Diana Gabaldon is the author of the long time best selling Outlander series. Not too long ago, I reviewed the second book of her series, Dragonfly in Amber, and sent her a link on twitter. It was just to be polite, because I always send a tweet to authors I review. I never dreamed she would respond, or that she would agree to a blog interview! Now, I am pleased to announce that today Anakalian Whims has the honor of sharing an interview with Diana Gabaldon. Enjoy!
1. You’ve made it clear that you don’t like your books catalogued as romance (completely understandable – and I agree that they are so much more than that!). What genre would you prefer them to be classified?
Well, so far, I’ve seen them classified and sold (with evident success) as: <deep breath> Literature, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Historical NON-Fiction (really), Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery, Romance, Military History (really; the Military History Book Club has carried several of my titles), Gay and Lesbian Fiction, and…Horror. (No, really. A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES beat both George RR Martin and Stephen King for a Quill Award a few years back. Very gratifying. <g>)
On the whole, I’d just like to see them classified as “Fiction.” If you call them anything related to a specific genre, you’re just asking for half the people who encounter them to shrug and go, “Enh…I don’t really read that kind of book.” No point in alienating an audience a priori, I mean.
2. The Outlander Series has been a best-selling series for twenty years. Is this what you imagined for yourself? Did you ever think Jamie and Claire’s story would reach this level of fame?
Well, no. I wrote OUTLANDER for practice, in order to learn how to write a novel. I didn’t intend even to tell anyone I was writing it, let alone try to get it published. But you know, Things Happen. <g>
3. There is a lot of detailed history in your novels. Do you enjoy doing the necessary research involved when writing these books? Outside of your research for these novels do you read a lot of history?
I love doing research. I chose to write a historical novel for practice because I was a research professor (though in the sciences), and knew my way around a library. I figured it was 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. <g> (This works really well, btw.)
I enjoy history in general, but am a dilettante reader; I just pick up books I’ve read good reviews of or hear well-spoken of, in just about any period. Reading for pleasure is a whole different animal than doing research—the latter is kind of guerrilla warfare, as opposed to a nice stroll through the scenic landscape.
4. I read that a Dr. Who episode inspired the setting for your books. I’ve been a Dr. Who fan since childhood, so I’ve got to ask: Which actor plays your favorite Doctor?
Oo, hard to choose! I suppose David Tennant wins by a bit—though I _really_ liked Chris Eccleston in his single season, and who doesn’t like Tom Baker? Matt Smith’s very enjoyable so far, but I’ve only seen his first season, as yet.
5. I am completely fascinated by the Geillis Duncan/ Gillian Edgars character. What was your inspiration for including this character in the story?
Oh, a real Scottish witch <g> named Geillis Duncan. See—“steal things from the historical record,” above.
6. I read on your website bio that you hold degrees in various sciences and were actually a college professor. Did you enjoy teaching? Any favorite anecdotes from that life?
I loved teaching; it’s the only thing I miss about academia (and thus I enjoy teaching workshops at writers conferences and the like). Anecdotes…well, there was the class I taught in Philadelphia some years ago. I was teaching a class in Human Anatomy and Physiology, to nursing students from Temple University. One of my favorite students was a black guy in his mid-thirties—all the students were a big older than the usual run of college students; these were mostly people returning to school for a nursing degree—who had a colorful background, but looked rather like the owner of a successful bar: slightly overweight, balding, glasses, conservatively but casually dressed, very outgoing and genial. His name was…well, I’ll call him Wally.
Now, all my students took the same curriculum of nursing classes, so they’d often come in talking about what had happened in the class before mine, which was something like applied techniques—a lab class where they learned to take each other’s blood pressure, draw blood, do CPR, and practice various bedside techniques. This particular month, they’d been doing bedside procedures, with a life-size dummy, demonstrating that they knew how to change a bed, check vitals, check the patient’s general well-being, take care of any personal issues, and do it all while addressing the “patient” in a kind, respectful, informative way.
On this one occasion, they came in very excited, having had an important exam in that class—they _had_ to pass that class, or they’d be thrown out of the nursing program and have to re-apply and start over. And at the end of the influx came Wally, flushed and wild-eyed, in a Complete State.
“What on earth happened?” I asked, whereupon he waved his arms and shook his fist at the heavens.
