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Wednesday, July 22, 2020

The Thunder Heist Cover Reveal Q&A with Jed Herne (interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Read the first two chapters of The Thunder Heist

Today we are joined by young Aussie author Jed Herne, who has chosen Fantasy Book Critic to exclusively reveal the cover for his new epic fantasy caper titled The Thunder Heist.  We chat about the process he went through in finalising the cover as well as how he came up with the plot setting for this terrific new series. Read ahead to find out more about The Thunder Heist and checkout the cover below....

Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic, Jed. To start with, could you tell us what inspired you to be a writer in the first place, and why you choose to go the self-published route? Anything else you’d like to share about yourself and your past?

JH: Thanks for having me, Mihir!

Funnily enough, I didn’t always want to be a writer. My huge goal in life was to be an architect. I even went to architecture school for four years before dropping out to be an author. There are definite parallels between architecture and fantasy writing, though, so it was well worth it (and it’s given me my awesome part-time day job of designing playgrounds).

But in terms of writing – I’d always been interested in storytelling, but the moment where I first really wanted to be an author happened when I was fifteen. We’d just returned to school from the holidays, and my friend, Aiden, had written a fairly detailed short story. I thought that was cool, and I didn’t want him to one-up me, so that afternoon I went home and started writing The Aeon Academy. Three hundred and sixty days later, I somehow had a novel – a middle-grade urban fantasy story about a young boy who goes to a school for superheroes. It was derivative and sloppy, but I didn’t care. I’d discovered something that occupied my daydreams and actual dreams and most moments in between, something that felt exciting and important to explore. The characters felt real, the world building was liberating (I loved drawing maps of the school and the city) and learning how to plot a whole novel was so much fun.

I spent five years re-writing The Aeon Academy. For at least two-drafts, I wrote it all again from scratch. Heavens, it needed it. In the first draft, I only introduced the villain in the third last chapter! Eventually, it reached a point where I didn’t think it would get any better – but I knew it wasn’t good enough. I was totally fine with that, because I’d heard authors say you normally have to write a few trunk novels before you start producing anything good (which is one of the best pieces of advice I think a young writer can hear). Plus, all the mistakes and lessons learnt in The Aeon Academy set me up to write much better stories in the future. Heck, when I started my next novel, Across the Broken Stars, I wrote the first draft in 60 days, which is a far cry from the 360 days it took for The Aeon Academy.

From there, I spent a few more years writing before deciding to self-publish. Why choose the indie route? Well, I’d done all this research on traditional vs self-publishing, and instead of sitting there to keep thinking about it, I wrote a short novella, called Fires of the Dead, which would give me a low-stakes way to experiment with self-pubbing. Within five months of having the idea, the book was out in the world. It hit 70% of the financial target I set for it by the end of 2019, and so I decided that not only was the indie route viable, but that the indie pathway appealed to my creative polymath tendencies. Closing out on the topic of what inspires me to write, in terms of a verb, (and this is going to sound a little pretentious, so forgive me), comes back to something I learned in architecture school. My professor shared this quote from Ignasi Sola-Morales, who said that good architecture connects people to a deeper reality. I think stories do the same. At its best, a narrative isn’t about escapism – it’s about connecting us more deeply with what it means to be human. For me, there’s such a sense of deep meaning and purpose to exploring this in my writing.

Now, that’s not to say I’m writing anything particularly literary or ‘important.’ If anything, self-styled Big Important Books often have the least sense of truth to them. I write action-packed fantasy books with wildly different worlds, and you can read them and have an entertaining time, never think about them again, and I’ve made my peace with that. But I also think that for people looking for something else – dare I say, something a little deeper – that’s what I strive to explore as well. Being able to explore the complexities of the human condition is an endless source of motivation to me.

(And on a side note, I think that’s what makes your Martins, Abercrombies, and Sandersons so successful – they get that it’s not about Lots Of Action or Deep Spiritual Meditations, but instead it’s about doing both, in a way that 1 + 1 doesn’t equal 2, but instead equals 11). And besides all that pretentious literary stuff … writing is just so darn enjoyable. When a story clicks into place, when you understand a character, when an idea springs into your head – it’s so giddying. With a keyboard and a screen, you can craft worlds that would take billions for a movie director to create – all from the comfort of your home!

Q] Many congratulations on the stunning cover for The Thunder Heist. Can you tell us who the artist/illustrator for it is and if you had any input towards it?

JH: Thank you! My artist is the incredible Ramón Ignacio Bunge, who I emailed after discovering him on DeviantArt. Typography for the cover was by yours truly.

I had a lot of input on the design, which included writing the initial brief, providing Ramón with example covers that I liked, and drawing a scrappy version of what I wanted the composition to look like.

Oh, I just realized I still have the brief somewhere … here it is!

Q] What were your main pointers for cover designer as you both went through the process of finalizing it? What were the main things that you wished to focus on in it?

