There are a number of things you can typically expect from self-published books thanks to an underachieving, or perhaps just impatient, majority (from the sampling that has come my way). It’s not only that the errors and irritating attributes are there, it’s that they’re abundant and glaring. (Flaws like derivative characters, stories, scenery, and situations, ribbon thin characters, and illogical plot movement.) It makes me weary of taking the time to read self-pubbed books, I mean there are millions of good, vetted books I’ll never get to read, why bother with bad ones?
I’d first bumped into the work of Israel Finn via a submission to Unnerving Magazine. A great story titled A Day at Sea (a title I’d managed to fudge up on the table of contents in the paperback version of the magazine). What I saw was something that doesn’t come along too often anymore in the little indie horror world. It was a story styled for a commercial audience. You know, the kind of horror you can pick up in mass market paperback at the bookstore, and if by Stephen King, at Walmart. This rarity might seem strange to an outsider, but the small world of paying speculative fiction magazines has all but turned its back on commercial horror (tales thriving on suspense, built on logical rules, written in a language everyone can enjoy and that never feels like a slog to get through) nine times of ten preferring word play and feelings over plots and readability. I assume this is the direct result of higher education as general literary magazines lean heavily into these kinds of tales—another way to cull out the common folk and remind them of their social place, their upbringing, their caste. Intentional or not.
This idea that how you say something is more important than what you say has taken a toll on many. Some writers find the happy place and excel at mixing storylines with more poetic language, for some it’s the natural way they’ve come to write, but many others flounder and splash about as they attempt forcing their pens in that direction. They do this because that’s who’s paying in short fiction and to garner any kind of acclaim in the tiny land of speculative fiction you have to get into one of the pro-paying magazine who have open submissions (thank sweet baby Moses for anthologies).
So why do lovers/writers of commercial horror try to bend and adapt? I know why I've tried (admittedly, I fall somewhere in the middle of masturbatory writing flourishes and getting the story down as concisely as possible), it's because if someone isn't there telling me I'm good enough to publish, I pretty much can't do it (this is not counting some for fun projects I've tackled, but mental hoops need to be jumped).
Dreaming at the Top of My Lungs is not about flowers wilting, or wealthy people losing status because they’ve turned into moths. It’s not long-winded scenery explorations into the single tear that fell when a character got the call that her father died or the man bleeding into his champagne if only to feel something, and it’s certainly not rehashing of Lovecraft.
These are stories built on normal, relatable, realistic, blue collar characters in difficult situations, first and foremost. Doing this allows the reader be there and assume a role in the cast as the Twilight Zone-like stories unravel lives and lead to conclusions of this world or others (oh yes, these stories start with the beginning and end with the end and in between things happen).
Structurally, the pacing is great, the dialogue is human, and variety is there (though there are recurring themes of household violence, loss of freedom, and comeuppance). As for the prose, I’ve pretty much covered that above. There’s perhaps the odd bump, but only to the most nitpicky eye.
I’ve begun and then finished thirty-five or thirty-six books this year. I’ve started and given up on a dozen more (at least), a few were self-published. In my life, I’ve probably opened more than fifty self-published books, a few were really great. I doubt I've read a self-published collection as good as this one, and as far as my reading of collections these last few years, Dreaming at the Top of My Lungs would rank in with some of the best of them.
A fantastic and original collection of commercial horrors.
You can find out on Israel Finn here