The Horror Tree Presents…Drew Stepek


Ruschelle: Tell us a little about yourself. Tell us something…juicy. Something that we would never guess is hiding somewhere inside the sinew of your meat suit.

Drew: I’ll start with the basics and then get onto the FILTH. I was born outside of Detroit and moved around a lot as a kid. After Detroit, I moved to Iowa, then back to Michigan, then to Memphis, then to Minnesota and then I went to high school in Maryland, and then college in Florida. Right after college, I moved to Los Angeles. I have worked in the entertainment industry since 1994.

NOW SECRETS! This should come as no surprise to anyone who read my first book, Godless, but I used to really love making myself puke. So much so that I spent the better part of my senior year of college in a hospital for bulimia. I was the only guy there. I learned a lot and it completely changed my perspective on the world, specifically on females. I’m not sure if that’s what you were looking for. It’s kind of juicy… consistency-wise.

Ruschelle: I would agree with you on the consistency. Puke can be juicy OR chunky! But I digress…Knuckle Baller, your sequel to Knuckle Supper will be readily available around Thanksgiving. (What a great gift to bring to dinner with the fam! People reading: write this down….) What should readers expect from book number two that might not have existed in book number one; either in content or your story telling style?

Drew: [Smug tone] It’s actually Knuckle Balled. Just kidding. It’s an honest mistake. Originally, it was called Knuckle Ball. I changed it because I wanted to name to reflect how fucked our protagonist, RJ, was going to get throughout the story.

Besides the fact that the sequel has more gangs, more violence and a different location, it’s actually the exact same book. Kidding again. I wanted to take RJ out of Los Angeles for the first time in his miserable existence and turn the tables on him. Unlike the first book, he doesn’t have buy-in from those around him and he doesn’t lead a gang anymore. Spoiler: They’re all dead. With this book, I really wanted to change the theme of right versus wrong to right versus getting high and others versus self. RJ might be an anti-hero but he’s actually just a selfish asshole. He doesn’t realize that throughout the book every decision he makes is the wrong decision and no matter how he tries to justify his actions (with the help of first person perspective), the reader is on to him throughout the story. That said, I want the readers to root for him to make ANY good decision, rather than rooting for him as a hero.

Knuckle Supper is somewhat straight forward. He needs to do the right thing because he realizes that he’s a human being (kind of). On this book the lines are further blurred and if we learn from Eldritch that if we were seeing things unfold through someone else’s eyes… RJ would definitely come off as a villain.

It’s all about building his character and therefore creating the vampire lore that follows. There are going to be four books total in the main canon (there will be spinoffs) so I want the characters epiphanies to take time. I want the reader to learn something about themselves with him.

Ruschelle:  AHHHH!  Damn balls are always getting me in trouble. But that’s another sordid story that I’ll make up at another time. How about this– If and more likely- when they make Knuckle Supper & Knuckle Balled into feature films, do you see any particular actor/actress portraying the roles you so brilliantly crafted?

Drew: My co-scriptwriter, girlfriend and I have been making lists for years. It’s tough because of RJ’s age. Unfortunately, the people that I REALLY like for his role (in particular) might be a little too old. RJ is mid-to-late 30s.

If I were to make a DREAM CAST, it would be…

RJ Reynolds – Aaron Paul
Bait – An Unknown
Dez – Dane DeHann
The Habit – Lindsey Lohan
King Cobra – Terry Crews
Linnwood Perry – Jack Gleeson
Nomi – Erika Ervin
Eldritch – Alexander Skarsgard
Pinball – An Unknown
Cody Walker – Graham Rogers

There are many more characters, but I figured I’d just knock out the big one. Trust me. I know this ain’t gonna happen.
RuschelleWhich bad ass vampire would you like to see munch the hell out of any and all of the Twilight Vampires?

Drew: Too easy.  I’d like to see the posse from Near Dark roll there RV up to the Twilight house, break in and just destroy them… then use their shitters and not flush. I would watch a home invasion movie with that happening over and over again.

RuschelleLOVE those Near Dark vamps, in a…non-conjugal way.  Here’s a question that will chaff your chorizo, I know it does mine. (And yes, I HAVE a chorizo. I keep it in my purse.)  PG-13 in horror?  GO!

Drew: It’s like fake news.  It’s not a real thing. It’s a brutal cash grab and I fucking hate it. I’ve been a fan of horror for as long as I can remember and (for instance) when I saw Halloween for the first time when I was 7, I felt like I was doing something not allowed. It was dangerous. It was… AWESOME!

