• “The smartest historical sci-fi adventure-romance story ever written by a science Ph.D. with a background in scripting 'Scrooge McDuck' comics.”—Salon.com
  • A time-hopping, continent-spanning salmagundi of genres.”
    —ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY
  • “These books have to be word-of-mouth books because they're too weird to describe to anybody.”
    —Jackie Cantor, Diana's first editor

26 Years Ago Today…

Outlander blue cover

I get the occasional question as to how I came to write OUTLANDER, and given that today is the 26th anniversary of my doing so, thought I’d maybe post this explanatory message—which I wrote a few years ago in thanks to the Compuserve folk who Witnessed the Creation , now updated.

Dear All–

On March 6, 1988, I started writing a novel. I wasn’t going to tell anyone what I was doing, let alone ever try to publish it. I just wanted to learn how to write a novel, and had concluded—having written All Kinds of nonfiction at that point—that the only way to do that was actually to write one. (I was not, btw, wrong in this assumption.)

Now, as a (rather convoluted) side-effect of my day-job, I’d become an “expert” in scientific computation (really easy to be an expert, if there are only six people in the world who do what you do, and that was my position, back in the early ’80′s), and as an even weirder side-effect of that, I became a member of the Compuserve Books and Writers Community (then called the Literary Forum), somewhere in late 1986.

Well, when I decided to learn to write a novel by writing one, I also decided a few other things:

1) I wouldn’t tell anyone what I was doing. Aside from the feeling of sheer effrontery involved in doing so, I didn’t want a lot of people telling me their opinions of what I should be doing, before I’d had a chance to figure things out for myself (as I said, I’d written a lot of non-fiction to this point, and nobody told me how). Also didn’t want a lot of busybodies (in my personal life) putting in their two cents, asking when I’d be done, and when it would be published, etc.—since I had no idea whether I could even finish a book.

2) I would finish the book. No matter how bad I thought it was, I wouldn’t just stop and abandon the effort. I needed to know what it took, in terms of daily discipline, mental commitment, etc. to write something like a novel. (I had written long things before—a 400-page doctoral dissertation entitled “Nest Site Selection in the Pinyon Jay, Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus,” (or, as my husband says, “Why birds build nests where they do, and who cares anyway?”), an 800-page monograph on “The Dietary Habits of the Birds of the Colorado River Valley,” etc.—but I’d never written fiction, other than lame short stories for English classes.) And

3) I’d do the absolute best that I could with the writing, every day. Even though this was a practice book that I’d never show anybody, it didn’t matter. If I wasn’t trying my best, how would I ever know if I was any good, and more importantly, how would I get better?

(In this regard, I had some evidence to go on. I’ve read all my life—hugely—and noticed that in most cases, while I’d enjoy all of an author’s books, including the first one, the books got noticeably better as the writer kept on writing. So, I concluded, with perfect logic, writing was like ballet dancing or piano-playing; if you practiced, you got better at it. I was not wrong in this conclusion, either.)

So, anyway, the book I wrote for practice was OUTLANDER, and here we are, 26 years and (almost) 14 books later. I just wanted to acknowledge the role of the Forum and my friends there, in that process.

How did that work, since I’d decided not to tell anybody what I was doing? Well, I stuck to that decision (I didn’t even tell my husband), but about six months into the writing, I was logging on intermittently late at night, picking up messages and posting replies—and found that I was having a argument with a gentleman (named Bill Garland, RIP) about what it feels like to be pregnant.

“Oh, I know what that feels like,” Bill assured me. “My wife’s had three children!” [pause here to allow the ladies to roll on the floor for a moment]

“Yeah, right,” I said. “_I’ve_ had three children, buster.”

So he asked me to describe what that was like.

Rather than try to cram such a description into a thirty-line message slot (all we had back in the old 300-baud dial-up days), I said, “Tell you what—I have this…piece…in which a young woman tells her brother what it’s like to be pregnant. I’ll put it in the data library for you.”

So—with trembling hands and pounding heart—I posted a small chunk (three or four pages, as I recall) of the book I was calling CROSS STITCH. And people liked it. They commented on it. They wanted to see more!

Aside from a few private moments associated with my husband and the birth of my children, this was the most ecstatic experience I’d ever had. And so, still trembling every time I posted something, I—very slowly—began to put up more.

