21 Questions with Douglas Dorow
So is The Ninth District really your first writing project or have you been perfecting your craft through other works and ideas yet to be published?
DD: The Ninth District is really my first completed writing project, kind of.
I took a couple of writing classes at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. In one of those classes I decided to write a thriller since that's what I liked to read. I had an idea for the hero to be an FBI agent (because an old roommate of mine became one) and named him Jack Miller. The name and the profession is the only thing that remained from my early writing. I wrote a lot of scenes, parts of a couple of them may have made it into the book.
The story took off when I read an article in a local weekly entertainment newspaper about urban explorers who were exploring old tunnels and the sewer system under Minneapolis. In the article he talked about how they shied away from exploring across the Mississippi from the Federal Reserve after Sept. 11th because of heightened security.
I asked myself the "what if" questions, did some research and found that the Federal Reserve has never been robbed, and wrote the story from there.
During a couple of times when I got stuck I started two other stories, but The Ninth District is my first book that I finished.
So then it's not true that you already have a romance series out under a different name?
DD: Ha! Me and romance...I don't think so. Just ask my wife. I don't think my nickname is Mr. Romantic. She usually calls me SFB.
So you picked this genre to write in, because it's the one you most like to read? Could you see yourself ever taking a shot at another genre?
DD: Yes, I picked this genre because it's what I read the most and seem to think of as a writer.
The Ninth District and the second book in the series are similar to John Sandford or Michael Connelly. The third book, still in the thriller genre, is more in line with domestic adventure/thriller ala James Rollins or Steve Berry (whose books, until the most recent, were more international).
A further stretch from straight thriller, I could see myself writing a paranormal story, maybe horror.
You hear traditionally published writers say that they feel stuck with their series and characters because that's what their publishers want. I think that's another advantage of being an indie writer, I can move around more by choice, but I always have to think of my readers as well.
Oh, a Doug Dorow paranormal thriller? Sign me up! I'll buy an advanced copy right now! But speaking of going indie, was that always your intention? Did you try finding an agent or traditional publisher first?
DD: When I was a kid, I was deathly afraid of ghost stories and tales. Now, I'm intrigued by the idea of ghosts, ESP, people who see dead people... So, I think a paranormal story is in the future.
But about indie versus traditional publishing. Like I said, I've been writing for quite some time. Traditional publishing seemed the way to go. A person in my critique group a few years got back got tired of the agent submission and waiting process and decided to self-pub paper books.
A year a half ago I was still thinking of the traditional route. I was finalizing my novel and I was working on my query letter with my critique group and figuring which agents I was going to submit to. Then, last June I read Amazon's announcement on the 70% split for and self-pubbing on kindle, and I read the discussion on JA Konrath's blog - A Newbie's Guide To Publishing (I've followed the discussion there for a long time), and decided I was going to self-pub my thriller.
It's been amazing how quickly the publishing world has changed in the past year with the introduction of e-readers and Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords making it easier for writers to publish.
As an indie, you have to hold yourself accountable though. You need to write the best book you can, edit it, produce a great cover and compete with all of the other great books out there to connect with the reader.
If you were made a good offer by a major publisher, would you take it, or are you an indie-for-lifer?
DD: It would depend on the deal. I wouldn't do it just to do it. It would have to make sense. Barry Eisler recently turned down a big publishing deal to indie publish and maintain control and he thought the long term benefits were better for him.
Amanda Hocking was THE indie sensation (another Minnesota author) and she recently took a traditional publishing deal.
John Locke has twisted the traditional deal recently to maintain his ebook control while signing up for distribution of a paper book, broadening his reach to readers.
Some authors (Scott Nicholson, JA Konrath and others) have recently signed deals with Thomas and Mercer, Amazon's imprint, blurring that line between major publisher and indie...
With the changing publishing environment, it would all depend on the deal and the control I could maintain. It's a pretty exciting time to be an author. But if you don't like change, it's probably pretty scary too.
You said that your roommate joining the FBI was influential in your writing The Ninth District. Were you able to consult with him on FBI matters during the writing process?
DD: I didn't want to turn it into a procedural novel, but I wanted to get a feel for how the agents may interact. So, I did call him and asked him some questions about the work environment, how they interacted with each other, etc. I had also visited him when he was in a field office and saw his work environment, the car he drove, weapons and tools of the trade.
I used some of this info in talking about his relationship with his car, the nicknames he gave everyone, the feeling the street agents have when they're out working versus the office staff, stuff like that. It flavored the book.
If I remember correctly, you reserved the name of one of your characters for the winner of an auction at your son's school. Can you say which one?
