Doug Dandridge was born in Venice Florida in 1957, the son of a Florida native and a mother of French Canadian descent. An avid reader from an early age, His military experience includes Marine Corps JROTC, Active Duty Army, and the Florida National Guard. Doug concentrates on intelligent science fiction and fantasy in which there is always hope, no matter how hard the situation.
I was wondering where you get your story ideas?
I have been reading since I was a small child, with the earliest real adult book being Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert Heinlein. I was six. After that it was Robert E Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Michael Moorcock, and more Heinlein. I also watched a lot of movies, and most of the scifi and fantasy movies of that era were pretty bad, with some exceptions. To this day I still read a lot of books and see a lot of movies. And watch a lot of History Channel and other learning venues, as well as superhero cartoons and TV series on Netflix. After fiction, my next biggest reading area is military history, learning about the ways people fought in many past eras, from chariot warfare in the Middle East to the newest thing just on the horizon. Historical fiction is also up there, especially Bernard Cornwell and the C S Lewis classics like Horatio Hornblower. Then there’s the college coursework. I majored in Geology at one time at Florida State, and finished with a minor in Biology and a major in Psychology. Then it was graduate coursework in Clinical Psychology at Alabama. I finished all the coursework and clinical time for a PhD, but never got past the Masters. Long story there. Add to that time in the Army and National Guard, working as a psychometrist and therapist, delivering pizzas, managing restaurants. I guess I could go on and on
The important thing is that there is an awful lot of knowledge and memories bouncing around in my brain. I have an exceptional episodic memory, remembering life events, scenes in movies, all kinds of stuff. Usual I come up with a basic idea from some outside source, and the filling in just seems to happen. Ideas stick to ideas, and more ideas come along to bolster those, until I have something that looks cool to me. This happens all the time. I will never have the time to write all the ideas I have into stories. In a way that’s too bad, but I guess it’s a good problem to have. Oh, and many of my ideas come from really bad treatments of ideas in movies and books. A sort of, I can’t believe how stupid that was, maybe I can do better.
What is the usual process for your fiction writing? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I have actually done both for complete novels. I have outlined, I have used 3 X 5 cards to order scenes, and I have developed extensive character sheets. I have also just jumped right in with just the merest idea for character and plot and let the novel develop. But even when I had an outline, I would also change things in mid-stream just to see how they would develop. I remember in the second Refuge novel, having two Earth born mages about to fight the invading dragons. Now the scene I had in mind would have work, but instead, somewhere into the fourth paragraph or so, I thought, ‘why not make Katherine go mad with all the power coursing through her body, and then David has to fight her instead of the dragons that are rampaging over the valley.’ So the story went from there, and it changed the viewpoints and the actions of many of the other characters from then on in that book.
After reading the experiences of some writer friends of mine, I may just have to go back to at least outlining. One friend went from a book a year to one every two or three months after learning to outline. I’m not sure it will help me that much, but there have been times I’ve gotten completely lost and wandered for days trying to come up with the next part of the story. As far as using the cards, those were originally intended to make sure I had enough action sequences scattered throughout the novel, so there would be none of the long boring parts that seem to make up so much of some books. I think I’ve got that part down, so the couple of hundred colored 3 X 5 cards in my house will just have to take up storage space.
Once you have an idea that sparks your imagination do you research your idea or do any world-building exercises, or do you just begin to write and see where the Muse takes you?
I am an almost obsessive world-builder. My Refuge books have five graph paper notebooks full of drawings of everything from dragon rider harness to infantry armor, different buildings and forts, etc. Also many pages of notes, plus almost million words of background on everything from geography to deities to government. And the maps. Maps of the worlds, the hemispheres, continents, countries, even a few cities. Not all of that information has been used yet, but I have plans. Exodus was much the same. Line drawings of ships, rooms on ships, armor, maps of worlds. Information on all of the major worlds of the Empire, the ten largest alien populations within the Empire and what kind of creatures they are, enemies and allies. Over three graph paper notebooks of information. Again, not all used, but it gives me a look in depth into the background of the story.
