I’ve interviewed a lot of amazing writers over the years. Unfortunately, I never collected my interviews anywhere for safe keeping, and many of them (most of them) are lost forever. In January 2010, I interviewed author T.C. Boyle for a magazine that, more than eight years later, is no longer around, and I thought this was one of the interviews that was lost forever as well (since only a teaser version is recorded here on my blog) — which sucked a big one because I really liked what he had to say.
Luckily, I was cleaning out my emails the other day, and I found my correspondences with Mr. Boyle, one of which had the interview attached. So yay for being lazy and not cleaning out my email.
I’m posting the interview here as a throwback piece and to keep a record of it. I’m hoping to find some of my other interviews I really enjoyed as well. In the meantime, here is my interview with author TC Boyle from January 2010:
Very few writers have had long-term success at writing both novels and collections of short stories. One of these writers is TC Boyle, distinguished professor at the prestigious creative writing program at USC and the prolific and long-renowned author of 12 novels and 9 short story collections.
On January 25th, 2010, both of these worlds will collide with the paperback release of Boyle’s newest bestselling novel, The Women, and the hardcover release of his latest collection of fiction, Wild Child – the perfect opportunity to see for yourself why TC Boyle has earned a solid reputation as one of our nation’s most humorous and entertaining storytellers in both genres.
In The Women, Boyle offers a mesmerizing fictional account of the life of architect Frank Lloyd Wright told in reverse chronology through the eyes of four beautiful, passionate, and tragic women who truly loved him. This is Boyle’s third turn at fictionalizing the life of an enormous historical American figure — a triumvirate of egomaniacal geniuses, including John Harvey Kellogg (The Road to Wellville) and Alfred Kinsey (The Inner Circle), whose passions and accomplishments still affect us all today in one way or another.
In Wild Child, Nature is the main tool Boyle calls on to showcase his intelligent humor, surreal style, and socially-conscious sensibility, the hallmarks of his best work, in this excellent collection of 14 stories that gleefully remind us, despite our best efforts, that human beings are just animals once-removed by civilization.
In the title story, likely the one that will get the most attention by critics, Boyle shares his unique version of the wild boy raised in the wilderness by animals. But for new readers of Boyle’s work, or his fans in California, there are a few must-read stories that specifically address our own unique relationship with nature: “Ash Monday” (which discusses the California wildfires); “La Conchita” (based on the 1995 mudslide that buried 9 homes in Ventura); and “Question 62” that details the lives of suburban Californians turned upside down by a rogue mountain lion. The rest of the collection displays the amazing range and talent of a storyteller who lives up to the hype and always delivers the goods.
I especially liked the disturbing story “The Lie” in which a man, who has already used up all of his sick and personal days, lies to his boss about his newborn child’s death as an excuse to get out of work. This story alone is worth the price of admission.
The paperback version of The Women and Boyle’s newest collection of short fiction, Wild Child, are available in bookstores on Monday, January 25th. To learn more about TC Boyle, visit his website.
I had the great opportunity to interview TC Boyle recently. Please take a few more minutes to read this insightful and revealing discussion about his work and his life (including a bit on his next novel now in the works).
Q: Wild Child is your ninth collection of short stories, which coincides with the paperback release of your 12th novel, The Women. What compels or inspires you to write, and how do maintain such a prolific pace?
A: Oh, lordy, at the risk of dragging out the old clichés, let me just say that writing is my life and I cannot address the world without it. (Of, course, Hemingway had a solution for that.) There is an excitement to making art that is like an addiction, a phenomenon I discuss in my essay (at tcboyle.com) called, “This Monkey, My Back.” I never know what a given story or even novel will be and the thrill is in discovering it, sentence by sentence, day by day.
Q: You were born in New York , studied in Iowa , and then made your way here to Los Angeles and Santa Barbara . As fans and students of yours, we Californians have sort of claimed you as one of our own – as one of our best writers. Where do you see yourself in all of this and does geography affect your writing?
A: I humbly thank all my fellow Californians for embracing me. It is a joy and an honor to be amongst you. However, I should say that I’d never been west of the Hudson till I was twenty-one, and then I went all the way west to Buffalo because my inamorata was a Buffalo gal. Now–and ever since I started at USC in 1978– California is my home, and I ain’t never going back. As for how this works out in my writing: I guess I will always be something of an interloper here and so perhaps I see things–or saw them–in a slightly different way, as, for instance, in The Tortilla Curtain. The environment here excites me and it seems strange and new (whoever thought we’d settle in so comfortably with our quakes, our mudslides and firestorms?). Many of my recent stories and novels reflect this, like “Ash Monday,” which deals with our fires, and “La Conchita,” which is built around the mudslide there, both of which are part of Wild Child.
