E: Hi, James! Welcome to Erindipity. Would you care for refreshments? Charlie wanted me to serve brains and threatened to go on a hunger strike until I did. I told him to let me know how that works out for him, seeing as he’s dead and all.
J: Actually I’m more of a blood man myself. Would Charlie mind if we just had drinks?
E: You had a book come out this past May from Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, The Tears of Isis. It’s currently in my review stack and I can’t wait to get started on it. What can you tell us about it?
J: 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?
You can also find Tears of Isis on Barnes&Noble.
E: I don’t usually spend a lot of time talking about cover art, but I’d love to know what inspired this cover. It’s very striking, and as far as covers go, it’s one of my favorites. What went into designing it?
J: I had sent some suggestions to the publisher, mainly several descriptive passages from the story “The Tears of Isis” along with some samples of Egyptian art showing Isis in her vulture-winged aspect, which were passed on to the artist, William Cook. I was a bit surprised myself with what he came up with, having envisioned something perhaps more scene-like, and yet, with its strict bilateral symmetry evoking Egyptian motifs, yet not constrained by ancient Egyptian stylistic convention (the wings, for instance, perhaps more resembling an eagle’s than an Egyptian vulture’s — but most of the stories in the collection not on Egyptian motifs either), the design was, as you say, very striking. Stark, almost, with its deep, dark background lit by the Isis-figure’s sun-disk headdress, and yet with other elements (the barely-seen eyes, for instance, peering out through the background darkness) pointing toward the book being about more than just Egypt. From that, my only further suggestions had to do with where and how the lettering would be positioned, to reinforce the formal symmetry of the art.
E: You also have two other book collections out. What can you tell us about them?
J: Strange Mistresses: Tales of Wonder and Romance and Darker Loves: Tales of Mystery and Regret, published by Dark Regions Press in 2001 and 2007 respectively, are also short fiction collections, but each with a section of poetry at the end. They differ in one way in that they are not as strongly themed as The Tears of Isis (although one reviewer has suggested a preponderance of strong female figures in Strange Mistresses in particular), reflecting, perhaps among other things, the way the collections were put together. With these the publisher chose the stories from larger samplings that I provided, whereas, with The Tears of Isis, I had complete control in terms of both the material used and the order in which it would be presented. That said, however, both are primarily fantasy collections leaning toward horror — including stories originally published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Gothic.Net, Short Story Digest, etc., as well as new material — with the second probably the darker of the two.
E: You just had a story accepted. Your website calls it an “Eco-horror Veggie Anthology.” That sounds fascinating. What can you tell us about “Seeds” and about the anthology it will appear in?
J: The guidelines called for “any kind of story related to plants, nature, forests, gardens, or anything scary/dark/bizarre in relation to vegetable matter.” In short, ecology gone wild — horribly wild. In view of that, my story “Seeds” (a reprint, incidentally, originally from KEEN SCIENCE FICTION more than a decade ago) may seem almost tame, only having to do with a newly-planted backyard flower garden gone wrong. But the story’s protagonist really didn’t want to plant it, it having been his wife’s idea, and the female assistant at the seed store shares with him a love of Chicago Cubs baseball. . . . The anthology will be called GROWING CONCERNS, to be published by Chupa Cabra House.
E: You write poetry as well as prose. For you, how do those genres influence each other in your writing?
J: From writing poetry, I believe one gains a greater love for words and the way they sound, as well as using them concisely and, at least in formal verse, in a context where patterns (such as rhyme and meter) have to co-exist with meaning. I’d like to think that poetry has had a great influence on my prose, making me pay more attention to structure and cadence, and to picking the exactly right word or phrase — to be hyper-aware of, as Mark Twain might say, “the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” It also heightens, I think, a sense of character and voice, how different people, or even different kinds of stories, will just sound different if done correctly. And there’s a connection the other way too, that a sense of story in writing fiction can guide me in seeing an individual poem as possibly part of a greater concept. To not-so-subtly sneak in a plug, a book we haven’t mentioned yet, Vamps (A Retrospective) published in 2011 by Sam’s Dot (now White Cat Publications), is my first book-length collection of poetry, in this case all having to do with vampires even if individually employing a variety of approaches and styles.
E: Are you a plotter or a pantser, or some combination of the two?
J: The straightforward answer is a combination. I usually will have a good idea of where a story will end — sometimes even writing out a tentative ending first, then struggling to find where the story begins. However, I’m not sure there’s all that great a difference between these approaches insofar as, in my own case, when I was just starting out I often wrote out extensive notes on what sequence events would happen in and how each scene might act to advance a story, whereas now, once I’m properly started, I just let the words flow. But doesn’t this simply mean that I’ve learned enough through sufficiently long experience that what I once had to work out consciously now just gets done on an unconscious level? That is, that I’m still doing the same sorts of things, but now I don’t have to think about them (at least not as much).
E: What has been the most valuable experience for you as a writer?
J: It was through writing, a very long time ago, that I met The Woman Who Was To Become My Ex-Wife. While I can joke about it now as well as harbor a few regrets, for a time there was, I believe, a genuine love between us. And that is always a valuable thing.