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Interview with author James Dorr

How would you describe your writing style?

Mixed-genre perhaps, or a potpourri? That is, my most recent book Tombs: A Chronicle of Latter-Day Times of Earth is a mosaic novel, or novel-in-stories, with elements of horror, dystopic science fiction, science fantasy, and dark romance blended in together, and in a style I think of as baroque – tending toward lush and literary. However, I’ve also had stories in mystery magazines that are more bare-boned, in some cases perhaps even noir. The idea for me is that the type of story will ideally suggest the style, with The Tears of Isis (to drop another title) as a possible example, a collection that begins with a poem, then a stream-of-consciousness story, and so on, ending with its title story in a fairly no-nonsense, straightforward style.

What draws you to dark fiction?

One of my primary interests is character. In my opinion the best fiction, in any genre, is that which makes its reader think, to think about what it means to be human whether in terms of relating to the world, or building new worlds as in science fiction, or intimately with just one other person, or even within the folds of one’s own mind. This last is where I think horror and dark fiction excel, in putting a character under the greatest personal stress and examining how that character then copes, or even just survives. The vampire has bitten, now what does one do? And does its playing out induce the reader to think how he or she might react as well, perhaps not to a vampire bite as such, but to other, hopefully no longer quite as extreme pressures they might be under in everyday life?

Such an eloquent response, it makes me want to sit down and read some James Dorr tonight. Please tell us about your latest release, Tombs: A Chronicle of Latter-Day Times of Earth.

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 leads us through the 16 stand-alone chapters, 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?

Looking through your Amazon page, I noticed how much you’ve been getting your fiction out there in different anthologies and magazines. Are there any of these publications that stand out in your mind as a particularly memorable experience, whether it was a lot of fun to participate in, or maybe for charity, or a badass theme?

So many things, and where to start? One story that comes to mind is called “The Wellmaster’s Daughter,” one originally written for a horror anthology that turned it down, then was rejected by a succession of other horror markets until I switched gears and sent it to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine where it was accepted – the first that I sold there and, at the time, one of my first wholly professional fiction sales. (It is in addition written in a mannered style, which was taking a chance for me back then, but in a sense prefigured the style later used in Tombs.) Then there’s “Moons of Saturn,” a science fantasy story that’s almost a reverie based on an astronomy book I had on the solar system, which went to Algis Budrys’s magazine Tomorrow, another early (and in my opinion, validating) professional sale. For another, “Avoid Seeing a Mouse,” which went to Max Booth III’s alternate history anthology for Dark Moon Books, Zombie Jesus and Other True Stories, and played a role in bringing about The Tears of Isis. And for a fourth, perhaps “King Rat,” written in part as an allegory on world politics and economics, that first appeared in Gothic.Net and was reprinted in Bleed, a charity anthology for The National Children’s Cancer Society.

James, I also had a story in Bleed. It was a terrific book! But now I want to know more about your 2013 collection, The Tears of Isis. It has received some great reviews. How long did it take you to put this collection together, and what do you think has made it so successful?

In that The Tears of Isis was assembled from stories already written, it didn’t take that long at all. Max Booth III had just started Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing and, having recently published me in Zombie Jesus, invited me to submit a collection to his new company. For the contents, I was to have a completely free hand as long as it came in within a certain word range, choosing and arranging the stories myself. As it happened, I’d been playing around in my head with a couple of possible collection ideas, so I emailed back suggesting I get back by about Halloween, which would have been two or three weeks, with a definite yes if I thought it feasible, then get a manuscript together by about Thanksgiving – this would be aiming for a publication date for the next spring or summer, in time to be out before that year’s World Horror Convention.

So the dates worked out. Since the stories were already written (which isn’t quite true, I did write one short one to be combined with an existing poem, while one other story was as yet unpublished) it was more a case of compilation and one thing I learned, the process was both a challenge and fun. By analogy to the sculptors in the book’s opening poem and closing story, in choosing materials from an unformed “basket” of stories from which to form a loose theme (in this case of beauty and death; of the artist conferring on his or her model both immortality, and through its objectification, a kind of destruction) and then fitting and arranging them into it, I had the thrill of watching as until-then-unrelated works formed of themselves a cohesive and artistically satisfying whole.

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Wow! That sounds like a unique collection of stories, for sure. Do you keep a notebook or file of potential story ideas? If so, how many do you think you actually end up using?

