Today I’m pleased to welcome Author James Dorr, whose intriguing series of short story collections and novellas offer a peek into the dark side.
1. As a short story writer and poet, you focus on tales from the dark side. What led to this particular creative journey?
An interesting question. I’m not a cynic—not too much anyway—or a misanthrope or even a generally gloomy person. However, as a writer I’m interested in people’s beliefs, in faith as well as superstition, and that gets one into shadowy lands at least. One thing we all fear, I think, is the unknown and, in that beliefs are a means to attempt to explain the unexplained, horror will almost by definition be lurking somewhere in the corners. And then, where there’s horror, there comes a testing of people’s character—character under stress—and there’s where writing in my opinion is at its most interesting.
2. I notice that you have written a novella called The Garden. What can you share about this particular story, and what inspired you to write it?
The Garden initially came from some interesting facts I ran across about nematodes—non-segmented roundworms. However I wrote it not to be straight science fiction, but with a decided gothic flavor (some of which may have been ultimately edited out to bring it more into the publisher’s “house style”), taking as a sort of model Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Rappacini’s Daughter.” It’s actually a tad short as a “novella,” more a novelette, but still of an awkward length for some magazines—as well as being a crossover story in terms of genre. However it is of a length more suited to its current publication by Damnation Books as a stand-alone chapbook in both print and electronic formats.
Aside from a now out of print chapbook, Towers of Darkness, in Nocturnal Publications’ “Night Visions” poetry series some decades back, I have two full size short story collections from Dark Regions Press, Strange Mistresses: Tales of Wonder and Romance and Darker Loves: Tales of Mystery and Regret, published in 2001 and 2007 respectively. Then came The Garden in 2009, and then two books this year, Vanitas and Vamps (A Retrospective), both of which were out in August. Vanitas, like The Garden, is a shorter story, in this case a reprint, published as a stand-alone electronic chapbook by Untreed Reads. It, too, is a crossover, steampunk/mystery in a gothic setting, originally published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, and as a kind of contrast to The Garden is essentially as I originally wrote it in terms of atmosphere and character nuances. Finally Vamps (A Retrospective) is an 84-page poetry collection on the subject of vampires and things vampiric. Available as a trade paperback from Sam’s Dot Publishing, it includes 75 poems, about a third of which are original to this collection, as well as 11 illustrations by artist and poet Marge B. Simon. (I might add, incidentally, that an essay with samples on Vamps (A Retrospective) is scheduled to be in the “Blood & Spades” column in the December issue of Horror Writers Association Newsletter).
4. When did you first decide that writing was the path for you?
I came a bit late to writing, having been more interested in visual arts well into college. I was art editor, for instance, of the school’s humor magazine, as well as a staff artist/illustrator/cartoonist on other publications. But the editorial job in particular sometimes included fill-in writing, plus I was doing some writing for the college’s science fiction society, and, when I went on to graduate school, I became an editor/writer on the campus underground newspaper and then editor on its literary newspaper. From there I went on a stint of technical writing as a “real” job, then freelancing business and consumer topics, and finally began to get back to the arts with fiction and poetry.
5. I notice that you have a fondness for the writings of Poe. What other individuals influenced you most when you were a child?
I still have my much marked-up Modern Library Giant edition of The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. Adding to that I was a voracious science fiction reader with favorites including Ray Bradbury and pre-2001 Arthur C. Clarke. Sticking to the horror genre, at around that time I became acquainted with Lovecraft too and, as I grew older, I’d have to add Bram Stoker and Dracula, Le Fanu’s Carmilla, and Mary Shelley and Frankenstein, etc.—the “classics”—but also The Complete Greek Tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides (the world’s first literary horror and still perhaps its best) and, moving to non-horror, such figures as Bertolt Brecht and Allen Ginsberg. The list could go on. . . .
6. When you sit down to write a story, do you first envision a plot, or do the characters lead you along?
Years ago I would use an outline—which isn’t a bad idea for beginning writers in any event—so I would have said plot. Now though it’s not so cut and dried: A story will start with an idea, whether a theme, a particular event, a wondering what would happen if two dissimilar elements came together, a mental image (I once started a story, “The Candle Room,” from the image of a room with lighted candles on every surface, furniture, floor, in part of a rock video on TV—I have no memory of what the song was, though), a subject for a particular anthology, or whatever. Then I usually get some notion of who the characters may be—at about this time I’ll have an idea where it’s going to end as well, but maybe not yet where its beginning will be. Then I may actually jot notes for some scenes, or maybe not, but at some point I just sit down and start writing.
