Tony Rauch writes dreams. He writes funky, freestyle jazz, saxophone solo stories. His stuff is weird, we’re talking the “did someone put something in my drink” kind of literature here. You’ll find tiny elephants, giant bees, monsters, and magic. All laws of physics and nature are challenged within the worlds created within these stories.
Tony comes across as an unusual bizarro author in that he seems to exclusively focus on short stories rather than novella and short novels. He has three collections currently in print: I’m Right Here, Laredo, and Eyeballs Growing All Over Me… Again, the latter two which are available through notable bizarro publishers, Eraserhead Press. He was also featured in The Bizarro Starter Kit, in the ‘Blue’ volume, with a smaller collection of his work.
The striking thing about his stories, at least compared to the work of the other authors in this genre this interviewer has read, is that they eschew the slap-stick ultra-violence, the weird sex, and cartoon blood-and-gore that many of these writers choose to explore. The comical elements here are in the stories’ surrealist nature. This is truly the stuff of dreams, half-remembered snatches of curiosity, nonsensical set pieces that will make you smile simply through their obscurity. Try the preview stories, The Stench and People Have Been Drifting Away Lately, available at his website, for a glimpse of his hypnotic style. There’s a contrast to the more nightmarish landscapes that are often created within this genre. This is bizarro in its Sunday best, the nose-rings and studded collars stashed under the bed while Grandma is visiting.
But you should not take that to mean that the stories are tame. Far from it. Rauch proves in the stories I Discover An Army Of… and The Procedure that he can work creepiness into his mix, whilst still maintaining the surrealist angle. It’s the creepiness of a daydream, a capture of the kind of thought we all might have from time to time, the kind of thought we might surprise ourselves with. Imagination is very much the key ingredient here, and Rauch does an excellent job of sharing his with the reader.
Tony was kind enough to answer a few questions relating to his work for Solarcide.
How did you become interested in bizarro fiction, and how did you decide this style was for you?
First off, I see genres and labels as limiting. Why follow what someone else has already done? So I wasn’t trying to emulate anything specific. I think it’s important to be influenced by things outside of writing – art, music, dreams, desires, the subconscious, etc. as that may infuse your writing with things fresh and different.
Unfortunately, the answer is a very common and boring one – I always enjoyed art, creative writing, and skits – coming up with funny scenes and strange stories. It was something I was good at, so naturally I wrote creatively in school to fill elective credits. That lead to meeting more writers, getting into school lit journals, and starting a (still running) lit journal with friends. That led to them putting out books, including my first collection of shorts. That lead Eraserhead Press to contact me because they found my first book and liked it.
The style just comes naturally. It’s how I’ve always written. My first story collection came out in 1998. My first published piece in a journal was in 1987. And these were all in the same loose, jazzy style I still write in today. So all that predates some of the various designations for that style of writing.
This type of writing appeals to me as it is inherently less limiting than other styles. Basically it allows a writer to write about anything in any manner and form. I would say it is a style less associated with fiction and more associated with movies, graphic novels, art, and jazz. It is a genre where experimentation and mixing genres is most accepted. For my money it is the freest and most interesting genre out there right now. It’s a genre whose only limits are a writer’s talent and imagination.
Do you have a favourite book within the genre, one you would always recommend to a new reader?
No, but that is a great question. I think lots of older work could be considered bizarro – like the Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, Kafka, etc. I feel the genre goes back to oral traditions and fairy tales – strange things happening in strange locations. I fear people will get misinformation about the genre – that it’s only zombies and slasher fiction.
I would recommend people read older writers – Donald Barthelme, Richard Brautigan, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Charles Bukowski, Dr. Seuss (cool illustrations), Roald Dahl, Steve Martin (cruel shoes), Ray Bradbury. And newer writers – Barry Yourgrau, Mark Leyner, Etgar Keret, Stacey Richter, Italo Calvino, Stephen-Paul Martin, Will Self, and Paul Di Filippo.
The book I would most recommend would be James Tate’s “Return to the city of white donkeys”, though I don’t know how bizarro that is. I just like that book.
This seems a growing market, what with an ever-expanding list of related authors, a yearly convention, and a budding group of small press publishers eager to put out this kind of work. Is this something you have noticed over the last few years, bizarro fiction threatening to break over and get noticed by the mainstream?
This strain of writing seems to be solidifying. I think it’s always been with us, and until recently didn’t have a punchy, non-academic name. I think the internet has enabled people to find things easier and be informed quicker. So I think that’s helped to speed up the process of carving out a stable niche with a solid body of work.
Unfortunately I am so hopelessly isolated living in Minneapolis that I have no clue as to what is going on elsewhere or what other people think about what is going on. At various times I have lacked the time or money to visit other places or conventions.
