Interview with author Tony Rauch.
What are some of your most important aesthetic influences?
Art, music, satire. Saturday Night Live skits (an American TV show). Short stories.
Droopy cartoons (Droopy is a droll dog from old cartoons who speaks in a very slow monotone, like Alfred Hitchcock. You can find the old cartoons on YouTube).
Hardware. Rust. The unknown. The forest beyond (what’s in there?). The stranger on the bus (are they a spy? A secret whisperer of lost knowledge? Who are they, what do they do, where are they going, where have they been?)
These are things that get my mind going and inspire me to participate in art projects.
Why limit yourself to only a narrow portion of potential fuel?
What’s your view on fracking? If done by elbow.
Fracking by elbow would be somewhat difficult, but could probably be done. I’d say it’s like everything else: persistence, dedication, focus, putting in the time. But if it would take a super long time, your time would probably be better spent on something more productive.
What is the most experimental piece of art you’ve ever enjoyed?
The ones that probably had the longest impact and inspiration on me would be the conceptual art that I saw on campus when I was a kid. I went to a grade school that was on a college campus, so we got to go to the various campus buildings and see things and share some resources. One thing I enjoyed was going to the campus art galleries (there were two at the time, a large one and a small one for students) as the art really got my imagination started. Some of the pieces I remember:
A large white canvas (6 feet by 12 feet) with hundreds of black plastic flies glued to it to spell out “more shit, or else”
An all white canvas with the description typed on the side that read something to the effect of: “this is a painting of a bear wearing a dress while roller skating”
These types of pieces taught me that art could be physical objects, but also thoughts in your mind, that art could have a narrative arc and tell a story that moved you from point A to wherever and not just be a static object.
At which point does Bizarro become an unacceptable transgression?
I never liked labels, as I find them limiting. Also, I tend to like art that mixes genres and/or is difficult to categorize. But for any genre or subcategory, I’d say the trouble starts when they become formula, repetitive, boring, or irrelevant. So that becomes the test for any genre: how do you stay relevant? How do you keep commenting on society, thought, existence in fresh and novel ways?
The hard part is to have something to say, to be profound, poignant, amusing, to delight.
How can you reach people and cause them to think, to feel, to evaluate?
Also, the craftsmanship in any art form is important: can you say something in a smooth, easy-to-understand, simple way? Is the act of looking, reading, or listening pleasing?
But that’s just my take on things, I guess. Other people may want something more jarring and visceral to jolt them from their complacencies. Complacency is an enemy.
The goal for me is always to transcend the limits and arbitrary “rules” of genre.
What are your favorite short stories? (And why?)
I don’t have a single favorite, but some that influenced and affected me include:
– “for Esme – with love and squalor” by J.D. Salinger
– “winter dreams” by F. Scott Fitzgerald
– “the betrayed kingdom” by Richard Brautigan
– “murderers” by Leonard Michaels
– “our work and why we do it” and “the wound” by Donald Barthelme
– and sci-fi from the 40s, 50s, and 60s as it introduces ideas and possibilities.
To me these deal with realizations and change, with challenging readers to see the world in new and different ways, or expanding the short fiction format. What is life without the opportunities for future possibilities? Close yourself off and you die, open your aperture and you have many paths to explore.
I have added a few of my own questions to ask of myself, because I am alone in my house, thus I guess I am in charge here:
(This ought to teach people not to leave me alone to my own devices)
Question: Where did you hide the remote for the television?
Answer: Shut up! No TV for you! Back to work, you! Finish some stories, send to some literary journals, you lazy bones! Do it! Do it now! Dance, monkey!
Question: What is the appeal of fiction for you?
Answer: It can take me to places I otherwise could not go. It can show me new things that are outside of my experiences. It can get me thinking.
Question: What is the appeal of writing for you?
Answer: Again, to take me places I could not otherwise go. To see and experience new things.
I consider myself an artist, not a writer, even though the art I produce is mostly in the written form. I don’t want to tangle with the arbitrary rules of writing. I apply what appeals to me about collage, feelings, things out of the ordinary, the unique – both in terms of content and format. I look for different ways of seeing the world, to play with the elasticity of the written form. I am an explorer of the mind.
The appeal of writing also changes from time to time. Right now I would say the main appeal is the notion of “newness”, that is of having new and fresh things in your life, thus keeping that side of the brain going, keeping the world in three dimensions and throbbing color so life doesn’t go flat, stale, all gray. It’s nice to have something new, fresh, and different to spice up your life. Each story or sentence or fragment can be a new adventure.
Question: What is the best novel you’ve ever read? And why? (Since you’ve already addressed the short form you admire.)
Answer: Huckleberry Finn. No contest. Because in it he has to make a choice. How often do you see that in a piece of art? There are two paths: he can turn Jim in and be a hero to his contemporaries, or not and burn in hell. He chooses to go against society because in spending time with Jim, in getting to know Jim, he realizes that what he was told and taught was a big lie. He changes, and those points of realization and personal growth, advancing past where you were, are interesting to me.
But I also like biographies as I like to see how people got from point A to point B.
Question: OK, What is the best biography you’ve ever read? And why?
Answer: Probably the biography of Wyatt Earp: Wyatt Earp, a frontier marshal. Because he was neutral on matters, was his own person, and was not swayed by the selfish self-interest of the lying salesmen around him. He could think for himself.
Also Open by Andre Agassi, because it’s a gripping adventure that moves fast, and he really opens up about his faults, the illusions built by others around him, and the challenges in his life, instead of the usual: Oh, yeah, that was cake, that was no problem at all, look how awesome I am.
The problem with fiction is that often the protagonists are reacting against events, as that’s all they can do, which is like fighting a sand storm or trying to catch a handful of fog. With autobiographies you’re getting the reasons why, and innermost thoughts. Fiction can depict that too, better than film, but often in fiction the characters come off as too smart and too self-aware, which rings false with me, because if they were so self-aware, then they wouldn’t be in the predicament they find themselves in. Most often those kinds of realizations don’t come until much later, after you have time to sift through the ruins. Most success is built slowly, and upon a lot of failures. No pain, No gain.
Question: Anything else? Any advice?
Answer: Best advice I ever got were these four items: No fear. Get more sleep. Don’t worry. Ass to chair and crank. (Although maybe removing worry is a part of removing fear.)
Image source: (c) TR