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Writer Vs. Writer: Aaron Schaut

In this post we have Aaron Schaut. Aaron is a renaissance man: He is not only a novelist but also a web developer, graphic designer, and musician under the alias Dynaflo. His affinity for various forms of art is reflected in his interests, which span from film and television to photography, with a particular fondness for the works of Quentin Tarantino, Robert Frank, and classic authors like Ray Bradbury. His debut novel, "These Americans," showcases a beat narrative, offering vignettes that collectively paint a vivid picture of American slackerdom. I love this book and I am glad to have Aaron to discuss more about it today.

Writer Vs. Writer: Aaron Schaut
Writer Vs. Writer: Aaron Schaut

Hi Aaron. It's a pleasure to have you here. I told you about ‘These Americans’ and how it inspired me to start writing a whole new story. It was ‘raw and uncensored’ which I loved. Can you tell us more about this book and the inspiration behind it as well as share a specific passage from your work that embodies these qualities?

Thank you, Neda. I appreciate that you liked it. The book is, in part, several stories and characters that have been rolling around in my head for years. Two of the secondary characters, Larry and Paul, for example, I've written those names down in a draft at least 20 times over the years. I knew there was a story in them but didn't have a plot. Last year, I realized that it would be fitting to wrap all of these characters into the 'mystery' of Lily disappearing.

I've always been creative and grew up on prose with the works of Kerouac, Burroughs, Pirsig, Bradbury, etc. I'm a big fan of Tom Waits, Jim Jarmusch, John Lurie, and the like. I guess that means I love the beats and transgressive fiction. It wasn't until about a year and a half ago that I read the books Dead Dogs by Manny Torres and Soul Collector by Duvay Knox. The books reignited my passion for reading, and I felt immediately inspired to write. Manny's book had put a series of songs in my head, and I immediately reached out to him. With his approval, I recorded and finished the Road Dogs Trilogy EP, and during the process, I realized that Manny and I had a lot in common. Not having satisfied my inspirations, I decided to start writing These Americans. I realized that whatever Manny had captured in his book, there needed to be more of it, and I challenged myself to make it happen. It also led me down a path of discovery from which I found you and a host of other authors and publishers that I might not have ever known. I couldn't be more grateful for this discovery. Somehow, this reignited a spark in me. If my work can also do this for somebody out there, I'm honored. If not, that's okay too.

It was a very spring-like day as they walked toward the bar. The sun kissed both of their lust-rushed faces. People were out and about, wearing earbuds, riding motorcycles without helmets, and cycling in spandex. Some people wore shorts or tights and large headphones, while others hung out on their porches smoking weed. Spring brought the thumping bass of cars, the smell of burning tires, and the sound of sirens. Birds were singing, and a guy was sitting on the sidewalk talking to a broken piece of bumper. Chick and Stacia both had made their coffee to go. They walked up to the Tip Top parking lot, but the motorcycle was gone... “Fuck me.” ... “I just did.”

Your writing is described as ‘transgressive in nature, but only lightly so.’ Can you give us an example of a subtle transgression in one of your works and how it adds depth to the story or characters?

Transgressive fiction has, I feel, become the definition of work that glorifies sex and drugs. There is nothing wrong with that, but I often feel people miss the point in the literature. My characters feel trapped in a society that isn't comfortable for them. No matter how hard they try, they cannot conform. This leads to actions that sit outside of what is considered normal, and they have to make a real and conscious choice to say, "fuck it." For a lot of authors, this leads to drugs, booze, etc. For mine, the actions are a little less obvious. There is a moment where Lily "flicks a cigarette butt into America's Main Street." For me, this is a transgressive action. However, I don't feel that Rae, being non-binary, is transgressive at all. They are simply going with the flow. These contrasts are very meaningful to me, and I hope others find them meaningful as well.

I can't agree more on how transgressive fiction and non-fiction is narrowed down to use drugs, sex and violence however it has more to it than that. For instance, in Transgressive fiction, we focus mainly on the characters and what goes on in their heads right or wrong. Anxiety, intrusive thoughts, and claustrophobia are great examples in your works as universal inebriations that influence your characters and plot twists. Why is that?

