|meet author donald gallinger|
Donald Gallinger’s voice is unique in today’s fiction. He loves telling deliciously complex stories in the relentlessly spare yet lyrical prose that has become his trademark. His fascinating characters are bigger than life, yet they ring so true you’d swear you know them from somewhere. Combining keen wit and a rare subtlety of insight into the human heart, Donald Gallinger’s writing is bold, profound, beautiful—and hugely entertaining.
Born and raised in Norwich, Connecticut, Don grew up hearing first-hand stories of WWII partisan fighters from friends of his parents. These stories, absorbed during childhood, probably inspired a more scholarly interest in the politics of resistance later captured in his fiction. The question “Why didn’t more victims fight back?” or, more pointedly, “What happened to the people who did fight back?” became one of the thematic building blocks of The Master Planets.
His love of Rock & Roll came from a different place: way down inside. Like most people of his generation, Don watched the first live American television appearance of The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. At age ten, he knew instinctively that, in the span of a single hour-long television program, the world had undergone a sea-change in attitude towards youth and creativity. From that moment on, he listened rapturously to every new song on the radio, every new innovation in popular music. He recognized in rock n’ roll, in all its permutations, a music that resonated with the feelings he had about himself and world around him. His first completed novel, Ain’t No Sin to Rock and Roll, was optioned for film by Miles Chapin. His second, Tina’s ’68 Mustang, is under revision. The Master Planets is Don’s third completed novel.
Don received his BA (English) from Connecticut College, his MA (English) from Rowan University, and his Doctorate (Education) from Rutgers University. For 23 years he has taught high school English in Southern New Jersey. Known to his students as “Doc G,” Don has distributed thousands of bathroom passes in his time, and has arbitrated numerous battles over vocabulary, grammar, and rhetoric in the uphill struggle of teaching “Confrontational Language Arts” to New Jersey adolescents. Don’s the recipient of numerous awards from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Dodge Foundation, and the Johnson & Johnson Foundation (which funded his study of source materials at the U.S. Holocaust Museum). He lives in New Jersey, with his wife, author Doni Tamblyn. Currently he is working on his next novel, Stupid School, and a collection of short stories.
an interview with donald gallinger
Q The scenes about Peter’s rock star experiences—concerts, groupies and hangers-on, recording deals and record company malfeasance, the promotional machinery—all sound extremely authentic. Were you ever a part of the rock scene yourself?
DON: No. Aside from playing rhythm guitar in a few dispirited high school rock n’ roll bands, my experiences with rock n’ roll have been confined to listening and reading about the scene. However, I have had friends who knew various seminal rock figures, and who traveled with them on tour. These stories later provided me with the inspiration to construct an “atmosphere” appropriate to the Master Planets’ world.
Q It’s been said that The Master Planets is a deeply meaningful story written like a pulp fiction. Why did you choose this literary style to tell this story?
DON: I happen to believe that some of the best fiction being written today is by detective novelists. I also believe that subject matter demands a proper style in which to tell its story. The Master Planets is primarily action-based. It is important for the reader to seek his own meanings through the story rather than have those meanings delineated for him by the author.
Q Here and there throughout the book, you have your characters say, “I’m an American.” On a few occasions Peter, the main character, also points out when someone isn’t an American (and one of those times, not very nicely). Obviously being an American means something very specific to you. What is it?
DON: I don’t know. More to the point, I’m not sure anyone has the definitive answer to what it means to be an “American.” Obviously, many characters in the novel make references to this issue. Perhaps, as so many others have said before, being an American means, at the very least, that you have as an option the human ideal as a navigational point in your life.
Q At one point in the book, you say: “Families, like countries, tell myths about themselves.” Do you think we Americans cherish “myths” about our country?
DON: Absolutely. Without myths, I’m not sure we—or any other nation—could operate as a culture. Americans love to tell myths about themselves as “Americans.” It’s a way of defining ourselves that makes us feel “special” and “chosen.” Why we need to feel that way is another issue entirely.
Q It seems that in this book you’re saying something about how many generations are touched by a single war. Do you think the wars that took place long ago (and in most cases, outside our borders) affect our country today? Is this book a treatise against war?
DON: No, it’s not a treatise about anything. It’s about one family with an extraordinary past. It’s about how people can change their perceptions of themselves based upon their understanding of what happened to others a long time ago.
Q The central theme of this book is of lives that begin with great promise, only to be deformed by human brutality. What gave you the idea to tell this story? Do you really think it’s a story of hope?
DON: All lives begin with great promise. But being alive also subjects us to forces that are outside our immediate control. Whether those forces are brutal or not, we must live as individuals continually caught up in a dynamic and interactive process.
Q The clichéd axiom is: "Write what you know." Obviously, this story is not autobiographical, but as an American Jew, how do you feel the impact of the Holocaust in your own life?
DON: I am uncomfortably aware that in another time, another place, I and my loved ones could have been murdered for no other reason than that we were not the right ethnic group. I feel, in some ways, uncomfortably lucky to have been born in America. I wonder how I would have handled such persecution had I been a Jew living in Europe during W. W. II. I suspect, although no one can know these things, that I would have died very quickly in the camps.
Q How would you describe the process of writing this novel while teaching English in a public high school? Did your students and colleagues know you were writing it? What was their reaction?
DON: My colleagues and students were not aware that I wrote this book. I did not talk about it and even if I had, I suspect that their reaction would have been fairly muted. (Most people, I’ve found, don’t know what to say about someone else writing a book.) Now that the book is going to be published, there is more interest in what I have done. I would say, however, that my literary pursuits are not all that important in comparison to other school issues, like new learning initiatives, etc. Now if I could only write a book that would leave no child behind….
Q Your main characters are larger than life—physically attractive, gifted, fearless. You’ve managed to make them human and approachable; still, why don’t you write more about the Everyman?
DON: My imagination tends to create “outsized” individuals, whether for their talent or ambition or other qualities. Possibly I am still unduly influenced by all those Superman and Batman comics I read as a child.