T.C. McCarthy Interview with Buzzy Mag
JMW: Hello, this is Jean Marie Ward for BuzzyMag.com. With me today is TC, McCarthy. award winning author of The Subtarine War series. Welcome TC.
T.C. McCarthy: Thank you for having me.
JMW: Your first story in the Subtarine war series is something called Germline. Now I know I didn’t know what it was, and I figure our viewers won’t know either. So, can you explain what a germline is?
T.C. McCarthy: Yeah, Germline in scientific terms is part of a genetic lineage that can be passed a long from one generation to the next. The reference there being, the portions of these genetically engineered semi humans that are derived from many and woman. Because not all of the germline soldiers, not all of their DNA actually comes from humans, some of it comes from other places to give them special abilities. It’s loosely a reference to that, but also it’s a reference to what makes us human. And all three books in the series are basically a study of that. Different characters and the way humanity is reflected in each one of these very different types of people.
JMW: Germline and your fiction writing career are about 20 years in the making. You had a rather interesting way of teaching yourself how to write. Would you care to tell our viewers something about that?
T.C. McCarthy: Yeah, I’ll tell you a story first that I really have not mentioned at this convention, but I’ve mentioned other places, I’ll kind of explain how I eventually got to the point where I could write something salable. When I was in high school I knew I wanted to be a writer. Even before then I knew I wanted to be a writer. And the person who gave our commencement address in my high school was George [Clifton], the famous author George Clifton.
T.C. McCarthy: Afterward, I went up and talked to him and said, “Mr. Clifton I’m a fan, could you please give me some advice”, I want to be a writer. He says in that voice, “Yes, don’t. There are far too many of us already, and you’d be far better served becoming a banker, a lawyer or a doctor” and I was crushed. I mean I was absolutely crushed. So I went to University of Virginia and at first I thought I was going to go into their writing program there, but things happened where that didn’t work out, and I wound up being a scientist, but I always wrote. But I never wrote anything worth publishing. Eventually, what I wound up doing was, I did two things. First thing I did was start taking a, I joined a writing group, and that got me over the fear of showing my work to other people. But in order to actually learn how to write something that was semi decent. I had to basically sit down with Short Story, “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson, and I put the short story next to me and I rewrote it on computer, line by line, paragraph by paragraph using my own language, but using her structure and her way of conveying messages.
So that basically what I wound up with when I was finished was a little ripoff of her story, but in my words. That I then took and did it again, and I iterated that process. What it taught me was structure, and and how to get emotion across, and how to create suspense, and how to create an entire world without seeing it. Because in, “The Lottery”, you’ve got this world that’s just somewhere out there as a far bigger reason for having the lottery but she never says why. She never says why this thing exists. So that was an exercise, but it was one that I found to be immensely helpful and really kind of kick started me into, not kick started, but kind of bumped me up to the next level.
JMW: Okay, we’ve asked you about your writing. I’ve been polite for minutes. Are you going to play this whole interview like Hunter S. Thompson?
T.C. McCarthy: There’s a reason for this actually, it’s a marketing decision in a way, because look, when I take this off, when I take off my sunglasses. I’m middle aged, slightly chubby 40 year old dad how’s completely nondescript, right. But when I put these back on suddenly I’m wacky. It may not look good, in fact I’ll bet it doesn’t look good, but people recognize this from across the room, and they know automatically, that’s TC. And so it was a conscious decision. If I’m going to be going to conventions, I”m going to start dressing the same way all the time and that means wearing these all the time so that people can recognize me. Because otherwise I’m completely nondescript, and that’s by biggest enemy at this point. Obscurity is my biggest enemy at this point.
JMW: Yeah, but you’ve spent your entire career cultivating obscurity, before you became a writer.
T.C. McCarthy: That’s true, you’re absolutely right. It’s so hard to shake that off. I’ve got to tell you because it is, it’s engrained in me not to draw attention to myself, period. Not to go out and speak in public. Not to say anything that’s going to bring attention to me. So you’re right, that is part of how I built a career, but I’ve got to get rid of it now that I’ve chosen this as a career.
JMW: Military themes and protagonist play an important role in your short and long fiction. What makes military experience so compelling for you as a writer?
T.C. McCarthy: I think that one of the big reasons that I chose this to kind of start off my debut writing career was, I read a lot of first person kind of accounts of war growing up, and even up until this day I still read them. One of my favorites is Micheal Harris, “Dispatches”. He was a journalist, not necessarily a combatant. But he certainly spent a lot of time in Vietnam in fire fights and in action . What I started noticing reading all these things is just how kind of raw and exposed peoples emotions become in these situations and how all the bullshit from the rest of life about dealing with a broken down car. Not getting a promotion. People screwing you over, etc., etc. How all that melts away, that kind of doesn’t mater.
