Horror lovers are in luck as I have another horror writer for you to meet this week. Meet James Dorr, past Bram Stoker award nominee and writer of a novel, several collections, and too many short horror stories published in too many anthologies to mention. Apart from writing dark fantasy and horror, he also writes science fiction and mystery. James takes on an active role in the writing community as a member of HWA (Horror Writers Association) and SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America). Let’s get to know James a bit better.
Tell us a bit about yourself
I was born in Florida, raised in the New York City area, in college in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and am currently living in the Midwest. I’m a short story writer and poet specializing in dark fantasy and horror, with forays into mystery and science fiction. My The Tears of Isis was a 2013 Bram Stoker Award® finalist for Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection, while other books include Strange Mistresses: Tales of Wonder and Romance, Darker Loves: Tales of Mystery and Regret, and my all-poetry Vamps (A Retrospective). As an Active Member of SFWA and HWA, I have more than 500 individual publications. I have also been a technical writer, an editor on a regional magazine, a full-time, non-fiction freelancer, and a semi-professional musician. I currently harbor a Goth cat named Triana. My latest book is a novel-in-stories published in June 2017 by Elder Signs Press, Tombs: A Chronicle of Latter-day Times of Earth.
How did you become a writer?
I actually began writing fiction and poetry rather late. In college, for instance, I’d been art editor on several magazines, though occasionally doing some fill-in writing. In graduate school the situation somewhat reversed itself with me doing occasional fill-in illustration until I got a job with a university computing center as a technical writer. It wasn’t until I left that job, though, that I (with an M.A. in Literature), began to seriously try my hand at creative writing. Along with that, I’ve also had an interest in music and currently lead, and play tenor recorder in, a group specializing in Renaissance dance music.
Who are your favorite authors and how much is your work influenced by them?
Two authors that I often cite are Ray Bradbury (who I approached as a science fiction reader, but stayed for the “dark bits”) and Edgar Allan Poe. Both, for their juxtapositions of both horror and beauty, have influenced me immensely. In fact, my Stoker® nominated collection The Tears of Isis is dedicated to Poe, “who led the way,” and is based in part on a passage in his essay on “The Philosophy of Composition” stating that the “most poetical topic in the world” is the death of a beautiful woman. Well, not everyone dies in the stories in that book, necessarily, but art does walk hand in hand with destruction, led by a poem about Medusa as a sculptress. And then, more death-centric, my novel-in-stories Tombs: A Chronicle of Latter-Day Times of Earth also borrows another theme from Poe, that “[t]he boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague” (cf. “The Premature Burial”), as well as borrowing its very form as a “novel-in-stories” from Bradbury’s masterpiece, in my opinion, The Martian Chronicles. Then for two quick additions, Bertolt Brecht’s theories of “epic theatre,” particularly in terms of artistic distancing, have been an influence on some of my fiction while Allen Ginsberg, especially in his longer works with their cadenced rhythms, have been an inspiration for poetry.
Pen or typewriter or computer?
I almost always compose prose directly on the computer, though I may work out individual scenes or portions with problems with pen on paper. Poetry, on the other hand, is almost always drafted in pen, then rewritten to the computer.
Why do you write horror?
I like to get in characters’ heads, to write about, and figure out, characters under stress (not to mention invent situations to put them there), and for stressful scenarios horror seems the place to go. I’m also interested, though, in myths and legends and people’s beliefs in the inexplicable, where horror, again, provides a place to work these sorts of ideas out.
Do consider yourself to be a successful writer? If yes, why? If not, what do you think would make you successful?
Yes, in that I’m doing something I enjoy, I’m being published and at least some people are reading it, and I’ve received some honors for doing so.
No, in that I don’t have as many readers as I’d like, publishers are not exactly beating down my door, and at best I’m just earning supplemental income, and not much at that. I’m admittedly not that good a self-publicist, but interviews like this help (and thank you, Jacky!). Also more reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, blogs, etc., would be very helpful so, if you should read this and consider buying one of my books and like it, please consider reviewing it too — just a few lines are fine, and any writer is helped by reviews, even if not all are four or five stars.
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? If yes, why?
