Friday, 19 March 2021

Murder and Machinery: An Interview with James Dorr

James Dorr's "Vanitas" is just one of the mad mechanical tales featured in Murder and Machinery. Out April the 3rd. Kindle pre-orders available now.

Tell us three interesting facts about yourself.

1. Some years ago I had a story in a horror magazine, Wicked Mystic, that had a subscription copy sent back by the Texas Bureau of Prisons as “being unsuitable reading for a prisoner on death row.” I don’t know if it was my story but I have my suspicions. (For those interested the story, “Mr. Happy Head,” is currently available in Murder Mayhem Short Stories [Flame Tree Publishing, 2016] as well as the 2013 anthology, Bizarro Bizarro).

2. I have been both an Anthony (mystery, for short story) and Stoker (horror, fiction collection) award finalist. The dates for these, however, are sixteen years apart.

3. When not reading or writing I am also an amateur musician, leading and playing tenor recorder in a group specializing in Renaissance dance music.

What drew you to this particular theme?

Along with horror and mystery, I’m also a science fiction fan, and have long had a fascination with the kind of narration that involves explaining how something works, whether an object or a process, as an integral part of the story. Thus the reader (and writer) becomes involved in two ways, through both entertainment and education.

What’s the most frightening machine for you personally?

I’ll say the guillotine as a machine designed for a single task – to kill – but purposely in the most humane way its builders could devise at the time. Added to that, there was serious speculation about whether a victim’s brain could survive long enough afterward for the person to recognize what had happened. So I wrote a story about it (cf. the question just above) called “The Great Man,” set in the years following the French Revolution, which was subsequently published in Spring-Summer 1999 in The Strand Magazine (also in my 2007 Darker Loves collection).

Which short story author or authors in the horror genre inspire you?

Edgar Allan Poe and Ray Bradbury to start, Bradbury for poetry and beauty in his expression even in his darker works and Poe for a juxtaposition of beauty and horror – a nexus of Eros and Thanatos in Freudian terms, of sex and death in both his tales and poems. Then I’ll add two more in terms of influence, though not necessarily known for horror (or short stories), Allen Ginsberg for poetry combining the beatific with the tragically ugly, and Bertolt Brecht for his ideas of “epic theatre,” allowing the notion of artistic distance, yet combined with emotional intimacy in such works as Mother Courage. I could add to those a number of others, too many to count, but forced to choose I’d say these are the main ones.

Do you have a favorite story about machines, other than The Pit and the Pendulum?

Off the top of my head, I’ll say Franz Kafka’s “The Penal Colony” (“In der Strafkolonie”), for a machine the opposite of the guillotine, this one to inflict the maximum pain possible and through a deliriously elaborate and drawn out sequence of actions. (Editor: I'm with you there. Kafka's best, in my opinion. The inspiration behind a song by Joy Division too.)

What does your editing process look like?

Nothing terribly exciting. I try to draft a story that’s going to be pretty much in its final form, something that computer use encourages, then give it a final read through (subvocalizing to get a feel for the sound of the words as well as how they appear on the page) and print out a draft. At that point I become “old school” – a few days to a week later I’ll read it again in printed form and make (usually minor) changes as needed and transfer them back to the computer copy. That’s usually it, though I do belong to a writers’ group that I’ll send some stories through for critiquing, especially if some strike me as possibly having particular problems, if only to get an idea from time to time of how a work might be received by readers coming onto it cold. .

Do you write everything and then edit or do you meticulously plan before you write?

Starting out as a writer, I used to outline some stories, especially mysteries where I’d write out clues and when and how they’d be revealed, but as I became more skilled I think a lot of that sort of preparation began being taken care of automatically in my mind. I do usually jot down an idea of how a story will end (and often the first few lines of a beginning as well, if they come to me then) and also get an idea in my head of who and where and when it might take place, but, that done, I’ll look for a time where I can continue for, say, four hours or so without being disturbed and just start writing.

What are you working on now?

When the COVID-19 lockdown began, I decided I’d use the resulting extra home time to write a new story every week until it was over. As I write this (in earlyish February), it’s 46 down and still going strong – mostly very short stories to be sure, varying from about 500 to 2000 words, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve starting writing shorter anyway, especially as the internet seems to spawn more and more flash fiction markets. Beyond that, I’m also spending more time marketing already published stories as reprints (example: “Vanitas” here in MURDER AND MACHINERY, originally published in ALFRED HITCHCOCK’S MYSTERY MAGAZINE), given that there’s a whole new generation of potential readers who would have trouble finding them in their original printings.

Where can we find you online?

I’d recommend checking out my blog first (e-addresses should be below) to find out what I’ve been publishing lately, as well as links to Amazon for several collections. Then blog entries also will go onto my Facebook page, while an idea of the range of anthologies and magazines I have stories and/or poetry in can be found (though, unfortunately, in no rational order that I’ve yet discovered) on my Amazon “Authors Page.”

Social Media for James Dorr:



Amazon Author Page:

Thanks, James!