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
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.
Buy Link for TOMBS: A CHRONICLE OF LATTER-DAY TIMES OF EARTH
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.