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Sunday, September 22, 2013

Interview of NY Times best selling author, Diana Gabaldon

Hello readers, writers and everyone else who has stumbled upon us today. It’s a special day here at Romance Books 4 Us because we have New York Times best-selling author, Diana Gabaldon visiting us. Get comfy, because Diana is about to share with us a little bit about her work, herself and some exciting things she has happening in her world. 

***For more information about Diana Gabaldon, visit her author page at
Thanks for stopping by today, Diana. I know the readers are Romance Books 4 Us have been eagerly awaiting this interview to learn more about you! 
Q: I read that in addition to your extensive degrees that you actually served as a university professor for over ten years. Did teaching young minds help mold you as a writer?
Well, no. I was a scientist. My degrees are all in the biological sciences (I have a Ph.D. in Quantitative Behavioral Ecology) and I was primarily a research professor. I did teach classes fairly often, substituting for professors on sabbatical, or teaching hugely popular classes that needed more than one professor to accommodate the number of students—and I like teaching very much, but my being a university professor had nothing to do with my writing.
(I should modify that, maybe, by noting that any form of writing is good, in that it gives one confidence and skill, but beyond the basic nuts and bolts of sentence construction, grammar and punctuation—which I had by the fifth grade (I went to a Catholic parochial school)—the skills required to write fiction aren’t quite the same as the ones needed to write an elegantly coherent scientific paper.)
Q: Was it difficult to make the transition from educator to best-selling author?  Or was it a smooth transfer of roles?
Well, I’d been writing a novel while working at the university, so really, all I did was resign when my university contract came up for renewal, soon after I’d sold my first book and got a three-book contract with it.
As for the “best-selling” part, though…in all the recent kerfuffle about the new Starz tv series based on the books, that’s kind of come into stark perspective. As I told the lovely young Scottish actor who’ll be playing Jamie (Sam Heughan is his name), “for me, it was like boiling a frog—I started as a complete nobody and got semi-famous very slowly over the course of years. They’re gonna throw you in at the hot end.”
Q:  Is there anything you took from that experience to be help you to become the writer you are today?
Everything writers see, think, and experience influences their work. How could it not? Now, it's true that people do ask writers, "Where do you get your ideas?" and that writers--out of facetiousness or desperation--give answers like, "From the Sears catalog" (or "From," depending on the writer's vintage). But the truth is that writers get ideas from everything they see, hear, smell, touch, taste, think, feel, or do—including the books they read.
Naturally, one wants to develop a unique voice, but do kids learn to talk without ever being talked to? You have an individual voice, by virtue of being an individual. And your individuality is composed of your essential God-given spark of personality and of the sum total of the things you encounter in life. Now, whether each encounter is a bruising collision or a fruitful act of love…who knows? But all of it is grist to a writer's mill; so much should be obvious, if one reads at all widely.      
Q:  You’ve had dozens of releases throughout the years, but one series has truly taken on a life of its own. Your Outlander Series of books has delighted readers for years. With the first book in this series, aptly named Outlander as well, did you know then that it would become all that it has? Or did this take you by complete surprise?   
Err…possibly you’ve mistaken me for someone much more prolific. I haven’t had “dozens of releases” and in fact, I’ve only written the OUTLANDER series. Granted, I’m working on  my 14th book, but I’ve been a novelist for 23 years; not really blinding speed, I mean.
But to answer your  essential question, no, I didn’t. I wrote OUTLANDER for practice, in order to learn how to write a novel. I didn’t intend to show it to anyone, let alone try to publish it. But Things Happened, and…here we all are, much to my amazement, with (my agent tells me) 25 million books in print in 38 countries, and a cable-TV show (to be aired on the Starz channel and its licensees in various countries) about to begin filming in Scotland this September. Who expects that sort of stuff?!?
Just goes to show that if you keep working, eventually you get somewhere, I suppose.
Q: With the Outlander series, or any of your books, do you ever find it difficult to come up with new and exciting characters to draw us in? Or have you found a trick to keep things fresh and exciting?  
Heck, no. To both questions. I seldom (if ever) “come up” with characters, in the sense of deliberately constructing one. People just come along and talk to me…and I listen. I show up for work, and so do they.
As to tricks, really no. It’s just a combination of imagination and research. I’m not writing novels in any particular genre, so am not bound by the standard genre forms and expectations; I’m free to explore the lives and times of the characters, and follow the evolving shape of each story. As it is, while the series does deal with an ensemble of continuing characters, these people change with life and circumstance, and each book is unique in structure, tone, approach, and theme.
I don’t like to do things I’ve done before.
Q: Have you ever considered trying a new sub-genre? Are there any that interest you which you haven’t tried yet?
What is this word, sub-genre…? Given the name and focus of your blog,  I, um, kind of assume that you’re assuming that I write romance novels. I don’t—as anyone who does would gladly tell you. (I like romance novels, and I certainly read enough of them to know that’s not what I write.)
As I said above, I wrote OUTLANDER for practice. That being so, I wondered what might be the easiest sort of book to write—no point in making things hard. After a bit of thought, I decided that a historical novel might be the easiest thing to write for practice; I was a research professor; I knew my way around a library. It seemed (I thought) easier to look things up than to make them up…and if I turned out to have no imagination, I could steal things from the historical record. (This works really well, btw…)
But since it was for practice, when Claire Beauchamp Randall showed up on the third day (up ‘til then, all I had was a man in a kilt) and started making smart-ass modern remarks (and also took over and started telling the story herself), I said, “Hey, I’m not going to fight with you all the way through this book. No one’s ever going to see this; it doesn’t matter what bizarre thing I do—go ahead and be modern, I’ll figure out where you came from later.” So it’s all her fault that there’s time-travel in these books.
All that being so…I made no attempt whatever to make the book conform to any kind of genre; I used elements and literary devices from all the sorts of books I liked—and I like a lot of different kinds of books.
Consequently…the marketing people had a hell of a time trying to sell the book, twenty years ago, long before electronic book-selling loosened the descriptive requirements.
And in further consequence…the books have been nominated for several Rita Awards,* as well as the SFWA’s Nebula Awards,  a Quill Award for “science-fiction/fantasy/horror” (I actually won that one, beating out both George R.R. Martin and Stephen King), an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America, and the Corine International Prize for Fiction. I won that one, too, which was Very Cool, and got to go to Germany to accept it on Bavarian television, which was also very cool, though Somewhat Fraught… 

