13: Andrew Kaufman (allegory and absurdity)

Danielle Krage interviews the writer, Andrew Kaufman, whose books include All My Friends Are Superheroes, The Waterproof Bible, and The Ticking Heart.

Andrew’s work is known for being both incredibly funny and incredibly sad, and he shares some beautiful insights into the creative process that produces this brilliant and distinctive blend. Including, how humour, for him, is like oven mitts. You’ll have to listen/watch to hear just how touching and accurate this analogy is!  

You can find out more about Andrew and his work here:

https://chbooks.com/Authors/K/Kaufman-Andrew

https://www.instagram.com/manualtypewriterforever/

CLICK HERE FOR TRANSCRIPT

Danielle Krage

Today, I am thrilled to have Andrew Kaufman with me. I first came across Andrew’s work when one of my husband’s friends gifted him the book, All My Friends Are Superheroes, and I promptly stole it, read it, completely fell in love with it. And ever since, I’ve really loved reading Andrew’s work, including things like Born Weird and The Waterproof Bible. So, I’m very excited to ask Andrew all the craft-based questions today. But before we dive in, Andrew, is there anything else people should know about you and your work?

Andrew Kaufman

No, I don’t think so. I mean, I think if this is going to be a masterclass on comedy, I should probably start with admitting I never intentionally make things funny. I can tell when something is funny, but I don’t have any secrets at all about, like…I don’t know why something is funny. So, uh, let’s see if we can figure out something out over the next 40.

Danielle Krage

Yeah, that’s perfect. I actually wanted to start there because, for example, one of the reviews of All My Friends Are Superheroes said, it’s one of the saddest, funniest, strangest and most romantic books. What an amazing combination. And that comes up in so many reviews that your books are so sad and so funny. Which I think is why I’m really drawn to them. Because although we use the term ‘comedy’ very broadly, I don’t mean in that like laugh a minute sense. I mean in that sense that there is the lightness, there is the play, there is the delight that makes all kinds of really sad situations bearable. So that was actually going to be my first question. How conscious that is for you or not. Like, do you ever end up sitting there with a scene and thinking, oh, I want to inject more humour into this to lighten it, or conversely kind of be there thinking, oh, actually this is getting too funny, I want to ground it and take it back the other way. Or is it quite an unconscious process for you?

Andrew Kaufman

I mean, it is pretty unconscious, although I am aware…. I’m Canadian, and one of the few national characteristics we really have is that we do tend to use humour to deal with everything. It doesn’t matter what it is, whether it’s positive or negative. There’s a lot of tall, poppy syndrome. So, if you’re like, get a little big, too big for your britches in Canada, humour is going to take you down. Or if you’re overwhelmed by a horrible situation, well, humour is going to be what, what cuts that situation down and makes you able to manage it. So, I do think that’s just part of being Canadian.

As far as the writing goes, I don’t ever consciously say I’d like to have a funny scene. In fact, more often than not, I have to admit that there are people who find lines in my books really funny. And it wasn’t intentional. For the writing, one of the things I do with the prose is… because it’s magic realism, because it’s really asking a lot of the reader….I ask a lot of the reader to suspend their disbelief. And so I use these short sentences that just kind of clop along and aren’t demanding a lot of the reader. Hopefully it feels like it’s downward. But because of that, there’s actually a lot of space in between what gets said and what isn’t said. And I’m very conscious of the fact that in my work, I know it’s funny and the reader knows it’s funny, but the text doesn’t know it’s funny. And somehow those two being on the same side or of the actual thing that you’re reading, I don’t know if this is making any sense at all.

That’s sort of like what I try to go for. So, I will increase the humour. You know, it’s all…writing is like when it comes right down to it, it’s just everyone’s using the same 26 characters, right? So it’s like, who knows how it works? But there is a sense that I’m conscious of…and when I’m building it, when I’m editing it, I can feel it. I can feel when I’m starting to get to that point where the reader can tell that the writer knows it’s funny. And the reader will think it’s funny. But the actual words on the page aren’t. Well, I say it as if it’s a living thing, but they never consciously point out and say, hey, you’re supposed to find this funny. I think that’s how my prose writing is the best. Does that make sense?

