Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Bizarro Ray Bradbury - My Interview with Tony Rauch

Today's interview is with Tony Rauch, author of Laredo and Eyeballs are Growing All Over Me ...Again.

How did you get involved in the Bizarro movement?
I always liked arty, absurdist writing, DaDa, abstract, experimental fic, adventures, etc. My first collection of shorts was published by Spout Press (Mpls) and the people at Eraserhead Press (Portland, OR) caught wind of it several years later and contacted me wondering if I had anything else. I sent them several groups of stories that they liked, so I began working with them. They published my last 2 collections. So I kind of got sucked into it, thinking that, after my first book I’d be on small, obscure, arty presses forever. Bizarro seems to be growing, but I feel very remote and removed from things living in Mpls, so I don’t know what others think about it.

Tell us about Eyeballs Growing All Over Me ...Again.
Well, I think it’s best for people to look at the synopsis and samples on my wordpress site and decide for themselves. But basically it’s a 140 page story collection of whimsical, dreamy, absurd, surreal, fantasy, sci fi, and fairy tale adventures. These fables will make great story starters for young adults and reluctant readers. Some of the pieces are absurdist or surreal adventures that hearken back to imaginative absurdism, sci-fi, and fantasy of the 1950s. With themes of longing, discovery, escape, eeriness and strange happenings in everyday life, readers will delight in these brief but wondrous adventures.  Basically, that’s the pitch.

Is there one story you've written that you'd say is your favorite?
One that is on my wordpress web site (under: books: despite our best efforts - will be in an upcoming collection) - a story called “I became a different person” in which someone wakes up and is a totally different person, but looks similar to his old self. So a take-off on a common ‘twilight zone’ paradigm. I didn’t invent this trope, but thought I’d borrow it to express my dissatisfaction with other people constantly trying to define you and use that invented definition for their gain and to keep you down. So in the story a man wakes in a strange bed with 2 strange women. They don’t believe him when he says he’s lost and all that, they merely agree with him in general (“well, everyone feels ‘lost’ at times”) in a polite and supportive manner, but which does not alleviate his distress. This continues through the story, as they take him about his day where he finds out he’s this fantastic partier who throws wild parties. He’s arrested and taken to jail while he meets another who knows and admires him who also just agrees with what he says. The next day he wakes up in a completely different environment, but this time he’s a criminal on the run. Hopefully it’s a story about identity, the limits of labels, getting stuck in things, etc.

Was there a book that made you realize you wanted to be a writer?
Several. I always liked short stories because they got to the point quickly without bogging you down in unneeded exposition and background filler. I saw some stories in various anthologies when I was in college which really set my mind reeling and opened doors in my mind. I then checked out the author’s books -

Most notably -
- Steve Martin – “Cruel shoes” – read it in 5th grade and thought it magnificent. It reminded me of the Saturday Night Live sketches I loved at the time – brief, absurd, thoughtful, and yet revealing underlying currents within ourselves and society. I’d never read anything that concise and powerful at that age. There is a power in brevity.

- Richard Brautigan – “Revenge of the lawn” – stories do not have to be long, or have a formal beginning or ending to be interesting. Fluid writing. Strange connections, metaphors, and descriptions.

- Donald Barthelme - story “A shower of gold” - stories can be abstract, absurd, minimal, etc. and yet you can still figure out the meaning or symbolism without having it all spelled out. Strange juxtapositions are interesting and set objects in new contexts.

- Leanard Micheals - story “Murderers” - stories don’t have to be long and meandering or have an assigned meaning - just the situation itself and the way it was told was compelling.

- Mark Layner – “My cousin, my gastroenterologist” – taught me stories could be brief, abstract, interesting, and not bogged down in meaning or contrived soap-opera histrionics and gimmicks. This was the one that to me said: “There are no rules. You can do anything. A story can be anything.” It was the one that knocked down all the restrictions.

- Stephen-Paul Martin – “The gothic twilight” and “Fear and philosophy” – for the same as all the above, but that abstract, collage, and arty could be very interesting and deep if kept brief.

- Barry Yourgrau – “A man jumps out of an airplane” and “Wearing dad’s head” – brief modern fairytales that sound ancient and new at the same time, sublime, ethereal, and yet part of our DNA, as if I knew these stories were a part of my history and was now being reminded of them.

Anyway, these were the books and stories that showed me that fiction can be wide open, that you can make your own rules and explore.

As I read Eyeballs Growing All Over Me ...Again, I kept thinking of Ray Bradbury.  Is he one of your influences?
Yes. Very much so. All sci fi from the 40s through the 60s, but especially the 50s. Bradbury is a great, underrated and undervalued writer. He has one of the greatest absurdist pieces I’ve ever read – “The watchful poker chip of H. Matise.”

Sci fi stories expound on ideas, and those ideas helped shape the space age – space ships, consumer appliances, computers, aliens, technology, ecology, ethics, morality, etc. with a sense of discovery, wonder, awe. Those stories open your mind to possibilities, they get you thinking.

