Andrea Kneeland’s work has appeared in more than 50 journals and anthologies. She is the author of How to Pose for Hustler (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2015) and has two more collections forthcoming: The Translations (Sententia Press) and the Birds & the Beasts (The Lit Pub). More information and links to her work can be found at www.andreakneeland.com
Geosi Gyasi: When did your writing career all began?
Andrea Kneeland: I have a hard time thinking of it as a career, since it’s more of a passion that I have to squeeze in between the bits of my every day life, but in terms of when I started writing things that got published and shared with a wider audience – that would have been 2006 or 2007. My first published piece was in an issue of Hobart, and was solicited by Elizabeth Ellen from a social writing platform called Zoetrope. I never would have dreamed of submitting things for publication before that – I was far too nervous or anxious, but having her support on that first piece made me comfortable enough to really jump in and start sending things out.
Geosi Gyasi: Which genre did you start out with as a writer?
Andrea Kneeland: I’ve been writing both short fiction and poetry since I was a teenager. I think short stories, flash fiction, is what actually comes easiest to me. I’ve been working on a novella for the past 8 years and still haven’t finished it. The longer stuff really doesn’t come easily. Sustained work makes me anxious. It gives me more space to worry whether or not I’m making the right decisions. It’s the same reason I have tiny (and many unfinished) tattoos all over my body. I have a hard time sustaining the effort it takes for a sprawling piece. I am an acolyte of immediate gratification.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you mind telling us something about your first collection of stories, “How to Pose for Hustler”?
Andrea Kneeland: How to Pose for Hustler (out February 2015 from Civil Coping Mechanisms) is a collection of short stories, as well as prose poetry, spanning 10 years or so of work – the flash and stories I consider the best in the genre of sort of dirty realism. I hope it’s funny. I think most of the work is kind of sad. I’ve been told it’s disturbing. All the characters make bad decisions. Actually, one of the best compliments anyone ever gave me about my writing was that they didn’t know anyone who wrote more uncomfortable sex scenes than I did, and that they cringed every time they read one. I loved the compliment and thought it was hilarious because that wasn’t necessarily what I was going for. So, anyway, if that’s what you’re looking for – uncomfortable sex and bad decisions, you’d probably enjoy “How to Pose for Hustler.”
Geosi Gyasi: What is your relationship with Civil Coping Mechanisms?
Andrea Kneeland: I knew of Michael Seidlinger and Civil Coping Mechanisms just because of the volume of excellent work that he puts out – every author I’ve seen him publish or promote is an author who is really quality, and who I would be honored to be published alongside. So, when he ran the first CCM Mainline constest (I believe submissions were open for a week, and frontrunners were announced every day, with the final winner announced at the end – I think it goes for two weeks now), I sent in my manuscript but never thought it would be selected. I was in shock and still really overjoyed about it. With all of my work, I always make it a point to only submit to places who have published work that I think is really excellent. What’s the point of getting published somewhere otherwise?
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a favourite among all the stories you’ve written?
Andrea Kneeland: I’ve never really thought about it! Though when you ask that, the first story that pops into my head is The Difference Between, which is the opening story for the collection. I am really proud of that one.
Geosi Gyasi: Which writers have greatly influenced you?
Andrea Kneeland: So many. And lots of diverse writing styles. In terms of the collection that’s coming out from CCM, Mary Miller’s influence can’t be understated. Before I got to know Mary’s writing, I was sticking just to fairy tales and real experimental stuff, but I loved what she was doing and she encouraged me to try and expand my scope. I still write fairy tales and experimental things from time to time, but writing stories rooted in more realism was extremely liberating. As far as writers I read when I was younger that have rooted themselves in my psyche, influences that I can’t get away from no matter how hard I try: Lydia Millet, Joyce Carol Oates, JG Ballard, Andre Gide, Barry Gifford, Vladimir Nabokov.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a specific time when you write?
