Authors@Google: T.C. Boyle

Uploaded by AtGoogleTalks on 14.04.2011

>> T. C. Boyle: Good afternoon, you Googleites and everybody else out there in the world.
Thanks for joining me for lunch. I don't know what you're having. I'm having sugarless gum,
actually, for lunch today. But it's not unusual. I come from a family where my wife never leaves
the couch for any reason and she is on a new diet and this is how I'm going to make my
true fortune.
I'm gonna write a diet book. I, by the way, I could be the after. It works for her. She's
been on it for two years. It's the all-you-can-eat meat and all-you-can-drink wine diet. And
she's up to about a herd a week and a gallon a day.
And maybe a visit to the Betty Ford Clinic eventually. But at this point, she is as slim
and sweet as the girl I first married. And I should point out that I am the only writer
in history who only had one wife. But that's OK. She helps me with my research. So that
whenever I'm researching a book, she gets deeply involved with all the same materials
that I do.
And she gets very passionate about it. And then, of course, I have to write the book
for the next year and she forgets entirely about it. She was most helpful to me when
I did my book 'The Inner Circle', which came out in 2004. This is about Alfred C. Kinsey,
who invented sex and she went with June Bloomington and Diana with me and we went to the Kinsey
And we studied all the various arcane sexual things he's got there. And then, of course,
she helped me with the research. She's continuing to help me with the research for that one.
And she also helped me with the research for the current book, which is what brings me
here. 'When The Killing's Done'. As long as I'm talking about her, she has a mother, my
wife. My mother-in-law.
My mother-in-law has always been a little bit horrified by me as if I'm some kind of
crazy beast. But you can see that I'm not. I'm just the most sweet guy in the world.
So that, for the first 20 years, for instance, she'd be visiting us, sitting. She'd be sitting
in the kitchen, I'd come down for breakfast and she would jump up from the chair and say,
"My God, does he sit here?" I'd say, 'No. It's okay. It's all right. She can sit there.'
Now we've come to a little bit of a rapprochement and it works this way. She lives in Arizona
and I will never in the rest of my life ever go to Arizona for any reason. And she only
comes to visit when I'm away. That's great. It's perfect. However, when I do see her she
says, "You are so lucky." And in fact, I am lucky because whenever I wanna discover something,
I just write a book about it. This is the way my brain works. I write fiction. I only
write fiction.
That's all I do. And so, 18 years ago I made my escape from LA and moved to Santa Barbara.
I still though, teach one day a week at USC. I'm the first writer they ever had there.
I started the undergrad writing program. I love it. It's a great thing. But it's a hundred
miles each way. By the way, I have a red sports car. See, red is my color.
And I don't enjoy it in the slightest bit. It's only a tool, like a screwdriver for instance.
And the tool enables me to get between the blind, deaf, semi-retarded, drunken woman
in the Mercedes Benz texting in the fast lane doing 40 miles an hour with a trucker right
here. And there's usually a gap about this big. And this little sports car, you can kick
the gas to the floor, it's just like its Star Wars. Boom! And you see them fading in the
rear-view mirror.
So this is my life. And all these years of going up the Coast Highway, I always go through
Malibu and up the Coast Highway looking at the ocean instead of through the valley. I've
seen the Channel Islands sitting off the Coast, wondering what goes on out there. Now I know.
As you may know, the Channel Islands is a national park now. But these islands were
originally owned by individuals for many, many years. And they use them for sheep ranching.
So that the big dumb island sitting off of Santa Barbara, 22 miles off the coast, is
Santa Cruz Island. It's four times bigger than Manhattan.
Nobody lives there. As recently as the late 80s, it was owned, 95 percent of it was owned
by a very wealthy guy who was the son of an oil trillionaire. And his name was Gary Stanton.
He owned this island. Now there's a main ranch and there were some outlying ranches and this
was used for sheep. They would sell the wool and they would sell lambs and so on. Gary
Stanton, on his death, ceded it to the Nature Conservancy, 90 percent of the island. The
other ten percent is a National Park right now. This was owned by a different family.
But it's all now trying to be restored. And what I've written about, 'When the Killing's
Done', is this restoration process. It began in 2001 on Anacapa Island. What I'm gonna
tell you now is my fiction. What I have done is dramatize actual events. So all of what
I'm going to tell you actually happened.
So in 2001, the Park Service decided to bomb Anacapa Island with rat poison. Brodifacoum,
the same stuff that anybody, this thing or out there has had a heart attack, that's the
stuff that doctors give you. It's the same stuff in d-Con that you put in your traps.
The rest had gotten to Anacapa in 1853 with the wreck of the Winfield Scott.
