Dave Dobson


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NaNoWriMo 2021 progress

I’m doing pretty well on NaNoWriMo so far this year, with over 10K words in four days on my way to the 50K target. I’m trying a completely different kind of project this time, set in the modern world with a whisper of magic and/or sci fi, and with more of a sarcastic tone than I usually do.

I’m totally seat-of-the-pants on this one. I started a little after midnight early Monday morning with the barest hint of a concept, i.e. ‘an X, but it can sort of do Y,’ where Y is the magic/sci-fi part. No idea what I’m doing, but I’m keeping the pace up at least.

I’m also editing my epic fantasy multi-perspective Inquisitors’ Guild story at the same time, which is creating a little cognitive whiplash, but I’ll make it work. Probably.

A good month

It’s looking like August will be a good month for my very small literary endeavor. It’s looking like I’ll set a new record for Kindle Unlimited page reads, mostly on the strength of Daros. I’m not sure how much of that comes from the very successful free promotion I ran in early August, where I gave away about 3,100 copies of the book, and how much might come from other sources, like discovery on Amazon, participation in SPSFC, a giveaway I’m running on Goodreads, or just word-of-mouth.

Here’s how it looks. Most of it is blue, which is Daros, while the gold and red are Flames Over Frosthelm and The Outcast Crown, respectively. Daros came out in May, but it didn’t really catch fire until August here (where “fire” is relative to my previous success, nothing compared to the big leagues).

Page reads on Kindle Unlimited for the past 90 days

Note that it says “All 4 books,” but Traitors Unseen isn’t available on Kindle Unlimited, so it’s not included here.

Amazon rates my books at 550-580 pages for KU purposes, so this represents about 82 full reads, or 47,710 people reading one page each. Impossible to tell, except that some of the bars (particularly red and gold) are about 570 pages, which suggests that people are reading the whole book in a day.

I’ve broken 30,000 pages this month alone, and my previous high month was about 15,000 back in 2019, so that’s another way to put it in perspective. It might all crash in September, but I hope it keeps going.

Audiobook of Flames Over Frosthelm is available now!

I’m very pleased to announce that Flames Over Frosthelm is now available as an audiobook narrated by the wonderful Simon de Deney. You can hear a free sample and purchase on Audible.com, and the audiobook is also available via Apple Books/iTunes and on Amazon.

If you want to hear the free sample directly, I have it available below. This section is from the middle of the first chapter.

Flames Over Frosthelm retail sample

One night on west Battleground

A modern day Sisyphean tale

I arrive at Wendy’s. The drive thru line is long. Christina agrees to wait, mostly because her seat is heated, even though she will order nothing. I appreciate my wife’s forbearance.

In my cup holder, I spot a coupon for a free drink, any size, that I pulled off my last Wendy’s cup a few weeks ago.

When I finally make it up to the menu, I see that the coupon will only save me 20 cents off the combo meal. I honor my Depression-era grandmother and decide to save the 20 cents even though it will complicate my order.

I order a spicy chicken sandwich and fries and mention the coupon for a large Diet Coke. The man is dismayed by this. They have no large lids, he says, so the coupon won’t work. He only has medium lids.

The size doesn’t matter, I say. The coupon is good for any size. I’ll take a medium. He says OK. My order is accepted.

On the screen, my drink says “Medium Coke minus cherry.” I do not know what that means. Its epistemology is beyond me. I say I want a Diet Coke, not cherry. He says he’s got it, Diet Coke.

I slowly make my way to the pay window. The man is there. I pass him my credit card and the coupon.

He studies his screen. He is dismayed by my coupon. He says he can’t take it, because they have no medium lids. This discrepancy confuses me. Have they no lids at all? I say, I don’t need to use the coupon, I’ll just pay for whatever there is, it’s fine.

He says, no, I’ll get the manager, she can help. I realize I am become Coupon Guy, and the other ten cars in line will slowly grow to hate me. The manager appears. They talk. Buttons are pressed. My credit card is handed to me, then requested back. The manager leaves. Eventually he tells me it’s OK, but then his face falls.

He says wait, I’ll get the other manager. More time passes. All cars in front of me have departed. I dangle my arm out the window, hoping to indicate that even though I am Coupon Guy, there is nothing I can do, and maybe people will not hate me. I am sure this hope is in vain.

