• “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. Wow, my twin daughters and I are enjoying the heck out of the Starz tv series. It must be exciting to have your published works made into a tv series. I loaned the first three books to another daughter that wants to watch the series too. I want to read them all over again.

    Thanks so much for bringing such joy and letting us immerse ourselves in your books and imagine what it would be like to move back and forth through time. I’m glad someone finally decided to film your novels. I hope that’s really not the last book??? How do you know it will be??? Something else could pop into your head, you never know. Happy continued writing.

    tanks,
    Donna

  2. Dear Mrs. Diana,

    In all honesty until I saw a commercial for Outlander I never heard of the series. I’ve started reading Outlander, and I am enjoying it very much. I plan to continue reading your series.

    I’m a writer as well, but not published. My stories focus on Fantasy elements, but I’m more connected with time travel. It seems when I start a story that isn’t time travel based I get stuck. I’ve been writing stories for as long as I can remember. Recently I’ve been thinking about starting a blog or finding a way to get samples of my stories out there for people to read. I’m very interested in feedback and hopefully a readership in the event I get blessed enough to become published.

    My question to you is how did you find the forum you did, and would posting samples to a blog dedicated to just my stories be helpful as well?

    Thank you in advance for giving us some of your valuable time,

    Tabitha

    • Dear Tabitha–

      Congratulations on writing! Getting words on paper is the hardest thing there is. [smile]

      Now, getting people to _read_ those words…it isn’t a matter of just posting stuff and people will read it. Unless you already have a dedicated readership for your blog, who will naturally pay attention to anything you post, your problem lies in attracting people. You can do that in various ways–joining online groups that have an interest in the sort of fiction you write, and becoming a useful member of said group (discussing things intelligently, showing up regularly so people get to know you–not just showing up and talking about your books), for instance. Once people know you, you can mention what you do, and chances are that people _will_ be interested in seeing it.

      Or you can look for a writer’s group where you can post excerpts or chapters. Now, frankly, I didn’t–while the Compuserve Books and Writers Community does _have_ sections for writers–with monthly exercises, or the Novels Workshop–I’ve never hung out there. I was just on the Forum since the mid-80′s, when I stumbled in as the result of a software review I was doing for BYTE magazine. I liked the company [g], so I stayed–and when I began to write a book, two years later, people already knew me. As it is, I began posting things there then only in order to win an argument with a man about what it feels like to be pregnant. [g] But people liked the snip I posted, asked for more…and little by little…things happened. That’s kind of how things _do_ happen when you do this particular odd thing for a living, I’m afraid.

      Best of luck!

      –Diana

  3. I’m a bit worried, all the commits are from women, girls and ladies. they do mention, in some cases that their husband read “their” book. I guess I’m the only man who bought outlander and couldn’t put it down until I finished it. I bought a kindle version after seeing the first episode on Starz. I’ve traced my family back to 1690 when we arrived to Pennsylvania US, from Scotland, I’m sure running for our lives. I don’t know how to trace further in Scotland. The Outlander is therefore fascinating and very informative. Yes, we men can enjoy a good love story as well as you girls. Wonderful book and TV series, but of course the book is always better. I’ve been an avid reader since I was about 10 years old. I’ve read an enormous number of what are considered the best fiction and non-fiction books and Diana is the best.

  4. Ok, so I have to admit I started watching the series out of curiosity, but after the 1st episode decided to buy the books from Amazon. They are amazing. I can’t put them down. Thank you! for creating such a brilliant body of work… even if I’m a bit behind, better late than never!

  5. I came across Dragon Fly in Amber at a small PX stationed in Germany and picked it up to pass the time while out in field excercise. I worked the night shift, and as long as our communication links are up, it’s idle time. I didn’t know at the time it was a second book in a series until the end of the book. I had to wait until I was back stateside to find them, but I read the cover off your second book, and passed it around to my sisters. Your creativity opened up a world for us to go to to forget about being home sick and not showering for weeks at a time. (YUCK!) After the military my life was bursting at the seams between college, career, and familiy, and my reading consisted oftext books, journal reports, children’s books, children’s school appointed novels with a few other thrown in when time allowed. I didn’t realize you had continued the series after the fourth book, until I caught wind of Outlander coming to television. They are now on my Christmas list. Thank you for continuing on the beautiful story of Jamie and Claire.

