Transcript of Talk

  • Monika Schärer    Please welcome, Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. T C Boyle. Looking good. Please, just sit here. Just like a rock star.
    T C Boyle    I certainly hope so, because I have been on the road for three weeks with a bag of dirty underwear and poor Frau Boyle is home alone with no one to clean up after her.
    MS    T C Boyle, we are here for a short story contest, that's one part of it, before your start with your show. Have you ever competed in a short story contest?
    (Haben Sie je mitgemacht bei einem Short Story Wettbewerb?)
    TCB    No, I haven't, but I'm all for it. I began my career as a short story writer. As many of you know, I didn't know anything about writing at all. I blundered into this wonderful profession when I was a junior in college. I took a creative writing course. And by the way, I don't know why everbody doesn't write short stories and novels. It's so easy, and you make so much money out of it. Anyway, I began to write stories on my own. And I published them, and it was wonderful. And I was accepted at the Iowa Writers' Workshop in Iowa City, Iowa. The only writing place I'd ever heard of. And there I had three teachers: John Cheever, famous for his short stories, Vance Bourjaily, and John Irving, both of whom only wrote novels. Meanwhile, the great short story (writer), Ray Carver, was living in town. Kind of a hand to mouth existence, you know, up at ten, cigarettes on the bar, the first drink of the day. And I said to John Irving, "I just want to be a short story writer, like Ray. This is what I am." And John said to me, "Well, you might change your mind." And of coursed the result was Wassermusik (Water Music), which is a whole bunch of stories strung together into a gigantic story.
    So I am very pleased to be here to present - or announce the winners of this prize.
    MS    (Also kann man eigentlich mit einem guten Lehrer, kann man schon eine Kurzgeschichte schreiben)
    With a good teacher you can write a short story.
    TCB    I'm beginning to understand some German. That's not really what she said.
    MS    You told me, you told me.
    TCB    And by the way, I was drinking Cola Light in the Green Room.
    MS    I know, I told them. I know, I wasn't lying. I thought so. But the only thing you need is a good teacher to write short stories.
    TCB    No, this is not true at all. First of all you need very wealthy parents. That's the beginning, right there. So the truth is you don't need a teacher in order to write. You need to teach yourself through reading. You need to read everything, and especially contemporary stuff. For instance in my classes I am teaching at USC, University of Southern California in LA, it's my hobby, I love it, I will ask my students, "So would you please" on the first day, "would you please list for me your ten favorite movies, CDs, and books of fiction and their authors. Some have no problem with the CDs and the movies, and some have a problem listing those authors. It's a little lesson for them. They have to learn to be a contemporary artist by studying contemporary artists. The writing programs, and I always - I have explaining this to Europeans for twenty years - it's a kind of conservatory, you know, you already know how to play your instrument, you already have tremendous talent just to get there. But then you have two years usually to have time to develop that talent and to write a book. The writing programs are serving the function, that really good editors, like the legendary Max Perkins, would serve for the writers of the previous generation. You know if you have an art department in a university and a music department, well there is another art too, and that's fiction and poetry writing. And so now most American universities have recognized that, and many European universities have too.
    MS    (Haben Sie denn auch schon einen Schüler gehabt, der das jetzt einfach nicht auf die Reihe kriegt, auch wenn er übt und übt und übt)
    Did you have a student that didn't succeed even though he tried hard, tried his best?
    TCB    Of course, of course. I am their coach, you know, they have a God given talent. One of the reasons I love to teach is because there is such a huge pool of talent. And many people won't develop it for various reasons. Many of my students, I'd say probably 97% of them, wind up on Sunset Boulevard, rattling change in a cup. But they have a very creative side as to how they should get money. No I ... if students are .. to my mind .. I'm just giving an opinion of them by the way, if they are not quite up to snuff, I let them know by my comments on their papers. I could never predict, I would never say to a student, "Hey man, you don't have it. Get out of here." Because, especially when they are in their teens and early twenties, they make these enormous intellectual leaps in such time that some have really surprised me.
    MS    (Beim Film sagt man ja immer, man muss ein paar Kurzfilme machen bevor man den ersten langen Film macht)
    At the movies, you know, you do short films, you try your business and everything and skills and then you can go for a long feature film.
    TCB    Yeah, I think it is a kind of apprenticeship to write short stories. Some people will excel in one, stories or novels. I feel, and I know my critics, they disagree with me, that I'm equally good at both and equally committed to both. But you know often I'm asked about my feelings toward the critics and, you know I am a Darwinian evolutionist, and on the earth appeared this great animal, the elephant, this magnificent thing, it has no enemies, it's brilliant, it's peaceful, it's intellectual, it's wonderful. But because of evolution the elephant tick evolved in order to suck the blood out of that animal.

    This talk took place in conjunction with the Bolero Short Story Award in Zurich, Switzerland, on May 26, 2005.