BRAGGING ALERT: When I won the award in 2011 for best Indie horror novel for Knuckle Supper, I convinced myself that I won the best horror novel overall. Sure, I didn’t win the award for best commercial horror novel and I’m fine with that. I swear a lot in my books, there is an incredible amount of drug abuse and they tend to be extremely violent. So, yeah, that’s not commercial. Fuck commercial.

RuschelleIt took 4 years to complete the sequel to Knuckle Supper. What was going on in those 4 years to shape Knuckle Balled?

Drew: It was a rough experience… one that I’m not going to relive with the third book (which I’ve already put a dent in). The second book in the any franchise is always the toughest. It can truly be make or break. I spent a long time overthinking how to get from point A to point B. That said, writing these books takes a toll on me. I want to write things that are true and real (with the supernatural element) but sometimes it’s tough to jump through the hoops and write about the horrors of the real world. I want this series to be more than just some horror book series and I think for a long time about what lines I can cross. That’s why A LOT of the most awful shit goes down off-screen. I don’t want to end up painting myself into something that will be frowned upon later (i.e. the gang bang scene in IT).

Real answer. I’m a procrastinator. Good thing people are liking Knuckle Balled as much as the first.

Ruschelle:  Billy Idol, Billy Corgan or wait for it…Billy Ocean? Give this one some thought.

Drew: Idol FOREVER! Funny. Two weekends ago, on my birthday, my girlfriend took me to Vegas to see Idol’s last residency show at House of Blues (Mandalay Bay). Anyway, I texted my friend Chris that I was going to see “Billy” in Vegas and that he should come meet us there. He responded, “Billy who?” Of course, I responded “Ocean.” It was the only answer to such a dumb question. I’ve seen him many times and it’s always a great show.

Ruschelle:  Are you one of those writers that can work while listening to music? Or are you like…ahem…some of us that feed off of the teat of silence? At least I think it’s a teat…

Drew: Yes. I write every chapter and every character to music. For instance, in the very first chapter of KS, I listened to “One Track Mind” by Johnny Thunders over and over again. In another scene, when RJ and Dez take down the cops and the Perry snitch, I listened to “Riot Squad” by Cock Sparer. The main character/music songs below. You should make a playlist on THE Spotify. You can see that each character’s music changes in the second book. At least, those who survived the first. SPOILER!

Knuckle Supper

RJ – “Change the Key” – 7 Seconds
Dez – “Buried Myself Alive” – The Used
Eldritch – “Farewell” – Xymox
The Habit – “Drain the Blood” the Distillers
Bait – “Somebody Got Murdered” – The Clash
Nomi – “After the Fall” – Klaus Nomi
King Cobra – “Mystic Man” – Peter Tosh
Linnwood Perry – “Seventy-Seven” – The Furios
Copperhead – “Hand Grenade” – Cutty Ranks
The Knucklers (gang) – “Chinese Rocks” – Johnny Thunders
The BBP (gang) – “Gangsters” – The Specials
The Batwangers – “invaders Must Die” – The Prodogy
The Battlesnakes (gang) – “Ravers” – Steel Pulse
El Reinado de Sangre (gang) – “Raining Blood” – Slayer
Skinland Invasion (gang) – Anything by Screwdriver
The Cloth – The Lord’s Prayer

Knuckle Balled

RJ – “Ain’t it Fun” – The Dead Boys / “Life is Pain” – Leftover Crack
Eldritch – “Rodent” – Skinny Puppy
Linnwood Perry – “Can You Dig It” – Jam X & DeLeon
Pinball – “Jeruselum” – Sinead O’Connor
Cody Walker – “Bro Hymn” – Pennywise
The Chaplins (gang) – “Modern Times” – Michel Villard
The RTL (gang) – “Ride the Lightning” – Metallica
The Real McCoys (gang) – “Straight to Hell” – Hank III
The Sixth Street Skulls (gang) – “Tu No Viva Asi” – Arcangel X Bad Bunny
BBP (gang) – “Pursuit of Happiness” – Kid Cudi / MGMT / Steve Aoki
The Minutemen – “I Fought the Law” – Bobby Fuller Four
The Cloth – The Lord’s Prayer

There is also a scene near the end of Knuckle Balled that I listened to “Thunder Kiss ‘65” by White Zombie OVER AND OVER AND OVER again while I wrote it.  The guitar intro sets up about fifty pages of non-stop action until the end of the book… which was difficult to write because I am much more of a dialogue and character writer.

Ruschelle: This is the most beautiful list of punk rock music I have ever seen. I’m gonna need some time alone with it and so will the readers. Download these tunes people!

