Joel Dorr is a born storyteller, athlete, and a complete delight to talk to. He has a deep love of the craft and is always eager to share a story or two. You can find more information about his work at www.JoelDorr.com
Tell us a little about yourself! Who are you? What do you write?
I grew up in Montana and Wyoming, where as a young boy, my brothers and I raced by horseback across the grass pastures of my grandfather’s ranch. There is no video game that can match the exhilaration of riding full speed on the back of a galloping horse. With a full access nature pass, I swam, rafted and fished many of the lakes and rivers of Wyoming. Early inspiration hit when I located and walked down the same dirt path Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid used to hunker down in their Hole in the Wall hideout. My brothers and I carried fishing poles, instead of guns, that is when we didn’t have a pretend posse chasing us. I was able to put myself through college playing basketball, getting degrees in Theatre and Broadcasting. Later I began writing and developing stories for film and television, until 2006 when I became the Editor of Dramabiz Magazine, a theatre business management monthly.
How does a writer describe himself–with a story, of course? About 20 years ago, I flew to Wyoming to visit my family. Seated next to me on the airplane, was a gentleman with long, white hair, pulled back in a ponytail wrapped in leather ties with beautiful beads. We fell into an easy conversation telling each other our “stories”. He spoke of his tribe, their history and traditions. I countered with my clan, cowboys and Irish and German ancestors. In true “cowboys and Indians” fashion, the conversation turned to the Battle of the Little Big Horn and “Yellow Hair”. Generations of Dorrs living in Wyoming and Montana heard the stories—and not the kind you read in history books. We had much disdain for George Armstrong Custer, the great injustice the U.S. Government put on the native Indians and the fiction portrayed as historical fact. Finding common historical ground, the gray haired man shared how this too is a story passed down through the generations in his family, in fact some of his relatives died as they fought the American encroachment led by “Yellow Hair.” At the end of our trip, my new friend revealed that he was the official storyteller for the Oglala Sioux Nation. He expressed honor in meeting another tribe’s storyteller, which struck me. He said that I, just like him, was destined to be a storyteller, and that it was my responsibility to pass down my tribe’s history. Years later, I have come to realize what he meant. I have always felt a need to tell stories, as did my father and his father. Ironically, as I reflect back, I remember that I wrote my first play after my father took me to the battlefield at Little Big Horn and explained the truth behind the Indian Nations last great victory. I was in third grade. Who am I? I’m a storyteller from Wyoming.
I just completed my first novel, Those Crazy Notions of Otherwise Intelligent People, a contemporary romantic (dramedy) comedy about making bad choices good again. As a writer in film and television, I never thought of myself as a writer in any one genre because I wrote action, adventure, children, comedy and drama. One day, a friend that I trusted to read my work, asked me if I realized that everything I wrote had a touch of romance in it? When I went back and looked, he was right. Love is powerful. I write about it and all the aspects associated with the feeling. Through my writing, I get to experience it all over again and creating that emotion can be exhilarating or devastating. Many wonderful conflicts arise from being in love and lend themselves to all genres. The most heart wrenching stories of all time, like Doctor Zhivago, use love as the catalyst to propel the story forward.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I think it was the day I was going down an elevator from a meeting with a management company in Century City (in L.A.). Minutes earlier, my pilot for a television series, called WITNESSED, was optioned. I looked at my producing partner, trying my best to control my emotions as I’m sure they would be captured on the security camera, and asked, “Did what I think just happened, really happen?” When he smiled and shook his head yes, I was convinced that I could truly write, well, a TV script anyway. As the editor of Dramabiz Magazine, I had to interview, write and edit a monthly magazine, which taught me discipline and what to look for in quality writing. Those two experiences gave me the courage to write my first novel.
What does RWASD mean to you?
Always feeling a bit out of place, I would say RWASD feels like “being home.” I’ve never fit in with any one group. I was a basketball player who studied theatre in college. Theatre students disliked athletes and jocks didn’t understand the arts, so I was in the middle somewhere. As a writer, I sort of white knuckled my way along learning what I could from where I could find it through sheer determination. I’ve never established good working relationships with agents because I didn’t want to high concept a package of my work. I chose to work in the background, finding producers who preferred working directly with writers (through layers) to get the project done. But that is a lonely way to go about things. Film and television writer groups were not open or friendly, but rather competitive and secretive. For someone to help you in L.A., they wanted something in return. It was true quid pro quo that usually meant a part or a percentage of your good idea or project. And sometimes, they just took. It wore you down.
RWASD was like walking into a meeting of old friends who insisted you let them into your life, to help YOU make your writing better and the process of self-publishing easier. Everyone is caring, positive and nurturing–sincerely asking what you are working on and sharing information to help. Even from a personal perspective, I felt supported after sharing the ups and downs of my wife’s battle with breast cancer. They supported me while I was tired and struggling to find focus and strength. Finding this group was the best thing I’ve done for myself in many years. I can’t thank everyone enough for their help in my writing and personally.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced on your journey to becoming a writer?
