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T. C. Boyle Would Be Famous

October 07, 1987|GARRY ABRAMS | Times Staff Writer

Boy, does T. Coraghessan Boyle want to be a famous novelist.

He's tired of slaving away in relative obscurity, he says, known only to a small band of fans like some small-time guru. Give him a chance and he'd tell the world that he's bright, talented, witty, eccentric in intellect and dress, young--well, at 38, fairly young anyway--tough, cocky and brash as a street mugger. He's a lean, mean, writin' machine. Everything you always wanted in a novelist! And more. Much, much more.

Three Novels Done

So get out there and buy his books, make him famous, help him go toe-to-toe with Hemingway and Tolstoy.

Please.

See, it's this way. Boyle has been cranking out fiction for years in his Woodland Hills house and before that in Tujunga--three novels' worth of artistic struggle and typewriter repair.

The critics love him. His stuff gets taught in colleges.

But his books don't make the best seller list. In fact, the publisher probably didn't publish enough copies to make the best seller list for his first two novels, "Water Music" and "Budding Prospects." Not to mention his books of short stories, "Greasy Lake" and "Descent of Man."

Not a Household Name

And, frankly, he's not a household word despite some good publicity over the years.

But now things seem to be breaking Boyle's way. And maybe, just maybe, he is going to be famous.

His publisher, Viking, is pulling out the stops for his latest book, "World's End," a big, thick epic spanning hundreds of years and stuffed with dozens of characters living and dying and getting into myriad kinds of trouble in New York's Hudson Valley.

They have printed 25,000 copies in two printings and the book hasn't even officially been released yet. That happens Thursday. Moreover, the Book-of-the-Month Club will add the book to its inventory. There will be full-page newspaper ads in New York and half-page ads in Los Angeles and Washington. Viking is shipping him to New York, Seattle, Miami and San Francisco on an author tour. Not only that, The New York Times Book Review--book publishing's big enchilada in the critical department--raved about the novel on the front page.

For writers, this is like going to heaven without dying.

But Boyle, ensconced out there in the suburbs near the Ventura Freeway, doesn't credit luck or divine intervention with this roll of good fortune. No, sir. The man to thank is none other than--you guessed it--T. C. Boyle himself.

The way Boyle tells it, his wild man attitude--courtesy of a lawless youth spent growing up in Peekskill, N.Y.--and sheer persistence have brought him to the brink of commercial as well artistic success.

'Had to Sell Myself'

"I felt I had to sell myself to them (Viking) first and say, 'Look, you've got this terrific boy who writes books like crazy. He's very entertaining and enjoyable. People love him. Get him on the shelves and sell him,' " Boyle, 6-foot-3, says as he slouches on a couch in the library of his home.

The house, by the way, is conventional. There is a silver service on the dining table, books are arranged neatly on shelves, the lawn is carefully trimmed. In fact, with his punk haircut and high-top sneakers, Boyle, who is married and has three children, is probably the weirdest thing in his own home. And, dare it be said, Boyle himself isn't all that weird these days. He has a doctorate in English literature and maintains his middle-class environment by teaching at USC.

Meanwhile, though, Boyle is getting into his discussion on the pursuit of literary fame. He chuckles and laughs frequently as he recounts all the things he had to do, besides write books, to get his name near bright lights.

"I don't come to New York like some authors and get wowed by being taken to lunch and mollified and patted on the back and sent on the way and seeing the same dreary sales figures," he says. "I go in there--and it's just what you'd think a publisher's office would be, this whole floor, you can't even see the other end of it, thousands of people at their desks like in Franz Kafka--and everyone seizes up when I walk in the door.

"They expect me to strangle somebody and jump out the window and I was just about on the verge of that. Now, all of that was solved or resolved just about a year ago when they paid a decent price for this ('World's End'). . . . What happened is they're doing everything I want so now I'm happy. That's the way of compromise, isn't it? They do everything I want, so now I'm happy."

It's obvious that Boyle has thought a lot about fame. In less than 45 minutes he delivers a number of one-liners about the profit and perils of reknown as easily as the Philippine army attempts coups:

--"I would like to have about four or five times the audience Michael Jackson has for his records--and outdance him publicly."

--"I don't want to be out on the front lawn in my dirty clothes doing my own lawn work--which I insist on doing--and have people coming by and taking pictures of me."

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