Andrew Katz, Graduate Student and Published Author
Graduate student Andrew Katz, a Master of Arts in English (Comparative Literature) and Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing candidate, recently published The Vampire Gideon’s Suicide Hotline and Halfway House for Orphaned Girls. On the side, Andrew works in environmental science, likes to make furniture, and writes surrealist satire that deals with flaws in American mental health culture.
Was writing something you always wanted to do? What place did it have in your upbringing?
A: I don’t think I wrote a single word for myself until I turned 19. In high school, I would take school assignments as jokes— instead of writing about Crime and Punishment, I was writing about zombie giraffes in the Sudan, how the zombies needed to be hunted for crimes of harvesting brains, and what their punishment was. I don’t even remember, but this was an actual essay I wrote, and my teacher just didn’t know how to handle me.
From there, you realized what? I like this? I’m good at this?
A: No. I always liked reading. After my freshman year of undergrad at Quinnipiac University, I had a .86 GPA and no direction. I was working at a Kohl’s department store, and I didn’t know what to do. And I had a friend who was like, “You’re always reading. Why don’t you try writing something?” Tried that, brought the first page to my dad, who read it, and I didn’t tell him anything about it. He was like, “Did you write this?” And I was like, “Yeah.” He goes, “This is good. Why couldn’t you do this?” And I was like, “I don’t know.” But it’s definitely due to all the reading. I’ve always been a bookworm.
What do you like to read?
A: I’m eclectic. Right now, I’m reading a novel called Tales of the Astonishing Black Spark by Charlie J. Eskew, and it’s amazing. It’s superhero satire that deals with racial inequality. But my favorite book of all time is Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. My dad gave me a copy when I was seven, which is probably inappropriate for a seven-year- old, but it was the first book I ever loved and still do.
You’re into writing, you’re into reading. But you work in environmental science. How did that happen?
A: So in undergrad— I graduated from Temple in 2015— I majored in English and Philosophy, but my focus for Philosophy was environmental ethics. When I was doing my Capstone, I met a bunch of scientists at a conference and got a job copywriting in Manhattan. It was the worst job I ever had. But while I was there, I learned a good deal about marketing, so I called some of my science contacts and asked if their firms needed marketing. My dad was an environmental scientist so I knew a lot of the jargon.
How do you use your English major and respective skills in what many would consider a nontraditional English major job?
A: It’s about adaptability and attention to detail. Being able to read critically and focus your attention on a text trains your attention span, trains your eye for detail.
What made you choose Arcadia for grad school?
A: I want to teach college English— moving from a fairly lucrative science job to that is my Jewish parents’ nightmare. But I chose Arcadia because the dual degree was very attractive to me, getting the MFA and MA concurrently. I like that the MFA is low-residency. It allows me to keep a full-time job while pursuing my master’s. I live in Philly, it’s a good commute. And there’s rolling admissions, and I’m impatient.
You’ve had the opportunity to serve as a TA and work in the writing center. How have these experiences been for you?
A: I love them. I could not be happier. It really affirms my choice that this is the career path I want to be on. Working in the writing center has been so rewarding, learning the kind of pedagogy that goes into writing. Dan Schall does an incredible job with the Writing Center. And TAing I just adore. I get to work with Professor Pieczkolon, who has been an incredible mentor. I’ve learned so much.
While attending Arcadia, you decided to write a book. What made you start?
A: I just have that writing compulsion where I have to do it every day or my ADD brain goes haywire and then I can’t form words with my mouth-face.
Can you tell us a little about Vampire Gideon?
A: So, can I just make jokes here? I was gonna pitch my erotic lizard novel.
Maybe save that for later.
A: [The book] is about a vampire who runs a suicide hotline— because who else could be the expert opinion on being dead? It has very little to do with classic vampire lore, he’s more of a figurative vampire, where he lives vicariously through the pain of others. It has him playing armchair psychologist, and he is not trained, which leads to tons of problems. The novel is all about how you should openly communicate when you are having issues. Mental illness is very serious and very near and dear to my heart. You shouldn’t just get anyone’s advice. If you are having issues, go see a professional, go to a crisis center, get the necessary help. Otherwise things will not get better.
How did you come up with this idea?
A: It wasn’t anything I wanted to do initially. I was just like, “It would be real ironic if a dead guy ran a suicide hotline!” And then I realized I was writing a lot about mental illness and dissociative behaviors at the time. Then I was reading Chuck Palahniuk’s Survivor, where there is a character at the beginning that has a DIY suicide hotline. I was like, “Oh, neat!” And then the rest sort of happened.
What was the writing process like?
A: It was probably the closest I’ve ever come to automatic writing, where it felt like it was started and finished with the first draft. It took me about a month and a half to get a first draft out and then tons of revising. I’m a compulsive editor. Just doing that. A lot of unnecessarily late nights. It’s an important story to me and it’s one I’m proud of.
And you did this while working a full-time job and immersed in a dual graduate program. How did you manage?
A: Yeah, insomnia. Just the physiological need not to sleep very much. I don’t need a lot of sleep to function. So that’s nice.
What was the most difficult part in the process?
A: I think getting the ending right, honestly. I kept wanting to take it to this horrid, bleak, desperate place. I finally figured out that I could be like, “Nah, not everything is terrible.”
Okay, so you write this book, it’s a fairly quick process, then you actually get it published. What was that feeling like?
A: When it was first pseudo-accepted, I was given a resubmit by Lautern Fish. They are the publisher, they’re a local Philly press and they’re incredible. They have been supportive and wonderful. The book would not have been a tenth as good without them. Because of the revise and resubmit, there was some external stuff that didn’t need to be there, they wanted a new ending, which they hit the nail on the head with why it wasn’t working. After that and doing the edits, the waiting period was the hardest part— waiting to hear if I got the revisions right, basically. After that, they sent me a contract. The big picture stuff got fixed.
Is there any advice you would give to someone who wants to write a novel?
A: Write the story you want to write. Actually sit down and write. We are so inundated with media that I feel like there isn’t a single person that doesn’t have some creative idea. But if you never make it, it’ll never get made. If you never practice doing those things, you’ll never get better. Just sit down and write the stories you want to write, and don’t worry about who is going to see it or pleasing people.
With everything on your plate, what is the ideal endgame you’re working toward?
A: I just want to have good days. I don’t have an endgame. Any day that I’m happy or content or feel like I’ve been productive is enough.
Any final closing thoughts?
A: If you say “Jess Derr” really fast it sounds like “jester,” and that’s something I really enjoy.