Hello everyone and welcome to my stop on the Escapist Book Tours tour for Dave Dobson’s Flames Over Frosthelm! I am really excited to kick off the tour by sharing a Q&A style interview that I had with the author.
You’ll find my interview with Dave down below, along with information about Flames Over Frosthelm, the author, links to get yourself a copy, and a giveaway opportunity where you could possibly win either an eBook or paperback copy! So, be sure to check out all the goodies below and keep an eye out for more great content from the other hosts by following the official tour schedule!
Flames Over Frosthelm by Dave Dobson
Series: Inquisitors’ Guild
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Intended Age Group: Adult (13+)
Publisher: Dave Dobson Books (Self Published)
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.
I Feel a Bad Moon Rising • You’ve Got a Friend in Me • It’s the End of the World As We Know It
Universal Link: https://books2read.com/u/bOJaOK (audio and print accessible here)
Amazon Series Page: https://www.amazon.com/Inquisitors-Guild/dp/B087JHYHSB
Free Inquisitors’ Guild novella: https://books2read.com/u/bQV9xE
Thank you so much for joining us for this short Q&A! Before we get going, please tell us a bit about yourself.
Glad to be here. I’m from Iowa originally, son of two academics. I went to college thinking I’d be a doctor, but a bio lab that involved cow hearts demonstrated to me that the inner workings of organisms are actually pretty gross, so I ended up diving into my major, geology. I got a Ph.D. in marine geology, specializing in ocean sediments and climate. I always loved computer games and programming, so while in grad school procrastinating from swirling mud around in little tubes, I published a few shareware computer games, and one of them, Snood, got pretty big in the 2000’s, which was a really fun ride. After grad school, I started a teaching career at Guilford College that lasted 24 years, until the college ran into some trouble and my department ended up getting shut down. By then, I had a few books published, and I’d also published a couple of puzzle card games (the Dr. Esker’s Notebook series), so I figured rather than look for another academic job, I’d try doing writing and game design full time.
I want to start things off by asking: what is a great book that you’ve read recently and why should we give it a go?
The most fun book I’ve read recently is actually by a colleague at Guilford College who’s doing what I started out doing – writing on the side. She’s trying her hand at romance writing, and we formed a tiny literary society to read each other’s books and, of course, to make snobbish comments about the rest of the world, like literary societies are supposed to. Her book is about a mid-career professor who starts up an unlikely relationship with an aging former boy band star, and it’s a really fun story. I don’t usually read romance (although I did start writing a romance novel back in grad school, never finished), so it was fun to dive into that other world with all its passions and struggles. Like me, she loves adding humor to books, so it was very funny along with the romance. It’s not out yet, but I’m sure it will be, and I’ll keep you posted.
Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of reading/writing? Do you care to elaborate?
I love game design, both computer games and board or card games. My basement is full of game bits – pawns, chips, dice, plastic cubes, weird cards I’ve had printed, and my cloud storage is full of games I’ve written. I have a bunch of those projects up on my site, PlanktonGames.com, if you’re curious. A lot of the computer games are free to play. I also play D&D and other role-playing games, both as a player and also a GM.
Another really important thing to me is improv comedy, which I do with a group at my local comedy club, The Idiot Box. I’ve been at it since 2006, performing regularly since maybe 2010. Although I found it a little later in life than many do, it’s been one of my favorite things, and I think it really helps with my writing, since essentially it’s writing scenes while you perform them, and working on characters and voices and personalities. Beyond that, I’ve done a little stand-up comedy too, although probably the less said about that, the better. I strongly believe that any time you can get a bunch of smart, funny people together doing something silly, it is always a blast, no matter what it is. That’s been my experience in so many different areas – marching band, tabletop role-playing games, improv, polka music (I play the tuba, too). Never a bad time, and usually something wonderful happens.
Tell us about your road to writing. What made you want to become an author?
I have always loved writing, even as a kid, and I especially loved imaginative stories. I started out as a young reader with the Oz books, which I read over and over and found completely captivating, and also fairy tales and other such stories. I graduated to more sophisticated fantasy books. I loved writing and wrote a few stories during high school, although my attention there was more on computer game programming. In grad school, I started doing more writing for fun, because it was a diversion from the science I was doing sometimes 50+ hours a week. I was always good at starting new stories and terrible at finishing them, so not much came of that time. I did get a children’s book on endangered species published then, back in 1997 or so, and that was a great experience with a different form of writing.
