As the featured speaker at the Desert Dreams conference, she gave us the insider view on how the Outlander series was created, how she feels about Jamie Frasier (you'll have to wait until next week for this tidbit, sorry!), and some harsh realities on cutting for time on a TV series.
Yes, I totally fan-girled and had her sign my book.
"In 1988, I decided to write a novel for "practice, just to learn how to write," she says. "I had no intention of showing it to anyone." As a research professor at Arizona State University, she decided a historical novel would be the easiest to research and write.
She had just watched a rerun of the Doctor Who TV series. He had a young 17-year-old Scots lad that he'd picked up in 1745, she explains. "He appeared in his kilt, you know. And I thought, well, that's rather fetching." It didn't matter where she set the book, she was going to have to look everything up anyway. "So I said, Scotland 18th century it is."
And the main male character, Jamie Frasier, was conceived.
"About the third day of writing, I decide I'll have to have a female character her to play off all these men in kilts. And given that we're dealing with the Jacobite rising, perhaps I should make her an Englishwoman, that way, we'll have lots of conflict built in."
Gabaldon stops to take a breath and a sip of water. She talks really fast, you have to pay close attention to her Lauren Bacall-type throaty voice. And she's articulate. No "uhs," "uhms" or pauses to choose her words, the woman is a born story-teller.
"So I introduced her, and the minute I put her in, she refused to talk like an 18th century person. She immediately started making smartass modern remarks, and she also started telling the story herself. I said, 'If you're going to fight me all through this book, go ahead and be modern and I'll figure out how you got there later." The audience laughs and she adds, "It's all her fault that there's time travel in it."
It took her about 18 months to write the Outlander. It's 850 pages in trade paperback, or about 213,000 words. So, those of you who despair of ever finishing your novel, take heart. Gabaldon, who was working full time during her first novel, with three kids and a spouse, wrote approximately 400 words a day between midnight and 3:00am, slipping in a quick nap before she began.
The thing that amazes me is that she writes without a net: no outline, character sketches or plot plan. "I don't write in a straight line at all," she says "I just write bits and pieces and then glue them together."
But, like the Outlander books, her unorthodox approach results in magic. When, during Q&A, I commented that writing without a plan would be terrifying, her reply was pure poetic Diana Gabaldon: "It's like raising new continents. You look out over this vast sea and you see volcanoes popping up here and there. As they rise and lava goes down the sides, mountains form, and then gradually it all becomes clear. You begin to see how one mountain flows down into a valley and up into another. To start with all you see are the mountains, but gradually, you can look below the surface and see the connections."
I'm re-reading the Outlander series as a "refresher" before Paul and I head to Scotland in July. In fact, we're starting our visit with an Outlander tour lead by a local guide. I can't wait!
Thank you, Diana Gabaldon, for giving us Claire and Jamie, and such a personal and readable history of my ancestral homeland.