GCE Exclusive: Interview with Diana GabaldonJuly 15, 2014
Sitting down with a New York Times #1 Bestselling author is both exciting and incredibly educational. There was nothing lacking in either of those categories when Diana Gabaldon came to meet her fans in Toronto recently. As a writer, when you get the chance to sit down with another writer to perform an interview, you begin to feel as though you’re not doing work but becoming a student for that moment in time. The questions become incredibly natural in asking and your attention is unwavering at all times as they give you a brief glimpse inside their world. If you’ve always aspired to write and wanted to chat with another writer, then you’ll enjoy the interview.
In 1991, Diana took the world by storm when she brought us the book Outlander. This book began what is now an incredible series as we just received her eighth book on June 10th known as Written in My Own Hearts Blood also nicknamed MOBY. If being a multi-time New York Times Bestseller isn’t example enough, she estimates that in the last two weeks since printing 25,000 copies of MOBY she has signed about 22,000 of those books on tour.
The popularity of Outlander will also be accompanied by a TV series of the same name set to debut on August 9th, 2014. Diana has had the chance to work with the network to ensure accuracy in the shows historical continuity to both the books and history as she writes it. Diana puts an intense amount of research into her work and takes multiple years to write each book. You can watch a short about the TV series from Starz below:
The venue at the Toronto Reference Library was at capacity with a sold out crowd with a lineup that started to form about four hours before schedule. When we arrived inside the library hundreds of fans were there, clutching their copies of Diana’s books hoping to get a close seat to listen to her talk about her book and do a Q&A before she took the time to sign everyone’s books. Before she took stage, I got the chance to sit down with her for a few minutes and pick her brain on a few things before returning to the crowd where I got the chance to speak to some fans as well. Diana’s fans seem to have the same intensity as her when it comes to the Outlander series. Everyone seems very passionate about the characters and the way the stories are portrayed and presented. It’s as though the stories themselves are historical fact and Diana’s fans have all their faith in her to be the only one to tell them such an amazing story. And she does it so well.
How often do you write when you’re working on a book?
It kind of depends on where I am in the course of a book. I write really big books and it takes me several years to finish one as they are very complex and takes a lot of research. Also, the engineering of them takes a lot of time and because it’s a huge series, I can’t ever be sure that someone finding one of my books will know that it’s a part of a big huge series. If they’re [readers] picking this book up at the airport book shop and say ‘this will get me through to Cleveland’ they better be able to enjoy it as it is without having read the first seven books. You have to kind of weave in the backstory so they can get what they need without boring the pants off the people who were with you for the first seven books. That delicate balancing act takes a certain amount of skill and time to do.
In the beginning of a book, I don’t plan things out ahead of time and I don’t write with an outline. So to begin with, I’m kind of feeling my way in the dark and I’m doing the research concurrently and a lot of random thinking, but I will write every day because if you don’t write, the inertia builds up on you and it’s really hard to get going again.
As I move into the book after a month or two, I’ll be able to hit my walking pace as I like to call it, and that’s a thousand words a day or what I aim for. Some days that a real strain to get and other days it’s like nothing and I can get two or three thousand if it’s one of your lucky days when it just flows. As I get farther in the book toward what I call ‘the final frenzy’; that’s the last two or three months of the writing; at that point I know everything about this book and I don’t have to stop and look things up. I understand where all the pieces fit it’s like being plugged into electricity. It’s just coming through you and at that point I’ll be writing fourteen to sixteen hours a day. It’s really intoxicating.
You’ve done some work in comics with Disney and an Outlander graphic novel. Do you think there will be more comic work in your future?
When graphic novels started becoming mainstream — this actually came about indirectly because of movie and film deals. Those deals always reserve merchandising rights and so we had a contract for the final option that eventually turned into TV. I suddenly then asked my agent if that would include comic books and graphic novels. He said “It normally would include those but I’ve never run into graphic novels in this context before, so I don’t know whether that would be covered or not.” My previous comic book work was all for Disney where you’re working with proprietary characters and things like that. There are certain constraints on what you do and don’t do. If you work for DC or Marvel, those are somewhat different, and I learnt from working with my illustrator at Disney that they have their own way of working and writers lay out the entire script. We’re responsible for the spacing and the number of panels and exactly what happens in them. So I let the artist have as much artistic free reign as I could (on the Outlander graphic novel).
How closely involved have you been with the process behind your show adaptation of Outlander?
It’s been to an amazing degree. I was astonished because I had heard before that they basically don’t want you anywhere around it. This one worked out very very fortuitously. The option was held by a guy named Jim Kohleberg who wanted to make a two hour movie out of it and I can tell you after 20 years of trying, it’s impossible to make a two hour movie out of that book and have it resemble the original in any way shape or form. After three option renewals, it was coming to this conclusion. He had hired several very respectable screen writers whose names you would recognize if I was indiscreet enough to repeat them. As I told Ron Moore as he showed me his pilot script before taking it to a pitch session, this is the first thing I’ve ever read based on my books that didn’t make me turn white or burst into flames. Ron had become interested in the books and after Battlestar Galactica he was looking for a project. He was talking about it over dinner one night with his wife and his production partner and one of them suggested Outlander and the other lit up and said, “Oh you read Outlander!” and then they all got excited as Outlander fans do when meeting each other. So he asked if they had a copy of the book and they both pulled one out of their bag. But they came out and spent two days with me at my house in Scottsdale talking through the storylines, the characters and backstory. Basically anything that I might know about the characters that’s not in the books. They shared with me their ideas for visual adaptation and we were on the same wavelength.
Beyond that, Starz values the enormous fanbase and obviously it looks fairly better if I’m involved and approve of it and so forth. They show me scripts and footage then ask my opinion of it which is very kind of them because they are not under any legal compulsion to take it. There was one scene where they had some Highland women in a Highland village drinking tea and playing cards with each other and Claire comes along and is having conversation with them. Basically a time passing scene before somebody breaks in to drag her away to do something. I pointed it out that there are places in Scotland where people still think playing cards are the devils paste boards and you wouldn’t find women in the Highlands in the 18th century playing cards. They didn’t have tea at that point in that place and also these are village women, so they aren’t going to be sitting around in the afternoon drinking tea. I suggested what they might be doing which is walking wool; where you mash it back and forth with your hands. They listened to me and there’s this lovely sequence and it came out to be a great scene.
If you had a chance to sit home and binge watch a TV show episode after episode, what would it be?
Ooh let’s see, maybe Game of Thrones. I have actually not watched television seriously in a couple of years. The last thing I did binge watch was the third season of Downton Abbey and before that, the last season of True Blood. So I’ve sort of been saving Game of Thrones for when I was finished with MOBY.
Aside from the TV show coming out and the current release of your new book, what is next for you that you’d like people to keep an eye out for?
There are a couple of things. There is a novella that I wrote for an anthology and I’ve got the rights back for it so it will be published as an ebook in the US and Canada fairly shortly. It’s called Virgins and it is the story of Jamie Fraser at age 19 and his not-yet brother in law Ian at age 20 as very young mercenaries in France in 1740. That will be out a little later this year. I also have a 30,000 word ebook called How to Write and Not Write Sex Scenes which will probably be out later this year as well.
In closing I’d like to thank Diana for taking the time to speak with us here at The GCE. We hope everyone will run out and pick up the newest book in the Outlander series or any of the previous seven books in the series and let us know what you think. Be sure to keep an eye out for what’s going to be an instant hit TV show this August when Outlander premieres as well.