This week’s interview is with J.S. Dewes whose debut novel, THE LAST WATCH (available 4/20!) is a fast-paced sci-fi adventure that has been described as The Expanse meets Game of Thrones. Below, Dewes talks about some of the strangest jobs she’s had, the books she read as a child, and what she’s most looking forward to with the release of her book (hint: get your painting sets ready!). Enjoy!
J. S. Dewes has a Bachelor of Arts in Film from Columbia College Chicago, and has written scripts for award-winning films which have screened at San Diego Comic-Con and dozens of film festivals across the nation. Her debut novel The Last Watch is forthcoming in April 2021 from Tor Books.
What’s the strangest job you’ve ever had?
I’ve had quite an array of strange jobs in my time. As a freelance cinematographer, I worked on a wide variety of strange, including commercials for buffalo ranches, dozens of independent films (mostly horror, lots of fake blood), countless anti-drug PSAs, and a zombie musical.
But the strangest job was probably when I worked as a lighting director for presidential, vice presidential, and first lady speeches in the early 2010s. Locations ranged from atomic laboratories to nuclear submarine shipyards to high school gyms. I worked with the Secret Service, became highly skilled at packing a TSA-Approved bag in under five minutes, and learned more about pipe and drape than I ever wanted to know.
Were you an avid reader as a child? What kinds of things did you read?
I loved reading as a kid! Some of my favorite series were Goosebumps, Everworld, and Star Wars: Jedi Apprentice. Other favorites include Holes, Wrinkle in Time, and Bridge to Terabithia, which I think scarred me for life, but in a good way. 🙂
I’d have to credit The Giver as the first book to have a real, lasting impact on me. I read it when I was twelve, and it’s the first major plot twist I ever remember reading. I read it over and over again, fascinated at how the ending made me feel at once sad, elated, fearful, and hopeful. It gave me so many feelings, and stuck with me for months. Looking back, I can more clearly see what fascinated me about it—a very specific mix of wonder and fear only science fiction can evoke.
In general, sci-fi books don’t tend to find their way to young girls (even more so back then), so it wasn’t until my late-teens/early-20s that I realized there was a whole expansive world of fascinating science fiction out there waiting for me. (Shout out to Mass Effect for opening my eyes to it!) That’s when I really started digging into the sci-fi classics by Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, and Isaac Asimov, some of which have become lifetime favorites.
Honestly, I’m jealous of younger-me, and how much time she had to read!
What first inspired you to start writing?
I’ve been writing in some capacity since I was very young. As a child I loved writing short stories, and eventually that turned into a love for script writing and making films, which is what took over my life as a teenager, and eventually turned into my career.
In early 2015, I started writing fan fiction for one of my favorite video games (Dragon Age II) and totally fell in love with fiction writing. There’s something incredibly cathartic (and freeing) about filling in the gaps in storytelling that video games don’t always have room for. Even the most well-written games don’t always have the time (or reason) to fully realize characters or relationships, and that’s where fan fic comes in. (For me, at least!)
When the game Fallout 4 came out later that same year, I fell in love with one of characters, and picked up the fan fiction pen again to help do him justice! It was very well received by the community, and I had so much fun writing chapters week after week. Engaging with fans was such a fulfilling experience, and their praise and positivity was so inspiring, I decided to try my hand at writing my own novel.
That first book was a post-apocalyptic set in Chicago after a deadly pandemic had taken out most of mankind (I know, right?) I worked through a couple drafts, but realized it needed some major revisions I just wasn’t equipped to handle at the time, so I decided to let it rest a while. I started drafting a new story in the meantime, and that novel was The Last Watch.
How long did it take you to write this book and what kind of research did you do for it?
I drafted The Last Watch in four months, then did a few rounds with critique partners and beta readers over the next six months before I started querying agents.
I did a ton of research! So much research! All the research!
Some of the minor categories were things like military protocol, ordnance, political science, computer & electronic engineering, and I did a fair amount of digging into fusion reactors (specifically ITER.)
The biggest research category by far was physics, in pretty much every flavor. Physical cosmology was a big one (shape of the universe, components, structure, etc.), as well as gravitational physics, relativity, quantum mechanics, and some specifics regarding zero-g and weightlessness. And math, so much math. I truly dread math, but it’s a necessary evil in the world of physics.
