Month: December 2011

Interview with Tony Rauch

Tony Rauch

A man comes home to find a smelly beast watching TV in his living room. A paperboy spies on the suspicious new owner of the most nondescript house in the neighborhood. A man and his wife awake to find the roof torn off the top of their house… These are just a few of the premises behind the bizarre, inventive, and entertaining tales in Tony Rauch’s fiction collection, eyeballs growing all over me… again. Curious to know more about the author, I dropped him a line with a few hard-hitting journalistic questions…

Tell us a little bit about your book.

Well, here’s the description for the latest one – eyeballs growing all over me . . . again: A 140 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.

Samples can be found on my website –  http://trauch.wordpress.com/.

What do you mean by “story starters”?

Some of the stories have traditional beginnings, middles, and endings. These are self-contained entities that make sense, where much of the information is provided for the reader.

Some stories are “micro-fiction,” “flash fiction,” or “fiction-against-scale” type smaller pieces.

The story starters are just fragments or open-ended beginnings designed to get you thinking about the ending, or possible endings. Some also have the middle, or parts of a middle. Some just have the middle. Some are designed to lead you down one possible path. But others just get you started, and can then go in any general direction. So your brain can devise a possible ending, or several different possible endings. These types of stories are meant to be more interactive, less passive, that hopefully engage you directly, that get you to think about what you would do in a situation. They do not have all the answers pre-packaged, pre-prescribed to you, though some people are uncomfortable with that kind of ambiguity.

Hopefully all the stories can draw a reluctant reader in. And hopefully their brevity will give a sense of accomplishment to reluctant readers after reading.

What initially got you interested in writing?

When I was a kid, my friends and I would draw a lot, and those drawings basically became illustrated stories with few words. I would also draw pictures, then assign captions and little explanations to them.

When I was in college I ran across some books of very brief writing that opened some previously unknown doors in my mind. These stories basically trimmed all the unneeded info, leaving a quick, punchy adventure. I happened across the anthology “Anti-story – experimental fiction” in the school library and it got me reading Donald Barthelme. Also, a friend had Richard Brautigan’s “Revenge of the Lawn” which really blew me away in its briefness, simplicity, directness, and imaginative tales, descriptions, and writing style.

I was in a lot of art classes in which you had to write brief notes about what you had drawn or painted. My adviser was one of my teachers and suggested I take some creative writing courses as electives as I needed to fill in more electives. He recognized this writing as the bare bones of stories and seemed to think I had enough material to really do well in the writing courses. I was always into art, creating, and writing, so this was a natural progression. I was already leaning naturally to the creative writing classes anyway, so having to fill in elective requirements was a great excuse to spend time and money on some creative writing courses.

In the writing classes I met more writers and was exposed to more published story types and writing styles and themes. Then I had some pieces in the school literary journal a few years in a row, so it snowballed from there.

Who are some writers who influence you?

That would be a long list. Mostly imaginative short story writers –

Older writers: Donald Barthelme, J.D. Salinger, Richard Brautigan, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Charles Bukowski, 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), Etgar Keret, Stacey Richter, James Tate (Return to the city of white donkeys), Stephen-Paul Martin, Will Self, Denis Johnson (Jesus’ son), David Gilbert (I shot the hairdresser), David Sedaris, Paul Di Filippo.

Bizarro authors: D. Harlan Wilson, Andersen Prunty.

Science fiction from the 40s, 50s, and 60s: Rod Serling, L. Sprague De Camp, Ray Bradbury, Phillip K. Dick, Charles Beaumont.

What kind of effect do you hope your writing will have?

Great question. Hopefully –

  • To get people’s minds thinking about possibilities.
  • To get people to think about connecting previously unconnected ideas in their minds.
  • To get younger people away from video games and “reality” television.
  • To re-instill a sense of wonder, discovery, and possibilities about the world.
  • To keep my many many demons at bay.
  • To ultimately have a cheese named after me. Hopefully an unusually offensive smelling one.