Danielle Krage

It does. And honestly, that answer just delights my brain, thinking of the text as this kind of third character. Because I…in some ways, I see what you’re saying. It doesn’t sound logical, but that’s absolutely right. And I think that is where the game is and in that conversation. But like you say, it’s not…the text has….for me, this lovely tension between being so incredibly straightforward and that you say….asking the reader to make a big jump. There’s just something so delightful in that.

And that was actually going to be my next question for you, is what labels do you feel comfortable with that people put on your work? Because it can be tricky for different writers being labelled, but it’s needed for marketing and different things. So, is magical realism the term that you feel most comfortable with, do you think?

Andrew Kaufman

Oh, I hate that term. And I don’t think it is. I mean, you call it whatever you want. If you’re actually going to talk about my work, I’m fine with it. You call it magical realism, you say what you want. Magic realism, I think is… from my understanding it’s just become a catch-all for any sort of fiction that doesn’t…that isn’t realistic. So, if you have metaphoric stuff or you have characters, you know… like I have talking frogs, I have people who fly, I have all that sort of stuff in my work. So, it gets called magic realism because people just don’t know what else to call it. Where in actuality magic realism is like, you know, it’s Latin American and it’s Catholic, right? Like it’s a really specific genre from a specific time and a specific place. And, and I’m neither Catholic nor Latino. So, I’m not comfortable with the word magic realism. I would never self-identify it, but if you want to use that, that’s totally fine.

For me, what they are is parables. But when you say parable, you instantly, people hear Jesus and New Testament and all those sort of stories, right? So there’s that. But yeah, if you look at the work, I’m actually stealing the structure of like, Aesop’s fables or, you know, those small stories. There’s  some sort of setup, and then what happens has some sort of easily articulated point of view or piece of information at the end of it, right? And all the best stories, and All My Friends are Superheroes and the Tiny Wife, and what I consider my best work, operates under that structure.

So I would say they’re allegorical. It’s an allegorical narrative. It’s fable-esque, but people don’t…those words. I mean, they’re fairy tales, right? Like, let’s just get down to it. I would love to call them fairy tales, but again, everyone thinks Hansel and Gretel and that they’re kids’ literature. So, the marketing reminds me a bit of like… I’m 55, so I grew up listening to New Wave music, which in Britain was called post-punk, but in North America, no one…they couldn’t market punk over here, so they just came up with a new phrase to say, oh, it’s New Wave. And so it feels a bit like that, because I think there’s a lot of…like what do you call George Saunders? What do you call Aimee Bender? You know what I mean? There’s a lot of writers, contemporary writers, who are also writing in a fantastical, in a fabulist way, that get called magic realism. Anyway, I’m rambling now, but yeah, I would say that it’s just fable-esque

Danielle Krage

Yeah, I love that.

Andrew Kaufman (08:28.664)

Hold on, I lost my headphones.

Danielle

Yeah, no worries. Do you want to have a little reset.  

Andrew

Wait, I can’t hear a thing. I lost both of them. Sorry.

Danielle

Oh no. I think what it is was when you started talking about the text, like being its own person, you blew the mind so much that the earbuds just popped out. It’s all good.

Andrew Kaufman

Well, yeah. It’s the text is the straight man is what it turns into.

Danielle

That makes so much sense. And again, that’s my perception of them as well, that they read like fables, but all of these words become so loaded because….like you say, it’s not like Aesop’s fables. And like you say parables, yes, but not from the Bible. And so again, like when people are trying to put one word on it…again, I’ve seen your work described as fantasy and it’s like, it’s fantastical, but fantasy is also very loaded. So yeah.

Andrew Kaufman

There’s no dragons, although, you know, maybe…and there’s no sword, it’s not sword and sorcery, right? I think it’s closer to fantasy than it is anything else, but because it’s been picked up as a literary thing, right, magic realism is still a posh word. Do you know what I mean? You get put it in the…in the fancy part of the bookstore, if you’re called magic realism as opposed to the genre stuff over here.

Danielle Krage (09:42.362)

Right. Yeah. But then as soon as you put superheroes with it as well, then you get the kind of popularity with it too, which I think is great.

So you mentioned George Saunders…who else as writers or creators do you really enjoy? I know it’s a big question, but I’m asking all guests because we get a couple of recommendations and I always then selfishly go and read them or watch them.

