Henry Baum on The American Book of the Dead

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A writer’s working on a book about the end of the world. He starts dreaming about people who turn out to be real – all of whom are having their own prophetic dreams.

Books, Homepage Sub, Interviews  •  May 23, 2011

What’s the book’s first line?

The year was 2020.

What’s the book about?  Give us the “pitch”.

Soon he comes to realize that his novel is real as well – a book about the president trying to bring the Book of Revelation to life.  Dreams, fiction, and reality are starting to blend together. It’s up to the writer and the group of dreamers to figure out what all this signifies and stop the coming apocalypse.

What inspired you to write the book?  A particular person? An event?

The biggest event in recent memory: 9-11.  I was living in downtown New York and saw the planes hit.  I was already a sort of paranoid person, and witnessing that broke something open in me.  I started reading a lot about fringe subjects: conspiracy theories, UFOs, psychedelics, strange religion and physics.  Eventually that morphed into this novel. As far out as this book is, I really do believe in this stuff.  Is it possible that the dreamworld is as tactile as real life? Will paranormal phenomena like ESP one day be the norm? I think it’s possible that humans will evolve at some point – it might even be necessary if we’re going to get out of this cycle.  Though the book’s in part about the world coming apart, it’s also hopeful about how we might move forward.

What’s the most distinctive thing about the main character?  Who—real or fictional—would you say the character reminds you of?

Back to the first line: The Year was 2020.  The second line is (paraphrasing) – as I write this, the year is 2008.  So the lead character is supposed to be me in the future.  And the conceit of the novel is that I’m channeling my later self in order to write the book in the present.  So I wrote about who I thought I might be – a professor working at a college.  I didn’t make him fabulously successful.  Actually, he’s struggling for recognition; working on a book that he hopes will make his mark. Not so different from me today.

What’s the main reason someone should really read this book?

Like I said, I truly believe in this stuff: the world needs a major paradigm shift if we’re going to avoid the major problems that lay ahead. So I’ve tried to lay out a scenario where a paradigm shift could possibly occur.  There’s a lot of apocalyptic fiction being written, but most tend to concentrate on bare-bones survival.  This book’s about how we might avoid even getting to that point.  I think it’s unique in the genre.  It’s also won a couple of awards: Best Fiction at the DIY Book Festival and the Gold IPPY Award for Visionary Fiction.

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