As a graduate student, I did a series of humorous science essays for an alternative newspaper under the name “James Bearson.” I was in a Ph.D. program in English at the time (I later got out and accepted an M.A., but that’s a different story) and did so in part to avoid questions like “what does an English major know about science?” as well as from some of my professors like “why are you wasting your time on that stuff instead of studying more for my class?”
Could you tell us a bit about your most recent book and why it is a must-read?
My most recent book is a mosaic novel, or “novel-in-stories,” Tombs: A Chronicle of Latter-Day Times of Earth. In it a Ghoul-Poet, an eater of death, contemplates a city in which all have finally died, seeking to find out what it was that made humans human. It is divided into five sections and with an “Entr’acte,” the sections in turn divided in self-contained story-chapters, about half of which also have also been published elsewhere. To quote from the publisher’s blurb: “It had been a time when the world needed legends, those years so long past now. Because there was something else legends could offer, or so the Poet believed. He didn’t know quite what – ghouls were not skilled at imagination. Their world was a concrete one, one of stone and flesh. Struggle and survival. Survival predicated on others’ deaths.
“Far in the future, when our sun grows ever larger, scorching the earth. When seas become poisonous and men are needed to guard the crypts from the scavengers of the dead. A ghoul-poet will share stories of love and loss, death and resurrection.”
As such, Tombs is listed by Amazon as both “Horror” and “Dystopic Science Fiction,” to which I might add “Science Fantasy” and “Dark Romance” (but beware: in that last category some stories are tilted toward adult consumption). It is not a “happy” book, I would say, but not an entirely despairing one either. To quote again, this time from Amazon and a review by Heidi Angell: “Yes, despite the uncomfortable and dark future predicted in this future world, key elements, like love, money, and humanity’s ability to carve out some sort of life in even the direst circumstances carries on with a heart-broken tinge of hope and legends.
“I highly recommend this book for anyone who likes to think deep thoughts about what they read. For anyone who has an interest in politics, social issues, climate issues, anthropological studies, biomedical, and for the curious who like to imagine how the world could turn out. For me, this was more realistic an outcome than the Divergent series, Hunger Games, or Maze Runner, though definitely not for the same audience. This is a grown up’s view for grown-ups of what a dystopian world could potentially provide.”
What is your writing style?
I don’t think I have a single style, but rather try to provide what a story needs. Tombs, for instance, is written in a more literary, almost Baroque style because I thought the overall story wanted a serious, “classic” feel. Tales in The Tears of Isis, however, may vary from stream-of-consciousness, fairy tale, noir, dreamlike, more action-filled, even to light humor (though with a dark side too).
Does your book have a lesson, a moral of the story?
For Tombs I like to think “love conquers all,” but, boy, does it have trouble doing so!
What motivated you to become a published author? How did you break into publishing?
I first met Joe Morey, then editor/publisher of Dark Regions Press, at a poetry reading at a convention when he asked me if he could reprint a long poem I’d just read. From there we talked about a possible collection, from which Strange Mistresses: Tales of Wonder and Romance came about, mainly short fiction but with a poetry section as well. Several years later I approached him about a second volume resulting in Darker Loves: Tales of Mystery and Regret. I would add though that I’d built up a number of single sales in each case, allowing me to choose about 25 stories for each book from which Joe would pick just over half, so I wasn’t exactly unknown. Then a few years after that, with PMMP’s Max Booth III, I’d also already sold him a couple of tales for publications he had worked on, so when he was ready to start his own press he contacted me, in this case offering me pretty much a free hand in editing and story choice (the only constriction that the book had to total more than 60,000 words), from which The Tears of Isis was born.
Thank you, James, for letting us get to know you better. I’m sure many of us authors are in the same boat regarding getting reviews and sales and feel your frustration. I’m glad you took up this offer for more exposure. I hope many authors will follow your example and head over to the ‘For Authors’ section on my website!
You can follow James via the following social media:
Website (blog): http://jamesdorrwriter.wordpress.com
Amazon Author page: https://www.amazon.com/James-Dorr/e/B004XWCVUS
Just to let you know I wasn’t kidding about the numerous works James has been published in, here’s the list available on Amazon!