Andrew Kaufman (10:17.207)

So, there’s a couple American writers, one of who’s really embarrassing that I have to like totally acknowledge. In fact, they’re both kind of embarrassing. I wish I had better literary taste I’m not going to talk about like the super fancy. Anyway, I love Kurt Vonnegut. I think he’s super funny. I think his dealing with sadness and tragedy is fabulous. And I think he’s got really good things to say. He’s got a really positive message in from a really cynical voice. It’s a beautiful mix. And then I like an American writer called Richard Brautigan, which was super big in the 60s. He wrote a book called, well, my favorite book of his is In Watermelon Sugar, which is this amazing, I love it, love it. I highly recommend that. Some of his other work is hot and cold. But he was a hippie. And he was a real hardcore hippie. And then when the 60s ended, he was kind of like thrown out with the whole, you know, institution or I don’t know. Were hippies an institution? But anyway, he fell out of favour. And for a while, when I was going to university in the late 80s, he was a very popular writer amongst people who wanted to become writers. But since then, he’s really fallen out of favour. I think he’s like. You used to see him in used bookstores, that used to be the hardest thing to find, and now he’s totally gone.

Contemporary, yeah. In Watermelon Sugar, I can totally stand, still recommend The Hawk Line Mystery, I would also still recommend, you know, he’s got some books that haven’t aged well, but there are a couple of really good ones.

Danielle Krage

Right, I’m definitely gonna have to look him up. Sometimes it’s interesting just to read things in their context as well. So that’s great. And I am really not a fan of any kind of snobbery around art. I just think we should just love what we love. I have a section of my website called Stash and the only rule for me is that I love it. So whatever I love goes in there and I don’t really care what everyone else thinks. So that’s great. Awesome.

Andrew Kaufman

I have a huge thing for detective fiction. And I just love it so much. And it’s like every third book I read, I have to make myself read other books, so I don’t just read like, you know, noir stuff from the 50s that I absolutely love.

Danielle Krage

That’s great. And I can see then how that makes that like special mix with yours, for things like The Ticking Heart.

Andrew Kaufman

Ticking Heart is…. I couldn’t keep the barn door closed on how much I loved it. I mean, that is a by- the-numbers detective story from the 50s, right?

Danielle

But still with your really strong voice. Because I do think of all the writers that I read, you have one of the most distinctive voices. If someone was like… right, we’re going to set up a bet and the game is we’re going to lay all these books out and you’re going to open them and not read the covers – which author are you going to go for being able to think…. oh, I think that’s their book. You are one of those writers where I think that, in the best possible way.

Andrew Kaufman

Oh, well that’s nice to hear.

Danielle Krage

Because even though they are really different…. and they are… we still get such different characters, such distinctive characters, such different worlds, different themes, so it’s not that they’re similar in that sense…but in terms of feeling the human behind it… I’m going to take the bet on being able to go…. oh, okay, I want the Andrew Kaufman challenge.

So that was one of my questions for you is… I know it can be really hard to self-interpret, but do you have any sense of…how you got through that process, to develop such a distinctive voice. What that was that like for you? Do you know where it started? How it emerged?

Andrew Kaufman

Yeah, I totally, totally know what happened. I used to have… So I wrote, I’ve written every day since I was 18, and I didn’t get anything published. I’ve had a really hard time getting anything published. And so I took my best story and sent it to a magazine called Blood and Aphorisms, which is a Canadian periodical. It doesn’t exist anymore, but at the time it was like the one. And so I was like, okay, just forget the New Yorker, forget Granta. I was just like, you know, boom, gonna do this. And I got a rejection letter, and the editor at the time was a guy named Ken Sparling, he’s a Canadian writer. And he had taken the first three pages, and he had stroked out everything. Let’s say there’s 250 words on a page. It would be like…30 pages, there are 30 words left on every page. Everything else would have been stroked out. And I was like, and I wasn’t even offended, right? I was just sort of like, well, this is so ludicrous. I’m just gonna laugh at this.

But then I kept thinking about it and I kept thinking about it. And so I printed the story out again and I did what he’d done to every…through the rest of the pages. And all of a sudden it was like, well that totally makes sense. Like because of the way these stories roll out, because they’re so emotional, because they’re dealing with allegory, I think, the language has got to be really simple. The rhythm has to be seductive. The way or the sequence of information has to be really straightforward. And it just sort of came out of that.

