Complementing my interviews, today’s Author Spotlight, the three hundred and twenty-ninth, is of multi-genre writer and interviewee James Dorr. If you would like to take part in an author spotlight, take a look at author-spotlights.
James Dorr combines the charm of a gentleman born in the U.S. South with the wiles of a near-New York City upbringing, the canniness of a one-time New England resident, and the guile of an outwardly stolid Midwesterner, or so he says. It is known that he was born in Florida, grew up in New Jersey, went to college in Massachusetts, and currently lives in Indiana where he also harbors a cat named Wednesday. He is a short story writer and poet working mainly in dark fantasy and horror with forays into science fiction and mystery, perhaps with an occasional touch of romance, and claims as influences Edgar Allan Poe, Ray Bradbury, Allen Ginsberg, and Bertolt Brecht. He has previously been a technical writer for an academic computing center, associate editor on a city magazine, assistant flunkey at an optometry clinic, and a semi-professional Renaissance musician.
Dorr’s latest book, The Tears of Isis (Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, 2013), is a collection of seventeen stories and an opening poem which he hopes will give a fair indication of the range of matter that interests him, from the science fiction tropes of the thirteenth story, “Moons of Saturn” (though he would quickly point out that it’s really science fantasy, mixing actual facts about the moons themselves with a sort of dream-journey), to the 1950s Cold-War-informed noir of the second, “Bottles” (though also with its own touch of the fantastic), with fairy tales and vampires and musical instrument making and who knows what else in between. UFOs and insects and candles and caged birds. But then he adds that, rather than just being a random grouping of favorite works — with two exceptions, the stories have all been published before, some as early as the 1990s — The Tears of Isis also attempts to have a unifying theme, that of creation but coupled with destruction as a balancing factor, beginning and ending with the iconic figures of Medusa and Isis, the former a sculptress who “spoke to her hair at times” and the latter, in the title story, one who, seeking inspiration, discovers Isis and in her herself, one who both creates art but also takes from those she deals with some piece of their vitality, their souls. It may not be coincidence, then, that Dorr briefly studied art himself when he was younger, at the Evening Division of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the American Art School in New York City.
Dorr’s previous books include two collections from Dark Regions Press, Strange Mistresses: Tales of Wonder and Romance and Darker Loves: Tales of Mystery and Regret, and a more recent all-vampire poetry collection, Vamps (A Retrospective), from Sam’s Dot Publishing / White Cat Publications.
He also has nearly four hundred individual appearances in poetry and prose from Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine to Xenophilia, and is an active member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, the Horror Writers Association, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and the Science Fiction Poetry Association.
Or so he says.
And now from the author himself:
For me character is usually the most important part of a story since (as I see it) fiction is about the testing of a character or characters under stress (in the case of dark fantasy/horror, extreme stress). So the character is in a situation and it’s how the character copes with it (or not) that defines the plot. Characters, in turn, are defined in part by their beliefs and by their environments (my life has been relatively peaceable, for instance, which will give me a different perspective than someone who grew up, say, in present day Iraq). The game, then, is to put oneself into the head of that character, look out through his or her eyes, hear with his or her ears, feel with his or her skin and emotions, etc., to translate that character into terms the reader (most likely having had a relatively peaceable life as well) will be able to understand.
This can’t be overstressed, to in this way become that character: to see things through that character’s eyes, hear through its ears, taste with its tongue — and with all these things “spiced” with the biases that character may bring through ite environment, upbringing, and / or education — and, most of all, to feel with its feelings. When some writers speak of their characters “taking over a story,” I think this is actually what they mean, that they’ve come to know their characters that well. In my case, this comes from my imagining what I might do in a circumstance similar to what I’ve put that character in — or maybe what a friend or a lover or ex-lover might do, someone I’ve been close to in the past. This is vital for major characters — minor ones may be sketched in more lightly — and while in some stories I might write with a deliberately more distanced point of view than in others (in which, at an extreme, a character may represent “Everyman” or “Everywoman,” as in some Medieval allegories), I still must know who those characters are.
It is then that a love of words comes in, choosing those words most apt for the task — because words can induce mood too, which cycles back into that character’s feelings. But words must also be chosen which will be true to a character’s voice, educated phrases for the sophisticated, simpler words for those less educated — fun can be had too with characters speaking a language that is unfamiliar to them, or contrasting accents or means of expression for those from different parts of a country — but ultimately it is still the character, the person or other being that the story is about.
So what do you do with a fiction collection, with stories about all kinds of things, with all kinds of characters and all kinds of problems and all kinds of plots? Basically, take each story separately (which, actually, you may have done already insofar as a number of stories may be reprints, written at different times and for different reasons themselves), but when the book has been put together, read the stories one after the other. Do you get a feeling of “newness” with each one? That this is, indeed, a different tale, bringing with it (hopefully) its own excitement, even if all the stories are more broadly horror, or science fiction, or mystery. Do you keep your readers surprised? (Or by contrast, if there’s a common setting — all stories take place in a single location — or a common character, do they retain enough sameness in ways that let the reader know he or she has been here before, yet in other ways are still different enough to not be repetitious?) Does one story seem to grow out of another, yet as a group are the stories mixed up, sad ones alternating with happy, long with short, perhaps male protagonists with female, so readers tastes don’t become dulled by too much of the same thing all in the same pattern? And yet at the same time, does there seem to be a feeling of unity, that when the last story has been read, it seems “right” that these particular stories came together the way they did in this particular book?
So we can’t always be perfect. But these are things, I think, to be kept in mind.
Then there’s a pragmatic side to art too, and to “inspiration.” Michelangelo, for instance, received a commission from Pope Julius II that resulted in the painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, so in a real sense the Pope was the “muse.” The ceiling would not have been painted without him. In my more mundane case, for my latest collection Max Booth III had just started up Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing and, having recently edited an anthology for a different publisher that included a story by me and otherwise knowing some of my work, he invited me to propose a collection with, other than setting a minimum length, a pretty much completely free hand. As it happened, I’d had some ideas from time to time, running in several different directions, so I started putting some of them together and decided on what looked the most interesting, having to do with the idea of art and creation, but also destruction both to its subjects (through their treatment by the artist no longer as people but objects) and to the artist him or herself through this same objectification (think of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle applied to living: one cannot observe life from the outside with the intensity art may demand and at the same time live it to its fullest). Thus the Michelangelo name-dropping — fiction is art too — although here, of course, it’s after the fact. And so the result, taking its title from the last story in the volume: The Tears of Isis.
You can find more about James and his writing via…
You can sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything. You can contact me and find me on the internet, view my Books (including my debut novel The Serial Dater’s Shopping List, various short story collections and writer’s block workbooks) and I also have a blog creation / maintenance service especially for, but not limited to, writers. If you like this blog, you can help me keep it running by donating and choose an optional free eBook.
For writers / readers willing to give feedback and / or writers wanting feedback, take a look at this blog’s Feedback page.
As I post a spotlight or interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t unfortunately review books but I have a list of those who do. If there’s anything you’d like to take part in, take a look at Opportunities on this blog.
I welcome items for critique directly (see Editing & Critique) or for posting on the online writing groups listed below:
Morgen’s Online Non-Fiction Writing Group
Morgen’s Online Novel Writing Group
Morgen’s Online Poetry Writing Group
Morgen’s Online Script Writing Group
Morgen’s Online Short Story Writing Group
We look forward to reading your comments.