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Author Spotlight Dave Dobson

Tell our readers briefly about yourself.

I grew up in Iowa in a college town, and I have fond memories of that time and place. After college and grad school, I was a geology professor for 24 years at Guilford College, a position I recently left to take up writing and game design full time. In the late 1990’s, I wrote the shareware computer game Snood, which was pretty popular in the early days of the Internet. I also do improv comedy at my local comedy club, The Idiot Box, and I also play the tuba sometimes. I’m a big fan of Taco Bell, pinball, and barbarian movies.

What books do you have available? Can you give us a short description of them?

I have three books in the Inquisitors’ Guild series with a fourth on the way. These stories center around a group of inspectors in the fantasy city of Frosthelm. They investigate crimes and often get taken up in city politics or countering magical or malicious threats to the city.

The first book, Flames Over Frosthelm, tells the story of two young provisional inspectors who, while pursuing a jewel thief, uncover a cult thought long-dead.

The second, The Outcast Crown, follows the partner of narrator in the first book as he takes on a new partner and tries to unravel a series of bizarre apparitions along with the murder of a man who should have died years ago.

The third, Traitors Unseen, a novella, is set about ten years earlier than the others, and it follows a young inspector accused of a crime she would never commit and forced to go on the run from her own guildmates.

My other novel, Daros, is a sci fi adventure. It has two central characters, one the daughter of a smuggler who gets caught up in a sudden planetary invasion, the other a secret rebel within the alien invading force. They are both trying to stay alive, help their friends, and figure out the mysteries of Daros.

Do you stay in one genre when you write or do you find yourself veering toward others?

My fantasy books are already cross-genre, with epic fantasy mixing with mystery and buddy-cop elements. The shift to sci fi for Daros was great fun also, and I just recently wrote a thriller set in the modern world (but with light sci fi pieces). So, I guess you could either say I have diverse interests or maybe a total lack of focus. Either way, it’s fun to try new things.

Are you a panster, planner, or someone in between?

I come down pretty hard on the pantser side. I really never have a strong idea of the plot when I start a book, and it’s only through writing that I figure out what’s going on and get to know the characters. For my books that have mystery elements, that’s pretty fun - I get to discover the mystery as my characters do, and I think that helps me keep their reactions and reasoning fresh. Usually about 50-60% of the way through a book, I do have to start making some notes about where it’s headed, so the pantser side has to give way a little. But I always enjoy starting a chapter and having it end somewhere completely different from where I expected it to go.

What is your writing routine like?

I have trouble writing for more than an hour or two at one stretch, although I go pretty fast during that time, usually putting out 1000-1500 words at a go, sometimes more if I’m on a real roll. I’ll generally write either in the afternoons or late at night (I’m often up well past midnight now that I don’t have a regular day job schedule). When I’m going as fast as I can go, as I did last November for the thriller with 100,000 words in a month, I do two-a-day sessions, one afternoon, one after midnight, but that’s pretty draining. In between the writing sessions, my brain is hard at work, almost involuntarily, coming up with the “what’s next?” that I need to keep going. Sometimes, I’ll do outlining or organizing for a book in between writing sessions, but I usually prefer to do other things and keep the book ideas percolating.

Tell me about your favorite character that you’ve created?

That’s a hard question, because I love all of them to death while I’m writing them. I think this month I’d have to say my favorite is Lyra, a snarky AI who shows up in the Daros book. She has a very formal way of interacting with other people given her programming and culture, and that let me give her some really fun moments where she’s sarcastic or frustrating to the other characters.

Where do you get your ideas for world building?

That’s an interesting question. Some of it builds from the massive body of books and movies (both good and bad) that I’ve devoured. I’ve also been running and playing in D&D and other role-playing games since 1981 or so, and those always include a lot of world-building, so that gives you some basic tools. For the Inquisitors’ Guild books, I was really excited to try situating an investigative branch of law enforcement within a bustling medieval city, and the Guild and the rest of the city and culture kind of developed around that. For Daros, a lot of the world-building happened as I went, triggered by the thoughts of the characters and events of the book. When you do the seat-of-the-pants route, the challenge isn’t coming up with cool ideas, it’s fitting all the instinctive ideas you come up with into something coherent.

Do you add romance to your writing? Is it steamy or clean?

There’s a little romance in some of my stuff, but so far it’s been very clean. For the Inquisitors’ Guild books, the characters are all part of a hierarchical organization, and navigating romance with your coworkers is tricky. There’s a bit of non-human romance in Daros, actually - that was fun to write, although challenging.

What was your favorite scene to create?

The one that really got to me most, at least recently, was when the two perspective characters in Daros, the desperate smuggler and the secret alien rebel, interact. We’ve been following their stories for a long time separately, and it was both magical and terrifying for me when they finally encountered each other, because I knew it had to be worth the build-up.