What is the most surprising thing you have learned as a writer?

Another great question. Several surprises –

  • How much work it is. How long things take. It’s tough to be patient, though I am trying.
  • How much you have to sacrifice just to be minimally competent.
  • That it’s tough to get the word out that my books exist.
  • That a lot of institutions and publications are surprisingly very close-minded and provincial, and then there are others that are surprisingly very open-minded.
  • That a publisher and a small group of people found something curious and of value in some ideas that had just popped into my head.
  • That the landscape of literature is constantly changing, although quite slowly, and that there are endless possibilities out there in terms of getting published in quality online journals.

For more information about Tony Rauch, visit him on the web at: http://trauch.wordpress.com/.

Germ Warfare

Cold and flu season is upon us, so what better way to celebrate than with a bit of germ warfare — or at least a copy of Germ Warfare: An Anthology of Comics for Germs and their Generous Human Hosts?

This bizarre collection of comics takes a microscopic look at the world of infectious bacteria and offers, among other things, a germ’s eye view of the atrocities we humans commit every time we pump a dollop of sanitizer onto our hands or take a dose of penicillin.

Other highlights include several visits to the home of germaphobes Stew and Berryl Sterrel as they struggle to remain germ-free despite the best efforts of their baby and a comical retelling of HG Wells’ War of the Worlds.

Overall, this collection carries a strong underground comics vibe — none of the offerings more so than the Mark McGinty penned and Lupi McGinty illustrated “Perched on the Denim Slope,” a graphic homage to JG Ballard’s “The Drowned Giant” whose art is reminiscent of Charles Burns and the Hernandez brothers.

Bizarre, funny, and kind of gross, Germ Warfare is the perfect gift for the germ warrior in your life!

-Review by Marc Schuster

Badlands

I will gush in this review because I must. I read the last sentence of Badlands by Cynthia Reeves and could say nothing other than, “Oh my God.” I was challenged by this novella. I was mystified. I was enchanted, and I was taken in. But most of all, I was moved.

Badlands depicts the last hours in the life of Caroline Singleman, an erstwhile aspiring archaeologist who traded in her dream of uncovering Eden to raise a family with her husband, Daniel. Wracked with cancer, Caroline’s mind drifts from memories of her days in the field to hallucinations of the Lakota who perished in the Battle of Wounded Knee to moments of acute clarity in the here and now with Daniel and their children. Daniel, meanwhile, is struggling with his own ambivalence toward Caroline’s slow, tragic passing even as he discovers new details about his wife and her nearly forgotten past.

Given the subject matter, it only makes sense that this book offers some very heavy reading. At the same time, though, the hypnotic, dreamlike narrative coupled with Reeves’ poetic mastery of language makes for a transcendent reading experience. Stylistically, Badlands feels like a not-to-distant cousin of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway or, in its more poetic passages, Toni Morrison’s Beloved. Throughout, Reeves demonstrates that she can stand her ground with either of these literary giants.

A key theme in Badlands is the passage of time. Or, more accurately, the struggle, in the author’s words, to “pinpoint the moment one thing became another.” What, the novella dares to ask, is the difference between the past and the present? Where does yesterday end and today begin? It’s a conundrum that Reeves depicts with stunning clarity via Caroline’s obsession with the massacred Lakota, yet it’s the protagonist own gradual march toward her inevitable end that puts the finest point on the issue.

At some point, we’ll all face death. At some point, we’ll all experience the moment of crossing over, of changing from one thing into another. It’s what we do with all of those other moments — all of those “becomings,” all of those transformations from one day to the next — that matters, the novel all but cries out. Life happens in the interstices of time, yet it’s only in retrospect, only as we stitch together the aggregate impressions of memory, that we manage to make sense of it all.

All told, Badlands is a complex, beautiful, moving book from an author who understands better than most what it means to be human.

Review by Marc Schuster.