This is a paddle-wheel steamer coming out of San Francisco with a bunch of passengers
who would eventually go to the East Coast, to New York. A lot of them were 49ers who'd
been out in the back country and had their gold and they had made their fortune and they
were on their way back home. The boat would go to Panama. There was no Panama Canal yet,
and they'd trek across and take another steamer up the East Coast.
Well, they didn't make it. They didn't make it on this particular occasion because the
boat, in tremendous fog, went aground on Anacapa Island. No one died. Everyone was rescued
after a couple of days. Of course, they did have to forage for food. One guy shot a seal.
You can imagine what seals taste like. They were rescued. The gold was rescued. Everything
was great.
But the ship went down and all the rats got ashore. And now, 150 years later in 2001,
the Park Service decided to remove the rats. Why? Well, because the ground-nesting birds
there had evolved in the absence of predators and the rats were decimating their numbers.
Even after all this time, they were eating their eggs and killing the nestlings. All
right. So the Park Service decided to go out in November of 2001, and with helicopters
and drop rat poison all over the island.
And they said there'd be no collateral damage. The native white-footed mouse, they captured
a bunch of them and they were breeding them separately. The birds are not gonna eat it
'cause it's bright blue. If you know d-Con pellets, it's bright blue. However, there
were some protests. And in actual fact, there was a guy called the Rat Savior and he protested
this. He went out with a confederate to Anacapa when this was underway with huge backpacks
full of Kibble and Vitamin K, because Vitamin K is the antidote to brodifacoum.
And I created a character based on this guy, whom I've never met. I just read about this
in the newspaper. And my character's named Dave Lajoy. And he's one of the two antagonists
in this novel. He's 42 years old in 2001. He wears his hair in dreadlocks. He's a pretty
cool guy, at least in his own mind. And he's made his money with four stores that he owns
that sell stereo and audio and audiovisual equipment. And he is a very, very, very angry
guy, one of these people who’s angry about everything. But his one defining subject is
animal rights.
And he feels that no animal should be killed for any reason. He's opposed meanwhile to
a character I created called Alma Boyd Takesue, and she works for the Park Service. And she's
in charge of this operation to remove the rats and later, to remove other feral animals
on Santa Cruz Island, which I'll get to in a minute. And she is just like him. I mean,
they both love animals. They love the environment. They want to preserve everything. But she
is intransigent.
There can't be any killing of anything, even a rat. But she indulges in rail impolitic.
She feels that certain invasive species can be removed, must be removed, in order to preserve
the much rarer species that will go extinct if they're not removed. And so that forms
the basis of all of what goes on in this book. In actual life and in my novel, and we'll
call him not the real guy, the actual guy, we're just gonna talk about Dave Lajoy.
He was arrested with his confederate for feeding wildlife in a National Park without a permit.
And his buddy, by the way, cops to it and got a 150 dollar fine or something, because
they're both dressed in black with hoodies and black baseball caps. And they were seen
by a Park Ranger on Anacapa. They were the only people there that day. But in a court
of law, they couldn't be proven that he had, which one he saw throwing the stuff cause
they were both dressed exactly alike.
So, Dave Lajoy got off on this count. Then, and by the way, I mean this all sounds so
theoretical. Believe me, in my telling, it is full of filth, horror,
[audience laughter]
various degrees of slime, misery and antagonism, and you also learn about the island and about
geography. In fact, my favorite review of this book said that this "is the first island
biogeographical thriller." Yeah, I'm so happy about it. I'm sure there'll never be a second
Before I tell you the rest of the story, maybe I will give you a very brief reading of Dave
Lajoy. He's very, very, very angry at all times. And in this tiny little passage I'm
going to give you, takes place the day after Dave has interrupted Alma's meeting.
She, by the way, I've read that in America, people's greatest fear is not of spiders bigger
than your head or Islamic terrorists or brain cancer. It is of speaking before a large group
in public. And Alma has to do this. And you see the previous chapter from her point of
view. She's explaining to people at the Natural History Museum, concerned citizens, what this
is all about.
And Dave has come to interrupt and jeer at her. And, in fact, when she leaves the meeting
after he's been ejected, her car has, spray painted across it, "Die Gook Bitch." Now,
we don't know who spray painted that, but we have our suspicions. And so, the next day,
I'll just give you a very brief account of Dave. He's having breakfast the next day and
he's looking in the newspaper to see what account they gave of his interrupting this
Can I use language here that I couldn't use on NPR by any chance?
>>Female Presenter: We'll just put a warning on the video. If we could put a warning on
the video.
