Author interview 166 – Dave Dobson


Dave Dobson

United States

Age 52

A native of Ames, Iowa, Dave loves writing, reading, board games, computer games, improv comedy, pizza, barbarian movies, and the cheaper end of the Taco Bell menu. Also, his wife and kids.

In addition to his novels, Dave is the author of Snood, Snoodoku, Snood Towers, and other computer games. Dave first published Snood in 1996, and it became one of the most popular shareware games of the early Internet. His most recent project (other than writing) is Doctor Esker’s Notebook, a puzzle card game in the spirit of escape rooms.

Dave taught geology, environmental studies, and computer programming at Guilford College for 24 years, and he does improv comedy every week at the Idiot Box in Greensboro, North Carolina. He’s also played the world’s largest tuba in concert. Not that that is relevant, but it’s still kinda cool.

Flames Over Frosthelm is the story of two new Provisional Inspectors in a medieval city. Fresh out of training, they investigate crimes throughout the city. As the story opens, their case goes awry as the thief they are tailing ends up in a dispute with a sorceress. The thief dies in a violent explosion, and as Marten and Boog investigate further, they learn that the theft was no simple matter. As they continue their work, they encounter a vicious noble, a deadly conspiracy, and hints of dark secrets buried for a century or more. 

This is a funny book, but it’s more focused on the story than on the humor. Something like Princess Bride meets CSI, a tale of classic adventure with a healthy dose of comedy. It’s a full stand-alone novel clocking in at just over 120,000 words. Beginning, middle, and end, and no waiting for sequels to find out how the tale ends (hear that, George R.R.?). There is swordplay, violence, death, and some romance, but the book does not include anything terribly hardcore. Think PG13 or Harry Potter and you’re probably in the right place.

Romelia:   WHAT IS THE MOST DIFFICULT PART OF YOUR ARTISTIC PROCESS?

Dave Dobson:   The part I have the most difficulty with is editing my work. Writing is generally easy for me, but cutting out something I’ve written, particularly if it contains a joke or phrase or plot point I like, can really hurt sometimes. I know editing makes my books stronger, and I always do it and value the feedback I get from editors and early readers, but it is always a struggle. It’s kind of like cleaning the bathroom – you appreciate what you get at the end, but you really don’t want to do it.

Romelia:   DOES YOUR FAMILY SUPPORT YOUR CAREER AS A WRITER?

Dave Dobson:   Absolutely. My wife is the first reader of all of my books, and she always enjoys my stories while also finding ways to make them better. My son made the art that I eventually incorporated into my first book’s cover, and my older kid has read my other books and provided support and useful feedback. When my teaching career ended, my wife has been more than willing to let me have a go at writing full time, which is a wonderful opportunity for me. My dad also reads my books (and I read his) and I’ve really enjoyed talking about what we’ve each written.

Romelia:   IF YOU HAD TO DO SOMETHING DIFFERENTLY AS A CHILD OR TEENAGER TO BECOME A BETTER WRITER AS AN ADULT, WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

Dave Dobson:   I think I was actually more into writing as a child or teen than I was later in my professional life, although I’ve always enjoyed it. I think if I were to go back, I’d want to tell 20- or 30-year-old me to spend more time writing, and not to wait until my late 30’s to work on full books.

Romelia:   HOW LONG ON AVERAGE DOES IT TAKE YOU TO WRITE A BOOK?

Dave Dobson:   This is a case where the average won’t describe reality very well. My most recent book was my fastest; I wrote the first draft in a single month. The one before that, I wrote the first draft over about four months. The one before that, maybe eight months, although I was teaching also at the time, and I’d started the first couple of chapters four years before. The first one, though, I wrote on and off over 14 years.

Romelia:   DO YOU BELIEVE IN WRITER’S BLOCK?

Dave Dobson:   I’ve not even gotten to the point where I don’t know what to do next or couldn’t write more. For me, it’s all about motivation and distraction. I have often gotten to the point where I’ve gotten caught up in something else or let myself skip writing for a week or two (or, in the case of the first book, a year or two).

Romelia:   AT WHAT POINT DO YOU THINK SOMEONE SHOULD CALL THEMSELVES A WRITER?

Dave Dobson:   I’ve struggled with that a little. I have absolutely no trouble with anybody who writes naming themselves a writer, but for me, I still don’t feel completely comfortable saying that it’s my job, even though it is. I think it’s just that I’m newly departed from a different career that I thought of as my identity, so it’s a little hard putting on this new uniform and feeling confident doing so.

Romelia:   WHAT DIFFERENCE DO YOU SEE BETWEEN A WRITER AND AN AUTHOR?

