Dave Dobson

Author

Flames Over Frosthelm is Free

For the next five days, August 12 to 16, the ebook version of Flames Over Frosthelm is free on Amazon. Click here to grab a copy, or share the link with somebody you think would like the story.

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.

Free book link

Release Day!

I am releasing The Outcast Crown, the sequel to my first novel, Flames Over Frosthelm. It relates the further adventures of the young investigators of the Inquisitors’ Guild in Frosthelm. This one is told from the perspective of Boog, the partner of Marten, the narrator of the first book.

Here’s the over-dramatic back-cover blurb: “Boog is back, helping to train a new apprentice inspector, Zekra Kalem. Together, they investigate a mysterious phenomenon afflicting the city – a troubling manifestation, always accompanied by a buzzing sound, sometimes taking almost human form. As they search for clues, they come across a murder of someone who should probably already have been dead and 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.”

I hope you’ll enjoy the book. If you’d like a free copy of this book, or of the first one in the series, I have some promotional Amazon ebook codes I am happy to send your way. Just let me know in comments below.

My sincere thanks go to my friends and college classmates who have been so supportive as I’ve embarked on a mid-life writing adventure.

The Amazon book link is here:
The Outcast Crown

Thoughts on prequels and writing about cops

I got an email from a good friend who’d read both Flames Over Frosthelm and the prequel, Traitors Unseen. Having just finished Traitors, the prequel, he was interested in the themes and ideas that get introduced in Traitors, and wondered how many of them carried over into Flames, which was written earlier but takes place ten years later. I thought my letter back to him might be interesting for folks, so I’ve included a lightly-edited-for-clarity version below.

I also talk about the difficulties in writing about heroic law enforcement members in a fantasy setting while in the real world we’ve had our eyes opened about police overreach and our racial blinders and privilege challenged by the many brave protestors around the country.

SPOILER WARNING: There are some spoilery things here about all three Inquisitors’ Guild books – nothing that would ruin the experience of reading the stories, but some plot points are revealed and discussed. If you want to avoid all spoilers, don’t read on.

Hi, XXX – 

Thanks for reading, and for all of your interesting insights. It is very weird writing books with cops as the heroic main characters now (albeit weird fantasy detective cops). This was a pretty short book, so I didn’t have time to get deep into many issues, and of course I wrote it back in January and released it four days before George Floyd was murdered, in a different world. At least some of the cops in the story are dreadfully corrupt, and the others are (I hope) appropriately outraged and betrayed by that corruption, which I hope is true in the real world (but it can be true in Frosthelm even if it’s not true in the U.S.).

My early readers for drafts of Traitors didn’t think I had provided enough motivation for the bad guys – that they were kind of stock – so that was one of the things I added more of on the rewrite. I didn’t have room for much of it without making the book a lot longer, so it makes sense that it seemed a little rushed. I thought it would be more interesting if they had a semblance of a philosophy, a legitimate beef with the Prelate, and a more interesting motivation rather than just “UNIMAGINABLE POWER!” as so many cheesy villains have, but maybe I didn’t give it enough space to develop.

The connections between this book and Flames Over Frosthelm was an interesting area for me to work on, because obviously they’re reversed in time compared to when I wrote them. The setting and some of the characters overlap (both Cheliaux and Denault are in Flames, and of course Sophie and the Prelate Jeroch are in there too). I had the basic structure of the city and the Guild and the auguries to work with from Flames, but I wanted to do more of a thriller story than a swashbuckling magic adventure for this one, so I was aiming for something more taut and tense. I tried to expand on the Guild practices and structures a little, and to imagine how they’d respond to accusations and internal betrayal, and I also added a good bit on the city and how it was laid out and run, although with the limited space of a novella, I couldn’t do a lot of rich worldbuilding. I also wanted this one not to focus on the Augur’s pool so much, although it’s mentioned. It would have been very hard to tell a new story here in a prequel and then have all of it echo into the Flames book, which I wrote before knowing this one would ever exist.

