Because she and I taught together at the Community College in rooms almost across from each other, we shared many thoughts about writers we appreciated as well as issues regarding what she and I wrote. Although Ms. Eichman-Dorr and I discussed writing a book together, we never had a chance to bring that idea to fruition.
After you read her answers, you’ll understand why I regret that we never collaborated…
Barry Koplen: When did you know you wanted to be or happened to be a writer?
Noel Eichman-Dorr: It was out of utilitarian purposes. I was a young mother looking for a creative outlet, a way to enjoy work while making some money. I took a couple of writing classes, correspondence, before there was online. I submitted an article to our local paper and was hired to freelance a weekly column on everything from social justice, politics, to raising kids. I’m a republican, so I grew thick skin quickly.
BK: Was there a story you wanted to tell?
NE-D: Yes. One day I happened to walk past the television when Geraldo Rivera had KKK members on his show; they were railing and popping off biblical scripture to support their stand against interracial marriage. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. They had it all wrong. I joined a great writer’s group run by the late Leonard Bishop, who wrote one of the best writing books, Dare to Be a Great Writer. He just happened to move to Kansas from NYC because his wife inherited some land. One of Leonard’s books Seven Blind, I believe, was ABC’s first Motion Picture of the Week. A big deal back in the 70s. He’d hung out with heavy hitters, like Mario Puzo and Norman Mailer. I began my novel When the Ugly Comes—about a black doctor in the 1950s who came to minister medically in the deep south, Alabama, where my father was from. The black doctor falls in love with a young white woman who he knows he’ll never be able to have, befriends her father who runs the hounds at a local prison, and runs into problems with the KKK. It’s brutish, with lots of twists, but also filled with much grace.
BK: Did anyone inspire you to be a writer?
NE-D: It would have been Leonard. He wrote on my first chapter: “You got a good start. Now finish it.” He was an excellent mentor. I wrote every day, as he taught us to do to stay in touch with our characters. I loved how he always said, “That baloney business about characters telling you what to do is crap. You are the author. You are in control of your characters. You do what you want with your story. And if you rewrite history a little bit, who cares? No one was there.”
BK: When did you know whether you wanted to write prose or poetry?
NE-D: I started out novel writing. Wrote three novels. Then I switched to poetry as a form of therapy, a working out of life losses. I love writing poetry. It’s a beautiful challenge in skill and linguistic sleight of hand to create something so beautiful that someone would simply enjoy just saying the words aloud. I love gritty poetry that gets to the broken heart of things.
BK: Were you inspired by another writer, perhaps a famous writer?
NE-D: I loved Lisa Zaran’s poetry. I brought her to Danville Community College during Celebration of Arts week. I had a great dean at the time who trusted my judgement; though a colleague at the time complained she wasn’t academic enough. When she presented, it was standing room only. Her poetry is powerful, explosive, and gut- wrenching. Her power tool—she had no ego.
BK: Did you take classes, or did someone train you?
NE-D: Leonard trained me in fiction. I trained myself in poetry by reading lots and lots of poets who I loved.
BK: Once you began to write, what were some of the difficulties you had to overcome?
NE-D: Thinking I wasn’t good at writing poetry. That I didn’t have the erudition to create something brilliantly artful and academic at the same time. Someone once asked me, “What do you write poems about?” And my husband at the time butted in, “She writes about her old boyfriends.” He’s no longer my husband.
Also, I had people tell me they couldn’t believe I could write a book that was so harsh. Guess I didn’t fit the “type.” It’s a story. People don’t want to be bored. Leonard always said, “You gotta hoke it up! Not lie just hoke it up!”
BK: Which famous writers are your favorites?
NE-D: Simon Van Booy who wrote The Secret Lives of People in Love, a collection of short stories. Robert James Waller’s Border Music and Slow Waltz in Cedar Bend. He also wrote Bridges of Madison County turned into a movie. But I didn’t care for it, as it romanticized adultery. Tony Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. Anything by Virginia Wolf. Joseph Heller’s Catch 22, and J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye.
BK: Have you published any of your writing?
NE-D: Yes, When the Ugly Comes is published, available through Amazon in print under Carmen Eichman, eBook under Noel Dorr.
BK: Finally, do you have any advice for writers who are just getting started?
NE-D: If you love it, do it. Read a lot. Join a writer’s group. Write every day in a comfortable spot at a comfortable time of day. Don’t give up. Expect rejection. A lot of it. So, what? I got over 150 rejections for When the Ugly Comes. Christian publishers said they liked it, but it was too harsh. Probably wouldn’t say that these days. That did not discourage me. I had it published print-on-demand because I believed in it. Write what you love. Others will love it, too.