Right now I am working on an idea to pitch to Baen once the first novel is written, based on ancient peoples of Earth in a fantasy land. I have researched the Gods and Goddesses of the ancient Celts, Norse, Latins, Mongols, etc., and will be doing research on sailing ships, as well as using a lot of information I already have on Renaissance style military forces. And drawing a big map of an entire hemisphere to know where things are in this world. In case that idea doesn’t sell, never a sure thing, I am also developing a science fiction tale about a revolution on Mars in the year 2250. I have had to look up transfer orbits, Mars topography, future weapons, etc. Fortunately, NASA has a great interactive map of Mars, and there are some programs, like Orbit Explorer, that allows simulations of orbits, as well as giving information on where the planets and asteroids, as well as the major moons, will be in relation to each other in any given day. In this kind of novel, that information can actually drive the plot, and I have already thought of some twists involving what can and can’t be done based on the motions of the bodies of the solar system.
Other books, such as the Exodus series, do not require much in the way of world-building past the initial volumes. I already have the characters, the Universe, the ships. I will make some changes, as it is also a story of evolving technologies during wartime, but not all that much is needed to write the next book.
What is your daily writing time like?
Since my time is my own, I normally do my writing in the evening. Morning is reading time at breakfast, then an hour in the gym. I also do whatever marketing or other work I want to do that day. In the evening I sit at my computer with something on Netflix or a DVD in and start writing. I normally do about three to five thousand words in an evening, depending on my motivation and where I am in a book. Toward the end of a novel I really get going, and five thousand words is the norm. I have three screens to work from. One has Facebook open, the other my email, and the largest screen, the middle, has Word 2010. I also open a rendition of Notepad over on the Facebook screen and put the names of recurring characters, ships, planets, whatever on it, so I don’t have to go back searching through the document for words I might not remember. I also have Sage open, to check out wrds tht spellcheck might not recognize.
If I have two projects going at once, like now, I will spend a couple of hours on rewrites of the manuscript I have already gotten to or past first draft status. Then I will work on the new novel, trying to get it to first draft status. The first rewrite is normally just the fixing of errors or adding new material that bridges gaps. I rarely cut words, mostly add.
Are you a full time writer? If so when did you make the decision and what factors led to the decision? If you are not a full time writer…Is your plan to one day being a full time writer?
I became a full time writer in March of 2013. I was working for the State of Florida, writing on the side, and Exodus: Books 1 and 2, which were released within a month of each other. In December 2012 I sold almost 4,800 ebooks, in January 2013 over 8,500. It was quite thrilling to see books 1 and 2 selling a combined two hundred copies a day. My income from sales that month was over five times what I was making from my State salary. I thought then that I could make a living at this. I told my supervisor that I would probably be leaving the next fall. Then, in February, I sold 5,600 books, and told my supervisor that I would be leaving in April. I turned in my resignation at the beginning of March of 2013, after figuring that I could do at least as well on 2,000 sales a month as I was making from the State of Florida. I have never regretted that decision.
Can you tell us about your experience working with your current publisher? (Any other publishers?) (Or your self-publishing experiences?)
At the moment I am totally self-published, though I have some hope of getting a contract from Baen in the future. As long as I can keep my Exodus series going as a self pub to keep income coming in. That’s the great thing about being self-published with enough of a loyal fan base to keep me going. I have no sense of desperation, like I had for some many years when I was sending in manuscript and manuscript into publishers and agents. Now the ball is in my court, and I can take offers that I want, and ignore those that make no sense. If I get a contract from a book I like, and it’s not something I can live with, I can just turn it down without really losing anything. Then I can publish that manuscript on my own. One of the things I would insist on is keeping some of my self pubbed series going as self pubbed, and getting good terms for my rights.
Self-publishing is not always that easy. It takes a lot of work to get attention, and not every book I put out is successful. But I get to write what I want to, and to me that is the ultimate perk. I am my own production company, making my own covers from stock art, formatting, blogging and tweeting. The first eight months as a self-published author I sold about forty books. Since then I have sold 91,000 in a little under twenty-three months. Kevin J Anderson calls me an outlier, and I understand how lucky I have been to be where I am today. Being a good story teller is not enough. I can’t tell anyone that they will make it, but the opportunity is there.
My latest release was the sixth book of my Exodus: Empire at War series, title The Day of Battle. The series is about humankind fleeing its destruction at the hands of a technologically superior alien race. They set up ten thousand light years away from their home and begin establishing an Empire over a thousand year period. And then the old enemy finds them, still more advanced, though not nearly as much, and still the possessors of the much larger Empire. But the humans have never lost a war since inhabiting their current space. Exodus is about the war between Empires, one which neither one can afford to lose. Defeat for the humans means extermination. Defeat for the Ca’cadasans means the end of their Empire, as humanity cannot afford to let these aliens fight to a stalemate. I try to present as developed an imaginary world as possible, using as many real physical principles as I can. The combat I detailed and intense, and has been compared to David Weber and John Ringo.
