Getting to Know Andy Gottschalk, Author of “The Inheritance”


In an interview with student interns Jed Heald and Eli Hirshberg, Andy Gottschalk offers an inside look into his creative practice and shares more about “The Inheritance,” his piece in the current issue of Shenandoah. We explore different themes in his writing, his influential studio art practice and recent essays he’s been working on.



We’d like to start by asking about your writing process and how you go about ideating stories. 


My writing process — it’s changed a bit over time. I think I’ve had to convince myself that I’m not writing to get started. And so, oftentimes, I’m just writing as many notes that are kind of not really prose at all. 


To begin, typically, what I’ll start with is a few pages of non-sentences and then the obligation is to just make them into sentences. Then, I look to make them cohere to some larger narrative so I’m able to break it up a little bit and not feel so much pressure to deliver something that sounds like a story up front. 



Do you have groups of different notes that you tie together or do you set aside time to find links between your notes? Or do you find that you’re only writing about one specific topic in a writing period?


Yeah. I feel like there’s always things that come up in certain stories that I begin. 


[“The Inheritance”] is a flash nonfiction piece, which is probably the least representative of my work because I don’t write nonfiction as much anymore. It’s much easier to get trapped up in telling a truthful story when you have the obligation of it being nonfiction. With fiction, I have so much more room to play around with, what I essentially consider like the dump doc where all these kinds of misfit ideas go. 


There’s always the same things that come up. I read this newspaper article about flavorless candy in Japan and this philosophical debate that it ignited about what is like nothingness. I’m always starting stories with a character who’s interested in that candy. And it’s like, the first thing I write, and then the first thing I take away when I’m editing. There’s always these little floating ideas that I’m putting in and then removing, and it just lives in this unwieldy document of misfit ideas. 



“The Inheritance” and the writing within it was super compelling to us, and obviously powerful as a piece of nonfiction. We wanted to know a little bit more about the story — whatever you’re willing to share. 


It’s very hard to think about it now as a finished product. Initially, I wrote it to investigate and maybe even satirize my own emotional reservation or the emotional reservation that my family has, especially in dealing with mourning or in reference to mourning here. 


There’s a section that talks about how repainting my brother’s bedroom after his suicide is an urgent order of business. It doesn’t read as comedy at all, but I thought it was a funny place to start, like, my God, we have to take care of this. We can’t keep this, this artifact around. It suggests a lot of unwillingness to show emotion. That was the first thing I wrote for that story. 



We wanted to ask about the themes or ideas you find yourself exploring in your work. Why are they significant to you? 


I write a lot about childhood or children because I think they are this Trojan horse for profundity. You can write about children, and they’re just like comic forces, but they reveal a lot about human nature in general. And so, in fiction or even in more essayistic writing, I’m usually going to that place. Not really a theme, but definitely a subject matter. 



Our professor has mentioned how publishers prefer novels nowadays more than anything else because that’s where there is the most money to be made. Is that something you have been interested in? 


I started drafting a novel during the pandemic. It was a very good exercise for me to just develop a discipline and a habit, but ironically, I’ve been more and more attracted to what are probably the least sexy forms of writing like flash fiction and the short story in general. 


The magazine is so bygone now, and people aren’t reading short stories, but more than ever, I’m attracted to them as a form, and I think they’re very artistic. 



I know we haven’t really asked much about your background and where you grew up. Did you write a lot when you were younger? And, does your upbringing influence the kind of stories you write today? 


Yeah, I definitely liked writing and making art as a kid. Writing is just a continuity of my art practice in general. 


I have been much more of a studio artist for years, working on paintings and video sets but not having a studio. I moved to forms that I could sustain on my own, and writing was the natural pickup for that. I definitely consider writing just a part of this longer continuity of art-making, but as a kid, I wrote plays and was really interested in theater. I find childhood dynamics as a subject matter very interesting.


I can look back on the friendships that I had as children or like the dynamics that we had and mine those endlessly because children are willing to say certain things very brusquely and never comment on other very obvious things. So, it’s this very interesting tension of being extremely forthright while also naive. 



Would you say there is a piece of your writing that means the most to you, and why? 


I feel like some of my favorite pieces are unpublished right now. Hopefully, that’ll change in the future. 


I’ve undergone some changes in my writing over the years. Pre-2020, I was very into memoirs and essays and wrote an essay that took a really long journey to getting published. It just came out this month, but I finished it years ago. In that time, I took up a novel project, which is best left untouched.


There are some flash fiction pieces, and then only recently, in the past six months, some longer 20-page stories, and all of my favorites are in that group. I see the most evolution in that group, so I’m eager to get them out into the world. 


In terms of published pieces that I feel most proud of, there was this piece — I like to think of it as a prose poem — called Kimmy, and it was about this elementary school girl who was a bully and could punch people and give them big black eyes. The story ends on this weird note of her making faces in apples with her incisors and leaving them out in the sun while everybody sits inside learning. For some reason, that story expanded my idea of what fiction could be because it was just very sing-songy, brief, and not quite a full story. There was no arc to it besides the picture of this girl. 



To close our conversation, we were wondering if you had one piece of advice you’d give to someone who’s trying to start a career in writing?


I would say that putting in the time of writing and sending is super important. Not being deterred by rejection is the best thing you can do. Cultivating your own sense of taste and inner architecture of how stories should work for you. As we discussed, it’s very hard to make money writing, and you have to decouple yourself from expectations that are pretty typical of almost any other path. 


The goal for art is to expand your consciousness and understand things better. Every day, I still wish for a richer understanding of art and of the literature I’m engaging with. Pursuing that is good for the soul. You have to pursue it for your own soul and not for some of the more typical motivations if you want to keep at it.

Andy Gottschalk is a writer and artist from Kansas, living in New York. His films have been exhibited at the Yale Student Film Festival and GIPHY Film Festival. His prose appears or is forthcoming in Rougarou, Sage Cigarettes, and Post Road, among others.