Because I was born this way. I don't remember a time not feeling these things. I don't think it's uncommon either. Doctors keep coming up with new terms and new medications to combat what a lot of people deal with every day. I still feel that this is conformist, and I've yet to feel like there is anything wrong with people who feel these ways. In some cases, these 'flawed' humans are the best. Take Harvey by Mary Chase. I will always find her play very inspiring. Elwood Dowd is an alcoholic with an imaginary rabbit friend. Those around him try to fix him and end up discovering their own flaws. I don't think this is uncommon at all. Still, society is rich with confines and sometimes they are our own confines.

Comparing your writing to a mix of Frank Capra directing Breaking Bad with a Jim Jarmusch cast is quite a visual treat. Could you elaborate on how these influences come together in your storytelling and character development?

Haha, I did say that. Sounds pretentious hearing it back. I guess I'm more inspired by these figures. To me, Frank Capra manages to embrace the good in humans and is very good at portraying it. He, much like Vince Gilligan, uses real dialogue and real human conflict mixed with just the right amount of humor to create a strong metaphor. No matter how much I have tried in the past to stray from the good-hearted nature of people, I can't. I've accepted that this is simply how I write and am choosing to embrace it.

The actors in Jim Jarmusch's camp are who I've visualized in my head while writing. They move slowly, the dialogue is short and sweet, and they have a certain quality about them that is usually emphasized by being shot in black and white. Examples might be John Lurie in Stranger Than Paradise or Roberto Benigni in Down by Law. I say all of this because I write visually. I see a movie playing out in my head while I write my stories, as I'm sure a lot of writers do. To me, there isn't much difference between a good film and a good read.

With your background in web development, graphic design, and music, how do these diverse skills and experiences inform your approach to crafting narratives? Are there any specific projects where you've drawn from these talents?

I've enjoyed working on the advertising and print materials for The Americans project. All of the above are creative efforts, and I am a creative person. Music and lyrics are my biggest passions, but lyrics are poetry. Lyrics tell stories in brief and rather concise structures. Music is made to accommodate my lyrics. I've been doing this for over 20 years and find myself wanting to tell bigger stories without worrying about the music. This was a huge realization for me this past year, and I've come to fully embrace it.

Talent or not, having a background in graphic design and having spent many years going onto a stage leaves me very experienced with handling criticism. Hell, we had a whole class on it in school. Although I haven't had a hell of a lot of negative criticism with my writing, I know it will come and am ready to embrace it. To me, a lot of creatives hesitate to publish because they fear rejection in some form. Creatives, please do not let the fear of rejection stop you! The best work is heavily criticized. You never know who you might touch with your work.

You mentioned your preference for short chapters and a constant stream of thoughts within them. How do you feel this style impacts reader engagement and the flow of your stories?

I write this way because this is how I am. I like to think that readers, who, mind you, could also be characters in the book, might appreciate the brevity and 'to the point' nature of the chapters. I also hope that, with this style, my stories read as a relatable 'thought process' for my readers. This isn't something I really think about; it's just how I write. Similar to the positive nature of my storytelling, I've chosen to embrace it. I like a reader to get through a chapter and get something out of it before falling asleep or feeling the need to put it down and do something else. For me, even the best storytelling has these moments during a read.

I should note that, since These Americans, I've tried to break out of these structures and only found myself disappointed in the outcome. It's easy, as a new writer, to get wrapped up in "following the rules" of good literature when really there should be none. I enjoy my style of writing, and if readers are able to enjoy it, that's a bonus.

Your connection to Grand Rapids and Escanaba, Michigan, seems significant. Do these settings serve as a backdrop for any of your works, and if so, how does the environment influence your storytelling?

