Writer Wednesday: Diana Gabaldon

Diana Gabaldon

Diana Gabaldon

This week we are pleased to interview the author of the Outlander series, Diana Gabaldon. Lisa Bodenberger, Chief Creative Officer, introduced me to her books several years ago, and it was the first thing I read after getting my degree. I was thrilled to read something other than a textbook and eagerly entered the exciting world of Outlander. I have been hooked ever since.

While we wait for the next installment, Written in My Own Hearts Blood, we also excitedly anticipate the screen premiere of Outlander on Starz. In the meantime, please enjoy our chat with Diana. 

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As if you need introduction, please tell us about yourself and your novels.

Well, let's see....I've known since I was eight or so that I was meant to be a novelist. I came from a very conservative background, though, and my father was fond of telling me, "You're such a poor judge of character, you're bound to marry some bum--so be sure you get a good education so you can support your children." With this going on at home, I didn't think I'd announce that I wanted to write books--this seeming a rather iffy proposition, financially. So I went into science. I _like_ science, loved teaching, enjoy research--but I still knew I was supposed to be a novelist. So when I turned 35, I said to myself, "Mozart was __dead_ at 36; maybe you'd better get a move on here, just in case." So on my next birthday (more or less) I began writing a book. This wasn't for publication; I didn't intend to show it to anyone. It was for practice--so I could learn what it took to write a novel. Well, that was OUTLANDER. Apparently I _was_ supposed to be a novelist <g>, and here we all are, twenty-three years and 25 million books down the road. At the moment, there are seven (about to be eight) Big Books (they average about 350,000 words) in the main series--I _think_ there will be nine, total...but there are also the Lord John novels (Lord John Grey being a significant minor character from the main series--his books overlap and intersect with the main series, though they can be read separately), the OUTLANDISH COMPANION (a second volume should be out fairly soon after the new novel (WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART'S BLOOD--pub date June 10th, 2014--and there might be a third volume to finish things off, eventually), and what my husband calls the "pilot fish". These are the short pieces--mostly novellas--sometimes done for an anthology and sometimes done as an original ebook and then later collected--they deal with lacunae in the main storylines, with minor characters, or backstory, but all of them swim with and around the big main books.

As millions anticipate the mini-series adaptation of Outlander, describe how it feels to see your characters in the flesh.

Er...well, for starters, it's not a mini-series. It is <clearing throat portentously> "a STARZ original television series." I hesitate to say "you know, like "Game of Thrones," " because there's much less random blood-shed and the sex is _much_ better done...but you know, like "Game of Thrones." <g> I.e., we have a guaranteed first season of 16 episodes, which should cover the whole of the first book in the series, and if people like it...then there'll be more. Seeing my characters in the flesh? Really Weird. <g> Also Totally Fascinating! I had _no_ idea how this might work out, but have been relieved and thrilled by the meticulous and thoughtful adaptation and the truly spectacular and moving performances I've seen so far. Couldn't be happier with the casting, as much with the smaller parts as with the actors playing Jamie and Claire (Scottish actor Sam Heughan and Irish actress Caitriona Balfe).

Do you have any special plans for the first airing of Outlander on Starz? A Celtic themed party, perhaps?

Not right this minute, no. Really not much on parties, beyond a simple gathering of friends and food. But it's also possible that Starz will have its own premiere plans, and if so, then naturally I'd be available for whatever they want to do.

Your novels are set (primarily) in Scotland and England. Are there any other geographical locations that inspire your writing?

No, not at the moment. I do have a couple of contemporary crime novels under contract, and those are set (mostly) in Arizona, but I can't say the setting inspired them to any great extent.

In your book, "The Outlandish Companion" you provide a wonderful chapter titled, "Where characters come from: Mushrooms, Onions and Hard Nuts." Looking back over the Outlander series which characters were the hardest and easiest to work with and under which category do they fall?

Well, Lord John Grey is probably my best mushroom. He just popped up out of nowhere, and is the sort of guy who just walks off with any scene he's in. He always talks to me. Brianna is likely the most difficult. She's a hard nut (as you might suppose): those are the characters who I'm obliged to use, either by the requirements of history (can't really write about the Jacobite Rebellion of the '45 without dealing with Bonnie Prince Charle, I mean) or plot. In Bree's case, Claire went back to the future pregnant; clearly, there was gonna be a kid in the next book. But I had no idea who this person might be, and had to work with her intensively to discover what she was about.

If you had to choose one aspect of the series that causes it to appeal to such a broad audience, what would that aspect be?

Mm...honesty, I guess. There are all sorts of things that people say they like: the history, the adventure, the medicine, the spirituality, the sex <g>...but mostly, it's the characters that they like. And I think they do appreciate the characters because they perceive them as real people; these aren't perfect heroes and heroines, they don't do everything right, there's a lot of moral ambiguity and confusion and difficulty--but in the end, it's an honest book, and so we believe in them and want to know more about them.

Within the confines of a series, every novel (like a child) is different. What have you discovered to be the best practices when approaching the uniqueness and temperament of a new novel?

I don't think you could dignify what I do as a "practice." <g> I just live with the book, really. I don't plan them out, I don't work with an outline, and I don't write in a _straight_ line. It's just that as I write my bits and pieces, they start eventually to join up and make bigger pieces--and eventually, I'll perceive the "shape" of the book. Once I've seen that, the writing becomes easier and--at least marginally--more focused.

How do you sustain your personal interest, pace and voice in each novel of a series that has spanned two decades?

Same way I've stayed married to the same man for 42 years. <g> Love, patience, and intense fascination (sexual attraction helps, too--both to a man and a book).

Authors publishing independently has become a booming business. What is your opinion on this new frontier and what advice do you have for novelists choosing this path?

I think it's great. Gives a voice to everyone, and opens up fascinating new avenues for marketing and experimentation. That said, I think there are some pitfalls; new writers may rush something into print that would have profited a _lot_ from good editorial advice, decent copy-editing and some of the other niceties of traditional publishing--and there's no denying that a mainstream publisher still has a huge advantage in terms of placement, distribution, and marketing. Advice? Difficult, as there are so many writers at different stages, and so many variables involved. Mostly just common sense; take your time, do your research, and then _THINK_ before committing yourself.

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Posted on December 11, 2013 and filed under Writer Wednesday.