You’ve done work in the entertainment industry. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (a personal fav, don’t judge me), and The Profiler, to name drop a few. Were you inspired in your own works by what you helped others create? Sometimes helping others can ultimately help you…

Drew: I kind of divide my work up into two sections… A) the work I do to put food on the table and B) the work I do to fulfill my creative drive.  Anything that I do during the day is usually based on someone else’s IP (I’ve worked pretty heavily in branded entertainment for the past 11 years). I try to separate the two and hope one day, I’ll be able to bring my IP to life as a film or TV series.

Ruschelle: In life we learn from all sorts of places. You’ve written for Film Threat. What is one thing you learned from writing for Film Threat that you feel you wouldn’t have learned anywhere else?

Drew: It was my first job out of college and I wouldn’t EVER go back in time and change it. It was like getting hit by the Hollywood bus the second I walked into town. Strangely enough, I met E. Elias Merhige when I worked there and I fell in love with his first film, Begotten. About three months ago, I got the opportunity to catch up with him and even got him to read the Knuckle series (so far) and give me a blurb for the cover of the new book. It meant the world to me. I wrote a blurb that was on the cover of the Begotten video and DVD and he returned the favor.

My quote on Begotten (1994):
“The result is a thing of beauty where realistic images are turned upside down by the grotesque and flowers are trampled by the darkening clouds of a nightmare.”

His quote on Knuckle Balled:

“Anything that represents and reveals the most painful and disgusting parts of ourselves and our society, and does so with glee and humor—heals us by the very act of its creation. Knuckle Balled has fun while accomplishing this.”

I guess the thing I learned… don’t burn bridges. Friends from 20+ years ago will remain your friends and support you forever. I wish I could talk to a bunch of kids who are about to enter the working world to tell them that.

Ruschelle: You have made some fantastic connections. You lucky bastard. On that same ‘lucky bastard’ note, you’ve worked on Conan O’Brien, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno & Saturday Night Live.  What was your role on each show? And please don’t tell me pastry & coffee provider because that would be AWESOME!!!

Drew: Nope, nothing that… AWESOME! In 1996, NBC was just starting to build NBC.com. That said, I got this incredible opportunity to come on and be a writer (online, of course) for all of the NBC-owned properties (including Saved by the Bell: The New Class and the Saturday night THRILLOGY). So, most of my work was limited to online but I did end up winning a Webby award (Stand of Excellence: Best of the Web) for an online gameshow called The Probe that I created for Saturday Night Live.

Don’t get me wrong, it was absolutely the biggest opportunity of my life and man.

Ruschelle:  You have written, produced and directed. That’s a lot of different hats, and you have such sweet hair! But…which one do you feel fits you the best. Which one is Drew Stepek?

Drew: I like writing. I like creating from the ground up. Producing is such a money/numbers game and it makes me anxious. The best thing I think that I’ve produced in the last five years or so was this branded thing that I did for AwesomenessTV and Pride, Prejudice + Zombies (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pkXwIo3sycQ).

Ruschelle: Godless was your first novel. You mention that you wrote it because of your own personal issues with addiction and bulimia. Did enrobing your struggles in fiction help you deal with your issues? Or had you already battled your monsters and needed to put them to rest the way many Creatives do…by slaking their hearts in a book?

Drew: It went on much longer than it should have and continued after the publishing of Godless. I can honestly say that I have come to terms with it and kind of forgotten about it.  My Pirelli will attest to that. All my books and stories have a common theme of addiction and abuse. Like I said earlier, being the hospital taught me something that I didn’t even realize (at the time) that I had to learn. 100% of the girls that I was in the hospital with had been sexually abused and that seriously spiked into my psyche.

But to answer your question (I’m not doing a very good job at that), fiction helps me take those dark roads again without actively participating. I was originally going to write a sequel to Godless. I kept putting it off because I didn’t want to find myself in that world again… because it was REAL. Then, the idea for Knuckle Supper came along and I figured that I would take these “happy” themes and put them into another world. If I weren’t trying to bring these two worlds together, the Knuckle series would be trash. It’s important to use horror as a vessel to deliver reality. I guess that’s why I’m not super into extreme horror. What the fuck is the story about? If there isn’t an arc where the characters learn something about themselves… it isn’t even a story. It’s just gross words folded into a book. I don’t mean to be a snob or discredit anyone but that’s just my opinion. To me, it’s like… let’s take all the gross shit out of Clive Barker books and ditch the characters and any motivations.

Ruschelle: Atheism is a notable theme in Godless. You have also written stories of soulless beings in the Knuckle series. How does Atheism affect your characters? Is there more freedom with creating characters who are Atheist?

Drew: Yes, Atheism is another common theme in my writing. I think I stopped believing in God when I was around 14. It’s not something I’m incredibly proud of because (like most people), I’d like to believe that there is something after all this. I just… don’t. I think everyone should stand behind what they believe in though (even if it’s dumb like $cientology). I respect the hell out of people who stand up for their beliefs and don’t try to force it down other people’s throats.

