Julie: I’d like to introduce author Dave Freer who has agreed to talk with me about his novel Stardogs. I’m also going to have a drawing for a print copy of Stardogs though I didn’t see a good way to get a signed copy as Dave is from Australia these days. Dave, Where should we start?
Dave: In the middle. Beginnings are slow. Ask questions, I will do my best to answer.
Julie: Where is the middle?
Dave: The middle – in story terms, is where the action begins. Of course Stardogs breaks that rule because it started with a prologue to explain what the creature the book centers on was, and more importantly why it was like it was.
Julie: When did you first get the idea for Stardogs?
Dave: It came out my noticing that big breed dogs were selectively bred for gentleness and little or medium ones were much more aggressive. That… [not starting in the middle] probably was a mistake, as an older author. That was my third attempt at an adult novel. I’m at 23 now.
Julie: As a more experienced author you view starting with the background events a mistake? I did notice the unusual opening.
Dave: Catch 22. As an older, better known author, you can. Readers know you and trust you.
Julie: I think that you did a very good job of making each tidbit of information compelling. The characters you created, even if it was just a paragraph or two, they were very real to me, and tragic or horrible.
Dave: Well… I wrote long character sketches, with details that are not included, and sections of dialogue – between them and others – to try and get the feel of who they were, but most importantly what made them who they were. Life hinges all the time. It’s those ‘turning points in the character the author has to know.
Julie: You’ve written 23 adult novels? And Stardogs was your third?
Dave: Yes, hadn’t sold anything yet. I had written The Forlorn/Morningstar before that, which was my first sale.
Julie: That was a great book.
Dave: In a way, my first books were a youngish author feeling for direction, feeling if each book didn’t get bought by a publisher I was doing something wrong.
Julie: But you don’t think that anymore? That if a book didn’t sell that you were doing something wrong?
Dave: No, traditional publishing is just a bloody mess, with far too much luck and little merit in sorting the top 10%. The worse efforts are easier to separate out, but the acquiring editors really don’t have the tools to pick the best of better books. ( I’m a statistician and scientist by nature.) And that of course excludes the various insider trading bits. Thousands of great books got close and thousands of meh books get bought. That, at least, is what the numbers say. Anyway: you can see I came at writing from entirely the wrong angle.
Julie: So years and many sales later you went back to Stardogs. What about Stardogs wouldn’t let you go?
Dave: I was a very poor guy, living in Zululand with no contact with the writing world (too poor for the internet back then) and based my idea of what a good story would be on the vast number of golden age second hand books I read, and what I assumed were desirable stories. So: I was twenty to fifty years out of synch. I still am, because I like writing those stories.
Julie: I thought Stardogs had a very Golden Age feel to it.
Dave: Stardogs was what you get when you mix an admiration for Pratchett’s DARK SIDE OF THE SUN and DUNE with a biologist. A fairly clueless about writing or political correctness biologist .
Julie: You’re a fish scientist. How much did that play into developing the world of the stardogs? Oh, and I probably ought to say that the stardogs are a silica based space based life form that carry spaceships between planets. I loved the alternate biology.
Dave: And being a scientist rather than from an arts background, with no idea how to write, I worked the entire story of character and motive which is the right way to do it in my opinion.
Julie: Also, please spell “fish scientist”.
Dave: Ichthyologist. Biology plays a huge role in all my stories simply because 1) I know a little about it, and 2) it’s weird, 3) it’s oddly logical, and 4) it’s usually bizarre and hilarious. The driving theme of much of Stardogs was convergent evolution.
Julie: Convergent evolution is why fish and porpoises have the same shape?
Dave: The classic example of which is octopus eye – invertebrate, evolved separately from our eyes – but actually functionally identical and structurally similar. Similar enough to use for teaching human anatomy students. I decided it would be a natural situation in selecting for behavior, and the ability to relate and cause that behavior. Also it gave me the weakest possible heroes. Always a good thing. Empaths who are sensitive to the needs of others will always be at a disadvantage to those who are not , sadly.
Julie: So the humans selected for empathy and the stardogs selected for empathy both find themselves threatened?
Dave: Correct. Their sensitivity is required -and means they have a weak point. And there are always people who would exploit that.
Julie: And for storytelling, weak heroes are best?
Dave: Strong heroes with everything on their side, 1) it’s too easy, 2) You want your readers to identify with the characters. Or at least I do, and to care what happens to them, rather than know they have to win.
Julie: And this is why you couldn’t leave Stardogs behind despite too many characters and a beginning that brought us through thousands of years?
Dave: No, I think that’s because of my own character flaws! I’m pig headed and as soft as goose grease about dogs myself.
Julie: Well, I’m glad because I thought the book was fabulous.
Dave Freer, thank you for taking the time to chat about Stardogs. It’s always fascinating to hear from an author and what went into a work like this!
I’m going to do a drawing for a print copy of Stardogs! Since I don’t have a plug-in or widget yet please enter the contest by leaving a comment below. I’ll find a suitable random number generator (possibly a set of D&D dice if there’s only a few of you) and contact the winner via email. I’ll run this until the end of the month so let your friends know so they can enter, too.
(If you really don’t want to be notified of any future contests or publications, just say so in your comment. I hate spam in my email, too, so I promise it won’t be often if you opt-in and I totally understand if you opt-out!)