What it boils down to is survival, and trusting people that are right next to you, and counting on the guy or girl or whoever to do the right thing and to watch your back and I just thing that in many cases the things that I’ve seen actually first hand and the things that I’ve read. Something about war, even though it’s horrific and it’s something I would never want my children to experience there’s something about it that just makes people revert back to a fundamental goodness that they have inside them and I don’t know if that makes any sense to you or people watching this but it’s something that I really wanted to capture in some of my work.
JMW: Fundamental goodness or fundamental badness.
T.C. McCarthy: Well both isn’t it right. Fundamental goodness or fundamental badness on your side an some pretty horrific things that happens [inaudible 07:32]
JMW: You mentioned earlier that you spent an entire career trying not draw attention to yourself and I think it’s no secret cause you mention it on your website, that you used to work for the CIA. I know that the CIA requires a prior review of all material before they are submitted for publication. How hard was it to run your fiction, not through an editor who is 3000 miles a way, and never saw you, and never knew you, but people who actually work with you.
T.C. McCarthy: The one good thing about the process is I don’t know if the change out the people at the publication review board, or if they give you their real names. But it was an anonymous process for me for the most part, but it was still scary nonetheless. Because I don’t have my First Amendment right, the same ones that most people have. I signed those away. So everything I write I mean everything has to go through CIA’s pre-publication board period. Unless it’s something that’s absolutely completely removed from everything I do. So when I write literary fiction for example, I don’t have to send it to them. Germline and the other two books [inaudible 08:53]I had to send to them. And it was very, very scary to me, to throw these things in to that abyss. Given that there are some horror stories out there about what’ happened to some people. Never getting a response, having half the book redacted. But in my case, when it’s all said an done I had noting to worry about. It was science fiction. They had no problem with it. As long as I wasn’t talking about certain things let’s just say, it was a breeze for me in the long run. I wish I had my First Amendment rights back but it is what it is.
JMW: It was a good cause and the books are still out there and you’ve published a variety of fiction and other things. So far you’ve been, and lets keep hoping that the streak holds. What’s next for you?
T.C. McCarthy: I actually have my first young adult book in the works. We’re editing right now. It’s a mainstream young adult book. About a teenager kind of growing up and finding his way in Athens Georgia in the early 1990′s, right around the time that the music scene there was kind of, still big in terms of REM, and B-52′s but tailing off. I spent a lot of time myself hanging out with some real interesting people. Heroin addicts.
JMW: All the sort of stuff that just plays so well in that letter agency you used to work for. Isn’t your degree in some form of chemistry?
T.C. McCarthy: My Bachelors is in environmental science, PHD in Geology, and I’m in the middle of getting a computer science degree right now, but I have a lot of back ground in biochemistry, and biology.
JMW: Now we know where it came from.
T.C. McCarthy: Got to know how those chemicals effect the human body, right. I don’t even do drugs, seriously, and I don’t drink. I found myself in this situation in Athens with just some really interesting people, they were totally main line in the music scene and the art scene, and so I actually got to hang out with people like Micheal Stype [SP] who hit on me one night, that’s a great story. I lived down the street from Michael Stype, I lived next door to famous artists. I’m still in touch with a lot of these people, and it was just a really really neat experience I wanted to capture some of that in a book. I wrote it, it wound up being more than literary or anything else, and it wound up being young adult to so that’s where we’re targeting it for.
JMW: Great, are we going to get the story about Micheal Stype.
T.C. McCarthy: I should have kept my mouth shut. Okay, I don’t know if he actually hit on me. Let me back up. There’s a bar in Athens called the Globe, and he was notorious for kind of hanging out there and just kind of hanging out with his friends there. It’s a great bar, I used to go there all the time and hang out with my friends. So one night I’m up at the bar getting a diet Coke, and I notice that somebody is starring at me. And not just glancing, I mean starring at me with leaning over starring at me. And I thought it was really strange and I looked closer an realized, my God, that’s Micheal Stype. So I look away, and I’m waiting for my diet Coke thinking come on, bring me my diet Coke. And I look back, he’s still starring at me. I swear to you for 15 or 20 minutes, the guy stared at me the whole time. And that was the only time it happened, so. I don’t know if that was hitting on me. But I’ve got to tell you. For the first time, I kind of felt what it must be like to have somebody undress you… And that was not cool man.
JMW: It’s not cool, and I’m so glad you had that experience.
T.C. McCarthy: It ws really uncool.
JMW: After that, is there anything you’d like to add?
T.C. McCarthy: I think that’s enough.
JMW: Thank you TC, and thank you for BuzzyMag.com.
Interviewed by Jean Marie Ward
Buzzy Mag Reporter & Reviewer
Jean Marie Ward writes fiction, nonfiction and everything in between, including art books, novels (2008 Indie Book double-finalist With Nine You Get Vanyr), and short stories such as WSFA Small Press Award finalist “Lord Bai’s Discovery” and “Personal Demons” in the award-winning anthology Hellebore and Rue. Her videos include author interviews and tutorials.