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Home / Hiawatha native J.S. Dewes releases sci-fi thriller, ‘The Last Watch’
A new sci-fi fantasy has hit bookstore shelves and author J.S. Dewes could not be more excited for readers to dive into the world, err universe, of “The Last Watch.”
A fast-paced science fiction adventure, “The Last Watch” follows a motley crew of exiled soldiers stationed at the edge of the universe. It has received rave reviews thus far, and is the first in a series for debut author Dewes.
The story follows two main characters, veteran war hero Adequin Rake, who commands a dreadnaught-turned-watchtower stationed along an invisible boundary, and exiled prince Cavalon Mercer, who was forced to enlist after a “familial disagreement” and is hoping to go unnoticed.
As fate would have it, the universe starts to collapse. Stranded without access to faster-than-light travel or functioning communications, Adequin and Cavalon along with a motley crew must find a way to escape the Divide as it closes in on them and — if possible — stop it before the universe collapses completely.
No pressure, Dewes said.
“There’s a song I’ve loved for years called “Highwayman” (written by Jimmy Webb), with a line: ‘I’ll fly a starship across the universe divide,’” Dewes said of the story’s original spark of inspiration. “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.”
Dewes noted that other aspects of the book were inspired by other song lyrics, sketches that inspired some of the characters, and films, TV, and games. “I would say ’Battlestar Galactica’ and the ’Mass Effect’ video game series are two primary inspirations.”
The book allowed her space to explore a lot of themes she was interested in as well.
“One of the great things about genre fiction is that it can lend itself well toward becoming sort of a thematic melting pot, and ’The Last Watch’ is no exception,” Dewes said. “Some of the more prevalent themes are camaraderie, duty, societal ostracism, failure and redemption. But it also touches on things like disillusionment, trust, assumptions and skewed perceptions, morality, eugenics, political corruption — just to name a few.”
“And one of my favorite undertakings with this book was exploring the relationship between the two main characters, Adequin and Cavalon,” she added. “Though I ‘discovery-wrote’ the book, one of the very few things I knew going in was that I really wanted to use the story to showcase a strong, healthy platonic relationship. Before I really knew it, it’d become the emotional scaffolding of the story and even the impetus for the plot at times, and I absolutely love how it turned out, and how it progresses as the series moves forward.”
One of the biggest challenges she faced while writing was determining out how to divulge setting information and world building in a natural way.
“This is a challenge for any new writer — especially in science fiction and fantasy — though it felt especially so in the case of ’The Last Watch,’ where not only are the physics of the universe different from our own, but the setting is so physically separate ( about 100 million light-years) from most of human civilization.”
She said having a story told through two points of view helped her solve this problem.
“I was really strategic about each characters’ experience and knowledge, and what they were ignorant or even misinformed about,” Dewes said. “It became a balance of figuring out which pairings of characters, or which point of view character to use for a specific scene so the information could be conveyed in an organic way to the reader.”
Those who know Dewes — who now lives in Madison, Wisconsin, but grew up in Hiawatha and attended the University of Iowa — aren’t likely to be surprised that she’s made her way into the published author realm.
“I loved writing short stories as a kid, but when I was in middle school I started getting into making films, and screenwriting quickly became my primary writing outlet,” she said. “I discovered the family video camera when I was maybe 7 or 8, and immediately fell in love.”
Dewes said she made films constantly all through middle and high school, and loved participating in the Cedar Rapids Independent Film Festival each year.
After high school, she pursued a bachelor’s degree in film production with a focus in cinematography, and then worked freelance on independent shorts and feature films all around the Midwest.
“But it wasn’t until 2015 that I really rediscovered my love for fiction writing, when I started to write fan fiction for some of my favorite video games. It was an incredible feeling to get positive feedback from readers who loved the story and were always so excited when I’d post a new chapter. That eventually gave me enough confidence to try writing my own novel.”
But Dewes believes that once a storyteller, always a storyteller.
“Having submerged myself in storytelling in some capacity for almost my entire life, I found the transition from screenwriting to fiction writing pretty straightforward — especially things like plotting, characterization, and dialogue.”
She said she’s 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,” she said. “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.”
And readers are likely to be excited to hear they won’t have to wait too terribly long for the next installment in the series. The second book in The Divide series is called “The Exiled Fleet.” It will be out in paperback, eBook, and audiobook on Aug. 17 and is available for pre-order now wherever books are sold.
While having your book launch in the midst of a pandemic is not ideal, Dewes said it’s been a wild virtual ride.
“I’ve been able to connect with so many authors, bookstores and readers that I likely never would have had the opportunity to meet had I had a more traditional, in-person book launch,” she said.
What: Debuts After Dark, in conversation with Martha Wells
When: 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 12