>> T. C. Boyle: I'm pretty good at it. I mean, I could substitute terms like 'crap' for 'shit',
but it’s not as good because this is the way Dave just does it, you know? So I'm gonna
give you just a little bit of language. This is Dave just having breakfast, very angry
[reads passage]
"If there's one thing he hates, it’s a runny yolk. And toast so dry it shatters like a
cracker before you can spread the butter. And rain, he hates the rain, too. Three days
of it now, making a mess on the streets and keeping shoppers out of the stores; pathetic
numbers, absolutely pathetic. And all four units with the Christmas season coming on,
no less. Depressing people; drooling like bilge down the plate glass window at the Cactus
Cafe where he eats breakfast five days a week and they still can't figure out what over-fucking-easy
means. His dried out toast is cold. The coffee tastes like aluminum foil and its cold, too.
Or lukewarm at best.
And the newspaper has one stingy little article about what went down at the museum last night,
tucked away in the community events round-up for Tuesday, November 20, 2001. The date in
bolder type than the headline, as if to indicate how mind-numbing and inconsequential everything
had been as it had been the day before and the day before that. Under the headline, 'Protest
at Museum Lecture', there's a scant two paragraphs that don't begin to get at the issue. And
worse, it don't even mention him or FDA by name, let alone set out the counterarguments
he'd thrown right in the face of that condescending little bitch from the Park Service, who was
fooling nobody with her grey-eyed squint and her all-black outfit as if she were going
to a funeral or a goth club or something.
And all her tricked up images of the cute little animals that just have to be saved
in the face of this sudden onslaught by all these other ugly little animals, made uglier
by somebody's Photoshop manipulations. As if the birds wouldn't last another week when
150 years ago [audience member sneezes] lived in complete harmony and natural balance with
all the other birds and plants, and the rats, too. Something Alma Boyd Takesue, Ph. D.,
didn't bother to mention.
Suddenly, he's jerking his head around and there's Marta, fat Marta with her two ton
tits and big pregnant belly that isn't pregnant at all, only just fat, bending over some other
guy's table by the door, flirting with him, for Christ's sake. And before he could think,
he shouts out her name, surprising himself by the violence of his voice. Everybody in
the place, and there must be 30 of them, half he recognizes and half not, looks up in unison
as if they were all named Marta. And what did he think about that? He thinks, "Fuck
you," collectively. He thinks he might have to find another goddamned diner where they
know the difference between, and here she is. Her face drawn down around her mouth shrunk
to the size of a keyhole beneath the flabby cheeks, coming to him as swiftly as her two
small feet can carry her, trying to act as if she cares.
"Is everything OK?" she asks before she's halfway to him, so everybody can hear her
doing her job. Even Francisco, the cook, who's giving him a hooded look from behind the grill,
a cigarette in one hand and a spatula in the other. "No," he says, still too loud. And
they're still looking, all of them. Because they're a bunch of sad-ass, pathetic voyeurs
with nothing better to do and fuck them, really, fuck them.
"No, everything isn't OK. It's like I come in here every day, don't I? And you people
still don't know what over easy means? Shit, if I wanted sunny side up, if I wanted a runny
yolk that's what I would've ordered." She's already reaching for the plate, already apologizing,
"Sorry, sir. I'll have the cook--” and all the rest of the mollifying, meaningless, little
phrases she dispenses a hundred times a day because the cook's a moron and to call her
incompetent would be a compliment.
But he can't help saying, snarling, and why is he snarling? "Take it away and get it right,
or don't do it at all." And, to the retreating twin hummocks of her butt, "And the toast
is like that shit they give babies. What do you call that? Zwieback? And I don't want
Zwieback, I want toast!"
She's at the swinging door to the kitchen now, making a show of upending the plate in
the trash while Francisco shrinks into the Aztecan nullity of his face, and everybody
else in the place pretends to take up their conversations where they left off. And he
can't help adding, his voice lower now, the rage all steamed out of him though the heat
still up high, "Simple toast. Is that too much to ask?"
[ends passage]
So, that was your introduction to Dave from his point of view and, of course, what novelists
love to do is have opposing points of view and you get deep into each of the antagonists
and how they feel.
And Dave, he's not a nice guy. He's a boor. He's a bully. He's angry. But he does have
a good point. He is against the killing of anything. Alma, on the other [audience member
sneezes] side, is rational but she's also very intransigent and a little uptight and
a little stiff. And maybe neither one of them is exactly the most wonderful person in the
world. But I mean aside from present company, nobody else is either, right? One further
little note about Dave. You might hear some of this tonight when he comes in. Is that
all right?
>>Male Audience Member #1: Yeah.
>> T. C. Boyle: Yeah. 'Cause it's a shtick.
[Boyle laughs]
>>Male Audience Member #1: I won't say anything in advance.
>>T. C. Boyle: All right. Thanks. Well, you can whisper into your mother's ear. Is that
your mother [ ]?
>>Male Audience Member #1: My wife.
>> T. C. Boyle: Your wife.
