Exclusive Interview: “Blue Skies” Author T.C. Boyle
In 2000, writer T.C. Boyle’s A Friend Of The Earth showed how climate change might impact our future. But with the real world drawing ever closer to the timeframe of that novel, Boyle has apprently decided to pen a companion novel, which he calls Blue Skies (hardcover, Kindle, audiobook). In the following email interview, Boyle discusses what influenced this second story, as well as how it might be made into something else if a certain something comes to an end.
To start, what is Blue Skies about, and what kind of a world does it take place in?
Blue Skies is a companion piece to A Friend Of The Earth from the year 2000. Friend dealt with climate change and how it might affect us in the future (fires, floods, droughts, species extinction, a pandemic) and projected to 2026. Blue Skies takes us from the degraded present into the near future, meditating on what it is like for the average person living in this new age of the new normal. There are three principal characters in a single California family, with an outpost in coastal Florida. Ottilie Cullen, the mother, tries to limit her carbon footprint and has been experimenting with entomophagy as a way of getting protein sans the need for cattle, pastures, and slaughterhouses. Cat, the heroine, has just moved to coastal Florida because her boyfriend’s mother has died and left him a beach house they could never have afforded on their own, and her brother, Cooper, is an entomologist studying Lepidoptera and dating an acarologist (ticks). On the West Coast, we watch our characters struggling with wildfires and drought and in Florida, Cat is faced with hurricanes and sea level rise. What does she do about it? Nothing. Except buy a Burmese python as a kind of fashion accessory to wear round her neck when she and her husband go out partying.
So, did you set out to write a story about people dealing with climate change, and Blue Skies is what you came up with, or did you have the family aspect first?
Families are at the heart of our existence, to one degree or another, in most species. But in our species, in which it takes so long for offspring to develop, the family is essential. I’ve also been writing about our limitations and excesses as an animal species among other species since the beginning of my career, both in novels and short stories. When I wrote Friend there was still debate about the reality of global warming (from the right and far right, delusional people all), but it is everybody’s reality now. A reality we must daily face.
So is there a significance to Cat getting a Burmese python as a pet as opposed to a dog or a cat? Or, for that matter, a Ball python or some other kind of snake?
One writer has said of this book that a snake in a bag in the first chapter is akin to Chekhov’s gun on the mantel in Act One of a play. People make use of other species in various ways. With the Burmese python, an invasive species, they tend to get careless. You may know that the Burmese python is now endemic in the Everglades and that, as a result, nearly all mammal species in the park have disappeared, converted to snake excrement.
Blue Skies sounds like it’s a family farce…
Ah, but is it a farce? A farce only touches the surface. What would I call it? A satiric novel that goes below the surface to plumb the consequences of our divorce from nature.
Blue Skies is obviously not your first novel. Are there any writers or stories you think had a big influence on Blue Skies but not anything else you’ve written?
I read widely, but one of my favorite genres is that of nature books. I read about nature in the way some people read thrillers. In the case of Blue Skies, obviously I learned a great deal about a number of ecological subjects, including insects. I looked to E.O. Wilson and other entomologists and biologists for information, entertainment, and inspiration.
What about non-literary influences; was Blue Skies influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
Nope. Though the newspaper and the nightly news bring plenty of horror into the house, a great deal of it having to do with meteorological catastrophe.
And then, to flip things around, do you think Blue Skies could work as a movie, show, or game?
Many of my stories and novels have been made into movies, as they are strongly plotted and very visual. My daughter, Kerrie Kvashay-Boyle, has written the pilot and outlined the episodes for a limited series based on the book. Kerrie sees it as series because there are so many dramatic (and blackly hilarious) scenes that develop over the course of several years. As of this writing, however, she is sitting on it because of the writers’ strike.
When the strike finally ends, if someone buys the rights to turn your kid’s version of Blue Skies into a TV show, who would you want them to cast as Ottilie, Frank, Cat, and Cooper, and the other main characters?
What’s interesting about this question is that Hollywood works in just this way: everyone fantasizes about what actor should join the project in what role. This will be a killer breakout role for a young actress, obviously. As for who that might be, I leave that to the producers.
Also, does Cat’s python, Willie 2, say things in the story, and if so, who should they get to do his voice for the show?
The critics have described (and praised) the book’s dark humor, so it is unlikely to be directed toward children vis-à-vis talking animals. In my previous novel, Talk To Me, however, I did present the point of view of the book’s protagonist, a lab chimp named Sam.
So, is there anything else you think people need to know about Blue Skies?
It is the cure for whatever ails you.
Finally, if someone enjoys Blue Skies, which of your other novels would you suggest they read next?
Quite obviously, it should be the above-referenced A Friend Of The Earth, but When The Killing’s Done, about the removal of invasive species from Santa Cruz Island (and a whole lot more) also shares the same thematic elements. All three books ask essential biological and meteorological questions and each does it uniquely and is blackly funny in its own way.