DD: Yes, for an auction at my kids' school I donated a kindle preloaded with books donated by a variety of authors (including you - thanks) and the winner got the kindle along with the opportunity to name a character in the book. The man that won the auction wanted to name a character after a friend of his for his birthday. His friend's a thriller reader so he thought he'd get a kick out of it. That's how Special Agent Ross Fruen, got his name.
That's really cool. I read in another interview you did that the sequel takes place a year after The Ninth District. Without giving anything away, are there certain elements in The Ninth District that we can expect some added closure on?
DD: Book 2, the working title is Maple Beach, does take place a year later with Special Agent Jack Miller and his family on vacation in the lake country of Minnesota. Jack's looking forward to a relaxing two weeks when he's dragged into another conflict.
That's about the only tie to the first book, The Ninth District. I think in book 3 we'll see agents Jack Miller and Ross Fruen reunited to work on another special case.
Well I can't wait to read it. I loved your characters. Was there any secret formula you used to develop them? You said you had some input on the FBI relationships, what about the Governor, Jack's family, etc.?
DD: No secret formula. The only thing going in was I knew I wanted Jack to have a family to show that side of him, emotionally, struggles with balancing his devotion to his job and his family, things like that. The other characters and their relationships just developed as part of writing the story.
At this point, I'm sure you don't exactly know where the series is going to end up, but do you intend to make it a long series like Lee Child's Jack Reacher series or Connelly's Harry Bosch series? Do you know where you want your characters to ultimately end up, or will that just evolve for you over the course of the series?
DD: I'll stick with the series if there's an audience for it. But right now, I'm not sure how big that audience is. That's why, in addition to the second book in the FBI series started, I have a separate domestic adventure thriller started and ideas for a different series.
I don't really know where Special Agent Jack Miller and the rest of the series is going beyond the 3rd book. I think it will evolve with what's going on in the real world having some influence on it.
I think I'll stick with the Midwest as the locale for where my stories take place. They say "write what you know" and having been born and raised in North Dakota and living in Minnesota for the last 20 years I know the Midwest. Other authors have found success with stories based in Minnesota; John Sandford, William Kent Kruegger and Brian Freeman to name a few.
I think some readers find the middle of the US, known as "flyover country" intriguing since they know so little about it. In addition, Brian Freeman has quite an international audience following his books as well.
Which social media outlets, websites, stores, etc. have you had the most success with in selling/marketing The Ninth District?
DD: That's the money question... I'm not sure where or how my readers find me or how to find readers who would like my books. For that reason, I'm trying to work a variety of fronts.
I believe that you have to be many places because you don't know where the readers are and many may be one place, but not another. So, from a social media perspective I'm on Twitter, I have a Blog and I have a Facebook author page. I can tell you that Twitter is a must, because I can see the evidence that Twitter can drive traffic to my blog and Facebook, but not the other way around.
I'm working on expanding to where readers hang out; kindleboards, goodreads, and I'm working on getting reviews and interviews with book bloggers/reviewers.
What I'm trying to balance is the time I devote to marketing and writing since I have so little free time since I work a regular day job and I have kids at home who I love being involved with. I need to shift more time to writing from marketing. Or figure out how to get by on no sleep :)
Well, I can certainly understand that as I'm in the same boat. It seems that there just isn't enough time in the day to do it all! How does your family handle your writing time? I know that, at least for me, it can become a testy issue! Are you able to be father, husband, employee, and writer in a way that none of it overlaps and takes from each other?
DD: The writing always gives when it's up against family and work. So, I'm trying to find other times/ways to write; I watch less television (I used to be a big TV guy), I write at a coffee shop after I've dropped my son at his sports practice, I write while the kids are doing homework, and I don't exercise as much as I'd like to.
It's that time factor, there's not enough, so then it comes to managing what you have by setting priorities and making choices.
Yeah, think I've lost 20 lbs since we had our last baby girl. The working out thing was replaced by the small window left for writing! Do you have a particular author that you consider to be a sort of mentor, one that you read to glean inspiration from? Do you try and model your writing style after anyone in particular?
DD: I don’t have one particular author that I go to for inspiration. I’ve always been a big reader and I think that has influenced my writing. I don’t want to be another Connelly or Sandford or Follett or Trevanian… but I think everyone I’ve read (especially if I’ve read their series or multiple books) has had an influence on how I tell my story.
This is a question that I always wonder about when it comes to artists that have children, whether actors, authors, or song writers… Does having impressionable kids, let alone kids that may look to you as perhaps a sort of moral standard in a lot of ways, determine what kind of content goes into your stories?
DD: That's a great question. I remember reading a Grisham interview where they asked him about him not showing sex in his books. He answered that he wanted to write what he'd be OK with his kids reading. But what about violence then? Thrillers have that as well. Sandford on the other hand, has quite a bit of violence in his books, but he draws the line at violence involving children. I think the American standards on what's allowed on television has impacted what some writers and readers think is OK in a story they read.
