Nicole Galland talks modern marriages or convenience, adorable pets, and what
we can look forward to from her in the future!
Jen: Hi, Nicole. Thank you for joining us at Fresh Fiction! STEPDOG
immediately caught my attention, not only because of the adorable cover, but
because of the modern take on the marriage of convenience. I love this romance
trope in historical novels and really enjoy reading it contemporary stories.
How is a marriage of convenience in historical novels different than in
contemporary romance or is it?
Nicole: I love this question because the issue had never crossed my
mindâ€“ kudos for taking me by surprise. Iâ€™d say in historical novels, as in real
history, marriages of convenience fairly commonplace (thereâ€™s at least one in 4
of my 5 historical novels). Such marriages were not only normative in the
culture, but they were for very specific, political, and usually public
reasons. In modern romance, such a marriage, because it is not normal, is more
subversive, which makes it more intriguing. People marry for convenience these
days for personal advantage or need, in defiance of a culture where one is
expected to marry for love. 800 years ago, the Powers That Be expected
marriages of convenience; today, they are innately suspicious. And yet,
although the act is more subversive now, the stakes are generally smaller. Rory
isnâ€™t trying to (for example) secure the future of the Holy Roman Empire, or
prevent his nation from being attacked by erstwhile enemies. Heâ€™s just trying
to, yâ€™know, get a job. As with the difference between historical and
contemporary fiction, the contemporary version tends to have more personal
Jen: Rory Oâ€™Connor is an actor on the verge of his big break. You also
have experience with theater and film. How has the world of performing a story
shaped how you tell a story?
Nicole: Because of growing up around theatre, I think in terms of
dramatic structure as naturally as poets think in terms of meter and verse. I
donâ€™t think about it consciously or deliberately but Iâ€™m wired for dramatic
structure, character arcs, and other things that anyone from Stanislavsky to
Robert McKee might go on about. It was a lot of fun, though, to have excuses to
throw in references to various theatre genres â€“ Shakespeare, Beckett, Gilbert &
Sullivan, and so on.
Actually, what I noticed in STEPDOG more than any other novel Iâ€™ve written is that my experience
studying Comparative Religion really helped. I know that sounds strange but stay with me
a moment on this: I studied Joseph Campbell, the heroâ€™s journey. I studied Mircea Eliade
and Claude Levi-Strauss. Most cultures have a coming-of-age story in which a character
must go through separation, ordeal and reintegration. STEPDOG, of all my
stories, is the one story that most literally follows that model. I did not realize that
until after Iâ€™d written it, but while I was writing it, it felt satisfying on a visceral
level, more than â€śa book about a dogâ€ť really should. Itâ€™s because I was writing that
myth, in a contemporary and somewhat absurdist setting.
Jen: Sara loves her dog, Cody, but Rory is not a pet lover, which creates a lot
of tension between them. I have to say that Iâ€™m a bit more like Rory than Sara, but Cody
is very much a character in the story with a personality quirks. Is Cody based on a
specific pet or a combination of pets youâ€™ve had in your life or known?
Nicole: Cody is lifted almost hair for hair from my Portuguese Water Dog, Leuco.
The premise of the novel is autobiographical â€“ and so is the dog. Leuco is so lovable
that my friends have been known to argue with each other over who gets to keep her for a
weekend if Iâ€™m away traveling. (These are mature grownups with kids and careers, who
hardly have time to take on an extra responsibility.) One friend who is not-a-dog-person
â€“ who spent 15 years telling his family they will never be a dog-owning family â€“ has
fallen so in love with her, he recently asked if he could adopt her if anything ever
happened to me. Another friend wrote me while reading the book to say she found it
distracting that the fictional dog looked different from my real dog but was otherwise
so precisely like her. The â€śtarty dogâ€ť pose in particular is trademark Leuco â€“ she is
constantly seeking excuses to fall on her back and show her belly, because she knows
that usually gets her adoring, cooing attention.
Jen: STEPDOG is a laugh-out-loud funny book. What is the last book you
read that made you laugh out loud?
Nicole: Thank you! And thatâ€™s an easy question: whatever I read by Christopher
Moore makes me laugh out loud. I think the most recent is THE SERPENT OF
VENICE (which gets bonus points with me for the Shakespeare references). I would
love to be as funny as Chris Moore.
