest flaw?


He’s a hothead. He tends to go off “half-cocked” sometimes, without thinking through all of the potential consequences. Part of that is just the inherent impatience of youth. In that respect, Marda (his best friend and cousin), Zamarcus and Sola, his girlfriend--all of whom are older than Jaykriss--often serve as wellsprings of mature advice.

How will we see Jaykriss grow as the trilogy progresses?


He will be roughly 16-20 years old in Books 2 and 3 (he’s 14 in this novel), so his life will contain a lot more “mature” conflicts as the trilogy progresses. In Book1, Jaykriss finds out a lot about his strengths—but Book 2 in the series is all about learning one’s limitations, and Book 3 is all about Jaykriss combining the positive and negative knowledge of himself that he has acquired in the first two books to become a more complete person (and a more formidable foe for the Dark King). To paraphrase the philosophy of Nietzsche, all of the adversity Jaykriss goes through ultimately strengthens him. However, it also makes him more cynical, so some of the innocent veneer of youth we see in Jaykriss in Book 1 will burn away in the later works. He becomes a somewhat less trusting soul—but he is also less vulnerable, less naïve, and more capable of making the hard choices that leaders must make. Finally, his love for Sola blossoms further, bringing Jaykriss a depth of spirit that he could have never achieved without her influence. He sublimates all of his own ambitions and desires to serve hers, and she does the same for him. The two of them have a sort of “Gift of the Magi” relationship that influences every aspect of their respective decision-making. They ultimately make each other stronger by caring more about each other than they do about themselves. The idea that love can be a catalyst for altruistic behavior ends up being a central theme in the trilogy. Sola and Jaykriss are truly made for each other, and it shows in every aspect of this work.

What is your favorite part about the world you’ve created?


This is a bit of a spoiler, but the mere fact that Jaykriss’s world is an alternate version of our own is terribly interesting to me. It just goes to show that people are people, and they do the things that people do irrespective of the universe they dwell in. Power, honor, sex, food, security and living a meaningful life will all play a role in any human being’s existence. Jaykriss’s world is no different from our own, really. It just has dragons.

You’re a very successful doctor. Why did you decide to become a writer?


Writing and medicine are like fraternal twins—different, and yet the same in many respects. Both disciplines involve using one’s powers of observation. Both require empathy, and an ability to understand what a person’s true motivations are. But medicine employs the scientific method, rooted in facts and data. Creative writing is, by its own definition, creative, allowing one the latitude to express oneself artistically. I find them to be complementary. Being a writer has made me a better doctor, and being a doctor has made me a better writer. And let’s make one thing clear: the compulsion to write is part of my constitutional makeup. It’s a basic physiologic process, like breathing. So I didn’t “decide” to become a writer. I decided to become a doctor. I have been a doctor since 1988, when I graduated from medical school. I’ve been a writer my entire life.

Does your work in medicine influence your stories?


Of course it does. In many respects, being a doctor is like being a soldier—you see a number of “great and terrible things,” to quote physician-author Ethan Canin. Doctors are afforded little windows into the lives of a number of other people. We see people at the diametric extremes of their lives—great personal triumphs, crushing personal defeats, life and death, pain and absolution, etc. It all makes for great storytelling. All a physician-writer has to do is pay attention and find a way to tell the tale.


The Curse of the Thrax is your second novel. Did you encounter new challenges that you didn’t have with your first book, The Shadow Man?


Well, they are completely different works. The Shadow Man was a thriller, set in my hometown, about a serial killer surgeon. It was easy to write because the protagonist was a physician living where I live. It was also frightening, violent and, at times, quite graphic, as books about psychopathic murderers usually are. The Curse of the Thrax is a young adult (YA) book, set in a completely different world that I created inside my head. So those two descriptors (genre and locale) delineate a fundamental difference between these two works. YA books are also aimed at a different audience. The violence in a YA novel is more restrained; there is no foul language, and graphic sexual situations are off-limits. There’s the whole discovery element, as well; character development is critical in any novel, but a YA protagonist is often developing his or her value system right before the reader’s eyes. So things are inherently more malleable with the characters in a YA book. Adults, by contrast, are more predictable in their behavior, more hard-wired. That makes writing about them a tad easier—unless they are being intentionally deceptive, as sociopaths will do sometimes. There may be one or two sociopaths in The Curse of the Thrax, but they are, at least at this point, less prominent. The story is truly about Jaykriss and how he deals with the world. By contrast, the sociopathic killer in The Shadow Man was the worst villain I could possibly imagine—and without him, the entire story simply did not exist. Heck, the book was named after him!

When will the second book in the series be released?

Here’s my timeline: The Curse of the Thrax comes out June 1. Right now, I’m working on a romance novel, set in the 1960’s, called The Lost Year. I should finish that sometime this summer. I’ll start work on Book Two of the Bloodsword Trilogy after that--I’ve already completed the outline--and I expect that will take me 9 months or so to finish, and a few more months to edit, market and publish. So the second book in this trilogy should be out around the summer of 2016.


Thanks to Mark and prbythebook.com for stopping by Wag The Fox along their blog tour.

If you'd like to get your hands on a copy of The Curse of the Thrax, it's available this summer on Amazon.com.

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