Name James Dorr
Age Old enough to know better.
A little about your self `ie your education Family life etc
I was born in Florida, raised in New Jersey, went to college in Massachusetts, and currently live in Indiana where I’m no longer married but harbor a goth-girl cat named Triana. I’ve worked in the past as a technical writer for an academic computing center, city editor on a regional magazine, a full time freelancer, a semi-professional musician, and a clerical flunkie for an optometry center, though only the first and the last really paid any money to speak of. I am now retired, allowing me to concentrate on writing fiction and poetry which, most years, pays even less.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
My latest book, Tombs: A Chronicle of Latter-Day Times of Earth, is scheduled to be published in June by Elder Signs Press. It’s a mosiac novel, or a “novel-in-stories,” concerning life, love, and death on a far-future dying planet as pieced together by a surviving ghoul-poet – an eater of corpses not normally given to abstract thoughts – in hopes of discovering the particular spark that made humans human. As such, it’s a romance to some extent, composed of a series of “snapshots” for us to put together for ourselves, but a very dark one with elements of science fiction, philosophy, and horror, and is loosely inspired by a pair of quotations from Edgar Allan Poe: the first of the most poetic topic being the death of a beautiful woman, and the second of the boundaries between life and death being “at best shadowy and vague.” If these statements be true, and in an already dying world, can love be a power to even transcend death?
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
It’s probably a more gradual thing than the question implies. As a college undergraduate, I was art editor on the humor magazine, for instance, that ended up with my filling in as a writer for last minute articles from time to time. Then shifting to graduate school in Indiana, I became editor on an arts magazine, this time on the writing side though with occasional last minute illustrating. This led to my technical writing/editing editing stint and, later, freelancing on business and consumer topics, but it wasn’t until about that time that I also started working seriously on artistic writing as well.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Again it’s hard to find a specific point. I wrote a little poetry, etc., in college, for instance and, of course, I had some jobs where that was part of my title. As for a “real” fiction writer, though, I’d say that was probably toward the end of the 1980s/early 1990s when I began to make sales to some magazines people had actually heard of.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
My first ever book was a poetry chapbook called Towers of Darkness, put out by Nocturnal Publications in 1990 and I was actually invited to submit it. Being new at such things, I didn’t realize one normally sends in already published work with a few new pieces, and so I came up with a unifying idea, of a darkly dystopian city, and wrote about twenty-five original poems describing aspects and populating it, from which the editor selected twelve. I might mention some of the ideas – and characters – from that book have popped up again and again in future writing, so I think it was a rewarding experience on several levels.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
I like to try to make my style vary depending on the kind of story I’m writing. That of Tombs, for instance, is purposely baroque – “literary” and lush – while for, say, a noir crime story I might choose a very different style. I might recommend my previous book – and a 2014 Bram Stoker Award® finalist for fiction collection – The Tears of Isis as one in which I think readers may find a variety of styles, yet placed together in terms of theme or other uniting characteristics to make it hold together as a book.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
In the case of Tombs, I was actually inspired by a holding prison in New York City colloquially referred to as “The Tombs,” due to its windowless, mausoleum-like architecture. How neat! But then I had a notion of, at first, a collection of stories set in a necropolis (a holdover, maybe, from Towers of Darkness?), for which, simply, Tombs might be a natural title — except that as the project grew into something more of novel proportions, the added, “more than the sum of its parts” concept that became its unifying factor needed to be reflected also. Thus, Tombs: A Chronicle of Latter-Day Times of Earth, with its implication of something more than just a location.
(For The Tears of Isis, on the other hand, the process was one more of deconstruction. The title is that of its final story, of an artistic quest leading to the Egyptian goddess in one of her aspects, but then rather than adding a subtitled “And Other Stories” as many collections might, here the “tears” could also be seen as the individual tales themselves, most of them tending toward the dark and tragic.)
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
One of sadness, perhaps, but also hope. Amor vincit omnia – or maybe Kurt Vonnegut’s dictum, “be kind”? But also readers are invited to find their own meanings. For instance, the world has grown hot, so much so that one must wear protective clothing to go out in daytime. This is the far future and there’s speculation that the sun itself is expanding — or possibly the Earth is starting a gradual inward spiral — but if one wants to take from it a lesson on climate change, I won’t stand in their way. Similarly the river that must be crossed to the necropolis has been poisoned by millennia of pollution; the position of women vs. men in certain strata of society in the “New City,” a notion of rich people getting richer and poor people poorer, all may have analogues to the present, but let readers take from it as they choose.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
There are certainly fanciful aspects to Tombs, people’s speculation on the nature of souls, for one thing. Nor do I think the far, far future will, realistically, be anything like what’s depicted here. Yet I would say the book is mostly realistic because I think the characters are realistic – that is, I think their reactions, and the things that they do, in terms of the settings I put them in can be believed. As for people I know and my own life events, I think all of these things go into the writing; however there are no direct analogues – no people I’m actually thinking of, nor specific experiences I may have had (other than in general, e.g. there are descriptions of sailing in one of the stories and I have, myself, sailed in small boats) – at least as far as I can remember.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? a mentor?