[audience member laughs]
You whisper into her ear about what's gonna happen. And you remember when you were like,
nine years old? You loved the movie and then you saw it the second time with your best
friend and just before something happens, you whisper to them.
>>Male Audience Member #1: I'll do that.
>> T. C. Boyle: You can do that. So, one more thing about Dave --
>>Male Audience Member #1: This is the good part.
>> T. C. Boyle: Huh?
>>Male Audience Member #1: This is the good part.
>> T. C. Boyle: Oh, we're gonna get to good stuff. No, there's plenty. I'll shift it for
tonight's performance so you don't have to be too bored. That reminds me. By the way,
I've already made fun of my wife a little bit now. Now I have to tell you about the
true love of my wife. Sometimes she'll go with me on tour. She's done it a million times.
Like maybe in Germany, she'll go in Germany or something. And she'll hear pretty much
the same show every night, night after night. And I'll look out into the audience and see
her with her head thrown back, howling with laughter.
[audience laughter]
That's love. That's real love. Anyway, Dave doesn't have a whole lot of love and here's
one other thing he does. Before all of this takes place, Alma had just moved to town.
She just got the job with the Park Service and she lives in one of those parts of Santa
Barbara which is a little village. And she knew everybody in the village. She began to
get acquainted with them and she had her favorite restaurant, a very nice, upscale Italian place.
She'd often go there alone or with girlfriends and she felt comfortable there. She knew the
owner and the maître-de. And so, before any of this happened, she happened to be in a
cafe listening to a folk singer and met Dave. He's a good looking guy. They're both in their
thirties at that point. And he and she struck up a conversation. They're both environmentalists.
They love nature. And so, he asked her on a date. Well, she doesn't know who he is,
though she said, "Yeah, sure, but I'd feel comfortable if we could go to the restaurant,
my restaurant in my village." No problem.
So they go on the date and they come and, Dave, well you just heard him. He's little
bit out there, a little bit out there. He orders the most expensive bottle of wine on
the list. It's 320 dollars. And he's already getting out of, getting crazy because there's
no sommelier, just a waiter. "Where's the sommelier?" "We don't have a sommelier." "Jesus."
So, he then, he asks the owner to come over and the owner comes over personally and offers
a bottle of wine to Dave.
And Dave goes through the ritual. He sniffs the cork, the swirling of the glass, a little
taste and so on. Spits it right out and says, "It's rotgut. Get it out of here." All right.
So then, he orders the second most expensive bottle of wine on the list and the same scenario
takes place. At which point, Alma gets up and leaves. So that was their first meeting.
That was their first date. And speaking of love, by the way,[pause] the truest test of
love if you are a writer like me, of your friends, of your wives, or your circle of
friends, is this. That story that I just told you actually happened while I was writing
this novel to a friend of mine who lives here in the Bay Area. She's a lawyer. She just
moved into one of the little towns on the Bay and she met a guy on the internet who
claimed also to be a lawyer.
Well, and a tall lawyer for that matter. But actually, he was a short, young lawyer, but
what the hell. They went on a date and took her to a restaurant and the whole scene played
out just as I told you. They're happily married now, three children--No. No. No. It was a
one-time deal.
>>Male Audience Member #1: But I just want to let you know. The wine was bad.
>> T. C. Boyle: Was it?
[audience laughter]
>>Male Audience Member #1: Yeah.
>> T. C. Boyle: Yeah, but you know. Don't forget, don't forget the owner, of course,
is gonna taste this wine in the back to know. Wow. So anyway, my friends all know that when
they will reveal anything to me and they know that their deepest sexual secrets will be
revealed to the public for my profit eventually.
And that is the test of love and friendship beyond any I could imagine. All right. So,
let me just tell you a little bit more about the continuing story. The first third of the
book is the Anacapa story, which I just told you about. And that sets up the big fight
to come.
And again, this is what attracted me to this story. It seems utterly absurd when you have
a closed ecosystem and you add or remove something that's invasive, you don't know what the effects
will be. And biologists call it a "cascading effect", where one thing leads to something
you couldn't even imagine. So, briefly, just after World War II, Monsanto Chemical Company
dumped DDT into the Santa Monica Bay.
The result was, this worked its way up the food chain. You've all read your Rachel Carson,
'Silent Spring'. And the bald eagles, which inhabited all the islands, were exterminated.
Their eggs would no longer hatch. They died off. They are more territorial and tougher
than the Golden Eagle. They are verciferious; they mainly eat fish. The Golden Eagle eats
groundhogs. And so, in the absence of the moles, the Goldens moved in. Why? Because
there was a good food source for them.