There are artists all over the place on what they do professionally for their art and some talk about their thoughts on insulating their children from their art until they are old enough to talk about it and understand it.
Personally, I write what I think is the standard line of sex (just a hint) and violence (can be graphic) in my book because I'm writing for the reader of the genre. I have had talks with my kids about whether it's OK to read my book. My daughter yes, she's older, my son, not yet. I got some interesting, surprising comments on the opening scene to my book and I've learned that there are lines (violence and/or sex) you shouldn't cross or some readers will be turned off.
If you were offered a million dollars to write a time piece, what period of history would you choose and in what part of the world? Any period in history fascinate you?
DD: That's tough. I don't think I one favorite time in history. Growing up I liked to read about the Civil War and World War Two.
Based on some interest I have in The Kensington Runestone (a runestone discovered in Minnesota and source of debate if it was carved by an old farmer as part of a hoax or actually left here by Vikings or somebody like that) and Sweden and some ideas I have for my third book I am going to say:
The Vikings (the explorers and warriors, not the football team) and their exploration of the Scandinavian area of the world in the 9th and 10th centuries.
Don't know if I'd come up with a million dollar story but it would be fun to immerse myself in the research, work with scholars, travel, etc. to write the piece.
Are you a Vikings fan? Do you follow any sports? A fan of any TV shows? What's your favorite movie?
DD: I'm not a passionate sports fanatic, but I'll watch some professional sports on TV. I'm more of a Vikings fan than a Packer fan. I like to watch college sports. But the sports I follow the most and that I'm most engaged in are the sports my kids are involved with. My daughter swims and nordic skis and my son plays soccer, hockey and baseball.
I'm trying to wean myself from television so I have more time to write, but I liked Lost, I like NCIS, Flashpoint, other cop shows and the one reality show (is it really reality?) I watch is Survivor. I also will stay up too late to watch David Letterman and Craig Ferguson, they both crack me up.
I can't think of one favorite movie, but I'm kind of across the board on my tastes in movies, like I am with my taste in music.
Did you watch the '99 championship game between the Vikings and Falcons? The one in which Gary Anderson missed the only field goal of his season and would've sent the Vikings to the Super Bowl? I still haven't recovered from that (I'm a huge Randall Cunningham fan). Anyway, do friends, family, and coworkers treat you any different now that you're a published author? How's the reception been on that front?
DD: Yes :) I think being a football kicker is kind of like being a goalie in hockey or soccer. It can come down to the moment where you get all of the glory, or all of the blame. They're a different breed and need some therapy.
Right after publication there were a lot of people who were surprised (because they didn't know I was a writer), supportive and thought it was cool, or really excited. The people that were the most excited were the readers.
My wife hasn't read my book, it's not her genre. She's started it and we've talked about it a little bit. She wonders if she married the right guy as she learns from my writing I can be a little twisted. She did mention the writing last week when my first checks came in from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
My biggest surprise was that I had aunts and uncles in their 80's read it on the kindle app on their computers. They got introduced to my writing and I introduced them to the world of ebooks, kinda' cool.
I thought I'd have more friends and acquaintances bugging me about writing, when's the next book, stuff like that, but everything has moved back to normal day-to-day stuff.
Haha… I get the same thing from my wife. She'll be reading my book and then look up at me quizzically and say, "Who are you?" When you first released Ninth District, you sold it for 99 cents. Since then, you've bumped it up to the 2.99 minimum for KDP's 70% royalty qualifier. I know there's a debate as to which of these prices is most effective, and I'd certainly like to know myself... Have you noticed any change in sales since increasing the price? What are your thoughts on that?
DD: Ha! That's exactly what mine says to me, "Who are you, do I really know you?"
Pricing and sales, that's one of those forever debatable topics around the writers' table. If I price it at $0.99 will people think it's crap? There are readers trolling for inexpensive books.
We know that if you price it at the same as a traditional paperback that readers revolt, just look at the 1-star reviews and comments on some of the well-known traditionally published authors kindle book pages. That's helping drive people to lower priced, indie authors’ books.
$2.99 gets you that bump to 70% royalty.
I've talked to friends who won't buy a book less than $4.99
There are authors who feel they've cheapened their book (their work of art, sweat, tears, years of time) if they price it below $5.
But, I don't think they look at the big picture, overall sales, they think of each individual sale.
Would you rather sell 10 at $8.99 or 5,000 at $2.99?
You can go on and on.
What I decided to do was to introduce it at $0.99 to hopefully maximize how many books I could get out there quickly. Sales were pretty strong the first 4 or 5 weeks. They started to slow and I decided to raise the price to $2.99 to see what would happen. Sales just about stalled for a week or two, but now they're picking back up. Not to the level they were initially, but with the increase in royalties, money-wise it's about on par.