Well, starting with the Greek tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. . . . In other words, I’ve read a lot, and I’m not averse to taking from anything I can. There are four authors who stand out for me, though: Ray Bradbury for poetry and beauty in his expression even in his darker works; Edgar Allan Poe for a juxtaposition of beauty and horror – a nexus of Eros and Thanatos in Freudian terms, of sex and death in both his tales and poems; Allen Ginsberg in poetry combining the beatific with the tragically ugly; and Bertolt Brecht for his ideas of “epic theatre,” allowing the notion of artistic distance, yet combined with emotional intimacy in such works as Mother Courage.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest and who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
There are so many, not to mention it’s difficult to judge still-growing talent, so I’m going to beg off on this one. Besides, some of these people I may know personally.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
Right now I’m a member of a group called the Bloomington Writers Guild, local poets, essayists, short story writers, novelists, sponsoring readings and other events to the betterment of the local artistic community at large.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
In the sense that it’s what I do, yes. It’s part of what defines me. In the sense of making a living, however, it may have been at various times, but most of are going to have “day jobs” and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Tombs has taken some years not just to write but to subsequently find a publisher. So in one sense the answer is probably “yes,” that time would have passed, and some differences, surely, would have gotten through. I am a different person now, in accumulation of experiences that might go into whatever I write. But as for the spirit of the book, “no.”
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
My father was a newspaperman (night editor on the New York Sun) and later worked on magazines, so maybe the bug was there all the time; I do know I took an interest in science fiction and, later, horror almost as soon as I could read, and the early years of the space program were encouraging too. But I think it was still a gradual thing with an actual interest in writing, other than fill in work, nor really coming until around the end of undergraduate college.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Here’s a blurb for Tombs that perhaps will help give an idea of the flavor:
“The city had once lived, blazing with light. The books all described this. The Ghoul-Poet sat in the midst of a heap of them, pages torn, rotting, spread out all about him. This was a library, the pride of New City, or rather a square that had faced the library, that had received this avalanche of thought — words embossed on parchment — that cascaded down when the library burst, its walls weakened by age. It was a treasure trove, this mountain of dreams and abstracts, histories and myths. Some true, some perhaps not.”
These, then, were the legends of the Tombs, the vast Necropolis and its environs . . .
. . . of corpse-trains that plied bridges crossing the great river, bearing the City’s dead, braving attacks from flesh-eating ghouls
. . . of ratcatchers, gravediggers, grave guards, and artists
. . . of Mangol the Ghoul, of musician-lovers Flute and Harp who once played back a storm, of the Beautiful Corpse
. . . of seas filled with monsters, a mass-death of animals, secret tapestries teaching children about a past great war, the dangers of swamps
. . . a city consumed by a huge conflagration, a woman frozen for thousands of years
. . . a mission by airship to rescue a man’s soul
. . . a flower that ate memories. . .
These are just some of the wonders, the horrors, to be found in the pages of Tombs: A Chronicle of Latter-Day Times of Earth, scheduled to be out from Elder Signs Press in June, 2017.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
In terms of difficulty, getting ideas. Sure, ideas are all around us, but it takes a special combination for me of two or three to meld into a story — and my muse is not a friendly one, but one I must wrestle into cooperation. This is why, sometimes, my writing is weird, the subjects and characters may be a bit off the wall. Any idea I get, however bizarre, I will work with to try to make into a story, because finding another, better idea will not be so easy.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
I traveled more when I was younger, which I think was helpful, but not too much now. My settings are generally imaginary or, when they might be of a real place where I might need to add a landmark or two, with the internet nowadays (or in older days books and the public library) research isn’t hard. I do think research is needed though, even for imaginary places where real ones might offer analogous features, while actual travel serves best to get the feel of a place, and of people with backgrounds different from my own. (And a quick footnote, the place I live in now is also home to a major state university, offering opportunities to immerse myself in a more cosmopolitan culture than one might at first expect.)
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
All my books have had covers designed by other people, chosen by the publishers, not me. In some cases I’ve been asked for advice on certain details, or been able to offer suggestions, but the final decision has been the publisher’s.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Oh, the daily slog, I suppose, the need to forge onward even on days when I’m not so enthusiastic. There are rewards in progress, of course, a sort of “writers high” analogous to that of long-distance runners, when things are working well (though also analogous aches and pains afterward, in this case through tension combined with sitting for hours in front of a computer), but even then there were low places to fill in between high points. (Say I who, just before I sat down to this interview, had completed proofreading about two hundred pages — and that would be considered fairly short by some standards.)
