Welcome to the seventy-eighth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with multi-genre writer James Dorr. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate the author further. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here.
Morgen: Hello James. Please tell us how you came to be a writer.
James: I had originally thought of my talents as lying more in the visual arts and, in college, became art editor of the humor magazine as well as doing occasional illustration for the literary and science / engineering magazines. However I also branched out into writing occasional articles, and, once in graduate school, I ended up doing a weekly science / humor column which led to an editorial post for an alternative newspaper, and then an arts weekly. That led to a paying gig as a technical writer and editor, and later freelancing real estate, business, and consumer articles. The freedom of that last phase was great, but the hand-to-mouth aspects were less so, so I traded it in for a relatively low-level non-writing job at an optometry clinic, and used my free time to get back to the more creative — and fun — side of writing.
Morgen: My goodness, what a mixture (so lots to write about :)). What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
James: I’m a little bit of a switch hitter already, but I work mainly in short dark fantasy / horror fiction and poetry with some science fiction and mystery thrown in. Some of my best magazine sales have been to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, for instance, and I was even a finalist for an Anthony award one year for a story I had in New Mystery. As for science fiction, I started off as a science fiction fan so that was a natural, but I’d also discovered Edgar Allan Poe and the shadier sides of Ray Bradbury and, as time went on, my own artistic view became darker. As for other genres, I might add that I do sometimes play with romantic elements (which isn’t so far from horror sometimes, by one way of thinking).
Morgen: Romantic horror, I like that idea. 🙂 What have you had published to-date? How much of the marketing do you do?
James: I’ve published between three and four hundred individual pieces, short stories or poems, at this point, I think. Possibly more if I count reprints, but after a point, I stopped really counting. These are to all sorts of markets, of course, from the fully professional to the truly dreadful, although these do not count non-fiction work outside of my “creative” genres or earlier fan fiction / poetry done “4 the luv” only. In addition I have one out-of-print poetry chapbook, Towers of Darkness, published as part of Nocturnal Publications’ “Night Visions” series in the early 1990s plus two current collections from Dark Regions Press, Strange Mistresses: Tales of Wonder and Romance and Darker Loves: Tales of Mystery and Regret, which are still very much available. Also, perhaps even as you are reading this, I have a full size book of poetry, Vamps (A Retrospective), coming from Sam’s Dot Publications, of which I will have more to say in a bit. As for the self-marketing aspect of it, it varies according to the level of publication but does appear to be more and more the coming thing, so I’m trying to learn.
Morgen: Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
James: Shortlisted plenty. I mentioned being an Anthony finalist above, the mystery equivalent of science fiction’s Hugo, for a story called “Paperboxing Art” which is also in my Darker Loves collection. I’ve also been a Darrell finalist (stories set in the U.S. Mid-South), a Pushcart Prize nominee, and a multi-time Rhysling poetry finalist / 2nd place / 3rd place / honorable mention, as well as having a number of honorable mentions in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, and one in Circlet Press’s Best Fantastic Erotica. 😀 And there are three that went all the way: a story, “Flying,” won the Best of the Web 1998 competition, “La Méduse” (also reprinted in Strange Mistresses) came in first in the World Horror Convention 2002 Poetry Competition, and “The Edge of the World” won the Balticon 40 Poetry Contest. As for helping with a writer’s success, you may have noticed you haven’t heard of many of these. Still some carry prestige among the groups they represent and, with some circumspection, any could make good resume items, not to mention that any award is a boost to morale. Also the prize for the Balticon contest included money.
Morgen: My goodness… that puts my submission history to shame. Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
James: The two Dark Regions collections are in trade paperback only (well, also a deluxe hardbound edition of Darker Loves), but I do have one stand-alone long story, The Garden, out in both paper chapbook and electronic form from Damnation Books. I have, of course, had many stories and poems published in electronic magazines and anthologies, and, as I write this, I’m in process of publishing another long story, Vanitas (originally published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine), in a stand-alone electronic edition by Untreed Reads, with possibly more coming in the future. This too, I think, is a coming thing and, especially in terms of stories that have been published before in print but a number of years back, it’s something I may be pursuing more.
Morgen: With so much under your belt, can you remember what your first acceptance was and is being accepted still a thrill?