Jen: Can you give us a sneak peek at whatâ€™s coming next for you? Will you
continue with contemporary romance, go to historical novels, or try something new?
Nicole: My next project is a collaboration with another author (Neal Stephenson)
and all weâ€™re saying about it is that itâ€™s historical. However, long-term, Iâ€™d love to
try another contemporary comic novel (I have some ideas, one of them going all the way
back to college). I also would love to dabble in other genres â€“ thereâ€™s a futuristic YA
story dancing about in my head, and something sort of semi-mystical, semi-Neil-Gaiman-
esque. Thereâ€™s a â€śserious literatureâ€ť novel thatâ€™s been brewing for years. And I have an
idea for a historical series, set in Elizabethan London and involving Shakespeareâ€™s
acting company. By the time I finish the project with Neal, I imagine one of those will
have emerged as the Story Most Needing To Be Written Next.
Jen: Thank you so much for joining! It's always fun to be surprised!
Nicole Gallandâ€™s life has meandered as broadly as the Potomac River. She hails
from Marthaâ€™s Vineyard, off the coast of Massachusetts, and graduated with honors from
Harvard University, where she spent most of her time doing theater and secretly penning
unfinished novels, although she was officially getting a degree in Comparative Religion.
After that, go figure.
Moving to California, Nicole co-founded a theater company for teens that premiered at
the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. She was awarded a full fellowship to pursue a PhD in
Drama at UC Berkeley, where she showed great promise at pretentious performance art.
Before academia could entirely seduce her, however, she withdrew from the program and
split the next several years between the Bay Area and New York City, eking out a
glamorous living in theater, writing, editing, and temp work.
After winning an award for her screenplay The Winter Population, Nicole somewhat
recklessly moved to Los Angeles, where she spent a few years as a starving screenwriter
and learned how to play the banjo (quite badly). In April 2002, she rediscovered the
unfinished outline to The Foolâ€™s Tale, which sheâ€™d begun while sitting in a boring
lecture class at Harvard. She was about to delete it from her hard drive when she
decided, just for fun, to see what would happen if she finished it instead.
After a high concentration of serendipity, the book was completed in early 2003, by
which time sheâ€™d fled LA to return to the Bay Area to write her second novel. The Foolâ€™s
Tale was published to critical acclaim in early 2005, and Revenge of the Rose followed
After a year and a half as Literary Manager/Dramaturg for Berkeley Repertory Theatre,
Nicole left the Bay Area and spent a while living largely out of a backpack, traversing
the Mediterranean researching and drafting her third novel, Crossed: A Tale of the
Fourth Crusade. Finally, after 20-odd years away, she moved back to Marthaâ€™s Vineyard.
She currently resides there with her husband, actor Billy Meleady, and her Portuguese
Water Dog, Leuco.
With actress Chelsea McCarthy, Nicole recently co-founded Shakespeare for the Masses, a
semi-insane troupe pf actors who, with a single day of rehearsal, pull off gonzo script-
in-hand performances of adapted Shakespeare plays. To their delight and bewilderment,
they have developed a small cult following on Marthaâ€™s Vineyard, and hope to subject the
rest of the nation to their work in due time. In two and a half years, they have staged
productions of 19 of the Bardâ€™s plays.
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What's the difference between puppy love and dogged devotion?
When Sara Renault fired Rory O'Connor from his part-time job at a Boston art museum, and
in response, Roryâ€”Irishman, actor, musician, reformed party-boyâ€” impulsively leaned over
and kissed her . . . she kissed him back. Now, as Rory's visa runs out on the cusp of
his big Hollywood break, Sara insists that he marry her to get a green card. In a matter
of weeks they've gone from being friendly work colleagues to a live-in couple, and it's
all grand . . . except for Cody, Sara's beloved dog from her troubled previous
relationship. Sara's overattachment to her dog is the only thing she and Rory fight
When Rory scores both his green card and the lead role in an upcoming TV pilot, he and
Sara (and Cody) prepare to move to Los Angeles. But just before their departure, Cody is
kidnapped â€”and it is entirely Rory's fault. Desperate to get back into Sara's good
graces, Rory tracks Cody and the sociopathic dognapper to North Carolina. Can Rory
rescue Cody and convince Sara that they belong togetherâ€”with Codyâ€”as a family? First
they'll need to survive a madcap adventure that takes them through the heart of America.
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