This is my interview with Aaron Kane Heinemann, author of the novel Gods and Conquerors and the short story collection Removed Without Warning (both of which I think are five-star books, and would definitely recommend reading). I came across Aaron’s writing almost two years ago, and ever since then, I have been singing his praises and eagerly waiting to read anything else he writes!
I always think it’s interesting to tap into the mind of an author to see what inspires them, and how they came to write their work, and as such a great writer, Aaron’s answers are intruiging as well as great snippets of his clear ability to write! I hope you all enjoy what he’s got to say, and that we both manage to convince you to get yourself a copy of his books!
What are three facts about you?
I have a Computer Science degree. I’m a big fan of tattoos – I’ve got three so far, and am on the lookout for ideas for a sleeve on my right arm. Last year, I started a vegetable patch, and now it’s pretty much all I think about.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
On and off. I’ve always wanted to be creative – I’ve been in a couple of mediocre bands and a few plays, and if you’d asked me while I was doing my degree I would have said I wanted to make video games for a living (though I’m sure I wouldn’t have been good enough at programming to make it in that world). But writing is something I’ve come back to a number of times – we were spring cleaning recently (getting rid of everything that didn’t spark joy, obviously) and I came across a book I wrote when I was about 6, about the adventures of an owl and a hedgehog. It was cute, but I’m not setting a Kindle release date just yet.
What inspired you to write Gods and Conquerors?
A couple of things led me to start Gods and Conquerors. I’d written a few novels before that one (none of which will ever see the light of day, unless I ever get famous and my beta readers leak them to make a fiver on eBay), all of which were a lot smaller in scope, more about angry loners leading very average lives with some weird twist. Small people with shallow problems. So, I wanted to try writing something bigger and deeper than those, something that would make the reader think about life and the kinds of truths that we all share and feel, while also keeping some of those smaller, more personal problems in the mix. Something set in a big, sprawling desert (I love deserts), but keeping small humans with small issues at its heart.
And the other big inspiration was my own situation. At the time of writing the book, I was going through a period of intense paranoia and anxiety, much like Kojima does in the story. Writing anything at all is a helpful kind of therapy when I feel stressed out, but writing that story in particular – about Kojima, with her issues just like mine, and Ballard, whose stinking attitude is a bit like mine used to be, which still fills me with regret – was especially cathartic. I was able to make a bit more sense of the way I was feeling by taking those characters on a journey and resolving those issues (or not) with them, and that’s what I always want to do in my writing. Even in my crazier stories, I want there to be a sort of truth at the centre, some kind of universal feeling that I want to tap into. Because those are the stories I like to read – they’re the ones that make me feel most connected to the writing.
So, it was all that pretentious nonsense, and also that I wanted to write a cool space story, because why not? Everyone loves a little bit of sci-fi every now and then.
What’s your favourite story from Removed Without Warning?
That is a very tough question! I’m fond of them all for different reasons (even though, like most people who’ve ever written anything, I’m never absolutely 100% happy with anything I write).
I like The Sleepwalker, because it felt like an original idea when I was writing it, and it’s also a bit silly. I’m fond of Waiting for the Hangman too, because it was my first attempt at a Western sort of vibe, and I feel like it didn’t go too badly. The Interludes are fun little stories as well, so they have their place in the top 12. But I think first place is probably tied between Blood and The Elephant in the Garden. Blood, because it captures some of that intense paranoia I mentioned, and if I’ve done it right, infects the reader with a taste of it too; and Elephant, because it’s a sweet story, and when I read it back before publishing the book, I found that it had turned out much better than I thought it would while I was writing it, which is always nice.
Why did you decide to self-publish your books, rather than using a traditional publishing route?
Well, I wanted to propose to my girlfriend on the dedication page of a book, because that sounded like the most romantic way I could possibly do it, and I wanted to do it that year. So I didn’t have time to start querying literary agents, find a publisher and all that nonsense! It had to be done now!
That’s the main excuse, anyway. The truth is that even if I’d tried, I would probably never have managed to get an agent – not only because you have to be incredibly good or incredibly lucky or both, but also because literary agents aren’t really interested in representing anyone who has already self-published, unless they’ve managed to become very successful on their own. I self-published my first short story collection, Everything Around Me is Destroyed or Damaged, in 2013, just to prove to myself that I could; and since I’ve only ever sold a few hundred copies of that one, the traditional publishing ship had sailed for me by the time I’d finished Gods and Conquerors.
I don’t regret a thing – I got the girl, hundreds of people have my books on their Kindles or their shelves, and a handful of readers have even said some really lovely things about them; but if someone wanted to be a successful novelist and was asking me for advice, I would tell them not to self-publish. I’d ask them: how many of your favourite authors are self-published?
What’s your all time favourite book?
I would have to say Frankenstein. Every now and then, a new book comes along, blows me away and steals the top spot for a while. I become obsessed with it, and I buy it for all my friends and family to try and force the things I love onto them. But I always come back to Frankenstein – there’s just something magical about it.
What book would you like to be seen made into a film, which hasn’t been already?
Assuming I can’t name my own books (I’m open to the idea, if any Hollywood producers happen to read your blog), I’m struggling to think of a good book that hasn’t already been made into a film. I haven’t seen The Sisters Brothers yet, but I’m glad that’s been adapted. I was in love with The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock for a while – that would be a good one, especially if it was done as well as, say, No Country for Old Men.
Which authors would you compare yourself to? Who do you draw inspiration from?
I don’t think I’d dare compare myself to any authors I really love –
most of them are better than I’ll ever be. I wish I had Cormac McCarthy’s gift for bleakness and beauty, his absolute command over the language; Philip Roth’s ability to write so conversationally, including all the little details that make his stories so personal and believable; Philip K Dick’s inventiveness and originality. Depending on which day you ask me, I might wish I wrote like William Faulkner, John Williams, Don DeLillo, Donald Ray Pollock, Michael Crichton… the list goes on and on.
Not that I’d actually like to imitate any of those people. I am definitely inspired by them though – I am never more productive in my own writing than when I’m reading an excellent book. And that works both ways – some books have been so bad that reading them has given me writer’s block.
What are you working on next?
I’m working on a novel about a normal family from a quiet suburb who are torn apart by a tragedy that none of them can make sense of. I’m finding it a bit challenging, to be honest – I want to explore the way the characters feel, their thought processes, what motivates them to do the things they do and react to the events around them in the way that they do; but you can’t just rabbit on for 400 pages about how sad everyone is, or how terrible it is for tragedy to strike nice people. You have to keep the reader interested. So, it might take longer than I hoped and it might not even work in the end, but I like a challenge and it’s still in the early stages yet, so we’ll see how it goes. This is one advantage to being a self-published author – I haven’t got a deadline to meet or millions of fans waiting on my next book, so the only pressure I’m under is that which I put on myself.
And finally, convince whoever is reading this interview, why they should read either Gods and Conquerors or Removed Without Warning.
You should read my books because they’re bargains (if you have Kindle Unlimited, you can read them all for free), and according to Amazon and Goodreads reviews, nearly everyone who has read them has enjoyed them (my nan didn’t, but she’s the exception that proves the rule). Even the bloke who gave Gods and Conquerors 3 stars said it was “enjoyable and original” – what more could you ask for?!