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Guest post: Nicole Galland, author of I, Iago

April 29, 2012

I’ve been chatting with Nicole Galland, the author of I, Iago, via email for a little while and I told her that I really don’t know anything about Shakespeare.  She said it’s not necessary to be familiar with Shakespeare’s work before reading hers and that she’d love to have her work be judged on its own merit rather than being compared to the original.  When I invited her to write a guest post, she happily agreed.  I’d like to thank Nicole for this deeply personal post.  I think you’ll enjoy it.

The story behind the story behind the story of  I, IAGO by Nicole Galland

This is, for me, an unusually personal blog post, in ways that won’t be obvious at once.

The story:

My novel I, Iago is a take on Shakespeare’s magnificent Othello. Therefore when talking about the novel, I find it helps to say a little something about the play. In brief: Othello, his bride Desdemona, and several other characters meet dreadful fates because Ensign Iago – trusted and beloved by Othello – viciously, cleverly destroys everybody’s lives as revenge for having lost a job promotion.

The story behind the story:

Having alluded to the plot of the original, I usually then explain what compelled me to write the story from Iago’s point of view. This is what I tell people in interviews, in the extra material at the back of the book, at readings.

In brief: we were staging a reading of Othello, and the actor we’d asked to play Iago showed up admitting he had never read the play – and did not know the character. After recovering from his confession, I suggested we read through the script together and discuss it. He and I worked very long and late, contemplating Iago, his motivations, his character. Then we performed it, script-in-hand, for two performances. He was a fabulous Iago, but we had really only scratched the surface, and suddenly the show was over. I could not stop pondering all the elements of Iago’s personality, and found myself thinking about them obsessively . . . until one day I had an epiphany, understood the whole story with Iago as the protagonist, not antagonist, and started to write the novel.

The story behind the story behind the story:

This is the part I usually demur from mentioning.

My interest in Iago’s character was not just artistic – it was personal, almost to the point of panic. Here was a man who practiced psychological violence on people who trusted him completely, and I was staving off some psychological violence myself at the time.

Nearly a dozen friends and family had delicately expressed concerns about my husband’s behavior toward me. I defended him to them (a common behavior in emotionally abusive relationships) but privately, I was desperate to understand why he had changed from a loving partner to somebody so unkind that his own mother fretted publicly about his treatment of me. If only I could understand, I thought, then I could fix things and he would be nice to me again.

At a certain point during the rehearsal, the actor playing Iago said, “I don’t think Iago’s evil, I just think maybe he has so much self-loathing that he projects it outward toward the people he is closest to, and loathes them instead.”

After rehearsal I was talking to one of the other actors, who was a close friend. This friend expressed dismay – very carefully and respectfully – about the clearly worsening dynamic between my husband and myself.

“I don’t think he’s evil or anything,” said the friend. “But I think he suffers from self-loathing, so much so that he’s projecting it onto you.”

Hadn’t I just heard that?

And so, after the play was finished, all those hours I spent trying to get inside Iago’s head, I had a personal investment in what I’d find there. I was trying to understand how somebody I loved and trusted could develop such a need to hurt me – as Iago had hurt those who trusted him. I was hoping that understanding Iago would help me understand my situation. That somehow, magically, I could discover a way to save Iago from himself and that would show me how to save my marriage.

That did not – could not – happen. I found insights into Iago – enough to remind me that Iago and my husband were not the same person. And this was a good thing – Iago, as a fictional character, could be brought to term. In wrangling with his demons, I could make the rules, I could ask and answer all the questions – unlike in my crumbling marriage, in which I had no say at all, and no power to help my husband with whatever his demons were.

My imaginary conversations with Iago became no longer the means to save my marriage, but the means to survive the psychological chaos of its inevitable demise.  I could make no sense of my husband, but I could make sense of Iago. I could, and did, humanize him. The creation of his story balanced out the destruction of my own. It was a kind of alchemy. It healed me.


I, Iago was published by Harper Collins on April 24.

From earliest childhood, the precocious boy called Iago had inconvenient tendencies toward honesty—a failing that made him an embarrassment to his family and an outcast in the corrupt culture of glittering Renaissance Venice. Embracing military life as an antidote to the frippery of Venetian society, Iago won the love of the beautiful Emilia and the regard of Venice’s revered General Othello. After years of abuse and rejection, Iago was poised to achieve everything he had ever fought for and dreamed of . . .

But a cascade of unexpected deceptions propels him on a catastrophic quest for righteous vengeance, contorting his moral compass until he has betrayed his closest friends and family, and sealed his own fate as one of the most notorious villains of all time.

Inspired by William Shakespeare’s classic tragedy Othello—a timeless tale of friendship and treachery, love and jealousy—Galland’s I, Iago sheds fascinating new light on a complex soul, and on the conditions and fateful events that helped to create a monster.

23 Comments leave one →
  1. medievalbookworm permalink
    April 29, 2012 5:01 am

    What a great – if incredibly sad – story behind this book. I hope you’ve found happiness now, Nicole, and in the meantime, you’ve channeled it into a fantastic book.

  2. April 29, 2012 5:20 am

    Such a sad story behind what seems to be a great and interesting book…
    Thanks for sharing it.

  3. April 29, 2012 9:51 am

    Such an interesting interview. I too had an abusive relationship with a self-loathing person but never had an epiphany about it until once when he was drunk and accused me of character traits that his foster father had accused him of, and that couldn’t apply to me in any way, being a female. And it was then I realized, with my mouth agape even, that he was totally projecting self-hate onto me. It’s very helpful to know that! I hope reading your book helps other women come to that understanding!

  4. April 29, 2012 10:10 am

    What a sad story. I’m glad the character of Iago helped Nicole find the answer to her own relationship. This is a moving post. Now of course I really must read the book.