Based on the emails I get it sounds like people all over the world are interested in this style of writing, and that’s a fantastic thing – that people out there are experimenting with the elasticity of the written word, searching for new meanings and connections.
I’m glad there are people all over willing to devote time to the genre – putting their time where their mouth is – either by reviewing work, publishing, or promotion. The list of reviewers alone would indicate that something like this kind of writing is needed in the world.
I hope it becomes an established standard category like science fiction, humor, mystery, romance, etc. and not just a passing fad. Though all these other genres can overlap into this one. I hope it remains a very wide open genre and not limited by standard styles, tropes, or other restrictions. Though ultimately I think it’s up to the adventurous reader to discover what they find most appealing about all forms of writing.
What drives you to focus on short stories, rather than novellas or any other longer format?
I have a lot of ideas and very little free time, so short stories are a good way to compress ideas into a brief and presentable manner. I like the challenge of resolving things quickly, poetically, and artistically. To me, longer work can feel bloated with a lot of needless background filler. I guess this format is just the format that works best for me, and that’s why I writer shorter work – it’s just more interesting to me, more challenging, and faster.
Compared to many bizarro authors you seem to avoid violence and sexual subject matter in favour of stories with a dreamlike, surrealist nature. What is it about this psychedelic style that calls to you?
It seemed to me that a lot people were already working in forms of the extreme, so I thought it would be nice to try something other than all that, go in another direction. Have weirdness take place in ubiquitous settings, thus exaggerating the weirdness even more.
As I got older and into the working world it seemed like I was losing that sense of discovery and wonder about the world, so by writing I was able to have strange adventures that I otherwise would not be able to experience. Plus I just like surrealism and absurdism. I see the world as being an absurd exercise, so naturally those sentiments creep into my writing.
Something that stands out to me is a certain similarity between the bizarro style and that of the satirical British humorists, the likes of Ben Elton, Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, or Robert Rankin. It’s in the way you guys take the mundane and the ordinary and turn it into something surreal and comical. Are you familiar with these guys’ work? Would you agree they play with some of the same tools that bizarro writers do?
Yes, I am familiar with some of them. I like Douglas Adams a lot. He has a fine sense of the absurd and mixes it well with fantasy, sci fi, and big ideas. I also like the mixing and swirling of genres, forms, and ideas – playing with combining and overlapping things, extruding and exaggerating things. This genre is perfect for satirizing anything.
Yes, I agree that in general bizarro writers have a great sense of humor and the absurd and can use that to enliven stories or underline hidden truths.
Humor and absurdity can be a great way to explore other ideas without getting too heavy and depressing. Most of my stories are set in common settings – a living room, the supermarket, a school, etc. Then these settings are turned into the extra ordinary through some event that hopefully instills a sense of discovery about the world or a sense of escape – escape from the blandness, the routine, the common, the uninspiring, the known, and the labels and limitations society burdens people with. Hopefully that is conveyed with a light touch, a sense of humor when appropriate.
What advice would you give a new author that is thinking of trying their hand at a bizarro story?
Go for it. But don’t copy what has already been done. Bring what you want to the story, what you’re looking for. Put your own ideas in there. Be yourself. Play around with things – form, content, styles. Mix things up. Combine previously unrelated things to create something new. Have fun. Mail me some money. Bake me a cake. Listen to loud rock and roll music. Send your mother and grandmother some flowers. Write every day. Read a lot. Send your work out. And as always, a cake would be nice. I think it would help a great deal.
Anything exciting on the horizon for you, my good sir? Any up and coming projects you would like to take a moment to promote here?
Yes. I have several more short story collections finished, almost finished, and well underway. Samples can be found on my website.
A new short story collection will be coming out in a few weeks. Here is the description -
– as i floated in the jar –
A 177 page short story collection of imaginative, 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, secrets, escape, eeriness, surprises, and strange happenings in everyday life, readers will delight in these brief but wondrous adventures –
- a lonely girl finds a small spaceship in the woods.
- a stranger extracts a baby from a man waiting for the bus.
- a farmer invents gadgets to fight off infiltrators leaking in from another dimension.
- a jar falls from a passing wagon, spilling a strange liquid that turns a mud puddle into something else.
- a gang travels into the past to escape a regression plague that slowly turns people back into primates.
- strange creatures abduct a man and try to sell him to a different set of strange creatures.
- a man gets a verbally abusive amorphous blob as a roommate.
These and other adventures await the adventurous reader
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Thanks for taking the time to interview me and spread the word about my writing, I’m sure there are people out there who will find something of interest in it. It’s good to let readers know about all the different kinds of writing available out there.