The theater where they held the award ceremony was a recently restored historic opera house, with the original wooden folding seats. I was elegantly attired in chiffon evening trousers and beaded tank, with a long silk coat with Oriental poppies on it over all—and two small electronic boxes clipped to my pants in back: one was a transmitter for the translation (as the proceedings were in German) and the other was the transmitter for my lavaliere mike. I was last on the program, and after squirming around on my seat for an hour, one of the boxes had worked loose and fallen down between the seat and its back--a fact I discovered when they called my name and I leapt up, only to discover that I was tethered to my seat by the box's wire. I succeeded--with frantic yanking--in getting the damn thing out of the seat (as the camera dollied in on me), but there was no way I was going to stand there in full view of Bavaria, stuffing it back into my pants. So I raced up onstage with it in my hand, hoping people would think it a small, chic evening bag of some kind.
Nobody seemed to notice (or were too polite to ask me what the heck?), and aside from the difficulty of juggling the box, a gigantic bouquet of Russian sunflowers (any one of which was the size of my head), and the prize--a limited edition porcelain figurine made by the Nymphenburg pottery and designed by Miuccia Prada--while facing an honest-to-goodness phalanx of flashbulbs, the evening worked out well.
*In re the Rita Awards…as I said, various of the books have been nominated several times, in various categories. In almost all cases, scores came back as either a 6 (“I wish I’d written this book myself”) or a 0 (“It doesn’t matter how good it is, it isn’t a romance”).   The only time I did win a Rita, it was for a category called “Best Book of the Year,” which—at that time—was not limited to the romance genre, and which was voted on by the membership, rather than by a panel of  judges.
Q: Out of all your books, is there one that still calls to you? Maybe one book that you wouldn’t mind picking up again, and maybe telling a new chapter to their already told tale?
Ahh…you haven’t actually read my books, have you? That’s perfectly fine, no requirement….
The OUTLANDER series (and the Lord John novels, which are not a separate series, but an integral part of the larger OUTLANDER series; also a number of novellas dealing with backstory, subsidiary characters and lacunae in the larger books) deals with the ongoing lives and times of a number of people; each book or novella contains new chapters to the existing tale—but it is essentially all one big story.
If there’s something I want to write, I write it; that’s about the size of it. 
Q: Your characters all seem to have one thing in common. They have incredible charisma. How do you keep your mind constantly flowing to come out with these characters which make us laugh and smile?
It’s called “work.”
Really. Some days, it “flows”—and some days, writing is like pushing rocks uphill…with your nose. You just show up, though, and do your best, and eventually, the characters start showing up, too.
Q: The word out on the cyber street is that Written In My Own Heart’s Blood is being released in March 2014. This will be the eighth book in the Outlander series. Can you share a small excerpt or teaser with us on this one?
Copyright 2013 Diana Gabaldon
          William had left the house like a thunderclap, and the place looked as though it had been struck by lightning.  I certainly felt like the survivor of a massive electrical storm; hairs and nerve endings all standing up straight on end, waving in agitation.
          Jenny Murray had entered the house on the heels of William’s departure, and while the sight of her was a lesser shock than any of the others so far, it still left me speechless.  I goggled at my erstwhile sister-in-law—though come to think, she still was my sister-in-law…because Jamie was alive.  Alive
He’d been in my arms not ten minutes before, and the memory of his touch flickered through me like lightning in a bottle.  I was dimly aware that I was smiling like a loon, despite massive destruction, horrific scenes, William’s distress—if you could call an explosion like that “distress”—Jamie’s danger, and a faint wonder as to what either Jenny or Mrs. Figg, Lord John’s cook and housekeeper, might be about to say.
          Mrs. Figg was smoothly spherical, gleamingly black, and inclined to glide silently up behind one like a menacing ball-bearing.
          "What's this?" she barked, manifesting herself suddenly behind Jenny.
          "Holy Mother of God!"  Jenny whirled, eyes round and hand pressed to her chest.  "Who in God's name are you?"
          "This is Mrs. Figg," I said, feeling a surreal urge to laugh, despite--or maybe because of--recent events.  "Lord John Grey's cook.  And Mrs. Figg, this is Mrs. Murray.  My,"
          "Your good-sister," Jenny said firmly.  She raised one black eyebrow.  "If ye'll have me, still?"  Her look was straight and open, and the urge to laugh changed abruptly into an equally strong urge to burst into tears.  Of all the unlikely sources of succor I could have imagined...  I took a deep breath and put out my hand.
