The Bat Segundo Show: Tom McCarthy II

Tom McCarthy appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #365. He is most recently the author of C. He previously appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #154 and The Bat Segundo Show #155.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Considering the vital associations between the third letter and the need to sweat.

Author: Tom McCarthy

Subjects Discussed: [List forthcoming]


Correspondent: Tom, how are you doing?

McCarthy: I’m fine. How nice to see you again.

Correspondent: Yes, how nice to see you too. I’ve been advised by you to ask not how you feel.

McCarthy: (laughs)

Correspondent: So now I’m wondering, by asking you how you’re doing, if I’ve betrayed what I’ve just said.

McCarthy: No, no, no. I’m doing a brisk —

Correspondent: Okay.

McCarthy: Briskly.

Correspondent: So we can have at least one bit of small talk. That’s acceptable.

McCarthy: Yeah. (laughs)

Correspondent: Okay. Serge says late in the book that the newspaper headlines have a nice alliterative ring.

McCarthy: Oh yeah. Beaulac bludgeons Mr. Block, bludgeoned in blue Beaulac.

Correspondent: Yes. Similarly, this book — it’s safe to say — that it could be read as a game of monkey see, monkey do. Ecce homo. Insert your bad pun of choice. In a word, there are numerous words beginning with — actually, not in a word, but in several words — there are numerous words that begin with the letter C. Carapace…

McCarthy: Cocaine, cyanide.

Correspondent: Copper, cable, control. You name it. The four parts are named after C. So this leads me to wonder. At what point did this come into being during the course of writing? And I’m wondering if there was a maximum C word count that you established during the course of writing this book. Just to start off here.

McCarthy: It came pretty early. Because the genesis of the book — well, there were several geneses.

Correspondent: Genesii?

McCarthy: Genesii. But one of them was thinking about Carter and Carnarvon, who dug up Tutankhamun. And I knew that a kind of hybrid of those two historical figures was going to be part of — I mean, Serge is a composite of several things. But that’s kind of one part or two parts of it. And so as a marker, I just used the letter C. I said, “Well, Carnarvon. Carter. Let’s just call them C for now.” And it was stuck. I liked the single letter title. It made me think of Sesame Street. You know, how every episode is brought to you by the letter.

Correspondent: C is for cookie.

McCarthy: C is for cookie, right.

Correspondent: But there isn’t a cookie in this.

McCarthy: No, there’s no…there’s no.

Correspondent: You do have cunt at one point.

McCarthy: (laughs) Yeah, that’s true. There was lots of Cs going on. I mean, the caul. With a U. Of the Wolfman. That was where it originally came from. Although quite a few critics later have pointed out that Copperfield — another C.

Correspondent: The Jennifer Egan review.

McCarthy: Yes, of course. And several others. And other people who have pointed out that, when he’s born, not only does he have a caul. But there is a copper being brought to make a transmission field. And I shouldn’t not take credit for it. Because it’s brilliant. But I wasn’t actually thinking of it at the time.

Correspondent: Well, maybe we can establish how much of the riffing on C was subconscious and how much of it was planned.

McCarthy: Yeah. I mean, that’s the thing. I think of it like pinball. You put a certain number of balls up. And then you hope they’re going to hit some buffers. And maybe, if you’re lucky, you may go into multiple modes. When there’s like three of them all going around the ramps and going crazy. But you’re not going to control every collision and every which lighting up of each little mushroom buffer at which point. So yeah, there were some very deliberate throwings out of different Cs. And not just Cs. A whole change in association along different mutating phonemes that’s really what the book is. More than characterization or whatever.

Correspondent: It was your own little bubbling chemical equation, essentially. With lots of Cs.

McCarthy: Yeah, kind of. Exactly. But you know the really exciting thing was when I remembered C as the chemical sign for carbon. Which is the basic element of all life. And it has a kind of proximity to writing, right? White, black. Carbon paper. CCs. Carbon copies.

Correspondent: BCCs.

McCarthy: A BCC and all this kind of stuff. It just seemed right. It started off as a marker and then it became the main thing.

Correspondent: The carbon association then came late in this act of writing.

McCarthy: No, it came early. But not at the outset. I didn’t start out thinking, “Oh, it’s all going to come down to the sign for chemical carbon.” I hadn’t even remembered that C was the chemical sign for carbon. I never did chemistry in school.

Correspondent: And then, of course, the third novel, C.

McCarthy: Yup. And already D figures in the new one. And the next one as well.

The Bat Segundo Show #365: Tom McCarthy II (Download MP3)

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