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

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.

Bizarro in the Western Canon: Why Weird Doesn’t Equal Trash

Bizarro fiction is a genre I deeply respect. Some of the older stories featured in Esoteric Sausage are directly bizarro, while others are closer to horror. I don’t, like many of my writer friends out there, consider myself strictly a “Bizarro” writer, but it is the genre which truly inspired me to embrace my penchant for weirdness in writing.

Nevertheless, Bizarro hasn’t entirely expanded past a cult following. You won’t find a Bizarro section in your local bookstore, and certain literary snobs tend to dismiss it as mere pulp.

Some controversial voices (I’m thinking of one in particular, who shall remained unnamed here) associated with Bizarro have publically criticized the efforts of Eraserhead Press and Bizarrocon for insufficiently embracing strategies intended push Bizarro into the mainstream. I disagree. In my opinion, Bizarro shouldn’t worry about mainstream exposure. The underground element is one of the coolest aspects of the genre, and efforts to make it otherwise demonstrates a certain misunderstanding of the genre. Eraserhead and the other bizarro presses seem to be doing just fine, thank you.

But I digress. More germane to this point is the fact that I disagree with is the snobbish dismissal of Bizarro as “mere” pulp. While some of it is of pulp quality (and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing), some Bizarro-oriented and Bizarro-inspired releases continue in the extensive and largely overlooked tradition of utter strangeness in literary classics. It’s anyone’s guess, of course, whether a work of Bizarro will one day obtain canonical status. The world of literatary recognition has long been unpredictable, even before the advent of universal access to publication. But Bizarro elements have definitely made it into the canon more than once.

Below are five possible classic “precursors” to Bizarro presented to prove that weirdness doesn’t automatically bar fiction from canonical status. This list may have a second part follow-up in the future. I would also like to point out that I am by no means a Bizarro “expert” or “veteran.” Like everything else I post here, these are just my causal observations and opinions.

Gargantua and Pantagruel is just about as strange as literature gets, and it’s taught in college Renaissance (or “Early Modern,” whichever you prefer) courses all over the world. While I’ve attempted many a foray into this long and celebrated work, I haven’t come close to finishing it (I’ve definitely read more about this book than the book itself). Nevertheless, I’ve read enough to taste the random narrative digressions, penis jokes, and inversions of accepted norms Rabelais drowns the reader in. And drinking. There is tons of drinking.

And, obviously, there is Gulliver’s Travels. This one used to even appear in the highschool curriculum along with The Great Gatsby and To Kill a Mockingbird (God I hate that book). I’ve only read excerpts from this one in various college courses, so Gulliver’s Travels is more like disconnected memories of a strange dream to me. I remember islands of strange, half-human creatues, bodily transformations, and a biting satirical voice. It doesn’t get much more bizarro than this.

I am absolutely in love with this book. Tristram Shandy may not evoke Bizarro at first flush, since it tends to remain grounded in a twisted sort of realism (albiet realism nonetheless), but the narrative definitely presaged the penchant for structural experiment and nonlinearity so integral to the newer, more “philosophically inclined” Bizarro publications. Even though this book is a product of the eighteenth century, it reads much closer to a long version of Donald Barthelme than Daniel Defoe. This celebrated classic happens to be a Bizarro-worthy wellspring of weirdness, well deserving of appreciation by Bizarro fans.

And who could forget Maldoror? Lautreamont’s masterpiece may be associated with French decadent literature more than with the western canon, but I predict a future of deeper acceptance and academic appreciation for this slowly burgeoning depiction of evil. This is unlike any book you have ever read, and more than repays the attention its various cruelties and blasphemies demand. One could easily imagine this book coming from a Bizarro press. Already considered the precursor to surrealism, it readily fits into horror-oriented bizarro with unsettling ease.

Genet’s Our Lady of the Flowers has been argued to owe its semi-classic status to Jean-Paul Sartre’s wonderful book-lenght analysis of Genet more than to Genet’s own literary abilities. I disagree, even though Bataille and Sartre both point out Genet’s inability to “communicate” (whatever the hell that means). Genet resides in a prison cell at the time of writing. He represents his surroundings in a fluid mix of sexually-charged fantasy while steadily plunging into utter darkness. While Bizarro, strangely enough, tends to be more ethically-minded than Genet, Bizarro shares a deep relation to hallucinatory dream elements in which Our Lady of the Flowers revels without shame. Although Genet may be the furthest from Bizarro on this list, I would happily bet more than one Bizarro fan would readily identify an atmospheric affinity here shared with their beloved Bizarro favorites.

