Excerpted from Markus Schröder's book, "Nice guys finish last: Sozialkritik in den Romanen T. Coraghessan Boyle." Die Blaue Eule, Essen 1997, 257 p. ISBN: 3-89206-840-2.
Note from Sandye: As you can see from the message below, it took almost a year to track down this interview which was originally included in Markus Schröder's dissertation, published in Germany in 1997. Thanks to a fortuitous connection with Sandra Schäfer on TCB's message board in March 2001 and, through her invaluable assistance in making contact with Dr. Schröder through his former mentor, Prof.Dr. P.Freese, I am able to share this extensive and wide-ranging interview with you.
My sincere appreciation goes to
Sandra Schäfer for sending me a copy of the interview and to Dr. Markus
Schröder for graciously allowing it to be published on this site.
Posted by sandye on April 23, 2000 at 23:08:22:
while visiting the library of congress website tonight i found this:
Author: Schröder, Markus, 1970-Title: Nice guys finish last : Sozialkritik in den Romanen T. Coraghessan Boyles / Markus Schröder. Published: Essen : Verlag Die Blaue Eule, c1997. Description: 266 p. : ill. ; 21 cm. Series: Arbeiten zur Amerikanistik ; Bd. 22 LC Call No.: PS3552.O932Z87 1997. Dewey No.: 813/.54 21. ISBN: 3892068402 Notes: Includes an interview in English with T. Coraghessan Boyle. Includes bibliographical references (p. -254) and index. Subjects: Boyle, T. Coraghessan -- Political and social views. Literature and society -- United States -- History -- 20th century. Social problems in literature.Control No.: 11812698
anything you can tell us about it? it would seem to be only about your work, ja?
Dear Sandye and Jef: Dunno. Maybe
Marcus can enlighten us. TCB.
Markus Schröder: Have you seen a German version of your latest novel [América] ?
T.C. Boyle: Yes, sure.
MS: It is calledAmérica here in Germany. How do you feel when you see that the titles of your novels have changed? This one is not even the worst.
TCB: Well, I have to trust my translator, Werner Richter, and my publisher. I have to trust in their judgment. However, I prefer The Tortilla Curtain. Although everyone can identify with the title América on a shelf, it only focuses on one of the four main characters, whereas The Tortilla Curtain gives you the central image of the book which is that of the border, of a wall, of a fence, and so on. And so I prefer The Tortilla Curtain personally which could be very easily rendered into German. There are arguments that no one would know what it means, but of course a lot of people in the States don't know what it means either and they find out. I don't think it's necessarily bad to have an intriguing title. I'm sure I could demand that they give it the original title, but I have to trust them/
MS: And the translator is praised for his work here in Germany.
TCB: I understand that. He's done all of my books but one, and the only one he didn't do was Willkommen in Wellville, and that because I delivered the book so early, ahead of time, that he wasn't ready yet. He still worked on something else, so we had to get another translator [Anette Grube]. I have a sense for his translations because, for instance, the last two nights I was giving a performance [in Cologne and Bonn]. I did it with an old friend, Dr. David Eisermann of Bonn, and David would read some consecutive pieces. I would read one piece and he would read the following piece in German so I could sit there and follow it in the English text. And Werner Richter has managed to reproduce even the sentence structure and the rhythm which is no mean trick from English to German, so I guess he is pretty good.
MS: So I hear you know a bit of German.
TCB: Not really, not really. The only languages I speak are English and Spanish and I never really thought I would need to know German. But, since I have become so popular here and I find myself coming here so often, I decided that I should start to study German. So just this fall I began to take some classes. My wife's mother is German, she speaks German and her children speak German because they did go to the Deutsche Schule. So I thought it is time for my wife and I to speak. We're in a class right now, in fact. I will be back in that class next Wednesday and give them a report of my trip to Germany. In our textbook, we're following the adventures of Herr Clark who is an American businessman who goes to Germany , and goes on business, and goes to the hotel, and all these things. We have dialogues in each chapter, so the other day I asked the professor if he thought that Herr Clark will ever have a girlfriend and... (laughs) and then the professor was quite taken aback because, you see, I came into the class late, and the class had already done most of the book and what I didn't realize was that Mr. Clark is married and has four children. So i intend to report to the class when I get back that, in fact, I met Herr Clark and he is now living with his girlfriend, Dagmar, who is a stripper, in Mannheim. (laughs)
MS: From the beginning on in your novels, you have had a preference for German names. In Water Music it was the city of Geesthacht--I was born only 20 miles away (Boyle laughs) --in The Tortilla Curtain it is Menaker-Mossbacher. Is this rooted in your family relationships?
