The Tears of Isis is a collection of 17 stories and an opening poem beginning with the “sculptress” Medusa, and ending with the title story of another sculptress searching for inspiration through the Egyptian myth of the Weeping Isis. These are dark stories for the most part and not all necessarily directly about art—along the way we meet vampires, insects, sea creatures, alien landscapes, people who make things from human bones, others who keep pets, even a dragon—but by the end, hopefully, all relating to a theme of beauty linked with destruction. Creation and death. For of course, without death, where would there be the need for new life? I compiled it on an invitation by Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing’s Max Booth III, inspired in part by the artistic journey of the title story. I might add, too, that the publisher gave me a virtually entirely free hand, so any faults readers may find are my own.
2. Do you admire your own work?
Yes (of course some individual things may be better than others)
3. Do you enjoy giving interviews?
4. What is the most demeaning thing said about you as a writer and how did you bounce back from it?
When I was a graduate student I once got a paper back on an especially involved topic with a note by the professor to the effect that I must “first learn how to write an intelligible English sentence.” I bounced back by reflecting that I was writing several pseudonymous columns in student publications, including an arts newspaper, and said to myself, “Gee, I hope my editor doesn’t find out.”
5. If you had to do it all over again, would you changed anything in your latest book?
I might have rewritten the back cover blurb (the first reviews of The Tears of Isis were from readers who’d won it on Goodreads and one didn’t like it, apparently because of a misunderstanding of what the stories would be about, including that it was a horror collection—perhaps the blurb could have been clearer on that).
6. Sunrises or Sunsets?
Sunsets. I’m pretty much a night person (perhaps it’s the latent vampire in me).
7. Do you prefer blue or black inked pens?
Do they even still make blue pens?
8. Would you rather be trampled by one elephant sized mouse or one hundred mice sized elephants?
One hundred mice sized elephants—even without survivability considerations they sound like they’d be cute. Also, given those skinny mouse legs, an elephant sized mouse would probably end up just sitting on me.
9. What was your favourite subject at school?
Up through high school I tended toward science subjects. I enjoyed the aspect of figuring things out. After that my interests broadened to world literature and (in a sense) the way other people/cultures figured things out.
10. Do you watch horror movies on or from behind the couch?
Actually on an overstuffed chair that’s next to the couch.
11. What advice would you give to someone just starting out?
Persevere—but also follow your bliss. If you don’t like doing it, why continue? In addition (in my opinion) art is more important than sales; but if you never make any sales, including to smaller publishers willing to take a chance, maybe it’s not art.
12. How did you choose your genre?
I started out interested in science fiction and still write some, but moved to horror/dark fantasy because I’m also interested in exploring how characters react under extreme stress. Related to that, major literary influences have been Ray Bradbury followed by Edgar Allan Poe, and later the poet Allen Ginsberg and German playwright Bertolt Brecht.
13. Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or is it all imagination?
There’s certainly some background experience involved, like living one summer in a Cambridge (Massachusetts) three-decker similar to Maria’s in “Bottles,” or car trips in the southern US in the passage quoted below from “Waxworms.” Also, having once had a tooth capped was the inspiration for “Store Teeth.” But mostly it’s imagination—combined with research.
14. What would YOU like the reader to know about your book or about you in general?
I’ve already mentioned the book’s loose theme of art and destruction/beauty and death, things that as an artist (I’ve also taken courses, incidentally, at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the American Art School in New York) I’m interested in as well. To that let me add a quote from Poe’s The Philosophy of Composition: “…I asked myself—‘Of all melancholy topics, what, according to the universal understanding of mankind, is the most melancholy?’ ‘Death’—was the obvious reply. ‘And when,’ I said, ‘is this most melancholy of topics most poetical?’ From what I have already explained at some length, the answer, here also, is obvious—‘When it most closely allies itself to Beauty.’”
15. What sort of environment do you write in? (e.g. quiet room, a cupboard with headphones on, in a death match with the cat for control of the keyboard)
A quiet room, usually with the TV on in a different room. This blends with traffic sounds from outside, etc., into a sort of white noise that doesn’t disturb me (also if there’s a game on, I can always check the score when I get up to stretch and refill my coffee).
16. How do you handle working with an editor without letting pride get in the way?
Some things are important, some are not—know the difference. On what’s important explain your reasons when you disagree and, if the editor still persists, see if you can compromise. If you’re a beginner the editor may be right; if experienced maybe not, but he/she still could be. If all else fails, when the rights revert to you have it reprinted somewhere else the right way.
(In the case of The Tears of Isis, a major reason I accepted the offer was that I’d be given a free hand—but you don’t get that until you’ve already made your bones.)
Art and creation, sculpture and goddesses, blood-drinking with or without foreign plots, musical instruments made from bone, Cinderella and sleeping beauties, women who keep pets, insects and UFOs, ghouls as servants and restless undead. And Isis herself as both weeping mother and vulture-winged icon of death and destruction. These are among the subjects you’ll meet in the seventeen stories (plus opening poem) in James Dorr’s latest collection The Tears of Isis.
His voice. The moths outside. His stories of other sightings than his and their mother’s, some involving actual creatures that flew in the saucers. The Flatwoods Monster in 1952, here in these mountains, in Braxton County. The 1961 encounter in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, of Barney and Betty Hill. The Pascagoula Creatures of 1973, in Mississippi . . .
His and Marina’s trying to sleep, not wanting to listen. The woods, dark, on either side of their privately lit double tunnel, seeming to close in . . .
. . . when it rose before them. Glowing, pulsing, as big as a football field. Up, from a notch between two ridge lines, it straddled the highway, seemingly missing them only by inches as it passed overhead.
Jarring them with its sound.
The car’s front wheels twisting—their father battling to stay on the road.
And then the second one louder still, after he and Marina had left the wreck site, still in a daze, climbing the eastern slope—more memory came back—thinking somehow it might help to find out where the first of the huge, glowing disks had come from.
Both of them screaming . . .
(From “Waxworms,” The Tears of Isis, pp. 116-117)
Indiana (USA) writer James Dorr’s The Tears of Isis is a 2014 Bram Stoker Award® Fiction Collection finalist. Other books include Strange Mistresses: Tales of Wonder and Romance, Darker Loves: Tales of Mystery and Regret, and his all-poetry Vamps (A Retrospective). Dorr is an Active Member of SFWA and HWA with nearly 400 individual fiction and poetry publications from Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine to Xenophilia.