          "I'll have you."  We hadn’t parted on good terms in Scotland, but I had loved her very much, once, and wasn’t about to pass up any opportunity to mend things.
          Her small firm fingers wove through mine, squeezed hard, and as simply as that, it was done.  No need for apologies or spoken forgiveness. She'd never had to wear the mask that Jamie did.  What she thought and felt was there in her eyes, those slanted blue cat-eyes she shared with her brother.   She knew the truth now, of what I was—and knew I loved—had always loved--her brother with all my heart and soul--despite the minor complications of my being presently married to someone else.
          She heaved a sigh, eyes closing for an instant, then opened them and smiled at me, mouth trembling only a little.
          "Well, fine and dandy," said Mrs. Figg, shortly.  She narrowed her eyes and rotated smoothly on her axis, taking in the panorama of destruction.  The railing at the top of the stair had been ripped off, and cracked banisters, dented walls, and bloody smudges marked the path of William's descent.  Shattered crystals from the chandelier littered the floor, glinting festively in the light that poured through the open front door, the door itself cracked through and hanging drunkenly from one hinge.
          "Merde on toast," Mrs. Figg murmured.  She turned abruptly to me, her small black-currant eyes still narrowed.  "Where's his lordship?"
          "Ah," I said.  This was going to be rather sticky, I saw.  While deeply disapproving of most people, Mrs. Figg was devoted to John.  She wasn't going to be at all pleased to hear that he'd been abducted by--
          "For that matter, where's my brother?" Jenny inquired, glancing round as though expecting Jamie to appear suddenly out from under the settee.
          "Oh," I said.  "Hm.  Well..."  Possibly worse than sticky.  Because...
          "And where's my Sweet William?" Mrs. Figg demanded, sniffing the air.  "He's been here; I smell that stinky cologne he puts on his linen."  She nudged a dislodged chunk of plaster disapprovingly with the toe of her shoe.
          I took another long, deep breath, and a tight grip on what remained of my sanity.
          Mrs. Figg," I said, "perhaps you would be so kind as to make us all a cup of tea?"
Q:  In June of this year your readers were treated with the fantastic news that Starz gave a green light for the Outlander series to hit the screen. As a reader and fan I know I am very excited to see it once it hits Starz network. With shooting just getting underway this month we can only imagine how exciting this may be for you. Can you tell us how you’re dealing with all of the excitement? Have you caught yourself jumping up and down on the bed? Or maybe occasionally giving yourself a pinch?
Well, my first reaction was extreme wariness. I’ve been through a number of option deals before. Now, an option essentially means that a production company offers you a modest amount of money for a period of time, during which they have the exclusive right to try to assemble the necessary (financing, a script, a director, etc.) to actually make a movie or television show.
If the option expires without that happening…you get it back. You can then extend the option period to the original production company (if you want to), sell it to someone else, or just decide you don’t want to do that right now. 
If the production company does succeed in putting together a deal (Very Long Odds, believe me)…the option contract provides for a set purchase price for the actual film rights. Once they’ve paid that, they’ve bought the film rights—and they own them forever.  And can, basically, do any damn thing they want to with them. Which means you want to be pretty dang careful who you deal with.
I must say, though, that I’ve been Amazed at our good luck in falling into the hands of Jim Kohlberg (the executive producer, who persevered for nearly four years, through several execrable movie scripts, before finally putting together the deal with Starz) and Ron D. Moore, the other executive producer and show-runner.  Ron and his associate, Maril Davis, came out to my house in Scottsdale and spent two days with me, talking over the books, the characters, the storylines, their ideas regarding adaptation, etc. I was more than impressed, and very heartened at their willingness to include me in the process.
That inclusion has continued; they’re remarkably kind about showing me things and asking my opinion (though they aren’t legally compelled to take my advice <g>). I’ve seen the pilot script—which, as I told them, was the only script I’ve seen based on my work that didn’t make me either turn white or burst into flames—and am thrilled with their casting choices (I’ve seen the audition tapes for the main characters, Jamie Fraser, Claire Randall, and Frank/Black Jack Randall, and they were Just Phenomenal).
The show begins filming in Scotland pretty soon, and with luck, will likely air sometime around next April.  Can’t wait!
Thank you so much for joining us today, Diana. I’m sure all the readers here will agree with me that we will be anxiously awaiting the Outlander series as it hits our television screens. While he might have to wait a year until it all comes together, we’ll have the March 2014 release of Written In My Own Heart’s Blood to tide us over until then.