7. Where do you find your greatest inspiration?
Anywhere, everywhere, nowhere. See the above for some places ideas may come from. I do often look for ideas from other people or possibly unexpected sources, especially for poetry. Robert Brewer, the poetry editor for Writers Digest, has a blog for instance where he issues a prompt for a poem every week (usually of a broad sort, like write a poem about spring, or about friendship—he increases these to daily prompts during the months of April and November), and which I follow, a number of poems from which I’ve later seen published. There are similar things for prose, sometimes giving a list of four or five words, all of which must go into a story. And on several occasions I’ve used poems I’ve written as ideas for stories.
8. Do you have a special writing space, and, if so, what can you tell us about it?
I have a room in my house I use as an office, which has a desk, tables, etc., an offline computer I use for most of my writing (I have a separate computer for email and online research), and lots of reference books. First drafts, however, especially for poetry, are often noodled on scrap paper anywhere I might find myself, then rewritten on the home computer at leisure.
9. What does your normal writing day look like?
I tend to be an undisciplined person so I really don’t have anything like a typical schedule, at least for writing. Weather permitting, I’ll usually go for a walk, sometimes to the public library to read email there, sometimes for shopping. Then after that I’ll sit down and write, or plan, or look for markets to send things to, but which it will be will often depend on things that might have come up in my email—an announcement of a new anthology for instance that I might want to send to—or whether or not I’m on deadline for anything.
10. Are you working on another novella or short story collection, and if so, what can you tell us about it?
I have a series of short stories I’ve been writing set on a far future dying Earth in and around a vast necropolis known as the Tombs. Thirteen of these have been published in various places so far including one in Strange Mistresses and three in Darker Loves, and I’ve been having discussions with a publisher about a possible novel made up of Tombs stories as a sort of future history, somewhat along the lines of Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. Less formed is an idea for another miscellaneous short fiction collection, possibly to put together next year, though one thing I’m doing at the moment is be more aggressive in trying to place older stories as reprints in anthologies, both to get them back in circulation and as a response to a weak economy where every bit of new cash may help. Then, if Vamps (A Retrospective) does well enough to keep its publisher interested, I have a possible sequel in mind, Vamps (And Friends), for more poems about vampires as well as some of their “cousins,” like zombies. This one, however, would probably not be for a couple of years.
11. What can you tell us about some of your other jobs, and how have they informed your stories and characters? What is your everyday life like?
I outlined a bit of this in question 4, to which I might add doing office work in an optometry clinic, associate editor on a city magazine (very short lived, the magazine that is), some semi-professional music performance (I play tenor in and lead a Renaissance recorder consort), and occasional odd jobs. Music informs some of my work, although mostly jazz (I also played trumpet back in high school), but I think the business/consumer freelancing may be most influential in terms of world building in things like the Tombs stories where I’m usually careful not to go into a new society without having an idea how its economy works—what do people do to make their livings when they’re not in whatever adventure the story puts them in, and how does that experience affect their actions as well as their surroundings.
As for my everyday life, I write part time and consider what I might make from it supplementary income— thus giving me the freedom to be undisciplined, at least as far as fiction and poetry go. Playing and listening to music is one of my hobbies while another is collecting horror and science fiction DVDs, often including some rather obscure titles.
12. I notice that you have a cat named after a famous TV series character. What can you share about your pet and how you arrived at its name?
Wednesday the cat, named after Wednesday Addams of The Addams Family, is a “rescued” cat, adopted on Halloween 2004 (a Sunday, however, as I recall) from the county animal shelter where she had been given the temporary name Wendy, so it all seemed kind of obvious at the time. This story is true, but there’s another equally true explanation in that she’s a cute little girl, her wardrobe tends toward grays and blacks, and she likes to play with spiders (plastic ones mostly since they don’t bite back). Other toys include a plastic human heart, an eyeball, an imitation giant hairball, and the requisite fake mice (with and without catnip) and other assorted vermin. She also has her own web page which people can reach through my site http://jamesdorrwriter.wordpress.com/ as well as check up on me and my latest doings and, should the spirit move, leave comments.
Thanks so much for sharing your stories, your inspiration, and what lies ahead! I hope you’ll visit us again soon.