I now have sentences with more than one clause, but I’m six books in before I’ve done that. And every time I sit down to write a book, I always sit down saying, okay, I’m going to do a lot of description, and I’m going to have long complicated sentences, and I’m going to make those really beautiful turns of phrase that real writers do. And I write a draft like that, and then I read it and I just hate it. I hate it so much. And then I rewrite it until it has that really straightforward style. It’s just the way it feels right.

Danielle Krage

Hmm. And yeah, and I’m wondering, so this is the theory I’m developing just now…but they’re your books, so you tell me if I’m off with this. I’m wondering if there is something around, like you say, both the simplicity of the construction of sentences, that means that you can absorb it. But the care with the rhythm of it, means that you can…or a brain like mine, with your books, I can almost absorb the visuals and the characters and respond in real time to the delight…in the play and the comedy of it. In a way that’s nothing to do with like snarky dialogue or sarcasm. It’s not those things, it’s the actual visual play. Whereas when someone writes with much more clauses and complicated sentences, I’m in my head very intellectually and I tend not to find things as funny… because I’m more of a remove. Whereas your books, I’m always so emotionally invested in the sadness too, the heartache too, the awkwardness too, but that means when the comedy comes, it just like whaps me. One sentence. And I will have a reaction to the humour, in a much stronger way than I do in books that have a lot more construct, like evidently constructed word verbiage, if that makes sense.

Andrew Kaufman

Yeah. I mean in reality it’s just being really manipulative. Because the sentences are so small and short and straightforward, you don’t realize how much information they’re giving you. Right? I am describing how red the apple is. Right? But you don’t… I don’t know, I need a better… I wish… I can’t really give you a better example, but it’s like, because you’re getting all these short pieces of information, you can stop looking at how their connection, and how the sequence of which I’ve given them to you, changes the way you see them in the mind, and the way you feel about them. And that can be really, really powerful. At least, I hope it is. I think that really works for me. And then the other thing is it just sort of…seduces you into thinking that you’re not being manipulated because you’re getting, you’re digesting these small bits again and again and again. And then when the frogs start talking, you’re much more likely just to accept it as one more piece of information. And, because again, the text is not questioning it. The text is just giving you that information as if it’s one more factual detail. Then I think that’s something that’s really worked well for me. It’s just, I mean it’s a technique right

Danielle Krage

It is, but it’s not one that I see lots of writers use, and certainly not in the way that you do. We don’t have like….oh, there’s the woman with green skin driving the car, and we just accept it straight away. Like when I think of other genres, we don’t get that directness.

Andrew Kaufman

I’m not writer that is…I’m not fancy, I’m not full of fireworks. Do you know what I mean? And also it’s like, I’m not putting myself down at all because it’s super hard to get everything to be that simple. Like I work really hard to make it seem so simple. But I’m not the writer that’s like, you know, I barely know how to use a semicolon. The poetics of what I do are in the narrative structure. They’re not in how the words sit on the page. I’m not someone who, you know, I don’t think there’s that many people writing, uh, Andrew Coffman quotes on their binders. Do you know what I mean? That’s not my forte. And again, that’s why I’m, I’ve never had any problems… or why I’ve even embraced the word parable, right? Cause I think the highest compliment I can do…is to create a story that can exist on its own without me, right? Like just, I would love that to think that, you know, these little tiny stories, because the story means what it is, right? You can interpret it, but the telling for me…takes away from the actual story if it’s too fancy. I don’t know a better word than fancy. But that’s it.

Danielle Krage

Yeah. I can appreciate that. And so I wanted to ask you, again, when you were talking about the parable, about your characters and how you develop them and how you kind of observe and filter people that you see in the world, and how that feeds into your process. Because to my mind, from reading your books, you’re both brilliant at like putting characters into types and doing that very blatantly. In for example, in All My Friends are Superheroes, we will actually have The Falling Girl or The Battery. But they’re not your usual types. So, we’re not talking about just the usual tropes that we see out there. They’re very distinct observations that you’ve taken and put into a type for us to absorb. And you’re also really great at developing really distinctive characters, say within a family unit for Born Weird, where each is very distinct and you know exactly who they are as soon as they start to speak. So I’d love to know more generally, how you think about characters in your work and how you like to approach them.