I probably *over* researched, considering what made it into the actual text. I tried to make my science as “believable” and realistic as possible, while allowing for variation when it best served the story to expand outside of those margins. I didn’t want to alienate readers by going on long technical rants, and wanted the experience to stay focused on the characters and plot, with science and technology as a background. As a result, I think this falls somewhat firmly in the center of hard and soft sci-fi, but we’ll see what the readers think about that. 🙂
Looking back, it sounds absurdly ambitious, and I’m kind of glad that in my innocence, I just opened a new document and started drafting from the seat of my pants. If I would have known what it was going to turn into, I would have probably been intimidated out of writing it. 🙂
What are you most looking forward to with the release of your book?
I think I’m most looking forward to seeing readers connect with the characters and themes in the book. Someone once sent me fan art of one of my fan fiction stories, and I will never forget how amazing it felt. It was such a great feeling to know that my words had sparked someone’s imagination and inspired them to create something new, the same way my favorite video games, books, shows, and movies do for me. I put all my heart and soul into my work, so I’m really interested to see what readers connect with, which characters or scenes they love the most, what inspires them, and what they take away from the story that I may not have even realized was there.
But…not going to lie, I’m in it for the fan art! *fingers-crossed*
Check out our interview with the amazing @jsdewes whose book THE LAST WATCH will be out on April 20th… but you can win a copy of this much anticipated book NOW.
RT to enter!
Contest ends Tuesday. Join the resistance!https://t.co/GSL8lLwnoL
— The Debutante Ball (@DebutanteBall) April 7, 2021
WHAT THE REVIEWERS ARE SAYING
“Dewes’s debut is an exciting, fast-paced ride around the edges of the universe, where those rejected by much of humanity are the only ones who can save it. Fans of K. B. Wagers’s ‘Farian Wars’ series and John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War will welcome this military science fiction thriller.” ―Library Journal, starred review
“The Last Watch is a bravura debut that blends great action with compelling characters, lighting up this new series like a dark matter generator.” ―Booklist
“Gripping space opera debut.” ―Publishers Weekly
“An epic tale of survival at the end of the universe.” ―Megan E. O’Keefe, author of Velocity Weapon
“Crisp writing, vivid characters, and a plot that beguiles the imagination. The Last Watch is a stunning military sci-fi debut. I was hooked from the opening lines. If you like science fiction, then this book is definitely for you.” ―Jasper T. Scott, USA Today Bestselling Author
“The Last Watch is an amazing debut. The smart world-building and explode-off-the page action scenes make it perfect for fans of The Expanse and other fast-paced Sci Fi. I predict that Dewes is going to be a ‘must read’ author for years to come.” ―Michael Mammay, author of Planetside
“More fun than that time The Expendables, the Dirty Dozen and all of The Night’s Watch all got picked up by a random quantum tear in the fabric of spacetime and shot out the edge of the universe to kick ass and save humanity.” ―John Birmingham, author of the Axis of Time trilogy
“Take the action of Marko Kloos’ Frontlines novels, mix in the intricate world building of Game of Thrones or Warhammer 40,000, and light the fuse. . . . Bursting with snappy dialogue and detail and furious with action, you’ll want to catch your breath when it’s over, and then you’ll want more. Bring it on.” ―Dayton Ward, bestselling author
“A scary edge-of-reality setup, cool martial-arts tattoos, interesting time anomalies, and OMG! The Universe is contracting!? Clear your schedule, because once you’ve gotten on this roller coaster, you’re not going to want to get off until you’ve ridden it to the end.” ―Emily Devenport, author of Medusa Uploaded
“The Last Watch by J.S. Dewes is as spectacular a science fiction story as one is going to find. From a plot that is full of drama to amazing characters that are relatable and interesting, all over a backdrop of a futuristic space setting, The Last Watch is nearly flawless.” ―FanFi Addict
“The Last Watch has it all! Risky orbital maneuvers! Knife fights with grotesque aliens! Mysterious ancient artifacts! Secret royalty! Tragic backstories! It’s classic military space opera with a touch of the cosmic.” ―David Levine, winner of the Andre Norton Award for Arabella of Mars
“J.S. Dewes’ impressive debut…features big ideas, kick-ass characters, and an environmental collapse; you have to try to not be interested in this book. Highly recommended!” ―Primmlife
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