Speaking of T.C. Boyle – The successful writer takes his turn at Speaking of Stories

Can there be a fan of Speaking of Stories, a 14-year spoken word mainstay of Santa Barbara entertainment calendars, who isn’t a fan of T.C. Boyle? Since its earliest days, the short stories of our literary resident have been a constant, first as material read by actors, then read by the author himself. Actor Charles De L’Arbe reads Boyle’s story “My Pain Is Worse Than Your Pain” on Sunday, while Boyle appears Monday night to read his story “The Lie.”

Many contemporary authors read their stories out loud, either over the radio (NPR is a major pitstop) or as part of a book tour. But “Speaking of Stories,” directed by Maggie Mixsell, allows its readers a performance space.

“You have to have the audience’s undivided attention,” says Boyle, “It has to be dark, and the audience seated and comfortable. It has to be a show.”

Boyle writes his short stories in between his novels, and they have appeared over the years in the New Yorker, Harper’s, The Atlantic and more. Currently in the planning stages of a new novel, Boyle has produced many shorts in the last year, of which these are two.

“The Lie” follows the extended weekend in the life of a 26-year-old former rockstar turned production company drone. Frustrated in life, married with a baby, his desire to avoid work results in a whopper of a lie that will have both darkly comic and bleak consequences. The story is typical Boyle — hilarious, cringeworthy, embarrassing and tragic.

“My Pain Is Worse Than Your Pain” also details an embarrassing and painful situation where a married man is caught as a peeping tom by his neighbor. Told in first person, the consequences play against the narrator’s own twisted justifications.

That story, set in the Sequoias, where Boyle often retreats to write, came to him from a friend, who knew a man in the small community who had done something similar. Boyle took the set-up and ran with it. For the reading, he’s glad somebody else is reading it.

“It requires a little bit of a country accent,” says Boyle, who indicates he can’t go there. It doesn’t stop him from writing in accents. But there is a certain cadence to a Boyle sentence. Read his words on the page, the long, complex sentences that curl and twist before ending in a perfect choice of words, and one wonders if anybody can match his own voice. (In interview with the chatty Boyle one can hear where that style comes from.)

“I’ve never written without music in the background,” Boyle says. “The rhythm is really important to me, which is why I like to hear authors read their own work. (My sentences) are long. My agent said to me, I’m amazed at your breath control. I said, well I used to play saxophone. You have to (breath right) to get those sentences out, to get that right rhythm.”

Mixsell keeps inviting T.C. Boyle back to Speaking of Stories, and Boyle keeps accepting for the obvious reason: he loves it.

“I love the audience,” Boyle says. “I can feel everybody out there. I can’t wait to be before them.”

(Other stories on Sunday and Monday include “Are You Anybody?” read by the author Bradford Dillman, “The Four Night Fight” by Ann Beattie read by Pamela Dillman, and “Tower of Fame” by Elizabeth Iron Folsom, read by David Selby.

When: 2 p.m. Sunday and 7:30 p.m. Monday (Boyle appears Monday only).
Where: Center Stage Theater, Paseo Nuevo Mall
Cost: $25 general, $10 students
Information: (805) 966-3875, (805) 963-0408 or www.speakingofstories.org

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