LA-based indie author James D. Lopez is a creator of bite-sized horror fiction and picture books for adults. His debut anthology Unspeakable is a collection of short stories that are in length and tone in a vein similar to the flash fiction/micro-prose of H.P. Lovecraft. With the material for a second book in progress, he talks about his inspirations; which includes everything from Tolkien, Ambrose Bierce to Dr. Seuss.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
LOPEZ: I was born and raised in Los Angeles, and I have lived here my whole life. My family and I struggled to make ends meet, but we did manage, and somehow I ended up with a degree in English. Since I always enjoyed reading (and eventually, writing, although that would come later), pursuing a degree in English seemed like a natural choice. I’ve been an avid reader since I was a kid, and I read everything from the works of Tolkien to EC Comics (Tales From the Crypt, etc.). I’m sure that my writing was most likely influenced by all of these things to some degree. Upon graduating, I made a decision to get involved in education, and I became a teacher in the broader South L.A. region where I was raised (I’ve taught at different schools in South Los Angeles, including Watts and Compton). It has been a rewarding experience, but I also continued to write on my own. Obviously, I haven’t stopped.
"Unspeakable” is your first book; an anthology of stories. Can you give us a synopsis?
Unspeakable is a collection of various stories I’ve written at different points in my life. Some of these stories date back to my earliest days in college. Although I never stopped writing, I did put it aside from time to time, usually when I was between jobs (both academic and non-academic). It was maybe 2 years ago when I revisited some of my older stories; for some reason, this sparked a renewed personal interest in writing, and I began to write vigorously once again.
For this particular volume, I handpicked a few of my stories to put together a sort of “Whitman’s Sampler” of short pieces that showcase the topics that I tend to write about. The stories themselves range from horrific to darkly humorous, sometimes with elements of Surrealism present.
You’ve described it as a picture book for adults. Why did you choose this style of illustration to accompany your work?
I am greatly influenced by artists from the Surrealist movement in art, and most people immediately label my own work as surreal. My drawing tends to take two distinct forms: realistic imagery (life-like portraiture/still-life) and surreal imagery. I find that I have a lot more freedom when I avoid strict realism; I just let my hand flow in accordance with whatever comes from my imagination.
While there are hints of the supernatural in a few of the stories, most of them present real life fears. Was it your intention to mostly write about the sort nightmares that exist in the physical realm rather than to rely on ghosts and demons? Why or why not?
To be honest, I’m not entirely sure how to answer this question. It wasn’t a conscious decision by any means. I’m a fan of all sorts of dark subject matter in writing, be it supernatural horror, psychological horror, or even biting satire. Perhaps part of my subconscious is indeed grounded in the material world.
But I don’t have a definitive answer at this moment.
Every story is written in such a way that the mind fills in the blanks on the endings. Sometimes they seem unfinished but other times seem intentionally open to interpretation. Did you leave them open ended on purpose?
The short answer is: yes.
The long answer is a bit more complicated. I embrace nuance and the openness of interpretation (which is largely what the study of language and literature is all about). I also happen to think that “less is more,” even when it comes to writing. So this is at least partially motivated by both the economy and the ambiguity of language, especially if a relatively short piece manages to inspire a wide range of interpretations and images among readers.
What is your background in writing?
Besides writing stories and poems for pleasure since I was a young child, I have a Bachelor’s Degree in English with a Writing emphasis and a Master’s Degree in English with an emphasis in Rhetoric and Composition. As for being published, I have my own book out on the market, but I also had some stories and poems featured in the yearly anthology Ladies and Gentlemen of Horror (the 2016 edition).
How does being an English teacher inspire your work?
This is a difficult question to answer directly, but I will say this much. A good English class is, essentially, a thinking class. My task is to get to students to think as well as give them the tools to communicate their wide-ranging thoughts and opinions, providing as much support as possible to support their viewpoints. In order to do this, I facilitate the analysis of different kinds of literature and guide my students toward making whatever connections they can between the various pieces of writing that we study and the world around them. In order to facilitate this process effectively, I also immerse myself into the literature that we discuss in class. I am always analyzing the world around me, but preparing for my in-class discussions and revisiting the material that we discuss time and time again serves as a form of mental exercise for me; a side benefit is that it inspires my creative impulses as well.
Who/What inspires your writing?
In short, the world around me. Literally anything and everything is fair game. I have my artistic influences, of course, such as writers as diverse as Edgar Allan Poe, Ambrose Bierce, Stephen King, and Dr. Seuss, and visual artists such as Salvador Dali and James Ensor (among others; my direct influences are numerous), but the world around me and my own perspective on the way the world works are probably my biggest sources of inspiration.
Where have your short stories been published? Where can people buy your work?
I’ve only recently been published professionally, and initially only through my own book, Unspeakable. Unspeakable can be purchased through Amazon.com (both the U.S. and the UK markets) as well as any CreateSpace outlet. It may also be available through other book vendors that I am presently unaware of. Gentlemen of Horror 2016 and Ladies and Gentlemen of Horror 2016 can also both be purchased through Amazon.com. All the proceeds from those last two anthologies go to The American Cancer Society.
You self-publish your works through your company Little Gnome Publications. What prompted you to begin your own publication?
It’s more of a small proprietorship/outlet than a company, really. That being said, besides writing and illustrating, I wanted to establish an outlet that would allow me to market artistic/creative products of and through a variety of merchandise and media. In addition to the works I mentioned earlier, I also have a coffee mug, a few posters, and some wrapped canvas products available for purchase.
When will your next book come out? Are you currently writing material for your second book?
I already have material written for the next book, and it will also feature some (currently) unpublished illustrations. I’m not sure exactly when the next book will be available for purchase. I’m still waiting to see what happens with the first volume of Unspeakable.
How will upcoming work differ from “Unspeakable”?
It will feature some different stories and illustrations, but the overall tone, format, and subject matter will be very similar to the first book.
Do you have plans to sign other artist onto your label in the future?
I would certainly love to do so in the future. The possibility still feels remote, at best, but I would love to be able to recruit other artists to become part of Little Gnome Publications.
What kind of authors would you sign to your label?
II would sign artists and authors (and conceivably filmmakers and musicians) who range a large spectrum in terms of styles and genres.
That being said, generally speaking, Little Gnome Publications caters to an audience that prefers artistic output of a darker flavor.
What are the pros and cons of being an indie author?
The biggest pro that I can think of is absolute and infinite creative control. Artistically speaking, I can do whatever I want.
As for the cons, well, the biggest one is that it’s certainly difficult to make a living off of your work.
Any advice for indie authors?
I’m not sure if I’m in any position to give advice, but I would certainly encourage anyone who has any sort of creative passion to try to get their work out and available to the general public. Self-publishing for writers, illustrators, and musicians is probably easier now than it has ever been. It takes time, patience, and usually a bit of money, but it is definitely worth it to get your work out to the public sphere.
And who knows? You may actually make a bit of money in the process.