Just before the release of his fourteenth novel, San Miguel, The Coffin Factory visited T.C. Boyle at his Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home in Santa Barbara, California to talk about reading, writing, and teaching.
The Coffin Factory: What is the responsibility of a writer?
T.C. Boyle: To make great art. Period.
The Coffin Factory: Yet much of your work deals with political or environmental issues.
T.C. Boyle: Well, as you know, there are no rules. You do what you like. Every artist is an individual. A lot don’t seem to be much concerned with the issues that you just mentioned, and I happen to be, and they make up a lot of what I deal with thematically. I don’t believe that art and advocacy really can coexist. If you want to advocate a position, write nonfiction, give a speech. Art is supposed to be a seduction, and good fiction is supposed to invite the reader in to decide for him or herself how they feel, so I never try to push anything on anybody. But of course, you’ve read my books, you know what I stand for. It’s just that I don’t want to forefront that, because I think that’s bad art.
The Coffin Factory: It’s a fine line.
T.C. Boyle: It is, and I’m sure people cross it sometimes. I try not to. And I try not to answer interpretive questions for that reason, because it kind of destroys the interpretation of the audience. Again, something that’s good invites you in as an equal partner to interpret as you will. And once it’s out of the writer’s hands, you never know what the interpretation will be.