My plan is to leave it at $2.99 for now and run some promotions, for example I'm running a $2 off Labor Day weekend promotion with a Smashwords coupon. I may lower the price for the holiday season with all of the new ereaders I'm assuming people will want to load with books.
When I'm ready to release my new book I'll start that one at $2.99 or $3.99 and lower The Ninth District to $0.99. Lots of things to play around with to see what works.
Ok, this is one of those dumb hypotheticals, but I'm going to ask anyway. You're an astronaut (or a stowaway on the run from global law...) and you're about to spend the next three years in orbit around some distant planet...alone. You have a single backpack that you can take with you (the ship has a library, theatre, and plenty of food - though that's all you know). What do you put in the backpack to take with you... What would you want with you for those three years that the ship may not have?
DD: My first thought was my wife, but it says I'm alone and I don't think she'd fit in the backpack.
I was going to say my Kindle, but there's a library....
OK, here it is:
1) My iphone, I don't go anywhere without my iphone. I may not get any bars, but it's got music, games and my kindle app in case the library doesn't have the book I want.
2) My toothbrush and toothpaste. I hate it when my teeth get fuzzy.
3) Bubble gum. I like to chew gum and blow bubbles, especially when there's nothing else to do.
4) A harmonica and a book to learn how to play it. I was going to say guitar. I have one of those, that I never play, but it would be too big. I'd love to learn how to play the harmonica and be able to front a blues band when I got back. And when they asked me to go on the Craig Ferguson show as a guest, at the end of the show, when he gives the guest the choice of Awkward Pause, Touch My Glittery Ball, or Mouth Organ, I'd blow him away with my playing (none of his guests ever knows how to play the harmonica). Did I tell you in an earlier question I like to stay up late and watch Craig Ferguson?
5) Lots of paper and pens. Not knowing if there's a computer to use, I'd love to be able to come back and have many books ready to epub.
Ah! You got me with your phone. Of course you'd have all your must needs as far as books, movies, pictures, etc. stored on that! Should've foreseen that answer! Okay, almost done. This is a personal question. What are five dreams you'd love to have realized in your lifetime?
DD: I'm not a big dreamer. Some of my dreams are already realized.
#1 Marry a beautiful, intelligent, fantastic woman I can share my life with. Check: We've been married 20 years and I'm a lucky guy.
#2 Have a family. Check: We have two great children who keep me young and make life interesting. I look forward to watching them mature into adults. My daughter reminds me to be nice to her since she'll decide where I'll live when I'm old :)
#3 Seeing the world with my wife. We've done some traveling, but we'd like to do more. We've talked about climbing Kilamanjaro, spending more time in Europe, those are some dreams.
#4 Be a successful writer. I really enjoy writing and feel I'm on my way after publishing The Ninth District last June and working on two more books while I keep the other ideas at bay.
#5 Stay healthy and live a long life so I can enjoy #'s 1-4.
After this list I feel like the response is that Juno movie quote, "Whoa Doug, Dream Big!"
Feels like a pretty simple list.
Ok, last question... If you were about to sit down and embark on an epic writing binge and, in promising to write a future story about them, green aliens granted you control of the weather, any place in the world (earth) to write, and an endless supply of food/drink for just that piece of time, what would you eat/drink while you wrote and to what kind of weather and where?
DD: I'm a Minnesotan, live in the land of 10,000 lakes and love the summer, because it's shorter here. We have a lake cabin with a screened in deck (we have mosquitoes in Minnesota) and I can sit on the deck and look out over the lake. Across the lake are wooded hills because it's a state park, so if it's quiet, I feel like I'm the only one at the lake.
I would choose to have my new friends, the green aliens, set the weather at the lake at a comfortable and sunny 78 degrees with a light breeze blowing from the north. I would sit with my PC at the table on the deck and there would be barbecued chicken, Old Dutch Ruffled potato chips with french onion dip, tortilla chips and salsa, corn on the cob, cold watermelon and chocolate chip cookies. To drink there would be a pot of light roast coffee, iced-tea and a cooler with a mixture of dark beers and ales for when I needed to relax and think about my writing.
"Whoa Doug, dream big!" I'm a simple guy. Maybe this is why the lake is the setting for my second thriller, hmmm?
Well, it sounds like the green aliens are about to give me your house for a day (you see, I made a deal with them too:-), only I'd have a thunderstorm brewing over your lake. You don't flood, do you? Thanks for your time, and good luck! Can't wait to read what you have in store for us!
****You can learn more about Doug Dorow and The Ninth District (as well as links to purchase) at his Independent Author Network page:
visit his site @ douglasdorow.com
You can also follow him on Twitter @DougDorow
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