The other manager comes. They press buttons. She is reassuring to the man. She leaves. He looks at the screen for longer. Finally, he runs my credit card. A twelve-inch-long heat-printed receipt is produced for three items. Coupon Guy is at last free to go ahead to the food window.

My food is ready right as I come up, because of course it was ready probably eight minutes prior and waited in limbo while eleven cars idled in line.

The woman hands me my bag and cup. I don’t have time or interest to ask her to take back the plastic straw in favor of my reusable metal one, because I don’t want to be Straw Dork and Coupon Guy in the same transaction. My Depression-era grandmother is likely displeased.

I put my metal straw in the cup and take a drink. As I take the first sip, I know that I have been given a Cherry Coke, non-diet, and that I will not drink this insipid red-brown beverage. My face falls, and my Coupon Guy shame burns hotter.

I peel the new coupon off the Medium Coke plus cherry which I will not drink.

It offers a free drink, any size, with future purchase.

Review: God King Rising, by Jeffrey Kohanek

I’m trying a new thing my May 15 newsletter, one that I’ll continue in future newsletters, and I’m also posting it here to my blog. I’ve read a fellow indie fantasy author’s book, and I’m offering a review of it here. The book is God King Rising by Jeff Kohanek. Full disclosure: I am doing a newsletter swap with Jeff this month, and because his mailing list is a lot bigger than mine, I offered to review the book he’s promoting this week in addition to just providing a link.

Jeff is a very successful indie author, at least as far as I can tell from his online presence. He’s got four separate fantasy series, including Fate of Wizardoms (6 books), Runes of Issalia (3 books), Wardens of Issalia (4 books), and Fall of Wizardoms (3 books out now, 3 more planned this year), plus some stories and companion pieces. If I’m reading the dates right, he started with all of these in 2018, which puts him at about four times my pace so far. So, prolific and successful, with all but one of the books north of four stars on GoodReads. He’s also an active presence on various indie fantasy sites.

God King Rising, the first book in Jeffrey’s latest series, was a fun read. It follows multiple storylines in a world shattered by the death of its gods, whose power used to support wizard kings (a wizardom is like a kingdom). The societies are reassessing their leadership, rearranging their power structures and governments, and some new factions and leaders are seeing opportunities to seize power following all the upheaval. As we shift from storyline to storyline, we see different perspectives on these events, from a pirate queen and her warrior companion fleeing a sinister plot, to the plotters themselves, to a thief-turned-administrator betrothed to a newly-crowned benevolent queen, to a haughty wizardess overseeing a cruel and stratified society, one threatened by those she oppresses. There is a lot going on here.

I got some sense of Jeff’s world as the characters traveled through it, although that impression left me realizing that there’s even more complexity beyond what I saw. The bulk of the action takes place in four main cities or towns, although there are other locations along the way. These towns each have a society, a culture, a government, trade goods, and industries. Even though they differ, they’re often tied up in the fading of the wizards’ power and the upheaval of the recent death of the gods. There’s a good bit of description of these cities, including clothes, architecture, military factions, and a bit of the society, but not so much it’s overwhelming. 

Much of the action in the book is cinematic. There are fights, tremendous feats of derring-do, magic spells, poisons, curses, disguises, escapes, schemes, even a carriage chase. The action is fast paced. The characters are clear about their goals and their limitations, and you can follow them as they pursue their goals (and as their circumstances change). There’s a little bit of the superhero in some of the characters, which is fine – they’re the heroes of the story, after all, and it’s fun that they’re quite capable (often seemingly the best in the world) at what they do. This quality and this pacing doesn’t always leave time for introspection or for getting to know the characters, although we do get deep into some of them, and I suspect it’s a deliberate tradeoff to elevate the action and adventure parts. Something is nearly always happening.

With those powerful characters and their skills, the story sometimes seems a little like a very solid RPG campaign, with a highlighted set of diverse heroes facing a series of challenges and quests along the way. In each section, the focus never shifts from the party – we’re always following what they’re doing and thinking and planning. Of course, with so many perspective characters, it’s more like a bunch of RPG campaigns blended into each other. 

