22 February 2011

Author Interview - James Dorr

Today, I'm interviewing fellow Damnation Books author, James Dorr. He was kind enough to accept my invitation to visit with us today.

  • First a bit about yourself.  Did you always want to be a writer or when and why did you begin writing? 
When I was a kid I actually wanted to be a scientist, to learn new things about the world around me.  As it happens though, when I grew up I eventually became a technical writer, working for an academic computing center.  In the midst of this I had been a cartoonist and illustrator on my college humor magazine, occasionally writing articles too, and in graduate school I started to write a science/humor column for a weekly "unofficial" newspaper, moving from there to editing another paper, this time a literary and arts weekly.  And so it grew.
  • Was it then that you first began to consider yourself a writer?
 Yes and no.  The arts paper spun off into the technical writing gig, my first post-college "real" job, which included editing a monthly house magazine.  Nevertheless I tended to see myself more as an editor (the job also entailed, for instance, putting together manuals and other instructional material) who also wrote when the task required it, rather than a writer per se.  One who cajoled others into writing, then whipped the results into proper English.  After that I worked briefly for a start-up computer software company (which immediately fell prey to "bad" economic times), then freelanced a little (business and consumer topics, including real estate -- good for world building?) and realized at that point that what I was doing was really writing.  Also I was able to use a more flexible schedule to work on writing fiction and poetry, something I'd always wanted to do but that had eluded me, and then, with another turn of the economy, get a regular non-writing job on a part time basis, drop the nonfiction, and concentrate on -- and start to sell -- my more imaginative creative output. 
  • What books or writers have influenced you -- and do you have a particular writing "style"? 
Going back to childhood I was an avid reader of science fiction, yet one book that influenced me perhaps even more was the Modern Library Giant edition of The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe.  Add to that the works of Ray Bradbury who perhaps contributed to, when I choose to use it, a relatively lush writing style.  Then, more broadly, add The Complete Greek Tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides which represent the first, and still among the best, literary horror, and, unique to my taste perhaps, various works of Bertolt Brecht which attempt to tie in the epic universality of the ancient works to modern real-world societal horror.  
Stylistically, I attempt to vary my writing according to the needs of the story (or poem) I'm working on, something historically set, for instance -- or something in a completely made up world -- tempting me to a more descriptive, "poetic" style as opposed to a sparer approach I might take to contemporary mystery or horror.  Also, perhaps the influence of Brecht, I'm willing to "distance" readers in some stories, casting them as fables or fairy tales "once upon a time," while in others I may prefer a more immediate, intimate voice, perhaps told in first person. 
  • What book or books are you reading now?
 As it happens, I've returned to Ray Bradbury at the moment with a fairly recent collection, A Pleasure to Burn, which puts together his stories on censorship and societal bounds on imagination as a sort of sourcebook for Fahrenheit 451.  However, like many writers, I read much more nonfiction than fiction, sometimes for immediate research purposes, sometimes just to broaden my knowledge, and right now I'm going through a book by Tom Jokinen called Curtains about training to become an undertaker.  Then finally I've been dipping into a just received copy of Illuminated Poems by Allen Ginsberg.
  • Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
This one's easy:  generating ideas.  Or more properly speaking, ideas that can be translated into a story or a poem.  Sometimes it does take more than one idea to come together and, possibly through the tension between them, suggest what may become a story, or sometimes a single idea will do, but put into a context, perhaps that of a themed anthology or just something that happened during the day.  Once that's done, though, the real work begins, that of actually writing it.
  • Along those lines, do you have a particular work schedule when you're writing? 
Some writers do, and more power to them.  In my case I've never been able to set aside say one or two hours a day and say "that's my writing time."  I'm a slow starter, I procrastinate, and I need to feel I have an open-ended time of at least four hours (preferably more) so that I can get properly started and continue on, if I wish, until I'm exhausted.  That's one reason, I think, that I started to get into fiction seriously when I was freelancing -- nonfiction is another matter, that I can schedule -- in that I could take all night on something if I wanted.  When I had regular work hours again though, I made a point of doing most of my first drafts on weekends, then using more limited weekday time for rewriting as well as the business-side tasks like submitting work and record keeping.   
  • What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I enjoy playing music.  I lead and play tenor in a Renaissance recorder consort that performs at local Society for Creative Anachronism functions, and perhaps for me that's a way to be creative but by working with something that someone else wrote.  I also listen to music -- I like jazz, and sometimes I've used jazz themes in my writing -- and watch movies on DVD or VHS (I'm building a collection of obscure classic horror), again to enjoy somebody else's imaginative work.  And for unwinding from my own work sessions I like to take walks, both for the fresh air and to get reacquainted a little with nature. 
  • Are there any current projects you'd like to tell us about? 

Yes, I'm expecting to have a full-size poetry book, Vamps (A Retrospective), out later this year from Sam's Dot Publishing.  It will be illustrated by Marge Simon and will, as the title suggests, consist of mostly vampire and vampire-related poetry and art, to be published in early April 2011 if all stays on schedule.  Also, but farther in the future, I've been negotiating with a publisher for a novel composed of stand-alone components -- somewhat like Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles or Christopher Barzak's The Love We Share Without Knowing -- that add up to a larger story set in the "Tombs," a vast necropolis and its environs on a far-future, dying Earth.  As a sort of preview, several Tombs stories have already appeared independently in various places, including one in my collection Strange Mistresses and three in Darker Loves (the latter of which right now, however, won’t be in the novel but may become part of a follow-up volume).

For more details on these and other projects as they come up, as well as occasional "lagniappes" -- free sample stories and poems just for the enjoyment -- readers are invited to check out my doings at http://jamesdorrwriter.wordpress.com 
Comments and suggestions are always welcome. 

James, thank you for stopping by and for answering my questions. Good luck with your books.


James Dorr is a short story writer and poet working primarily in dark fantasy and horror with occasional forays into mystery and science fiction.  He has two collections, Strange Mistresses:  Tales of Wonder and Romance and Darker Loves:  Tales of Mystery and Regret, from Dark Regions Press as well as a now out-of-print poetry chapbook, Towers of Darkness, originally in Nocturnal Publications' "Night Visions" series.  Dorr also has a novella, The Garden, available in electronic and print chapbook form from Damnation Books, along with three to four hundred appearances in magazines and anthologies in the US, Canada, Britain, France, Australia, and Brazil ranging from Aboriginal Science Fiction and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine to Xenophilia and The Yellow Bat Review.