How Novelist T.C. Boyle Does Breakfast
"I was born naturally caffeinated and so have never consumed a cup of coffee in my life"
Every morning T.C. Boyle tweets a photo of an egg. The author, most famous for his wild and satiric novels—World’s End, Drop City, and The Tortilla Curtain, to name just a few—also tweets a photo of his dog, affectionately known as “the dog” to his followers. Sometimes he’ll add the view from his breakfast table. Then the road. Occasionally, a rat caught in a trap out in his yard. The combined effect is odd, exuberant, obsessive, and deeply funny—much like Boyle’s extraordinary body of work (his latest novel, The Terranauts, is his 26th book). It’s also a fascinating look into the mind and mornings of a true creative force. Extra Crispy recently caught up with Boyle to talk about these breakfasts on Twitter, his “natural caffeination,” and how what you’ve always suspected is true: authors are hungry when they write about food.
Extra Crispy: What did you have for breakfast this morning?
T.C. Boyle: The same thing I have every morning, a bagel (or bialy) sandwich of cream cheese, Asiago cheese and sliced tomato, sometimes with mustard and onion, depending on the mood of the day and the fire in my gut, with fruit on the side, washed down by a mug of club soda and orange juice, mixed 50/50. I eat cereal every day for lunch at my desk, the cereal consisting of sunflower seeds, raisins, brewer's yeast and a base of Grape Nuts.
I found an interview you did with the New YorkTimes back in the ‘90s where you claimed to be “too wired to endure the jolt of coffee.”Does this still hold true? Do you ever start your day with coffee? Is tea more your thing?
I was born naturally caffeinated and so have never consumed a cup of coffee in my life. After breakfast (and the highlight of my day, a fifteen minute nap), I rinse out the aforementioned mug and fill it with English Breakfast tea and nonfat milk, also in a 50/50 mix. The caffeine in the tea, when drizzled atop the natural caffeine surging through my veins, usually allows me to boil with enthusiasm for the work that then proceeds apace.
How did you get started chronicling your mornings on Twitter? Has this attention to ritual and habit always been a part of your life? How does it feel to share your breakfast with the world?
I see Twitter as a kind of performance space. What am I performing? A shtick centered around the life of an international literary celebrity (i.e., me), whose pedestrian doings are just like anyone else’s. The morning routine emphasizes this. First a shot of the road, then of the dog that awakened me, then of the egg I am never going to eat, then the newspaper (as a kind of proof of life), then the daily rat trapped in my Havahart. I am soon to celebrate the catch and release of number 150.
Do you typically write in the morning as well?
I write from ten or eleven to two or three, depending on what phase of a story or book I am in. And yes, routine is essential to my productivity. Bed at eleven, up at six, work seven days a week, playtime—and cocktail hour—in the afternoon. And yes, I have been very lucky to be productive, as making stories is my life’s work and obsession.
You’re such a vivid writer when it comes to food and how people eat. What is it about food that is particularly interesting to write about?
When you read a novel and get to the sexy part, you know that the author is feeling, let us say, stimulated; when you get to the food sections, he or she is feeling hungry. And the drug sections? Food and food choices (and obsessions) are a factor in all our lives and so too in the lives of characters on the page. Ramsay, yes, but I might direct you to the terraphage, Depeyster Van Wart, in World’s End, or the gourmet bad guy, William Peck Wilson in Talk Talk.
Food plays an important role in The Terranauts, as a biological necessity and means of survival. Did your research for the book change how you view breakfast in any way?
Not in the least. I am a creature of habit, as are most of the wild things out there too. As the great American philosopher, Woody Allen, once said through the means of a character in one of his films: “Of course I’m afraid of change—change equals death.”