JH: It was mainly about adding more detail and getting said details closer to how I imagined them. For the most part, 90% of the work was done in his initial sketches, and from there we mostly focused on finessing things to make the final composition more cinematic and accurate. Rather than talking about the process, why don’t I follow that well-worn writing-advice trope, and show you instead?

^ Ramón’s first cover sketches.

^ The final sketch version, taking my favourite elements from the three initial sketches.

^ Weighing up the different colour choices.

^ After noticing there was something weird with the perspective, Ramón re-aligned the image.

^ And with some last details, the art was done.

Q] Can you tell us about The Thunder Heist? What is it about? Is it a standalone or the first book in a series?

JH: The Thunder Heist comes from me taking dozens of things I love and mashing them up into what I hope is a fast-paced and unpredictable story; the kind of thing a keen fantasy reader might smash through in one or two days. There’s pirates; sea monsters; elaborate cons; swashbuckling characters; high-octane, mad-max-style action; conspiracy; mutants; a floating city right out of an architect’s dreams (or nightmares); and of course, a heist.

Now, that’s just a random list of things that inspired it. But to actually tell you what it’s about …

It’s a heist story set in a floating city-ship, made from thousands of boats all chained together. This city-ship is powered by a device that pulls electricity from lightning, kept inside an unbreachable tower. And our protagonist, Kef Cutmark – pirate, monster slayer, and generally swashbuckling individual – is here to steal it. Not for money, or fame, but for revenge.

If you like the cons of Gentlemen Bastards, the morally complex characters of The First Law, and the worldbuilding of anything Sanderson writes, you might enjoy it :)

It’s the first book in the Twisted Seas series, and it’s also a standalone. While it sets up a wider story world and introduces you to key characters within that world, it can be read with complete satisfaction all by itself, with no big cliffhanger endings. My structural model is Star Wars: Episode IV, A New Hope. It works great as a standalone, while also setting up a (hopefully!) interesting story universe with endless places to explore.

(Art by Ramón Ignacio Bunge, typography by Jed Herne)

Q] How many books are planned for The Twisted Seas series?

JH: I don’t know how many books will be in the series as a whole, but at the moment I’ve got rough outlines for 5 or 6, along with a few options for how I want to end the thing (which could happen after a few books, or after a lot).

In terms of the reader experience, it’s going to be like the Jack Reacher, Skullduggery Pleasant, or Dresden Files books. There will be overarching character throughlines and development between the books (and we’ll be following the same characters throughout the series), but you could also drop into, say, book 4 in the series and read it as a perfectly good standalone, without requiring major knowledge of the other books (although it will certainly help, and I think once you’ve met the core characters, you’ll want to see more of their adventures).

This might be a slightly hard balance to achieve, and we’re still in early days with the writing, so who knows how it’ll play out. What I can confidently say, though, is that book one is a self-contained story. While it will hopefully have readers excited to keep exploring the world of the Twisted Seas, if you read The Thunder Heist (Twisted Seas #1), it is a self-contained narrative with a distinct beginning, middle, and end.

Q] The concept of humanity being forced onto the seas while terra firma is overrun by monsters is a very cool concept. Can you tell us about the inception of this idea and what other things inspired you?

JH: Thank you! For a few years I’ve been thinking about the idea of a monster-infested land, with little bastions of safety carved out in human settlements on the coast. You know, that kind of frontier allegory, where both reward and risk lie inland. I’d even sketched out a fairly detailed outline for a story in this setting (which I will get around to writing one day), but for the most part it was one of the many story worlds and ideas floating around in the back of my head.

When it came to thinking about the Twisted Seas, I wanted to explore an ocean-based world. How would living constantly on water – with no ability to visit land – affect cities? Politics? Warfare?

There was one issue with this, however. Why would people be restricted to the water? Initially, I thought the Twisted Seas would be inside a giant, dormant volcano, with the cliff walls surrounding the Seas being several kilometers high – too high to climb out of. But there were still some logical issues with that setup.

Then I remembered my monster-infested-land idea. If I filled a world with land-bound monsters that ripped anyone apart the moment they stepped foot on the shore … well, that would certainly incentivize people to stay as far away from the coast as possible. And from that, I had my justification for forcing humanity to live on the ocean.

Q] Let’s talk about the world that you are creating for this saga. The story is set upon a floating city. Can you talk to us about the world that The Thunder Heist is set in? What are curiosities (geographical, mystical, etc.) of this world?

JH: The Thunder Heist is set in the Twisted Seas; a huge expanse of monster-infested water, with most people living in floating city-ships made from thousands of boats all chained together. Legend says that humanity is descended from the Star Sailors, a technologically-advanced people who crossed the skies and the stars in their floating ships – until something brought them crashing down to Entoris (the world of the Twisted Seas).

Using the wreckage of the Star Sailor’s ships, the first settlers constructed boats after discovering that the monster-infested land was too dangerous for habitation. From there, hundreds of years have passed, with humanity eking out a living on the Twisted Seas. Almost all knowledge from the Star Sailors has been lost, and there is much contention over any information about them.

Three primary factors have allowed humanity to survive a hostile life on the Twisted Seas: alchemy, mutants, and the Debris Belt.

