Scene: The Pearly Gates, hopefully a good 50 years from now. St. Peter is standing by the gates. Nicole Galland enters, agog at what is before her.
NG: There must be some mistake. I’m an agnostic Buddhist pagan. Plus I’m Jewish. I think I took the wrong exit.
St. P: I hear that a lot. (Pages through large book of Ms. Galland’s life.) Most of this is in order, except for one significant lapse in judgment early in the millennium. According to our sources, you spent a year penning a very lame parody of Herman Melville’s classic Moby Dick for a newspaper called the Vineyard Gazette.
NG: It might have been lame, but it was not a parody.
St. P: Explain yourself.
NG: I wanted to write a serialized novel, one chapter per week, set in real time on the Vineyard. I decided to base it, loosely, on Moby Dick, but make it a lighthearted romp about eccentric landscapers.
St. P: Why Moby Dick?
NG: Just for the challenge of it. It’s the iconic classic of American literature. And besides the intensity of the story itself, it’s about New England maritime history, which is a huge element of the Vineyard’s identity.
St. P: So why didn’t you make your story more maritime?
NG: Well, I wanted to write about the natural world on — not around, but ON — the Island. That’s one of the many things I think I failed at with Moby Rich.
St. P: Ah, so you admit there were failings in your undertaking? Expound, please; there might be hope for your redemption.
NG: Are you kidding? I’m more aware of my failures than my successes. I wanted every chapter to have a quote stolen directly from Moby Dick, and maybe 15 chapters did. I wanted more “insider” jokes for Vineyarders, and more references to current events. I wanted to chronicle the “foraging wild foods” cycle of the Vineyard year more than I did. I failed to get to know the Brazilian community here, which I’d commanded myself to do because Becca’s love interest is Brazilian. Also, part of the point was to raise money for Community Services, and I wish that I’d put more energy into promoting that. (Whoever made a donation of $250 or more to MVCS, could have their name or business appear in a chapter of Moby Rich.) I think we raised a couple thousand bucks, but it could have been a lot more.
Finally, I write 600-page books, so writing something in 800-word installments was permanently frustrating to me. I knew what my word-count was going to be, and I accepted it, but I don’t think a short word-count and my writing style are a natural fit. I’m used to doing intensive research and writing in great depth; the conciseness of style required for the newspaper was a real challenge for me. Plus it was a family newspaper so I couldn’t include any racy sex scenes, which really cramped my style.
So, given that I have a natural tendency toward criticizing myself anyhow, all in all I am more aware of my failures than my successes.
St. P: I have to say, you make a compelling argument. Sounds like it was really lame.
NG: I didn’t say that! There are things I’m proud of. One of them being that I actually did it, for heaven’s sake. Usually when I write a novel, I hide away somewhere for months on end, and do nothing all day but write . . . it’s total immersion, which takes a kind of discipline that comes naturally to me. Moby Rich required a completely different kind of discipline, which did not come naturally at all — but I stuck with it. I had to find a few hours every week for a project that I otherwise did not think about, because of my suddenly-very-busy life. During Moby Rich, my husband and I celebrated our first and second wedding anniversaries, moved four times, got a puppy, and oversaw our home getting built and landscaped. I wrote another novel (that still needs desperate rewrites), directed a play, co-founded a theatre troupe, took on several editing jobs, became a publicist for the Summer Institute, and learned how to train a puppy. I wrote chapters on trains, in airplanes, in Florida, in friends’ Manhattan apartments, in hotel rooms in D.C., on my in-laws’ couch, in my editor’s spare bedroom, while I was on dinner break from rehearsals, while I was keeping the puppy from eating the laundry. I learned a new kind of focus and diligence.
St. P: So you grew as a person but the story was lame.
NG: It wasn’t lame! I’m terrible at tooting my own horn, and believe me, I wouldn’t even be writing this piece if my editor didn’t insist on it, but there were some really fine things about Moby Rich. Virtually every plot element and character from Moby Dick was referenced, which is no small undertaking and took ingenuity. There were some great dramatic cliffhangers; there were whimsical elements, like the week it was in rhymed couplets; ultimately it was a story of resolution and evolution, of harmonizing rather than destroying. We need more stories like that these days. The whole year was an exercise in creativity; even though it didn’t result in highbrow literature, I think I entertained some folks along the way. How is any of that a sin?
St. P: Mr. Melville lodged a complaint. He felt your ending was a cop-out. He thought Abe and Moby should have destroyed each other.
NG: And he got into heaven with that attitude?!
St. P: Mmmm . . . Nathaniel Hawthorne pulled some strings for him.
NG: Funny you should say that, because I have this idea for a modern serialized novel based on The Scarlet Letter . . ..