  6. Just thanking you for what you have created in me. I was not an avid reader. I have become a fan of yours since Outlander started on the STARZ network. I love the characters that are on the show and I love this time period. I am ordering all your books that you have published. Thanks to you I am returning back to being a reader and someday I hope to write. Claire is my nickname and I sometime imagine that this is me and I was reincarnated. (Lol)

  7. In 1983 I was attempting to teach my kids about the up coming new idea of computers . Back the we communicated with a scientist in Denver. Over the next few year’s we enjoyed our Commodore 32. One day my daughter saw your chat when you wrote those lines . She was 12 at the time. I thought that your book was familiar when I read it years ago but didn’t realize it until now. Love all your books. Do ‘t think much of the series at present. Leaving out too many nuisances for the future. But thanks, your books gave me hope after I lost my Jamie in a car accident. Kept me sane really. Hope you never stop the audio books since I’m getting old and the eyes don’t work right. Thank so much.
    A old fan from long ago.
    Old CompuServe nick name Pebbles
    qdrn (Latin for every day RN)

    • Hi, Pebbles! [g]

      I do indeed remember you–_and_ the early days of computing, 300 baud dial-up modems, etc. My, how times do change…

      Lovely to see you again, though, and I’m glad you’re enjoying the books. I think Davina Porter does a fabulous job with the audiobooks; so pleased you like them!

      All the best,

      –Diana

  8. Without a doubt this book has saved my marriage and awakened my soul . About sixteen years ago I borrowed Outlander from my mother to keep my sanity at my job as a home health aid. I read it and immediately became hooked . I couldn’t put the books down and I told myself I would find my Jamie one day and marry him.
    Fast forward to my current situation and I am a married mother of four beautiful children who pretty much lost herself in day to day activities like most women do . My soul had been numb for so long , just going through the motions . I was grieving the loss of a child , traumatized from my husband having been involved in a serious accident , overwhelmed , and contemplating divorce.
    I picked up Outlander recently after watching the first few episodes and I was hooked. Half way through the book it was like I had a revelation . My husband is “my Jamie ” . The similarities are eerie ..minus the red hair and Scottish accent.( My husband is blond and from Ireland )
    The more and more I read the more things became apparent . That was the bond we had and I had put it on the back burner . My husband patiently stood by my side and loved me as I walked around like a heartless self absorbed zombie . It wasn’t him it was me . I had closed the chamber door and he was still there knocking . Strong , brave , kind , sexy , smart , funny ,amazing father , and husband … why had I tried to shut him out ?
    It seems like no amount of therapy could have helped me rediscover my marriage like your books have . Its such a gift you have given us with your story . Thank you for helping me realize what matters . I could have lost the best thing in my life without realizing it.

    What is even more weird is I was just reading my husband’s family genealogy and he has a distant relative who was an outlaw / rebel back in the 1700′s who was from the next county over from him in Ireland. Pretty creepy .

    Cheers !

  9. Thank you so much for these wonderful novels – they are truly a joy to read. The characters come to live under your pen (computer!) and I wait longingly for each new volume. I especially enjoy the first person narratives by Claire. Being “inside her head,” so to speak, makes Jamie even more the heroic figure he is.

    Thank you once again!

  10. I purchased Outlander in the early 90′s on a whim while delayed in the Atlanta Airport. It was a cold evening and I was traveling alone for work. I quickly became lost in the story and have been a fan of yours for over 20 years. I have read and reread the series for years whenever I had a few spare moments to escape and enjoy a book! I just read a Huff Post review of the Outlander Series on Starz ( which I have subscribed to as well and I am hooked!) It was a great review and I hope this series continues! I have to say Sam beats the Jamie in my mind’s eye…what a perfectly cast actor! The Outlander Series has kept me company for years, even as a busy wife, mother and business woman. I love the perspective from which it was written and also portrayed on screen. Keep up the great work! Your my favorite and I have recommended to friends for years!
    Can’t wait for season 2!

    • I have nothing but praise for Diana Gabaldon as the author of a brilliant series. It is the best of the best and so very well researched. In 1992 my sister gifted me with the first three books. I’m sure it was at least eight months before I opened the first book (Outlander) and from that day forward I was hooked as well! In 1998, on a whim, I ‘tested’ Diana Gabaldon’s research/knowledge and went to Scotland (for Summer Solstice). I actually used her Outlander books as a ‘GUIDE.’ I’m well travelled but must say, thanks to Diana Gabaldon and the Outlander series, my experience in Scotland…Culloden Field (because of my passion for the history I was given an English ball shot from the battle..another story), the stones and more was probably the most memorable of my travels.

      In truth the actors chosen for Jamie and Claire were not as I had envisioned in the ‘theatre of MY mind,’ however, after the third episode I changed my mind (my prerogative :-) )…Sam Heughan, Caitriona Balfe as well as the others in the TV series were well cast.

  11. DIANA!

    Where have I been all your life ? Writing life that is. Oh, I know, in hobbitland.
    I’m a Scot and live in Inverness. Found out about Outlander in september. The tv series was linked with the refrerendum over here because our tv companies had not picked it up, seemingly it would sway our votes, lol. I watched the first episode on the net, liked it a lot, the lass playing Claire is brilliant, read the book and now I’m hooked. I’m on my second book just now and looking forward to the others.

    THANK YOU.