Andrea Kneeland: I’ve never had a set schedule, and I’ve always regretted that. Now that I have a toddler and an infant, I regret it even more because time is so scarce. I think all the time about how much time I wasted before I had kids – all that time that could have been spent writing instead of watching Dance Moms with a glass of wine in one hand and a bag of Doritos in another. Not that I regret my time with Dance Moms either, but using that time for writing would have left me with some longer term momentos. Now, I just find time whenever I can. Usually when the baby is napping or at night for a little while. I’m lucky if I get 30 minutes a day. Sometimes I go week without writing a word, just because of sheer exhaustion. My poetry has really suffered as a result of the fragmented writing time. I find that I can work on fiction in 15-30 minute bursts, but I really need a chunk of at least two hours if I’m going to make any progress on a poem, because the nature of the immersion into the work is different for me.
Geosi Gyasi: How do you choose titles for your stories?
Andrea Kneeland: My favorite method is to look for a phrase or just a word that shows up somewhere in the story. Sometimes that phrase will pop out at me while I’m writing, but a lot of times at the end, I’ll just go back through and look for a phrase or a word that could work.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have specific readers in mind when you write?
Andrea Kneeland: I try really, really hard not to because I think that affects your work. And unless you’re writing for paying markets (which I’m not knocking at all – I envy the paying market writers! If I knew how to write a mass market romance novel, I would) it can really negatively affect your output, I think. Afterward, obviously, I’ll try to figure out which journal I know of that would be the best fit, but whatever comes out, comes out. I just try to write things I would want to read.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you care about subject matter when you write?
Andrea Kneeland: Yes. Deeply, when I’m writing it. That’s actually been the biggest stumbling block to my writing since becoming a parent. I don’t want to write about kids, and I have a hard time, day-to-day-, finding the will to care about anything else beyond the tiny little microscopic world of my daughters. And I’m not interested in writing about that. So it’s much harder for me to find inspiration.
Geosi Gyasi: Which books have greatly influenced you as a writer?
Andrea Kneeland: Books with interesting form, or a mix of poetry and prose have been a big influence on me. So, Jacques Roubaud’s Hortense series, Laurence Stern’s Tristram Shandy, Jean Toomer’s Cane, Etel Adnan’s Sitt Marie Rose. I think that these books just kind of opened my mind about what it’s possible for a book to be, even if the influence doesn’t show directly in my writing.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you write on a computer?
Andrea Kneeland: Yes! Though there was a period there when my baby was a bit younger that most of my writing was done on my iphone while the baby slept on me.
Geosi Gyasi: What is the most boring part about writing?
Andrea Kneeland: When you know you need to get from point A to point B in a storyline but can’t find a creative way to do it, so just have to write it out even if you’re unhappy with the words that you’re putting on the page. That’s painful. That’s drudgery. It feels like dragging lifeless 300 pound puppets around.
Geosi Gyasi: Have you ever been rejected for your work?
Andre Kneeland: So many times. How is it even possible to get published without getting rejected?
Geosi Gyasi: Do you think about critics when writing?
Andrea Kneeland: Sometimes. Mostly it’s if I’m worried about something specific in a story, and I don’t know if the critique in my own head is something lots of other people will think, too, when they’re reading.
Geosi Gyasi: Does your family approve of your writing?
Andrea Kneeland: Yes. Though I’m not sure if they’re crazy about the content.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you earn enough from writing?
Andrea Kneeland: Absolutely not. Everything I’ve done has been small press, literary as opposed to market-driven genre. I would like to get to a point where I’m also writing some more market driven work to pay the bills.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have any formal education in writing?
Andrea Kneeland: I took a few undergraduate creative writing courses in college, but that’s it. I found them to be too introspective – that is, too focused on personal craft and not focused enough on what was going on in the world around, on outside influences. It didn’t work for me, personally.
Geosi Gyasi: Have you ever experienced writer’s block?
Andrea Kneeland: Yes. After my first daughter was born I had nearly two years of writer’s block. It’s a real bummer.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you revise a lot?
Andrea Kneeland: I revise a lot, and most of that is in the form of editing. I take great pleasure in cutting huge passages out – the more the better. I only want to leave the most important parts. I love cutting the legs off of poems and leaving nothing but the bloody core.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have anything else in mind to share with us?
Andrea Kneeland: I would just like to thank you so much for the opportunity to have an interview with you. It’s been so fun!.