There is a freedom (for me) in creating Atheist characters. I guess we are taught to write what we know, or in the case of Atheism… write what we know doesn’t exist. I think that was the genesis of The Cloth in the Knuckle series, and to some extent, The Habit. Even if the characters are used to mock the other side of my belief, they are purposely put there to show that the other side exists. After all, RJ is an increasingly untrustworthy narrator so who’s to say that he’s right or wrong. Spoiler: He’s wrong 99.9% of the time.

Ruschelle: Do you like pasta? Is so, what is your favorite? If you do not like pasta, I will change your answer so it looks like you DO like pasta because it is the CORRECT answer.  Any recipes ya wanna share?

Drew: Rigatoni. Rigatoni. Rigatoni. Whenever I order pasta online, I will usually order spaghetti and meatballs… insisting in the notes that they send Rigatoni. Last time, Maggiano’s fucking dissed me and sent me spaghetti. I chased the Door Dash driver down and slit his tires and then beat him into a coma. Not really.  I wanted to though. Stupid long-ass noodles. I don’t have a pasta recipe but I do have my own Three Meat Ass Explosion Chili Recipe below. I guess you could put it over Rigatoni.

Ingredients:

1 lb Ground Turkey
1 lb Ground Pork
1 lb Ground Chicken
1 Bottle of Heinz 57
1 Bottle of A1
1 Bottle of Worchester Sauce
1 Bottle of Chalula
2 Habanero Peppers
1 large can of tomato sauce
2 cans of S&W chili beans
1 shaker of chili powder
1 shaker of cayenne pepper
1 shaker of Old Bay (I lived in Maryland)
2 Squares of dark chocolate
1 bag of shredded cheese (sharp cheddar)

Begin by cooking all three meats in a large frying pan (one at a time)
When simmering the meat, add 1/3 a bottle of 57, A1, Worchester, Chalula to each. Also, cover the top of the meat with chili powder, cayenne pepper and old bay and mix it in until the meat has sucked up all the juice and spices.

When all three meats are cooked, throw them into a crock pot.

Pour in the two cans of S&W beans and at least half of the tomato sauce.

Dice the habaneros and add them in as well.

Add the dark chocolate.

Let cook in the crock pot for 6 hours. Stir regularly. If that shit isn’t hot enough, add Tabasco continuously.

Serve in a bowl. Sprinkle the shredded cheese on top.

Serve to your friends. It’s a gnarly experience. They taste the chocolate first and think, “Oh, this isn’t so bad… kinda sweet.” About 10 seconds later, they feel that shit attacking their bodies like a chest-buster from Alien is about to jump out of their sphincter. The next day, they will hate you.

This is a ‘stand-in’ bowl of black bean soup. Drew’s actual pot of chili asked not to photographed (friggin Diva) so I had to make do.

Ruschelle:  That looks absolutely delicious. Chili is best eaten over pasta. In my opinion. So when should I expect you over to make me a vat?  Better be soon, you made me hungry.

 Back to the questions–Hindsight is always 20/20. So is there anything about your books that you would change if you could?  Or do you love every word, ellipses and quotation you penned?

Drew: OMG, yes. We went back in the 3rd edition of Knuckle Supper (The Ultimate Gutter Edition). We took out this REALLY dumb thing that I put in the book where the vamps would take on the traits of the animals that they devoured. I really wanted to create a vampire series where almost everything can be explained in the real world… our world. My editor at Blood Bound Books, Andrea Dawn, made me get rid of it and thankfully, I listened.

Boy, was that dumb.

We also added in this new “character” that is important in the second book called The Gooch. Essentially, The Gooch is RJ’s withdrawal speaking to him. There is a real tug of war in Knuckle Balled between The Gooch and RJ’s dreams, that act as his conscious.

Ruschelle: Will there be a 3rd book in the Knuckle series?


Drew: YEP! As I said earlier, I’ve already put a dent in it. It’s now called KNUCKLER. Originally it was called Knuckle Smasher.

Spoilers ahead. If you haven’t finished Knuckle Balled, DO NOT read this next paragraph.

The book takes place in Mexico and RJ faces his worst big bads to date. Much more inspired by The Five Deadly Venoms that The Warriors (like the first two books), in KNUCKLER, RJ goes head-to-head with a cartel of Mexican vampires called The Five Knuckles of the Demon’s Fist or Cinco Nudillos del Puño del Demonio.  The Cartel is broken up by five different vamp leaders who participate in five different illegal activities across the Mexican state of Chihuahua. The cartel is broken up by:

  • The Solider – El Soldado – Arms Dealer
  • The Scientist – El Científico – Black market organ dealer and more
  • The Shephard – El Pastor – Human trafficking
  • White – Blanco – Coke Dealer
  • Black – Negro – Heroin Dealer

It’s totally fucking insane. There is also a main character returning from the first book. That person will play an important part in showing who RJ is. A lot of the book will take place in flashbacks before RJ met Bait.

