Author Spotlight: Dave Dobson

It’s a December Author Spotlight Flood! Clearing out my backlog and getting these authors into the spotlight.

  • author, geologist, tubist, lover of terrible barbarian movies, Taco Bell enthusiast

Readers, thanks for checking out another Author Spotlight Interview. Let’s give a good, hearty welcome to this week’s guest!

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

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 game is Scryptix, a word game for cell phones.

Dave taught geology, environmental studies, and computer programming at Guilford College, 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.

Dave, thanks for agreeing to be here today. Most author spotlight interviews start off with the boring stuff, but I know what readers REALLY want to know.

If you could have any pet (real/fantasy/no-allergies/no worries about feeding it) what would it be?

In real life, I’ve had guinea pigs, gerbils, fish, cats, and a couple dogs, in that order. I’d recommend all of them, except that one murderous goldfish that ate $18 worth of his tankmates within nine hours of their arrival.

Opening it up to fantasy animals, you get some really cool opportunities, but I can’t help but think of the potential drawbacks. Lots of them are huge, for example, and we’re looking to downsize. And sure, a dragon would be awesome, but are you really willing to throw it a live cow every day or two? That could get expensive. And gross. Maybe a miniature dragon, one that eats goldfish of dubious character? A Dune sandworm would be awesome, but it has even more issues, and the Homeowners Association would be on me in a heartbeat. A unicorn would be cool, but I am sure I don’t meet the unblemished pure of heart requirement, and my backyard isn’t that big. 

Maybe what I need is a jackalope. The antlers might scratch up the furniture, but at least they’d be cuddly. I bet they can be litterbox trained, and I could prove all the doubters wrong.

There you go, ignoring the stipulation about care and feeding. I don’t know, I’m pretty sure jackalope are real… *winks*

What do you write? And how did you get started?

My main series, The Inquisitors’ Guild series, is a bit of a hybrid – detective fantasy, with a healthy dose of humor, with four books so far. I wrote the first book in spurts over about fourteen years – seven for the first draft, and another seven to get it revised and ready for publication. I do not recommend that schedule, and I’ve gotten a lot faster. It began as a fun diversion, actually in the minivan on one of our 14-hour trips up to Massachusetts to see relatives. It took so long because I had a full-time job, or two really, as a professor and also running my computer game company (I had a shareware game, Snood, that was pretty popular in the 2000s), and my kids were small and interesting.

Now, I’ve left my professor job of 14 years, and my kids are grown and departed. I’ve shifted entirely to writing and game design, and I’m having a blast. I published a sci fi novel last spring, Daros, that’s been well-received. It recently made the semi-finals of the SPSFC, a competition for indie sci fi books, and I’m eagerly awaiting the finals in June. Last fall, I wrote a thriller set in the modern day with some light sci fi elements, and I am excited to get that worked up and out to readers.

Oh, hey! I played a LOT of Snood back in the day. Congrats on your success in multiple fields!

What do you like to read?

My favorite is fantasy, although I also love sci fi, mysteries, and thrillers. I think that’s why my books combine elements from all of those. I also love stories where the main character is somebody who, through no fault of their own, gets in over their head, has to deal with big problems, but comes at them with courage and the determination to do the right thing. I have trouble watching mafia movies, for example, because there’s nobody to cheer for, they’re all doing terrible things, and they’re all in it for themselves.

Some of my favorite authors are Barry Hughart, William Goldman, Ursula K. Leguin, Robert E. Howard, Andre Norton, Robert Heinlein (his earlier stuff, before it got so weird), N. K. Jemisin, Edgar Rice Burroughs, L. Frank Baum, George R.R. Martin, Tolkien, Nnedi Okorafor, Harry Harrison, Harlan Coben, Lee Child, W.E.B. Griffin – there are a lot.

Your bookshelves look a lot like mine!

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that doesn’t work for you

Avoid [adverbs/adjectives/etc].

When I’ve hung out in critiquing groups, I’ve heard a lot of “you should never” rules passed on by other writers. Avoid adjectives. Never use adverbs. Avoid dialogue tags. Never use basic verbs. Never use the word “very.” Don’t start a sentence with and or but. 

There are a lot of them, and to be sure, they all come from a place of addressing basic weaknesses that frequently crop up in writing. But all of those things you’re never supposed to do are basic parts of English. They have a function and purpose, and they can be used well and appropriately to make writing clearer and punchier and more natural. I think people are sometimes looking for shortcuts to better writing, and these rules do help some people identify and correct problems, but following them fanatically, and criticizing an exciting, readable piece of writing for not following a set of arbitrary writer laws is often misguided.