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
The easy answer is lots of things. But for something specific, I think I learned a lot about structure, both in terms of the strengths and weaknesses of a mosaic novel — why one might write a novel in that way, with story-chapters that can stand on their own, yet that isn’t just a collection of stories — and in terms of overall structure including what, in drama, would be considered a five act play, and how it relates to a novel of this sort. In Tombs, in fact, the contents page is laid out as if it were a playbill, with the “acts” numbered (plus one “entr’acte”) and scene-titles listed beneath them.
Fiona: If any of your books was made into a film who would you like to play the lead?
There are so many in Tombs, the way the book is structured, but a few months back, having seen a revival of Arsenic and Old Lace, it occurred to me that there is one continuing character, that of the Ghoul-Poet, who perhaps might be played by Peter Lorre. Changing the grounds of the question slightly, though, if I were to look for a director, one person who comes to mind is Jim Jarmusch for the sheer beauty of a film like Only Lovers Left Alive. Then, given the fragmented nature of a novel-in-stories, two other possibilities: Michael Gondry for beauty again as well as use of non-linear time in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Japanese director Eiichi Yamamoto for near-psychedelic vision as well as artistic risk in his animated Belladonna of Sadness.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
There is the usual, don’t quit your day job. But a better term for this is persistence. Success generally comes slowly if at all, but if you enjoy what you’re doing, it’s worth the effort. Also read a lot and not just fiction, and not just familiar American or European authors, but get a feeling of how others did it, in differing cultures and in the past as well as the present. And then as a final, personal note, try writing a little poetry too: it does wonders in helping work with description, especially in a concise manner, not to mention just getting an increased appreciation for the sound of the words you use.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
One thing, if you enjoy a book, please consider writing a review – just a couple of sentences will do — and sending it to Amazon and Goodreads, Barnes and Noble, etc., as well as blogs and elsewhere on the internet. Spreading the word can be really helpful to an author.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter. This is a book of retellings of fairy tales with a sort of woman-centric viewpoint. I came upon it largely because the next-to-last story, ”The Company of Wolves,” was also made into a movie (and in my opinion a very good one).
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
Probably not, though one early one was called Ping the Duck (or more precisely, The Story About Ping — I just looked it up, it’s still around) and is set in China among people who live on boats in the Yangtze River. What a wonderful stretch of imagination for a little kid whose main experience is suburban America!
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
It’s probably a case of my mood at the time. “Three Stooges” one-reelers can usually produce a laugh; for the other I’m a sucker for 1950s bluesy jazz.
Fiona: Is there one person pass or present you would meet and why?
Edgar Allan Poe comes to mind, to try to gain insight into his imagination. But he’d have to be on his best behavior.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why ?
James Dorr, Writer. It is what I am.
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies ?
Movies, as suggested above; music, including jazz, though I also lead and play tenor in a Renaissance recorder consort; taking walks; putting up with the cat.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
For TV, some things on the Cartoon Channel, some music and drama on PBS, but not too much entertainment programming other than that, as opposed to things like documentaries. For film, horror and science fiction mainly, plus surrealism where I can find it (this would include some comedies also).
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
Meat, rare, the way vampires like it. Chocolate, of course. Colors depend on mood with blues and greens being restful, but reds and golds for more excitement. I’ve mentioned music already – jazz, but other genres as well.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
As I’ve sort of mentioned, I’d had an interest in the visual arts but ultimately discovered my talent seems to lie more in describing a scene in words, then making you, the reader, picture it in your imagination. Were I unable to write I might also get interested in theatre or, more as a spectator, opera or ballet. In general though, while I have an interest in science as well, I think my heart lies in the creative arts in one way or another.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
Absolutely. Readers are invited to visit my blog for the latest about me, at http://jamesdorrwriter.wordpress.com
Biography and Links:
James Dorr is a short story writer and poet, specializing in dark fantasy and horror, with forays into mystery and science fiction. His The Tears of Isis was a 2014 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 his all poetry Vamps (A Retrospective), as well as, forthcoming, Tombs: A Chronicle of Latter-Day Times of Earth, a novel-in-stories from Elder Signs Press in June 2017. An Active member of SFWA and HWA, he has more that 500 individual fiction and poetry appearances in books and journals from Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine to Yellow Bat Review.
Tombs: A Chronicle of Latter-Day Times of Earth: https://www.amazon.com/Tombs-Chronicle-Latter-Day-Times-Earth/dp/1934501743/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1491542524&sr=1-1&keywords=tombs+a+chronicle+of+latter-day+times+of+earth