Ruschelle: Dammit it, I read the spoiler without finishing the book!  UGH!!  Honestly, that’s okay because I am a spoiler junkie. Yes, I read endings first. I do what I want!

What is next on your literary plate? Anything in the works or are you delving into something different?

Drew: I’m going to finish KNUCKLER and then almost immediately start the final book in the main canon, The Last Knuckle Supper. Then, I am probably going to start the spinoff books, which (as of right now) are:

Assault of the Earth – Cody Walker versus the Sunshine zombies
I’m With Perry – What happens to Linnwood Perry after Knuckle Balled
The Poser
– Not revealing any information
Lunar – Not Revealing any information

Maybe an Eldritch Book. I should call it that.

Ruschelle: Some of the proceeds from the Knuckle series goes towards the charity Children of the Night, which helps sexually exploited children from prostitution. These children are much more than a statistic. What do you want people to take away from this organization and to learn from these kids?

Drew: I just really want people to know what’s going on and that there are people doing things to try and stop human trafficking, as well as child prostitution and exploitation. It’s not something that really comes up on everyone’s radar very often and it should. Granted, I live in Los Angeles where it’s a major problem but people shouldn’t be surprised to find out that it’s going on right in their backyards.  It is the main driver for this entire series and in KNUCKLER, I will definitely be hitting it much stronger. Bait and Pinball are just scratching the surface and when all is revealed by the end of the series, I am hoping that I will kick the message into people’s teeth. Lois Lee (the owner of Children of the Night) is a saint, man. The work she does goes so far beyond just getting these kids off the street and getting them a bed. She is getting these kids to college, into the workforce and beyond. Before 1979, this wasn’t even close to a reality. Even if only one person understands my message and how it relates to Children of the Night and gives their time and money to this incredible organization, well, I’ve achieved my goal. Check out their site. Follow and like them on social networks. Give MUCH NEEDED money.

https://www.childrenofthenight.org/

Ruschelle: It’s been a damn pleasure Drew. A damn pleasure. Readers and new fans of Drew, check him out on any of these sites.

www.knucklesupper.com

www.knuckleballed.com

BUT JUST WAIT, yeah this is now an interview infomercial—Drew wrote The Horror Tree a personal story!  He brings us on an emotional journey- one that might leave us crying. But we can’t, because…there’s no crying in baseball.

 PLUS, he’s gifted us with photos highlighting each step!  Strap one on folks…errr…I mean…strap in and meet the man, the legend Number 666 Dreeeeeeew Stepek!

Everybody cheer, dammit.

The Dodgers fucking lost last night and I’m pissed. Gonna take it to the street and fuck shit up.

Rather than sitting around crying, I wanted to walk around LA remind myself why I live in the greatest and HARDEST city in the world.

It’s chilly out today so I threw on my phresh hood. It’ll keep me incognito if I decide to beat down some tourists from Houston.

Tagged a wall. LA is the home of street art. That’s what’s up.

Immediately outside, I was reminded of the Dodger’s loss by a sign at Shakey’s Pizza. I smiled, though. Shakey’s is from LA and they don’t have it anywhere else in the world. All you can eat pizza and hojo potatoes, BITCH!

I walked by this old diner. That motherfucker is open 27 hours! I bet they don’t have places open 27 hours where you live. LA. Only.

Walked by the Los Angeles Museum of Art. Looked at some statues n shit. Felt cultured.

Stopped in front of this dope Ed Hardy museum because it told me not walk. LA. Period.

I bet you didn’t know that in LA bushes grow empty cans of malt liquor. #MiracleMaltingBush #211

We got tar n shit, too. I bet they don’t have Mammoths drowning in tar in your town. Pussy.

Check out these plates! I bet you can’t get personalized vanity plates where you live. Stupid randomly selected numbers and letters.

That’s right. LA is the greatest city in the world. Buy Knuckle Balled and the Knuckle Supper: Ultimate Gutter Fix Edition on November 23rd. Please. Thank you.

The Horror Tree Presents…James Dorr

Ruschelle – James, nice to see you again. I’m not saying I was stalking you and taking photos of you while you were sleeping in those cute jammies or anything…I’m just…happy to chat with you.

