| TOKYO, Sept 20
TOKYO, Sept 20 In the latest novel by author
T.C. Boyle, two families generations apart come to a starkly
beautiful but isolated island off the coast of southern
California, hoping to wrest new lives from the desolation.
Though husbands and children also play roles in "San
Miguel," the real focus is on three women: the ailing Marantha
Waters, who hopes to restore her health, her aspiring actress
daughter Edith, and finally Elise Lester, a librarian from New
York City, who comes with her husband and stays for a decade.
The prolific and award-winning Boyle has published nine
collections of short stories and 13 novels, with subjects
ranging from global warming, sexologist Alfred Kinsey and life
in a writer's colony after an intruder breaks in.
Boyle spoke about "San Miguel," and how he writes.
Q: Why focus on the women?
A: "You know, all these things are very flexible. Any of my
stories and novels you may have read or your readers may have
read, I hope that they seem like these seamless, perfectly
constructed works. But in fact, I don't have any plan, I don't
have an outline. I simply move organically day to day and make
discoveries about what I'm doing, which is why I love to do
fiction and only fiction. In this case, though, I was privy to
discover a memoir of Elise Lester and then the very truncated
diary that Mrs. Waters left behind - it's only about 50 pages.
That was the stimulus. I was struck by the correspondences
between the two true stories. Everything I'm giving you is
pretty much true to fact."
Q: What about this book was different from your others, if
anything - easier, harder or more fun?
A: "This was difficult for me because it's my first novel
that is not a post-modern nudging and winking wise-guy
super-ironic kind of thing, which is my general mode and
personality. I just wanted to see if I could do it straight, a
straight historical narrative. I just found the stories so
"I'm just now starting to think about and do the research
for my next novel, which to balance off this novel from the
feminine perspective I think is going to have to be a
hairy-chested man's novel."
Q: You've written so many novels. Is there a common thread,
or is the common thread that there is no common thread?
A: "There is a common thread but I've only seen it in
retrospect, since I've been asked about it. It is certainly
having to do with nature, the themes that come up in 'Friend of
the Earth' or 'When the Killing's Done': is there a stewardship,
do we have the right to it, how do we treat the other animals.
How are we, an animal species, distinct from unintellectual
species. How are these two parts of our nature intertwined and
Q: Why did this develop?
A: "You know, if it weren't for the dreaded mathematics, I
might have become a biologist - or, more to the point, a marine
biologist or ichthyologist. I am endlessly fascinated by nature
and exploring nature, and creatures. I just got back two days
ago from the Sierras, where I spend a lot of time, and I spent
my last few days up there just doing some research and notes and
whatnot, and going in through the woods by myself, and sitting
by the lake and observing the dragonflies and the snakes and the
ducks and so on. This is very essential to me. A lot of people
don't understand our connection to nature, or deny it. But we're
animals so we're meant to be in nature, our five senses work
towards embracing it. So I embrace it as much as I can."
Q: You mentioned that you don't outline or plan, do you ever
feel that has slowed you down?
A: "Everyone works differently and finds their own comfort
zone. In doing research for a novel, like the one you've just
read or 'When the Killing's Done,' it might take me three
months. I might have to see something, go someplace, go to San
Miguel island. I'll read everything I can and take notes. In the
process of doing that I have ideas, and they are usually
structural ideas but also dramatic ideas. I'll write these downs
and I'll write the notes out - it takes me a little while. But
then I don't really refer to that so much. There's some way of
opening the unconscious to what that story may be, in that
process. That has served me well.
"As far as slowing me down, I suppose so, but I don't think
it's a race to get to the end. Living through this book in the
writing itself may have taken me a year, a little more. It's
living through day to day with these characters and these
situations, and thinking about them, and getting into that
unconscious state every day and seeing where it's going to go.
And of course yes, I'll jot down where it's going and all these
ideas every day, and I can see it come together. That is the
satisfaction of writing fiction or making any kind of art. You
don't have anything, and finally if it works, at the end, you do
Q: What's the appeal of writing novels and short stories?
A: "With a novel, there's a deep engagement and perpetual
worry: what's happening, how can you pull this off. It never
leaves you, you're always thinking about it on some level, and
you know what you're going to do tomorrow. By the same token,
that can be a real yoke around your neck, it really confines you
in the rest of your life. But it's good - you wake up and you're
in the middle of something and it's very productive and very
good. A story on the other hand - With the novel you are locked
into it, you can't express what happens to you today or the
occasional thing that happens in the world that you'd like to
write about, you have to put that aside. With a story, you can
do that, and anything can affect you and bounce in and out, the
story's done in a month and you're on to another one, it's
"The down time is in between the stories. You finish a story
and you're completely exhilarated, but you need to write another
one, and you don't know what it's going to be. So you go through
a week or so of you're absolutely miserable, you're a failure,
you'll never have an idea again, and that's tough."
(Reporting by Elaine Lies, editing by)