THE PEAUXDUNQUE TEN: Kayla Min Andrews
Interview by Susan Kagan
1. What about your podunk of Plymouth, New Hampshire inspires you the most?
I had a mostly negative relationship to the small town in central New Hampshire where I grew up. As a kid, I was indifferent to the town’s charms (beautiful mountains, safety, affordability) and was convinced that the “real” and the “interesting” were all happening elsewhere. For better and worse, this drove me inward—I spent tons of time at home, reading, writing, and watching movies rather than socializing with my peers. These circumstances were surely foundational in my becoming a writer. Also, the feeling of not-belonging in my own hometown inspired me to wander far from it, living in France then settling in New Orleans. I have embraced feeling like an outsider, which prepared me well for life in New Orleans and for life as a writer.
2. How does belonging to Peauxdunque help with your writing?
Having writer-friends is crucial to my writing, and in New Orleans I’ve met many of mine through Peauxdunque. Sharing early drafts helps me think of a piece as real and motivates me to keep working on it. Seeing my friends’ success makes success feel less theoretical and thus more possible for me. Being able to commiserate about the difficult aspects of the writing life with people who can advise and sympathize is nourishing.
3. What are your long-term writing goals?
I’m working on a novel about a mother-daughter relationship. My goal is to finish it. That might take a while, so I’ll leave it there regarding long-term goals (though my goals don’t end there).
4. What’s the biggest challenge you have with writing?
Right now, my biggest challenge is figuring out how to shift from shorter pieces to a novel. I’m discovering many differences in approach. For example, each time I sit down to write, I realize it would be too time-consuming to re-read everything I have so far. Also, each time I sit down to write, I wonder whether I ought to revise existing portions or forge ahead with writing new parts. In general, my biggest challenge is managing my own headspace.
5. Is there a common playlist of music you write to? If so, what are the five most prevalent artists?
I never put on music while I write. But I have a killer Zumba mix for when I need to clear my head.
6. Whose writing do you most admire among the living and the dead?
I find “best of all time” questions to be paralyzing, but here’s some stuff I like:
These days it’s all about Melissa Febos for me. Her books (especially Body Work and Abandon Me) light my soul on fire with their devastating insight, humor, and verbal elegance. They inspire me to be a better writer.
I think it’s hard to beat James Baldwin; I love his novel Another Country. I love Kiese Laymon (I listened to Heavy and How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others obsessively during the pandemic lock-down). I also deeply admire the My Brilliant Friend novels, and the memoir Speak, Okinawa by local writer Liz Brina.
Among those who’ve passed: Jose Marti, Pablo Neruda, and Toni Morrison.
7. What are your writing quirks?
I’m a very demonstrative writer. The act of writing sometimes causes me to cry, or laugh in a variety of ways (cackle, giggle, honk, guffaw), or mutter appreciative/despairing obscenities, or dance around giddily. Guess that’s why I rarely write in coffeeshops.
8. Are you a pantser (writing by the seat of your pants with no outline) or a plotter (writing with a high-level outline of all the plot points) and have you tried the other way?
This terminology is so funny to me. I had never heard it before I joined Peauxdunque. I love the inventiveness and the percussive sound of the two two-syllable p-words. I am a pantser, for sure. I conceptualize my process as reaching around in the dark and trying to figure out what my fingers touch. I’d love to write a thriller or a mystery novel one day, which seems like it would require plotting-out ahead of time. But so far, no, I haven’t tried it. Probably some plotting will be necessary as I move forward with my novel.
9. If you could live in any fictional reality, which one and why?
I would choose the world of Another Country. I first read that novel as a teenager, and I immediately yearned to inhabit a world of passionate, sophisticated artist-friends living in glamorous scrappiness in a vibrant city. The way they know each other so well, love each other deeply even as they sometimes hurt each other—the way they bear witness to each other’s heartaches, personal struggles, and artistic pursuits over the years. When I was a teenager in Plymouth, this world felt very far away. Now it’s actually not so far from the reality I have, come to think of it. Hey, that’s pretty cool!
10. What’s one of your favorite Peauxdunque memories?
It was fall 2019. I had decided several months prior to try in earnest to be a writer. I’d been writing doggedly on my own but didn’t have any writer-friends in New Orleans. A friend invited me to come hear her brother read poetry at a thing, and I went, with zero notion of what the thing was. The thing turned out to be the release party for the second issue of a local literary journal with a funny name. I was dazzled by how great the readings were. As people mingled after the event, a woman I’d never met before—Emilie Staat Strong, one of the Peauxdunque Review staff then—came up to me and asked, “Are you a writer?” It felt so significant, so validating to my nascent writer identity, that one of the Peauxdunque-ers would notice me out of the blue like that. I feared she would walk away when I explained what I was working on (personal essays about my mom dying), or when she realized I had no publications or external accomplishments (yet!), but I decided to be honest and open, a/k/a to be brave. We talked for hours about our writing—probably the first time I ever met a stranger and was quickly sharing deep, intimate, personal stuff; also maybe the first time I realized “being myself” was exactly what the situation called for—no need to pretend to be less sad, less angsty, less weird, etc. That moment led to other moments, which led to me getting invited to join Peauxdunque. At the risk of sounding cheesy … it was magical!