So true! I never cut them all out, but I do try to make sure I don’t use them as a crutch.

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice they can pry out of your cold, dead hands

Write every day.

So, the thing I’ve learned the most over the past 3-4 years of intensive writing is that, for me, writing every day is the only way I’m productive. I need to do an hour, at least, and if I get interrupted, the project can stall out hard or even fail. It’s not so much the progress I make in that hour – I could always write two hours the next day to make up for it. What the daily writing does for me is that for the rest of my day, when I’m not writing, I’m still thinking about the next bit – what happens next? How will they react? What’s a cool new thing to throw in? How can I resolve what just happened? 

When I don’t write daily, I lose that focus on the story, and it’s really hard to get back on track. That’s how you get a single book in fourteen years, as opposed to finishing one in a month.

I’ve definitely run into that struggle when drafting, although I do okay editing in chunks, as long as they’re not too spread out. Although, I don’t know that I’ll ever

Shameless Self-Promotion time!

Inquisitors’ Guild

In a shared world, these stories are mostly stand-alone.

Flames Over Frosthelm

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.

The Outcast Crown

The Trouble With Treasures

The Inquisitors’ Guild stands as a bulwark against both the criminal and mysterious in Frosthelm. Now, there’s a new threat. Or is it a threat? A strange phenomenon afflicts the city – a troubling manifestation, always accompanied by a buzzing sound, sometimes taking almost human form.

An unlikely pair of inspectors, one a young investigator with one big case under his belt, the other a brand new apprentice, set out to solve the mystery. As they search for clues, they come across the murder of someone who should probably already have been dead, and they find hints of treachery and intrigue from a far distant land.

The city they love may be under a threat as dire as it has ever known, and they are thrust into the twisting machinations of an ancient, deadly mistake and a curse that afflicts an entire nation.

Traitors Unseen

A Sinister Plot

Provisional Inspector Emerra Denault is working on a case with her mentor investigating some stolen money. Everything seems straightforward, but then she is accused of a crime she would never commit. On the run from both her enemies and her friends and not sure of which is which, Emerra must solve the mystery of her betrayal and uncover the plot that led to her misfortune. That plot, still in motion, is deep and deadly. It would give the city she loves over to relentless murderers bent on power.

Emerra faces criminals, corruption, magic, villainous nobles, and rot within the Guild she serves. She must overcome them all to save Frosthelm and stay alive.

The Woeling Lass

A Death Denied

An assassin hunts Inspector Gueran Declais through the streets of Frosthelm, and she is not acting alone. Just as he learns that his family may have been attacked and slain, Gueran is struck down as well. Despite the odds, he lives. Barely. Whisked away from the city for his safety, he struggles to recover from his injuries, learn his family’s fate, and uncover the identity of those who want him dead. Far from Frosthelm, he becomes caught up in investigating another bloody attack, one that may or may not have been perpetrated by the vengeful spirit of a woman wronged long ago, and one that threatens to expose him to his enemies. The locals are certain, though: the killer had to be the Woeling Lass, her hands cold as the grave and her feet aflame.

Back in Frosthelm, Urret Milton is an apprentice in some difficulty at the Guild. She receives a mysterious note from Gueran, a man everyone thinks is dead. Rapidly embroiled in the effort to unravel the reason for the killings and bring the assassins to justice, Urret struggles to shed her troubles and show that she has what it takes to be an inspector. But all this leads her into far more peril than she bargained for, for which she can’t possibly be ready. Her position at the Guild, the security of the city, and her life itself are all at stake.


Plunged into chaos

High above Daros, sixteen-year-old Brecca Vereen prepares to unload a cargo of trade goods aboard her father’s ship, the Envy’s Price. Nellen Vereen shows her a mysterious artifact bound for a contact below, one that will earn them a lot of credits, and one that they definitely won’t be declaring to customs.

Materializing out of nowhere, alien invaders fire upon all ships, destroy the jump gate, and knock out communications. The Envy’s Price is crippled, and as her father tries to guide it down from orbit, Brecca rescues the illicit artifact and jettisons in a life pod to an uncertain fate below.

On the flagship of the invading fleet, Navigator Frim tries to persist within the cruel autocracy of the Zeelin Hegemony, under constant threat of death, but wishing for something better. And then she notices a whisper of radiation above Daros – the trail of a cloaked Vonar ship. What are they doing in the midst of all this? And will the captain kill her just for revealing this disagreeable news?

Check out Dave Dobson across the web!

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