This RPG impression I got was furthered by other RPG-style elements. The characters mostly seem to have a class they fall into – thief, sorcerer, wizard, warrior – with a related set of skills. There are multiple magic items of power that play a role in the story, with many characters relying on those items for their power, for protection, or to augment their fighting style. There are some familiar races from D&D – dark elves, regular elves, dwarfs (never dwarves, although either plural is fine, I now know). I’ve been playing D&D since 1980, so this all felt quite familiar and comfortable for me.

The separate storylines blend as the characters interact, and there are several exciting set-piece scenes along with some good climaxes. The storylines all come to resolutions, and while these resolutions are satisfying, it’s clear that many of them are not final, and the adventures will continue in the future books.

If you’d like to give the book a look, and you’re reading this in mid-May 2021, you’re in luck! It’s on sale for the next few days for $0.99 on Amazon.

This was a really interesting chance for me to get a look at a well-developed world and the start of a new series by an experienced and successful indie author, one with a fairly different style of writing and characterization from mine. I learned a lot, and the perspective will certainly help me as I continue. 

The first draft of Daros is finished!

Woohoo! The first draft of my new novel, Daros, is done. I started it back in July 2016 while I chaperoned marching band camp at Page High.

I finished tonight, at 112,322 words, 88% of them written since last August.

I wrote 5,925 of them today, which is a new daily record for me.

Now for the rewrites, and to fix everything I’ve screwed up. But this feels pretty good.

Nearly there

I’m nearly there with the first draft of my sci fi novel, Daros, begun almost five years ago during chaperoning for marching band camp, then left to sit for four years. I always liked the opening few chapters, so I came back to it again this past August. November and December were a little rough, but I am back on track to get it finished soon.

Contrary to my usual style of not knowing what the hell the characters are going to do next, I’ve got a chapter outline for each of the five remaining chapters, plus the one I wrote tonight. I needed that scaffolding to bring it home safely and to resolve a bunch of plot threads in a way that makes sense and is satisfying. I hope.

“The End” will feel good, but it won’t really be done. Not even close. More like the version of done where you get to start the massive and daunting process of rewrites and edits. But a milestone nonetheless. I’m excited about what it’s become, and I hope others will enjoy it once it’s all knitted better together and polished to a shine. Also, mixed metaphors rule.

Visualizing characters

I love messing around on Artbreeder.com, and in particular I enjoy playing with their face visualizations. I got a character picture I kind of like for one of my main characters in my Daros book. Her name’s Brecca, and she’s 16, and in pretty far over her head in a tough situation. Not sure this picture is right, and I don’t want to mess with anybody’s ability to imagine the characters for themselves, but it’s fun nonetheless.

df3bf359a72c7497.jpeg (2048×2048)

UPDATE: Nobody much likes this one but me. Here’s one that I like that seems to garner a little more support:

Visualization of Brecca Vereen, main character of Daros

Racism in a sci fi universe

I’m getting close to finished with the first draft of my sci fi novel (tentative title is Daros), and I’m starting to think about cover design. I’ll get actual artists to handle that for me, but one fun part of that is deciding whether to represent the characters on the cover or not. On the one hand, you can create an appealing cover with some kind of action or character represented. On the other, once you provide a picture of a character, you inhibit people’s ability to imagine them how they want to. That includes complex issues like race.

In a book set on Earth, physical appearance comes with a whole bunch of social baggage (and often prejudice and discrimination) that comes from our current society. In a future space-faring setting that still has humans, a few things seem likely:

  • racial categories that are present on Earth won’t mean the same things that they do now
  • the physical characteristics that people present will be more homogenized than on Earth now (we’re already seeing that in the 21st century as migration happens and as love overcomes barriers against cross-boundary partners that were stronger in the past)
  • people who’ve adapted to life on different worlds will potentially be more different from each other (both physically and culturally) than the historical racial and ethnic categories in Earth’s current population (unless there’s tremendous connectivity, uniformity of media, and easy travel)

If all of that is true, then probably bias and prejudice would still exist, and some of it may be appearance based, but it would be addressed toward people from different planets rather than people from regions or nations.

I’m not sure of any of this, and I would hope that a technologically advanced society would leave a lot of this behind, but it’s interesting to think about.

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