Cormac McCarthy, The Art of Fiction No. 223

Interviewed by Bunny Truman

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INTERVIEWER

What time of day do you write?

MCCARTHY

I rise at six and work through the morning, every morning, seven days a week. I find the sun has a forlorn truth before noon. The words come unbidden. By early afternoon I have to quit.

INTERVIEWER

Do you find that the intensity of the material makes it difficult to continue beyond a certain point?

MCCARTHY

No, it’s not that. I entertain most nights. In the afternoon you wear the mud mask of your being. And then the guests arrive and you are a new thing. It is the unspoken promise of nightfall. It takes time. Time that hunts you, time that is calamity.

INTERVIEWER

These are dinner parties.

MCCARTHY

Barbecues, mainly. And this is part of it. Calling the dogs in, all limbs and sinew, the vermicular homebound patterns they weave in the scorch of the grass. The glint of the grill in the sun’s fire ellipse, its entirety as it bends toward hyphenate unyielding horizon. I like to soak the mesquite chips for at least half an hour. Then there’s the marinade for the brisket, or the dry rub, the laying on of hands. A replication of primeval violence. In your fingertips the harm of generations, the wish to make right, the failure to cleanse and absturge. Raw matter. Chile ancho, dried chipotles, paprika and salt, pulverized plant and rock, the sad spice and crumble of the earth’s red crust. I put the beef in a plastic bag for two hours before my guests come.

INTERVIEWER

Your guests—these are other writers?

MCCARTHY

The meat is all talk. It murmurs and sibilates. We stand and watch the conflagration of charcoal. The flame maze, the char, the sauce and slaw. In the glowing embers of the mesquite, the old dead wood, you see the incipient sting of godlessness. The smokehouse and the smoke and the burn in your eyes with which to fever it.

INTERVIEWER

Would you say these gatherings have a profound effect on your writing?

MCCARTHY

They are my writing.

INTERVIEWER

What advice would you give, then, to aspiring writers, especially those—and there are many, by now—who don’t wear your influence lightly?

MCCARTHY

Towelettes. Moist towelettes.

 

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