T. C. Boyle Craves Structure, in Life and on the Page
The Author of Talk to Me Takes the Lit Hub Questionnaire
T. C. Boyle’s Talk to Me is out today, so we asked him a few questions about writing habits and cultural touchstones.
Literary Hub: What time of day do you write?
T. C. Boyle: I crave structure, not only on the page but in my life as well. I am a creature of routine, no different from the dog that awakens me every morning for the 6 am walk (except that she gets to go back to bed and I don’t). I spend the early morning cleaning up after my wife and taking care of various (mostly kitchen-oriented) chores, then take breakfast with the newspaper spread open before me and try to be at my desk by 9:30 or so. When I first began publishing stories as a student at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, I wrote late at night—very late, into the wee-est of the wee hours—but I found that I was exhausted at that point just from having been alive and ambulatory all day. When I began my first novel, Water Music, I switched to mornings.
LH: How do you tackle writers’ block?
TCB: Writers’ block is a bugbear we all face. As hopeless as it may seem and as null and void as my brain may be, I do try to work through the blockage in the way that the constipated might consume bag after bag of prunes in the hope of catharsis. I rewrite over and over till the blockage gives way.
LH: Which books do you return to again and again?
TCB: It’s almost impossible to read novels while you’re writing one, but I do find Faulkner’s novels to be an exception. Especially in the middle of a long work, when I’m groping for character, meaning and language, a little dose of Faulkner really helps—he reminds me of what a true rant can be. My favorites? Light in August and Sanctuary.
LH: Which non-literary piece of culture—film, tv show, painting, song—could you not imagine your life without?
TCB: I couldn’t pick a single one, no way in the world, so I will fudge this question and give you a category indispensable to my being: the Blues. As B.B. King says, “Everybody has the Blues.” The music has given me solace throughout my life, whether I am singing along (or with my late unlamented band, the Ventilators) or just sipping wine and reading a book. Many of my short stories channel the sorrow and drama of the Blues and often borrow titles from my favorite tunes—“If the River Was Whiskey,” for example. Quiz question for those engaged here: name five more.
LH: Is there a book you wish you had written?
TCB: They are legion: Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine, Denis Johnson’s Fiskadoro, J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace, Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, to name just a few that spring to mind. Let’s take Fiskadoro to briefly answer the “why” part of your question. Here is a book set in a post-apocalyptic future that seeks to explore just what culture and history are and how we receive them, how we mark and honor them, and how tenuous our grip on them is. The book’s vision and lyricism are unfailingly beautiful.
Talk to Me by T. C. Boyle is available now from Ecco Press.