On the surface, I suppose These Americans is a sort of mid-western punk rock story. I find this is present in a lot of my writing. Escanaba, my hometown, was small and lacked a lot of diversity. In contrast, Grand Rapids is a small city with a ton of diversity. Upon moving to Grand Rapids, I was thrust into this diversity by working at a small gas station in a less desirable part of town as well as one in a more conservative and Christian Reform part of town (yes, of all of the characters in my book, I am most definitely the gas station attendant.) I loved and embraced this diversity and getting to know its people. Coincidentally, early on, Grand Rapids was littered with punks, mods, and creative types. It is still somewhat that way around here. As a Gen-Xer, we had the war in the Gulf, the Twin Towers, an economic recession, a housing market collapse, etc., etc. All these things contribute to a sense of urgency and a fear of total failure. To me, this fear is trapping. My characters are reacting, however they see fit, to their experiences and their current situations.

How do you write? What is your writing schedule like? Do you have a writing routine?

I rely on my passion for telling a story. I don’t have a schedule, rather let my heart tell me when to write. I wrote most of the first draft of These Americans on my phone. This way, I can do it when and where I want to do it. I’m not a laptop guy as I prefer carrying around as little baggage as possible. If I’m at home, should inspiration strike, I’ll head into my office. Ray Bradbury introduced his show, The Ray Bradbury Theater, with what he described as his “Magician’s Toyshop”. The idea of having a magician’s toyshop has stuck with me since I was a little kid. I’ve surrounded myself with little trinkets and books and things that feed my sentimental nature. My room is comforting to some extent, and I don’t mind writing in it.

How music impacts your writing. Can you delve into how your songwriting informs your prose, and perhaps share a snippet where this fusion is evident?

Having touched on this a little bit in an earlier answer, song lyrics are a kind of poetry. They are brief and concise, and you need to create a moment in a hook. I'm sure this style bleeds into my writing. I've always written everything with massive contrasts, confluence, humor, and emotion. My father used to write these Christmas letters to the family every year. I'm sure that I've adopted some of these storytelling traits. They were quite good stories. The characters in my songs are very much the same as the characters in my writing. They usually suffer from something that causes an anxiety-driven reaction. Sometimes it's the complete opposite theme. Like the lit, I enjoy my lyrics tremendously. If others enjoy them, it's a bonus. To me, the following snippet might be a song could be a song in its brevity.

The motel room at LaQuinta was cool and smelled unmistakably ‘hotel room fresh’. She turned on the TV to the History Channel and started to undress. After the events of the day that led to this ending, she felt so dirty, but she was glad she had pushed on. Her paranoia dissipated as the shower removed any trace of violence, sweat, and little bit of fear off of her body and, probably, into the Red River. She laughed as she thought that perhaps all the violence, anger, and fear that was washed off of everyone along the Red River, or any river that flowed into the Mississippi, were converted into evil spirits and were the reason all the chicken men and voodoo priests were fighting off evil in Louisiana.

Given that many of your characters grapple with anxiety and the desire to escape, how do you ensure readers can connect with and relate to these complex characters, even amidst their struggles?

I don't. If a reader connects to the characters, it's a bonus for me. With These Americans, I tell a simple story with some complex emotions. These emotions are ambiguous enough that I feel they can be relatable in a variety of ways. Lily, for example, could serve as both a hero and an anti-hero. Gus is a nobody, which makes him also a hero or anti-hero depending on how you relate to him. Chick and Stacia want to feel a purpose in life and are somewhat oppressed. Larry and Paul are the innocent, while Morgan Freeman is our subconscious or little angel on our shoulders. All of my characters have a purpose as do their surroundings. To me, these are the ingredients that make up the whole. It is my hope that anyone can find themselves somewhere in the characters and settings, even if it's not the whole but rather a few of the ingredients. These Americans, like my short stories and poems, tell a simple story with big underlying themes and a little bit of humor sprinkled throughout.

Thank you Aaron

Thank you so much, Neda!

If you're interested to know more about Aaron you can check the following links:

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aaron schaut
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Neda allowing me to invade her space is like Helmet letting me open for them on tour. This allowed me a spot among the headliners.

Neda Aria
Neda Aria

It was my pleasure to have you here :)

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