Of alchemy, enough rudimentary knowledge of chemicals and transmutation has enabled humanity to access and produce enough resources from survival, based only on what they can take from the seas. There is debate over whether alchemists are scientists, magicians, or a combination of both.

Of mutants (genetically modified people) there are several types. Through alchemical and cultural processes, mutants exist as a slave-like underclass to serve common humans. The main two mutant types are Gillers, whose ability to breathe underwater allows them to be used for ocean-floor mining, which provides the iron to make new boats. The second main mutant species are Wingers, whose ability to fly makes them well-suited for conveying messages between the various city-ships. There are other mutants as well, although they are rarer.

And lastly, the Debris Belt. When the Star Sailors encountered the cataclysm that sent them crashing down to Entoris, the rubble from their ships formed a floating debris ring that orbits around Entoris. Scrap metal and precious relics fall from this ring into the Twisted Seas, where they are swiftly hunted by scavenger crews. From there, these resources are processed and used for boats, weapons, and other goods.

Q] This book is the third one you’ve published along with a few short stories/novellas. What can you tell us about your previously published work?

JH: My two other books are Fires Of The Dead (novella), and Across The Broken Stars (novel). They’re both fantasy books.

Fires Of The Dead follows Wisp – a magician who can control fire. Now, there’s lots of fire-based magic out there, but I’d like to think my magic system is a little bit different. I call it pyromancy, and it involves drawing energy from fires to make your own flames. Pyromancers create a bond with a fire by dripping their blood into a flame (i.e. into a campfire), and once they’ve bonded with this fire, they can draw energy from it to warm themselves, shoot flames, and do other kinds of cool sorcery stuff.

In Fires Of The Dead, Wisp leads a misfit thieving crew into a desolate, ashen forest to steal a dead sorcerer’s skull. But his crew aren’t the only ones on the hunt, and the forest isn’t as barren as it seems ...

Across The Broken Stars is about a cowardly war deserter who seeks redemption by helping a young fugitive search for a mythical safe haven. It’s set in a world where people live on discs floating in space, with a rich mythology and lore that our protagonists have to use as clues for their quest for the safe haven. Reedsy Discovery said that “if you are looking for an epic fantasy that has a unique setting, this is it,” which was so flattering that I shall post it here without shame :)

As you can probably tell from those book descriptions, and from The Thunder Heist, I love to push the boundaries with world building and try my hardest to create unique settings – no medieval European fantasy stuff here!

Q] So for someone who hasn't read any of your novels, how would you describe the type of stories that you write, what would be your pitch for this story?

JH: I write fantasy stories set in unique secondary worlds, featuring morally complex characters. If you like inventive magic systems and settings you haven’t explored before, mixed with a lot of unflinching grittiness, you’ll probably enjoy my stuff.

For The Thunder Heist, it is (no surprises here), a heist. Think Ocean’s 11 but in an oceanpunk fantasy world. Here’s the blurb:

A relentless thief. An impossible heist.

Meet Kef Cutmark. Pirate, monster-slayer, scourge of the Twisted Seas.

After a lifetime of running from her past, she’s returned to Zorith – a tangled jungle of a thousand boats, all lashed together to make a floating city-ship. Zorith is powered by a device that draws energy from lightning. Mysterious, unique, and locked in an unbreachable tower, it’s the envy of Zorith’s rivals.

And Kef? She’s here to steal it.

If she can take the device and cripple Zorith, maybe she’ll find justice for all the hurt the city has caused her. But with an unreliable thieving crew, hunters closing in, and her past bearing down upon her, failure looks more likely. And if she fails, she’ll never find peace again.

Q] Many thanks for your time Jed, I’m looking forward to reading The Thunder Heist. Do you have any parting thoughts or comments you’d like to share with our readers?

JH: Thanks so much for having me, Mihir! It was a lot of fun.

If you’d like to read the first two chapters of The Thunder Heist for free, and be notified when it releases in September/October 2020, you can sign up to my author email newsletter here. If you don’t want to join my email list, you can follow me on the socials instead:

Twitter: @JedHerne Instagram: @JedHerne Youtube: Jed Herne - Writer

Thanks again for the interview, and thanks to you – the reader – if you’ve made it this far!


OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: A relentless thief. An impossible heist.

Meet Kef Cutmark. Pirate, monster-slayer, scourge of the Twisted Seas.

After a lifetime of running from her past, she’s returned to Zorith – a tangled jungle of a thousand boats, all lashed together to make a floating city-ship. Zorith is powered by a device that draws energy from lightning. Mysterious, unique, and locked in an unbreachable tower, it’s the envy of Zorith’s rivals.

And Kef? She’s here to steal it.

If she can take the device and cripple Zorith, maybe she’ll find justice for all the hurt the city has caused her. But with an unreliable thieving crew, hunters closing in, and her past bearing down upon her, failure looks more likely. And if she fails, she’ll never find peace again.


Shaban said...

Beautiful cover. I will go ahead and judge the book by it.


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