James – Ah, those were the fuzzy looking ones with the claws? That’s actually the Goth cat Triana who likes to get on the bed at night. She really shouldn’t, but you know how it is.…

Ruschelle – Unfortunately, I do. I share my bed with 3 dogs….and a husband. I don’t know which is worse. But let’s get right into the thick of it. Speaking of stalking, not that I’ve ever done so…Have you ever stalked anyone to create a great story? 

James – Not for fiction, but at one time I was city editor on a regional magazine, which involved interviewing local businessmen and politicians. This, sometimes, pretty much came to the same thing.

Ruschelle – So you have stalked for a story. Nice. You pen horror, science fiction and romance. Do you have any particular story that melds all those genres?  If not, you should!

James – Yes, as a matter of fact. Tombs: A Chronicle of Latter-Day Times of Earth, just out this summer from Elder Signs Press, is a far future set novel-in-stories of (quoting from the back cover) “love and loss, death and resurrection… a beautifully written examination of the human condition of life, love, and death, through the prism of a dystopian apocalypse.” Beauty of writing, of course, will be in the eye of the reader–or at least the blurb writer–but love does play an important part throughout much of Tombs, as does horror as well, often paired hand in hand together.

 

Ruschelle – You are a very productive blogger. I’m envious! Other than promoting your own creations, which is something we all must do when we blog, what inspires your blog topics?

James – Usually just things that interest me. Promotion, to be sure, should be the biggest part, but if I see a film that I like I’ll often share that with an informal review, or if on the internet I run across an interesting article that might interest my readers as well, or maybe a list of books or films on a relevant topic, I’ll share that too with a link to the source. For instance, on the science fiction side I had several pieces on the demise of the Cassini space probe, by plunging into Saturn’s atmosphere, and even more recently, on October 4, two links to articles on the launch 60 years ago of the first artificial Earth satellite, Sputnik 1. Also (though this is promotion as well) I’ll occasionally post what I call “lagniappes,” free samples through a link or, if short, a direct quote of stories or poems I’ve written.

Ruschelle – Your book, The Tears of Isis, was nominated for a Stoker award for ‘Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection.’ That is an awesome accolade for a horror writer. What was the inspiration for The Tears of Isis?

James – I was actually invited to submit a collection by Max Booth III for his then newly-established Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing.  We’d worked together before, on an anthology he’d edited for another publisher, so he knew something of me and my work and offered me an almost completely free hand as long as it came in over a minimum number of words–so in a sense that was the inspiration, simply that I could in effect be editor as well as the author. Most stories would be previously published and, listing possibilities out, I came up with a theme, loosely, of art and death. That is, that the very act of creating beauty through art (including, therefore, even writing a story) transforms its subject into an object, and so the book opens with a poem, “La Méduse,” and ends with the title story about a sculptress who, like Medusa, re-creates her models in metal or stone–thus conferring on them immortality of a sort, but, at least in the case of the myth, killing them in the act.

Ruschelle – You’re a poet…and you know it. Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. You often do spoken poetry readings. On your blog, which I did NOT stalk, you mention a poem you wrote and delivered called Land of Milk and Honey. Please tell me it’s about someone getting eaten because they were doused in milk and honey. 

James – Well, it does involve the release of bears (also cats).

Ruschelle – The world needs more poems of being eaten by bears and cats. IMO. You’re a semi-professional musician. What type of music and instruments do you play?  Give us a taste. Please!

James – Unfortunately I don’t have the resources to create and attach a musical sample (you’ll note the first-ever post on my blog is titled “The Caveman of Computing”), but I play early music, much of it dance music from the Renaissance period or thereabouts, and lead and play tenor in a recorder consort.

Ruschelle – You are also a Science Fiction man. Your blog and your writing delves into the universe and beyond. You mentioned in your blog that you were lucky enough to take a bus to the path of totality for the solar eclipse. Will that experience show up somewhere in one of your stories?

James – That’s an interesting thought, but probably not–at least not directly. Seeing the eclipse was more of a thing I wanted to do because it was possible. However, that doesn’t rule out a possible future use, though more likely having to do with interactions between people who were there or other ancillary events (the reaction of animals, e.g.) than being about the eclipse itself.  Still…who knows?

Ruschelle – Captain Kirk or Jean Luc Picard? I purposely did not choose Jonathan Archer because…well…Bakula.

James – Jean Luc Picard, because he acts more like I think a real commander would. Also, I am myself a bit of a Francophile, as witnessed perhaps by one or two references to French having survived as a formal diplomatic language in Tombs: A Chronicle of Latter-Day Times of Earth, as well as a series of flash stories I’m currently working on about les filles à les caissettes–the “casket girls” who according to New Orleanian legend brought vampirism from France to the New World.