The main storyline follows the life of a young man who is the third son of the seated Emperor, and who has never thought to ascend to the throne. He is forced to grow up and into the role of Emperor, and become the warrior his people need to win their war. Book 7 will be coming out in August, with a spin off book in the fall. I think I have established a large enough fictional Universe in the series, that I will be able to do at least twenty books with the main storyline and spinoffs.
Can you tell us about some of your other writing (fiction or nonfiction) and any appearances or signings that you have planned?
Refuge is a series about the human race transported into a dimension of fantasy, having to battle the archetypes of their dreams and nightmares. The enemy has magic, dragons, and creatures of the night. The humans? Tanks, attack helicopters, even a trio of nukes. But the technology only is useful for a short period of time, and eventually the humans must adapt all the lessons of history to fight the evil ruler of the land.
The Deep Dark Well is a trilogy about a Kuiper Belt Miner from the twenty-first century who is force to jump through a wormhole , forty thousand years into the future. She finds herself on an enormous space station orbiting around a black hole. The station was used to generate the wormholes that linked a Galactic civilization has since fallen. Pandora must save the superman who was both the architect and victim of that event. The trilogy continues with the pair battling the usurpers who would make the Galaxy their own, while trying to reestablish Galactic civilization.
Daemon is a steampunk fantasy about a world killing itself with the magic it needs to survive.
The Hunger is an urban fantasy about an avenging vampire who preys on the kind of men who tormented her in life.
Shadows of the Multiverse is a tale of space warfare, Godlike beings, and quantum physics.
Aura: Triplets are born in a dark land. One is doomed to have her soul consumed by an evil god, unless she can be saved by her brothers.
And several others.
Also have short stories coming out in two anthologies: Bellator, a short story collection about warriors, to benefit the Wounded Warrior Project; and a novella for the next edition of Kevin J Anderson’s Five by Five Military Sci-fi Anthology.
As far as appearances and signings, I sell well enough online that I really haven’t thought about selling physical books at cons. Right now I don’t think I am well enough known to really warrant signings and appearances. I will be going to DragonCon and HonorCon as an attendee, and am hoping to get professional status for LibertyCon next year. Beyond that, all my travels will be to workshops where I will try to learn more about the craft and business of writing from people like David Farland, Kevin Anderson, Rebecca Moesta, Hugh Howie, Dean Wesley Smith and Kristin Kathryn Rusch in place like Atlanta, Colorado Springs and the coast of Oregon.
As an author what inspiration or advice would you give to a writer who is working to make the transition to Author?
Keep trying and don’t give up. Write what you want to write, not what some writing guru says is the next big thing. They are not always correct, and, in fact, are wrong more often that right. Put out a work you would want to read. If you think it’s boring, most others probably would as well. Borrow techniques from other writers, and remember that ideas are not copyrighted, only the treatments of those ideas. And as soon as you finish one novel start on the next. Don’t pour five years into a project thinking it’s a sure thing. There are no sure things, only chances and opportunities. Don’t let rejection and bad reviews dissuade you. And learn the business. I am sure there are a lot of writers with books out that are not getting sales because they just haven’t been noticed. And getting noticed takes work.
Who is your favorite author, and can you recommend a book by that author?
I have so many favorite authors, I could write thousands of words on them. Poul Anderson, Larry Niven, David Weber, R A Salvatore. Really, my favorite at a time might be who I happen to be reading at that time. So one favorite? You know, I still go back and read Robert E Howard from time to time, and the man was a master of setting a scene, making it as dark as possible, and spinning a hell of an adventure story from there. He also had quite the range. His horror was as good as anything that Lovecraft ever produced. And his humor? Read the Breckinridge Elkins westerns and I can almost guarantee you will be rolling on the floor. Boxing tales, Vikings, he did it all. One of the most productive authors of all time, whose early death deprived us of so many works. I still love reading the Conan and Kull books, but for a recommendation? There is a collection of ninety-nine short stories for $.99,the best deal on Amazon. I think it was called the Robert E Howard Compendium, and you get a variety of his work, horror, sword and sorcery, boxing, westerns, enough to really partake of the genius of the man.