• “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

129 Responses »

  1. Even though I”ve joined the crowd of “not there any more” (but I’m still alive!) I appreciate this very much, Diana. :)

    • Marte,

      My goodness, there you are. Glad to hear you’re still with us. :) Haven’t seen you on the Forum in a long time. Hope everything is OK.

    • Where to start? Loved to hang out in book stores and found this one 25 years ago. Diana will never meet me,never know how this book entertained me,as I waited year after year for the new one to come out. How many times I read all of them! I think I am again going to read the first one again. For me it’s all about the history, and the pure commitment between the Frazier family. Also just finished the last book. I watched the wedding scene today and cried! It was not about sex! It was about LOVE and commitment. Over the years I have thought about the “movie” Thie is way better than expected. Going to pull out all the books again to read again.

      • Thank you, Gail!

        I’m really glad you’ve been enjoying the books for so long–and especially pleased that you think the new TV series is a worthy complement to them. I think the actors, crew, writers and producers have done a fabulous job; couldn’t be more pleased myself.

        Best wishes,

        –Diana

    • we saw 3 episodes of the tv show,went to the bookstore and bought all of the series,the scottish prisoner,and the companin. ive ordered the exile,and have read all the books.i cannot think of a higher compliment to a wonderful and funny writer(sorry but we had never heard of you until the tv series but,we have heard of you now!}i so hope you will write another book,atleast for william and jamie.later i will send for your autograph. btw im a gazillian year old retired nurse,and loved every word in your books. i think the actors are perfect,would you have chosen them?

    • Where have I been. I read Cross-stitch years ago and loved it. I recently came across the series Outlander, which is superb! To then, further, discover the series of the books. Ecstatic!

  2. Im so thankful you decided to try a novel becase you are an amazing writer! Your novels are now associated with memories in my life as Ive been a fan for over 10 years. Thank you for sharing your talent.

  3. Ms. Diana–I so enjoy reading what writers write about writing, and especially you, for you are so open and willing to share your experience. I admit that I harbor secret ambitions to write (probably) historical fiction: I’ve written scholarly and expository things all my life, as you did (art history and fund raising things, mostly), but never fiction…I am so curious: did the characters of Claire and Jamie come to you full-blown, or did you get to know them over time? From all I’ve recollect about your writing, and most delightfully in your letter to Alex reprinted in The Outlandish Companion (delighted to learn you plan a Vol. II!), scenes come to you and you watch them play out, then write them. Yes? And then these come together in a novel.
    I very much appreciate, too, your delightful literary conceit of Helping Us Understand What Really Matters: I –love– the uppercase use! And the very droll self-awareness of some characters, especially Claire, as in ” I gave him a medium-intensity glare, suitable for the intimidation of petty bureaucrats and low-level Army officials.” LOL!
    Anyway, other than this being a fan letter to one of my very favorite authors, I do have two simple questions: 1) as a historian, I am crazy for dates/timelines. Started one myself for the Big Books, then saw that one had been created years ago by Sassenak@aol.com. It doesn’t seem to be there anymore; has it a site elsewhere? and 2) I don’t have a story: hard if you want to write. Any suggestions for for finding the germ of one? I envision Renaissance/Baroque Italy….maybe already done do death…
    With great appreciation,
    Lori Mellon
    p.s. thank you, thank you, thank you for the daily lines! :-)

    • Dear Lori–

      A story is simple: it’s a Character, in a Situation of Conflict. Your Character wants something. What that something is, depends on who the character is and what his/her situation is. The story is what he or she will do in pursuit of what he/she wants. Now, the character may or may not _get_ what they want–maybe what they want changes, or maybe they change and no longer want that, but want something else. But the story is about the Character–not the time and place; that’s just the setting, window-dressing.

      Best of luck!

      –Diana

  4. Thank goodness it all happened! I read Outlander when first published and have been loving your work ever since. I can always go back and re read, the books are so rich, and at the same time I look forward to the next installment regardless if it is the series or a horizontal story. Thank you for doing what you do so dang well. I have used your stories as my escape route through many difficult times and that is a such a gift. Add your willingness to share your process and, just, wow.

  5. Sou muito fã do seu trabalho e apaixonada pela série Outlander. Já li duas vezes “A Viajante do Tempo ” e ” A Libélula no Ambar” . Vou começar agora o terceiro livro da série. Quero ler todos. Disparado é o melhor romance que já li. Parabéns!!
    Luciana Lana – Cidade: Governador Valadares – Minas Gerais (BRASIL)

  6. You have stated that you sometimes write friends into your books as characters, but rarely kill them off. You have also stated that you met with George RR Martin once a month for breakfast and that you like him and his writing. If you ever write him into one of your books as a character, you have my permission to kill the bastard as he has killed many favorite characters in his books.
    I love your books, especially that smart-mouthed, modern woman, Claire, that you tried so hard to work into a malleable. 18th century lady. She is the woman that we all long to be but must often suppress.

