A writer & her adolescent muse

Author Interview: James Dorr

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*Today we have a special guest interview with short-story writer, poet, and author, James Dorr!  Enjoy!  Be sure to check out his links below too.

If you were to introduce yourself to a group of strangers, what would you say?

I’m James Dorr.

I’m a writer.

I write short fiction and poetry, mostly dark fantasy and horror, but also occasional science fiction and mystery.

Yes, I do see a difference between horror and dark fantasy, dark fantasy, to me, incorporating elements of the supernatural while horror is more a description of the readers’ reaction, evoking feelings of fright or unease. So there can be psychological horror as well as such things as dark mystery, dark science fiction, dark romance, even dark humor. Comedy is similar, in this case evoking laughter or at least a chuckle (whereas “horror” as a word is derived from “horripilation,” a physical bristling of body hair as when one has “goose bumps”), so there can be comedy-mystery, humorous science fiction, etc. But then I write cross-genre work as well.

Tell us what first drew you to writing.

I think, in general, I felt a need for self-expression. When I was younger I thought I might be a painter or graphic artist, or something in the visual arts, even perhaps something like a cartoonist (as an undergraduate, for instance, I became Art Editor on my college’s humor magazine, as well as illustrating for other publications). But I seemed to have more talent for describing things in words, rather than lines or colors, to tempt the reader to visualize things for him or herself, and for more than just the visual impression – to try to evoke other senses as well, to feel a thing’s texture, a speech’s music (I might mention I also lead and play tenor in Renaissance recorder consort), to see for a moment within a different character’s mind .

Or maybe it’s just an urge to show off.

You have a new book coming out in 2017. Tell us about it.

On a far-future, exhausted Earth a ghoul – an eater of corpses – explores the ruins of one of its greatest cities in hopes of discovering the one thing that made its inhabitants truly human. This is the premise, the quest that introduces us to the 16 stand-alone chapters of Tombs: A Chronicle of Latter-Day Times of Earth, about half in fact already published in various venues as complete short stories, loosely inspired by a pair of quotations from Edgar Allan Poe, of the most poetic subject being the death of a beautiful woman (which also informs, in its way, my previous book The Tears of Isis) and 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?

What inspired you to write it?

For Tombs the stories, at least the first of them, preceded the book, yet they seemed to “want” to come together, rather like the stories in books like Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club or Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. That is, even if complete in themselves, they seemed to be part of something bigger, in this case a sort of future history of a people already aware of its approaching doom, if not in this lifetime, at best in no more than a few generations. That’s far enough, then, that one needn’t despair, to strive to live only in the moment, but nothing that one accomplishes is going to be long remembered either. Yet legends still are, somehow, created – perhaps through some larger need of humanity – and these are the legends presented here. Ones that, in having created this world, I felt myself compelled to discover.

What seems to be the recurring theme(s) in your stories?

That’s hard to say, because I’ve published several hundred stories, at least as many poems, and in several genres and combinations of genres. One thing I seem to come back to, though, is the idea of love as a redemptive quality, which I think informs a number of the Tombs stories too. Then in my 2013 collection The Tears of Isis, while assembled from stories for the most part already written, I tried to adhere to a theme of beauty and art being in some ways at odds with intimacy and life, opening with a poem about the Medusa seen as a sculptress who, whether through art or through her myth, turns men into statues. Does the artist’s model then, of necessity, become an object, but in that way gain a kind of immortality? And then there are vampires, in a different way preying on life but becoming immortal themselves, leading to a series of flash stories I’ve been working on (two of them published recently in Daily Science Fiction) depicting the “casket girls” of New Orleanian legend, who allegedly brought vampires with them from France in 1728. And then, thinking of that as an urban legend, I’m fascinated by people’s beliefs, of myths and even fairy tales, a number of which I’ve also worked into stories or poems.

How do you get into the minds of your characters?

That’s something that I think gets easier with practice. I’m thinking right now though of an expression, that you shouldn’t judge a person until you’ve walked a mile in his boots, and I think that’s a key. Imagining yourself as different people and learning to empathize, both in life and in art. So I try to imagine a major character’s previous life – one of the “casket girls, above, for instance, as a child growing up in Eighteenth Century France (and, yes, researching Eighteenth Century France too), then the hardships of a voyage at sea, the not knowing what to expect ahead, the hopes and fears — and then placing that character in the new situation the story presents them with. What would I do if I were that person, as modified by what I’ve “learned” of their past?

And then not to “tell” what the character thinks, or at least not too much, but to try to show her or him in action in such a way that the reader can sympathize with that person too. (In short, to see through my character’s eyes instead of my own, to hear with its ears, smell with its nose, taste with its tongue, feel through its emotions, think with its brain, and do my darnedest to make sure you, the reader, do so as well.)

In your opinion, what are some of the biggest obstacles facing writers today?

Nowadays a main one, I think, may be what happens after a book, or a story within a book, gets published. In the past the publisher took the responsibility of getting it into bookstores and into the hands of reviewers and doing at least a minimal amount of advertising. Now, however, writers are much more on their own. And of course there’s self-publishing too, but even with a traditional publisher it still comes down now to promoting oneself – how to prevent the book you slaved over from just being buried under the crowd of other books coming out at the same time?

This is one reason I thank you, Carrie, for being willing to interview me here, to introduce myself to your readers (as in turn, hopefully, some of my readers will see this here and stay around to see more of your work). In this way we all can help one another and, on the same token, I’d like to urge readers, if you come across a book you enjoy, please consider writing a review, even if only in a sentence or two just saying you liked it, and sharing it in places like Amazon and Goodreads where people will see it.

Any additional comments or advice you’d like to add for our readers?

Perseverance. Don’t quit your day job. Those are the clichés, but they’re still true, that most writers aren’t going to make much money until they’ve been at it for some time, if even then. But the real advice I would give is to enjoy what you’re doing, as well as to strive to do your best.

Follow your bliss, to repeat that cliché. Be proud of your work, but be practical too — if an editor advises you to make changes, take it seriously. But remember it’s still advice, especially as you gain more experience, and the one you must please, ultimately, should be yourself.

Biography:

Born in Florida, raised in the New Jersey, in college in Cambridge Massachusetts, and currently living in the Midwest, 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 spring-summer 2017. He has also been a technical writer, an editor on a regional magazine, a full time non-fiction freelancer, and a semi-professional musician.

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“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 Spring-Summer, 2017.

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