TCB: Yes, I think so. Give me some other examples, though.
MS: For example, the name Spitzvogel in The Road to Wellville.
TCB: Well, see, that is true to history. I made him up, but all the main theories in natural sciences and medicine were coming from Germany in those days. So that was just true to history.
MS: You once said in an interview that you don't like symbolism in your names. Does it change now, regarding América and Cándido?
TCB: No, not necessarily. I think it may be a misquote. If it is too obvious it becomes sort of like an allegory, like The Pilgrim's Progress or something, and I wouldn't want it to be that obvious. In this book I see it somehow differently. I tried to strip down the language in the story line somewhat and make it a fable. And with that regard, I think obviously Cándido and América's names have a lot of symbolic references. In some respects, Delaney Mossbacher, too. A "mossback" in the American language is someone who is a sort of stick-in-the-mud conservative who doesn't think for himself much, you know. So that has a little bit of symbolism in it, but every book is different.
MS: Despite some serious stories in Without a Hero, The Tortilla Curtain seems to be the crucial point in your writing. It is more serious than the books before. One conservative German critic said your former works "lack a literary and moral necessity." (Boyle bursts out laughing.)
TCB: Well, I would like to inform him that very certainly the literary necessity is to keep me alive (laughs) . That is the literary necessity because writing, of course, is a process of compulsive disorder. I disagree with that critic. I think that all my work is very serious and has a serious intention. It may seem on the surface to a casual reader that it can't be really penetrating because it is so much fun to read. But, I think, real literature should be fun to read and should be deceptively easy. There is an awful lot this critic has overlooked. You must understand that critics have their own prejudices. We have the same thing in America. They tend to regard non-comic literature more highly than they regard comic literature. I don't know exactly why that is. I'm just the opposite, though. I write literature, typically the kind you see in some of the stories in Without a Hero, which isn't published yet in Germany. In this book and in some of the others, like in East Is East, I can catch the audience a little bit off-guard by writing instead a satiric comic work, as in the beginning of The Tortilla Curtain where it is a satire of Delaney and the people like him, and then make the book turn increasingly grim so that you are coming from comic expectations to the inverted. The same thing happens in East Is East which is a very funny book and, at the same time, very serious, I mean far more serious than that critic may give me credit for. By the way, I once got a letter from a guy in Hawaii who just finished East Is East and who wrote me this: he said, "How could you kill him off, you son of a bitch?" That's the whole letter. (Both laugh.)
MS: The problem with German critics, too, is that they think only serious literature can be good literature and some arguments in The Tortilla Curtain can be used for conservative political statements, which is the worst thing a serious author in Germany can do. A serious author is leftist by definition. Was this discrepancy in the book intended, that both sides can argue with the characters in The Tortilla Curtain?
TCB: Yeah, I had in interview yesterday with a guy who brought this up. I think that you can't generalize about literature. You have to address each specific work -- each work is different, each work is totally unique. I reject that sort of notion that you should write a political novel because you have a political point of view to make. I don't regard this as a political novel. It is a novel that deals probably with the paramount of political issues in America and, in fact, the world. You have the same problems here, in England, in France, etc. But, I don't begin with a political standpoint. I'm not trying to convince you to join my party. I don't think the political novel works very well for that reason. I think it wrong to sacrifice the aesthetic to the need to make a point or statement about your position. I write a book like The Tortilla Curtain to determine what my position is. I think it's wrong to judge a given work of art in terms of its politics or the expectations of some group of people, you know. It aroused tremendous controversies in America for that very same reason, because people felt that I shouldn't present those points of view, and that when I do finally come down to, I think you'd say, the more leftist point of view in the final sentence, that this should be stronger and, you know, everybody should be waving flags and we should all get up and salute at the end, but I don't think that makes for good art, nor is it realistic, nor is it true. I have still two minds on the issue of illegal immigration and I don't think it's easily resolvable. I think it is a sort of a false art to write a kind of polemic for either the left or the right and say "this is the way it is" and convince the reader that it is the way it is. If I'd have felt that way, I would have better served to do exactly that, write a polemic or an essay. I write in order to discover an aesthetic form to express myself and to discover who I am and what I mean, and I do discover what I mean. You have read all of my books and you know very well what I stand for and how this book fits into all the rest of the books and how it is a natural extension of them. Some critics maybe read only one book and they don't really know much about where it is coming from.