Delicious, fat, creamy, ripe, little piglets. The pigs, how had the pigs gotten there? Well,
the original sheep ranchers had some pigs and the pigs got loose. Now 150 years later,
they were feral. Wild boars all over the island. Wouldn't be so bad except that, except for
the sheep. The sheep had to be removed because once it became a National Conservancy and
a National Park Service, the sheep were changing the ecology. As you know, sheep eat everything,
right down to the root. So, there were no longer any young trees, or saplings.
All we had was elderly trees, which would die. Trees are very important on the ridgeline
because they trap the moisture from the fog, which gives the island, which is rather dry,
some of its moisture. So it's changing the ecology. All right. So the first thing is
they removed all the sheep. Not a big deal because the sheep gone back and forth anyway.
They could be trapped and sent back to the mainland. I'm sure a lot of them became lamb
chops, but this is the way life is. However, this could not happen with the pigs. They
were a discrete population. They'd been there for 150 years. And the fear was they might
have developed peculiar diseases that would, could be communicated back ashore to other
pigs and it would decimate our pork industry throughout America. So they had to be killed
in situ. So, what happened was, in real life and in my telling, the Nature Conservancy
and the Park Service got together and they hired a group of New Zealish guys who specialize
in exterminating animals on islands.
The New Zealish and the Aussies obviously know a lot about this for obvious reasons.
And at a mere cost of seven million dollars, they came in, fenced off the island progressively,
killed all the pigs. They shot them dead and just left them there to rot -- 5500 of them
as it turns out. Why did this have to be done? Well, because of the invasive fennel.
And I mean, it sounds like something Samuel Beckett would have come up with for a play.
'The Invasive Fennel'. Once the sheep are removed, the fennel, the seeds you use in
sausages and so on. This grew up into an enormous thicket. It's the size of this room, 20 feet
And delicious piglets hid in the thickets and the Goldens and nothing to eat. What are
they gonna eat? Now we get to the poster animal out of all of this. The dwarf island fox,
which is four- to six- pounds, the size of a small cat, through the principles of modern
biogeography which will either make an animal larger or smaller depending on its availability
of food resources and its niche. This animal has been there 16,000 years and it has become
a [ ] variety. It's very rare.
And suddenly, they were disappearing and no one knew exactly why. Well, one of the biologists,
Lois Ramire, who runs the Nature Conservancy project there, showed me on her computer screen,
a Golden Eagle chick that they photographed. We love it. I mean, it's just, it's this big.
It's got claws. It's a Golden Eagle. We love Golden Eagles.
But beneath it were the remains of 20 of these foxes, one of which had a radio collar on
it, which is how they discovered the problem. All right. So they had to take all the remaining
foxes. They had to breed them 'cause they'd be gone. This all happened within the last
five or six years. They'd be gone. They'd be extinct now. And so, in came the biologists
to trap the Goldens, which is not easy.
This is a big animal, flying. If they threw nets out of helicopters, but then it falls.
They've actually trapped them without harming them and take them to the Sierras and let
them go. Meanwhile, they brought in bald eagles from Alaska to repopulate the islands. And
it's working because I was there with my wife for the release of the first two bald eagle
chicks born on that island since the 40s. And again, the chick is like this. And right
now, they have let the foxes go and it seems that they have been able to restore this ecosystem.
But of course, the question as this book poses, and actually I should show you the epigraph,
is who has the right to do all of this? How do we get to be the ones to decide? Yes, we're
the biggest animal. We're the toughest. We're the smartest. We eat them. We use them for
our pleasure. But look at the rat. What about the white rat that the kids have?
Living in a cage in a privileged position while behind the walls are their feral cousins
crapping, screwing, and dying every night. And one is -- we love it, and the other is
a nuisance. So the book has an epigraph from Genesis 1:28 and it sort ofsets up the thematic
elements of the book for me. "And God blessed them and God said unto them: Be fruitful and
multiply and replenish the Earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the
sea and over the fowl of the air and over every living thing that moveth upon the Earth."
So I start from that proposition and try to examine this. Can I make a story out of it.
This is simply the way, for better or worse, my brain works.
I can't really do deep thinking unless I'm actually writing something. People see me
on the street and they think, "Oh, there he goes. He's probably thinking deep thoughts
and coming up with his next novel." No, I'm just like all the rest of you. When I'm walking
down the street, I'm thinking, "Kill. Screw. Eat. Kill. Screw. Eat."
[audience laughter]
Exclusively, you know? I can only think about issues like this. When I'm in the middle of
some complex story and I never have an outline, I don't know what it's going to be. It just
evolves organically as I go on day by day over the course of a year. And I think all
these artistic questions and structural questions and thematic questions resolve themselves
on an unconscious level. So all of that said, and we have some time left. I mean, I could
read the entire novel to you except the last paragraph.
Or we could do questions. Then I can save this wonderful story for people who might
be going to the gig tonight to have something that's fresh and beautiful.
>>Male Audience Member #1: Sure. Really?