So, there are some things that I wish I could go back and mention or add to the Flames book now that I’ve written the prequel. One example would be the younger inspectors there would probably know of Denault’s adventure here and comment on it, although it is ten years before, so maybe it’s OK that they don’t talk about it – the young seldom focus deeply on the past, right? Sophie could have mentioned it at some point, though. If you did go back and read Flames again, there’s a good bit of corruption in the city there too, and Jeroch’s in on it, so he’s consistently a morally questionable leader – that carries over. And the nobles in that book are schemers and plotters, so that connects too. And Emerra Denault stands up to the evil Count Marron in the first scene he’s in, so she’s still scrappy and brave ten years on.

You asked about the rings, and whether they exist in Flames. I came up with the rings as a neat plot twist here, about halfway through writing it, and of course they’re not in Flames because I wrote that earlier. The Augur and other characters in Flames should know that it’s technically feasible that the pool can be blocked, even if the rings have been collected and destroyed or banned by then, which is what I imagined happening. They don’t mention it, though, obviously because I hadn’t made that part up yet. The perils of prequels!

They do talk about how the pool isn’t always reliable, though. That’s always been a challenge in these stories – the pool is a very useful tool and would make detective work really easy, so I keep having to limit its power or its use, or separate the characters from it, in order to make for a more suspenseful story that depends on the characters’ insights and brains. If I keep writing these books, that will probably be in the drinking game for Frosthelm – drink a stiff belt whenever the pool is compromised or blocked or unavailable or rendered useless. Maybe it can be like the perennial meetings with Q in Bond movies, or the companions in Doctor Who, or tachyon radiation in Star Trek – so overdone and silly that it feels familiar? I don’t know. I’m winging it here.

I did go through the sequel to Flames (The Outcast Crown) this week, and I had to rethink a number of scenes to make the cops there (who are the heroes) be more principled and thoughtful and not willing to overstep even in small ways. That was a challenge, because I had imagined Boog’s character as a little more impulsive and physical, but that would be a difficult and potentially terrible thing to write about for a law-enforcement character in this new era, and where I want him to come across as a good man learning to be a better man, I don’t want him to do anything close to something hateful or triggering.

The main characters are more or less pure and heroic, but in the early drafts, when they talked about the difficult things they had to do as part of their jobs, they were using some of the same language and the same justifications as bad cops do today, so it felt pretty uncomfortable, even though I thought their motives were solid and just and the justifications more or less made sense to me. I’m a lot more nervous about the book than I was a few months ago. I didn’t really run into that with Traitors, because Emerra is so powerless and so screwed, and she isn’t functioning as a cop for nearly all of the story. I’ll be interested (if you read Outcast Crown) to see if you think I’ve done OK. The scene with the carpet thief in Flames would probably sound a little bad now – they jokingly threaten him with some serious penalties beyond what he deserves, which seemed funny then and is less so now.

In terms of developing a stronger system of justice as the arc of Frosthelm continues, I saw what I did here in Traitors as consistent with the later Guild in Flames, so much so that most of them are horrified when they’re forced to abandon the Marron investigation there, and keep it going anyway. They’re taken over by Marron, but then they rebel and foil his plans, so I saw that as a group of people mostly dedicated to doing things the right way and for the right reasons, which is different in this prequel, where things are more ambiguous and corrupt. And of course the motivating events that Crenn experienced were in a time where things were even worse. So I see a longer-term arc from before Traitors, when things were really bad, feudal-style bad, to Traitors, when there are more rights and legal protections, making things better in some ways, but where there’s still a lot of corruption and intrigue in the city that has permeated the Guild. In Flames, where the Guild is pretty clean, the nobles are still scheming and ruthless, but there they involve the corrupt or oblivious Prelate, which makes their plans legal at least (if not smart or principled or good).

I actually wrote a good bit in the sequel (the new one, Outcast Crown) about immigrants and racism directed against them, experienced through a naive entitled white guy’s perspective who starts to understand it better and act on his new understanding.  In some ways that might have had more resonance in 2017-18 than it will now with the country focused on policing. It was challenging for me to do, and a risk, I think, if people think I’m way out of my lane and hate it as they did American Dirt earlier this year, but I thought it was worth trying.