“I ran with gangs! I been in jail twice! I’ve been shot, I’ve been stabbed! I been married twice and I got three kids, I got out of the gangs, I come back to school—and now I’m about to be kicked out of school and RUIN MY LIFE…because I FORGOT TO WIPE A GODDAMN DUMMY’S ASS!!!”
7. How did your teaching career and background in science affect your approach to writing fiction?
It didn’t. At least, not in any direct or describable way. There are certain parallels between science and art, but part of that is just the way the world _is_, and part of it is just the way my mind works.
8. Do you have any nonfiction publications (other than The Outlandish Companion) in the works? (If so, I can’t wait to read them!)
Not other than a handful of scientific papers. <g> Now, in the fullness of time, I will have THE OUTLANDISH COMPANION, Part II, and am also working on a book about writing, called THE CANNIBAL’S ART. Neither of those will be out ‘til after I finish WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART’S BLOOD, though.
9. I read that your 8th Outlander book will come out sometime next year. You also have another series, Lord John, which has become popular. You’ve become quite prolific! Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
It’s the same advice for _any_ writer, no matter what their level of experience:
Gabaldon’s Three Rules for Becoming a Writer:
- Read. Read a lot, read everything. This is where you find out what you like and what you don’t like (and it’s a total waste of time to try to write something you don’t like just because you think it might sell—it won’t, believe me)—and also where you begin to learn the craft of writing. You read two books in the same genre, for instance, and think, “I like this one a lot, that one, not quite so much. Why is that?” Well, the first one has better characters; they seem realer. Oh? And why is that? Mmmm….I think it’s the way they talk. These people sound like people really sound, and the other one’s kind of wooden. OK. How did the writer do that? ‘Cuz everything a writer does is right there on the page; there’s no way to hide your techniques. <g> If you look carefully and read with attention, you’ll start to see things—for instance, that good dialogue usually consists of short sentences and brief paragraphs, while bad dialogue tends to drone on and have convoluted sentences. Or that good dialogue never tells you stuff that the characters already know—whereas a bad writer will often use dialogue as a way of info-dumping on the reader. That kind of thing.
- Write. Unfortunately, this is the only way of actually learning to write. You can read all the books you want, and take classes in creative writing, and they may be useful—but nothing will actually teach you to write, except the act of putting words on the page.
- And the last rule is the most important: DON’T STOP!!
10. I truly appreciate you taking time to interview with me. (Feels kind of like I won the lottery!) Do you have anything you would like readers to know about you and your novels that I haven’t already covered?
Let me see…Oh! We (me, my agent, and Random House <g>) are releasing a series of novellas—originally written for various anthologies—as individual e-books. These are for the benefit of readers who either didn’t see the original anthologies, or who perhaps don’t want to experiment with a collection of unknown-to-them writers just to get one story by a favorite author.
Anthologies usually only keep the reprint rights for a year or two, and once those expire…I can do anything I like with the stories. So. Those stories are beginning to come back to me, and as they do, we’ll make them available individually.
Right now, you can get “The Custom of the Army” as a separate e-novella, for any common e-reader format (i.e., Kindle, Nook, etc.), _in the US and Canada_, and you’ll be able to get “A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows” (this is the story of Roger MacKenzie’s parents, Jerry and Dolly, during WWII, wherein you learn what _really_ happened to his father) as an e-novella in October.
Because there are different rights in different geographical territories, often I get the international rights to something back well after I get the US rights back. And there are sometimes differences between the print rights and the e-rights. What THIS means is that while UK/Australia/NewZealand fans can’t (yet) get the e-novellas—BUT they’ll be able to get a print collection in October that includes not only “Custom” and “Leaf”—but also “Lord John and the Plague of Zombies” and “The Space Between” (a long novella involving Marsali’s younger sister Joan, Young Ian’s elder brother Michael, the Comte St. Germain (no, of course he isn’t dead; don’t be silly), Mother Hildegarde (and Bouton) and…Master Raymond. (NB: “The Space Between” will be available for the US and Canada in both print and e-book form in February 2013, when the anthology for which it was written comes out—the anthology is titled THE MAD SCIENTIST’S GUIDE TO WORLD DOMINATION, edited by John Joseph Adams. <g>)