Andrew

Yeah. I mean, I appreciate you saying that. I think my characterization is the area that I should work on the most. But I, well here, I’ll answer that in two ways. One, All My Friends are Superheroes started as zines. And I was like, do you know what I mean by zine? Okay, so I had a zine called Scruffy, and I had a special issue, it was called If My Friends Were Superheroes, right? Literally took all my friends and turned them into a superhero, which became the middle parts in the books between the sections. And so that’s how that book started and it was just so much fun. I kept going and worked it into the novella.

But overall I always start… I have such a hard time naming characters, so I start working on a project… I have story before I have characters, and then as I’m working through the story and I’m working through the people who are in the story…Eventually, there’ll be a point where it’s like…Oh, this is Carrie or oh, this is Michael. Do you know what I mean? I realize that the character is a lot like somebody I know. And then that’s usually when I get the fake name or the name and then I just write them as if they really are this friend of mine so. So that’s the process for me.

I never…I’m not one of the writers who….I don’t have characters that jump into my head fully formed. All my characters are based on people that I love a lot. And that’s how it works for me. I know, again, it’s the same thing when I get to that point where I can feel like the text can stand on its own. And it’s not, you know what I mean? We were talking about what gets to the straight man point. I have the same feeling for my characters when I figure out who they are in real life. When I figure out who…well, yeah, that’s Dave. And so then all of a sudden their decisions make more sense to me.

And I mean, it’s obviously more complicated than that because I’m not, I think it would be impossible to actually write a character that’s based on a person that actually gets that person 100%. Because I only know, even my closest friends, I know only in a specific point of view, right? There’s different roles. Family, they’re different. Work, they’re… all that sort of stuff, right? So I’m really only seeing them through the lens of my friendship. But, I mean, to prove the point, rarely do the people who I’ve based a character on think that they’re the people I’ve based a character on. Usually they think it’s someone else, which is great. I just love that so much. So anyway, that’s my process.

Danielle Krage

Yeah, and that makes sense. And I love that you bring that sense of a lot of love to it. And again, I think it gives that coherent stamp that just means it’d be very hard to replicate your work. Even if someone else was going to be like…oh, I’m also going to have fantastical elements, or I’m also going to use really simple sentences. I just feel like when I read your books, you can just feel the beating heart of the human behind them in a way that I love.

For example, I also find Ray Bradbury incredibly inspiring as a writer. In a sense, I think he’s also quite…unabashed, and unashamed about…writing about feelings. And then… it doesn’t have to be like the minutiae of feelings, it’s not that we then dissect one… but that he’s happy to bring all that to it, all the joy, all the sadness, all the terror in that really open, big-hearted way, which I really love. And I think part of the reason I’m drawn to your books as well is that really wonderful combination of high-level feeling, but done in a way that I can experience. Because sometimes when things, like I’m not great actually at watching drama films that are about….

Andrew Kaufman

I can’t either. Half the time I have to turn it off. It’s too painful. I can’t see the horrible things happen to this guy. I’ve never been able to make it through Breaking Bad. I’ve never made it through The Sopranos. It’s just like, it’s just nothing but horrible things are going to happen to this guy. I just, it’s so I hear what you’re saying. I mean, that’s why….that is honestly why I like allegory so much. I feel like it articulates… I personally think allegory can articulate emotional situations better than realism. I don’t think realism gets it.

If I’m on a date, if I’m on a first date and we’re having dinner and I describe the menu and how she’s playing with her phone and all that sort of stuff, that does to a certain extent tell me the date’s not going well. But if I’m at the table, and the date grows wings and flies away, then that’s more powerful to me. That’s the same story. And as the person left alone at the table, that, you know what I mean? That hurt, that abandonment, all that sort of stuff is going to be so much stronger if it’s exaggerated into an allegorical situation. Because both the realism version of that and the allegorical version of that still have two people on the table and one leave, right? So…why is it powerful if she says, oh, my babysitter just cancelled, I have to go? Right? Like that isn’t as powerful to me as if she just, you know, turns into mist. Right? So, yeah.

Danielle Krage

Yeah, I’m 100% with you on that and thank you. You’ve given me so much more language to put around why I like that because honestly, like it might sound kind of silly, but I wouldn’t have really thought to use the word allegory about some of the things I like, but as soon as you describe it, it’s like that, but that’s actually what it is. So that’s awesome. So we’ve sort of touched on it a little bit, like those big feelings and I think you’ve…already partially answered ….but I’m curious, though, how humour and heartbreak fit together for you, in the kind of themes that you choose to write about.  I think from my perspective, for example, I just feel like they’re so hard to separate. I don’t know if it’s the Canadian thing, that comes with it all, or if it’s too hard to bear without. But why for you do you think that they are fused, if you think that they are, in a way that makes people say that your books are the funniest and the saddest.

