#SPFBO6 Interview – Dave Dobson

Welcome to Lavender Lass Books, Dave. Thank you for agreeing to this interview and best of luck in the competition!

Flames Over Frosthelm is the first book in the Inquisitors’ Guild series.  Here’s the blurb:

An Investigation Gone Awry
Sometimes, your case takes a left turn. Or three or four. Marten Mingenstern and Boog Eggstrom are provisional inspectors, fresh out of Inquisitor’s Guild training and eager to prove themselves. Assigned the mundane task of tracking down stolen jewels, they instead uncover a mysterious cult set on destroying the city. After a thief explodes, they earn the enmity of a vicious noble, the Chief Inquisitor gets bought off and goes rogue, they are seized by barbarians, and they are sentenced to death at least a couple of times. In a final, frantic race with prophecy, they face ruthless fanatics, a city turned against them, and terrible forces long buried.

Flames Over Frosthelm is the first novel about the Inquisitor’s Guild, the investigative arm of the government of Frosthelm, a medieval city-state where criminals thrive, nobles scheme, and dark secrets lurk. Expect intrigue, mystery, swordplay, adventure, politics, romance, and the strong bonds of friendship. And a little magic along the way. Described as Princess Bride meets CSI, this new novel is a tale of classic adventure with a healthy dose of humor.

And now to the interview:

1. Is this your first time entering #SPFBO? Why did you decide to enter this book?
Yes, this is my first time. I released my first novel in June 2019. I heard about the SPFBO just a little after that, but I was too late for the 2019 SPFBO. It seemed like a great event – lots of people excited about the kind of writing I was doing – so I kept it on my calendar and joined the relevant groups on Facebook so I wouldn’t miss it this year. I entered this book for two reasons: (1) It’s the only eligible book I had out, and (2) I really wanted to share it with a community excited about indie fantasy books.

2. Why do you write in the fantasy genre? What make this genre particularly appealing to you?
I’ve always loved the imagination, adventure, and impossibility of fantasy. My dad’s family adored the Oz books, so we had a full set of those, and they were the first longer books I read as a young child, all of them over and over. My local library had nearly every color of Andrew Lang’s books of fairy tales, and I’d get a new volume of those every other week. I read all kinds of fantasy, sci fi, and adventure books growing up, including works both lofty and trashy. I loved Tolkien, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and T.H. White, Heinlein, Robert E. Howard, and Andre Norton, but I would read nearly anything that promised swords, magic, or spaceships. I got heavily into D&D as a kid, right when that was becoming popular (1980-86), and that was a perfect fit for my literary interests. I still play today. I’ve always liked writing, and I’ve worked on various stories at different times as a hobby for decades. It took me a long time to get my first book finished and polished (14 years, off and on). I’ve sped up considerably since then.

3. Why did you decide to self-publish?
I spent a long time figuring out what was right for me. I didn’t make a lot of headway querying agents, and as I explored that route, I began to read more about self-publishing and the success some people had with it. I have a good bit of experience starting up a creative business, so that part wasn’t too scary – I wrote the computer game Snood that was popular in the late 1990’s and 2000’s, and I self-published that, and it did pretty well. In the end, I had an offer to publish traditionally through a company with which I have a family connection, but I decided to try it on my own, as kind of my own adventure. It’s been a great experience so far, and I’m still learning a lot about it.

4. Are there advantages to self-publishing? What about the challenges?
There are some great advantages. The biggest is that you can get your book out to readers immediately, with no gatekeepers like agents or publishers. Also, you get to keep much more of the income you make from book sales than you would from a traditional publishing deal. You have complete creative control, without anyone forcing you to make changes you don’t want. You also get to have the experience (if you enjoy that kind of thing) of running a small business, scheduling advertising and promotions, dealing with vendors, choosing art, and paying taxes.

There are also some big drawbacks. Because the barriers to self-publishing are so low now, there are a lot of not-great books out there. Many people have a negative preconception of indie books, and people who’ve taken a chance on one and been stung by a low-quality book are justifiably leery of other books that haven’t cleared the hurdles involved in traditional publishing. Also, because you don’t have the backing of a traditional publisher’s promotions and distribution network, it can be hard to get your book noticed and to reach readers. It’s especially difficult to get into physical bookstores. Finally, there’s a lot of work involved with designing and producing the book, finding editors, finding ways to distribute your book, advertising, writing newsletters, reaching out to reviewers and to readers, and all of that. That can be fun, but if your joy comes mostly from writing, then the other parts can be a drag, and sometimes without much apparent day-to-day success or reward.

5. As a reader, and now author, how has the fantasy genre changed over the last several years? How has it stayed the same?
I think the one thing I’ve seen more of recently, especially in the indie world, is zealous trend-following. That’s always been part of mass-market fiction writing – usually, you want to keep your book familiar enough that people will have a sense of what it is and whether they will like it. That’s often done by describing a sub-genre, or a similar other book, or by giving the old movie pitch trope “it’s X meets Y” as I’ve done with mine. I think we’ve seen a lot of people writing to trends recently, and those trends are quick to shift. Ten or fifteen years ago, after the Harry Potter academy-style books declined a little, there were a lot of vampires and dystopian futures populated by angsty teens. More recently, it’s been urban fantasy or shapeshifter paranormals. Also lots of exploration of characters who are non-majority in any of a lot of ways, which is really cool. Because readers can search so many books so effortlessly, it’s easy for them to find more of what they’ve enjoyed. And because writers desperately want to find readers, they’ll often go after something that has demonstrated a strong pull with the current reading audience. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it does lead to some waves of popularity that I don’t remember seeing when I was younger.