Now, I don’t write with an outline, and I don’t write in a straight line, so my chunks weren’t chapters, weren’t contiguous, and generally weren’t connected to anything else. But they did have the same characters –and people liked those characters.

There were (and are) a lot of very kind and encouraging people who inhabited the Forum—some of them still there: Alex, Janet, Margaret, Marte… and many who aren’t, like Karen Pershing and John Kruszka (RIP), Mac Beckett, Michael Lee West–and Jerry O’Neill, whom I count as my First Fan and head cheerleader; always there to read what I posted and say the most wonderful things about it, one of the kindest people I’ve ever known.

So, over the course of the next year or so, these people kept egging me on. Asking questions, making comments*, urging me—eventually—to try to publish This Thing (it started out as a perfectly straight-forward historical novel, but then Things Happened, and what with the time-travel and the Loch Ness monster and all, I had no idea what it was).

*(Just to clarify—these were not critiques, just interested comments. I’ve never had a critique group nor ever would; nothing against them at all—I just don’t work that way. But regardless, I’d never put up _anything_ for public viewing that I didn’t think was completely ready for human consumption.)

Some of these people were published authors themselves and very kindly shared their own stories, and advice regarding literary agents and the publishing process (thank you, Mike Resnick, and Judy McNaught!), and in the fullness of time, John Stith very kindly introduced me to his own agent—who took me on, on the basis of an unfinished first novel. And…I finished it, to the supportive cheers of the Forum. A couple of weeks later, my agent sold it, as part of a three-book contract, to Delacorte, and bing!—I was a novelist.

Not saying I’d never have written a book without y’all—but man, you guys _helped_. Thank you!

–Diana

124 Responses »

  1. diana,can not thank you enough for these books and for your wonderful writing I’m on A Breath of Snow and safeness its next to the last. this story is wonderful and fills my hours I live alone and ther is nothing better then a warm blanket and a good book to see you through.I do not know what to do when these end,I guess start book one again.
    happy holidays and for wanting to learn how to write a novel.
    brilliant!!!,
    linda

    • Dear Linda–

      There are two books after A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES–AN ECHO IN THE BONE (#7) and WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART’S BLOOD (#8). Hope you enjoy those, too!

      Best,

      –Diana

  2. I started reading your books (and rereading them) in about 1990. They make me laugh, cry and always care about the characters. On top of that I enjoy learning about the history of the 18th century and the little tidbits about herbs. I am really glad that you started to write and have continued to go on. Thank you.

  3. Between 11/26/14 & 1/3/15 I read all eight books. However, I am 74 years old and would like to know how the saga ends. Please hurry up and write.
    1. Is there any truth that Jamie also turns out to be a time-traveler?
    2. Claire takes him with her to our time where they retire to a senior community in Florida an die of boredom.
    Just kidding.