  7. How absolutely thrilled I am that you bought this wonderful creation into being. Cross stitch and all your subsequent books have become dear to my heart. I am lucky enough to have both my daughter and 81 year old mother who are huge fans too. So there is lots of discussions and excitement surrounding your books. We are hanging out desperately for your new book. Many thanks xx

  8. I read Voyager first because it was passed on to me by my sister=in-law. I was so sad when I finished because I LOVED the characters and story so much. When I found out it was part of a series I was ecstatic and immediately went to the library and got Outlander and Dragonfly in Amber. I have been I love with Jamie ever since and have all of your books. Every time a new book is coming out I start at the beginning and re-read them all. I always find something new in them. The novellas keep me entertained between times also.
    I am a nurse and work in the OB department. Several of the nurses I work with are also fans but none of them have read the series as frequently as I have. I can’t wait to see what happens next!

    I remain, waiting with bated breath……………

  9. Diana,
    You’ve heard of picky eaters? Well, I’m a picky reader.I’ve gotten to a point in my life where, if a book isn’t well written,I won’t bother to finish it. Life is too short to waste on poorly written books. I’ve always loved to read from the time I first learned.When I was young,my mom didn’t like it that I spent all my time indoors reading. She used to tell me to go outside and play, so I would go outside and take my book with me!
    I still remember the first time I read Outlander.I actually slowed down my reading speed so that I could savor it and make it last longer.I love the richness of detail in your writing.Your characters are so well developed, and so very human.And as a nurse, I really appreciate the research you did to make Clare an authentic healer in both the past and present.I re-read the entire series every few years. I tend to buy most of my books from Goodwill because I always find interesting reads there, but you are one of the few writers whose books I will buy first-hand on the day that they’re released. I’m glad you have the integrity to delay your book until it’s the way you want it.We deserve that, and you are worth the wait.

    Oh, and by the way,when I see copies of your books at Goodwill, I always buy them to have extra books on hand for giving away. I usually always have at least 4 or 5 copies of Outlander. It’s always fun to find someone who has never read your books and give them the first one. They always come back begging for more.

    • Maria and Dianna:
      I could have written Maria’s letter because I do the same thing. If I find a book that is particularly bad I put it in the recycle bin! I don’t even donate it. I have read your books several times because they are well written. Most of my friends are now as hooked as I am- OK maybe not quite as much. I named my beloved Doberman “Jamie Scott.” I just can’t wait to see what Janet thinks of America, Fraisers Ridge and Brianna. Thank you for making such great female roles. Not to say that a fair amount of time has been spent pondering Ian II and Jamie! I look forward to this summer and the feast of Outlander. I may even subscribe to Starz just to watch it. I can t believe it took this long for someone to recognize its potential. Way to go Starz! I hope every one is talking about it!

  10. Congratulations Diana, on 26 years of successful writing. I’m so glad you decided to try your hand at writing a novel, and thrilled that it has turned into 14 books and counting. Thank you for being willing to share that practice novel with us and I wish you many more years of successful writing. I’m thrilled for you, as well, that Outlander is being made into a t.v. series and happy to see that Ron D. Moore is involved and keeping to the story so much as you wrote it. Happy Writing Anniversary!!

  11. Wow, time sure does fly doesn’t it? I remember the day my Mom said to me, Sandy, you have to read this book, I know you will love it! And of course the rest is history! Over the years I have shared your books with many of my friends and they have become fans too; even a friend of mine in Scotland! It always make me laugh when I see these friends and the conversation always comes around to your books and when the next one is coming out. I always refer them to your blog. A good friend of mine, who lost her Dad about six months after I lost my Dad, said to me as we were sitting talking at her Dad’s wake, so, when is Diana coming out with the next book? I think I just laughed! Diana, I’ve even got my husband reading the books and he doesn’t read anything! And I think he was just as excited to meet you as my Mom and I were many years ago at a bookstore here in the Chicago area. Unfortunately my Mom had a very bad stroke 3 weeks after my Dad passed away in September, 2011. Happily she just turned 84 on March 2nd and is still going strong even though she is in a wheelchair and does not have the use of her left arm and leg. I haven’t told her about the series yet, she doesn’t have Starz! I’m sure we’ll work something out for her! After all, she is the first one to read the book and got me and my friends into one of the best series of books ever written! : )