6. Do you write (or plan to write) in any other genres?
I’ve got about 13,000 words of a sci-fi adventure written. The main character is a young woman who’s helping her father do some not-entirely-licit trading in some outer systems and then gets caught up in an alien invasion. I haven’t worked on it in a while, but I really like the story. That one might be one I’d pick up again soon as a break from the Frosthelm series. I’ve also got an idea for a thriller set on an ocean drilling ship. I’m a paleoceanographer by training and I’ve spent some time on ships doing sediment research. I think that would be a cool, claustrophobic setting for a murder mystery. I even have a bit of a romantic comedy set on a college campus written, but I don’t know if that’s going anywhere. As long as people are enjoying my fantasy stories, I’ll probably keep doing them as long as I have ideas to follow and characters I enjoy.

7. What do you look for in a story? Especially in the fantasy genre? (Original ideas, plot lines, character development, world building, etc.?)
For me, I need a world that’s interesting and new and characters who are lively and have a realistic and true-seeming personality and voice. I like when the world is reasonably deep and complex, but if that involves a whole new complicated language, magic system, social structure, a bunch of dwarven poetry, or names with a bunch of punctuation in the middle of them, it has to be really good to be worth learning or tolerating all of that.

I also really need somebody to cheer for – if everybody’s flawed or evil or horrible, I likely won’t enjoy the book much. I have a lot of trouble with mafia movies that way. I read fantasy for escapism, and it’s not fun for me if the bad people utterly defeat the good, or if the characters I’m following do or have done horrible, unforgivable things. If Dorothy fell out of the balloon and died in the desert, or Luke turned to the dark side, or Conan got himself killed, or Samwise went on a murder spree upon returning to the Shire, it wouldn’t be the book for me. I know many folks love a grim, evil world or an antihero, and I don’t mind a little of that, but in the end I’m pretty boring when choosing books to read – I want Robin Hood to foil the Sheriff and for the rebels to defeat the empire.

8. Are you working on a new book? Can you share any details?
I’ve had a busy last eight months. I finished up the first draft of the sequel to my first novel in January, and while that was away with some early readers, I started up a shorter novella-length story. That one went well enough that I ended up finishing it first. I released it just a week or so ago in late May. It’s a stand-alone story called Traitors Unseen that’s set in the same city as my other books and also involves the Inquisitors’ Guild, although it’s set ten years before the other stories with mostly different characters.

I’m looking forward to releasing the sequel to my SPFBO book very soon. It’s called The Outcast Crown, and I’ll put it out in the next few weeks after I get it finished up and make some final edits. I’ve set a release date of June 26 as a motivator and a promise to myself. This book follows the continuing adventures of one of my main characters in Flames Over Frosthelm, and it reveals more about the Inquisitors’ Guild and the history and population of the city of Frosthelm. It also introduces some new cultures and some new characters I really enjoyed writing about, and it has some twists that surprised even me. So much so, that I had to go back and rework earlier parts of the book to make them more fair and workable.

9. Do you have any advice you would offer to writers who plan to self-publish in the fantasy genre?
Being new to this, I don’t know a lot, but here are four insights (or what I think may be insights) from my experience over the last few years.

1) Don’t overthink it. Publish when you’re pretty sure it’s ready, and don’t spend years chasing revisions and edits in pursuit of perfection. You’d be better off putting a pretty good book out there and then working on a new idea and publishing another pretty good book.

2) Don’t put out garbage, or even a good book with a few garbage elements. That won’t get you any readers or any of the success you are looking for. Also, make sure your book doesn’t have grammar errors, inconsistencies, or clumsy writing. Especially for a first book, it’s worth the money to get a developmental editor and proofreader, even if you think you’re pretty good at those things.

3) Get unbiased opinions from people you don’t know. Not all of them will be right about what’s wrong, but they will reliably tell you something’s wrong, and then you can figure out what it is and how to fix it.

4) A good reader who (1) is not a friend and (2) gives you valuable feedback is gold. Most writers, even good ones, aren’t great at giving you the advice you’ll need to make your book better, unless your book is a trainwreck and they can just give you basic advice, like “this book is a trainwreck.” For that reason, I found writing groups or critique trades not to be worth much for me, although I know that’s not the case for everybody. Maybe I just didn’t find a good group or the right partner, but I gave up after doing a lot of work to get a limited amount of feedback that wasn’t too useful. Readers, on the other hand, are the people you want the book to resonate with. Listen to them first.

5) Don’t expect to make a lot of money on your first book. I haven’t. You can reach an audience with outreach and ads and get a lot of good feedback and reviews, but you’ll have a lot of trouble not spending more than you make. I’ve heard that once you have more books available, the impact of advertising starts to amplify itself across your other works, and it becomes a better bet economically. I’m hoping that’s the case – ask me again next year.

You can find Dave Dobson’s book on Amazon!  https://www.amazon.com/Flames-Over-Frosthelm-Dave-Dobson-ebook/dp/B07T12STNY

flames over frosthelm cover