Writer Cormac McCarthy confides in Oprah Winfrey

CHICAGO Tue Jun 5, 2007 1:39pm EDT

Writer Cormac McCarthy in an undated handout photo. The prize-winning novelist, appearing on Tuesday in his first television interview, told talk show host Oprah Winfrey his writing is a constant pursuit of perfection that is not plotted out in advance. REUTERS/Pulitzer Prize Board, Columbia University/Derek Shapton/Handout

Writer Cormac McCarthy in an undated handout photo. The prize-winning novelist, appearing on Tuesday in his first television interview, told talk show host Oprah Winfrey his writing is a constant pursuit of perfection that is not plotted out in advance.

Credit: Reuters/Pulitzer Prize Board, Columbia University/Derek Shapton/Handout

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - Prize-winning novelist Cormac McCarthy, appearing on Tuesday in his first television interview, told talk show host Oprah Winfrey his writing is a constant pursuit of perfection that is not plotted out in advance.

"You always have this hope that today I'm going to do something better than I've ever done," McCarthy, 73, said in the interview filmed earlier in New Mexico.

Asked if he was passionate about writing, he said: "I like what I do."

"Some writers have said in print that they hated writing, it was just a chore and a burden. I certainly don't feel that way about it. Sometimes it's difficult but you always have this image of the perfect thing which you can never achieve but which you never stop trying to achieve," McCarthy said.

"That's your signpost and your guide," he added. "You can't plot things out. You just have to trust in, you know, wherever it comes from."

Of "The Road," his dark tale of a post-apocalyptic father-son journey which won this year's Pulitzer Prize for fiction, McCarthy said he "had no idea where it was going" as he wrote it.

He said the inspiration came a few years ago when he was in a hotel room in El Paso, Texas, with his young son who was asleep. In the middle of the night he stared out the window wondering what the city might look like in 50 or 100 years.

"I thought about my little boy" and made some notes, he said.

Later, while visiting Ireland, he said he realized he had not just a couple of page of notes, but a book.

Winfrey earlier this year chose that book for her club, recommending it to her audience.

McCarthy is the author of 10 novels, one published screenplay and one play. His works include "Suttree" in 1979, "Blood Meridian" in 1985 and "All the Pretty Horses" in 1992.

"The Road" was published in September 2006 by Knopf, with a later soft cover version from Vintage. Both are divisions of Random House, which is part of Bertelsmann AG.

NEW TO TV

McCarthy told Winfrey he had never done a TV interview, or many interviews generally.

"I don't think it's good for your head," he said. "You spend a lot of time thinking about how to write a book, you probably shouldn't be talking about it. You probably should be doing it."

Winfrey asked if "The Road" was just a story of a man and his boy or something deeper.

"I like to think it's just about the boy and the man on the road but obviously you can draw conclusions about all sorts of things from reading the book depending on your taste," McCarthy said.

While he said it is a "pretty simple, straightforward story," people may be more concerned about apocalyptic things in the wake of the September 11 attacks on the United States.

"This country's been pretty lucky, just like me," he said.

The message readers might take away from "The Road," he said, is that one should "simply care about things and people and be more appreciative."

"Life is pretty damn good, even when it looks bad. We should be grateful," McCarthy said.

Asked by Winfrey if he had "worked the God thing out," he said: "It would depend on what day you ask me. I don't think you have to have a great idea of who or what God is in order to pray ... you can be quite doubtful about the whole business."

McCarthy recounted how he lived in poverty before his writing earned him a living, once being tossed out of a $40-a-month hotel room in New Orleans.

Asked if he cared that millions of people were now reading his words, McCarthy said: "In all honesty I have to say I really don't."

"You would like for the people who appreciate the book to read it but as far as many, many people reading it, so what?" he said. "It's ok, nothing wrong with it."

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