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Writer vs. Writer: Brendan Heneghan | Author Interview

I'm thrilled to have an author interview with Brendan Heneghan, a 25-year-old whose life journey uniquely shapes his literary voice. Raised in Chicago and honed in Louisiana, Brendan's passion for storytelling took root well before he could read or write, blossoming into his debut novel, "The Hard Road." This transgressive fiction piece offers a Gen Z reimagining of the wanderlust and societal critique reminiscent of Hunter S. Thompson, taking readers from Venice Beach to Baton Rouge amidst the backdrop of contemporary America's most tumultuous moments. His narrative isn't just about the landscapes his characters travel around; it's deeply linked with his own life story, marked by fight against early childhood cancer and a spirit that connects deeply with the counter-cultural.

Brendan Heneghan author photo

Hey Brendan. Glad to have you for this interview. You told me that your extensive travels across the United States have clearly influenced your writing. How did your experiences in different American landscapes shape the narrative and setting of "The Hard Road"?

I’ve always said, “if it ain’t south or west, I ain’t trying to go.” This is a bit of a joke, but it is true. The Deep South and the desert have always lured me from early childhood. So, I found an opportunity to write about these places through my own eyes. Everywhere I’ve lived, whether Baton Rouge, Phoenix, L.A., or visiting random places across the Sun Belt, I’ve met very good people from all walks of life. Most are struggling in one way or another. We’re all disillusioned but still have ways to find happiness. This keeps me going.

And I know you're inspired by the upheavals of the 1960s. Can you elaborate on how this era specifically influenced the themes and characters in your novel?

The protagonist, Pat Morrison is named after Jim Morrison, lead singer of The Doors. The way he led the counterculture through theatrical performances, poetry, and messages of revolt inspired me very much. Some of my favorite American heroes are Stokely Carmichael of the Black Panthers, Tom Hayden, and Abbie Hoffman, among others. The 60s were incredible because you had a coalition of so many different groups attempting to overthrow the status quo. Civil Rights organizations. The Panthers. The Yippies. The SDS. They scared the shit out of the establishment and they were so strong that the State saw it fit to assassinate or arrest their leaders. We need upheavals in this country. By this I mean cultural revolution, because the way we’re living is unsustainable.

As I studied politics myself and then turned to writing novels, I'm curious to know how do you blend your academic background with your existentialist literary influences to create a unique narrative voice?

Studying political theory has helped me quite a bit. It’s always been a zero sum game since the time of the Roman Republic. Powerful people either help each other get rich or try doing it by demonizing their opposition. This has always been the case and probably always will be. I really do think the world today hinders human prosperity, and much of this is because of who we allow to rule us, and the laws they create.

Let's get into "The Hard Road" is described as a journey through a dystopian America. What aspects of contemporary American society did you draw on to create this dystopian vision?

COVID was pretty obvious. Having to show a piece of paper before entering a bar (if any were even open), closing churches and gyms, etc. As a twelve year-old in 2010 I never would’ve imagine getting watched by bosses through cameras a decade later. They’re everywhere. Every now and then I’ll walk through a residential neighborhood and a robotic voice from a driveway camera will say, “hi, you are currently being recorded.” I can’t for the life of me figure why or how anyone thinks this is normal, let alone a sign of progress. There are microplastics everywhere, cameras everywhere, carcinogens everywhere. It’s all bad. The population is more unhealthy than it’s been in a very long time, particularly here in The States. Communities are divided, the population is overly dependent on third parties to take care of us, and these days,  less people are self-sufficient than ever before. We’re becoming useless creatures. There’s still hope. I love humanity and the things we can achieve, but things need to change soon if we don’t want to slide down an irreversible slope of decadence.

And in this book, the protagonist of your novel, Pat Morrison, seems to have a deep personal journey throughout the story. How much of Pat's character and experiences are autobiographical, or are they entirely fictional?

Most of it is autobiographical, especially toward the very end. The morning scene in Vegas was completely made up. I’ve also never pulled a .44 on anyone. The real road trip we took in 2020 actually led us back into Utah and Colorado after Flagstaff. I chose instead for the characters to beeline east into Texas and Louisiana. All of those scenes, however, are based on my time at LSU. So true in a sense.

That's interesting. Your writing process seems to fluctuate between intense periods of productivity and times of reflection and reading. How do these phases of your writing process contribute to the development of your stories?

