Thursday, August 1, 2013

Sitting Down with Tony Rauch

It's been a great week thus far and is only getting better with today's interviewee.  I had the pleasure of reading some of author Tony Rauch's work prior to conducting the interview.  It's fun, light-hearted, a bit creepy, and yeah...bizarre!  So let's get down to business.  Come on, Tony, and sit down in my interview chair!

DAB:    I have no experience with the bizarro fiction genre, and there may be many in our audience like me.  So let me start this interview by asking – what is bizarro fiction?

TR:       it is many things, or can be many things. It is weird fantasy. Dr. Seuss for adults. A swirling of genres. It is experimental. Formula turned inside out. It is Kirk Cameron moving in next door to you and getting a job as a clown at children’s parties. It is you then stalking Kirk Cameron and monitoring his every move with elaborate charts, much as I have done (you can join me some night if you wish, but you have to pass a test first, and I’m gonna test you but good). It can probably best be summed up in the beginning of this interview and this listing -

scroll down a little for the list –

            But the main thing is: it is not just one thing. It is the literature of the strange, the absurd, where stories are harder to classify. It might be silly or cartoony, it might be strange horror, it might be unusual cowboy, it may be a love triangle between really shy dinosaurs. Now it’s your turn to list what it might be. It can be whatever you want it to be.
 DAB:  That's funny!  I especially like the "Dr. Seuss for adults" moniker.  How did you first develop an interest in this genre, and when did you decide this was what you wanted to write?

TR:       I do not like labels, as I find them limiting. And I don’t know what categories my stories would best fit. I guess that would be up to others to consider. I like a variety of story types, tropes, and formats, so mixing them seems to work best for me. This was how I always wrote because formula fiction was too boring and limiting. A swirl of styles, forms, and types was more challenging and freeing. A story might be a list, it may be just three lines, it may be a middle with you to be left thinking of a beginning and ending. It is meant to challenge and provoke.

            I was writing this kind of stuff before a recent label congealed. My first collection, “I’m right here,” came out in 1998, and some of those stories date back to the early 90s. I just called them absurdist, or post-modern, or experimental, or put the pedal to the floor and drive through the supermarket in a stolen city bus, or alternative, or underground. It was just more challenging, more liberating, more boundless than other forms of inhibited, tight, constrained, formula jive.

            I was always interested in this type of writing - Donald Barthelme, Mark Leyner – anything different, fresh, new, alive. I didn’t go to it. It came to me at the library when I first read anthologies such as “the anti story”, “super fiction”, “the naked i”, “the uncommon reader”, “cutting edge.” Leonard Michaels’s short story “murderers” showed me there could be no rules, no formats. It unshackled previous restraints. I was always into art, reading, drawing, sketching, and I read that story and said, yes, this is what I want to do, and so I did.

            But I’m not sure if my stories or sketches would fit in with “bizarro fiction” as I seem to deal with the middle ranges of experience and not the extremes. But you see, there’s where it’s great, and that’s the appeal to me – that is my thoughts on the subject, where everyone else will have a different point of reference. So the genre then becomes more elastic and oozing as everyone has their own idea of what “extreme,” “absurd,” or “silly” might be. Someone might read something and think it is a horror piece, where another person may see it as an absurdist piece or satire. Actually, I’m really tired of talking about this – investigate it on your own. In the meantime, would you like to see my Kirk diagrams? I’ve got notebooks full.

DAB:   I'm definitely with you on the whole "labels" issue, and I'll leave Kirk to you for now.  This short story collection is so different – how do you come up with such interesting and “bizarre” ideas about which to write?

TR:       I think my collection, “eyeballs growing all over me . . again” is just some strange story starters for young adults and sci fi fantasy adventures, maybe picking things up where Ray Bradbury left off and just taking off with those types of vibes.

            The stories just hit me – at the super market, while walking my dog, etc. I’m so busy at work during the day that it’s as if a part of my brain is thinking of these things all day without my knowing it and then that door opens in the quiet moments. I like the big ideas in the small moments – the mini-adventures, going places, discovering gadgets, seeing things I otherwise could not.

            Most of the ideas I think are just extrapolations of things I think about, then extrude them to their breaking point – what’s in that cupboard or behind that door? Obviously a strange mushroom who knows who has a crush on me but won’t tell me until I do it a favor. That sort of thing.

DAB:   In eyeballs growing all over me…again, which is your favorite story in the collection?  Which is your favorite character?  Do you personally identify with him/her/it in some way?

TR:      I hate them all. the people in it are all liars, they have poor hygene, they . . . No, actually I like them all. I guess the best for me in that one would be “send krupac through the portal” as a man is offered a chance to search for his girlfriend in another dimension as the version of her in this one has broken it off. And “people have been drifting away lately” where people just up and float away. They deal with loss and I have a hard time coming to terms with loss, though I am getting better with change. I identify with the feelings and sentiments behind those two and some other pieces in there – the man who builds a robot to try to meet women, the desire to go back in time and see a cool rock and roll concert, the desire to escape, ambivalence, contradictions, dealing with weird crap that happens for no reason, etc. These are just extrapolations, just metaphors for the crap we have to deal with.

