Recently, I was given the opportunity to not only read/review The Comfort of Distance by Ryburn Dobbs, but also to interview the talented author himself! If you haven’t read my spoiler-free review yet, click here to check it out. I want to say a huge thank you to Ryburn for taking the time to answer my questions and provide so much insight into his life, writing process and wonderful novels. Without further ado, let’s get into it!
Ryburn Dobbs taught biological anthropology and forensic anthropology at several colleges and spent ten years as a forensic anthropologist, working dozens of death investigations. In addition to his anthropological pursuits, Ryburn also worked as an investigative analyst specializing in homicides and unsolved cases. His work as a forensic anthropologist inspired him to write The Sebastien Grey Novels.
1.) Can you please give us some insight into what is next for Sebastien?
In books two (The Boxwood Torso) and three (Where the Blood is Made – out this month), Sebastien and Tiffany begin investigating cold cases for the sheriff’s office. In that process they will work together more closely, find themselves in quite a bit of danger and face new forensic clues that lead to surprising conclusions. Sebastien and Tiffany’s relationship will continue to develop too. By book three, we see less of Sebastien’s awkwardness, mainly because he has gotten used to his new home and has a core of people who accept him. Although, his insecurities do pop up. Just less often.
2.) Every author has an individual writing process. Can you please share what is yours? Do you need silence? Music? A specific place to write? Etc…
It almost changes with every book. I don’t know why. I generally do benefit from music while I write, but for some reason, silence was more helpful on the third book. Maybe because I was writing this last book during a time of high stress in other areas of life. Who knows? I do most of my physical writing in my study at home, but not all of my writing process is physical. Quite often, when I’m trying to figure out how a plot element will fit, or what direction to take a scene in, I go for a walk and listen to music. The combination of exercise and music tends to get things moving in my mind. If I’m behind on a deadline, I will lock myself away some where and dictate. I can dictate many more words than I can type because my typing is absolutely dreadful. The only problem is that I have to go back and revise the dictation. But still, it’s a good way to get through a lot of material.
3.) What made you want to move from the world of forensic anthropology to writing?
I always wanted to write, but never felt that I had much to write about – which was my insecurity speaking, obviously. But the desire to write nagged at me daily for years. It just wouldn’t go away. One day I was thinking about all of the cases I’ve worked, the things I’ve seen, the experiences I’ve had, and realized that I actually have a TON of material to get me started at least. For whatever reason it finally clicked.
4.) Who are some your favourite writers and how have they inspired you?
I love language. There is such a pleasure in reading something and taking away from it, not just the base information or plot element, but the feeling of beauty in how it was expressed. Most people prefer straightforward, simple writing, and that’s fine. I get it. Just get the point across. But that’s not the only reason I read – especially fiction. There is telling a beautiful story, and there is telling a story beautifully. The British, Scottish and Irish are masters at the latter, so my favorite authors tend to be from, or connected to, that part of the world: Colin Dexter, William Boyd, Conan Doyle, Val McDermid, Peter Robinson, Wodehouse, Wilde, Iain Pears, Ian Rankin, P.D. James. Even Poe, who was American of course, was heavily influenced by European writers and you can very much tell that. To be clear, I read all kinds of authors and I don’t discriminate. But as a reader for pleasure, I do appreciate it when a phrase was turned with a little more effort than required.
One of my favorite writers is William Boyd. My favorite book of his is arguably one of his least popular: Armadillo. The story and plot are actually pretty thin. But, dammit, the writing is so beautiful that I re-read this book at least once a year and have gone through multiple copies in the last twenty years. An example excerpt should suffice to make my point. In this scene, the main character sees the face of a beautiful woman in the window of a cab:
“He was pulling out of the square onto the main road when a taxi passed a little too close to the front of his car and he was forced to lurch abruptly to a stop. The wobbly diorama of Bolton Square slid along the taxi’s glossy black side and his oath caught in his throat as he saw the face framed in the rear window. This happened to him from time to time, occasionally several times in one week – he would see a face in a crowd, through a shop window, going down an escalator of the Underground as she went up, that was of such luminous, transfiguring beauty that it made him both want to shout in exulted surprise and weep with frustration…It was the glance that did it, the glance with its swift, uncertain apprehension, its too hurried analysis of the optic phenomena available. His eyes rushed to judgment; they were too keen to see beauty. Whenever he had the chance for a second look the result was nearly always disappointing: the studied gaze was always a severer arbiter.”