>> T. C. Boyle: Yeah, really.
>>Male Audience Member #1: Yeah.
>> T. C. Boyle: Yeah. How much time do we have? Do we have 20 minutes more? Do you wanna
ask questions? I mean, how are we gonna so this? It's up to you.
>>Female Presenter: 20 minutes. The story that you were gonna tell. Certainly that will
leave time for questions.
>> T. C. Boyle: Well, maybe not.
>>Female Presenter: Maybe not.
>>T. C. Boyle: The story is 400 pages long.
>>Female Presenter: Oh.
>> T. C. Boyle: I mean, do we have to exactly have an hour, or can we run over?
>>Female Presenter: Well, there's another meeting coming in at 1:00.
>> T. C. Boyle: Oh, another meeting. By the way, remember I told you how lucky I am? Yes,
I'm a professor, but I don't go to meetings. I can't bear meetings, I can't, I'm sorry;
I don't care what anybody else says. I don't want to hear them, I don't want their opinions.
I'm not a team player, I never will be, I'm sorry. So, I feel lucky. I don't have to go
to meetings.
>>Male Audience Member #1: That's a lot like the meetings I go to.
>> T. C. Boyle: Is it?
>>Male Audience Member #1: Yeah.
>> T. C. Boyle: Really? Everybody feels the same way. I think instead of reading you another
story, I just want to talk to you and take your questions. How's that? But I know there
are a lot of engineers in the room. Please no math questions. Throw it out. Come on.
Give me something. Anything you wanna know about in regard to this or the dwarf foxes.
>>Male Audience Member #2: So, you're speaking to your method for writing novels. How is
that different in terms of thought processes for short stories you write? Is it just an
inkling of an idea and you just develop that. When you write, when you come up with an idea,
how do you decide, "Oh, this is a short story," versus, "I'm gonna go more further into?"
>> T. C. Boyle: I can see that we're not,--
>>Female Presenter: Can you repeat the question?
>> T. C. Boyle: Yeah, I can see we're not all engineers in the room.
Writers. Yeah, I'll wait for these poor guys, way over here. Where are these guys anyway?
>>Male Audience Member #1: I think they're in Santa Monica.
>>Female Presenter: Santa Monica.
>> T. C. Boyle: Santa Monica, OK. Wow. So, you know all about the DDT in the Bay. You're
probably drinking it in that coffee.
The question was is there, do I have a difference between the novels and short stories when
I'm developing ideas?
>>Male Audience Member #2: Yes.
>> T. C. Boyle: Yes. They're very discrete. I never had a short story get larger and become
a novel, or vice versa, a novel become progressed to a story. I'm very single-minded and I work
in periods. And I will write a novel. Then I'll write maybe half a book of stories because
your ideas peter out. Then I'll write another novel and then the other half of the book
of stories.
And on and on and on. And incidentally, the joy of writing a novel, which is what I was
doing before they dragged me off on this tour three weeks ago, is that you know what you're
going to do tomorrow. The problem is, anything that you might tell me or I might learn or
read about, or anything that happens in society, I can't really use.
I have to put it aside because I'm locked into some other novel altogether. And sometimes
it might be an historical novel even. The joy of the short story is anything that you
want to address, you can address over a period of six to eight months or however long I might
be writing stories. The downside is in-between stories, you are bereft.
You have nothing to do. You're completely nuts. You realize that you're doomed. You're
a failure. You've never written anything before. You'll never write anything again. You're
over the hill. And you only think about a suicide for the first week.
Then, maybe, a glimmer of a story comes and you start with a sentence. I always see something
and then I start with a sentence and then I try to follow that. I might, the first couple
of days I might just get one paragraph done. Once you get into the flow and your unconscious
mind takes over, then the story reveals itself. You find the ending. It might take another
two weeks. Then you have the dead week at the end where you're trying to figure out
what you're going to do with your life. And this is of course why all writers are drug
addicts and alcoholics, and why they beat their wives, their children and their dogs.
Except for me. I'm exceptional.
>>Male Audience Member #3: You were talking about an idea intrigues you and then you sort
of process it by writing a novel about it. So, for instance, this story about this island.
There's a lot of parts, I guess there's conflict sort of inherent in it. But it’s not necessarily
a story like with a complete arc. How do you construct the story arc out of all these different
>>T. C. Boyle: Um hmm.
>>Male Audience Member #3: Another writer here.
>> T. C. Boyle: Great. The question for you guys in Santa Monica. Is it about, there's
a lot of disparate elements in here. How do I construct just a narrative out of the whole
thing? I don't know. I don't know. It's everybody has some kind of gift and this is my gift.
I don't know how I do it. There's a deep structure that has to reveal itself.
An example of another way of working. I was going off on tour a couple years ago. And
forgive me. My entire life is book tours. It's all I know about.
