From bestselling author Neal Stephenson and critically acclaimed historical novelist and Vineyard native Nicole Galland comes the book that may be this summer’s blockbuster — “The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.,” a thriller of science, magic, and time travel.
The Times caught up with Nicole the day before she embarked on a cross-country promotional tour.
From “Snow Crash” to “Seveneves,” Neal Stephenson has been known as a cyberpunk novelist with a keen eye on the future. You’ve written novels of courtly intrigue with a keen eye for the past. You seem an unlikely pair. How did you come together?
We have the same literary agent. She suggested bringing me on board “The Mongoliad,” a multi-author historical fiction project Neal organized a few years ago. Neal liked what I did, and as we finished up with that, he said, “So I have this idea for a story …” and we went from there.
Did your work on “The Mongoliad” prepare you for “The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.,” or was this project a new kind of beast?
Every creative project is a new kind of beast. That being said, “The Mongoliad” was pretty good preparation. But it’s much easier to get consensus with two people than with seven, so “D.O.D.O.” was easier.
When you look at the work of other collaborative teams, sometimes individual identities stand out. Are there parts of “D.O.D.O” that are “pure Neal” or “pure Nicki,” or is it all a blend?
There are a couple of narrative voices that are almost entirely of my shaping, and others that are his. But in all cases, we both at least brushed over virtually every sentence, and there were no rules beyond common sense about who left their fingerprints where. Our agent and editor could both guess almost to a line who wrote what — but sometimes I myself have a hard time doing that now.
Along with Chelsea McCarthy, you’re the creative force behind Shakespeare for the Masses. “The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.” has a subplot set in Shakespeare’s London. Was that your contribution?
Actually Neal was the one who said, “And this part is set in London circa 1600,” and I said, “Great, I want to loop in Shakespeare stuff.” He agreed and I ran with it, weaving our necessary plot developments into actual events and conspiracy theories of the Elizabethan theater world.
This is a book with lots of humor in it, some of it pretty risqué and lots of it bordering on slapstick. Do you and Neal have similar senses of humor? Did you find yourself laughing when you were writing it, or was it all just work?
Humor is always work, but ideally that work always involves laughter. Neal is generally drier and slyer than I am, but everything he wrote made me laugh because we have the same sensibility. In fact, one of my favorite things about getting pages from Neal was discovering what new bit he had added. I frequently feel that way about stuff Chelsea [McCarthy] comes up with for Shakespeare for the Masses. It’s a great feeling.
Novelists, like actors, run the risk of getting typecast. Your first five novels might be categorized as “historical courtly romance.” Since then, you’ve written “Stepdog” and now “The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.” Did you ever feel that you were in danger of being pigeonholed? Has that changed?
The new term for “being pigeonholed” is “branding.” It’s now considered a desirable quality in publishing, because it’s the easiest way for the PR folks to steer readers to an author.
Theater allows for — even rewards — the opposite of branding. My husband [Billy Meleady] is a character actor, and so, yes, he does tend to get certain kinds of roles … but he gets to do those roles in a variety of genres. He’s in a zany highbrow comedy right now, and will be doing an intense naturalistic drama in the fall. If I attempted that kind of stretch as a novelist, the good people at HarperCollins would tear their hair out.
Doing theater, I could freely inhabit a completely new world from one project to the next. I miss that. But I appreciate making a living as a novelist, and that means cooperating with how the publishing business works in these times.
When I wrote “Stepdog,” a contemporary romantic comedy, after five historical novels, it was an act of faith on the part of my publisher to “support my rebranding,” as they saw it. Now they’re doing it again with “The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.”
I’m currently working on a novel set on the Vineyard, but there are factors afoot (see previous answer) that might change that.
Nicole Galland will be signing books and discussing crossing the gender line — creating characters in a gender other than your own — at Islanders Write on Monday, August 14, at the Grange Hall in West Tisbury. Visit islanderswrite.com.