Andrew Kaufman

I’d say there’s two things. One is, and this comes from my family, and if you’ve read Born Weird, it’s in this book especially, but my family tends to, my family are all emotional. We’re all very strong feelers. And we do use… the metaphor I’ve always used is that we kind of use humour as oven mitts. So there’s something super-hot on the stove and there’s a crisis, it’s gotta come off the stove or whatever. And so oven mitts are what allows us to grab that and deal with it.

And so that’s, I grew up with that. That’s what humour is for. That’s what humour is there for. And it can help, and you can do amazing things. You’re still gonna have to unpack that. It’s still gonna be emotional down the road. But during that moment of crisis, that’s a wonderful way to keep the wheels turning, right? So that’s definitely an instinct.

And the other thing is, is that it’s just…I find so much of the world just so absurd that it’s funny. Do you know what I mean? Like the things that, the horrible, horrible things, when you think about the probability of that happening. When you think about the comic timing of tragedy. It’s just unbelievable that it happened, that it happened this way, it happened in these moments. And there’s just something about all of us.

You know, we’re just small, weak people. We don’t have scales. We don’t really have claws. Like, humans have no survival skills other than our brains, right? Like, we’re just meat. We’re just meat walking around waiting to be eaten, right? And it’s like, and we’re trying so hard, you know? We have cars and jobs and we’re being fancy and we’re doing everything we can to consider ourselves significant and have these significant lives. And then boom, a spare tire changes everything. And that’s funny, right? That’s funny to me that so much effort and so many plans and so much care can be completely undone with something as simple as a patch of ice, a banana peel. Do you know what I mean? Like it’s just, there’s a release in that too, I think.

It’s like we try to, we think in our culture….I’m really going on, but I’m almost done…. But in our culture, we really think that we’re in control. Right? We think that what happens to you is of your own making, that you’re working hard, therefore you’ll succeed. That, you know what I mean? Like you’re a good person, so good things are gonna happen to you. We have all these rules that prove to us that we’re in control of our lives, our decisions and the kind of things that happened to us. And it’s just bullshit. And it’s just like, there’s such a release when, you know what I mean? Like when you can’t stop in time and you run into the Volkswagen in front of you, you know, it’s like you just, and now you’re not gonna get work in time. You know what I, all these plans, all these terrible things that you worked so hard to achieve, just illustrates that you have no control. You have no control. And so I think there’s a huge release, even in tragedy.

I feel like there is a huge release because it forces you to say, oh, that was beyond my control. There’s really nothing I can do about that. Which is the only way you’re going to get through that tragedy. And there’s a huge amount of joy, even in that horrible, horrible place, of being able to face the reality, because you can’t look away from it, that yeah… I don’t have as much control as I thought. I’m actually not in control of my own life the same way.

Therefore, my failures aren’t 100% my own. Therefore, the fact that I have not achieved my goal is not. So that’s funny. So it feels good to have that release to be proven wrong and then it’s just so unexpected and it just proves how stupid we are to think that we can actually control it in that first place.

Danielle Krage

Yeah, I think all of what you said is so incredibly perceptive. And I’m going to carry that oven mitt analogy with me forever because it’s like, yeah, that’s just such a perfect way of explaining what some of those situations feel like. And I also feel that too. And thank goodness for oven mitts because yeah, makes life a lot more bearable.

Andrew Kaufman

Yeah. Oh, man. If we didn’t have them. Yeah, I do…I remember when I was growing up there was a show called Hogan’s Heroes. Did you have that?

Danielle Krage

Hmm, possibly. I haven’t seen it.

Andrew Kaufman

It was this really lame… it was a sitcom, a stupid sitcom that was set in a World War II POW camp. So it was run by Nazis, like actually Nazis, wearing Nazi uniforms, right? And they were always the butt of the jokes. They were always like, they were fools and morons and bumblers. And the prisoners actually had this elaborate pathway of tunnels and secret radios and they would go out and do, you know, manoeuvres. They’d blow up bridges and…get rid of all the Nazi airplanes and all this sort of stuff. And I’ve always, to me, that’s always been the better way.

