Through Thom Tinted Lenses

December 23, 2011

An Interview with Horror Author James Dorr


Thom’s Happening – Announcements, Specials, etc.

Thom Interviews Author James Dorr

Before we jump into our feature interview with author James Dorr, I’ll take a moment to bring you up to speed on some happenings. I’m very excited to announce that my next novel, THE EMPTY, is due out within the month. This deals with a race who have no genetic matrix of their own and must infuse DNA from others, both human and animal. Some are civilized and live among us, others are beastly and horrific. This one is very special to me.

I’m putting the final touches on CHASING KELVIN, the second in my Marc Huntington series. The first, DEAD MAN’S FIRE, was released this fall, and follows recovery specialists Marc and Dana Huntington as they track a missing scientist through the Amazon. Lots of action and twists.

And, for the holiday season, the eBook versions of my books, THE DEMON BAQASH, DEAD MAN’S FIRE, and 13 BODIES: SEVEN TALES OF MURDER AND MADNESS are on sale for only $4.99.

For autographed copies of the print version, contact me a for ordering and pricing information.

 And now, an  Interview with author James Dorr

 James Dorr is a short story writer and poet with two collections, Strange Mistresses: Tales of Wonder and Romance and Darker Loves: Tales of Mystery and Regret, published by Dark Regions Press in 2001 and 2007, while his all-poetry Vamps (A Retrospective) has just come out in 2011 from Sam’s Dot Publishing.  Dorr is an active member of SFWA and HWA along with the Science Fiction Poetry Association, an Anthony (mystery) and Darrell (fiction set in the US Mid-South) finalist, and a multi-time honorable mention in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror with nearly four hundred individual publications from Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine to Xenophilia.  Also a sometime semi-professional musician and the keeper of a large rambunctious cat named Wednesday (for Wednesday Addams of The Addams Family) who plays with spiders, Dorr invites readers to visit his site at for up-to-date information and news.

Why don’t you start by telling me about your most recent release?

That would be Vamps (A Retrospective), an 84-page collection of poetry on vampires and things vampiric.  In all there are 75 poems, roughly a third of which are new to the volume, on vampires past, present, and future with illustrations by artist and poet in her own right Marge Simon.  As for the subject, vampirism is powerful stuff, representing the nexus of sex and death, birth and rebirth, eros and thanatos, spreading in one form or another to almost every nation and culture on Earth, although, to  be sure, the ones in Vamps tend mostly to European models and their American transplants.  Vamps is available as a trade paperback from Sam’s Dot ( for about the price of a modest pizza –- with blood sausage topping, of course. 

Vamps (A Retrospective) was published in August 2011 and I should mention I have another book, Vanitas, that came out the same month as an electronic chapboook from Untreed Reads Publishing (  This is a longish short story that was initially published in Alfred Hitchcock’s in January 1996 and is also reprinted in print form in my Strange Mistresses collection. 

What is your writing routine?

This is a hard one to answer because basically I’m an undisciplined person.  I also tend toward procrastination so I like to do actual writing when I have a reasonably large block of time I can set aside, often on weekends, since once I actually get myself started I’m usually reluctant to stop until physical tiredness starts to enter in.  That said, I’m not idle at other times though, often spending evenings researching a story in progress or searching for ideas for the next.  Then there’s reading email which brings in the business side of the racket, submitting stories and poems, writing cover letters, proofreading galleys when things are accepted, and otherwise keeping the process moving.   

Do you begin with plot or characters?

This is also hard to say because some stories come out one way, some another.  In the past I probably would have said plot –- and I think, when we start out most writers do well to actually outline events in a story, however informally -– but nowadays it gets more complicated.  Usually I’ll start out with an idea, an image perhaps, or a phrase, or lately sometimes a poem that I might have written some months back.  Then I’m likely to get a notion of the character(s) the idea might work with, but at the same time I’m also exploring where and how the story might end –- where the idea is taking me toward.  And then I try to find the beginning point, after which I look for that block of time I mentioned above, power up the computer, and sit down and write.   

Tell us about the characters in your most recent work.

Characters in a poetry book?  Why, yes.  The vampiress Annchuck — who made her debut in my very first stand-alone book, a poetry chapbook called Towers of Darkness that came out in Nocturnal Publications’ “Night Visions” series in 1990 — joins with Max Schreck, Bela Lugosi, “Guillemette” (née Mina Murray), Nadja, Nikki (who flies), a modern Medusa, a tourist who meets “Cape Man” in France (“…he had a tendency to change the subject when I asked him what he did.  Eurotrash, I suppose”), a competitive runner who races the sun, a woman who dreams of someday winning the Galactic Lottery, several survivors (more or less) of unusual dates, a baseball fan who dotes on night games, a modern Carmilla who also loves jazz, and a future version of Kipling’s vampire (“a rag and a bone and a hank of hair”), these are some of the beings who populate Vamps (A Retrospective).  And might I mention again that Marge Simon even provides pictures of some of these –- including one who’s not specifically mentioned in the book, the cover portrait based on the early twentieth century movie “vamp” Theda Bara.   

