Brooklyn BookBeat: Bestselling Author’s Latest Examines Violence in American Culture
“My art is my life,” renowned New York Times bestselling author T.C. Boyle told the Brooklyn Eagle in a recent interview. “I work every day, starting in the morning and finishing in the afternoon, after which I try to take myself out into nature.” Indeed, Boyle’s passion and discipline have paid off. He has authored 25 critically acclaimed books — among them “World’s End” and “The Tortilla Curtain” —and he doesn’t seem to be slowing down.Boyle will visit Brooklyn on Tuesday, March 31, to speak about his latest novel, “The Harder They Come” (Ecco, April 1, 2015) — and is well into writing a new book.
Boyle’s Brooklyn book launch will be held at BookCourt (163 Court St. in Cobble Hill) at 7 p.m. and will include a reading, audience Q&A and book signing.
Set in Northern California and rooted in actual events, “The Harder They Come” is a meditation on violence, specifically in the context of American history and culture. The text examines the connections between three damaged and explosive yet sympathetic people.
Sten Stensen, a 70-year-old ex-marine and Vietnam veteran, returns home to California after a violent incident during his vacation in Central America leaves him reluctantly hailed a hero. Amid his own struggle to cope with the reaction to the episode, Sten faces the realization that his son Adam’s psychological state has deteriorated. Adam’s increasingly schizophrenic behavior leads to violence that Sten himself has experienced — yet the two have trouble connecting. Adam’s significantly older love interest, Sara — a right-wing anarchist who actively ignores state laws and regulations — further complicates the dynamics in this gripping, tragic story.
In anticipation of Boyle’s upcoming Brooklyn launch event, the Brooklyn Eagle checked in with the author. He spoke about what went into creating such complex characters and offered a preview of what he’s working on now.
While this book is fictional, it’s rooted in true events. Have most of your novels originated similarly?
I’d say it’s about half and half. You’d have to ask some of the fanatics on my webpage, who know far more about my own work than I do. I often try to get inside news stories to see what they’re all about—the beauty of fiction is that it allows writer and reader to enter the minds of the principal actors with the hope of understanding them.
In this case, I’ve taken the true story of a schizophrenic shooter in Northern California and done just that — tried to get inside his head. I relied on an extensive police report and heavy media coverage of the incident. Ironically, sadly, tragically, an eerily similar shooting occurred here in Santa Barbara some nine months after I finished the book.
The characters are so well-developed and believable, while also quite extreme. How did you go about creating these people whose minds are likely quite different from your own? ….Did you do much research based in psychology?
I’ve written about schizophrenics in the past, most notably Stanley McCormick, of my 1998 novel, “Riven Rock,” who had to be locked up in the mansion of that name to prevent his doing harm to women, which were his obsession. What I’m relying on here, and in my depiction of Adam Stensen in the new novel, is my experience with two close friends of my youth, both of whom finally wound up being institutionalized. Brilliant people, wild, funny, attractive in every way, but gone away now in the land of delusions.
Did you make contact with any right wing anarchist groups and/or veterans groups in order to gather information for the characters’ development?
No. I am not a novelist deriving from the journalistic tradition, but rather one who just likes to gather information and then let the story unfold organically. My research involved a couple of visits to Ft. Bragg, California, and a good tramping through the woods there, as well as investing myself in the qualities of the town and its denizens.
From there, I let my imagination open wide. If I have done my job properly, all three of the main characters, though their beliefs and actions may hover out there on the fringes, should be sympathetic (to the degree that we understand them, not necessarily that we agree with their agenda or actions).
The storyline is very much specific to the U.S. Can you talk a bit about the importance of that, and your intention in examining a specifically American culture?
I’ve just come back from the German tour for this book and, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo and Copenhagen attacks, have had to address the questions of violence against society in general. But what I am examining here is a peculiarly American phenomenon — that of the lone shooter, usually white, mentally unbalanced and harboring a grudge against society. And, of course, since this is America, liberally supplied with lethal weapons.
What are you reading/working on now?
Since delivering “The Harder They Come,” I’ve written and published five new stories, including “The Relive Box,” which appeared in The New Yorker a year ago, and have begun the new new novel. I am pushing hard to finish the first half before leaving on the twenty-city book tour for “The Harder They Come.”
The new new novel is called “The Terranauts,” and it returns to my green roots — not to mention the darkly comic worldview that so appeals to me (and which you get just a wee taste of in “The Harder They Come,” principally through the skewed vision of Sara Hovarty Jennings, the heroine who just happens to be a member of the Sovereign Citizens’ movement). “The Terranauts” is set in Arizona in the years 1993-1995, and it deals with a (fictional) second closure of the Biosphere there, in which four men and four women were sealed inside an artificial environment for two years.
As I approach the halfway mark, I am beginning to realize just how very, very sexy this concept is getting to be. After all, what are they going to do in there for 730 long toothless dragged-down days?