Dave Dobson:   I believe an author is someone who has published their work, either through traditional means or indie while a writer is someone who does it for passion.

Romelia:   HOW DO YOU PROCESS AND DEAL WITH NEGATIVE BOOK REVIEWS?

Dave Dobson:   I actually have a lot of parallel experience with this from reading course evaluations. Like my book reviews, it’s clear most of my students (and my readers) enjoyed what I produced and had a good time with it, but there are always some people who don’t, and that’s fine – writing is producing art, and there are many different artistic tastes, just as a teaching style that works well for many will leave a few folks cold. The only book reviews that upset me are the ones that say something about my books that aren’t true, or the bots who just give lots of random books one-star reviews.

Romelia:   HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WRITING OR WHEN DID YOU START?

Dave Dobson:   I wrote stories as far back as first or second grade when I was six or seven. I wrote a lot in high school, and I took a couple of classes in college. After college, I obviously wrote as part of my research and my college appointments, but I also wrote for fun, although never completed work. I have several projects from that time that are just a chapter or two. As far as more dedicated writing, I’ve been working on and off on novels since about 2004, but in earnest since about 2017 or so.

Romelia:   WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO A WRITER WORKING ON THEIR FIRST BOOK?

Dave Dobson:   1) Make sure you’re having fun,if not every moment, then at least most days. If not, start a different project, or go back and turn the book into something you’d enjoy.

2) Write your first book for yourself, not for other people. It’s very hard to find your voice when you’re trying to match a market or a trend or an audience. 3) The first book will go slower and need more work and revision than your later ones. That’s just natural. 4)Writing every day, even if it’s only a little, will keep your brain working on the story during your downtime, and that is tremendously valuable and helpful.

Romelia:   WHAT, TO YOU, ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT ELEMENTS OF GOOD WRITING?

Dave Dobson:   This is hard, because writing has so many parts, and if any of them fail, they can bring down the whole story. If your basic grammar is bad, the story will be nearly unreadable for many. If your dialogue isn’t written the way real people speak, that’s almost impossible to get around. If your plot or your characters rely too much on contrivance or coincidence, the book will suck. To make it to “good writing, ” you need probably six or eight of these completely different facets and skills working well together, and none of them can be so weak as to distract readers.

Romelia:   WHAT COMES FIRST FOR YOU – THE PLOT OR THE CHARACTERS – AND WHY?

Dave Dobson:   I think they both grow together for me. I don’t ever start with a plot outline – I just let my characters discover the mystery or the adventure as I do. And I don’t usually have a strong sense of the characters until I write a few pages in their voice and see what they’re like.

Romelia:   HOW DO YOU DEVELOP YOUR PLOT AND CHARACTERS?

Dave Dobson:   I mostly just let it happen. I’m very much a seat-of-the-pants writer for first drafts, where I just write and see where it goes. I have done a lot of improv comedy, both as a student and a performer, which I started doing relatively late in life at about 37. That built on top of the role-playing games I started playing as a kid and continue today. In both improv and in those games, the story and the characters develop as you play, and if you try to impose something on them, it usually comes out worse.

Romelia:   WHEN DID YOU FIRST CALL YOURSELF A WRITER?

Dave Dobson:   I still have trouble with that, which I think is stupid. I had no trouble calling myself a professor, or a grad student, or a dad, or a coach. But asserting that I’m a writer, as my main job, as my identity, is hard for me. Rationally, I know I should get over myself, and that nobody cares, but I still feel like I should maybe be more recognized for my work before claiming that title.

Romelia:   HOW DO YOU USE SOCIAL MEDIA AS AN AUTHOR?

Dave Dobson:   I don’t use it too much, although I suspect if I were better at self-promotion or engagement with people,I might reach more readers. I do enjoy posting about my writing process on Facebook. I often do a “this week in author Googling” post while I’m working on a project, just showing the kinds of weird details I end up researching as I write. I have a weekly newsletter and a website and a blog and all the trappings, but I’d rather be writing than running a social media effort.

Romelia:   WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE AND LEAST FAVORITE PART OF PUBLISHING?

Dave Dobson:   Favorite is writing, particularly when I get to maybe 60-70% of the way through a first draft and see where it’s heading. My least favorite is trying to promote myself – that always feels egotistical and false.

Romelia:   WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO AN AUTHOR WHO WANTED TO DESIGN THEIR OWN COVER?

Dave Dobson:   There are some people who have the artistic sense and the design skills to pull this off, but they are rare. The fact that there are so many terrible self-made covers out there shows that most people who think they can do this really can’t.