Then in Vanitas there’s Caleb Rushton, a one-time sailor who came to the New England town of Vanitas and became its church sexton, choirmaster Petro Mezzoni whose dream was to construct a steam-powered organ, the Reverend Hawkings, church elders, the members of a doomed traveling circus, and, lest one forget, the female-formed wraith some townspeople saw on the roof of the church. 

What are you currently writing?

It’s kind of funny, but one thing I write almost every year at about this time is a Christmas story.  It’s often not a very nice one –- I do write horror — but Christmas is a source of ideas in that it’s the largest holiday of the year and, especially for a horror writer, suggests an instant contrast with the joy we’re supposed to show on the outside and whatever our innermost, real feelings may be.  However the market is limited to a narrow time period and lots of people write holiday tales so it’s understood they’ll be a hard sale, and I count myself lucky if I sell one in a given year -– many years they won’t sell at all.  Last year, for instance, I did place one, “The Christmas Vulture,” in issue 3 of Untied Shoelaces of the Mind.  But then came 2011 and I have at least three either just published or about to come out this December (depending on when exactly this interview appears), “Naughty or Nice” in  Daily Science Fiction, I’m Dreaming Of A… as an electronic chapbook from Untreed Reads (that is, the same outfit that published Vanitas last August), and “Mr. Claus” in the print anthology WTF?! by Pink Narcissus Press, plus a Christmas poem, “Expanded Mission,” in a special issue of Abyss & Apex.  So I don’t know if it’s the economy or what, but go figure. 

That said, I’ve also been writing an ongoing series of stories set in the “Tombs,” a far future necropolis set on a dying Earth.  Thirteen of these have already been published, one incidentally in my Strange Mistresses collection and three in Darker Loves, while others are being looked at in various places.  More exciting, I’m also negotiating with a publisher for a possible “Tombs” novel composed of stand alone segments, much like Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles or Christopher Barzak’s The Love We Share Without Knowing.

Then finally while I’ve been writing a number of shorter pieces, taking advantage of flash markets as well as some internet publications’ preferences in general for briefer work, I’ve also been working to get some older, previously published stories back into print.  Current examples would be stories out or coming out in Future Lovecraft, In Poe’s Shadow, America the Horrific, The Spirit of Poe (poetry), Lore: A Quaint and Curious Volume of Selected Stories, and Candle in The Attic Window.

What tips do you have for other aspiring writers?

The major one is persistence. It usually takes a long time to become published and, while it’s good to market stories starting with the best publications and working down, don’t be disappointed if your first sales are to low paying, low circulation markets.  I usually want to get at least some pay myself, though, as well as a copy of whatever book or magazine my work appears in -– beware anyone who wants you to pay them to be published -– though I’ll make exceptions for reprints, especially for publications that sound particularly interesting to me, or occasional charity anthologies, etc.  

Join a writers group if you can –- you’ll find you learn more sometimes from critiquing others’ work than from the critiques they do of yours -– and try to remember that you’re an artist.  Try not to sell out, or at least hold out for a decent price.  And if editors suggest changes to you, by all means give what they say a try, but if it doesn’t seem to work for you don’t be afraid to write them back explaining why. 

Also, don’t wait for the muse to come to you.  Go out in the world and wrestle her for ideas.

What do you most like to write? Why?

I write mostly dark fiction, fantasy, horror, science fiction, mystery.  It’s not so much that I’m a nasty person myself (though I remember a colleague defending her writing horror, explaining with a lilt in her voice, “You get to say such hateful things”), but that I have a fascination with people’s beliefs and how they might hold up, or not, when a character is subjected to stress.  Beyond that, the whole spectrum of speculative fiction allows me to experiment with ideas, even goofy ones sometimes –- what if, say, snow ate people? (which is the premise of one of the Christmas stories mentioned above).  Or what kind of gift might be appropriate for a newlywed vampire? (see “Honeymoon Magic” in Vamps). 

What do you read?

I read much more nonfiction than fiction, something I think many writers may tell you.  I read for ideas, for research, for details for settings, to understand how things work if I’m going to use them in my own stories.  In fiction and poetry I read, of course, the publications my stuff is in (and not just for pleasure –- it gives me a better insight into what an editor likes when the time comes to try to sell something else to that publication), but I also read outside of my genre, especially more literary works.  Of those that have especially influenced me, I’ll cite Edgar Allan Poe and Ray Bradbury, but also The Complete Greek Tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, along with the poetry of Allen Ginsburg and the plays of Bertolt Brecht. 

How did you get your start in writing? How did you land your first book contract?

I actually did more illustration than writing in college but that had me working on publications and, occasionally, having to write to fill in as needed.  So I don’t know.  By graduate school I was writing a science/humor column for that college’s student underground newspaper, later migrated to its literary newspaper (by this time writing various things, stories, essays, columns, reviews, often under pseudonyms), from there got a job as a technical writer –- and later editor –- for an academic computing center.  Ultimately I was freelancing real estate and business and consumer topics (good training for world building in science fiction and fantasy –- I’m not kidding, you need to know a society’s economy, how your characters make their livings) until some of my markets started to dry up, then got a “regular job” part time (this was during the Reagan recession) and got back into fiction and poetry. 