Like right now, fascists are around, Nazis are around, and what are we doing? We’re scared of them, right? We think it’s like, oh, these guys are so powerful. All those Nazis. And it’s like, sorry, but fuck that. It’s like, it was way more powerful when we all realized that they were bumbling fools that like could be cut down to size. I just feel they become more powerful because we’ve become afraid of them. And if you can laugh at them, anything you can laugh at, you’re gonna be able to deal with. So the fact that we, anyway, so that’s a long way of saying, I think one of the beautiful things about humour is that it proves to you, even if that eventual recovery is two years away, five years away, even if the next three months are gonna be hell, if you can laugh at what that horrible thing is, you know, you’re gonna succeed or at least survive. You’re gonna survive.

Danielle Krage

I think that’s totally right. And I love that. That that’s true for us as humans in like really private, personal senses. And in, as you say, political senses. And when we think back to like jesters and the  court and the King…for the longest time humans have been using humour as an amazing survival strategy that feels way better than many other things that we do when we’re in pain. And also as a way to redistribute power, but in a fun way.

Andrew Kaufman

100% yeah.

Danielle Krage

So I’d love to ask you a little bit about your writing process, because your Instagram handle, manual typewriter forever. Is that a joke or is that for real?

Andrew Kaufman

Oh, it’s for real. It’s scarily for real. Yeah, I love to edit. I love to edit. And that’s, it’s like whittling. I love taking something that’s 3,000 words and making it 1,000. Like All My Friends are Superheroes, and the Tiny Wife. Both books, they’re coming around like, I don’t know, like less than 20k, somewhere around 50. I think the Tiny Wife is 50. But they’ve all, they started double the length, right? And it’s just like, I love getting it tighter and smaller. Can I make, can I make these three sentences one? Do I need this piece of information? I love just condensing it like I’m making maple syrup, right? Like just boiling off the water. Love it.

But because of that I tend to do a lot of editing before I get a first draft. So if I’m on a computer… computers are made to edit. Fabulous, right? If I’m on a typewriter, it’s almost impossible to go back You’re just… I’m just going forward, and then even if I do… because I will take the paper out and write on the paper…but then it’s still there, it doesn’t disappear the same way it does on the computer.

So my process is that. I do a first draft from beginning to end on a typewriter. I have many of them. There’s a… I used to buy them at Salvation Armies, at thrift shops. And now they’re like super, super expensive. Now they’re considered antiques. But the upside of that is that there’s now actually a place in Toronto that will repair them.

Anyway, so I do buy nice paper, like fancy paper, way too much for paper, and then I type a first draft. And I don’t make it pretty. I just like, here’s the story, here are the characters, this is what happens to them. And that usually takes about, I don’t know, it depeds, it can be like three months, it can be a year, somewhere around there. And then…I spend about two years making it prettier and tighter. And so that’s the actual writing process.

And then, I mean, I’m also somebody who works…I, editors are very important to me. I’m not… there’s a lot of writers who will work on a text and then be, you know, really, really protective of the words they created, the sequence they created. Where I’ve always been like….Tell me what’s wrong. Tell me what needs to be improved and how to improve it and I’ll totally make it happen.

Danielle Krage

That’s fascinating. That was actually going to be one of my final questions…it was about the editing process for you. Because I was wondering about that. Because in reading the books, it feels like they have just such a clear, distinct vision, such a clear, distinct voice, everything seems so crystal clear. I was wondering what that editing process is like for you. What do you find helpful in terms of feedback, or is there anything that derails it? Like what does an editor do with someone like you? Like I would say, I don’t see your drafts before, but from the books I’m like…this just all seems like it couldn’t be any other way.

Andrew Kaufman

Oh my god, so much has changed. I usually, like I have… so every one of the books has a problem, right? There’s some sort of metaphorical problem. Tom is invisible to his wife. The wife is shrinking. The grandmother’s about to die. All that sort of stuff, right? All this is all premise, high concept. And then, so that’s when I start writing. And then I usually write, and then I just, I don’t make outlines. I don’t make cue cards or drafts or anything. I just keep writing. I just start writing. And then it reveals itself. And then, but then, then you have to go back, again, because it’s so allegorical, and because it’s working with this weird dream logic…Everything has to make sense right? Like emotive sense or intuitive sense. I don’t know how to understand it or articulate it, but it’s just got to feel right in your gut. If it doesn’t feel like… whatever this metaphor is standing for when it comes into action with this metaphor, the result of that has to say something and feel right. So if I’m talking about love and

it’s about distance, within the way that’s expressed that has to feel like what it feels like, right? So that is rarely, I rarely achieve that on the first draft.