BLURB for Written In My Own Heart’s Blood
The wait is nearly over—Claire and Jamie’s story continues in the next thrilling book in Diana Gabaldon’s multimillion bestselling Outlander series. Written in My Own Heart’s Blood follows Gabaldon’s characters through revolutionary Philadelphia and onto the battlefields, as Jamie makes a dramatic return to Claire’s side, a new army sweeps the city, and romance and violence brew. This enthralling adventure carries us through betrayal and redemption, death and danger, and through the perilous waves of a family’s loves and loyalties.
Readers, don’t forget to check out all Diana’s work by visiting her website. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.

          Diana Gabaldon is the author of the award-winning, #1 NYT-bestselling OUTLANDER novels, described by Salon magazine as "the smartest historical sci-fi adventure-romance story ever written by a science Ph.D. with a background in scripting "Scrooge McDuck" comics."
          The adventure began in 1991 with the best-selling classic, OUTLANDER, and has continued through seven more New York Times-bestselling novels--DRAGONFLY IN AMBER, VOYAGER, DRUMS OF AUTUMN, THE FIERY CROSS, A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES, and AN ECHO IN THE BONE (plus THE EXILE, an OUTLANDER graphic novel), with twenty-five million copies in print worldwide.  She is presently working on the eighth novel in the series, WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART’S BLOOD. 
          The series is published in 38 countries and 34 languages, and includes a nonfiction (well, relatively) companion volume, THE OUTLANDISH COMPANION, which provides details on the settings, background, characters, research, and writing of the novels.  (A second volume of the COMPANION is in progress, which will cover Books 5-8 of the main series, plus the Lord John Grey novels and other novellas and short pieces.)