My first full size book came about when an editor heard me read poetry at (as I recall) World Fantasy Convention some years back.  He bought the poem as a reprint on the spot for a “Year’s Best” anthology he was planning, then suggested I pitch a combined fiction and poetry collection to him.  That one fell through, but a year or two later I made another proposal, sent him some stories that he liked better, and the result was Strange Mistresses.

With the rise in eBook popularity, the publishing industry is in a state of change. What do you see as positives and negatives in this reformation?

eBooks have blossomed at a good time in that we’re still in an all-but-recession and, for people who don’t have much money, eBooks are at least cheap.  Better eBook readers have added other advantages too, such as changing type sizes for people with vision problems or storing a whole summer’s reading and more on a device that takes up only the space of a single book in your luggage.  On the other hand, I don’t recommend reading eBooks in the bathtub. 

I think the rise of eBooks can be exaggerated, though, and their ultimate impact will be similar to that of mass market paperbacks coming out of the Great Depression.  Their cheapness allowed more people to buy them, but hardbacks were still preferred by libraries, more well-to-do people, collectors, and even by poorer people for giving as gifts or for themselves in the case of titles they expected they’d keep on rereading (a Complete Works of Shakespeare would be an obvious example).  Then by the 1960s trade paperbacks came along too, for cheaper editions of the books you’d like to save, while mass market was still king for books you’d read and, if not literally throw away, at least not really expect to come back to even if they were still on a bookshelf somewhere.  All that said, mass market paperbacks still took over a lion’s share of the market — but added to the book market as well, in part by being affordable to people who might previously have relied on libraries.  But, just as hardbacks, libraries never disappeared either.  And now, with eBooks, I see the greatest “threat” they bring being to mass market paperbacks themselves, as a sort of even cheaper version (although internet/mail order used book markets like eBay and Amazon had been changing the landscape already, as have changes in taxing unsold inventories), but not necessarily replacing print in other forms, at least for a long time.   

Thom Reese is the author of DEAD MAN’S FIRE, THE DEMON BAQASH and 13 BODIES: SEVEN TALES OF MURDER AND MADNESS. Upcoming releases include the novels, CHASING KELVIN, and THE EMPTY. Thom was the sole writer and co-producer of the weekly audio drama radio program, 21ST CENTURY AUDIO THEATER. Fourteen of these dramas have since been published in four collections. A native of the Chicago area, Thom currently makes his home in Las Vegas.

CONTACT ME AT for autographed copies or to get on my emailing list to receive notifications on new releases, special pricing, appearances, etc.




Copyright 2011 Thom Reese All Rights Reserved.


  1. Hi Thom, Thanks for some great interview questions and thanks for being able to put the cover picture of VAMPS (A RETROSPECTIVE) in. People may not realize it but the picture is “live” — click on the picture and it brings them to the Sam’s Dot site for more information (incluing a sample poem) and ordering info for the book. Very nice!

    I’ll add an entry to my site, , steering people here in a few minutes, then probably drop back here from time to time to answer/comment on any questions readers may have.

    Comment by jamesdorrwriter — December 23, 2011 @ 10:53 am | Reply

  2. James and Thom,

    Excellent interview! James, I agree with you about the need for persistence if people want to be writers. Also, as you said, money has to flow to the writer, not the other way. Any agent or publisher who asks for money from a hopeful writer isn’t honest. And there are a lot of sharks out there preying on the gullible.


    Comment by Jacqueline Seewald — December 23, 2011 @ 12:28 pm | Reply

  3. Jacqueline, thanks. I thought I’d add a note too about the Christmas stories I mentioned. All three have been published on schedule: “I’m Dreaming of. . . ” is available as a short story e-book from Untreed Reads Publishing; “Naughty or Nice?” was sent out by DAILY SCIENCE FICTION Wednesday and will go into their archives (so non-subscribers can read it too for free — next Wednesday, the 28th; and I just received my copy of WTF?! with “Mr. Claus” on Wednesday the 21st too. As for the poem “Expanded Mission,” my understanding isthat it should come out via ABYSS & APEX tomorrow. A busy season! For what it’s worth, “Naughty or Nice?” is the nicest of the stories, “Mr. Claus” the nastiest, “I’m Dreaming of A. . . .” the scariest, and the poem if it comes out as scheduled should be the Christmasyisy (or science-fictionist or maybe even the most traditional, if one remembers old GALAXY December issue covers).

    Comment by jamesdorrwriter — December 23, 2011 @ 1:19 pm | Reply

  4. And now, not to be too commercial about it, I just got an email from Untreed Reads saying they’re having a special sale tomorrow, Dec. 24 only, of all titles half price ( then press where it says “Holiday reads” and scroll down).

    Comment by jamesdorrwriter — December 23, 2011 @ 1:29 pm | Reply

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