Ruschelle- Who knew vampires were from France? Just like the Coneheads!  You recently had your stories published in (two) body part anthologies; Zippered Flesh 3 published by Smart Rhino and The Body Horror Anthology by Gehenna & Hinnom Books. Mutilation or bizarre transformations can be frightening and deliciously gory. What is it about the human body that can make us squirm? 

James- It is an interesting coincidence that these two similar books have come out so close together (though I should add the one by me in Zippered Flesh 3 is actually more science fiction than horror). What makes me squirm though is imagining these things happening to my own body, a sort of sympathetic cringe factor.

Ruschelle- Is there a body part you find truly scary? Like, for instance the spleen? How about the toe smack up against the pinky toe? I hear that little bugger is nasty.

James- As a serious answer, the brain, externally as the progenitor of human evil, but also internally in the fear of losing one’s own mind. But also, what interesting things might happen if a body’s glands malfunction, the pituitary gland, for instance, that regulates growth, one failure of which can cause acromegaly?

Ruschelle – I agree. The brain can be a very scary organ. Look at serial killers. The way their brains operate is quite chilling. Your new book, Tombs: A Chronicle of Latter-Day Times of Earth, released in June is a Novel-in-Stories. This is a phrase I’d not heard before. Could you explain it?

James –  A novel-in-stories, sometimes called a “mosaic novel,” is one that is composed of a series of stories, often complete in themselves, but arranged in such a way that, combined, they add up to a tale of much greater importance. One example would Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, the parts of which–stories and linking vignettes–become a “history” of the colonization of a world, while others outside the sf/horror genres include Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club or John Dos Passos’s U.S.A. trilogy. In similar fashion, Tombs tells of individuals’ lives and loves but as experienced by the last generations of people on Earth, and so becoming a narrative of the nearing destruction of that planet.

 

Ruschelle – That sounds amazing. But I’ve also read that a few of your stories in Tombs are a bit…how do we say it…okay, there’s no way to sugar coat it, so here it goes…saucy.  Oh behave!  Do you find is easier to write about human sexuality or the blood and guts of horror?

READERS!  Here’s a link to his book Tombs. If you want to skip to the juicy stuff, feast your lovelorn eyes on The Beautiful Corpse and The Lover of Dead Flesh. OOOOOH MAMA

https://www.amazon.com/Tombs-Chronicle-Latter-Day-Times-Earth/dp/1934501743/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1480618250&sr=1-1&keywords=tombs+a+chronicle+of+latter-day

James – Tombs: A Chronicle of Latter-Day Times of Earth is certainly aimed at grownups, not children, and these two stories can stand as examples. Be warned, however, that some in Tombs may be a bit grotesque, on occasion involving, shall we say, the “living impaired.” I recommend reading some of the reviews on the Amazon site as well, possibly also giving a warning, but also that it’s not *all* about love. But to the question, when I was just starting out I’d say that love was probably the more embarrassing subject, until I purposely wrote some stories well outside my comfort level. One at least was published too so they weren’t that bad (though it took a while to find the right place), but the point is that then, having crossed a line, less frenetic expressions of love were no longer a problem. (I also may note that one Tombs tale, “Sargasso,” actually won an honorable mention in Circlet Press’s Best Fantastic Erotica in 2007–but it’s also about a pirate and a pleasure woman, so what can one say?)

Ruschelle – Honorable mention for Best Fantastic Erotica is definitely something to get all hot and bothered over. If you know what I mean, heh heh…. ah never mind. –You are a short story writer. Which is near and dear to my heart. There’s a real art to writing, short, solid, detailed works with a beginning, middle and end without all of the flowery language and “fluff,” for lack of better word, that novelist build their stories upon. What is your take on the novel vs. short story?

James –  Let me start my answer with a quote from Edgar Allan Poe from his essay, “The Poetic Principle,” that “a poem deserves its title only inasmuch as it excites, by elevating the soul.” Hence a true poem must necessarily have a certain brevity. “That degree of excitement which would entitle a poem to be so called at all, cannot be sustained throughout a composition of any great length. After the lapse of half an hour, at the very utmost, it flags–fails–a revulsion ensues–and then the poem is, in effect, and in fact, no longer such.” There are such things as epics, of course, but to Poe, despite the need for unity for a work as a whole, such a work in practice becomes a series of shorter poems. I think I agree with what Poe is getting at–that at best the “good bits” will be interspersed with duller parts in a reader’s perception, and judging from Poe’s own works of fiction, I think he means for this to apply to prose as well. So as to my own work, yes, at least as a writer I prefer short stories to novels. Especially in terms of horror, which I see in part as a study of character under unnatural stress, and while I love diversions and atmosphere and descriptions and explanations to help as intellectual support, I think there is an emotional center which only can be sustained for so long.
 