And I just met with a grad class the week before. I just met two of the students. And
they came in just to chat with me to get acquainted. And each said, "Yeah, I'm writing a novel
but I'm having trouble." And I said, "Well, okay. Great. We'll work on that. How far along
are you?" They said, "Like, 300 pages." I say, "Great, wonderful."
But they're not connected pages. They've written the kitchen scene because they love the kitchen
scene, but it's sitting there to be stuck in somewhere. I don't think it’s supposed
to work that way. I think it has to be organic, as I've said. It has to evolve as you go along
and discover what it is. So, this is the way I work. It's the only way I know how to work.
>>Female Audience Member #1: Speaking of structure, one of my favorite novels of yours is 'The
Women'. In that, I found the structure fascinating because you end with Mamah's story and that's
actually really quite early on in Frank Lloyd Wright's life. How did you, I mean, I have
my own theories on why you ended with Mamah's story, because he just goes on to do so many
great things after that, and really, he had no right to do that.
>> T. C. Boyle: Yes.
>>Female Audience Member #1: So I'm kind of interested. Can you address how you initially
wrote that story of Frank Lloyd Wright? Did you have that structure in mind?
>> T. C. Boyle: Sure. What a great question. For everybody else who's not hearing this
question, there's a lot of praise involved. I mean, we've just had several paragraphs
of praise of how wonderful I am.
But I won't get into that. It's a question about the structure of 'The Women', my last
novel before this, which deals with the entire life and career of Frank Lloyd Wright, primarily
though, as seen through the point of view of his four women in his life: his mistress
and his three wives. And it also runs backwards so that you begin with his last wife and go
down the ladder to the death of Mamah.
Well, for obvious reasons, I could then end climactically with the murder of Martha Borthwick
Cheney. She was killed with a hatchet by a crazed servant. Her two children were killed,
also. And also several other workers and the house was burned down. What's so interesting,
as you say, is that Frank Lloyd Wright was not there that day because he was doing the
Midway Gardens in Chicago and commuting back and forth. And he was trying to get this thing
onto deadline and get it built.
Had he been there, he well could have been killed and there would have been nothing beyond
1914. So there's all of that. Well, as soon as I discovered this structure, and of course,
I had a structural idea in the beginning, which I didn't have with this cause each one
is different.
I could meditate on what love relationships are. How, not me, of course, but I'm sure
all of you maybe had more than one relationship in your life, where you're in love and it's
this great thing.
You wanna spend every second with your inamorata and it's so great. But maybe after a while,
you fall apart and maybe it goes sour. Maybe it even gets antagonistic. So I was able to
show, by going backwards, each of them. Like, to begin with, Olgivanna, his last wife was
there and he's in love with her, but he's being pursued by his previous wife, Miriam.
Miriam is this virago. She's a lunatic. She's horrible. But then, as we go backwards, we
see Miriam in a new light, when he first meets her and she's so sexy and enchanting and that
enables me to play with the idea of what relationships are.
Then again, I'm using real material. I love the real history, or the real biology. I'm
just dramatizing it. So Miriam, in real life, and in my telling, came to Frank Lloyd Wright
and after the death of Mamah. She'd been murdered. Taliesin Center had been burned down. He got
lots of sympathy. He got letters from all over the world, thousands of them.
'Cause he was pretty well-known at this point. One came from Miriam Maude Noel. She was around
his age, which was late 40s at that time. She was an elegant and beautiful woman.
Widowed. She'd been living in Paris for the last ten years. But World War I drove her
back to live in this miserable room in Chicago with her daughter.
And he liked her letter so much, he agreed to meet with her on Christmas Eve, in his
office in Chicago, their first meeting. And she swept in wearing her sealskin coat and
this beautiful hat and these boas and everything else and had a lorgnette and a cigarette in
a holder. And she just talked breathlessly to him about love and passion and poetry and
everything else, on and on and on. He was mesmerized by her.
Then she paused for breath and said, "So, how do you like me?" And he said, "I've never
seen anything like you." Boom! Wow, that was it. What a relationship. Also, I got this
information from his own autobiography. But what do you do with it? And I just structured
it. So, each one is different and each one has its own [audience member sneezes] [ ]. And
you're right to ask this question because in that case, I had a structural idea to begin
>>Male Audience Member #4: So, which of the books have [audience member coughs] less of
that historical aspect? I can think of maybe 'Drop City' having less of that Or do all
of them have some kind of factual base that you're drawing from?
>> T. C. Boyle: The question is which of the books [audience member coughs] have less of
the history or less of factual? I rotate always between different sorts of things, just to
keep myself fresh and to keep the audience fresh. So that novels that are just whole
cloth are things like 'East Is East' set in Georgia. Or there's 'The Writer's Colony'
set in Japan.