DAB:   Do you have a set writing routine, or do you fit it in around everything else whenever you can?

TR:      I have very little time to write, which is why short stories probably fit best for me. Most novels I’ve seen are contrived and way too long. I tend to write when a good idea hits me. But usually I only have an hour a night to write as I work all day. It’s too bad that short story collections, and weird genre stuff in particular, does not sell well because I think it would challenge a lot of people to think in a different gear for a while if they just gave it a chance. Basically I work in a very obscure art form and thus I consider myself more of a folk artist, an outsider – as if writing down old folk songs or paintings found in the attics of old garages that no one knows who wrote or painted.

DAB:    The "folk artist" comparison fits pretty well, I think.  Tell us about your writing space.  What’s on your desk?  What do you do to get in the writing mood?

TR:       The first two books were written on those old main frame macs in a study with books all around me. Both my old apartments had views to flowers and trees, so no hectic distractions and lots to wonder about. Then I got a house and a lap-top and now type in the living room on a wooden TV stand. The view across the street is nice – again, lots of big trees, no distractions. Often I will write something out long hand in bed at night, again when there are no distractions. That’s it. There are no real secrets other than the old adage: ass to chair. Having no distractions is the key for me, so at night when all is blank and quiet seems to work best at opening things up for me.

DAB:    Was there anyone in your past that influenced your desire to write?  Your present?

TR:       No one person. I was always introverted, way too much for my own good, and always into art and drawing and those drawings had a narrative to them which I started writing down as they were actually stories in pictographic form, whether I realized that or not. Also, me and my friends used to write funny, absurdist skits for school to entertain ourselves, and I think that really formed my outlook and template – seeing the world as a strange, absurd place.

DAB:    So since we’re talking about some “bizarre” situations here, if you had a time machine would you choose to go visit the future or past?  Why?

TR:       The past. Unfortunately I miss a lot of things. I’ve always had a longing for the past - friends, old stuff, a chance to re-do a couple of things and get them right. Though I should be more adventurous and say the future, as that is probably a healthier outlook. Sometimes you just gotta let things go, let things be.

DAB:    Okay, now let’s come back to reality for a moment.  There’s one question I love to ask fellow authors – do you outline your stories or do you just sit down and write where the story takes you?

TR:       Depends. Either / Or. Sometimes it’s easier to write it all out all at once, since most of my stuff is so brief. Sometimes if I get an idea elsewhere, I have to jot it down as an outline. So basically it depends on where I’m located when the idea hits me. For some reason, often times the endings come to me first, and then I work back from that.
            The important thing to me is to be interesting, thought-provoking, entertaining, informative, fast and brief, present new and different ideas or takes on things. Now I don’t know if I’ve achieved that, but that’s the goal.

DAB:    And it's always nice to have a goal.  Are you working on anything new at present?  Care to give us a sneak peek?

TR:       Nothing new right now, unfortunately. I’ve been swamped with other life matters and work. I have three books of shorts done and ready to be published and at least one YA collection almost finished, but no one as of yet to publish them. I was unemployed for a while (I’m an Architect, so my job depends on lending and the overall economy because it is a service industry) so I had some time to really dig in and finish some things and work on marketing my other published story collections, which is really hard.

            But odd shorts have a very limited market, so very low sales potential I’m afraid. I have thought of doing a novella just to see if I can do one, and also just as a change of pace or as a writing exercise. It’s probably good to stretch and grow and not get stagnant or refine a shtick. Repetition is the opposite of art. If you’re burning on technique, you’re not an Artist, you’re an illustrator, and artist with a small ‘a’. If you’re out there balancing on new ground, trying new things, then you’re an Artist. I want to create Art, something different, unique, challenging, fresh, alive, free. Whether I’ve achieved that or not is up to an individual reader to decide and balance out with what their thoughts are.

            In the meantime, tell Kirk I say hello.

I'll do that, Tony!  Thanks again for joining us here at the blog to offer insight into the bizarro genre - and your writing life.  Be sure and check out Tony's work through his website at

Author Bio:

Tony Rauch has three books of short stories published –
-         “I’m right here” (Spout Press)
-         “Laredo” (Eraserhead Press)
-         “Eyeballs growing all over me . . . again” (Eraserhead Press)
            He has an additional titles finished and is looking for a publisher for them, including “as I floated in the jar”. He has been interviewed by the Prague Post, Oxford Univ student paper, Raintaxi, and has been reviewed by the MIT paper and the Savanna College of Art and Design paper, among many others.
Story samples can be found at –
His work deals with fragility, uncertainty, impermanence, the mysteries hidden in everyday life, a sense of discovery, escape, concealment, ennui, regret, loneliness, technology run amok, eerie vibes, irresponsible behavior, confusion, absurd situations, surrealism, modern fairy tales, etc.

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