Once I got deeper into my teaching career and had kids, and with working on Snood taking up a lot of my spare time, I didn’t have as much time for writing. I got back into it in about 2005, when I started a novel on my laptop on one of our long trips from North Carolina to Massachusetts to visit family. That became my main writing project, and although I didn’t work on it continuously, and sometimes took a year or more off, I always came back to it. That’s the book that eventually became Flames Over Frosthelm, and it took me seven years for the first draft, and another seven to get it into shape for publication.
You may well believe that fourteen years per book is not a great pace for a career in writing, and I would agree. Now that I’ve figured out more how I write, and dedicated myself to it as my main gig, my later books have gone much faster than that. For my most recent project, a modern-day thriller with a hint of sci fi, I wrote the first draft in a month, so I have figured out how to go a lot faster while still enjoying the ride.
Writing is a hard and lonely affair in the best of circumstances. How do you achieve a good work/life/writing balance?
Still working on that. With the implosion of my academic career, I’ve had a lot of changes, working alone and without a bunch of students and colleagues to interact with. It’s a far more isolated experience, and of course the pandemic has made that even more acute. I still do improv and an every-other-week D&D game, and I’ve become more active in author groups online. But once this damn pandemic ends, I think I’ll need to find more ways to connect to people.
Is this your first book? If so, what lessons have you learned from writing it? If not, what lessons did you learn from writing earlier books that you brought into this one?
Flames Over Frosthelm was my first novel, although I’ve now grown it into a series, with a new book (the fourth) coming out very soon. The biggest lesson from Flames was probably that I can do this publishing thing, that self-publishing is possible and viable and that there’s an ocean of great quality writing getting released that way, and that it’s really fun and rewarding to have your work out there with people enjoying it. I wish I had done it sooner, and I’ve enjoyed shifting to a life that focuses much more on writing.
Do you usually write to background noise, music, etc. or do you prefer silence?
I often write in silence, but when I’m really grooving, I have a Pandora station of movie theme music, mostly fantasy and sci fi, that really gets me going. Now that my wife is working from home, I have tried to tone it down a little, because there’s no insulation between my basement office and her workspace upstairs, and her colleagues don’t need the Riddle of Steel from Conan intruding into their meetings.
What made you want to write in the fantasy genre? Do you write (or plan to write) in any other genres?
Fantasy has always been my favorite, so it made sense that I’d start there. Those were the books I loved most as a kid, and the D&D tie cemented that, along with a ton of movies (I watch a lot of movies, many of them pretty terrible). But I’ve branched out since then – I have a sci fi space opera novel, Daros, published, and it’s been doing pretty well. It has actually made it to the semi-finals of the SPSFC, Hugh Howey’s competition for self-published sci fi.
And last November, I shifted gears to write in the real, modern world for my thriller. That was a big challenge – I figured writing in a world where you don’t have to make everything up would be easier, but actually, you have to make the whole story work in a world that everybody knows and where there are all the rules of reality and society to follow. I had to do a lot more research for that book than I have for some of the others.
What is one thing that you love about the current state of fantasy and what is one thing that you wish you saw more of?
One of the great things happening is the growth in diversity of characters, worlds, and themes. The fantasy and sci fi of my childhood was nearly always written about white dudes by white dudes and set in European-ish places, and now there’s a ton more going on, with a rich variety of people, lives, places, and experiences. It can only make the genre better and more accessible to everybody.
Who are your favorite current writers and who are your greatest influences?
Oh, that’s a toughie. So many to choose from. I guess currently, I can name two favorites. I will always read whatever John Scalzi is doing, and I’ve really enjoyed diving into Nnedi Okorafor’s work. In terms of influences, it’s a lot of folks from my childhood – Tolkien, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Heinlein, Harry Harrison. The author I’d most like to emulate is William Goldman – I absolutely loved The Princess Bride, both book and movie, and that rich combination of character, story, and humor is what I’m after.
What do you think characterizes your writing style?
To the extent I have a style, I think it’s a deep dive into narrators. Most of my books have a single perspective character, one whose head we’re in the whole time, and those characters are always my focus, with their thoughts, reactions, and ideas foremost. Because most of what I’ve written has mystery elements, the main characters are trying to solve a puzzle, and you get to see what they think as they’re working through what they know and what they learn. I’ve always enjoyed detective stories, so I think I borrow heavily from that.
