Interview: Bizarro Author Tony Rauch
by Scott Emerson
Tony Rauch is the author of the short story collections I’m Right Here (Sprout Press), Laredo, and Eyeballs Growing All Over Me . . . Again (both Eraserhead Press).
Fusing science fiction, whimsy, and abusrdism, Rauch presents an optimistic alternative to bizarro lit, offering character studies that often read as strange fairy-tales.
For updates on upcoming releases and samples of his work visit his website at http://trauch.wordpress.com
BC: What’s the appeal of bizarro for you?
TR: Radical freedom. Freedom from previous arbitrary conventions. Freedom to mix themes, styles, genres. It’s like jazz music to me –complete liberation. This lends a sense of looseness and fun to the stories. Many genres seem stiff and limiting to me, or at least stagnant and stale or over-serious, lacking a sense of whimsy. I have never cared for labels because to me they are arbitrary and limiting. As much as possible I’d prefer to avoid easy pigeonholing because I fear it may chase away potential readers. I understand the need to group similar items into general, broad categories, though I don’t know what my stories have to do with other genres, such as horror or slasher fiction, so why group my stories in with those types as they’re not similar in tone or theme. You can be entertaining and get people to think. I hope to merge the ‘deep feeling thing’ and speculative in some stories. I suppose it’s like composing music –Led Zeppelin trying to balance or merge the light and the dark, the acoustic folk with the bluesy rock. It’s a tricky alchemy to pull off. But that’s what I’d like to experiment with in the future.
BC: You’ve published largely in the short form. What do you like best about the format, and do you plan on attacking a novel?
TR: There seems to be a real power in brevity. I’m not tied down to an excess of background info, so I feel more agile, limber, running mean and lean. The brevity lends a directness and immediacy to the proceedings. Although at times I guess I sacrifice character development –how did the events affect the characters, did they change? I like story starters –you start a story and leave the reader to think about the ending –what happens next. I have been writing longer shorts,more as action adventure pieces, and less involved with character development. Sometimes you are who and what you are, and maybe the circumstances that pass through you can’t change you anyway, as if you’re already wired to be what you are. I have no plans to write a novella or novel. I like exploring a variety of ideas, so short form seems to work best for me.
BC: Many of your stories deal with second chances, going back to correct past mistakes, etc. Is there a significance for you with this theme, and if so, what would you like to go back and change?
TR: Yes, I think so. I do think about the past and some regrets, things I’ve missed, people I didn’t get to know or who’ve moved on. (But I know having regrets is one indication that you have a full life, filled with many choices, which is good. With no choices, you may have few opportunities, few options, and then fewer regrets, but less of a say in your own life. Then again, it’s probably not too healthy to dwell on the past. Sometimes you just have to move on. Sometimes things happen for a reason.) The things I’d change would be the things I missed out on and getting to know more people. I didn’t get to see some concerts when I was younger, some bands or tours, some basketball games or players I wanted to see, so how could I go back and see them? Now lots of them are posted on YouTube, so that really alleviates some of that regret or feelings of loss. I have tremendous regrets about not getting to know some girls in my past, or about seeing things end too soon. I miss some people in my past. I do have regrets about not being nice to some people when I was younger, mostly about not including people in things, maybe being too insular, and I would like to apologize to those people, or go back in time and set things right and make it up to them.
BC: Your work has many positive messages. Was “upbeat bizarro” something you consciously explored and if so, where do you think it stands among more aggresive/excessive bizarro?
TR: I don’t mind forms of the extreme, it just seemed like there was a lot of negative, overly dark, or gross-out stuff already out there. So what is missing in the marketplace? What void could I fill so as to make me feel like the work I create matters and has a reason for being? So going the other direction seemed interesting to me –getting on the vibe that unusual stories don’t all have to have a bad ending. Many fairy tales have happy endings. Though I recognize that having characters go through the wringer and then just shrug and accept things can mitigate some of the negativity. I wouldn’t say all my stories end on a positive note, just that some of the people in them took the attitude that they weren’t going to be defeated or beaten down by the arbitrary crap that’s been thrown at them. There’s a strength in perseverance and seeing things through. Maybe that strength can be learned and applied to the future to make things easier. Sometimes in life right when things seem their worst, they suddenly really aren’t –that girl really did like you after all, your financial situation turns around, something at work changes for the better. Sometimes not reacting right away, taking a “wait and see” attitude, is the best course of action. Or thinking long term.
Why can’t you learn something from a happy or curious experience? Why can’t a poignant tale or metaphor also have a happy ending? Mostly the first two books I wrote dealt with experimental fiction and modern fairy tales –trying to expand the capabilities, depth, forms, and boundaries of fiction, making those boundaries more elastic. The last book had more mini-adventures in them. So I was trying to turn people on to possibilities, making people think. I was also trying to illustrate the notion that there is treasure all around –in the forms of friendship, knowledge, inspiration, etc. Also, what I was going for in the last book was a sense of discovery and adventure. As I got into the working world, I feared my life was becoming routine, that the sense of adventure and discovery about life was being lost. So writing odd adventures seemed to help with that. I’m not saying dark stories are bad, I’d just like to add to the variety that’s available.
BC: Any new projects on the horizon?
TR: 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. 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. I feel kind of isolated living in Minneapolis. 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 work. I suppose that’s the sense of discovery in it all though –in finding out what’s next. That brings up a question 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 progress and stay fresh. But how many books like what I do does the world need?
BC: Finally, you’re cornered by a ravenous demon who agrees to spare your soul in exchange for a story. What’s the premise of your soul-saving tale?
TR: Funny thing, that actually happened to me when I was in 6 th grade. When cornered, I told this demon about this demon converter thing. They gave them out to everyone in my home room, maybe even everyone at my school. Mine was in the shape of a rock, and I showed it to the demon. He was curious and foolish enough to act as if it couldn’t hurt him, as though he was not scared, as most every demon behaves. He asked how it worked, thinking it was a challenge and he could defeat me, work his way around my defenses (the rock). So I explained: “I simply press it against your forehead and it sort of re-wires your thinking. Like this.” He leaned in, as if daring me to try something. And I slammed the rock against that soft spot in his temple, dropping him and causing him some temporary memory loss. While he was in this woozy state, I hypnotized him into being a good demon. And thus, in a sense, proceeding to re-wire his thinking via the rock. Now we’re pals. He sends me a Christmas card every year. So the moral of that story is: rocks are good, if deployed properly.
Buy LAREDO here.
Buy EYEBALLS GROWING ALL OVER ME . . . AGAIN here.