Monday, April 9, 2012

Interview: Garry Wallace, Cormac McCarthy, Bird Dogs, and the Life of the Mind

This is part one of a follow-up interview to my review of Garry Wallace's 2007 book, Biography of a Bird Dog.  I think you'll enjoy his opinions of Cormac McCarthy, books, and the life of the mind.

1. Your BIOGRAPHY OF A BIRD DOG was well reviewed but still not known as widely as it should be. Sometimes the best way to sell such a good book is to get another one published. What else do you have in the works?

Garry Wallace:  I’m currently putting the final touches on a collection of published essays titled “Meeting Cormac McCarthy—and 9 Notable Essays of the Year.” Somehow, Robert Atwan, series editor of The Best American Essays, selected nine of my personal essays for “Notable Essay of the Year.” So, to put these essays together along with my Southern Quarterly essay about meeting Cormac McCarthy, I’m using Create Space, a division of

2.  In your meeting with him, Cormac McCarthy seems very spiritual--though not particularly religious--and you seem to be the thorough skeptic.  As Oprah said to McCarthy, do you believe in God?  And now that the decades have passed since your meeting with Cormac McCarthy, what is your take on both the author and his works?

Garry Wallace:  I have looked forward to McCarthy's novels and other writings, and I'm glad some have been made into movies, which is not to say I like the movies better. I'm just glad that he has received the recognition I feel he deserves.

I remember when I first learned about him from Betty Carey. Frank Morton had lent her a first edition copy of Suttree. As I began reading that book, I realized at once that I'd entered another dimension and I felt changed by the experience. That is the wonderful thing about books. They have the power to alter a person's mind, his way of thinking and perceiving the world.

I felt honored to have been granted access to McCarthy's world. Although I like different aspects of his novels, the part I still like best is Part II of The Crossing. It is in that chapter that McCarthy best expresses his thesis, his message. The heretic challenges God from beneath the ruins of a church, while the priest keeps clear of the danger.
A kind of mind meld:  Garry Wallace and Valley Girl

During my years of indecision about the existence of God, while in Missoula, I would jog to the top of Mount Sentinel during thunderstorms. Back then I was young and dumb. Today I would do no such thing. I treasure life too much, and I understand that every day of life takes me one day closer to death.

I do not believe in an afterlife, so I try to live each day to its fullest. I'm not perfect in this regard. I do still waste days recovering from previous nights' binges, but I'm slowly getting my act together. The memoir I'm working on in bits and pieces is about my struggles. I'm calling it "Acceptance." We learn about Man against Man, Man vs. Nature, Man vs. God, but I believe it all boils down to is Man against himself, because all our thoughts, fears, aches and pains take place in our very own brains.

So I've taken on my own study of the brain, the mind, the consciousness. I wish I'd studied psychology when I was young.

3.  Did you act on Cormac McCarthy's recommendation to read William James regarding the individual spiritual experience?

Garry Wallace:  I’ve been reading a biography of William James, and although I enjoyed the first part of this book, I stopped reading when it entered James’ metaphysical leanings. I grew up in two families—the churchgoing family of my mother and the more secular family of my father. I was a devout Lutheran through my teenage years, but when I entered college and met a girl who was not religious, I gradually lost my faith in the Triune God and became agnostic, similar to the leanings of William James, although I didn’t know about James at that time.

Divorced after two years of marriage, I relocated to Montana, where, for about ten years, I sat on the fence.  I became atheist by day and agnostic by night.

Poker-playing pro, Betty Carey

4.  Your 1992 article was also about professional poker player Betty Carey? Did she ever publish her work on casino corruption that Cormac McCarthy was reviewing? Did you have any experiences with her later? Or with professional gambler Frank Morton?
Garry Wallace: Betty never finished her book. She moved to Alaska where she could maximize her reclusiveness. We crossed paths a few times over the past two decades and I learned that she had a son and that Frank Morton had his larynx removed because of cancer. He was a chain smoker.

(continued in next post)


  1. This is interesting about McCarthy, and even more so about Wallace himself.

    Look forward to the next installment of the interview.

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