    Ken

  12. I have been a rabid reader since the age of 5. I have very eclectic tastes and do not limit my reading interests based on subject or medium. The only regret regarding my reading is that, unfortunately, I read very fast. I just finished “Written In My Own Heart’s Blood”. I started “Outlander” when the trailers for the Showtime series first came out. I love the way that, unlike some Authors, you expect your readers to be intelligent. You not only entertain me, you enlighten me. You cause me to stretch myself, to want to know more, learn more, understand more. You have also opened my heart with many of your words & phrases. For all of this, I am deeply grateful to you. I am 61 years old. This is my first fan letter. I’m glad I waited. Please don’t stop writing. Thank you.

  13. Just browsing for a book to read and came upon Outlander. Wow! So in love with the series and its characters. I have just finished book 4. Thank you Ms Gabaldon for giving me so many hours of entertainment. As good books pull emotions freely from the reader I must admit I have cried, laughed, feared, longed, mourned, etc. and do not look forward to the day when you have put the series to rest. I feel like these characters are part of my family now. And by the way……we need more “Jamies” in the world! Thanks again for Outlander.

    Donna

  14. Diana,
    Like many that have written before me, I am in insane book monster, consuming roughly 3 novels a week for as long as I can remember. This year however, as I work on my masters degree in midwifery, I have fallen behind in pleasure reading, and when I have indulged, I’ve been disappointed. Your novels have torn me from my novel funk! I dream about the characters, the scenery, and the moments constantly. I love them so much that I got my sister to read them, and she hasn’t read a novel since the 8th grade. Our shared love of Outlander has brought us closer together, and the enchanting tails bring a much needed reprieve from very busy school life.

    Thank you, truly, for your work and wisdom.

    Sincerely,
    Amanda

    PS – As a midwife and a mother I absolutely LOVE Jenny’s description of pregnancy in Outlander! It is so beautiful I frequently find myself sharing it with patients and providers <3

  15. I have watched the series of your book and am mesmerized by the program. I do not see well now so I can’t read the book. Do you know when the series will continue? Is there more after Both sides now? It seems the story would go on. I can’t wait until my eyes are better to read your book. This is a great story. I am hooked.

  16. I started to read the outlander books before I had my fourth child who now as a 21 year old has now read them herself, they have given me much joy and I have passed them on to many friend, I am an eclectic, indiscriminate and voracious reader. Dianna is a storyteller in the best tradition of authors like Neville Shute, a ripping good yarn is hard to find, and I will always be thankful to the friend that gave me a copy of Cross Stitch to read.

  17. I started reading this series a long time ago and have just rereadthe 8 larger books. In the last book I am wondering how Frank stuck a letter under the desk at Lallybroch and there is a major editing miss whe Lord John and Hal attended the weddings of Dottie and Denzell and Rachel and Ian only to enquire several chapters on if Ian had survived is arrow wound.
    Looking forward to the next!!
    Cheers
    Marilyn

  18. Hi Diana,
    I have read that you are a night owl and do your writing in the wee hours. I was just curious if you are phase shifted-get up late/work late-or maybe you are a short sleeper and just don’t require much sleep? Hope this isn’t too personal :) I work in Sleep Medicine and have a professional curiosity about creative people’s sleep habits.
    I have always been phase shifted, but found an adaptive career for my schedule.
    I love the books, am re-reading the series. Just wanted to tell you how much I enjoy the humorous bits, Jamie’s dry sense of humor, and that I just crack up laughing so often while reading.
    Thank you for the gift of these stories!
    Pam

    • Dear Pam–

      I normally sleep in two shifts. [g] My husband is a lark, and likes to go to bed around 9:30 PM. I tuck him in, then go lie down on the couch with the two dachshunds and a book. Usually, I fall asleep in minutes, but will wake naturally around midnight. We get a Diet Coke and a couple of raw bones and stagger up to the office, where the night shift–when I do most of my writing–commences. I quit around 4-4:30 AM and go to bed for real (i.e., with my husband [g]), getting up around 8:30 or 9:00.

      –Diana

  19. To cut a long story short, for 14 years my husband and I have been `Jamie and Claire` We have never signed our real names on birthday and xmas cards and I call him J always.

    I met him when I was thinking of separating from my first husband. My present husband is Scottish and I had just started reading the first novel when I met him. I felt as though I too had gone through the stones and the decision not to go back – to my old life – was as painful as for Claire
    . We even had Jamie and Claire favours at our wedding!

    I have read and re-read all the books many many times and they are very special to me. Thankyou.

    Ann

  20. I just wanted to say how happy I am to see your book finally made into a tv series. I discovered “Outlander” sometime in the 90s in my public library’s used book store. I bought it for $1.00 and finished the book in record time. I then, of course, had to hunt down more of the series but, being a teenager, didn’t have the money for it so had to resort to stalking the used book section in the library. I was nervous to watch the show when I found out it would be on TV. I had very specific images in my mind of who I thought Claire, Jamie, and the rest should be like. I also was afraid the tv adaptation would stray from the original storyline. I was so pleased with the casting and look forward to more episodes in the future!

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