MS: Some hidden points of criticism in your novels are education and religion. One of the stories I like best is "The Miracle at Ballinspittle." Do you intend to write a novel with these themes as the main topics?
TCB: I don't think so. But you never say never. I just follow my instincts as to what I want to work on next. You know, I write a lot of novels that have historical settings. Having a relevance to a specific time gives me a way of giving a certain balanced view of the 20th century and the crazy changing technological society we live in, on top of, I think, an irrational universe. So I really like the fixture of history. Right now I'm working on a very long, complex historical novel set in the period from 1900 to 1930 in my new home of Montecito, California, near Santa Barbara. It has nothing to do with politics, however, the new stories may -- I have new stories out in '99 -- after this new novel. I think I certainly have to have a new book out in 2000, and that will be another contemporary novel and probably dealing with some issue. I just have to figure out what issue interests me and what will infuriate the most people. (Both laugh.) Not actually, not actually. I didn't write this book in order to infuriate people, I wrote it because I am genuinely concerned: I live amongst the problem, and I'm sure these critics who have a kind of knee-jerk reaction do not. "Knee-jerk" in English is, I'm sure you're aware, when a doctor tests your reflexes like this (He demonstrates.) That means that it is just a reflex, that you don't really think about an issue: you're a leftist or a rightist and you're on the right side, and anything in between you don't want to hear or discuss or think about, you don't want to think deeply: "this is my position, that is my position and they are morally correct and anybody who doesn't follow them is wrong." I don't think that's true. I think that what you need to think about in the work of art is aesthetics above all. Is this a strong and fine work of art? Obviously, this one is my most political book, so it begs the question of the politics in the book. And I think that it is much more realistic in the scenario to come to a conclusion, to think about this whole problem in a very complex way. For instance, what is this biological imperative that I'm talking about? We are an animal species, we are vastly overpopulating the earth and we will move, just like the coyote, to wherever there are resources. And the ramifications to this in a socio-political way are just as the title asks: Is there any sense in having nations, states, boundaries, ethnic divisions? We will just be increasingly inundated in an industrialized world that is where the resources are.
MS: You said that you live with the social problems and you know about them. Are you active in any social or ecological group or is it just in your writing that you try to make people aware of the problems?
TCB: This is another thing that will disappoint the critics who don't feel that I am leftist enough. No, I would never join any group for any reason. I'm not an activist. I don't want to be an activist. I am an independent free agent. I'm an artist exploring the world and it is my right and intention to say anything I like on any subject, in fact, that's the beauty of living in a democracy. I owe nothing to anyone except to myself, that includes the critics, the booksellers, the publishers, anything and anybody. I have my own reason to live and my own reason to make art and my own vision which is constantly changing. Excuse me, I see Frau Boyle coming in.
(Boyle's wife and a local organizer were coming back from a shopping tour. We had a short break.)
TCB: Sorry for that. You know how it is to be married and have a wife. I don't know how your relationship did start [sic] , but after we had lived together for some years, my wife kept begging me to marry her, and finally I said, "Okay, I'll do it, I'm ready." And the result is that I'm her utter slave. I do every sigle lick of work in our lives. I'm doing the house, I make the money, I maintain the property. I do everything because I want her -- and I think it is true for German men -- I want her to have the kind of life Princess Grace of Monaco had, before she was decapitated [in a car accident]. (Both laugh.)
MS: That sounds familiar. (Both laugh.) In most of your novels, your view of society is rather bleak, often deterministic, like in World's End. Are there any positive traits of society left in your fictional world?