More words than necessary? Yes. Did Boyd mine the less-utilized pages of the dictionary? Absolutely. But what skillful use of imagery.
So to finally answer your question, my favorite writers inspire me to work on my prose and experiment. I know I do have some readers who aren’t fans of this approach. But that probably just means I need to work on my craft
5.) What was it like creating and working during a global pandemic?
I had fewer distractions and much more time. I am an implacable introvert, so with the pandemic it’s like “our time to shine has finally come!”
6.) What do you hope readers take away from The Comfort of Distance?
Ooh. Lots of things, but probably each reader will find something different. If that’s the case, then I did something right. I believe that some will learn a lot about how forensic anthropology really works (and forensics in general), as well as how the investigative process unfolds outside of television and movies. I also hope that the book is read by people with similar struggles as Sebastien so they know they are not alone. Ultimately, I want readers to be entertained. I tried to make the book a multi-emotional experience. There’s even some comedy and romance.
7.) How do you cope with writing slumps and low motivation?
I was told that you’re not a real writer until you get the second book finished. I understand why they say that but, for me, the third one was by far the hardest. One and two just came spilling out, but the third was like pulling teeth from the initial concept to the very end. I think a lot of this was due to life circumstances, which made procrastination an attractive numbing mechanism. Anyway, the only way I got through it was to give myself a deadline. I told my editor that they would have the manuscript by a certain time and I even scheduled launch events well before I was finished. Once I was committed, then I left myself no choice but to sit down and figure it out. The beauty of it is that, once you do focus and get to work, then the ideas start to flow and the book comes together. So, like many others can testify, the only way out of slumps and motivational troughs is to get to work. And writing is hard. It is absolutely the most exhausting and exhilarating work I’ve ever done.
8.) What is some advice you can give to aspiring writers?
If you want to do it, do it. For goodness sake, don’t wait for permission. Writing is really the only art form left where the creators wait for the permission of the non-creators, the people who’s only concern is making sure that no risks are taken and the average achieved. But that is changing. Ironically, the biggest reason to publish traditionally is vanity. Trad is the new vanity press. Fortunately for me, I waited so long to start that I didn’t feel I had years and years to beg at the feet of agents and publishers. In the process I discovered that I didn’t have to. Either way though, do not wait to start writing. No other decision matters until the thing is done. In any case, if you want to produce your best work and you plan to self-publish, you cannot go it alone. You must bring in strangers (yes, strangers. NOT family and friends). Hire editors, proofreaders, beta readers. Research best practices. And if you keep reading the same advice about the self-publishing process on blogs, or Reddit, or wherever else, and think it doesn’t apply to you, just the other gals and guys, guess what? You’re probably wrong. Listen to others. Take advice.
9.) What are some of your favourite books? Can you recommend anything?
I already mentioned Armadillo. There’s also The Remorseful Day (or anything else by Dexter), River God by Wilbur Smith, The Alienist by Caleb Carr, Jonathan Gash’s Lovejoy novels are super fun, as is RD Wingfield’s Inspector Frost books. Val McDermid’s The Mermaid’s Singing might be the only book that made my heart race while sitting. Peter Robinson’s Gallows View (and everything thereafter), plus of course the entire catalog of Conan-Doyle, Poe, Dickens, Washington Irving and Wodehouse. Nonfiction, I am very eclectic. But my read over and over book are: Guns, Germs and Steel and Collapse by Jared Diamond, The Last Lion by William Manchester, Fooled by Randomness, Black Swan by Nassim Taleb, The Sorcerer of Bayreuth by Barry Millington and Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.
10.) Is there a genre of writing you wish to dip your toe into someday?
My next book will be a haunting/mystery, then I have a historical fiction/mystery book I want to write. I think it would make a good series too.
Feel free to let me know down below if his books sound like something you might want to check out. I really want to get more people talking about them. Thanks for reading.
Peace & Love xoxo