The short answer is “no.” My relationship with the muse is not a sunny one; I have to wrestle her for ideas and, if I get one, I usually try to develop it at least a little bit right away. At that point I’m likely to make some notes on a piece of scrap paper or the back of an envelope, but I’ll still try to get to work with it on the computer within a few days. (One exception: in the case of a series of stories – I have one ongoing, for instance, about the original vampires who allegedly came to New Orleans – or a created world, as in Tombs, I may keep a folder with common information, such as maps or naming conventions.)

You write poetry as well. Who are some of your favorite poets, from any era?

To go to possible extremes, I consider Edgar Allan Poe and Allen Ginsberg to be major influences. To them I might add Byron, Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, Chaucer, the Greek tragedians Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides (these in translation, of course), any number on up to Kipling (who, after all, even wrote a poem called “The Vampire”).

Where can we find your poetry?

I’ve been lax in marketing poetry lately, though I will have a short poem in the current (Fall 2017) Star*Line. I do have a book of poetry, Vamps (A Retrospective), available from White Cat Publications as well as (although in print only, I think) Alban Lake. Also my early collections Strange Mistresses: Tales of Wonder and Romance and Darker Loves: Tales of Mystery and Regret both contain poetry sections. (These latter are technically out of print but can still be found on Amazon, et al.)

Is there any genre you’d like to attempt but haven’t tried yet?

I consider enough of my work to be cross-genre that it’s hard to answer. I’ve never written straight romance or straight westerns (or western romance, for that matter), but if I tried it’s likely that horror elements would sneak in. (Also erotica might be fun, but again. . . .)

What do you do for fun when you’re not writing?

I like watching movies, particularly science fiction and horror, but comedies too and some documentaries. I also lead and play tenor in a Renaissance recorder consort.

Where can we find you on the web?

I recommend that people follow me on my blog at http://jamesdorrwriter.wordpress.com to keep up on my latest doings. Feel free to comment too if the spirit moves. Also I’m on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/james.dorr.9 and my Amazon Author page (lots of book titles, but most of them are anthologies where I might just have a story or poem) is at http://www.amazon.com/James-Dorr/e/B004XWCVUS/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1380306038&sr=1-2-ent

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It had been a time when the world needed legends, those years so long past now. Because there was something else legends could offer, or so the Poet believed. He didn’t know quite what — ghouls were not skilled at imagination. Their world was a concrete one, one of stone and flesh. Struggle and survival. Survival predicated on others’ deaths. Far in the future, when our sun grows ever larger, scorching the earth. When seas become poisonous and men are needed to guard the crypts from the scavengers of the dead. A ghoul-poet will share stories of love and loss, death and resurrection. Tombs is a beautifully written examination of the human condition of life, love, and death, through the prism of a dystopian apocalypse.

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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 Cambridge Massachusetts, 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. 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). 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 Triana.

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Interview with Kenneth W. Cain

Hello again, my wicked readers. The kiddos have gone back to school, so I’m going Back To Scares. 

I was a ghost

who never did post.

I’ll soon be the host

who thrills you most.

Haha. Okay, that was an awful poem. Suffice it to say, I am breathing some much-needed life (and DEATH) back into this blog.

On today’s agenda, an amazing interview with author Kenneth W. Cain:

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What draws you to dark fiction?

I was raised to be a fearful man, which has hindered my enjoyment of life. Somewhere in my teens I started rebelling against that fear, embracing my fears, rationalizing them. It was and still is very much a process. But, I suppose that confrontation sparked my interest in the unknown, as I’ve always had this need to expose the darkness. To shine a light on it in hopes of uncovering the unknown. There’s so much we don’t understand about ourselves, about this world, the deep ocean and darkest forest, space and beyond. It can make one feel very small and insignificant. That’s my draw.

 

Embers, your latest book of short stories, has received some awesome reviews. How many stories are included in the pages of Embers, and what inspired you to put this collection together?

There are 25 stories in Embers. That means it’s chock full of fun, and that’s always what I aim for, to make sure there’s something for everyone. And that’s part of the joy, seeing what stories jive with this person and that, what the takeaway is. For me, it’s a journey, all of this writing business. It’s the same with a collection. It’s all about laying bricks to a path that leads through a horrific garden. Each step has a precise space, that hopefully allows the reader to journey along with me. And if I’m successful in creating this walkway, maybe they see through my eyes, if only for a brief moment. That’s the fun of it.