TCB: I would hope so. My world view is really pessimistic, but I try to be a kind of happy guy. It's just that I don't picture myself as being quite as grim as Samuel Beckett, for instance. But I don't see much good news. I really don't. I do have a very pessimistic view. There is a small gestire at the end of The Tortilla Curtain which is an approbation of common humanity, I mean that is about as far as it goes. I'm opposed to demonizing a group of people and opposed to racism, but I'm thinking deeply about the issue which many critics have not. We were talking earlier about the biology involved here, the human race is headed for some kind of terrible cataclysm, and I think it's coming soon, when you're reading books like The Song of the Dodo by David Quammen [New York: Scribner's, 1996], which is not published in German yet. It's a marvelous book about evolution and island bio-geography, which means it examines the way creatures have evolved on islands around the world throughout history; his point being that now we've essentially cut all the continents into islands for animals, that is, they can't get across human-made barriers to interbreed, so that within fifty years or so, all major kinds of mammals, aside from deer and cows and so on, will be extinct. We've destroyed the ozone layer, the amphibians are dying off all over the world which are a central link of the food chain. You can't really imagine what is going to happen there. We've altered the weather totally. Laurie Garrett's book, The Coming Plague [New York: Farrar, Straus, 1995] , where she talks about all the various micro-organisms and parasites that are becoming multiply drug-resistant and constantly mutating to take advantage of the situation we present them... Six billion people -- tons and tons and billions of tons of meat for them to work their way through. You know, AIDS and Ebola are just the tip of the iceberg here. Paul Kennedy's book, Preparing for the Twenty-First Century [New York: Random House, 1991] , which came out about five years ago -- it's an overview of the economic, social, and political conditions of all the major countries and regions of the world for the 21st century projection. It is so grim, he should have taped two cyanide tablets to the last page so you can eat them after you have finished the book. So my view is informed. It is a very grim prospect, I think, for the whole human race at this time in history. The only good news that I can find anywhere is that human sperm counts are declining worldwide. If we get them down to zero, then, I think, everything will be OK. You can trace that right back to Delaney Mossbacher being a naturalist. You know, naturalists in America, or the Green Party here, are people who are very liberal, but on one issue they are reactionary and that is the issue of immigration of any kind because who is the enemy of the environment? More people. Who wants more people of any race? Or any level of skills or intelligence, whatever? And this is exacerbated in America by the fact that everybody coming, but, for the most part especially across the southern border, is illiterate, uneducated, needs health care, needs food stamps, needs a place to stay, and there are no jobs for them. Even the most menial jobs are filled. We live in an increasingly technological society where even to work in a factory -- and there are precious few factory jobs anymore -- you need to have at least a high school degree and a knowledge of math and computers. So people like Cándido, Cándido is just your everyman who isn't good or bad. He just exists. And what does he want? He wants what anybody needs on the most elementary level. A place to sleep, something to eat, work so he can buy something to eat. He is not sugar-coated, he is not idealized, as I'm sure the leftist version of this novel would idealize him and make him into this angelic monument to labor or whatever. But he is just real. He comes from this macho society where men suppress women, for instance. He's ignorant, he beats his wife, he's jealous of her when she gets a job, and yet you sympathize with him because he is a common man, just bearing the brunt of all this. I think, though, you sympathize with Delaney, too, because you see him go from a guy who has these vaguely liberal ideas to a guy who becomes increasingly right wing. If the book works, you can see how he is pushed into it by the society around him.
MS: Does the name Cándido mean something like "the naïve" in Spanish, aside from the literary allusion to Candide?
TCB: No, it comes from Candide, Voltaire's Candide, who is, you know, famous in literature. He is the man who bears all this ill luck, all the ill luck sent upon him. This is why I chose Cándido.
MS: What influence has political correctness on your writing?
TCB: (laughs) It has no influence on what I do, except that it makes me so angry that I want to attack the politically correct because political correctness is a kind of fascism in itself. It presumes to tell you what you can and cannot do. From their standpoint of taking the high moral ground, I totally and utterly reject it. It is silly, it's dangerous, it's wrong. Again, I feel that no one can tell an artist what to do, you know? The whole process of writing a book is to give an individual expression. I think that it is equally valid to write a stirring novel about, let's say, Cándido and everybody succeeding and making a labor union and building new housing and living happily ever after as it is to write a novel about a guy who masturbates 42 times a day and shoots heroin in his temples and kills people as long as it is beautifully, brilliantly done as a work of art. There is no degenerate art as long as it is good. All that matters is does this work aesthetically, is it a good book? It's fine if you have a message and if the audience believes it and if it likes that message. You have to have a message, you have to say something, you have to have some belief system, but I don't think that the place for making political statements is in a novel. I think a novel is not a statement, it is a seduction, it's an entertainment that seduces the reader to a point of view. Well, in the case of this book, it seduces the reader, I think, into the story and the lives of these characters and forces the reader to think more deeply about the subject, rather than just a knee-jerk reaction.