  4. One day I was at a thrift store and I was browsing through the books they had (I love to read). Anyways, I came across your book, “A Breath of Snow and Ashes”, I thought to myself, hmmm, this sounds interesting. So I bought it. Now, at this point in time I hadn’t had a lot of time to read, so I put the book in a stack of books that I was going to read as soon as I had the time. You see, my husband is in the Navy and after finally feeling settled in one place, Virginia Beach for 11 years, I thought we’d be able to stay and retire there. But the Navy had other plans for us. They shipped us clear across the country to a place I’d never heard of, (Lemoore, CA; It was there that I found this book). I knew we wouldn’t be staying there long due to the fact of not having proper medical facilities for my family. Sure enough, 6 months later we were sent to San Diego. At, this point I’d pulled out your book and started to read it, and made it through the 1st chapter, then I was forced to put it down due to having too many things to do. One weekend our satellite company offerd the premium channels for free (trying to reel in customers, lol). I saw the very 1st episode of “Outlander”, and I recorded it to my DVR, so that at a later time I would subscribe to Starz only because I liked the 1st episode. Well, I haven’t subscribed to it yet, but I did pick the book up again, and as I continued to read it, 1) I felt like something was missing, (seems it was, the 1st 5 books before it, lol) and 2) It reminded me of the very 1st episode of “Outlander” I saw on Starz. I said as much to my husband and I informed him that I will be subscribing to Starz whether he liked or not (that didn’t go over easy, so I had to bargain with him, but I now have Starz and plan to search for it ,OnDemand. Today however, I got curious, and Googled you. Low and behold, I WAS SHOCKED! I couldn’t believe it, the book I was really beginning to love was the TV series I wanted so badly. Then, I realized that I would have to put the book dow again, and read no further. Not until I have the chance to purchase the rest of your books, especially the 5 books that came before them. It will take me a good while to be able to purchase them, due to not having the funds I need to get them. You see the housing market isn’t that great, and my husband and I bought a house while we were living in Virginia before the housing market crashed. We are stuck having to rent it out for $400 less than our house note, and we have to pay the rental agency as well. Now we are here in San Diego, and yes we are living in Military Housing, we are still losing money. Plus we pay my parents and his mothers house notes as well considering that they live on limited funds (they receive Social Security Disability), which isn’t much. I’ve no clue as to why I’m telling you my story, I had originally just wanted to get on here and let you know that I have been reading books avidly for 24 years, sometimes 1 a day, and I wanted to let you know how much I have enjoyed reading the first 1/3 of the 6th book. I am now starting a “savings jar” so that I can purchase your other books. I tried my local library and for some reason they do not have them. Maybe they are crazy. Anywhoos, keep writing and don’t stop. I haven’t gotten to the last book written, but I think it would be pretty awesome if close to the end Claire and Jamie could somehow be transported back into the 20th century. Of course, who knows what to do about Frank. Don’t worry, I’m not giving you advice, it’s just as I read a story I think, “wow, what if this happens”, my own imagination getting away from me.

    Thank you bunches,
    Jamie
    (And yes, that is my real name, but I’m a woman, not a man, lol)

    • Dear Jamie–

      I definitely think your library is crazy. It’s sometimes possible to find cheap copies of paperback editions of my books, used, on sites like Abebooks.com or Alibris.com. In any case, I hope you’ll soon be able both to watch the Starz series (which I’m _sure_ you’ll love!) ad read the books.

      Best,
      –Diana

  5. I really wish I had discovered your books years ago! A friend suggested them last summer when I was laid up with a dislocated shoulder (must have been worse than Jamie’s…it took three tries to put it back). I started Outlander in July then found out about the Starz series. Loved the book and promptly bought the next seven books. Finished the eighth book in September (I’m retired so I read a lot) and immediately started again! Read them all again but slower this time (missed a lot by reading too fast). I love all of your characters and feel like they are friends. Of course I love Claire and Jamie both individually and as a couple. In fact I enjoy all the couples and their different relationships. And I absolutely love Germaine and Jemmy. Thanks for these beautiful books!

  6. Diana,

    I am a 72 year old great-grandmother and reading is my hoby. I just finished all eight books for the second time. My favorite book subject is historical fiction. You are the best author I have read and can’t wait for the next book in the series. Thank you for keeping a senior citizen young at heart.

    Nancy

  7. Dear Diana,

    Can you please get your finger our and publish episode 9. I have recently finished 8 plus all the novellas and I am now suffering withdrawal symptoms because I cannot get a new Outlander fix. I know it takes time to write a story as good as Outlander but please take pity on a poor mortal.
    I have tried various other suppliers but have yet to find a product that has the same effect so I suppose I shall just have to wait impatiently, suffering these withdrawal effects until it happens.

    yours shakily

    Ken

  8. I am new to your series, thanks to Starz ! I absolutely love the series. I am so compelled now to read the books now reading is way more interesting and imaginative than the visual form. Thank you for being an inspiration to all the future writers out there dreaming of writing and publishing there own stories.

  9. Dear Diana,

    I was delighted to realize that so many of your other fans also re-read and re-re-read your books. I made the mistake of buying the earlier ones in paperback and they’re now falling apart from so many re-readings. I now plan to buy the earlier ones in hardback. I’ve been working on my own historical novel for a long time, but keep re-writing parts of it, so I may never actually finish it, let alone submit it for publication. Every time I read or re-read one of yours, I feel inspired to try to improve my own. At the moment, my goal isn’t so much publication as just exploring the many possibilities of my story, but since I’m now 77 years old, maybe I’d better get on the stick.

    Cathy

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