Q: When I think TC Boyle, I think first entertainment, then music, then craft – all of which combine together into an art form that I genuinely appreciate and admire. In my opinion, you’re one of the few writers who seem to understand that you’re competing with TV, film, music, video games, social media and a billion other fun wastes of time. Is this a conscious effort on your part? Do you worry about your potential audience and the challenge of entertaining today’s “busy” readers?
A: All art is entertainment, lest we forget and try to seal it all away behind the gates of the university. I do what I do unconsciously, making stories because it seems natural to me and allows me to try to sort things out for myself. I am glad that you and others find them engaging on all levels. And yes, I do try to carve out a little place for my work amidst the noise of society and I do believe in giving an entertaining stage performance, but I do not write in order to attract attention or to have pieces to perform. I know what will work on stage and what will not. And so I select. I also have to admit to being a little tiny bit of a ham and an extrovert, who used to shake out with a little rock and roll band.
Q: Going back to question 3, how much does music influence or affect your writing process?
A: I have never written anything without musical accompaniment. The musicality of the language and the beauty of its construction is the foundation for any story. Beauty, that’s what we’re after. All of us.
Q: I hate the saying, “Those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach.” As a former high school teacher and current college professor, how do you address this statement?
A: I teach because it is a major part of my life. What makes it even better is that I have been fortunate for many years now to have an audience for my work, so that there is no economic necessity to teach. But I love the interaction with my students, I love their discipline and talent, and I love being privileged enough to be their coach. In my case, anyway, I can do and I can teach too. Further, most of the professors I know teach out of love of the subject and, as is also true for me, as a way of giving back to the system and to the people who inspired us.
Q: As a humanist, your writing addresses a lot of social issues, especially in regard to science and religion – but you don’t offer a lot of answers or preachy messages in response. As you’ve work out these concepts in your writing over the years, have you come close to finding answers for yourself, even if you don’t often share them in your work?
A: Yes, I am concerned with social and environmental issues. What rational person is not? But advocacy and art do not mix. Art is a seduction. Good art invites the reader to think and feel deeply and come to his/her own conclusions. As for myself: I am in despair, caught between a Darwin and a hard place (see the story “Bulletproof” from this collection). I have no hope, no answers. What I do have to counterbalance nihilism is art, family, friendship, usefulness. But then, what is useful when we live only to die?
Q: You’ve had great success in writing both short stories and novels. Which do you prefer and (maybe you can settle the age-old dispute) which is harder?
A: I am equally at home with both and feel lucky to be able to turn to stories after a long exhausting bout of novel-writing — and vice versa.
Q: Kids today (uh oh, I’m sounding like my parents) seem less interested in reading than ever. What do you think this means to the future of writing and publishing? Are we doomed?
A: Yes, we are doomed. While I am deeply grateful to be taught in the classrooms of this country and abroad too, I hate to see the subversive and interactive process of reading a novel relegated to an assignment, like trigonometry. How many of us graduate and do a little trig in our spare time? Here is the ray of hope: books provide an experience that neither film nor video game can fully duplicate, because books — of fiction and poetry in particular — ask so much of individual readers and take them so very deep inside themselves. Of course, this way madness lies, I understand that, but there you have it. Read and get well. Or maybe read and get sick.
Q: How do you feel about e-books and e-readers? Do you use any of these devices?
A: I do not have a Kindle, though my books are licensed for its use worldwide. Our work (that of we writers) would have been stolen long ago, as has happened with movies, music, video games, except that no one cares enough to steal it. Beyond that, the audience for books, even as it dwindles, still wants to embrace the object. A book is beautiful in itself. This is why I have always petitioned for inviting and representative covers–books should look like the rock and roll album covers of a bygone era. Hold the book, enjoy it, stroke it.
Q: What books are you reading right now? Are there any writers you feel who deserve more attention than they currently receive?
A: Just finished Carol Sklenica’s biography of Ray Carver, which was so rich it was like drinking whale’s blood. And I’m rediscovering the multifarious delights of Walter Kirn’s 2001 novel, Up in the Air, which inspired the superb Jason Reitman movie of the same name. Funny thing, too, even though we are doomed (see above), both literarily and literally, there are whole hosts of amazing writers, writing away, and they are far too numerous to name. Go to the bookstore and ask around. They’ll tell you. And definitely check out the L.A. writer, Richard Lange. He’s a great new novelist.