MS: Have you had any controversial discussions so far with minority writers concerning Tortilla Curtain?
TCB: No. In fact, the Latino press haven't covered the book much because Viking missed the boat and didn't publish simultaneously a Spanish language edition, it won't be out in Spanish until later this year. There was no negative criticism that I'm aware of from the Latin American community. A very huge part of it is American and speaks English as a native language, as well; they are bilingual. The first reading I gave, that is, on my three month tour, was in the L.A. public library and more than half of the audience was Latino. High school kids and guys out of work, so my feeling is that it is a realistic portrayal. The only ones who were angry were the white liberals who thought I was too hard on people like Delaney Mossbacher, that he is not hypocritical and should be championed more and so on and so on. Also the right wing would say things like I was too soft on immigration and we should kick the illegals out and so on. Yet, it was the guardians of the politically correct who made the most asinine statement: that since I'm not Mexican, I don't have the right to write about Mexicans. So, I presume that since I'm not a woman, I can't write about women; since I'm not an old man, I can't write about old men. This is totally absurd. That's why I'm so much opposed to this ridiculous idea of what is politically correct. In fact, we can all agree that we should be civilized, that we should not be racists, we shouldn't offend people, we should support the liberation of women economically and so on. These are my ideas, too. I like this, it's all great. But I'd be damned if somebody is going to tell me how to do it and i must do it, you know. That makes me run right the opposite way.
MS: You are often compared with other post-modernists or black humorists. Do you have any contact or an exchange of ideas with people you know from Iowa, for example, John Irving?
TCB: John Irving is one of my former teachers. I had John Cheever, the great American short story writer, I had Vance Bourjaily, a novelist of the 50s, who was a marvelous teacher--John Irving had been his student--and when he left he introduced me to John Irving and for one semester I was John Irving's student. In fact, it was John (laughs)... Well, at this time there were also Raymond Carver, Gail Godwin, and many others. I was only a short story writer until I wrote Water Music. The last book in German by Hanser Verlag, Tod durch Ertrinken, that was really my first book, Descent of Man. I had written all the stories at Iowa and before and I told John I just wanted to be like Carver, I would surely be a short story writer, I don't think I'll ever write a novel, and he said, "You might change your mind." (laughs) No, I'm not much in touch with other writers, especially writers of my own age in America, personally, but only because occasionally I see them at a literary festival or on stage or something. But it's fairly rare. I'm not much into communication with them just on my own.
MS: What do you think about Kurt Vonnegut? Because I often miss his name in the list of authors with whom you are compared. The late Vonnegut, in Hocus Pocus, for example, deals with the general problems of society, as you do in your novels.
TCB: I haven't read most of his later work. He was very important and influential to me, as he was for anyone who knew to read in America in the late 60s and early 70s when we read all of his books. His black humor, his sense of social engagement, his sense of history, all that I share, but more important to me are other writers I'm sure you heard or read about that I'm always talking about in interviews, not mostly Vonnegut, although he was an influence, too.
MS: What do you think about literary theory in general? Do you write with a specific theoretical idea in your mind, do you intend to write a metahistorical novel, for example, or something like that?
TCB: Well, I already have--Water Music.
MS: Yeah, that is why I ask. Did you write Water Music because you wanted to write a metahistorical novel or did it just come out as metahistorical?
