At the end of 2021, we were lucky enough to interview Andrea Lambert, American writer, poet and painter. This is what she shared with us.
Hi Andrea, let’s start with you.So far you have published 5 novels, 2 poetry books and 3 anthologies. You really are a prolific writer, I am impressed! When did you start writing? Did you have any role model, like a relative or a teacher, or someone who actively encouraged you to write? How did you get “the writing call”? I mean, when did you realise that writing was your thing instead of, I don’t know… baking or dancing?
I started writing young. An early memory is staring at my looping handwriting on a flower part worksheet in a Montessori preschool. I went to this hippy elementary school that encouraged me to fill up composition notebooks with stories. I wrote a lot of poetry in Junior High, when I started my first novel. I had this English teacher, Mr. Atwood. A member of the Weather Underground previously [an activist organisation, AN]. He encouraged my talent, and put me on the literary magazine staff so I could spend lunches doing things I cared about instead of getting beaten up.
I used to dance when I was young. At parties, clubs, anywhere I could. Scaffolding and Jet Set Desolate are set in music based subcultures. Punk. Electro clash. There’s a lot more going on then just music there. I used that as material. After the party years were the domesticated lesbian years. Baking had it’s moments. I used to make really good cupcakes. COVID’s physical infirmity made me unable to do any of that.
Writing was always the strongest call. I wanted to contribute to literature. Create texts about the decades I was living through. Have others feel and experience what I did. Set the memories and people down, so I didn’t have to think about them anymore.
What type of writer are you? The one that sits down every day and puts together a minimum amount of words or the one who might have a single sit in a week but write more than 10k words?
Regrettably, my practice has greatly suffered post COVID. I am now glad that when I was manic hot I just ran and ran with it. I’m 45, started writing writing before I was legal. Was unable to sign a Random House of Canada contract offered when I was a teen. Still salty about that. So over the years, I’ve gone from morning pages, journals whenever, taking all night writing sessions in five divider notebooks, then typing them, the demands of graduate school, a decade of NaNoWriMo and more. Right now, as I convalesce, Twitter gets the bulk of my writing. It’s an instant publication sentence by sentence auto novel in the meta verse.
How is your typical writing session? Music on or off? Morning or evening? Typing on the computer or handwriting?
Definitely music on. Or television. Can be any time of day, I function somewhat outside of my time zone. On no schedule. I’m ashamed to admit I’ve lost the ability to hand write anything but my signature. Have trouble with print books now. An illiterate author, ha! I typed on and stared at computers since they were invented so gradually couldn’t work with anything else. Ebooks are a revelation.
Let’s focus on your books. Your style is dry and clipped, at times it resembles the ra-ta-ta-tat of a machine gun. Despite that, though, it doesn’t convey a sense of urgency or panic nor it gives the reader a claustrophobic sense of anxiety. Style is as personal as fingerprints, but it can be nurtured and polished with exercise and patience. Would you say that’s your case or it is genuinely an effortless thing from your part?
My published pieces are thoroughly edited. First drafts are stream of consciousness. Idea/detail brain dumps. I go through them, over and over. Replace commas with periods. Rearrange sentences. Read pieces out loud. Both in the editing process and performance. Pre COVID I did in person readings. My YouTube channel has readings also.
What I do is definitely not effortless. I’ve worked my ass off for the work I did. I enjoy it. You learn a lot about rhythm from music and dancing. I was a singer/lyric writer in punk bands in the 1990s. Did spoken word. Performance art. Rhythm and word timing translated to text adds greater impact.
Your characters, the situations they go through, the space they inhabit always pops out, as clear as a summer day. Do you base them on real people and places or they’re just the work of a very fervid imagination?
My characters and settings are all based on reality. Names changed, plots elaborated upon and switched around, creative liberties taken, and so on. I’ve ended up in subcultures and cities at times of cultural zeitgeist, so I write what I know.
How do you come out with story ideas? Do you base them on personal life or events, do you start from something that happened to you or someone you know and then explore/suppose what could happen, do you just see a person and start thinking what is his job, if he’s married, where does he live and so on?
Hollywood Hedgewitch was inspired by Megan Boyle’s live-blogging [you can find more about it here]. I carried my computer everywhere and wrote down everything that happened. 2015 was a very good year. I gave the characters a choice of picking their own pseudonym, or using their real name. Los Angeles is like that. Neon Hysteric involved so many revisions, working in of graduate school short pieces, recalling old memories. That it’s much less of a moment by moment iteration. It’s hard for me to read that book, as I blocked out a lot of that period. As drugs, alcohol and trauma will do.
On your twitter profile you define yourself as neurodiverse, schizoaffective and with C-PTSD. You also seem pretty open about the matter. Would you like to take a minute to explain a bit more your diagnosis? How does it impact you as a writer, if it does?
Schizoaffective Disorder is having both Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia at once. I live on a constantly rotating carousel of mania, depression, psychosis, C-PTSD, and anxiety. Consuming or creating media helps me deal with that. As does Nevada legal cannabis. In California I was a medical patient.
Before I went to graduate school, then on SSDI, I had to keep a lot of that part of my life secret. It’s stigmatized in the U.S. also.
I wrote for a now offline Canadian magazine called Queer Mental Health. Gradually became more comfortable with speaking about my undeniable reality. I read a piece from that magazine in a reading series in Los Angeles, and came out as a mentally ill person on a larger level.
My purpose in being open is to de-stigmatize mental illness for later generations. Now, just like my queerness, I refuse to hide any longer. That comes at a price. Here in Reno, I don’t socialize and rarely go out in public. Nevada people carry guns. I know my house is bulletproof because there have been… incidents. Whether or not I even am famous, I must live as if I am for safety reasons.
This far I only managed to read 2 of your books, Neon Hysteric and Hollywood Hedgewitch and Lena, the protagonist, is a bipolar, bisexual, glam, drug-addict writer. She goes through a lot of antics, she lives in run-down apartments, she watches RuPaul Drag Race and she comes across as very sui generis. How much of yourself did you put in it?
I am Lena Cosentino, unfortunately. Changing through the years. Neon Hysteric was my 2004 experience. Hollywood Hedgewitch, 2015. Read Grieving Through American Horror Story, and Dining with a Cursed Bloodline to find out about 2016 on. Those are also ebooks from Lost Angelene Books.
What are you plans for the future? Are you already working on a new book? What will it be about?
I’m working on an essay for Asylum Magazine. UK print. Taking the holidays off.
There are many rough draft manuscripts on my hard drive. I would like to revise and release them on Lost Angelene Books. Eventually. The issue is more my strength and energy level. How long I have left on earth.
I’m dealing with Long COVID from a March 2020 COVID case one ex wife got from a hospital nurse. Going to the ER just means a more expensive death. Triaging disabled and non-white patients to euthanize as not enough resources. I’d rather die at home. More haunting potential.
This long illness destroyed my writing practice. I need to get my fingers back in shape. They tire now, when they never used to. I live in my bed, occasionally getting up for vital chores or deliveries. I have a home oxygen converter to help breathe. When medication pickup or vaccines demand leaving for longer periods, I use a cane.
Another factor is my switch from laptop to iPad word processing. I got an iPad to play video games. Realized I could do everything on it.Now the laptop is rarely charged and seems insanely heavy. This iPad word processing I am still learning. Their keyboard is alienating from my muscle memory familiarity with the old kind.
Any famous last words you’d like to close this interview with?
Success is an ever receding horizon around a global meridian.
I can’t teach, I’m taught.
Thanks so much for your time and patience! Hope you had fun and I hope to interview you again soon!