Originally hailing from Long Beach, California, writer Andrew Hilbert currently resides in Austin, Texas. Shortly before moving to Texas, he co-founded Beggars & Cheeseburgers magazine, then, upon arriving in Austin, he contributed articles to Austinist.com and Out of the Gutter Online. In addition, Hilbert is a fiction editor for Foxing Quarterly and co-founded an audio short story website, Slagdrop. Andrew and longtime friend and collaborator, Jack Arambula, are also working on a monthly comic series and multimedia website called The Weekly Weird Monthly.
I’d like to say my upbringing was full of torture and tumult so I can sound like a real artist-type, but it seems my good upbringing robbed and starved me of that. Damn. My family is young and very supportive. My mom’s family are immigrants from the Azores, leaving as good as they come jobs in Portugal, to start a life in the United States. My grandpa was the first to plant his flag here with my grandma, and his daughters. He told me before he died that he knew his daughters would get a better education in America even if it meant he had to start over. They were hard workers. He left his job as a meteorologist for the Lajes field air base in the Azores to work as a meat packer for a grocery store. When his family and friends followed him to California, he held classes in his garage to teach them English, to learn how to read and fill out their forms for citizenship, and all. He was devoted to a never ending series of interests and his quest for knowledge never ended. He taught himself a lot of things and after a stroke, he loaded up on books in every possible interest he had. He told me that he wanted to know as much as he could before he died.
My dad’s family have been in the States forever. My grandma is a poet, my grandpa was an engineer. He was killed by a drunk driver when my brothers and I were staying at his house. That experience has stayed with me and really informs a lot of my creative output. I see life as a brief and beautiful absurdity and art is a way to make sense of that whether it’s conscious or not.
Family dinners consisted of sitting around and making fun of each other. We have a dark and absurd sense of humor but my family has always been supportive of every fleeting interest I’ve had. Writing has been the only constant interest in my life and my folks have always encouraged that.
What writers have inspired you over the course of your life?
Ray Bradbury was the first writer I’ve ever idolized. I must have been in third grade the first time I cracked open The Martian Chronicles and set off a lifelong love affair with reading. Ray Bradbury was brilliant. His books were like magic to me. After reading Bradbury, I never returned to R.L. Stine and other books that were tailored towards kids. There’s nothing wrong with those books but after reading a writer like Bradbury, how could you return to anything else?
I’m a huge Mark Twain fan. Kurt Vonnegut is also one of my favorites. They both deal with very weighty concepts through humor. I’m also a fan of Franz Kafka. Everything he writes is some poor sap stuck in a situation with no understanding of it, desperately trying to figure it out, and there’s no resolution.
Joe R. Lansdale is also one of my favorites. He blends weirdo horror, humor, and just damn good writing perfectly. If you haven’t yet, you have to read The Thicket. He’s like Mark Twain, if Mark Twain wrote about midgets with shotguns and guys who take jobs as fire department dogs.
I’m not going through any obsessive stages of reading nothing but one author right now but recently I’ve read and loved the stories of John Shirley and absolutely loved The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson.
What do you enjoy most about writing?
It’s a struggle and until you get to the end, it can really knock you around. But then there’s the end. You’ve finished. Anybody can start something, finishing is the hard part. Nobody tells you to write, nobody cares if you do or not, but doing something on your own and finishing it, holy cow, how many people get that joy? You’re building worlds and characters, you’re putting small pieces of yourself into characters totally unlike you. It’s a god-complex, probably, but who cares?
Then there’s the rejection. Nobody likes rejection but if you’re a writer that intends to be read, you’re going to be rejected far more than you are going to be accepted. One acceptance washes away a multitude of rejections.
How do you know when a story you’re writing is complete?
A story is finished twice. The first time it’s finished is when the idea is written down from beginning to end, making the first draft. That’s the skeleton. Then after a small marinating period, I revise and have other people look at it for their thoughts. Then, after all that’s done, it’s truly finished. Usually my ideas starts with a sentence or a title. I don’t outline too much, I just let the story flow from there.
How have you evolved creatively since you first started writing?
Since I was a kid, I’ve been writing stories. In high school, I started writing songs and poems and stuck to poetry for a few years. As my poetry started becoming more narrative, involving characters that had more to them than what a poem could contain, I realized I needed to jump back into writing stories. The stories started out very short — almost exclusively flash fiction but I’ve learned to take more time and let stories reveal themselves in the longer form. I’ve finished a novella, Death Thing, about an old man fed up with crime in his city so he turns his car into a Rube Goldberg-like death trap to bait criminals. I’m shopping that around and now I’m working on a novel. The main thing that’s evolved is length. I no longer feel the pressure to make something short; the stories are as long as they need to be now.
Looking back on my earlier stories, I realize that I’ve grown as a writer but there’s still a hell of a lot more growing to do. It’s exciting.
What’s the best piece of advice — writing or otherwise — that you’ve received in your life?
I love Elmore Leonard’s advice: Don’t write the parts that people skip. If it sounds like writing, rewrite it.
Austin is a music hotbed. What’s the best live show you’ve seen in your time there?
The best shows I’ve seen were the ones that I had no idea what I was getting into. My girlfriend took me to a Shakey Graves concert and I thought, “Great. Some artsy sounding band name.” It’s not a band. The guy plays a kick drum and guitar and sings all at once like a street musician and he’s such a talented songwriter and performer. I was blown away.
Just the other night, we went to a George Clinton concert and the opening act was a hip hop band called Riders Against the Storm. They were funky and powerful and it was just mind-blowing. I’m jealous of musicians. They can get so much emotion out, they can capture what it’s like to be alive in four minute increments more powerfully than any other art form. And they can make you dance while doing it.
If you could have any super power, what would you choose?
Speed reading. There’s too much to get through and learn from and I can be a slow reader.
What are you working on next?
I’m working on a novel called Invasion of the Weirdos, a musical based on my short story Margaret & the Infestation with the band the If Onlys, and a few other writing projects that aren’t in my normal short story writing daily regime. There’s a lot to do and I feel I’m best when I’m drowning in work.