TCB: Thank you, choice B! (both laugh) The linguistic theories have been very prevalent in terms of literary criticism over the last 25 years or so. All those who are relevant I don't enjoy reading, aside from Lévi-Strauss and people like that. Camus I've read, but he seemed dull to me, extremely dull. I think if you open up literature to the interpretation of words and the etymology of words in linguistics, it's wonderful. It is a great little science within literature. I'm not a scientist and I don't have an analytical sense of mind and I don't really care much about it. I live in a world in which metafiction existed prior to most of the theories or at least its introduction into universities in the 60s and 70s, so my idea of metafiction and as it appears in my own stories, and in Water Music, and I think in a few of my other works, is deriving mainly from the literature of the day that I was reading when I was a student, thinking about being a writer. So I was reading Jorge Luis Borges and his wonderful magical stories, Gabriel García Márquez, Günter Grass' early books, Thomas Pynchon, Robert Coover, Flannery O'Connor, Ionesco, Beckett. And all of these people are my influences and I think you might say that the artist preceded the critic in this, the critics seem to come along behind, and I don't know what will come next because, again, I'm not that interested in structuralism, deconstruction, and so on, except as a curiosity. I'm just working to set myself new challenges and to find out what else is left in my brain. Each story is amazing to me. It is very rewarding to write a story or a novel because it is such an incredible challenge to find out who I am and what I think. I just begin and then I deal with some research and the first line and follow it. I never write a plan. I don't have a structure. My structure is in me, it is the function of the subconscious to bring this material together. It would be too abstract for me to think like that. Especially when you start writing, you don't say, "Well, these are my psychological problems; these are my concerns and worries in life; what I like to say, I think I'll write ten novels on these themes." It doesn't work that way. Just as you are a unique human being throughout your life, so is your work of art. You can only see what you mean and how your books hold together in retrospect, and you can see about my books by reading them all and comparing them and seeing how they are interlinked and how the overwriting has turned to keep coming up. I certainly didn't know this at the start of my career and I'm aware of it now only because I can look back. But it still doesn't influence my choice of the next book, except in a subconscious way. I'm all sorts of a writer; I'm not an autobiographical writer and not particularly or ususally a realistic writer, although I don't want to exclude any kind of mode. I like to write in many modes. I can do anything I like and write any kind of story I like because of the politically correct and the difficulties in American with illegal immigration. Sure, all of the critics come out of the woodwork and say, "Oh, Boyle can't write about a Mexican point of view" and so on, but these critics are pretty ignorant because earlier on Boyle has presumed to write from the point of view of black Africans and invented tribes and languages, written from the point of view of Germans, of medieval Scandinavians, of American Indians, of God, Dutch patroons. I've written from the point of view of every body of every sex and every kind of wit. I'e written from the point of view of monkeys, gorillas, chimps, (laughs) Dogs! I've written fron the point of view of Lassie. These people are very tedious and, of course, ultimately in history -- if history continues -- they will look foolish and I will look good because I have a vision and I know what I'm doing. I'm totally confident. And who are they? They're merely critics (laughs).
MS: Which part of your career do you like best: Teaching, writing, or public relations?
TCB: I'm really committed to teaching. I always thought of myself as a teacher. I've always done it and I've always enjoyed it. Obviously, when I first began, I needed to teach for the income. Now, it is nice to be paid, but I really don't need it, so I could quit at any time. but I don't want to and I hope to continue for a long while. It excites me to be a part of this incredible pool of talent that I find. The gift for writing is enormous now, whether it'll be exercised by my students or not I don't know, but the gift is there and it's extraordinary. It really energizes me and I think I help in a social function, too. My social function is that I help to teach the next generation of writers and readers coming, and try to inspire them and stand as an example for them, so that they can look at me and say "Well, when this schmuck can do it, so can I." (laughs) But of course. the writing is the center of my life. It's the only thing I wanted to do since 1 discovered it when I was maybe about nineteen or so. When I first began writing I was very attracted to the idea of being famous and to settling old scores and to show everybody that I was worthwhile and okay. A lot of authors have this as a motivating factor, and I do, of course, really love being in front of an audience and performing and going out before the public, but I think in all of my career in writing just the act of doing it becomes more and more significant. I never thought that this would he the case, but it is for the reasons I told you a lew minutes ago. It's just enormously gratifying to tell new stories that are in my head. In between the new novel that I'm working on now and the finishing of The Tortilla Curtain, I wrote a few stories which you may have seen in The New Yorker in the last year or in Playboy and so on. It was just somehow in writing those stories that it just amazed me that not a year, only a month goes by and I have a finished product. Something that I like, that I think is good. An expression or something that disturbs me or something that I want to make fun of, here it is. and it wasn't there before and only I of all the six billion people on earth could have written that particular story, whether it's good or bad. And I just want to see how many more stories there are. It's just that it's a fascinating thing. Especially since I don't belong to any party, I don't have any political axe to grind. I'm not going to write one to three novels of the workers triumphing. I just want to see what comes next. It is as amazing to me as I guess it is to the public, and I want to keep trying to do something different and challenge myself all the time to see if I can do something different. To the people who say, "How can he presume to write from a Mexican point of view, a Mexican female point of view," I say that it's my duty to try to do that. How else should I understand everybody. Every good novelist should be able to inhabit anybody of any ethnic group, either sex, any age, old, young. That's what your job is, you're supposed to project yourself into somebody else and create something out of that.