I also love funny books, and humor plays a role in whatever I do, although there’s always also action, fighting, loss, and struggle. But there will always be something to laugh about, and it’s often my narrator’s reactions where I find that easiest to add.
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Pantser, 100%. I always start my books with zero idea where they’re going, and I often start each chapter that way too. That is natural to me, with the improv background, where you never know how a scene will develop, but it also helps when writing mysteries into your stories, because you don’t know any more than your characters do, and that helps you have them respond appropriately to whatever arises. Of course, about halfway through, I do have to figure out where the book is going, and at that point, I start trying to pull it all together, so I can’t be pantsing it right up to the end. And then on edits, you go back and snip some threads and weave other strays better into the narrative, so that the whole thing hangs together better.
What are your favorite types of characters?
For main characters, I want somebody who’s brave, dogged, smart, and trying to do the right thing. That’s the kind of book I’ve always enjoyed, so that’s what I write. I suppose I might try something with an antihero sometime, but that’s never what I reach for on the shelf, so I don’t know that I will.
For side characters, I like a little zaniness – quirks, sarcasm, delusions, goofiness.
For villains, I like depth and reason – they may be evil, but they need a realistic plan that achieves their goals, and they should be interesting and complex.
How much of yourself do you write into your stories?
I think I write my main characters to be how I wish I’d be in those situations, although I often give them skills or background that I don’t have. I occasionally work in places I’ve been, although I don’t add specific people from my life. For example, in The Outcast Crown, the characters walk along a river valley that looks suspiciously like Stop 12 on my class field trip for Geology 122: Historical Geology.
For those who haven’t read Flames Over Frosthelm, give us the elevator pitch.
Marten Mingenstern and Boog Eggstrom are provisional inspectors, fresh out of Inquisitor’s Guild training. Assigned a mundane task tracking down stolen jewels, they instead uncover a mysterious cult set on destroying the city. They earn the enmity of a vicious noble, the Chief Inquisitor gets bought off and goes rogue, barbarians seize them, and they are sentenced to death. Twice. In a race against prophecy, they face terrible forces long buried.
Describe your book in 3 adjectives.
Heroic, funny, dangerous
What do you think is the overarching theme?
Two, maybe – dedication to a cause and an ideal, and dedication to a friend. Both are woven through.
Were there any specific challenges with writing Flames Over Frosthelm? Or, did you find anything to be easier?
For that one, the challenge was mostly just finishing, and then polishing it into something better. I knew how to write words and stories, but I had to learn those second-level skills. The easy part was writing the characters – I love dialogue between friends, and that book has that all the way through.
If you had to do so in just one or two sentences, how would you describe the plot of Flames Over Frosthelm?
Two very junior members of the Inquisitors’ Guild follow a jewel thief to a bar. He unexpectedly explodes, and then they get in way, way over their heads with a conspiracy, a cult, and a murderous count.
They say to never judge a book by its cover and maybe that’s true in the philosophical sense, but it certainly happens with books. Can you tell us about the idea behind the cover of Flames Over Frosthelm?
The central piece of art on the cover, the amulet, is a 3D rendering my son did for me after reading the book, back when he was about 14. The amulet is central to the plot of the story, one of the first clues the characters find. I really loved his design, so when it came time to get a cover made, I gave that to my cover designer, and she helped me find a picture of a medieval-seeming city to put around it. I really like how she combined all those elements.
One of my favorite things is highlighting quotes that really resonate with me and sharing them in my reviews. Do you have a favorite quote from Flames Over Frosthelm that you can share with us?
It’s not every day your prisoner explodes.
What can you tell us about what’s coming up next for you?
I have a fourth book in the Inquisitors’ Guild series coming up very soon, and then I need to get my thriller whipped into shape. I might try submitting that one to agents for a bit to see if there’s any interest, although I’d be happy self-publishing it as well. I should have another couple of books in me for the second half of the year, but those are so far pretty hazy – the cost of being a dedicated pantser. I’d like to start another fantasy series, though, and maybe do some more sci fi.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few questions for us! I always enjoy this little peek behind the curtain. Do you have any parting thoughts or comments you’d like to leave for our readers?
Thanks for the opportunity! This has been a pleasure. Interacting with readers and hearing what they think about my books has been the best part of this whole thing. I’m just really touched whenever somebody spends some time in one of my worlds and enjoys themselves.
About the Author
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.
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.
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