James: In a sense it’s almost impossible to say what my first acceptance was, but I do count a sword and sorcery story, “The Fourth Attempt,” that appeared in the long-defunct Fright Depot as my first sf / fantasy / horror / mystery genre sale that actually paid me real live money. I received an acceptance by mail accompanied with a one dollar bill which I made a frame for and put on the wall. (It’s still there, I think, but buried under untold other bulletin board items.) What I count as my first professional genre sale, “The Wellmaster’s Daughter” (also in Strange Mistresses), was to Alfred Hitchcock’s and was paid by check which I Xeroxed and framed and put on the wall, while I cashed the original. Any acceptance is still a thrill, though, and I make a point of rewarding myself with a cappuccino whenever one comes, although I’ll confess, especially in these recession-bound days of fading opportunities and lowering paychecks, that I’ve been pushing reprints harder and, since I don’t really want a strong coffee all that often, by now I owe myself several reward drinks.
Morgen: Another author I’ve interviewed said they’d framed their dollar bill payment. Mine was £10 cheque and was pretty so that’s gone in a display book. The second was an equally attractive book token but I colour copied it and put it towards the (then) latest copy of the Writers & Artists Yearbook. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
James: The other side of the writing game coin. Of course I’ve had — and still have — many, many rejections. They don’t feel nice, but it passes. With some pieces I’ll have already decided on second-choice markets, so those go right out again. Others I may think about for a while, being especially alert to any new anthologies they might seem fitted for, at the same time seeing what other stories I might send to the markets that just rejected me. (To be sure, I’ll cross some off my list when I’ve been turned down enough that it doesn’t seem worth while chasing them further — sometimes a given editor’s tastes and mine will just differ — but I’m also constantly on the lookout for new, untried markets to send to.)
Morgen: I think what you say is the best thing to do with rejections. Don’t dwell and just resubmit. I learned of http://duotrope.com recently and it’s great for finding markets (I’d also recommend http://jbwb.co.uk and then http://womagwriter.blogspot.com for women’s magazine submission info). Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
James: My “dirty little secret” is that I’m really quite undisciplined so, no, I don’t really write every day. That doesn’t mean I’m not plotting things in my head, or taking notes, or writing snippets of stories or poems on the backs of envelopes — shopping lists too. I even have a pad and pen on my night table for jotting down things that I might think of just before going to sleep. For actual writing though, rear on the chair and hands on the keyboard, I like to have a space of at least several hours ahead of me so I’ll have time to procrastinate, make false starts, etc. As for the most I’ve written in a day, I’ve often completed two and three-thousand word short stories in a sitting, but the record is probably about 7000 words. I should mention also that not everything a writer does is actual writing so, on days when I might not be working on writing itself, I might be reading proof sheets, or dealing with editors, or submitting or planning places to submit work to, or even doing my taxes.
Morgen: Wow, if you’re not disciplined I wonder what your output would be if you were. 🙂 What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
James: Is that a fancy name for procrastination? I do that, certainly. But I don’t know really because I’m not that sure what writer’s block is — that is, I do get tired at times, for instance, even feel temporarily burned out, but that could apply to any profession. I do have trouble getting ideas too, at any time, which is why some of my work may seem a little quirky now and then, usually a symptom of not having a good idea at the time, so I had to make do with one a better writer than I might have chosen not to touch. But even then I find picking up something else to do for a while can help, in my case often playing music (I lead and play tenor in a Renaissance recorder consort) or going for a walk.
Morgen: Renaissance… mmm… I’ve heard agents saying they want historical fiction. 🙂 Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
James: Both. I think as time has gone on, I’ve moved more and more toward getting an idea and running with it, but that’s because I’ve been developing skills for doing more of the work in my head and not having to think as consciously about what will come next. Also, though, I’ve been tending more toward short shorts and flash fiction, which aren’t going to take as much formal plotting.
Morgen: They aren’t, isn’t that great? 🙂 If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
James: That people are willing to read and even pay me for what I write? But then I did a lot of grunt writing in my editing and freelancing days where it was easy to see that that kind of output served a purpose. Someone has to explain the new computer program or how the latest mortgage works. Or even whether the latest movie is any good. So is it so strange then that someone might want to read my latest fiction (although, unfortunately, not usually be willing to pay nearly as much to do so)?
Morgen: I like that; ‘grunt writing’. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
James: Persevere. Persevere. Persevere. Also stretch yourself and, even if what you come up with sucks (can I use that word?), think of it as a learning process. The more you write, the better it should get. Also read, and not just in your genre, or just current writers. I count as my influences Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides (that is, the Ancient Greek tragedies — which are great for stealing from for horror writers!) along with Edgar Allan Poe, Allen Ginsberg and Bertolt Brecht along with Ray Bradbury, and I won’t even talk about Chaucer and Shakespeare. Also read nonfiction, biographies, travel books, books for research both for current projects and simply to file in your mind for future projects (speaking of that first Alfred Hitchcock’s sale, which came out of leftover research about deserts that I’d had to do for a different story), or just serendipity (also learn big words — no, I really mean it, words are your tools and you should learn to love them).