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You have written both short and long fiction. Does your process differ for each?

Well, I stumbled into this business in 2010 with These Trespasses, which actually began as a blog series believe it or not. At that point, I was far from finding any sort of stride, and I think the story suffered because of it. Same with some of my other earlier work, as I’d been away from this all too long, and had not progressed at all, and needed to rediscover myself. So I suppose it was originally more of a hobby for me then, sorry to say.

At some point more recently, I started falling in love with the written word again. Those who have spoken with me in person or on the phone know of my desire to learn more of the craft. It’s something that excites me, and I think that’s starting to bleed into my writing the correct way (pun intended). So there’s a process to my writing now, that more or less is me getting the story out, no matter how big or small, and refining it over edits for layering and tension and emotion, characterization and all.

To answer your question more specifically, it’s more about the story and less about the process. My characters lead me through, and only they know when their story has been fully told. I give them that control, give into the fiction. That’s actually helped me to a large degree I think, as I’m seeing through their eyes with more clarity these days.

 

Which part of writing is your favorite: outlining a plot, developing characters, crafting a setting, or writing dialogue?

Well, I’m a panser, so it wouldn’t be outlining. I’ve tried time and time again with no success. As for the rest, I suppose it’s more of a combination of those three. Dialogue is part of the characterization. Also, setting is a bit like a character in that we need to breathe life into it. There’s a look and feel to everything, a sound or sounds, and smells. It’s about hitting the senses to best create a painting of a real life scene with moving parts and feeling. When you hit it, with all the right beats, you know it, and that creation is a beautiful thing.

 

Which part/s do you struggle with?

Well that’s a tough question. I’d say I struggle with it all because I’m never really satisfied. At times, I’ll revisit something I’ve written in the past and rue over my mistakes. And yes, there’s always mistakes. Not necessarily in the sense of grammar or misspelling, but in layering and character flaws and dialogue, voice. Such has been the case as I dive back into my trilogy and revisit my earliest efforts. But that’s also been a rewarding process. This business is all about growth for me, and that in itself is an endless study.

 

Are you involved with any creative projects, aside from writing?

Creative is such a broad word, but yes. Many in fact. I perform much of the formatting and graphic design tasks for The Lovecraft eZine and others upon request. I’ve also been editing quite a bit lately, too. Occasionally, I’ll paint and/or draw. Art was one of my first passions. My reef tanks are also creative in a way, I suppose.

 

If you could sit and talk with any three authors, living or deceased, who would they be?

That’s a tough question, as there are so many whose minds I’d like to pick. Currently, though, I guess that would be Joe Hill, Shirley Jackson, and Richard Matheson.

 

What are your hobbies and interests when you’re not writing?

Well, my family is my biggest interest. I enjoy spending time with them, whatever we’re doing. But there’s also my reef tank and growing corals. Painting, riding my bike, going to the gym, baseball (I coach my son’s teams), the beach. Actually, a good friend enlightened me to see the beauty in anything long ago, and ever since, I tend to take interest in most anything, which isn’t always easy as you could imagine.

 

Are there any genres you’d like to attempt but haven’t tried yet?

I don’t read a lot of science fiction. I used to, so I’m not opposed to it, but I’m not always one who gravitates to what some classify as “hard” science fiction. Again, it’s not that I don’t like it, just that I don’t always prefer it. Maybe (occasionally) something gets lost in all that overly technical jargon and pulls me out of the story, I’m not certain. Whatever the case, I’d like to revisit that shelf (so to say).

 

What can we expect to see from Kenneth W. Cain in the near future?

Right now, I’m rewriting my trilogy. I’m not certain what I’ll do with it afterword, whether I’ll try to find another publisher or self publish the series, but I do need to put in the work. I’m also working on a young adult horror novella and two new novels among other shorter projects, and possibly a new collection. Editing wise, I’m doing some work for a small press right now, but soon (October 1st) I’ll be editing volume 5 of Crystal Lake Publishing’s Tales From The Lake series. That’s a project I’m really looking forward to.

 

Where can we find you on the web?

Most of my links to connect can be found here: https://kennethwcain.com/contact

 

 

Wow, what a fantastic interview. Thank you so much, Kenneth W. Cain!!!

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