Where do you get character inspiration?

A lot of the process I go through in improv is character building, so I think I lean on that. In an improv scene, which is only going to last a few minutes, you need very quickly to figure out who you are, where you are, what you want, and how you relate to other characters in the scene, and you have to do that with real-seeming dialogue and actions. With a book, obviously, you can take a little more time in doing that, and you can change it if you don’t like what you did, but it’s a similar process for me. I let my characters talk, and as they talk, I figure out what they’re like and what they care about.

What genre do you prefer to read?

Fantasy is my go-to genre, going back to when I was a kid reading the Oz books and fairy tales. I also like sci fi, which was another big piece of my childhood, and as an adult, I’ve started reading a lot more thrillers and mysteries.

Do you have any specific authors you follow and try to craft your work after?

I think I build more from the books I read as a kid than from authors writing now, although there’s a lot to learn from current work as well. I borrow or emulate from authors whose work I really enjoy, but usually just pieces, not the whole thing. From L. Frank Baum and fairy tales, I get a sense of magic and wonder. From people like Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard, I get adventure and derring do. From Tolkein and George .R.R. Martin, I see great examples of rich and complex imagined worlds. From Lee Child, I get tense and unforgiving action scenes, including thinking about strategy and the quickest way to end fights. From William Goldman, I see how a master includes humor, warmth, fun dialogue, and wit into a story that you care about.

Do you have any recurring themes in your book?

All of my books so far involve characters who become more and more out of their depth, trying to understand situations that are spinning out of their control. I always like to read stories where I can cheer for the protagonists, so my main characters are generally people trying to do the right thing and to help achieve something bigger than themselves, although obviously they have their own interests and concerns. I’d have a lot of trouble writing an antihero or somebody I couldn’t like.

What does your editing process look like?

It looks like flailing and procrastinating for a good long while, then sucking it up, but tearing my hair or being petulant about every deletion. I’m a very reluctant editor, especially when I have to take out jokes or characters or plot elements that I like. Of course, I know the process makes the book a lot stronger, and I’ve gotten better at listening to feedback and advice, but it’s really hard work for me, and I am never eager to do it. Writing new stuff is way, way more fun.

Do you have a preferred drink or snack that you eat/drink while writing?

I’m almost never without a can of Diet Mountain Dew. I think it’s the programming background, or maybe an Iowa thing.

When is your favorite time of day to write and why?

I’ve always been a night owl, and now that I’m doing a lot of writing, that continues to work well for me. The advantage is that there’s not anything else going on, so I can set my own pace without distractions and interruptions, and if things are going well, I can just keep going as late as I want. Another part of it is that I’m a bit of a procrastinator, so even if I’ve committed to writing daily, which is my most productive mode, I often let it slide until the very end of the day. I would say that well over half of each of my two most recent books was written after midnight, a lot of it after 2am.

What is your favorite vacation spot?

I really love the American southwest, with its deserts, forests, mountains, ancient cultures, and natural beauty. My family took us to lots of the national parks when I was a kid, and that really stuck with me. Probably part of why I went into geology, too.

Marvel or DC? Do you have a favorite character?

Generally Marvel, I think, although I really loved the recent Suicide Squad movie for its zaniness, and some of the Marvel movies are clunkers. I really enjoyed the Hawkeye series. For me, comic book movies are best when they don’t take themselves seriously, and where everybody acknowledges that all these people flying around shooting rays and stuff is silly. Thor Ragnarok, Guardians of the Galaxy, and the early Avengers movies got this part right. I am definitely burning out on all the superhero stuff, though, and I’d love to see more sci fi and fantasy without huge powers and people in tights. I was never much of a comic-book guy as a kid.

What hobbies do you have?

I love improv, as I said, and practice every week is about my favorite thing. I really like playing and designing boardgames, so that’s a big hobby for me, and even a business - I have published a couple of puzzle card games, and I have some other board and card games ready to go as I continue exploring how to publish and market those. I love tabletop RPGs, as I said. I took some time off from D&D, like maybe fifteen years, when my kids were small, but I got back into it about ten years ago and have been having a lot of fun with it, both as a DM and as a player. I’ve designed a few RPG systems and experimented on my players with them, and that’s a lot of fun for me. I also love computer games - I usually play a couple of hours a day - and pinball, movies, and reading.

Where can our readers find you?

I’m active on Facebook and Twitter, and I’m always happy to get an email from a reader. I’ve also got a newsletter that comes out twice a month if you want to know what I’m up to.

Personal FB page (most active):

Other sites:

Inquisitors’ Guild series page on Amazon:

Free Inquisitors’ Guild novella:

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