As I stated, this list is absolutely incomplete. What is your favorite Bizarro precursor? Answer in the comments below, and it might appear in Part 2 of this list.

The Sausage is Here: One Down, Four to Go!

Well it’s here! Esoteric Sausage and Other Malformations is officially on Amazon! Pick up a copy here! It feels good to have a solid debut release under my belt, but it’s not time to celebrate just yet.

I have settled on a goal of five releases this year. This isn’t as unreasonable as it seems: three of them are already written and in the publication process. Coming soon is Banished from Language, the inauguration of a literary journal (which you can get a free digital copy of with that you reviewed Esoteric Sausage).

Look for a few more Esoteric Sausage goodies, including personalized, autographed copies, an Instagram contest, and (live?) readings (not necessarily in that order) before I dive back into another writing-intensive, promoless period.

Most importantly, I just want to say thank you for reading this blog, my books, or anything else you enjoy reading of mine. While every writer would be more than happy to make a living doing what they love, just doing it at all is good enough for me at the moment. What makes it worthwhile is the thrill of sharing experiences through art (no, this isn’t intended to be a soild, theoretical position regarding my aesthetic philosophy), which wouldn’t be possible without you. I hope you’ll stick around. Things will only get more exciting from here.

Sausage, Aliens, Academia, and Other Things I’ve Been Screwing With Since Last Time

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The waiting period before a publication date tends to be a little strenuous. Esoteric Sausage and Other Malformations is officially scheduled to drop on the 18th (three days away), and I’m feeling the performance night jitters. Although seeing my first serious publication go through the process was fun, I’ll definitely feel better once it’s out there.
Although things have been quiet here since the previous release announcement for Esoteric Sausage, home base has been more than alive with activity.

As I mentioned before, The Last Drug Trial on Earth is due for release later this year from NihilismRevised, a press garnering more attention each passing day in the world of the bizarro/weird (Check out S. C. Burke’s appearance on Frank Elder’s zany podcast Bizzong! and the NR blogpost on Bob Freville’s Sticky Living page). There will be more on this highly unique and twisted alien invasion novel as the release date approaches.

But that’s not all. Not even close. A surprise publication is in the works, hopefully closely coinciding with the release of Esoteric Sausage by way of my own, brand new publishing endeavor, Silent Motorist Productions. This will be another short collection, like Esoteric Sausage, although entirely nonfiction. In here, you’ll find academic articles, experimental book reviews, and meditations on dark music. Additionally, it will be free for Amazon and Goodreads reviewers of Esoteric Sausage. Simply send me a Facebook message, email, or comment on this blog with a link to your review on either site, and you’ll get a pdf or mobi file of the nonfiction collection, gratis, the moment it drops.

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So that’s it, right? No fucking way. I have three (!) major works well underway right now, and all of them are turning out better than I ever dared to hope. One of them is long-term and full of enough potential to remain hidden from the public and merely hinted at for a while. Don’t worry; we’ll get back to it soon enough.

The second features characters with names like Jeff O’Brien, Bob Freville, Jason Wayne Allen… Yes, what you are thinking is spot on, unless it’s “I’ve never heard these names in my life,” in which case you are woefully unfamiliar with the devious world of bizarro fiction. REAL bizarro writers are going to crop up in this up-and-coming metafiction entitled I’m So Fucking Done Writing Bizarro Fiction. I’m currently transferring the writing process for this one to a renowned writer’s workshop. This way, I’ll have plenty of motivation and help pushing it through to a timely and well-guided ending. In other words, it’s fairly safe to expect more news on this one soon.

I am particularly excited to announce this final project. It’s a lot of fun to work on, and is undoubtedly the nastiest, darkest, most horrific thing I will ever write. Think Maldoror meets Thomas Ligotti’s The Conspiracy Against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror, and you’re still just getting a hint. What’s more, it’s partially an art book featuring the work of both classical and contemporary masters of darkness. A future post will go into more detail and include excerpts. For now, below is the interior art for the title page of part one.

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I think we can all agree that I have enough work to keep me busy throughout the year without even mentioning multiple upcoming anthology appearances. More on those later. Most importantly, however, there is more than enough content to make your subscription to this blog worthwhile! Check back soon for the announcement of my nonfiction collection release, a book review on Daulton Dickey’s stunning novel from Rooster Republic Press, Flesh Made World, and an in-depth look at the dark universe of my third work in progress. Also, don’t forget to keep an eye on my new press, Silent Motorist Productions. There’s no telling what will pop up there.