INTERVIEW WITH RICK ANDREWS
Rappahannock Review Fiction Editors: We loved the imagery in “Converge”; Nate’s bedroom and the concert were such emotionally driven moments. Can you talk about how you approached creating the images in this piece?
Rick Andrews: Thanks! Imagery starts with memory, for me. I went to a lot of metal and hardcore shows as a teenager, and the concert in this piece is drawn from a number of shows I went to in high school, particularly a Converge show in Allston, MA and a From a Second Story Window show at the United Methodist Church in Wakefield, MA. I did some Google sleuthing when writing this piece, because these shows were in 2005, and I found some pictures of me in the crowd in khakis and a yellow Second City shirt. Very humbling.
I loved the intimacy of those shows. No stage, the whole floor slanted to one side, low ceilings, the heat and humidity trapping itself. I went to most of these shows alone, and in between bands with nothing to do, you couldn’t help but look around, watch people, look at the room, watch the drummers deconstruct their kits, etc.
I’ve been trying to write about that music scene and the anger mixed with the euphoric connection that live music brings and it found a backdoor into this piece in a way that surprised me.
As for Nate’s room, I have a strong image of it in my head, but I can’t match it to a room from my life. I think my sense of the room came reversed engineered from my sense of Nate. If this is how he was, how would his room be?
RR: Ben’s voice is calm, almost disassociated, in the story but has more emotional moments in places like the old fort and the last song of the concert. What is your process for developing voice?
RA: As an improviser, most pieces start with voice for me, because on stage that is where everything begins: how are you standing, how are you talking. How you do what you do tells you who you are.
And it’s more about noticing, for me, than deciding. I think I noticed and related to Ben’s distance, the way he was using humor and disaffection to talk about something serious, about the worst thing that’s happened to him in his short life. I remember being that way, and not unaware either; there was a sense that if you could laugh about a thing that was difficult, you could steal a little bit of its power.
The other thing I noticed at the beginning was how much Ben looked up to Nate, and even though Nate is gone, this sense that maybe Ben is still trying to impress him. I thought that was interesting, that our core relational stance towards someone might not change even when you’re just talking to them in your head.
RR: Some of us deeply related to the sibling relationship in this piece. How did the idea of this story come to you?
RA: This is perhaps an odd source. I watched a YouTube video about these folks who go around with sonar and dive equipment and help find missing persons who have potentially driven their cars into lakes/ponds/rivers. Apparently, this is common enough when someone has disappeared without a trace. These guys talk to the families, look at some maps of nearby bodies of water near roads, and then break out the sonar, and it seems like half the time they find a body.
There was a lot I found darkly fascinating about the video, but especially the difficulty of having someone go missing without a single clue or lead about where they might be or why they might have gone, and how that leaves a very unresolved person-shaped hole in your life.
I think the sibling relationship began there, with the idea of someone who has disappeared like that, and thinking about who would be impacted by that. The notion of a brother was more interesting to me than a parent; I liked the idea of a young man who feels pressure to be disaffected and how they might grapple with something inescapably affecting.
I think there’s also something to the contrast between the teenage male disaffection vs. how vulnerable and exposed people are at these concerts that is doing a lot of work for me in the piece, but honestly, I’m only wrapping my head around that now answering this question.
RR: It’s really cool that you’re an improvisation instructor. Does having this creative and fast-paced career help in any way when you sit down to write?
RA: Being an improviser is extremely fun and something I love deeply. I think having a dexterity with improvising definitely helps me get over writer’s-block-type feelings. You learn quickly in improv to lose that preciousness. Things won’t be perfect right away, and that’s okay, maybe even preferable, because it means there’s a lot to discover.
Improvising is all about discovering, and so that has been helpful, figuring out how to let the piece go on its own a bit vs. leading it by the hand too much.
Lastly, and maybe this is strange, but improvisation is a creative thing I’ve been doing for almost twenty-five years now. I’m much better at it than I am at writing.
Having gone through the experience of loving something creative, sucking at it, sticking with it, improving, developing taste, technique, confidence, etc has helped me be more patient with myself as a writer where I am much less experienced.
I’m more willing to trust in the process of practicing and getting in reps, to not feel like everything hinges on the next thing being the best thing. Improvisation is disposable. You learn to let the bad shows roll off your back, and that short memory is crucial when you’re learning a new artform so you don’t hate everything you make to the point where you never make anything.
RR: What is your favorite thing that you’ve read? (It could be a book, a letter or note, or even a fortune cookie.)
RA: I don’t know if it’s my favorite thing, but I re-read Catcher in the Rye recently in one sitting and could not have been more enamored. It reads so differently as someone no longer close to Holden’s age, no longer reading it as if I’m supposed to “like” or “dislike” him. The book has so much empathy wrapped in it, the voice has such control, and is extremely funny.
All the digressions rule so much; reading one-star reviews of it on Goodreads is a surefire way to cheer myself up. “Ugh, this guy is so annoying and there’s no plot.” Sign me up.
Truly worth a reread if it’s something you haven’t read since high school. It was like reading a completely different book, which is fun because obviously the book hasn’t changed; I have.
Read “Converge” by Rick Andrews.