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Conversation With T.C. Boyle

True blue to friends and associates, imaginative in his work, the prolific author and longtime USC professor chats about books, television, teaching and a well-known affinity for brightly colored shoes.

Conversation With T.C. Boyle
In his wildly successful books and short stories, Thomas Coraghessan Boyle has a restless imagination, but in his personal life, he is unfailingly loyal. He’s known his best friend since he was 3½, has remained with the same agent and publisher for decades and “is the only author with the same wife,” he jokes. USC is another long relationship that is important to him. Boyle, who holds a Ph.D. in 19th-century British literature and an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, has been teaching at USC since 1978. Each year, he teaches two advanced fiction classes for undergraduates and one graduate class. In addition, all three of his children are Trojans. Kerrie Kvashay-Boyle graduated in 2001and has her own soaring fiction career. Milo (who designed his father’s compelling Web site at http://www.tcboyle.com) is getting his master’s in computer engineering, and Spencer is studying literature and film as a Thematic Option student. Boyle’s 11th novel, “Talk Talk,” about identity theft, will be published July 7 (Penguin). He resides near Santa Barbara.

AE: Why do you teach?

TCB: Because it is my love and my privilege. I have been teaching since I was 21, and I hope to continue as long as I can. Throughout my life I have had mentors who helped me find my way – in junior high, high school, undergrad and grad school – people who inspired and guided me. I hope to perform the same function for my students – and to help keep alive the love for literature that burns in me.

AE: What can universities do to develop the creative writing obsessive-compulsive disorder in students?

TCB: My, my. You've taken one of my jokes and thrown it back at me. Yes, a fanatical devotion to the arts – an obsessive-compulsive disorder, if you will – is necessary to the production of great work and to the continued stimulation necessary to a long and evolving career. What can we do? Show the students the very best examples of writing and coach them on their way.

AE: How have the students changed over the years you’ve been at USC?

TCB: In my field – the arts – the students are very similar now to what they were then. There is a great pool of talent in writing, and I’m happy to be involved in it. If there is a difference, it’s in the fact that the students are perhaps more attuned to the ways of a creative writing workshop today for the simple reason that more workshops have been available to them over the course of their education.

AE: To the consternation of many other fiction writers, you are incredibly prolific. You also don’t watch television. Are the two connected? Is there anything on television you are curious to see?

TCB: I am a bit of a crank, I admit. Until I went off to college at 17, I was part of a household in which the TV was on all the time. In college, I discovered that there was more to life than TV. And so I refuse to watch any prime-time programming. Yes, yes, I know I’ve missed great things like “The Simpsons,” but let me be a crank. I do watch PBS once in a while, I love the old movie channel, and I do watch the Dodgers and Angels usually sans sound, with music and a book.

AE: You’ve said that since your agent and publisher have urged you to space your books out more, you’ve considered putting a few books away, to be published after your death, in the manner of Jimi Hendrix. Do you have any completed novels stashed away?

TCB: This, of course, was merely another joke. The answer is no. Everything I write is published as soon as possible. I have been lucky to be able to move from novels to short stories and back, finding a rhythm that has allowed me to publish a book every year or so.

AE: What is your daily reading diet?

TCB: I start with two newspapers: the L.A. Times and the Santa Barbara News Press. Then I re-read what I’ve written the previous day. Then I work. When that’s over, I do something physical: yardwork, hiking, swimming, snorkeling. Then I make dinner, read, maybe watch a movie, sleep. This last is important: I need my rest, as we all do, and I sleep well, you’ll be happy to know, as a result of having a clean conscience.

AE: What novel or short story topics do you have buzzing around in a holding pattern, waiting to land?

TCB: I have a few, but of course it would be foolish to reveal them to the sometimes acquisitive (thieving?) and even perhaps indifferent public. Right now I’m about a fifth of the way into a new novel, hoping to polish off the latest chapter before leaving next week for a month-long book tour.

AE: How do you make your commute from Santa Barbara to USC tolerable?

TCB: Books on Tape. I am a devotee. So much so that I spent some very pleasant hours recently in their Woodland Hills Studios, doing the unabridged narration of both “Tooth and Claw,” (last year’s collection of stories) and the new novel, “Talk Talk.”

AE: Why red shoes?

TCB: I got my first pair of these [red Converse high tops] in 1995, but I’ve always worn red shoes. I think shoes should be red. I also think cars should be red. My colors are black, white and red.