Morgen: Absolutely. A successful writer is one who didn’t give up. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
James: Who can say? Remember that films are written, ultimately, by writers; computer game scenarios are created by writers; even song lyrics are written by writers, whether they themselves realize it or not. So I think there always will be writers, and a need for them in one form or another — in nonfiction, printed newspapers may give way to informed blogs, but that’s still writing, as are the instruction books would-be bloggers need to read to get themselves started. The only thing is — and this is a universal too — except for a few very good, very lucky stars, it doesn’t pay much. Even Shakespeare got his real paychecks as an actor-producer.
Morgen: Another stable profession. 🙂 Are there any new projects or anything else you’d like to mention?
James: While we’ve been discussing primarily fiction, one aspect we haven’t said too much about yet is poetry, so let me first mention that my newest book, Vamps (A Retrospective), has just been listed for July by Sam’s Dot Publishing. This is an 84-page collection of poems about vampires and vampire-associated lore, approximately a third of which consists of previously unpublished material, with illustrations by artist and fellow poet Marge Simon. Then, for a bit farther in the future, I’ve been having discussions with a publisher about a possible novel made up of individual stand-alone segments — 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 huge necropolis and its environs on a far-future, dying Earth (several Tombs stories have been published alone as short fiction already, as a sort of preview, including some in my Strange Mistresses and Darker Loves collections, though not all of these would necessarily be in the novel too). And then for the even farther future, I’ve been kicking around some thoughts about combining elements from both these projects — vampirism entered into an exhausted, dying Tombs-like world, perhaps — along with my Towers of Darkness chapbook that I mentioned before, but whether this would be poetry or prose, or possibly some combination of both, I don’t know yet. Other than that, as I’ve said before I’ve been making an effort to get more of my older work, ten or twenty or more years back, republished as well as continuing to write new stuff — so perhaps another poetry book, say, in the next few years? Or maybe another prose collection, as well of course as continued outings in magazines and books (a new short short, “The Glass Shoe,” just published this month in Pink Narcissus Press’s Rapunzel’s Daughters and Other Tales was mentioned by title in Publishers Weekly), so for information on my latest doings, plus occasional free sample poems or stories and even a movie review or two, please check out my site at http://jamesdorrwriter.wordpress.com and, if the spirit moves, feel free to linger, explore a bit, and comment and / or recommend it to others.
Morgen: Yes, please do. Thank you James. 🙂
Update From James, June 2012: My poetry book ‘Vamps (A Retrospective)’ has since come out from Sam’s Dot Publishing although in August rather than July. It can be ordered from the publisher or by going to my site and clicking its picture in the center column. My reprint long story ‘Vanitas’ is now available from Untreed Reads Publishing (or look for its picture on my site too) listed under “science fiction” although it’s really more steampunk/mystery, as is a shorter Christmas horror story ‘I’m Dreaming Of A…’ that came out in December 2011. (Also for Christmas I had a short vampire story ‘Naughty or Nice’ on ‘Daily Science Fiction’ for December 21 and a special poem posted on ‘Abyss & Apex’ December 25.) And I just received my copy of the signed contract today for a near-future novelette, ‘Peds’, that will also be published as an electronic book by Untreed Reads. That covers the major things, while as for the minor, may I once more invite readers to my blog, http://jamesdorrwriter.wordpress.com, to scroll down and enjoy not just accounts of my doings, but occasional samples (or “lagniappes”) of poems and stories, reviews of movies and DVDs (the most recent, ‘Dracula: Entre L’Amour et la Mort’), occasional mentions of my cat Wednesday, and as always an invitation to comment on anything there that strikes your fancy.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
If you go for the interview, it’s very simple; I send you a questionnaire (I have them for novelists, short story authors, children’s authors, non-fiction authors, and poets). You complete the questions, and I let you know when it’s going to go live. Before it does so, I add in comments as if we’re chatting, and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know.
Alternatively, if you’d like a free Q&A-only interview, I now have http://morgensauthorinterviews.wordpress.com on which I’ve rerun the original interviews posted here then posted new interviews which I then reblog here. These interviews are Q&A only, so I don’t add in my comments but they do get exposure on both sites.
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