An Evening with T.C. Boyle, author,

A standing-room-only crowd greeted T. Coraghessan Boyle at a recent promotional appearance in a Santa-Cruz-area indie bookstore, Capitola Book Cafe.

No surprise, of course. The prolific author, who has written 22 books of fiction and is touring for his newest, has a devoted following and is very engaged with his readers. His website offers not only the expected books-and-background information but also personal messages, photos, art, comics, cartoons, writing contests, videos and lively discussion forums.

“I didn't get a seat, either, by the way," he said sympathetically as he led off a chatty, congenial hour of give-and-take on Monday night, mostly about the new book. 

"When the Killing's Done" is an eco-adventure set on a wild island off the coast of Santa Barbara. (“By the way, this is my 13th novel, not my 12th. I don’t know why everyone is saying 12th.”) In traditional TCB style, it wraps pointed issues (this time about environmentalism and ethics) inside an engaging story about characters you care about and circumstances you won't forget.

"It was a real story that happened in the last ten years," Boyle said. "On my refrigerator now is a yellowing headline clipped out of the Santa Barbara newspaper, that reads 'Eagles arrive as pigs are killed,' a story about the Channel Islands. I was intrigued. I went there to find out what it was all about.

"The island is four times bigger than Manhattan and nobody lives there. It was privately owned until the late '80s, and was used for sheep ranching. Sheep as you know eat everything down to the dirt, and they had. ... So they were all captured and removed. Afterward, the wild fennel grew up 20 feet high and as big as this room.  ... So then the federal government dumped DDT all over it, which of course exterminated all the bald eagles and everything else..." He lengthily described a vicious cycle of extermination and regrowth and overgrowth and undergrowth and a crazy imbalance of eagles and piglets and rats and foxes, etc., etc., "...until finally we don't have an ideal situation for anybody on the island. Kind of like this room, where resources are scarce and, you know, some people don't have seats." 

In the fictionalized version, protagonist Alma is a National Park Service biologist dedicated to saving the island’s endangered native creatures from invasive species like rats and wild pigs, which, in her view, must be eliminated.

Standing in her way is the very angry Dave, a dreadlocked local businessman who is fiercely opposed to any killing of any species whatsoever. 

Boyle said the novel’s central question is, “What gives us the right to have dominion over animals?” and the title comes from Dave, whose furious frame is mind is, "I'll sit down and be quiet and be civil, and so on, when the killing's done." 

 “One of the ironies here is that Alma and Dave are very similar and could have been aligned, but they differ on this one essential thing," Boyle said. 

How was it to write about the small town he lives in? Boyle comically held his side:  “These ribs here are still, umm... ." Seriously, though, he said, “The issue was a strong one and the actual people involved said it stimulated their feelings again, but (in the end) I didn’t know them, and it was just something I read about in the paper. … But, interestingly, the scene I read (at a recent appearance in Santa Barbara) where Alma is giving her point of view publicly and she’s really miserable because it’s a grueling thing when Dave is shouting her down, (the real person Alma is based on) said she could barely get through the chapter because it was exactly what she felt and exactly what she went through.”

Does Boyle consider himself an environmentalist?

“Yes, of course. I may make fun a little bit, but of course I am. I love nature, and I love to be alone in nature. … But overpopulation is a problem, is the problem, isn’t it? Polar bears, they're over, they’re history. Birds are dying. What're you going to do? Personally, I plan to die. That's what I'm going to do. … Actually, the overpopulation solution is very simple.  Everybody has to agree to abstain from sexual relations for a period of 100 years. OK? Everybody agree?"

Lots of laughter.

Who is he reading?  “Right now, two books, a J.D. Salinger biography, which is giving me information I didn't have before, and a Tolstoy biography.”

Does he have a Kindle? “No, I have real books.”

What intrigued him to write “The Women”?  “Eighteen years ago, we moved into Frank Lloyd Wright’s only California house, and we were restoring the house, and I thought I might like to write about him.” He said he doesn’t have any plans to write about historical figures again. 

Is he ever going to use the character Mungo Park (from “Water Music”) in another novel?  “I never have returned to a novel, so I don't know. I don't think so. I’m probably not coming back to Mungo.”

Are his University of Southern California lectures available online? “No, because I've never given a lecture at USC. … We just have writing workshops.”

About doing extensive research for books, he said, “One thing you have to realize, and a lot of authors don't, is that you're not researchers. You write fiction. It’s just like writing a term paper. You collect material, you write notes and so on, but then you have to start writing and ... as you begin to write each day, you recognize what you’re doing and it begins to come together and that's fiction. And that’s magic.”

An audience member pointed out that the book depicts the islands to the west of Santa Barbara, when they are really to the south. 

“Yes,” Boyle said, “but the artist is from New York, and life isn't perfect.”

"But this novel is wonderful," he said. "My mother loved it."

“And now, let’s sign books! I’m here to sign books," he said, then slyly, “-- and also Kindles! I have a special pen that dribbles acid on them.”

Buy from Capitola Book Cafe.

Buy from Bookshop Santa Cruz.


  1. He also read from "Top of the Food Chain," a story he wrote 20 years ago. ... And in a very nice, asking-permission kind of way, he cautioned that the reading was filled with language unsuitable for very young ears. I couldn't see through the crowd, but I think there was a child up close. Gentlemanly of him.

  2. Hi Kelly,

    thank you so much for this long and interesting report of the TCB reading. I'll do a closer reading and post the link to it on the forum for Mr. Boyle and his fans hanging around, tomorrow morning, as right now it's bed time over here in Europe,

    thanks kjb, for mentioning the reading of "food chain" and the gentlemanly behaviour,

    enjoy the reading of WTKD

  3. THANKS, Kelly! I enjoyed reading about the book event with TCB.
    THANKS, fons, for posting this link.

  4. You're welcome, Lynn. Thanks for stopping by.

  5. Interesting reading; thanks for sharing; selma

  6. Thanks for commenting, Selma. Much obliged. :)