Eyeballs, Angst, and Short Fiction: An Interview with Tony Rauch

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Tony Rauch is an author of absurdist, whimsical, and Bizarro short fiction. I’ve enjoyed his work a lot. You can read my review of his latest collection, what if i got down on my knees?, over at Medium (originally it was reviewed at the now-defunct Adventures in SciFi Publishing): https://medium.com/@benarz13/book-review-what-if-i-got-down-on-my-knees-by-tony-rauch-b310cd5d8a47

Ben Arzate: Introduce yourself. Who is Tony Rauch?

Tony Rauch: If I’m doing my job correctly as an artist, I am a guide to previously unseen places and also a mirror reflecting the weirdness, confusion, feelings, and wonder running wild in the environment.

At other times I’m just the apple of your eye. A giant, fuzzy bunny in the guise of a man-boy who only wants to be your friend. The last potato in the bag. The electrolysis you can’t afford. That thing on your back that you should have checked out, but you don’t know it’s even there because it’s on your back. A miscellaneous collection of your regrets displayed like items at a garage sale. The dark, tilting, creaking stairway down into your failures. The elongated spore that will work its way into your subconscious to fester and will gradually buzz until you enroll in a low-budget tap dancing class. That little man in the blue suit and little hat who is always peeking at you from a distance. What finally became of Stinky Sullivan from Growing Pains. The burned-out clutch of the rusted-out orange’78 Camaro you’ll soon be living in. The guy behind the guy . . . behind . . . the guy.

I have a lot of hobbies and interests. I get around.

Ben: How would you describe your writing style?

Tony: Depends on the book. The first two were more experimental or odd fairy tale.

The third was whimsical, dreamy, surreal fantasy, sci-fi, and fairy tale adventures full of longing, discovery, escape, eeriness, surprises, and strange happenings in everyday life.

The fourth was tales of wonder and woe about people trying to find meaning and a place in an absurd, indifferent world, and their discoveries, revelations, secrets, failures, struggles, connections, and odd encounters along their way.

I’m more of an absurdist swirling genres into a new gumbo. I do this mostly for the people, and only a little for my own modest megalomania.

Ben: What are some of your biggest influences?

Tony: Rust, mud, gunk, goo, the void, your mother’s secrets, your futility, troubles, the mist, the goombees.

In terms of writing: Steve Martin’s “Cruel Shoes” for its absurdism. Donald Barthelme for his inventiveness and ability to break out of the box and narrow confines of previously established conventions. Ray Bradbury and other sci-fi for forward thinking ideas. Richard Brautigan for his word craft and sense of play. Salinger and Fitzgerald for their sense of pacing, regret, and heartbreak.

Anything creative, imaginative and different. Anything concise and efficient. Anything that causes a reaction, that makes you think, feel, empathize. Anything that probes new possibilities, sets new boundaries, declares new freedoms from pathetic and obsolete rules.

Ben: Why write fiction?

Tony: I like ideas. Art deals with ideas, therefore I like art. I like playing around with ideas. I aspire to participate in the arts, produce art, share art, advance art. As an artist I need that periodic infusion of newness to keep life fresh and alive, so life doesn’t feel stagnant or stuck in only one thing, one gear, one vibe. Music, literature, and other fine arts infuses and replenishes me with ideas, new thoughts, new combinations. Art moves me along and open doors that I did not realize were there. And a lot of it is free – google, youtube, galleries, free little libraries, the public library, readings. All free. So an interesting diversion and investment in thought for only the cost of your time. Art forces new ideas, new combinations, new blood, new thoughts into the body, refreshing, challenging, building, and adding to your sustenance.

I like writing specifically because literature moves – it is active, not passive, it grows, flows and changes, it’s alive. Literature is not static, where paintings or collage is often just a snapshot in time, even the ones that are vibrating with energy. Also, many people have access to writing, where only a few people might see a painting or other form of physical art. So writing to me is a way to reach a lot more people than I could with painting. Also, a lot of my ideas are fluid, they flow and change, so writing is the best artistic format for me to replicate that sense of movement and progression.

Ben: Does your job as an architect have an influence on how you write?

Tony: Occasionally. I’m lucky because from time to time my job allows for some introspection and contemplation, so I get some time to think about story arcs, ideas, and endings, etc. Writing is just designing with words.

But having free time with no other thoughts is a huge advantage – walking my dog, biking, cleaning, driving (or sitting in traffic), wandering the aisles at the supermarket, or wandering the back alleys with a vacant look in the middle of the night can all afford time to think. I have learned to use the interstitial spaces of the day to my advantage.

Ben: All of your books are short story collections. Why do you favor the short story form? Have you considered writing a novel?

Tony: Like punk rock, I like the burst of color and pungent flavor, condensing, distillation, immediacy, economy, efficiency, the manageable scale to allow for experimentation and exploring the elasticity of the format that shorts allow.

I wrote a novel last year and hope to work on the second part in that series this coming year. It is a short chapter novel, which is similar to a series of stories or linked adventures. I had some left-over material that had similar themes and took place in similar settings, so like a puzzle they seemed to link and fit. I thought it would be a novella – maybe ninety pages, but it ballooned to three hundred pages. That first novel is like a series of linked shorts.

Ben: Do you write your stories with a theme in mind for collections, or do you just focus on them as stand-alone stories?

Tony: Stand-alones. But sitting and thinking and typing, and then walking around thinking, gets me on a vibe. So there are similar themes in each – loss, escape, absurd situations, existential longing, discovery, secrets, identity, strange happenings, endurance, regret, fragility, uncertainty, impermanence, the mysteries hidden in everyday life, discovery, ennui, loneliness, irresponsible behavior, confusion, change, and absurd situations. The stories seem to fall into several templates that then get funneled into each collection.

Ben: You have a few screenplays on your website. Have any been sold or are in the process of being developed by any filmmakers?

Tony: I had some local indie filmmakers interested in “A light in the darkness” but nothing went beyond the initial development stage, which surprised me because it’s a walk-n-talk indie that would take maybe three weeks to film. I have an idea for another film, and notes for it somewhere, but haven’t had time to dig into that one. My books have been more of a priority because they garnered the most fruit. Every once in a while someone will want to try one of my stories out as a short film or play, but so far nothing concrete has ever come of those inquiries.

Ben: Which of your books would you recommend for someone just discovering your work?

Tony: I have 4 story collections published. Samples are on my website – see the link below. It would depend on your personal tastes, but they’re all ripe for the adventurous reader who is looking for something different, creative, imaginative, thought-provoking, hard to classify, and/or a mix or swirl of genres. I would say “eyeballs” or “what if” since they are the latest and thus represent more life experience and more writing under my belt, but any of them would be fine.

Ben: What are you currently working on?

Tony: Probing your demons. Scoping your lobe for leaks. Tripping the light fantastic. Finally living up to lowered expectations. The usual. Finished a mostly YA sci-fi novel late last year and am sending to agents, which is daunting. I’ll start the second book in that series this summer. I have the notes and an outline. Will start to send to some smaller publishers because it doesn’t look like the agent route will work out, which is deflating because the book is righteous.

I also have 3 or 4 other completed story collections I need to find a publisher for. Three of those are strange YA sci-fi, fantasy, fairy tale adventures and one is a more adult absurdist collection. They’re just as interesting and inventive as my last two collections, maybe even better. If anyone knows of anyone out there looking for odd story collections, please let me know.

Ben: Any links or anything else to plug?

Tony: Book and story samples can be found on my website at https://trauch.wordpress.com/

Hopefully I’ll be able to find a suitable publisher for the books mentioned above, and then will have more wares to pitch in the near future.

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