Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Interview with James Dorr

Briefly describe your journey in writing your book. 
Vanitas came about from an article I’d read about steam calliopes, saying the calliope was originally intended for use by churches, in lieu of bells, to “chime” the hours.  It never caught on, but with a keyboard added, it found a home as a musical instrument for use on steamboats and in circuses.  That led me to wonder:  what if a calliope were  retrofitted for church use again, but this time as a substitute for a church organ? 

I should point out here that I am a short story writer and poet.   I wrote Vanitas as a mystery story, weaving murders and gothic accouterments into it, and it was first published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine in January 1996.  It has appeared again in print in my collection Strange Mistresses:  Tales of Wonder and Romance (Dark Regions Press, 2001), but then, this year, Untreed Reads Publishing put out a call for steampunk/mystery crossover stories and, even though the original writing may predate steampunk as a genre, Vanitas seemed to fit the bill.  Jay Hartman at Untreed Reads agreed, and Vanitas is now available as of August 2011 in electronic book form in Untreed Reads’ “Orbits” science fiction/fantasy short story line.

What genre are your books?  Do you write in more than one genre?
Besides Strange Mistresses, I have two other full size print books at present, Darker Loves:  Tales of Mystery and Regret (Dark Regions, 2007) and, also published in August this year, Vamps (A Retrospective) from Sam’s Dot Publishing, the latter a collection of poetry ranging over twenty-three years on the subject of vampires and things vampiric.  Add to these an out-of-print chapbook, Towers of Darkness, in Nocturnal Publications’ “Night Visions” poetry series (1990) and The Garden, a science fiction/horror novelette in print and electronic chapbook formats from Damnation Books in 2009,  but the bulk of my work has appeared in magazines and anthologies.  As for genre, most of what I write is dark -- horror and fantasy, but sometimes humor too -- with the occasional foray into science fiction and mystery, and maybe dark romance.  Venues range from Aboriginal Science Fiction to Xenophilia, Alfred Hitchcock’s to The Yellow Bat Review.

If you write in more than one genre, do you use a pen name?
I sometimes appear as James S. Dorr or as James Dorr, often by editor’s prerogative, while my “website/blog name” is jamesdorrwriter.  Other than that, no, though way, way back when I was in college I sometimes wrote for student publications under different names to avoid professorial complaints that I ought to spend more of my time on my classes. 

Did you query agents and traditional publishers?  Did you receive an offer of representation or a book contract?
For Vanitas, no, I just sent it in.  But every experience carries its own details.  Strange Mistresses originated in a request from the publisher who I’d met at World Fantasy Convention.  The first proposal I sent was rejected, but the second accepted, and then a few years later I queried about a “sequel” and thus came Darker Loves.  Vamps (a Retrospective) followed a similar pattern, with a publisher who’d printed poetry by me before in magazines declining a mixed fiction/poetry holiday book proposal, but hinting that something a little more general and with poetry only might get a more favorable reception -- and so it did.  For the other two chapbooks, Towers of Darkness was by publisher invitation (also after she’d published some of my work in her magazine) and The Garden was one I just sent in. 

What factors influenced your decision to sign with Untreed Reads?
I had not yet used nor had any immediate plans to use the electronic rights for Vanitas, so an electronic-only deal seemed a good thing -- and, after all, they had accepted the story already.  They allowed me room to negotiate some contract items.  Also their editing was extremely light and what there was of it was negotiable too -- from experience with a few anthology publishers, etc., in the past, this was a very large plus for me -- though in fairness I should note that I am an experienced author, while others, perhaps newer to writing, might find their work more in need of tweaking.   In general, I’ve felt I’ve been treated with respect. 

How involved are you during the creative process for your book’s cover design?
In this case, not at all.  Vanitas is part of Untreed Reads’ “Orbits” line and, except for a few of the longest stories, they use common cover designs within lines as a sort of “brand” mark, thus promoting the line as well as the individual books.  So for any who may wonder why the cover illustration doesn’t seem to have too much to do with the story description, now you know why. 

Do you plan to self-publish any other books or will you stay with Untreed Reads?
I have no plans to self-publish any books at present.  I have two other stories under consideration now by Untreed Reads, one a science fiction novelette, “Peds,” that I sent unsolicited and the other a very short Christmas horror piece, “I’m Dreaming of A … ,” sent in response to a call for year’s end holiday stories.   After that, we’ll see.  Night Owl Reviews recently gave Vanitas a very favorable write-up (4 ¾ stars out of a possible 5) so that may have a positive impact on sales, but with only three or four months passed since its publication, who knows? 

What kinds of social media [twitter, facebook, webpage, blog, writing forums] are you involved with trying to garner attention for your book(s)?
As a multi-genre writer and poet, I consider myself a “brand” as much as any specific book or story, so while Vanitas and Vamps (A Retrospective) may be the newest, they share space on my site with other books, as well as publishing news on individual stories and poems (along with, I might add, occasional “lagniappes” -- free samples of some of my work -- and even a movie review now and then).  Readers are invited to check me out at and, as for the books, pressing the covers in the center column will bring you to publishers’ information, while scrolling down through the various posts will offer sometimes blow by blow histories of acceptances, setbacks, publication dates, etc.  Then, on Facebook, I’m there as “James Dorr” (the one with the “Morrigan crow” as an avatar) which, if nothing else, announces new blog posts (often in stereo, as different distributors rush the news to you) along with occasional more personal items.  And as for writing forums, I’m on a bunch but less for advertising purposes as for finding news about publication proposals I might submit to, but also when I do submit I include selected past publications in my biography which, should I make the sale, will be printed too.   