MS: Would you like to teach somewhere else or are you now a devoted Californian?
TCB: I will never teach anywhere else. I will be staying in California at the University of Southern California. It's the only teaching job I've ever had, besides from a semester at the University of Iowa in '88, where I went back when I was fond of going to my alma mater and teach there and see the town again. I could do that occasionally. but that's it. I want to teach there [at USC-LA]. And I'm a West Coast boy now. "The West is the best." as Jim Morrison said. He was right.
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Questions and Answers
Die Lesung fand abends im Hörsaal 6 des Zentralen Hochschulgebäudes (ZHG) der Universität statt. Der 500 Plätze fassende Raum war hoffnungslos überfüllt. Fast 600 Hörer hatten sich versammelt und feierten Boyle frenetisch, der sich umgezogen hatte, aber trotzdem seinem Image gerecht wurde. Zu schwarzen Jeans mit Silbernietengürtel trug er ein schwarzes Hemd mit silbernem bolo tie, ein graues Jacket -- und die roten "Chucks". Zuerst las er zwei Szenen aus The Tortilla Curtain: aus den Kapitel I und 2 des ersten Teils die Schilderung des Unfalls aus der Sicht beider Beteiligten, sowie das Ende des zweiten Teils, die Szene des Truthahn-Kaufs und die Entstehung des Brandes. Dann folgte eine kurze Pause wegen seiner angeschlagenen Gesundheit. Nach der Pause las Boyle "Top of the Food Chain" aus Without a Hero und stellte sich danach den Fragen der begeisterten Zuhörer, die er allerdings nicht unbedingt ernst nahm, womit Boyle in einer öffentlichen Veranstaltung wieder seinem Image als "Literatur-Punk" gerecht wurde und eine strikte Trennung zu den persönlichen Interviews erkennbar war.
TCB: So. this is your chance. I won't be back until 1998 (laughing in the audience).
Question: Have you ever tried farming hemp? (laughing in the audience)
TCB: This gentleman is referring to my book Grün ist die Hoffnung, which in English is called Budding Prospects, and is about a pot plantation in Northern California which was a resounding failure. It is a true story to which I had very close access (laughing in the audience, clapping). Had the plantation succeeded and all the participants become millionaires as they had planned, I wouldn't have bothered to write the book, but it was such a failure. It makes for a great comedy, I thought, anyway.
Q: How do you pronounce your middle name? (laughing in the audience)
TCB: [Ko-rä-ge-son] , although I was in England last year and I met a bunch of real Irish men from Ireland, and they said it should be called [Ko-ra-he-sän] , but hey, who is to argue with me? I mean, it's my name (laughing in the audience). I stick to [Ko-rä-ge-son].
Q: Why, do you think, is it that you are so popular in Germany?
TCB: I just can say that aside from the US, I'm most popular in Germany, more than in any other English-speaking country. It is great. I think the reason is that the German people are extremely perceptive (laughing in the audience).
Q: Do you have anything to do with Frank Zappa, because his music is like your writing?
TCB: Well. there are a lot of legends going around about me, almost 100% of them are false. The only thing I have in common with the late Frank Zappa is that we both looked weird and we both were very skinny. (laughing in the audience)
Q: The car accident from your new book. Is that a true story as well or did you make it all up in your mind?
TCB: No it's not. This is entirely invented. You might know that when I write a story of any kind, including the one I just read to you, or a novel and so on, even the complex ones like World's End or Water Music, I don't have a plan, I don't have a program, I just do some research for a while and then I begin writing. A voice occurs to me, some characters and then it's like solving a puzzle, putting all the pieces together in the end. So, I just made it up. It is fiction after all.
Q: Are you really fond of fat women?