Ruschelle – Do you feel pressure from your readers or anyone else in the writing industry to write a novel?

James – A little, perhaps, but in any event Tombs can be looked at in a way as my answer. But this also brings up the question, again, of what is–or more to the point, why write–a novel-in-stories? As noted above, the idea is there’s a larger story, in this case that of the world itself, but the approach to it is oblique, as if through, say, a series of snapshots in a photo album from which the reader might assemble a more complete picture in his or her own head. An assemblage, then, in the case of Tombs of corpse-trains that ply bridges crossing a great river, bearing a city’s dead, braving attacks from flesh-eating ghouls. Of rat catchers, 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 who we just met, above. A city consumed by a huge conflagration, a woman frozen for thousands of years. A flower that eats memories… And in the center of all, the great necropolis, the Tombs.

The thing is, this is one way around Poe’s dictum in my previous answer, of being able to sustain a core idea–intellectual, aesthetic, emotional–only for so long, yet to couch the totality of these ideas into a work more epic in scope.

Ruschelle – You have inspirational kitties.  I love inspirational kitties. Tell us a little bit about each of them and how they fit into your writing and or writing process.

James – Triana, the “Goth Cat” (she “dresses” mostly in black) is the resident feline, rescued from the local animal shelter earlier this year when her predecessor, Wednesday, died of kidney failure. Triana in particular will often lie down next to the computer while I’m working, conveniently placed for occasional petting, but also careful to keep off the keyboard, and both she and Wednesday have been joys to play with when it’s time to wind down from writing. Both, incidentally, have their own web pages, reachable under “Pages” on my blog.

 

Ruschelle –  You have an impressive catalog of books you’ve penned under your belt. Do you have a book that is your favorite? That just stands out from other work you’ve done?

James – I wonder if it will always be the next to last one I’ve written. I really don’t have all that many books, but I think each is better than the one before–except for the one I will have most recently written, because it’s still too close to me in my mind for me to be an objective judge. If that makes any sense. So at least at the moment it’s The Tears of Isis, my 2013 collection, but ready to be supplanted (as the mood may strike me) by my latest, but very different, Tombs: A Chronicle of Latter-Day Times of Earth.

Ruschelle – Is there something that you haven’t written about that your loins are aching to put pen to paper?  And if your loins are dexterous enough to do so, I really hope you make a video of it for You Tube.

James – As a partial a contradiction of my last answer, I’ve been kicking around an idea for a (mostly) poetry book on vampire etiquette, aimed to the newly “turned” –thus not as important in any real sense as either The Tears of Isis or Tombs, but perhaps more fun. I say mostly poetry because I might add some prose as well, including some of the casket girl stories I mentioned briefly above, intended as practical examples of “appropriate” vampire behavior. This is sort of a back-burner thing right now though.

Ruschelle –  So no video?  Damn. Well, is there anything you want to let our esteemed readers know about you that we haven’t covered? Like your fetish for sleeping in silk pajamas with spaceships on them or the time you wrestled the evil Gorn Greco-Roman style in a vat of elderberry jelly?

James – Well, I’m more a wrestler of words than Gorn, but wrestling matches of any sort are successful only if they have audiences to attend them. So, I’m probably speaking for all writers here, but if you read a book that you enjoy, please spread the word. Tell your friends, tell it on Twitter and Facebook, etc., but also consider posting reviews, especially on sites like Goodreads and Amazon. These needn’t be long, just a line or two, though reasons for liking or disliking something are good to include. And they needn’t always be Five Star either–if you see any flaws be honest about it–but the thing is, every review published helps increase interest, and hopefully readership.

Ruschelle – Here’s my sketch of James in his jammies which I did not stalk to get…okay…maybe I did. His jammies are AWESOME.

 

If you would like to find out more about James, or where you can find his work, follow the below links.

 

Blog: http://jamesdorrwriter.wordpress.com

 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/james.dorr.9

 

Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/James-Dorr/e/B004XWCVUS/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1380306038&sr=1-2-ent

 

 

Buy Link for 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=1480618250&sr=1-1&keywords=tombs+a+chronicle+of+latter-day

 

 

James Dorr Bio.

 

James Dorr’s latest book is a novel-in-stories published in June 2017 by Elder Signs Press, Tombs: A Chronicle of Latter-Day Times of Earth. Born in Florida, raised in the New York City area, in college in Boston, and currently living in the Midwest, Dorr is a short story writer and poet specializing in dark fantasy and horror, with forays into mystery and science fiction. 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). He has also been a technical writer, an editor on a regional magazine, a full-time non-fiction freelancer, and a semi-professional musician, and currently harbors a cat named Trana.