Romelia:   HOW MANY BOOKS HAVE YOU WRITTEN AND WHICH IS YOUR FAVORITE?

Dave Dobson:   I’ve written four books in my Inquisitors’ Guild fantasy series (the most recent one is coming out in February 2022). I’ve written one sci-fi novel, published last year, and a thriller, which I’m still working on. So, six books. I also wrote a children’s book on endangered species, published back in 1997. Picking my favorite is way, way too hard. I love them all the most as I write them.

Romelia:   WHAT PART OF THE BOOK DID YOU HAVE THE HARDEST TIME WRITING?

Dave Dobson:   In my Inquisitors’ Guild stories,I am writing essentially about police work, although it’s in a medieval fantasy setting. With the ongoing national discussions about policing and police violence here, I have struggled sometimes with how to portray my characters’ work in a way that is both realistic and respectful of the responsibilities and authority we grant law enforcement. In The Outcast Crown, one of the major characters is a person of color and an immigrant. I am neither of those, so I worked hard to try to make her seem real and to treat her struggles and her strengths inappropriate and human ways.

Romelia:   WHAT PART OF THE BOOK WAS THE MOST FUN TO WRITE?

Dave Dobson:   When I start a book, I tend to write without much of an outline and sometimes without any idea of exactly where the story is headed. There’s usually a point about halfway through, plus or minus when I start to see the end and to figure out how it’s going to resolve. At that point, I love finding elements (plot points, characters, objects) that I threw in earlier that were cool but didn’t have a point, and then weaving them into the bigger story that I now recognize. Another favorite bit is when I am going along and expecting a chapter or section to end one way, and then I think of an awesome twist for it to take. This often leads to one of those elements I need to weave in better later, but it’s great fun.

Romelia:   WHICH OF THE CHARACTERS DO YOU RELATE TO THE MOST AND WHY?

Dave Dobson:   Marten Mingenstern, my narrator character in Flames Over Frosthelm. He has a combination of inquisitiveness, guts, smarts, humor, and insecurity that I find really appealing.

Romelia:   IF YOU’RE PLANNING A SEQUEL. CAN YOU SHARE A TINY BIT ABOUT YOUR PLANS FOR IT?

Dave Dobson:   The Inquisitors’ Guild stories are already a series, but they’re not exactly like other series. Each book is a complete mystery or adventure on its own, and each book has a different narrator (or narrators), so they’re all more independent and different than in some series. You could actually read them in any order, although there’s a little bit of overarching story arc you might miss. For the most recent book, The Woeling Lass, I switched to a dual narrator format. One of the narrators is a young apprentice, while the other is a semi-jaded noble who is brave and honorable but who most people find obnoxious. He’s appeared in two of the other books as well, sometimes as a bit of an antagonist, so it was really interesting writing from his perspective and exploring his character.

Romelia:   TELL US SOMETHING FUNNY ABOUT YOUR ADULT LIFE.

Dave Dobson:   I achieved a kind of third-rate celebrity as the author of the computer game Snood back in the early 2000’s, but nobody much cares about that anymore. That was a fun ride, though – the game appeared in a few movies and TV shows, including The Sopranos. I’m maybe more proud of playing the biggest tuba in the world in concert, which I did back in 1991.

Romelia:   DESCRIBE YOURSELF IN A FEW SENTENCES. TELL US SOMETHING WE DO NOT KNOW ABOUT YOU AND SOMETHING YOU HATE ABOUT THE WORLD.

Dave Dobson:   I play way too many video games. I hate most vegetables. I can spend a full day playing board games and come home happy. My cat spends most nights when I watch TV resting on my chest, and she won’t get off even if I stand up, which makes standing up really difficult. I like watching crappy movies, especially if they have swords or aliens in them. Even if they’re really bad, there’s almost always someplace where you can see where they were trying to create something cool, where they had a vision. That’s what I watch for. I hate how it’s become totally normal or even acceptable for people to deny or lie about facts in support of their own agenda, delusions, or ambition. People who’ve trained for decades to become experts are given as much credit as random nobodies. That’s no way to make a better life for any of us.

Flames Over Frosthelm:

https://books2read.com/u/bOJaOK (audio and print accessible here)

My site: http://davedobsonbooks.com

Reviews: https://www.bookbub.com/books/flames-over-frosthelminquisitors-guild-book-1-by-dave-dobson https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/53099866-flame s-over-frosthelm

Series page on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Inquisitors-Guild/dp/B087JHY HSB Free Inquisitors’ Guild novella: https://books2read.com/u/bQV9xE

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