My editors, I mean, Alana Wilcox, Coach House Books is my favourite editor. She’s great because she will never actually say… you should do this. She will just say in a really kind way that I can hear, she’ll just say, I don’t think this is working. This gets lost to me. I don’t buy it when he does this. I don’t buy it. And my response will be… but he has to do that because otherwise I don’t have the plot And she’s like, I don’t know. I don’t know. And she’s always right. She’s always right. It’s like that still happens… But there’s an emotional beat, or there’s a decision that they’ve made, because I forced them to rather than let it just happen. I need to rewrite that and put in some sort of different metaphors, some different situations so that it all has…

I mean, my books aren’t complicated. They’re straight lines, right? They’re all really… They all start here, and there’s a problem, and then there’s the solution. But I find it incredibly hard to maintain that straight line. Right? It’s just… It’s just so hard to make everything line up, in a perfect way. Which is a challenge I love, though. And then short, I always want it to be really short.

Danielle Krage

No, I can see all the challenges. And it looks beautiful and perfect when it’s done, but I see that it would be so challenging because it, like you say, is in some ways a straight line, but also…this perfect web of like feelings and associations. And I love the way you’re describing it as…whether it’s dream logic or intuitive logic. But it’s not dream logic in the sense of, oh, we can just all go off for a ride, like everything ties perfectly back in. It’s not the shower scene in Dallas, with the soap, where’s the dream and you can get away with almost murder. So no, it has to be just the right resonance.

Andrew

But that’s how dreams are, right? When you have a dream that you can’t forget, there’s a reason for it, right? Like, you may not be able to say why. It was your best friend from high school in a Toyota 4Runner, and you went and played pinball on a mountain. You know what I mean? I’m just pulling metaphors out. But there’s something about your brain’s language. Each one of those symbols has an association. So you wake up in the morning and you feel like you have some clarity. It’s almost like you understand something just because of that combination of images that have been thrown at you and what the narrative is, right?

So dream logic, I think, is… like, honestly anything can happen in real life. Real life is random. It’s like, it’s uncontrollable and it’s, and you don’t really have to explain anything because everyone just goes, yeah, that sounds right. You know, even when crazy coincidences happen, everyone’s like, okay, yeah, wow, crazy, right? No one says, oh yeah, I don’t buy that. Where in fiction, everything has to be perfect. It’s the other way around. If it doesn’t feel right, if it doesn’t feel metaphorically right, then you’re going to put the book down. I’m going to lose your suspension of disbelief.

Danielle Krage

I see where it’s a challenge, but oh my goodness, well done, is all I can say. Shout out to your editors as well.

So the last question is just any advice that you have found useful or applied.

Andrew Kaufman

Oh my god, I’ll give you the best piece of advice that was given to me. Get a day job where you work on a computer and no one can see your screen.

Danielle Krage

Oh, sneaky. Yeah.

Andrew Kaufman

Because it’s super hard to make a lot of money off of fiction. The vast majority of fiction writers have some sort of day job. And if you’re in a situation where you can work super hard at your day job from 9 to 11 and then spend 11 to 3 working on your novel and then 3 to 5 making sure no one notices that you took those four hours off, then that’s an art grant.

Danielle Krage

Yeah, 100% right. That’s great advice. I love it. Well, it’s been such a delight speaking with you. Thank you so much for all that you’ve so generously shared, and giving me an insight into your brain and how you think about these things that I think can be quite elusive, but that I’m fascinated by.

I’d love to wrap up with…where should people come and find you if they want to see more of your work? And of course, I will put these in the show notes too.

Andrew Kaufman

Yeah, okay, well Instagram. I’m fairly regular on Instagram. My website is the Epiphany Detective Agency, but it’s down right now, so I’m really bad with the website. I’m really bad with all of this stuff. So Instagram’s the best place. And otherwise, Coach House Books.

Danielle Krage

Perfect. We’ll put those all in the show notes. Thank you so much for your time.

Andrew Kaufman

Oh, I appreciate it. It was great. It was fun.

Danielle Krage

Bye for now.