Deputy, fireman, author–though maybe not in that order. Meet fantasy novelist A.J. Cunder


By Ben Burgess

A.J. Cunder had two boyhood dreams: To become a cop and a fireman.

Writing an epic 500-page fantasy novel wasn’t part of the plan.

But when Cunder got his hands on Christopher Paolini’s bestselling fantasy novel Eragon at around the age of 12, he realized he might have to expand his career aspirations.

MAKING FANTASY A REALITY: A.J. Cunder, 20, is creating some buzz with his first novel, 'The Silver Talon.'
MAKING FANTASY A REALITY: A.J. Cunder, 20, is creating some buzz with his first novel, 'The Silver Talon.'

Now, at 20, all of Cunder’s dreams are coming true. The Whippany resident volunteers in a sheriff’s department and a fire department. And his first book, The Silver Talon, is getting good reviews.

“A smart, pleasing, unpretentious fantasy,” says Kirkus DiscoveriesReader Views hails it as “a very well written book by an unusually talented young author.”

Cunder said Eragon showed him that a young author could be really successful; it inspired him to pursue writing. The Silver Talon evolved from a daydream that he jotted down as a 16-year-old.

The tome, published by and available online from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, tells the story of Arius, a merchant’s apprentice, and his dragon companion, Gaurdus.

Accompanied by a small band of friends, the two heroes embark on a sprawling quest to save the land of Farahdin from the clutches of a wicked sorcerer named Contemno. But is Contemno the least of Arius and Gaurdus’ worries? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

While The Silver Talon has elements of traditional fantasy, Cunder pointed out a twist that sets it apart from the pack:

“A lot of times, in traditional fantasies, [magic] is the end-all be-all,” he said. “The magic item is the answer to the quest, or is going to solve the problem. Where [The Silver Talon] differs is that the answer to the heroes’ success might lie beyond magic, and might even be somewhat ordinary.”

Cunder’s literary achievement stands out even more when one considers everything else the young author has taken on. Enrolled in Seton Hall University’s honors program as a double major in English and philosophy, he also holds a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and volunteers with the Whippany Fire Department.

In addition, Cunder recently became a volunteer deputy in the Essex County Deputy Sheriff Program. According to the Essex County Sheriff’s Office website, this program grants volunteer deputies full police powers to make arrests and issue summonses, assist in crime prevention, and “respond to all natural and man-made disasters and other emergencies.”

The program requires volunteers to undergo rigorous field training and classroom instruction at the Essex County Police Academy. That’s three nights a week, and Saturdays. For five months.

“From October to this past April, I had no life,” said Cunder.

He juggled daytime college courses with nights at the Police Academy, which included miles upon miles of running and exhausting bouts of physical training.

“We did a lot of push-ups,” he said.

Although the load has eased somewhat, Cunder still must perform 20 hours of monthly service for the sheriff’s office. Somehow, through it all, he has maintained a steady writing schedule.

“I try to write at least a bit every day,” said Cunder, who is roughly 300 pages into a sequel of the Arius saga, which he may or may not split into two books.

Twice the books rakes in twice the cash, right?

Not necessarily.

A Type 1 diabetic from infancy, Cunder supports the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation by selling copies of The Silver Talon at foundation events. He donates all the proceeds to the charity. A portion of book sales on Cunder’s website,, also goes to the JDRF.

“Writing for me really isn’t about the money,” said Cunder. “The best part about being an author is having a reader tell me how much he or she enjoyed the story.”

For A.J. Cunder, making readers smile is all she wrote.

Ben Burgess, a 2012 graduate of Morristown High School, plays bass with Timeless Jazz and was a finalist in last year’s Film Festival. He attends Carnegie Mellon University and is interning at MG this summer.






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