T.C. Boyle
Photo by Stephen Francis

T.C. Boyle: “We are animals”

Short Profile

Name: Tom Coraghessan Boyle
DOB: 2 December 1948
Place of Birth: Peekskill, New York, USA
Occupation: Author

Mr. Boyle, do you think we still have time to save the planet?

I found myself responding to this question all the way back in that pivotal year of 2000, when my book A Friend of the Earth appeared. The answer then was negative. What has changed since? The addition of between half a billion and a billion people to the earth.

Your book When The Killing’s Done also seems to pin the blame – quite angrily – on us humans.

Angry? I don't think so. I am just a realist, I suppose, when it comes to the sorry state of our species' stewardship of the environment. I am simply revolving issues in my own mind. I am not advocate. But I do tend to feel that the problem is us. I do wonder sometimes why everyone doesn't kill himself at the age of thirteen or so.

Have you come to a conclusion?

The answer, of course, is that we are animals, and we want sex and we want food and we want to dominate and procreate.

You’ve said before that we are like animals…

I don't think I would use the simile "like animals." We are animals, quite obviously. And we are ruled by animal passions, not to mention the mechanistic wiring of our internal systems, a subject I explored in my novel World's End.

Well then if we are animals, what animal are we? More crocodile or bunny rabbit?

Bunny rabbit or crocodile? Do you mean to oppose the two? We are both, of course, and, of course, we dine on both.

Does one need to be driven by an obsession in order to be as prolific as you are?

Yes, I am driven by an obsession to attempt to interpret what we are doing here in these guises and consciousnesses on this planet. Please see my essay "This Monkey, My Back," in which I liken artistic obsession to an addiction, like, for instance, the one for heroin, which can never be satisfied except in the moment.

You have consumed your fair share of drugs, a fact that you openly acknowledge. Is it ever tempting to go back to that lifestyle?

Always tempting, but the desire to create art keeps me on the straight and narrow – mainly. But I can't help thinking that old age could be enhanced chemically. I'll be able to give you a report soon, as luck is with me I do seem headed for that frontier.

Have you replaced drugs with writing? After so many bestsellers are you a success junkie?

Sure, yeah, I'll cop to that. But more than ever, the doing of it – the writing – is the most important thing for me.

So why have I heard that you stop writing every day at exactly 3 o’clock? Isn’t that a little, I don’t know, square?

I'll cop to "square" too because square is what allows me to get the work done and the work, to me, is all-important. But I don’t slam the computer shut at 3:00 – I work till the breath goes out of me, and that might be at one or two or even four or five. The point is that you must work every day if you ever expect to let the vision take hold of you.

How are you able to write in such detail from a woman’s perspective?

I wear a dress, wig, and full make-up while inhabiting female characters.

How does your wife feel about that?

To answer honestly, I must say that I pose as a challenge to myself as an artist to try to see the point of view of characters of different gender, ethnicity, nationality, age, even species. Tolstoy and Chekhov were not peasants, but they had insight into peasants of both genders, did they not? I do not want to repeat myself. I want to reach for something I've never attained. This is the excitement of art.

Do you think you’ll ever burn out?

Burn out? A terrifying term to a committed artist. I hope to stay light on my feet, to work in many modes, to seek inspiration always, and avoid the fatal. But, as we all know, it is the price of life to burn out, both metaphorically and literally.

You often go on big reading tours to support your books. Is that your break from the daily grind?

Yes, I will have four major tours this year, but I love to be onstage and I do love the audience. Very gratifying, very humbling. But exhausting.

What’s the secret to putting on a good show?

Diet Coke.

I’ve observed that when you sign your books you give each person four or five minutes of your undivided attention.

I like people. Does this seem like a contradiction, especially after my misanthropic responses to your questions regarding the environment and our species' effect on it? Maybe so. But there you have it.

Do you depend on people, your friends or loved ones, to challenge and sharpen your ideas?

Most definitely. My personality was built early on in a society of young people who questioned everything. These are the close friends with whom I grew up in New York. They are now dispersed. They are now old. And they question everything. For me, conversation is not necessarily for support or the delivery of information, but above all, for entertainment. Let’s hear some other voices howling in the void – or laughing, as the case may be.