A Chat with TC Boyle

had my second real conversation with TC Boyle today. We talked for almost an hour. Some of things I learned from this transmission:

1. He's reading at the New Yorker Festival next week + he's not going to bring his laptop. In fact, he never brings his laptop with him when he's on tour or giving a reading at a festival/conference. The only thing he brings are manuscripts, books he's reading for research + lots of clean underwear. For a second I thought he was telling me he's incontinent, but then I realized he just brings the important stuff. So let me repeat: manuscripts, books + underwear. Now that's a real author

2. He doesn't watch TV. Like me, he'll watch a movie on the Movie Classics Channel, an action flick at the theater or a DVD (because movies have a beginning + an end) but he pretty much avoids TV at all costs

3. He hates his cell phone. He never answers it.
--Let them call my agent, he said.
In fact, he told me he only brings his cell phone for emergencies

4. It's impossible to say something original to him. I mean, I've tried + it's just impossible. There's nothing this guy hasn't already heard, thought of or written + that really fucks with your mind after awhile. I find myself wanting to use more and more hip-hop slang because that's one of the only areas where I'm gonna represent.

--Yo TC, I'll say, let's throw up a burner on Hollywood + Vine that disses the alphabet bois. Maybe then we'll meet a bunch of bustdowns, ballas + buttafaces!

His response: neck-scratching + some mystified silence. And then I'd say: um.

I mean, there's shit I'm just figuring out that he's known for thirty years + I'm gonna have to try very hard not to try to impress him because you know what? It's just not happening. I can bring delight + intelligence + personal charm + lots of love to a conversation, but with TC Boyle (+ Aimee Bender, for that matter), you're not going to impress these people. That's their job, that's what they do effortlessly + they do it way better than you + they do it because they're not trying to impress you. They're being real, you're not. Ah, stupid defense mechanism. . .

5. TC Boyle used to take a 2-hour bus ride to SC for a whole year (each way) where, he explained, he would ultimately be the victim of racism. I laughed so hard when he told me that. I asked him if he'd ever written about his commute + he said no, not yet

6. According to TCB, if you call yourself a writer + you spend a year not writing + it doesn't bother you, then it's over. You're fucking done man. If you feel bad however, he explains, then that's a good sign

7. He tries to avoid email + the web whenever possible + only uses them for communication + research

8. We both seemed to agree that something has happened to Rick Moody's writing. I love early Moody (Demonology, The Ice Storm, Garden State). I feel ambivalent about his memoir + I just can't get into Purple America. The Diviners I'm willing to give a chance to (maybe more than once) if + when I finally get to it.

--I keep starting Purple America over again, I confessed, but I just couldn't get into it. It has something to do with all that stuttering + the computer voice just gets to me
--Yeah, he said, I've started that book several times now.

Our conversation about Rick Moody, who he's met only a couple of times, led to another one about the role of editors + agents. TCB feels like most editors don't really do shit, they just copy-edit. I dunno. At Hachette Books, I saw some of the editing that went on there + it seemed pretty extensive. Not only did some of the editors write out 4-10 single spaced pages of global suggestions to the author, but there were also several rounds of copy-edit exchanges between editor + author over the course of several months, all of which impressed me greatly. At the same time these observations were based on commercial + genre fiction manuscripts, so it might be very different with literary fiction. Additionally, I happen to know that by the time TCB hands in a manuscripts, he's already edited it so much that it's almost ready for print--a detail he's pointed out more than once. The sick thing: I totally believe it.

Another thing: TC Boyle doesn't like editors that try to rewrite stories for an author. I pretty much agree, though I'm completely open to suggestions like simple cuts + some touching up if it makes the story tighter or cleaner in some way

9. Being a persistent fucker, I asked him months ago if I could bring something in for him to take a look at since the administration screwed up + put his graduate fiction workshop at the same time as our required cultural theory proseminar. He said, --fine, just wait until the middle of the semester. So today I gave him a story. Though this is counterintuitive, I gave him one of my worst stories to critique. "Hipster Nirvana" isn't a bad story, because I have aesthetic pride after all--I'll revise a bad story until it no longer blows, then I'll revise it some more until it's decent, then again until it's good + again until it's very good--even so, it's still one of the worst stories in PORN + LOVE (my short story collection) for the simple reason that I don't know if it really works or not. Most of my stories I know, but this one I'm not so sure. I even admitted it to him that it's a B-side story. TC Boyle being TC Boyle, said he writes every story like it's his best one. I remember thinking, you would think that, punk.

Then, out loud I said:
--Come on Tom, paraphrasing Bakhtin, --the Ancient Greeks didn't know they were ancient.
--Yes, but they knew their grandparents were ancient, he said, chuckling.
--And I didn't know this was a B-side story until I was finished writing it, I said, which is the truth.
He nodded, which was about as much as I was gonna get from him.

Anyway, I know he's gonna critique that story really fucking hard + actually, I think that's exactly what that story needs. I'm planning on giving him one of my better stories next time, just to balance things out + pick his brain. I still have a lot to learn with plot + layering novelistic landscapes + publishing, but I can also tear shit up with some of my stories too. I'd prefer to give him a wide range + have him make up his own conclusions. He's TC Boyle, so we all know that's exactly what he'll do.

As I was gazing at one of the walls in his office covered by a million TC Boyle heads, all dutifully cut out from magazines, journals + book sleeves through the years + pasted in a lifetime achievement montage, I thought:

Fuck, this guy's the real deal. And he's had one bad haircut after another since the 70's