Interview with Author Tony Rauch








First, tell us a little about your writing journey. Would you consider yourself to be a "short story author" rather than a "novelist"?

I have three collections of short stories published. Two from Eraserhead Press and one from Spout Press. I have been writing shorts since childhood. In college I had some shorts published, which attracted the attention of my first book publisher. That first book then attracted the attention of my second publisher.

I mainly concentrate on short form because that's all I have time for, and it's the easiest for me. Also, to me long work feels bloated with a lot of useless background filler and could use trimming. Short form gets to the point without messing around and wasting time. There's a lot of power concentrated in the short form. Also, I tend to generate a lot of ideas, so short form allows me to implement them with a minimal expenditure of time. 

I've been working on longer stories though, expanding my tales. So that's been a nice evolution and a happy surprise - to get into 12 page, 18 page, 22, 36, 50 page epics. I think it's good to stretch your wings, grow, and try new things, new forms and formats - to keep things fresh, mix things up.

I have two mainstream novellas no one seems to want. For some reason my speculative short work stands out to someone, so go figure. Maybe because it seems fresh in comparison to my mainstream work.

In the past I've written experimental shorts and main stream shorts. The last two books have been more whimsical, surreal, fairy tale, action adventures bordering on absurdism mixed with sci-fi. You can read samples on my website - http://trauch.wordpress.com/ 


Tell us about your experiences selling short stories. Any successes? Failures? What has worked for you when trying to find an audience?

Just writing what I want is what seems to work best. I've found that so far, for me there's very little money in speculative short fiction (it's only a matter of nickels and dimes, nothing that would appreciably change my financial situation), so that fact liberates me to write whatever I would want to read.

I write stories to specifically fit into collections, thus the individual collection becomes a document, a piece of art onto itself. So my work is geared to fit with other stories, although they can also stand alone as individual artifacts.

I've had shorts published in journals and a few anthologies, but not in anything that ever paid much. Getting shorts into journals is mostly a marketing device to help advertise my story collections. I have not sold any stories on-line as individual pieces in terms of e-files. I haven't had time to investigate that route. I have some free samples on my website.

Mostly I would hope people would look at my collections and consider them as whole objects, with the stories as pieces of that whole.

Eraserhead Press liked my fiction and was excited to put out some of my story collections. That's the key - finding a publisher who is supportive and into what your vision is. The next step is marketing the book, which is a daunting task with so much competition out there.

My successes include having three collections of shorts published by reputable publishers. I have been interviewed by the Prague Post and Oxford University student paper in England. I've been reviewed by the MIT and Savanna College of Art and Design student papers. I've also been reviewed and interviewed by bloggers and smaller journals. So a degree of peer review is nice.

There are always things that don't work out. For every review or interview that makes it into print, there's at least another that doesn't make the cut. Marketing takes a lot of free time and is a commitment that demands sacrifices.

Mostly I think what has worked for me has been striving to be unique and not a faint copy of something else. I think that experimenting with form, content, genres, and mixing genres into a swirl has caused my work to stand out from the pack a little without having to resort to shock just for shock's sake. Meaning and story craft are also important to me. What is the story arc? What does the story mean? Is it told in an interesting manner? Or if it's just a fragment, is that fragment interesting or thought provoking? Do the pieces make you think? I also write little adventures too. I want them to be compelling page turners. If some of the pieces are similar to previously established genres, then hopefully I'm adding something fresh to that established paradigm.


Do you think ebooks will change the way short stories are viewed by the general public?

I hope so. The internet has helped a great deal in that there are more e-zines out there to promote the art form. So there are more venues with stories readily available to anyone. I think ebooks will serve the same purpose and be yet another venue or delivery system for the art form.

The problem then becomes one of saturation. If there are tons of stories readily available, does that dilute the specialness for everyone? How can a writer stand out from the crowd? You would hope that quality of writing and story craft would make you stand out and thus word of mouth eventually would help sell your book. 


What do you think is the biggest obstacle in introducing someone to a short story? As in, is it the length? The price? Not knowing what to expect?

I think the biggest impediment is people investing the time in reading. How do you convert non-readers and reluctant readers? I fear it's like getting a vegetarian to consume a large T-bone steak. But if you offer an interesting experience, quality writing and compelling stories or ideas, then you are offering something of value. But how do you reach non-readers?

I think people don't read fiction because of a general lack of free time, laziness, or not being inspired enough by what they've been exposed to. But this is where short stories can really fill a void as they don't gobble up too much time.

Potential readers may be hesitant to risk their time in something they don't know will bear fruit. Reading is not a passive activity, like watching a movie or television show (although if someone is a great writer and their words just flow effortlessly like warm syrup, then it's a much easier form to digest as your brain seems to just go along for the ride. But few people can write like that - where the reading becomes effortless).

It's a dauntingly crowded field out there with so much competition for our time, and so many entertainment options. It's a wonder anyone sells any books at all. In the past there were no cable TV or video games or shopping malls. At least now with the internet it's much easier to find your niche market and get the word out about the book to the people who would probably be most interested in it. There are pre-existing e-zines already set up that a writer can market to and readers can find what they're interested in.

So I think that's the hardest part - marketing, getting the word out that the book exists, just fighting your way through the clutter to try and reach potential readers in your own genre.

People are going to spend some money on entertainment anyway, so it might as well be spent on short stories. If someone gets something out of the experience, then it's worth the value - the time and money invested in that experience.

What to expect can be managed by having a blurb about the book on the back or inside cover. Or by a reader reading a few lines or looking on an author website or checking the book out on amazon or the publisher's website.

So I would go back to laziness and lack of time as big reasons people don't read. To some people reading seems like work. Others may be scared off if they feel they're just not knowledgeable about the form - maybe they feel like there's a test to take, or something that would make them feel like they didn't “get it” if they don't understand a story. Why are comic books so successful? That is a simple, but effective short form with complete story arcs. I think because they're easy to digest in a short time frame, the writing is generally simple and direct, and that appeals to people in that it's a style that does not tax the brain too heavily.

If you can offer a potential reader a sense of adventure, fun, knowledge, information, or discovery, they may be more inclined to read. What is their incentive to read? What are they getting out of the experience that they couldn't get from another form of leisure activity?

Many people like to hear stories or go on adventures they otherwise would be unable to experience. So there are pre-existing opportunities out there for writers to find people to read their work. It's just a matter of searching for those people.

My hope is that people will read more in the future as other forms of entertainment become more stagnant. How many sitcoms can you watch before they all seem the same? Reading offers unique adventures that are very direct and immediate. A reader is living inside of a book, whereas other forms of entertainment have built-in distances to experiencing them.

The potential for readers to experience other forms of writing has never been better with the internet offering exposure to an expanse of genres. So hopefully this will expose the non-readers and reluctant readers to other forms of writing they may not otherwise come across. Though in the end it's up to a potential reader to take a chance on something and invest the time to investigate a piece of writing.

Comments

  1. Great interview, thanks both!

    "there's very little money in speculative short fiction" - you've summed up the last two years of my life...

    ReplyDelete
  2. Lol! I liked that too. I feel like some hippy living in the forest. I may be poor, but I'm free!

    ReplyDelete

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