Jacqueline Seewald said...

What a wonderful, in-depth interview! Diana, I am a huge fan of the Outlander series and am delighted to find out that you are publishing new novels. I look forward to reading them.

Jacqueline Seewald

Marianne Stephens said...

Thanks for being here at RB4U...very detailed interview! Good luck with TV production!

vicki batman said...

Good morning, Diana! whom I had the pleasure meeting in Tulsa on a rainy fall day before I turned my hand to writing.

When my friend gave me Outlander and said, "READ THIS!," I did and loved it. Congratulations on the series. I'll be tuning in.

Rose Anderson said...

Hi Diana, Thanks for coming to the RB4U today. Your characters are very real with complex personalities and I've enjoyed them immensely. I've been a huge fan of the Outlander story for years. It's part of my yearly fiction binge. :) Gotta love a keeper. Best luck on your next and on your upcoming movie version.

Nicole Morgan said...

It was a pleasure interviewing you, Diana. Thanks so much for joining us today!

Melissa Keir said...

Great interview. I loved hearing more about you and your work. I loved reading your series and am excited to see it come to the screen. I hope that your show has much success and thank you again for sharing your time with us.

jean hart stewart said...

What a pleasure to learn more about Diana. Have loved the Outlander series for years, and think anybody who hasn't is kinda crazy. Thanks for the interview...

Anonymous said...

Thank you for spending the time it took to write such an insightful post, Diana. Lucky you getting to "work" with a Scottish actor! I could listen to one talk to me for hours...brogues are sexy!

Congratulations on the new release and the television production. Your hours at "work" have certainly paid off!

Cara Marsi said...

I love the Outlander series. Jamie is one of the best heroes ever. I can't wait to watch the Starz miniseries.

Vijaya Schartz, author said...

Fancy to see you here, Diana. Enjoyed the interview. Good luck with the TV deal. I have Starz and will be looking for it in the spring. Also looking forward to the new novel. You are such a classic treasure of women's fiction. Wishing you continuous success.

Kenzie Michaels said...

Wonderful interview! Nice to know more about you, Diana:)

AGutierrez said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Winona Cross said...

I've the entire series twice. Why did I first buy "Outlander"? Because of the Scottish connection. I've always felt drawn to Scotland but it didn't dawn on me until I was an adult because I'm a MacGregor.

This was a great interview. It's got sass and humor as well as the facts. I hope that all of us who work at this writing game realize that even authors like Diana Gabaldon have struggled. Those of us who are new lose sight of that, I think.

Great blog! Thank you.

sue Leech said...

Enjoy your interview and best wishes to you . Sue Leech

Janice Seagraves said...

I've enjoyed your books, but only read three of your series. I may get the rest of the series for my tablet.

Good luck with the cable show.


Cris Anson said...

Late but heartfelt comment. I loved the Outlander series so much I read each one at least twice. Am soooo looking forward to the new one.

Thanks to RB4U for interviewing one of the most awesome authors around.

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