The biggest challenge for me is to remember to make writing daily a priority. It’s a gift to have the ability to create a story in your mind and then translate an idea into words so that others can enjoy your thoughts. Sometimes, I get so wrapped up in life that I miss a day or two of writing. I loose touch with that joy of pushing a story along. It is an adrenaline rush to read what I have written after toiling late into the night. Never knowing if it is reader-ready as I boot up the computer, I oftentimes get excited at reading something special that I don’t remember writing (and no I don’t late night binge drink). On my list of loves, writing has surpassed basketball and sits right below family.
What attracted you to romance? Why does it speak to you?
I can tell you exactly what attracted me to romance and when. I was in the eighth grade and had my first crush. She was sitting next to me, both of our hands resting alongside our legs, fingers barely touching watching a film with really strange dialogue. I was totally caught off-guard and sucked in by the infatuation of Romeo for Juliet. I had never seen the brilliance of ingénue love and replicating it became engrained in my writing DNA. Can you think of a story line without love or romance at the core? Well, a story or movie worthy of your time anyway. It drives motives, good and bad, and intensifies the conflict due to the heightened sense of desire. Plus, sex drives people crazy.
Where is the weirdest place or what is the weirdest thing that inspired an idea?
I once met a stuntman who was missing his arm below the elbow. Among his many jobs, he was a stuntman for the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, Predator, in a scene where they blew the Predator’s arm off. Anyway, I shook the man’s hand and suddenly I got this idea for a children’s action film featuring broken toys that come to life as imperfect super heroes. The toy’s broken body parts were remade with non-lethal weapons, like goo guns, which shot sticky stuff instead of bullets. They only came to life for one hour. The idea developed into a script called One Hour Warriors and was optioned but never made into a movie.
Love Scenes. Steamy or sweet? Why?
C’mon, I’m a guy. Do I need to answer this question? Bring on the heat! Well…after thinking about this a little more, I’m not into hot sex just for the sake of hot sex–I would be too exhausted. But when writing a story, it really depends on the story itself and what feels right. In Those Crazy Notions of Otherwise Intelligent People, I developed each love scene so there is an emotional response true to the characters and that escalates the intensity. Sometimes that intensity isn’t always a good thing. In one love scene, the reader learns the honest feelings of one of the characters, but I find it sexy that sex isn’t good when you can’t connect. I like unexpected love scenes at the point where the character leads can’t take it any more and they must have each other in a vivid and high-voltage experience leaving the reader in need of change of underwear or finding someone to help them with their pent-up needs.
Who’s a writer you would do backflips to meet and why?
I would have liked to have met Michael Chrichton before he passed away. He was a brilliant man (he wrote a novel to pay for medical school for crying out loud) and was able to write novels for all ages with storylines that pushed the envelope of controversy while being entertaining. I miss him and his books.
If you could go back 20 years ago, What advice would you give yourself?
You’ve got potential, kid. Don’t let anyone steal that from you. Stay focused and work harder. Then get some humility.
Tell us about your latest novel!
Those Crazy Notions of Otherwise Intelligent People
Ilena Doran is a dedicated therapist with a serious problem, and not the lousy haircut or closet-full of outdated clothing kind. Ilena’s big challenge comes in the small, 7 year-old package of her son, Sammy, traumatized by his father’s death.
Percy Powers is a psychiatrist’s wet dream; a wayward rocket fueled by tequila and hard-wired to locate any party starring scantily-clad women in need of his company. Following a chance meeting with Ilena and Sammy, the morning radio star offers to help the little fella, hoping Ilena might entertain a subtle invitation to have a little adult fun along the way.
From what Ilena has seen and heard from the media, she doesn’t like or trust Percy. She knows the type all too well and her professional instincts scream ‘all Mr. Party Pants really wants is inside her lace panties’.
The story is about two people who have ridiculous notions about themselves and others when the truth contradicts what is right in front of them. Sometimes you have to learn to accept help even it if comes from the unlikeliest of places.
I think readers of romance will find the complicated male lead, Percy, to be fascinating and might just break down their stereotypical assumptions of how men think and act when it comes to women, love and relationships. This story is rich with eclectic characters including several strong women, who match wit for wit with the egotistical Percy. The best wit-matcher is Ilena, a warm, loving mom and therapist, who tries to dodge the Percy curveball that is on target to destroy her perfectly, organized imperfect life.
Before you go, any advice to give to the new writers out there?
Don’t write what you think will sell–write what you love to write. I’m finding the preconceived notion of a man writing romance to be a challenge, but with the support of RWASD (which all new writers should join), I’m learning my way.
Then read everything you can get your eyes on. Write every day.