Novelist T.C. Boyle on Humankind's Arrogant Attitude Towards Nature
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TCB: The kind of crevice he’s in is very reminiscent of some of the places on Santa Cruz Island. We’ll walk through water-run canyons, which are 30 or 40 feet deep and narrow -- you can barely get your shoulders through. They’re dug out in winter when the rains come. It’s extraordinary.
M-M: You took many trips to the islands as you were researching this book. Were you intent on getting the science right?
TCB: Yes. Facts are important to me. If you read this book, you’ll learn a lot about the Channel Islands. I thought if I was going to write anything convincing about it, I felt I ought to put my feet on the ground out there. My hope was I could meet some biologists and talk to them about what was going on. That hope was rewarded many times over.
M-M: I read you were inspired to write the book by a headline in the Santa Barbara News-Press, “Eagles Arrive as Pigs are Killed.”
TCB: It’s on my refrigerator door at this moment. I got turned on to [the Channel Islands controversy] by the stories in the News-Press, the Ventura paper and the L.A. Times. Also, I [have socialized with] a lot of guys who grew up here. When I was a kid in New York, driving around on dark streets, they were out on the islands on their boats with their girlfriends, smoking pot and having a good old time. They told me lots of stories, which got me excited to go out there.
M-M: Did any of them make it into the book?
TCB: All the characters are purely invented. I didn’t want anybody recognizable, whom I knew, to be in this book. It’s a point-of-view book -- Alma’s and Dave’s points of view.
M-M: So you started with the conflict, and then created characters who embodied aspects of that conflict?
TCB: [Laying it out that way is] too theoretical. You look at a book like this, or one of my short stories, and it looks like there’s seamless construction. Everything fits, as if there was some great plan behind it. There is, but the plan isn’t evident to me until it happens. It’s the same sort of thing as writing a term paper. You absorb a lot of material, and while doing that, you have some ideas of what it might be or how it might be structured. And then you go. There’s such a magic to fiction. I never know what it’s going to be.
I was very happy where this one ended, in an elegiac way, from the animals’ point of view. We hadn’t seen them alone, without people. I don’t want to sound too mystical about it, but you follow a thread, and somehow, unconsciously, you’re working on structure. That’s why it was so much fun to write about Frank Lloyd Wright (in the 2009 novel The Women). He starts the way I do. He thinks about something. He then sees something, which he converts into a drawing. I convert it into words. [At that point he creates] a plan, which he may change as he goes along. If I have such a plan, like a blueprint, it’s not apparent. It’s a deep, unconscious thing that reveals itself as it goes along.
M-M: Which is very different from writing something with the idea that “here’s a message I need to convey.”
TCB: What I’m enjoying about the reception of the book is how some reviewers do take sides. Some side with Dave, some side with Alma. They’ll make a case for how the author is pushing for one side or the other. I’m not going to choose a side between these two positions. Each character has a good point.