TCB: Like Fatima, of course, from Water Music? I have to admit that I am. Because, you know, what could be more opposite from me (laughing in the audience)? Of course, I tried some other varieties of women, too, though (laughing in the audience).
Q: What do you think about John Steinbeck?
TCB: This question is in regard of this book, I'm sure you're aware. I use a quote from The Grapes of Wrath to start this book and the quote is: "They are animals. How could anyone live like this and not be an animal?" You know, of course. John Steinbeck was referring to the Okies in the dustbowl era, people from the middle of the country of the US who came under the pressure that they were starving to California. the promised land. And at that time, of course. as you know, there were police stations at the border to keep them out. It was an internal migration of American citizens, and now it's the same situation at the southern border for the same reasons, but now we have an influx of citizens from another country, of another ethnic group, with another language. And I wondered how Steinbeck's ethos of 1939 would work in the 90s, where we have the added complication of having about close to six billion people on earth now, and projected to double in 25 years, if you believe the prognosticators. So I wanted to just re-examine Steinbeck's ethos in light of the new realities of today, just to see how it is like. And again, I didn't know where I was going with the book when I did start.
Q: Why do you have all your characters run into a state of misery and bad luck?
TCB: That is a very simple question to answer. Because like, I'm sure, all of you. I feel totally helpless in the face of a cruel, unreasoning and miserable universe. For instance. I read a newspaper article recently about a guy who pulled up to a stop light, up in, let's say, Cleveland or some place, and he heard a little thump and looked around him. and a tiny hit of a meteor this big (shows a circlo of approx. 2 cm), flaming hot, came down through the roof of his car, through the trunk and burned a hole in the road underneath the car. If he were a few inches off, it would have burned a hole in the top of his head (laughing in the audience). You know, we are all subjects to the wings of fate, and so I can't control that, I feel very helpless. I worry about it, are you not? I'm nervous about it. So at least when 1 create the universe, and I am the god of the novel, I really want to make them suffer (laughing in the audience, clapping).
Q: Do you like the stories of John Irving?
TCB: You may know, I went to the Iowa Writers' Workshop and I studied there with three professors: John Cheever, Vance Bourjaily, who had been John Irving's teacher at the workshop, and then John Irving. So he was my teacher and is a very old friend. So, yes, I do (laughing in the audience).
Q: Is Tortilla Curtain the real name of the border?
TCB: It is a name that is used for the border, as a kind of third way really. You know, I like to think about it like this: If you imagine what formerly was the Iron Curtain and you think about it, you think of this big mass of impermeable fence. Then we applied the same term., in America anyway, to communist China and we called it the Bamboo Curtain. But, you know, bamboo is not impermeable, with the holes in it and you can break it if you want, and now we have the Tortilla Curtain, three strips of barbed wire in a desert with a couple of limp tortillas hanging over it (laughing in the audience). I really like the image, and again, it crops up as a central image of the book, which talks about borders, walls, fences. Where Delaney lives in the suburb, in fact, there is a big movement in the novel to build a wall around it to keep the people out and keep animals out like the coyotes who keep coming. In fact, I should have read you the great chapters in which Delaney's entire two cute, little, flappy, little, tiny, little, cute, little Dandie Dinmont terriers are eaten by a coyote (laughing in the audience), but there was no time tonight.
Q: Do you write on a computer or in the old way on a typewriter?
TCB: Well, we all walked
into a generation of technology. John Updike writes in long hand. I began
writing as a student on a keyboard and typewriter because my papers were
always late and I didn't have the time to do a draft and write it out,
so I always composed on a keyboard. I have a computer and I could
move over to it if I wanted to, but I still continue to work on a typewriter
because there is a lot of voodoo involved in writing (laughing in the
audience), I realized about that. In fact, I have an
old ritual each morning before I start to write. I select a prime chicken.
I shave its feathers on its neck (laughing in the audience), bleed
it into a pan, put that pan under the desk and put my feet into it (laughing
in the audience) and when the blood sticks cold, I start writing
(laughing in the audience, clapping). Okay, thank you very much.
You were a great audience, I appreciate this (clapping, stomping, whistling,
© Copyright 1996-2001 Markus Schröder. Used by permission of the author.
--Sandye Utley, Cincinnati, Ohio
Last Page Update: 18 April 2001