Most recently,[pause] 'A Friend of the Earth'. 'A Friend of the Earth', which precedes this,
is also about environmental issues; the year 2000 on global warming, which projects into
2025. And that is just us. And so two of the stories.
Some stories require some research, 'cause I set stories anywhere. I have no limitations.
I can set a story anywhere on earth. And some are just experiences. It requires nothing.
Just you are inspired. You do it. I'll give you an example. I wrote a story a few years
back that the New Yorker published and it was called 'Swept Away'. It's a very whimsical
I had read that the windiest place in the world is the Shetland Islands of Scotland.
Kids, little kids get spun down the street, cats, flower pots. It's always windy there.
So what fun! What would that be like? So I wrote a love story. It's about an American
ornithologist who comes to study the birds. She's kind of pretty. She's wearing a little
tartan skirt that she's bought at the tourist shop. She's got black leggings and she's kind
of cute. She's just got off the ferry, got her backpack full of cameras and stuff. And
she's walking up the main street. And behind the window of the main street are all the
local slugs who live there drinking beer. And it turns out that one of them is Robbie
Bakey and he's never had a girlfriend in his life. He's never done anything with his life.
He's lived on his family's sheep ranch and so on.
And his cat is out there trying to catch pigeons. It's a big cat, not like the cats we were
talking about, the foxes we were talking about. This is a 14-pound cat. It's blown off by
a gust and it cracks Julie [ ] right in the head and she's knocked out unconscious on
the road. And at that point, old Duncan Stauer, the oldest guy on the island, is coming in
his car, his ancient car, going ten miles an hour right for her and Robbie Bakey runs
out and saves her.
And so, the romance starts. All right. Well, this has a lot of local color, this story.
Shetland Islands. So, two years later the local magazine on the Shetland Islands, 'The
Shetlander', asked me if they could reprint the story because it was so great and they
wondered how many years I lived in the Shetland Islands. And I had to point out that I had
never actually been to the Shetland Islands. But I had been to the Arctic Coast of Scotland
once in Oban and I nearly froze to death. That was enough.
And the rest is invented. So I got lots of details of the Islands, right down to names
of characters and so on. And faked it. That's what it's about. It's an improvisation. It's
a seduction of view. I am inviting you into this world for you to believe in.
But sometimes, as with the details of this or with the Frank Lloyd Wright book, the historical
details, I love the history so much. Or here the ecology, that I'm sort of instructing
you in it. There've been over 1006 books written about Frank Lloyd Wright. I never realized
the extent of the cult of him until I went to write this book, wrote this book. But if
you've never read any of them and know nothing about him, you can read this novel and it's
all true; all the facts are true.
But, of course, I'm playing it for my own purposes and dramatizing it. You know, history
is wonderful, but it doesn't tell you what people were thinking. You just heard a day
of Lajoy for instance. You're in his head. You get an idea of what he's thinking. You
don't get that necessarily from history. So my fun by going to some of these books is
to dramatize them. What was it like? [pause] The first book I wrote in Santa Barbara. It's
called 'Riven Rock'.
I figured I would need to know some of the history of the place I just moved to. 'Riven
Rock is set at the turn of the last century, and it deals with Stanley McCormick. He was
the heir to the McCormick reaper, the fortune. A millionaire. He had a big 35-acre estate
and so on. When he was in his late 20s, he married a woman, also in her late 20s, Catherine
Dexter McCormick, an amazing beauty and also very, very wealthy. First female graduate
in the sciences at MIT. And I would say he's very handsome; tall, handsome guy, wealthy,
The problem is he had a mental problem, which was beginning to become paranoia. He was a
schizophrenic. Catherine made the great mistake that many women do, thinking, "Well, you know,
he's a little squirrely, but if I get him away from his mother, I think I can straighten
him out." Catastrophically wrong. It was just the most horrendous marriage in history. To
just give one detail. They never consummated the marriage.
Stanley was incapable. He became, what was called a 'sexual maniac'. For 20 years, he
had to be locked in Riven Rock, away from everybody because any woman he saw, he would
assault immediately. Not necessarily sexually, but just assault. He was that crazy. And I
think it was because having to be intimate was too much for him to stand and it made
his mental problems more full-blown.
And if you really want to hear horror, and this is true. On the day they were married,
at her chateau in Geneva, which is now the American Embassy. And he was early advocate
of motor cars, 1905. Their honeymoon was a month motoring through France. Two other individuals
came with them. His mother and her mother. How could you make this stuff up? It is so
fabulous. And so, to conclude all of this, I will say, people ask me about this book.
They said, "How do you know that the marriage was unconsummated?" It's easy. I wrote the
So, thank you very much.
>>Female Presenter: Thank you. Thank you.