The 12th annual Library of Congress National Book Festival was held last weekend, and boy was it a doozy.
For two days the National Mall teemed with crazed fans overwrought by the sheer amount of writing talent massed in one place. One of the chiefs of that mighty literary army was prolific writer and character extraordinaire T.C. Boyle.
Intelligent Travel caught up with him sipping a Diet Coke in the media tent where he held forth on travel and writing, cures for the slump that comes in the middle of a big project, his new book, and his admiration for big cats.
Intelligent Travel: How do you prefer to get around when you travel?
T.C. Boyle: Train because you don’t get groped [by security], you’re not an animal in a can, and they serve you food.
IT: What do you like about travel?
TCB: The great thing about being a writer is that I get to find a place in the world that is interesting and then write fiction about it. A while ago I thought, “I’ve never been out to the Channel Islands [in California]” and went there. I got involved in all this stuff with invasive species, got to tag dwarf foxes that look like they were specially-made for Disney — and that became When the Killing’s Done. I also found out about San Miguel, the farthest one out of the islands, and started learning about these two families that lived there. I used their journals, written by women, and this became a straight-form historical fiction piece called San Miguel [out this year].
IT: Was it hard to write from the point of view of a woman?
TCB: A while ago my wife said to me, “you don’t have any solid female characters.” I said, “I don’t have any solid male characters, either.” I’ve always been most caught up in design, language, ideas.
IT: What is your writing regimen? Is it a regimen?
TCB: I try to get into the spell every day. The middle of a long project is the hardest. That is why I always keep a loaded pistol next to me when I write — in case it goes bad.
IT: Can you think back to an experience that really made an impact on you while you were traveling?
TCB: In my 20s, I went with my sister and a friend to Belize — Tikal, Guatemala, Belize City. It was really eye-opening in terms of the chaos — dead dogs in the streets — so I decided I wanted to get out of there and go to the islands. I was standing in line waiting for tickets and looking at this poster of ancient Aztecs performing some rite where they shaved the feathers off a chicken’s neck then killed it. When I walked out I saw a chicken floating in the sewer that had the same place on its neck shaved. I was like, “whoa, all of that is still alive…”
IT: What about your recent travels? Have you been anywhere exciting lately?
TCB: I was recently in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland for a book tour. We took a cable car way up a mountain for dinner one night and the car quit running at midnight so we had a three-mile walk down the mountain in the pitch blackness back to the town. It was incredible. Adding to it was a rumor we heard about a local having a pet panther that had recently gotten loose.
IT: You are no stranger to big cats, being from California.
TCB: No, actually I recently wrote a piece about them for the Washington Post. Beautiful animals. I don’t want to mess with them. All I want to do is mate with them.