  5. April 29, 2012 11:18 am

    I think Nocole’s guest post is one of the most open and honest posts that I have read. Thank you for sharing your story.

  6. April 29, 2012 2:03 pm

    WordPress ate my original comment, I think. Bottom line: thanks to Nicole Galland for sharing such a personal, touching guest post. I’m very keen to read the book.

  7. Patty permalink
    April 29, 2012 3:47 pm

    Wow…truly amazing.

  8. April 29, 2012 3:55 pm

    First of all Kathy, you have a knack for asking author’s one question that generates so much of the back story – so incredibly impressive! And then Nicole, I was anxious to read this book before your post, but now I’m even more so – thank you for sharing such a personal story that must have been and may even still be a a terribly hurtful situation. I hope you have found some healing and grace.

  9. April 29, 2012 4:14 pm

    What an open and honest post from Nicole! I enjoyed reading it, and am thankful that events transpired to help Nicole find answers for her real life situation. Sometimes people never figure out how to deal with and/or get out of situations like that.

  10. April 29, 2012 5:26 pm

    Nicole wasn’t able to leave a comment because of WordPress’s new commenting system, so she asked me to leave this for her:

    “Thank you all so much for these responses, I am deeply touched by them.
    Since Meghan expressed wishes for my finding happiness, I’ll share the epilogue to this story (which you can read about in the back of the book):

    The following summer, after the divorce, I was finishing the first draft of I, IAGO, when the actor who had played Iago for me came back to Martha’s Vineyard (where I live) on vacation. We spent a little time together, just two friends, catching up… until he came along with me to a tango lesson, where we laughed hysterically at how inept we were at tango dancing. We started spending more time together. And now – as one interviewer recently put it – I am literally married to my work.

    Thank you all for your good wishes. I hope that everyone who has the misfortune to go through difficulties comes out the other side strong enough to keep on moving forward.”

  11. April 29, 2012 7:00 pm

    Thank you for sharing this personal background story. I am so glad that the author’s story, in real life, has a happy ending, or rather, a new beginning.

  12. bookingmama permalink
    April 29, 2012 7:32 pm

    This might sound awful but this book wasn’t really on my radar until I read your guest post!

  13. April 29, 2012 8:06 pm

    What an incredible and sad background to the story. I’m glad to see from the reply in the comments that things have turned around so well in her life.

  14. April 29, 2012 10:41 pm

    This post was so honest that I am in awe that she shared it. I am glad from her comment that she has found a happy ending.
    Iago is one Shakespeare character I’ve not forgotten over the years so this book interests me.

  15. April 29, 2012 11:05 pm

    The character had been totally forgotton by me but your personal story opened my eyes to the story.

  16. April 30, 2012 7:28 am

    This is one of the best author guest posts I’ve read. Thanks to the author for sharing the personal story behind the story. I’m glad she also shared the epilogue 🙂

  17. April 30, 2012 8:19 am

    The epilogue really makes the story. It’s a great story, and this sounds like a great book. I’ll have to think about whether I can read it because Othello is one of my favorite stories ever, and part of the mystery and horror is that Iago refuses to speak. He is a monster, and you can never know why he did this. The mystery is part of the story–that sometimes we can’t know why a person would set out to deliberately wreck a life. I both like and don’t like the basketball version of the story (O) for the same reason–the filmmaker gives Iago a motive.

    Shakespeare’s Iago is going to be tortured, despite the fact that he says this won’t make him talk. That’s a harsh last look at the monster. He really is not like us. Today such a character might be at Guantanamo Bay while we debate whether or not we should torture him.

    Anyway, It’s clear that it was a good idea to explore Iago’s motives in the context of performing the play and getting through to the end of the marriage.

  18. April 30, 2012 9:58 am

    This was indeed a deeply personal post, and I thank Nicole for having the courage to share it with us. It sounds like an incredibly tough tine in her marriage, but also an enlightening one. I would like to read this book at some point soon. It sounds simply amazing. Great guest post today!

  19. April 30, 2012 11:08 am

    What a thoughtful, amazing and very personal post. Thank you Nicole for sharing this most personal, emotional story with us. I’m sorry you went through such a difficult, hurtful experience.
    I’m familiar with Shakespeare’s Othello and, although it’s been a long time since I read it, I’ve never forgotten Iago’s cruelty. That’s why I wanted to read Iago. I was curious about how the book was written and what kind of man Iago is in the story and if we find out the motivations behind his nastiness.

    I wasn’t aware until now of the very personal story behind the author’s writing of Iago. I was hoping, if nothing else, the exploration of Iago would be therapeutic and healing for Ms. Galland. I was so relieved, and happy for her, to learn at the end of this post that it healed Ms. Galland.

    Thank you Kathy and Nicole for this inspiring, thoughtful post.

  20. April 30, 2012 11:55 am

    WOW! I read her behind-the-story essay in my volume of I, Iago, which didn’t include this part of her story and … WOW. I am grateful and appreciative that she has shared this with all of us — and especially grateful she’s in a better, happier place now. Thank you both for this amazing guest post.

  21. Staci@LifeintheThumb permalink
    April 30, 2012 6:46 pm

    I usually shy away from Shakespeare but this sounds wonderful! And I appreciate the author sharing such a personal time from her life and what actually spurred this story into being…

  22. May 1, 2012 11:15 am

    I hope you don’t mind, but I mentioned this post in my review — I couldn’t resist as I was so taken with the book’s Behind the Story essay.

  23. boardinginmyforties permalink
    May 24, 2012 2:19 pm

    My son just recently read Othello for school and loved it and was very intrigued by Iago. I think he would like this book. Thanks for sharing the words from the author with us Kathy. Very interesting!

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