  12. Congrats! You beat your fears! Keep on writing as long as you live! You are famous now…

  13. I am deeply indebted to you for the many hours of sheer pleasure I’ve spent in the company of your characters. I’ve had to exercise great discipline in not rereading the series for the 5th time. My shrink admits to 3. If literature is escapism, which those who don’t know how to travel & explore propound, then, well, I guess I’m an escape artist. And am in very good company. There is one passage I take exception to, for purely personal reasons – when Clair marvels over how, involuntarily, waves of heat overwhelm her. Having truly suffered for 9 years from extreme hot flashes, exacerbated by cancer meds, I cannot buy into this. But that’s just me & putting a positive spin on it may appeal to others. Picky I know but I had to get it out!

    Thank you isn’t enough. When I find the quintessential wording for my gratitude I’ll let you know.

  14. “Outlander” will always hold a special place in my heart because it’s been so important in my life. My mom gave it to me to read in 1994 when I was 13 because I loved historical fiction. I couldn’t put it down, and read it in 2 days. There was an FAQ sheet my aunt had gotten, and that absolutely captivated me, getting that glimpse behind the scenes and feeling like I had gotten a secret peek into the mind of an author. My first oral book report in Honors English was on “Outlander”, and I made a makeshift kilt and delivered it in a Scottish accent so bad it still makes my skin crawl. When the “Outlandish Companion” was published, Diana came to our local bookshop and signed my book, and I was so giddy with excitement I nearly fainted at the signing table.
    Then I fell off my parents’ roof, and spent years not knowing if I’d walk again. Reading and escaping to that other world kept me sane through those years, but I dreamed of seeing Inverness and Culloden with my own eyes. A few years ago, I made it out of the wheelchair and backpacked from London to Orkney with a week in Inverness. It took some asking the locals, but found out there actually were some stones walking distance from the Culloden battlefield, and got some rough directions. It was the best part of the whole trip, exploring those farm roads, passing the long-haired ginger cows and picking wild blackberries from the side of the road, and then coming across the Clava Cairns in the middle of nowhere without another soul in sight. It was magical.

    Thank you for taking that chance years ago, and for making my life a bit brighter.

  15. Diana,
    Thank you for posting. I am awed, inspired and not a little envious – the sheer work of putting words together in a story (and keeping the whole enterprise under wraps) seems insurmountable, but you’ve done it and done it beautifully.

  16. I am so excited about your new book, Diana! I have been reading the Outlander series since you published your firstt book. I have reread all of the prior works to Written In My Own Heart’s Blood twice. Keep on writing. You have a wonderful gift.

  17. I still smile to read this “history” of Outlander… so glad you were not wrong in all your conjectures and conclusions about writing! Here I am, along for the ride for 13 years, still just as excited for the next book!
    Wishing you all the best – Happy 26th writing anniversary –
    -Bethany

  18. Diana,

    I was introduced to Outlander last summer and promptly fell in love. In the next month, I read the seven main line books for the first time. I have since reread them several times. I love, love, love Jamie and all things connected to him. Thank you for creating him.

    Recently, I found the Daily Lines and excerpts which are helping me to wait for MOBY. However, I was somewhat disturbed when Washington promoted Jamie to Lieutenant General. It may not seem logical, but a lieutenant general is higher ranking that a major general. Currently, in the American army the ranks of generals go: Brigadier General, Major General, Lieutenant General, General, and General of the Army (rank is supposed to be used only in wartime). I don’t know where you are in the writing, reviewing, editing, correcting (repeat as necessary) cycle of completing MOBY, but you may want to think about what rank Jamie should be.

    Thank you again for the great books.

    Alice

  19. You have provided me wih wonderful friends and hours and years of entertainment. I look forward to each new book to catch up with my friends Claire and Jamie. You’ve created a world I wish I could see but can picture so vividly in my mind. Thank God you did not get discouraged and quit. Anyone that can do such a wonderful job I consider a good friend without ever meeting. Thank you so much

  20. Hi Diana,

    Salutes from Germany. I’m really glad that you not only wrote outlander but too got it puplished it for it’s my very favorite book (of course I like your others too) and I read quite a lot of books during the more than forty years that have past since I started to read.
    Apart from that point I’m able to understand your emotions during the writing process and your motives quite well because about three years ago I started to write a novel myself, just for the fun of it (and I really like to invent and develop the characters as well as the story). It will most certainly never ever be puplished for I’m well aware I can not in the sligtest way compare my writing abilities with yours or any other professional author. But notwithstanding that I managed to write about 300 pages so far and I’m very much determined to finish it no matter how long it will take.

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