Q&A with indie author Aaron Rath
Give us the tl;dr of your life.
I studied physics, but ended up in IT for the day job. I write books, mostly novels, with some nonfiction and more experimental stuff mixed in. I am self-published, and just starting to explore the traditional route for both stories and books.
How does your day job influence your writing?
The main issue with the day job is the amount of time it takes up. Especially with long-form projects, it’s hard to make progress on evenings and weekends. With every book I’ve had to take at least one day, usually when I feel like I’ve been stuck in the middle for months, to get off the treadmill and make enough progress so that I’m “almost there” and can then finish up in short bursts.
If you had to do something differently as a child or teenager to become a better writer as an adult, what would you do?
If I could change anything from childhood, it would be to seek out more writer friends and communities. I spent a lot of time envisioning myself as a guy alone in a room, manufacturing the sublime out of nothing, and all that’s done is slow down my learning curve. Being part of a conversation and sharing more probably would have sped up the process.
How do you think your writing style has changed over the years?
I over-wrote everything when I started out. Trying to get to the point faster and more clearly, my writing has gotten leaner, more dialogue heavy, almost allergic to descriptions. I probably under-write now, and have to put more detail back in during edits.
What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
Time management is up there, but is probably a close second to maintaining creative enthusiasm. When the road gets rough, the spark disappears. I can go weeks where I don’t do anything at all. But once an idea gets going, it can become almost an obsession, where I don’t want to stop. But take a few days off, and I can lose it again.
If someone is brand new to your work, what book do you think they should start with?
How important is research to you when writing a book?
I’m in the “just enough” camp when it comes to research. Maybe because in my first book I went really far afield, buying dozens of books about different topics — everything from philosophy to a full collection of Salvador Dali picture books, many of which I didn’t use for more than a few paragraphs, if at all. These days, I’ll start with Google or Wikipedia, and if that’s enough I stop, saving my research energy for maybe one or two central items where the realism is key.
If you could have been the original author of any book, what would it have been and why?
If I could lay claim to an existing work, I’d probably take Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions. It’s a book I go back to regularly, maybe almost yearly. It’s got a sense of playfulness, gently wacky and deadly serious at the same time, that I’d love to be able to channel consistently. His understanding of mental illness is a bit dated, but a book littered with delightful doodles earns a ton of leeway on other topics.
Have you ever incorporated something that happened to you in real life into your novels? Ever written about a dream or a nightmare?
My literary fiction is dotted with things loosely resemble real-life events. I can’t keep my alma mater, Oberlin College, out of the books, and Chicagoland very loosely follows the arc of my five years there, including a short burst of internet fame with an online duct tape art gallery, and an ill-fated dot-com startup venture. They are still works of fiction, with a lot of details changed to protect the guilty, enhance the story, or make the unbelievable moments more believable or coherent. I try to stay away from dream scenes in my fiction — it’s too easy for them to come out either boring or incoherent. Occasionally I can pull an idea or two out of a dream, but if it made it into a book it would get wiped of its dreaminess and just be another part of the story.
Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
So far, everything has been written to be standalone, and many of the books are in different genres. There’s a good chance I’m writing to at least three different audiences, which is probably a poor move from the branding department. But as the person who has to devote hundreds of hours of his life to these things, the variety is nice. I could see writing some sequels to my fantasy book eventually, and I’ve at least joked about writing spiritual successors to Chicagoland, called Chicagoland and then CO-land, just for the absurd progression. I do think my personality, and in particular sense of humor, does carry across all the books, so if that’s succeeded in one, it may apply to all of them.
Which writer’s work do you believe most resembles your work?
Turning it around a little, three of my five books have had a strong homage to other authors in them, to the point that sometimes I’ll refer to them as “my Vonnegut book” or “my Kerouac book.” This most recent one is a mashup of a William Carlos Williams book, where I’m literally using some of his words and having a conversation with them. Other people talk about getting tainted by certain authors and having it derail their writing, so maybe I’m doing it wrong and should be more wary of my influences, but bingeing an author is part of what keeps my enthusiasm up.
If you had to pick one author, living or dead, to review your latest book, who would it be?
I’d love to have William Carlos Williams’s thoughts on the book. I mean, yeah, it’s probably a dangerous wish, because how many authors want you screwing around with their work? But since I’m doing a sort of graffiti collage with his text, I’d really enjoy finding out what sorts of things I got right, what I missed from his original, and given that his book was sort of playful and experimental in the first place, there’s some small hope he’d be tickled that I took it one step further.
Katherine Luck is the author of the novels The Cure for Summer Boredom and In Retrospect. Her latest book, False Memoir, combines the high stakes of a gritty psychological thriller with the guilty pleasure of a sensational true crime tell-all. You can read more of her work, including the “Dead Writers and Candy” series, at the-delve.com.