Interviewed By Darrell Larson
Transcribed By Angelina Coppola
WordTheatre sits down with award winning author T.C. Boyle to discuss his reactions to accomplished actors performing his work. Boyle and his fiction have been featured in several WordTheatre events, including Dinner with T. Coraghessan Boyle at M Bar, WordTheatre with TC Boyle at the Edye presented by PEN USA, and most recently, WordTheatre with T.C. Boyle at Soho House in Los Angeles. Boyle’s fiction has been translated into more than two dozen languages and has received of a number of literary awards, including the PEN/Faulkner Prize for best novel and the Prix Médicis Étranger for best foreign novel in France. He has been a member of the English Department at the University of Southern California since 1978, where he is Distinguished Professor of English.
I: What is it like seeing your story?
T.C. Boyle: It’s pretty thrilling all the way around. It’s like seeing actors perform on the screen in a movie of your work. You’ve written the words and now somebody is living them. It’s great. I love it. I won’t say that every performance has enchanted me. There have been a couple of times–because this has happened to me many many times, and I’ve performed myself often, I’ve performed for Cedering in fact–when the actor isn’t quite doing what I’d hoped, and I want to get up and choke them to death and do it myself. But mainly, it’s been a good experience.
I: How do you feel the actors portray your characters?
T.C.B: Sometimes actors are not good narrators, because their job is to be somebody else and to memorize lines and to perform and sometimes they have difficult times with the narration because they are not trained to do that. Most of the actors that I’ve worked with for WordTheatre and many of the other programs that do this are great. I’ll give an example. Cedering had a Scottish actor read my story “Swept Away” one night. This takes place in Scotland, and I love the story. It is one of my favorites. I have read it a few times, but I’ll never read it in public again because you got to have a Scottish accent! Oh man, it just transformed me. And I’m looking forward to the stories today. They’re both new, “Sic Transit” and “Slate Mountain.” I’ve never heard anyone read them before. So, this is just really exciting for me.
I: What keeps you coming back to WordTheatre?
T.C.B: Cedering. Cedering decides to do an all Boyle show, how can I refuse? It’s great. We’ve done it many times, and as I say, she’s allowed me to be one of the performers as well.
I: What are your thoughts on the future of reading and writing?
T.C.B: And how does a writer deals with these things? There is no god, there is a bereft environment. Everything we love, the culture that we make, everything disappears. So we have to live in the moment and enjoy it as best we can.
I: Do you feel this is the natural order of things?
T.C.B: Yeah, absolutely. But we live in a particularly apocalyptic time because of the damage to the ecosystem that allowed our species to thrive. You may know that a lot of what I write about has to do with the environment. I make stories of it of course, and it’s pretty depressing. When I was a kid, we had no concept of recycling, you know. Everything just went in the trash. Of course, I’m not saying that. I don’t want people to read my books about ecosystems and just go out and kill themselves. But it looks pretty bleak out there. As far as back to your original question, we can’t foresee what’s going to happen with regard to our culture. For instance, when the telephone first came in to use the people poo pooed it and said that it would destroy the great tradition of letter writing, and so it did. But who would foresee that we’d rather text or email each other than actually speak on the telephone. So writing continues. I don’t know about the depreciation of what a short story is at its highest levels. I don’t know if we have as wide an audience as we once had. We don’t need stories as much as we did before there was TV for instance, or before now we have shows on TV like HOUSE OF CARDS and so on, which are basically novels. You know? But you don’t have to know how to read. All you have to know how to do is use a remote and turn it on. It requires sophistication in order to appreciate short stories at the highest level, and it requires unplugging also. You need to have some contemplative time to unplug.
I: Don’t modern shows (like House of Cards) take sophistication to watch?
T.C.B: You’re absolutely right. It’s a different kind of sophistication. This is one in which…the style of HOUSE OF CARDS is in the cinematography, of course. The style of a story is in its construction of its sentences and the beauty of the language. I’m glad that we still have lots of people who appreciate that. I just wish we had more, that is everybody. You know, I’m also an inventor, and I’m working in my basement lab on a ray that will neutralize all TV transmission forever.
I: And the purpose of this is to?
T.C.B: So people have to read more.
I: Is it our duty to maintain the Ecology?
T.C.B: Yeah and I suppose the ecology of literature too. I mean I’ve devoted my life to it. It’s why I go and perform my own stuff so often and travel around the world with it. I want to turn people on. I want to remind them that the first voice we heard was probably our mother, in my case, reading to us, and it’s a very special kind of art form, and I want to see it exist and persist and survive. Art is the highest form of communication, whether it is the aforementioned TV series or a collection of stories by Ray Carver or John Cheever or poetry or a painting on the wall. It’s what really distinguishes us from the other animals. The ability to talk, of course, but language for me is a way of putting what I see into a concrete form. I see things that are hard to realize unless you have the proper language to do it.
I: And you have shown it to us, so that we can perceive it?
T.C.B: Well I hope so. And there is again to speak well of my art form. Now that I’ve been so depressing. There is a special communication in fiction between the reader and the writer. It’s a one on one communication that is unlike any other art form, even a painting. Every Christmas, I read “A Christmas Carol” again, and there’s a line in it that just jumps out at me every year and surprises me. It’s Dickens himself that steps in over your shoulder and says, “You’re seeing this now, just as I’m standing over your shoulder, talking to you.” And it’s great because he is, and he’s still alive at that moment.
I: Transcending time and space. Ah, well. Well, I think we’ve covered it.
T.C.B: Good, good. We haven’t talked politics yet. (Laughter)