It’s a record of how I’m discovering everything, how the sources and
various revelations have impacted me. Seventy-five percent of my time is
research. It’s at least a year of research, usually two years, before I start
writing the book. By then I have more command of what happened, but
before I start writing, I go back to that journal and say to myself, “This
stuff is really interesting to someone learning about this topic. Don’t
take it for granted.”
AYCOCK: This next question is about Moby-Dick, with which you have
a long history. You’ve read the novel twelve times. Did you ever ask
yourself during, say, the seventh time: why am I doing this?
PHILBRICK: For me, every time I read Moby-Dick, it’s a different book. A
lot of it has to do with how I’ve changed, my life experiences, and how
I’ve evolved as a writer. Once you’ve read something, particularly something as big and complicated as Moby-Dick, there are parts of it that
stay with you, but there’s no way it’s all there. So when I read it again, so
much seems new to me.
AYCOCK: You’ve said it’s important to spend time with the novel, to listen
to it, and to feel the prose. Are there other books you feel that way about?
PHILBRICK: Yeah, I’m a very slow reader. My wife is the opposite. She can
just roar through something, and it drives me crazy. I feel like I’m in first
grade. But I really love analyzing sentences, that perfect turn of phrase.
It’s the great 10,000-pound gorilla. Yes, hindsight
shows you what’s going to happen, but what I’m trying
to do is to get you so involved in how it happened that
you begin to realize how contingent things were. No
one at the time knew where it was going. It could have
gone so many different ways.