June’s indie book-of-the-month, Dreaming at the Top of My Lungs, was written by Israel Finn, a horror, dark fantasy, and speculative fiction writer and a winner of the 80th Annual Writer’s Digest Short Story Competition.
Israel’s had a life-long love affair with books, and was weaned on authors like Kurt Vonnegut, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Arthur C. Clarke and H.G. Wells. Books were always strewn everywhere about the big white house in the Midwest where he grew up. Although he loves literary works, his main fascination lies in the fantastic and the macabre, probably because he was so heavily exposed to it early on.
When he later he discovered Robert McCammon, Dean Koontz, F. Paul Wilson, Dan Simmons, Ramsey Campbell, and Stephen King, as well as several others, the die was indelibly cast.
He’s been a factory worker, a delivery driver, a singer/songwriter in several rock bands, and a sailor, among other things. But throughout he’s always maintained his love of storytelling.
And tell stories he does. Dreaming at the Top of My Lungs doesn’t just contain stories that will give you the creeps, although there are a fair amount of those. Some of these tales make you reach deep down inside for emotions you thought you’d long forgotten, and some will change your perspective on everyday issues and experiences. In fact, reading this collection is an experience, with lush descriptions and gritty characters that grab you by the collar and pull you into the story, kicking and screaming. I’m honored to publish our book-of-the-month interview, below:
1. You mention in your Foreword that you write about real fears — can you share an experience you’ve had that prompted one of the tales in Dreaming?
I’d just had a spat with my wife. I can’t recall what it was about, and it doesn’t really matter. Married couples quarrel sometimes, it’s natural, even healthy. But she left our apartment to run some errands before we had resolved whatever the issue was, so we were both still angry. Then as time passed, my imagination got the best of me, as it so often does. I started to worry that something would happen to her while she was out (a car wreck, an earthquake, a public shooting), or that something would happen to me (a heart attack, a plane crashing into our apartment). This uneasy feeling ate at me, and a little voice inside me said, “What if you never see her again? What if you never get the chance to tell her you’re sorry, and the last thing she ever hears from you are your words of anger?” I think many of us carry superstitions around with us. If you step on a crack, it just might break your mother’s back. And don’t say the word cancer or the cosmos may just hear you and actually strike you with it. My story Stranded was born of these fears, that we should be careful what we say, because words have power, and the universe has ears, and you may unwittingly speak some horror into existence.
2. In Stones, you put a unique spin on phobias dealing with sexual orientation. That’s a real-world topic and I think your tale did a fine job of deconstructing the issue and framing it in a new way. Did you intend to take a social stand with this, or did it just occur organically as you wrote?
A little of both. One approach I try to use in my writing, and one that can be powerful when it works, is to show an idea from a reverse perspective. I did it in Water and War, and again in Stones. I think if you take someone out of their own skin, so to speak, and put them in someone else’s, they begin to see how similar we all are, that we all want pretty much the same things out of life. Once you begin to see the world through someone else’s eyes, it becomes harder to hate them. I have gay friends, and it infuriates me to see or hear about some bigot treating them badly. But history will look back on these hypocrites and see their ideology as ridiculous, just as we see slavery as a preposterous concept today.
3. I find your writing to be eerily reminiscent of Stephen King, with lush vocabulary that creeps over the reader like verbal kudzu and completely envelopes him in the scent, sound, and feel of a scene. Is this typical of your writing or did these tales just clamor for that treatment?
It’s just how I write. I like to give as much texture to my make-believe worlds as possible. The devil’s in the details. If an alien spacecraft is landing for the first time in front of a crowd of Earthlings, what makes the event exciting (or frightening) is not the event itself, but the rich mixture of feelings and reactions coming from the onlookers. That’s where the real story lies.
4. Which story gave you the most difficulty and why?
Probably To Catch A Fly. It was hard to keep it from reading like a manifesto. It revolves around this miscreant’s views of the world (some of which I share), and it was difficult to present it as a story that unfolds rather than simply this guy’s litany of rants. I went through several drafts before I thought it was presentable.
5. Do you have a process or technique you use to punch up your creativity and get new inspiration?
One thing I try to do is to always remain aware of what’s going on around me. It’s easy to get mired in the mundane, but inspiration can be found in the tedium of everyday life, whether it be snippets of overheard conversation, someone’s appearance, or whatever. But the muse can be an elusive thing. And as blunt as it may sound, the best way I’ve found to capture it is to just put my ass in the seat and my fingers on the keys.
6. What new book/story do you have in the works?
I’ve got a few. But my passion at the moment is one that started as a stand-alone novel, yet is probably going to be a trilogy. It’s called Threads, and it’s the contemporary tale of Will Dunham, an unlikely hero who finds himself the reluctant defender of the multiverse.
7. What’s your best piece of advice for indie writers?
Don’t quit. Keep writing, no matter what. Read everything you can get your hands on, in and out of your comfort zone. Read writing books by successful authors. Stay away from negativity. Social media is a great place for the most part, but it has its share of naysayers. Avoid them like the plague. Ignore them. Write.
Thanks, Israel, for allowing me to profile Dreaming at the Top of My Lungs as a book of the month and for sharing your writing process. I’d like to encourage everyone to support this talented author by downloading a copy of Israel’s book NOW by clicking on the cover:
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If you’d like your novel to be featured in the Indie Book-of-the-Month author series, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Just give me a brief summary of your novel and the genre, point me to where it “lives” (Amazon, a personal website, brick-and-mortar bookseller) so I can pick up a copy. Also, include a short bio. Please DO NOT offer me a free copy (unless you are currently running a special on your novel). I like to support my fellow indies and I also prefer to operate free of perceived bias!
Please give me two weeks to answer all queries — I don’t have “people” to help me out yet, so things can move slowly at times!
Thanks so much for you interest and for your support of other indie book authors!