Please welcome J. S. Dewes to The Qwillery as part of the 2021 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Last Watch was published on April 20, 2021 by Tor Books.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. What is the first fiction piece you remember writing?
J. S.: Thank you so much for having me!
I have a problematically terrible memory, and can’t even begin to recall what my first piece of fiction might have been! My first vague memory of writing fiction was probably from third grade or so, when my teacher told us to forget about spelling and grammar and just get our ideas on the page. I think that comment somewhat horrified my mother, haha, but in retrospect it was actually great advice! You can’t revise a blank page, after all. :)
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
J. S.: I definitely started out a full-on pantser, and I discovery wrote all of The Last Watch. However, since then I’ve written two more books and learned a lot more about myself as a writer in the process. Though I wouldn’t say I’ve settled fully, I’m currently pretty much a hybrid. I’ve frankensteined a flexible plot structure from a few different sources that works well for the kind of stories I like to tell, and I’ve used it to help my panster brain craft those pesky outlines editors and agents sometimes want to see.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
J. S.: Though every phase has its different challenges, I find organizing revisions probably the most difficult. Though I’ve devised a system that works pretty well for me, setting up a revision plan within that system is hugely time consuming, and I definitely wish my brain was able to just contain and process it all at once, and I wouldn’t have to structure it all within a ridiculously detailed organization scheme. Alas.
TQ: What has influenced / influences your writing? How does script writing affect (or not) your novel writing?
J. S.: I draw from a wide variety of influences—video games, films and television, concept art (Pinterest & Art Station), and more. Music is a big one—all my story ideas thus far have come from song lyrics, and music is a part of my process during every phase of writing. I love creating playlists for different books, scenes, moods, and characters, and it’s a big part of my creative immersion process. (Which is greatly helpful when you can only squeeze in an hour or two of writing a day!)
And yes, I definitely think script writing had an impact on my novel writing. Though I didn’t fully realize it at the time, looking back I think that experience informed my instincts while pantsing my first couple novels; I didn’t have to undertake any structural edits at any point for The Last Watch, and I think that was in large part due to my understanding of plot and pacing from having written screenplays. There are definitely other relevant skills that transfer, especially things like showing versus telling, characterization, and dialogue.
TQ: Describe The Last Watch using only 5 words.
J. S.: Criminal soldiers fight danger physics!
TQ: Tell us something about The Last Watch that is not found in the book description.
J. S.: Despite the high concept conveyed in the blurb, the story is actually very tightly focused on the characters and their relationships. Also, there are 144 instances of the F word.
TQ: What inspired you to write The Last Watch? What appeals to you about writing Science Fiction?
J. S.: The original concept for The Last Watch was inspired by a song lyric! There’s a song I’ve loved for years called “Highwayman” (written by Jimmy Webb, performed by The Highwaymen), with a line: “I’ll fly a starship across the universe divide.” That got me thinking about what might lie outside the confines of the universe, or what might happen if the universe stopped expanding and you tried to find the edge.
Science fiction is great for so many reasons—outer space, aliens, and fun technology not least among them. But when it gets down to it, I love science fiction because it gives you a really unique way to reframe modern issues, allowing you to explore and attack those questions through a different but familiar lens. There’s also just a very specific mix of wonder and fear only science fiction can evoke, and that’s always intrigued me.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for The Last Watch?
J. S.: Quite a lot of research went into The Last Watch! 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 physic
I definitely *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. :)
TQ: Please tell us about the cover for The Last Watch.
J. S.: I absolutely love how the cover turned out! As soon as my editor suggested the concept, I readily agreed, and couldn’t wait to see it come to fruition. Asking for a depiction of utter annihilation from space and time at the edge of the universe is a pretty big ask, but designer Peter Lutjen...well...annihilated it. Between the contrasting colors, gradient of stars, and surreal depiction of unraveling matter, it perfectly evokes the scope and existential chaos of the setting.
TQ: In The Last Watch who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
J. S.: I’m lucky in that pretty much all my characters went very easy on me, and I love writing all of them! But if I had to pick one as the easiest, I’d go with Cavalon Mercer, the sarcastic disowned prince who’s one of the two point of view characters. It’s like there’s a switch in my brain I can just flip at will to turn on his voice, and he just flows right out of me and onto the page. Writing from his perspective is so easy, and a total blast! The most difficult was probably Griffith Bach. Though he’s not a POV character, he’s definitely in the category of “primary” and I’d (accidentally) wildly underdeveloped him in the early drafts. During revisions my editor encouraged me to flesh him out, and I quickly realized I’d created kind of a cardboard cut-out of a person. Most of the time when I’m writing characters, their histories and personalities and secrets come through to me pretty naturally, but that wasn’t so much the case with Griffith. I really had to dig into his backstory and mindset and come up with a lot of “off screen” content in order flesh him out for the final draft. The result was absolutely incredible however, and the way he ties into the plot and other characters now is light-years better than before, so I’m super glad I went to the effort!
TQ: Does The Last Watch touch on any social issues?
J. S.: Yes, definitely! Though the setting of The Last Watch is fairly contained, there are a lot of subplots and hints in the worldbuilding surrounding the social issues prevalent in their society—topics like segregation, discrimination, human rights, as well as moral questions in regards to things like cloning and eugenics. Without getting into spoilers, I can say that the second book in the series delves more deeply into some broader social and political issues, some of which, coincidentally, more directly reflect our own society than I would like. :)
TQ: Which question about The Last Watch do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
J. S.: “Do you want fan art for The Last Watch?” Why yes, yes I do!
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Last Watch.
J. S.: “You do not seem appropriately shocked.”
“Physics doesn’t really give a shit about your existential disposition, Rake!”
TQ: What's next?
J. S.: Next up for me is the release of The Exiled Fleet on August 17—the second book in The Divide series and sequel The Last Watch! I’ll also be continuing my “virtual tour” for The Last Watch with some panels and chats with other authors, all of which I’m very much looking forward to!
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
J. S.: Thank you so much for having me!
The Last Watch
The Divide 1
Tor Books, April 20, 2021
Trade Paperback and eBook, 480 pages
The Expanse meets Game of Thrones in J. S. Dewes's fast-paced, sci-fi adventure The Last Watch, where a handful of soldiers stand between humanity and annihilation.
Most Anticipated Book for April 2021: Bookish
Amazon Best of the Month April 2021
It’s the edge of the universe.
Now it’s collapsing—and taking everyone and everything with it.
The only ones who can stop it are the Sentinels—the recruits, exiles, and court-martialed dregs of the military.
At the Divide, Adequin Rake commands the Argus. She has no resources, no
comms—nothing, except for the soldiers that no one wanted. Her ace in
the hole could be Cavalon Mercer--genius, asshole, and exiled prince who
nuked his grandfather's genetic facility for “reasons.”
After graduating from Columbia College Chicago with a degree in film production, J. S. Dewes went on to serve as cinematographer for independent films, write, produce, and shoot a zombie musical, slay internet dragons, and act as lighting designer for presidents and presidential-hopefuls so many times it became mundane. Having grown weary of such pedestrian exploits, she decided to begin forging worlds in the form of novels, returning to her roots in science fiction and the written word.
She currently resides in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband, who’s proven to be a mixed blessing, but he makes her laugh, so she’s decided to stick it out. They have two dogs (full blessings) and a cat of unpredictable demeanor. The Last Watch is her debut novel.