After reading the New Kid, I have to ask: Did you have an electric football game as a kid?
Ha! No, but several neighbor’s did, and I thought they were really cool.

(originally I was going to have the figures be basketball players as that sport is more universal and thus maybe more common or relatable. I can’t remember why I switched them to football. Maybe because you’d need 2 basketball hoops and that would be harder to integrate into the story or make the game harder to play anywhere, where the footballers could just play anywhere. Also Basketball is more fluid, with few breaks – where football has a break every play, with substitutions, so the kids would be forced to ‘coach’ and interact with the players)

Was the writing experience for Eyeballs different than writing the stories that comprise Laredo?
Yes, actually. I wanted less abstract, less arty, and more focused stories than Laredo. I was going for more of a commercial vibe with the ‘eyeballs’ collection, with a nod to sci fi, the twilight zone, strange adventures, and all that. The stories are less open-ended in that they seem to mostly lead you somewhere specific. I wanted story starters for young adults and reluctant readers. I thought these vibes would be easier to market, easier for people to get their heads around.

With Laredo it was more like paintings, only written down. So each story was like a painting or collage that set up a vibe or feeling. Also I wanted a fairytale vibe.

So both books have similarities, but are also different.

I was never big on magical realism or fantasy, but thought I’d give them a try to gain more metal ammo, which ended up working out well. So some of the stories in both collections were more like experiments - to get me out of my comfort zone, get me thinking in new ways. I think they seem fresh because of that experimental leap.

Who are some of your influences?
That would be a long list, mostly short story writers -
Older writers:
Donald Barthelme, J.D. Salinger, Richard Brautigan, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Charles Bukowski, Franz Kafka, Leonard Michaels (murderers), Antoine de Saint Exupery (the little prince), Dr. Seuss (cool illustrations), Roald Dahl, Steve Martin (cruel shoes), W.P. Kinsella (the alligator report), Jim Heynen (the man who kept cigars in his cap)

Contemporary writers:
Barry Yourgrau, Mark Leyner, Adrienne Clasky (from the floodlands), Lydia Davis (Samuel Johnson is indignant), Etgar Keret, Stacey Richter, George Singleton, James Tate (Return to the city of white donkeys), Thom Jones, Italo Calvino, Stephen-Paul Martin, Will Self, Denis Johnson (Jesus’ son), David Gilbert (I shot the hairdresser), David Sedaris, Paul Di Filippo, D. Harlan Wilson, Andersen Prunty

Science fiction from the 40s, 50s, and 60s:
Rod Serling, L. Sprague De Camp, Ray Bradbury, Phillip K. Dick, Aurthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Charles Beaumont, Ursula K. Le Guin, etc.

What's your favorite book?
- Richard Brautigan – “Revenge of the lawn”
- Donald Barthelme - “Come back, Dr. Caligari”

These are adventures that just open my mind. They connect previously unconnected ideas in my head, which then form new ideas and new connections. These stories are often set in everyday environs – school classrooms, work office, backyard – but there are hidden discoveries to be made in the everyday. The writing is crisp, brief, fluid, and inventive.

Who's your favorite author?
Richard Brautigan. His style is so interesting and fluid. He connects and describes things in previously un-thought of ways.

What's the best book you've read in the last six months?
I re-read “Wyatt Earp, Frontier Marshal” again. This to me is an amazing adventure of a man who went through a lot of loss and lived to tell about it. His journey is operatic in scale, an odyssey of loss and perseverance. It’s very inspiring. He seemed to try to be neutral and see both sides of an issue, instead of letting his emotions get the better of him or letting others do his thinking for him. He wasn’t out to hurt anyone for his own gain. He was his own man.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring writers?
Keep writing. Write all the time. Write what you want, what interests you. Send your writing out to get published all the time as this may attract publishers. Figure out why you are writing. Set goals. Work to those goals. Stay focused, don’t get distracted by what others want you to be. Find a good editor to review your work before you send it out. Read a lot. I get inspiration from music, art, and other authors. Experiment and play around with ideas, language, form. Have a good work ethic, get efficient, but have a good life balance in order to draw ideas from other areas.

What's next for Tony Rauch?
I just finished three new collections – one absurdist, and two that are similar to my last short story collection, ‘eyeballs’, which are imaginative, whimsical, dreamy, absurd, surreal fantasy, sci-fi, and fairytale action adventures.

You can visit my website for samples of the stories and updates on new releases.

After those are released, I will continue to work on marketing and promotion for them. It’s tough to get the word out about the books.

But I don’t know what’s next after the new books are published and marketed. I have several other collections of shorts started, but they need a lot of work. I suppose that’s the sense of discovery in it all though – in finding out what’s next.

That brings up a question that I struggle with – what is success? To be an artist you can’t just coast on technique or comfortable formula, you have to go out there and explore the unknown in order to grow. You need to reach beyond what you already know in order to stay fresh.

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