Thanks for the thoughts – I really appreciate you reading the book and talking about it – that’s the most fun part of this.

One question – did you like Hollick or not? There’s been a pattern in early feedback, and I’d like to see if it holds.

— Dave

Traitors Unseen is out!

I’m excited to announce that the prequel to Flames Over Frosthelm is out! It’s on Amazon as an ebook to start, with a paperback coming soon. If you’d like a copy, please check it out on Amazon here: Traitors Unseen

Here’s a short desription:

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, villanous nobles, and rot within the Guild she serves. She must overcome them all to save Frosthelm and to stay alive.

Traitors Unseen book cover

Progress on sequels!

I have two new Frosthelm books done, and I’m working on editing for each of them.

One, called The Outcast Crown, takes place about a year after the events of Flames Over Frosthelm. The narrator of the book is not the same as the first book, but it’s one of the main characters. It’s a stand-alone story – you don’t need to have read the first one to understand and enjoy the second. It’s about 120,000 words, the same length as the first book.

The other is called (tentatively) Traitors Unseen. It takes place about eight or ten years before the other two. It has some characters that appear later in the other books, but it also is a stand-alone story. It’s about 36,000 words, so a shorter story. It has a different narrator than the other two, although it’s a character that appears in the later two books.

Both feature the Inquisitors’ Guild prominently.

Revisions!

I’m in the middle of my first revision pass for my second novel, which I finished last weekend. Here’s my revision command central. The list of chapter numbers, working titles, and revised titles is the left three columns. The next three are elapsed time and start and end dates, so I’m consistent with timing as the story progresses and know how much time is passing for the characters.

The yellow boxes to the right are issues in some chapters that I want to check or correct or do better. Some of them are really minor, while others are things I blew it on the first time through that will take some work to fix.

The gray box on the far right is a screencap of my writing software showing the original descriptive chapter names so I can keep them straight as I rename them to stupid puns.

The colored column in the middle is whether I think the chapter is funny or not – red and yellow less funny, blue and green more. At least to me. I don’t know if there’s anything to be learned there, but I figured I’d note it for pacing and revisions. The dark blue line shall remain mysterious for now. I’ve done 31 of 63 chapters so far, and I’m shooting to have this first pass through it done before classes start on Monday.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I can’t help but use spreadsheets for stuff. Not sure if this is interesting to anybody, but I thought it might be. Blurred to hide spoilers.

Do free promotions on Amazon help boost Kindle Unlimited?

In short, yes.

I’ve done two free promotions now, and both of them have been followed by bumps in Kindle Unlimited page reads. Here are the page reads in graph form. The green arrows show the timing of the five-day free promotions.

The first promotion resulted in over 3000 free copies given away. The other one was more modest, I think in part because of the time of year (after Thanksgiving), with about 1600 books given away. In both cases, the ranking of my book shot up in the categories it is in, reaching #1 or #2 in some cases. That is supposed to impact discoverability on Amazon, even for free books, so I think it really helped.

I also got some more reviews on GoodReads and on Amazon after each promotion, which was great, and what I was looking for.

NaNoWriMo

In order to get the sequel to Flames Over Frosthelm going in a big way, I’ve been doing the National Novel Writing Month challenge this November. I started the month just under 21,000 words, and now I’m up to about 41,500, so it’s going pretty well. The challenge is to write 50,000 words in a month, and I’m ahead of that pace by a little bit, as the graph below shows.

I’m obviously more concerned that the words be good than that they be plentiful. I’m pretty happy with how it’s going so far – I think the story is fun, and I’m having fun with it. For the sequel, I decided to keep the storytelling in first person but to shift the narrator, so that’s been a bit of a challenge writing with a new voice.

A full novel in fantasy is usually between 80,000 and 120,000 words, and I should be near the lower end of that range by the end of November if all keeps going well. The first book came in at about 122,000, so it was a little long. We’ll see how this one does. I’m not ready to share it with anybody yet, but if you’d like to be a beta reader, let me know! Write to dave@davedobsonbooks.com.

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