The following is an interview with writer Tony Rauch on his short story collections, Eyeballs Growing All Over Me …Again and What If I Got Down on My Knees. In this interview, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief Barbra Dillon chats with Rauch about the inspiration behind his short stories, his creative process, what he is working on next, and more!
Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: For those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the premise of your short story collections, Eyeballs Growing All Over Me …Again and What If I Got Down on My Knees?
Tony Rauch: Story samples and book descriptions can be found on my website. The link is below.
The similarities include trying to give readers brief adventures or “what if”-type situations to try to expand people’s consciousness and get them thinking beyond previously established limitations. Odd things happen in these stories that the characters have to react to, and, thus, hopefully these reactions also generate reactions from readers. So, the odd occurrence or encounter is one part, and the reaction is another part. Hopefully, both parts get a reader thinking about possibilities.
eyeballs growing all over me . . . again includes brief tales of imagination, wonder, whimsy, absurd, surreal fantasy, sci-fi, and fairy tale adventures.
what if I got down on my knees? includes romantic misadventures and entanglements of existential longing, discovery, secrets, identity, escape, strange happenings, endurance, regret, and hope. These tales of wonder and woe are about people trying to find meaning and a place in an absurd, whimsical, indifferent world, and their discoveries, revelations, secrets, failures, struggles, connections, and odd encounters along their way.
BD: What inspired you to tell these stories?
TR: Boredom. I’m not a big TV person. Most of the shows rehash what previous shows have already done. To keep my mind active, I wrote my own TV shows that were just brief, odd encounters to entertain myself. Sometimes, I feel like I’m talking to my younger or future self, trying to entertain my old and future self. I like making things, experimenting with ideas. Writing is a good way to play around with ideas. I’m always interested in anything different, unique, creative, inventive, odd, and challenging. So, writing is a good way to have adventures or experience things I otherwise could not. Want to climb Mount Everest but can’t afford to travel there? Just write about it. Want to play pro basketball but aren’t talented enough to play? Just write about it. Writing is another way of experiencing things. Writing is just another form of adventure.
BD: What can you share with us about your creative process in writing the collections, and what have been some of your creative influences?
TR: I don’t really have a formal process. It always seems to be more organic. Usually, an idea or image will pop into my head. Or just a phrase, just one line or sentence. And usually that scene, idea, or phrase will be the outcome, will be the ending of something and I’ll then work backwards from that ending. I guess it’s like how a lot of mystery writers work. It’s almost as if these images or phrases were always in my mind and something dislodges them. Or as if these initial ideas are just floating out there and then get stuck in my head as if fish in a net. Sometimes if I don’t have anything, I’ll just go for a walk or bike ride and try to think up something really odd or stupid and then shape that idea into an absurd situation. So the situation, the premise, is one thing – the start, and then the character’s reactions are then the second half of the story. Part of it comes out of writing skits in grade school, which were kind of like Saturday Night Live skits. That’s just how I was used to writing – just as little scenes, skits, or encounters. What odd thing could you find or stumble across out there that would set your life in motion in a different direction?
Influences include clouds, 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.
BD: What do you hope that readers will take away from your work?
TR: Mind expanders. That the writing will get people to think outside the box, will remove walls or barriers to thinking about different possibilities, new ideas, and new combinations. Hopefully, the writing refreshes the mind and frees the imagination.
BD: How do you determine the theme of each collection, and why do you feel that short stories have become your medium of choice as a storyteller?
TR: I just try to write a lot of material and through sheer volume there will be some good, interesting items. And then that material seems to sort itself into vibes or paradigms or loose themes. I try to get a balance in the books – of hopeful pieces and dark pieces, to add gravitas and ground the books in reality, and trying to speak to the concern of younger people and older people, but yet remaining hopeful. A lot of the stories are a call to action, to get out there.
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 are often just snapshots 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.
I did write a novel last year. It’s a combination of leftover stories that didn’t seem to fit any of the collections and shared some similar scenes, themes, and settings. So, I wove together these leftovers and expanded one long story that I always liked. I had enough shorts just sitting there on the sidelines to tide me over, just waiting for a good publisher in case I got a call, so I felt I could invest the time and experiment with something longer for a change of pace, as an interesting exercise. But that’s the risk of writing a novel – is it a good investment of my time when there are other things out there to experience in life? What if no one really good wants to publish it? Is it a waste, or just a good exercise to keep that side of the brain going? I’m happy with it, so maybe that’s the point of that exercise – just to get to that level of contentment.
Shorts are just easier to manage, and I don’t have a lot of free time to write longer work.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
TR: Probing your demons. Scoping your lobe for leaks. Tripping the light fantastic. Finally living up to lowered expectations. The usual. Like I mentioned above, I finished a 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 for which I need to find a publisher. 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.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about your work?
TR: Book and story samples can be found on my website.
Hopefully, I’ll be able to find a suitable publisher for the books mentioned above, and then I will have more wares to pitch in the near future.