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  • NYS Writers Institute

Q&A with T. C. Boyle: Book picks and tips on life during pandemic

We caught up with our friend T. C. Boyle, major American fiction writer and three-time visitor to the NYS Writers Institute, most recently in 2019. A fellow upstate New Yorker, Tom grew up in Peekskill and earned his degree at SUNY Potsdam.

He is self-isolating with his family at his home in Montecito, California, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, in a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright-- the subject of his 2009 bestselling novel, The Women.

Tom's many books include the 2001 short story collection, After the Plague, and an apocalyptic novel about global warming, overpopulation and ecological collapse, A Friend of the Earth (2000), set in the year 2025.

Q: How's social distancing going for you?

A: I do love a routine--and a shtick too. It enables me to order my life so that I can write. That said, the lockdown is making me itchy for the life of my village, which was shut down like this two years ago after the Montecito mudslide disaster. (See my New Yorker essay on the subject, "The Absence in Montecito," as well as the subsequent short story, "I Walk Between the Raindrops.")

Q: What should students be doing during this unexpected break?

A: Read deeply in all the subversive novels, poem and plays that are NOT on the curriculum. And listen to music, loud, all day every day.

Q: What are you reading now?

A: Madison Smartt Bell's biography of Bob Stone. It sings.

Q: Any favorite books to recommend to us?

A: Just reread Camus' The Plague and Cormac McCarthy's The Road in order to feel properly apocalyptic.

Q: Is there any non-obvious action you'd like us to take?

A: Well, maybe this is too obvious, but no matter how bad it gets, look to your conscience and refrain from eating human flesh.

Q: Any news you'd like to share?

A: I am tweeting daily and blogging at at least one a month, which should catch everybody up. I just finished and delivered a new novel about animal consciousness, called Talk To Me. And I am writing new stories toward finishing the next collection by the fall or so. The second of the new stories deals directly with the current crisis, but I have had to hold it back till our collective bloodstreams are clear of the virus.

Q: What can we learn from apocalyptic fiction?

A: That we are fragile and doomed and should embrace every moment of our being. Feel for us all, feel our sorrow, feel for all the other creatures of this inexplicable and deeply disturbing world we transiently inhabit.

More T.C. Boyle


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