In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors–Tyler McAndrew
1. Tell us about your short story in Volume 20. How did it come to be?
A pretty huge percentage of the stories that I write begin as things that I just think are funny, just little jokes that I’m telling to myself. Initially, the only thing I knew about “How I Came to See the World” was that I wanted to write about someone having a pet skunk. For whatever dumb reason, I thought that was just hilarious. So, most of the early work that I did on this story was just figuring out what kind of a person would want to own a skunk. Somehow, the paragraphs about the neuroscience study found their way into the story–those were based on an actual research study that I participated in when I was a grad student and didn’t really have enough money to afford anything beyond my rent.
2. What was an early experience that led to you becoming a writer?
My older brother, Phil McAndrew, is a cartoonist and an illustrator, and when we were growing up, we always used to draw comics with our friends. I always imagined that I would end up having a career in comics. But I was never crazy about super-heroes or action stories, and that stuff dominates so much of comic culture, and in retrospect, I think part of me was always kind of exhausted by comics. I never thought of myself as a writer though, and it wasn’t until I was a senior in college and took my first ever writing workshop, with Phil LaMarche, that it began to feel like a thing I wanted to do. Phil was a fantastic teacher, and on some level, I think that I owe him some thanks for all of the writing I’ve done since then.
3. How has writing shaped your life?
In the most concrete terms, writing has helped me get jobs as both a tutor and a teacher (my primary sources of income for the past several years). I try not to be too spiritual or grandiose about writing, but I do also think that, while I’ve lived a much different life from either of the characters in “How I Came to See the World,” writing has helped me with a lot of the same things they’re struggling with: being honest, setting goals, and trying to find some purpose or meaning in my life.
4. What books, writers, art, or artists inspire you and your work?
Carson McCullers has always been one of my favorite writers. Her second novel, Reflections in a Golden Eye, was probably the first book I ever read that made me feel like, “yeah, this is the sort of book that I want to write.” Amy Hempel and Stephanie Vaughn are a couple of other writers whose stories I always look to as the sort of thing I want to strive for. I’m always inspired by my friends, too. My friend Cameron Barnett just published his first book, The Drowning Boy’s Guide to Water, which is a collection of really beautiful poems, and being at his book launch reading in Pittsburgh last year–just seeing him, seeing that all of this is possible and that it’s all worthwhile–was easily the most important literary event of my recent life.
5. What projects or pieces are you working on right now?
There are always at least five or six things that I’m rotating between. I’m hopefully getting close to finishing a manuscript of short stories. The story that’s been demanding my attention this past month or so is about a haunted house. I also have a nonfiction piece that I’ve been working on for several years about a woman who lived her entire life off the grid, in a house out in the woods–about an hour north of where I live in Pittsburgh–without running water, heat, or electricity.