More often than not, I’ll crank out entire scenes and chapters and just off for hours on end. Sometimes I go weeks or even a month without touching a work in progress. I wait until I’m inspired. It also depends on where I am. If it’s mountains, palm trees, and sunshine, I’m inspiration comes easily. If it’s gray, I’m snowed in, and depressing all the time, it’s a bit harder. If I’m going through something difficult, I’ll write more as well because then it becomes even more therapeutic than normal.

Tell me about your interest to document the times and counteract what you see as a corrupted mainstream media narrative. How do you balance this goal with the need to tell a compelling, character-driven story?

The Hard Road book cover

Hunter S. Thompson mastered this exceedingly well. I learned it from him. Often we’ll read news articles or studies that obviously don’t reflect reality. The people in my life, the ones who I write about, we are not the people answering polls. We are not the people who are prospering. Many of us don’t even vote in most elections, simply because there’s almost nobody to vote for. Only candidates to vote against. That’s not democracy. That’s an illusion of choice. So, I listen to people when we have conversations, hear their thoughts and concerns, and find a way to record them. Our society gate keeps prosperity from many, no matter how many times presidential administrations boast of economic growth or decreases in unemployment. Things are not getting better. I tie all this together and integrate it into my work. I personally found solace traveling the highways and wild expanses of this country to alleviate my discontents with the status quo.

The themes of love, honor, friendship, rebellion, and freedom are central to your writing. Can you discuss how these themes are interwoven in the relationships between the three main characters in "The Hard Road"?

With regards to love, it’s something every major character in the novel is pursuing. All three main characters discuss falling in love and having a prosperous future. Clara O’Reilly and Pat Morrison discuss it as well on the balcony in New Orleans. Love is something we all need to live.

Honor and friendship aren’t easy things to find in our time. Courageously diving out into the unknown to see what can happen is deeply honorable. Treating people with respect, and recognizing that life is hard on everyone is absolutely necessary to making to the world a better place. The characters in the book embody both concepts. In the desert, Pat Morrison and his friends are a unit. They won’t let anything bad  happen to one another. Out there, they are all they have. Such is life. These themes hit a high note at the party in New Orleans. They chase honor because they want the chance to do something great and unusual with their lives. Something distinguished, and they did it.

Beautifully said. You describe yourself as an "American Boethius." Could you explain this comparison further, particularly how Boethius' philosophy and circumstances resonate with your own life and work?

It’s a funny thing. Boethius isn’t really a huge influence on my writing style or anything, and I’ve only read his book, The Constellations of Philosophy. He came of age almost immediately after the Western Roman Empire collapsed. I feel I have a responsibility to document the times. For over a century, certainly since the end of WWII, the United States has been a global empire. The most powerful civilization on the planet with unmatched military might and influence. It will come to an end during this century. I’m not saying that the United States will collapse, but the empire will. Our country will remain, as I hope it does, but I think the end of the empire will be like the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. We will remain a very powerful and influential civilization, but we no longer will be the unchallenged and unmatched hegemon we’ve been since 1945. Therefore, like Boethius, I want to document it. His writings are also filled with examples of existential angst, since he went from being a senator in Rome to an inmate on death row under Gothic King Theodoric. He accepted all the cards he was dealt, and made sense of it with his work. As I’ve done with mine. There’s also no shortage of passages in Constellations referencing the evils of politicians. His duty is mine, I feel.

Indeed sir! :) Finally, looking ahead, what can readers expect from the sequel to "The Hard Road" and your upcoming essays and poems? How do you plan to continue exploring and expanding upon the themes introduced in your debut novel?

I will always advocate for revolt in the fashion of the 1960s and Early 70s. Sadly I feel people these days are too divided and apathetic to rally together and overhaul the system and its apparatus of State and Corporate power. I’ll continue to sound the alarm through my essays and poems, although my poetry also features romance, landscapes, and existential awareness and reflection.

In The Hard Road’s sequel, entitled The Fast Lane, Morrison is back on the road. But this time, he’s driving across America all alone. And his journey isn’t two weeks, but over three months. His character is tested in ways he never could’ve imagined. He loses loved ones. He endures run-ins with wild animals. But he also has the time of his life and reconnects with family he didn’t know well before, and establishes ties that can never be severed. You meet his parents, siblings, and friends he grew up with in Chicago during a brief return to his old neighborhood in the middle of the book. This book too will involve themes of revolt and existential reflection and knowledge, but not quite as political. Is its predecessor. It will be a crazier ride than The Hard Road, and a stepping stone to the trilogy’s final tale.

Fantastic. Wish you best luck.

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