How do you feel about the world of digital publishing?  Do you think it will replace traditional publishing one day?
It’s new, is there more to say?  Digital publishing seems to have caught on in various forms, offering some advantages, especially for relatively “light” fiction, some disadvantages over print books.  Especially in an all-but-recession the relative cheapness of new titles has helped this market grow fast,  and there’s plenty of room for further expansion while print books may have pretty well saturated their market -- at least until the economy improves (historically, books have tended to be bellwethers, people flocking to libraries when times are tough -- or maybe just watching TV or playing games -- returning to bookstores as times get better, although readers’ getting accustomed to electronic books as another alternative has affected this pattern at least in the short term).  As for the long term, it probably will still make inroads in traditional publishing, but traditional publishing had been changing anyway, with more and more once autonomous  “New York publishers” merging into multi-national conglomerates on the one hand, and the rise of shorter run “indy” trade paperback publishers, offering more specialized lines, on the other. 

So, to stick my neck out, I see a decline in print on demand publishing* (“POD,” another recent innovation in the world of  print) except by publishers who are really doing electronic editions with POD simply as another alternative.  I see a continued rise in “niche” print publishers as well as in publishers specializing in collectors’ editions, often expensive and fancy and autographed, etc., with deliberately limited press runs (as an example, my Darker Loves is available from Dark Regions Press in a boxed, deluxe leather-bound numbered edition as well as in standard trade paperback form)   As for bookstores themselves, “brick and mortar” stores had already been losing share to internet outlets like Amazon and eBay, Barnes and Noble having perhaps partially insulated itself from Borders’ recent fate by establishing an internet sales branch as well. 
I do see continuing diversity in larger stores like B&N, at least for now -- sales of CDs and DVDs, greeting cards, coffee shops, WiFi  and cyber cafes, etc.) and a possible rise in smaller independent, and often specialized bookstores to fill the vacuum left by Borders (although that’s a trend already started as well, e.g. stores specializing in graphic novels).  

*This is in spite of the fact that a few bookstores have installed actual POD machines, like a vending machine where, after you’ve chosen what you want from the sample copies displayed on the shelves, you hand over your money and have it print you a copy while you wait, even printing a stiff paper cover and binding it for you.  I could see these having an upsurge as a truly cool novelty, but in the long run, printing one copy at a time is still more expensive than having a larger press print thousands, or even just hundreds or dozens, of books at a time.  

What is the biggest thing you’ve learned during your journey as an author?
Perseverance.  Perseverance.  Perseverance.  (Some might say “Pigheadednesss.”)  Different authors may have different goals, but mine is to remember that I am an artist first, a person hoping to put a few bucks in his pocket second.  Don’t be too eager to follow trends, by the time you’re ready the hottest ones will have already ended.  But sometimes they come back so don’t abandon doing what you like just because it’s now passé (hey, I just published a poetry book about vampires, in a currently zombie-dominated world).  A corollary:  make your work good enough and it’ll get published anyway (but on the other hand, don’t hold out too long hoping for a better offer).  

Do you have any advice for new authors?
Don’t be too quick to quit your day job.  (Also, see the above.) 

What’s next for you?
I have a series of stories I’ve been working on over the past few years set in the far future, dying Earth world of the “Tombs,” a vast necropolis and the cities and lands that surround it.  About a dozen Tombs stories have been published thus far, including “The Riverman’s Daughter” in Strange Mistresses and “Rat Girl,” “The Walking” (also more recently reprinted in Roll the Bones, published by Fight On!, Feb. 2011), and “There Was an Old Man” in Darker Loves, and I’ve been discussing a possible novel with a mid-size independent print publisher combining reprinted and new Tombs stories with an overall narrative theme, somewhat in the manner of Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles or Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club.  Beyond that, I’ve been working mostly on shorter stories tailored more to electronic venues (one, “Naughty or Nice,” will hopefully be out around Christmas time in Daily Science Fiction, my second for them, while “Waiting for Geoffrey,” billed as a romance, was recently published in Untied Shoelaces of the Mind) as well as poetry (check Abyss and Apex on Christmas Eve for a seasonal sf poem, “Expanded Mission”), as well as making more older work available again -- part of my coping with the post-recession --  in various anthologies and other markets (check out, for instance, Innsmouth Press’s  Candle in the Attic Window and, upcoming, Future Lovecraft; Bards and Sages’ America the Horrific:  Tales of Horror from American Myth and Legend; et al.).  

These and other projects are detailed as well on my site,  as noted above.  

1 comment:

  1. Hi Debra! Thanks for having me and thanks for the interesting questions. I'll try to stop by a few times later so, readers, if any of you have questions or comments, please feel free to post them!