• “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

FAQs


Frequently Asked Questions

Webmistress’s note: This FAQ is a bit out-of-date in some places, and was written by Diana before 2013. It still has lots of information, and will be updated hopefully soon!

Readers, be cautioned that some of the answers to these questions will contain SPOILERS. If you don’t want to know anything about the future books, be cautious in your reading. I will try to note which questions contain spoilers, but can’t promise that I’ll catch everything.

MOST of the Frequently-Asked Questions are listed below.  The links to the right are for easier navigation.

So where did you get the idea to write these books?

If you mean where did I get the idea to write a book, period—I always knew I was meant to write novels; I just didn’t know how. Finally decided I should try, and luckily I turned out to be reasonably good at it.

If you mean, why did I write books set in Scotland but that otherwise defy description—it was an accident. I thought I’d write a book for practice, just to learn how, and thought perhaps a historical novel would be the easiest thing for me to write; I was, after all, a research professor—I knew what to do with a library. So, where to set this practice book?

Well, I happened to see a “Dr. Who” rerun in a weak-minded moment, and was taken by a minor character—a young Scotsman from 1745, who appeared in his kilt.** ”Well, that’s fetching,” I said. “Yeah, why not?  Scotland, eighteenth century.” So that’s where I began, knowing nothing about Scotland or the eighteenth century, with no plot, no outline, no characters—nothing but the rather vague images conjured up by a man in a kilt (which is, of course, a very powerful and compelling image).

** This was a character named Jamie MacCrimmon, played by the actor Frazer Hines.  Other than the kilt and the first name (which I used in compliment to the Scottish inspiration), there’s no resemblance between Jamie MacCrimmon and James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser—as you can see on the right in a shot of me with Frazer, both taken in 2009 in Edinburgh.  We did an interview together for the BBC titled A Tale of Two Jamies. There is a blog entry in my Voyages of the Artemis archives HERE, with the whole story and more photos.  (No, actually, Frazer has nothing to do with Jamie’s last name—owing to the local PBS station cutting off the “Dr. Who” credits in order to run pledge appeals, I didn’t know the actor’s name until some years later, after the first book had been written.  I did send a copy to Frazer then, though, thanking him for the kilt. <g>)

How many countries have your books been published in?

The Outlander novels have been published in 27 countries and 24 languages, so far.  (Israel being one of the latest. I was greatly amused to have two Israeli acquaintances recently try to translate the Hebrew title for me. One thought the title (NOCHRIYA) translated to “The Gentile,” while the other thought the meaning was closer to, “Not Kosher.”)

(See The Outlandish Cover Gallery, where a kindly fan has collected a good many of the foreign covers—which range from the sublime to… well, let’s just say that they didn’t ask me before designing them, and God knows who they think is reading them.)

Is AN ECHO IN THE BONE the last book in the series?

No, AN ECHO IN THE BONE isn’t the last book in the series. The eighth major novel, WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART’S BLOOD was released in the U.S.A. and Canada on June 10, 2014. And there will be a ninth major novel in the series. Did I plan all the books in advance? No— I don’t plan the books out ahead of time.  (Yes, I know JK Rowling did; more power to her.)

Note:Click here to read about the Chronology of the Outlander series.

Are you Scottish?

Nope. Hispanic on my dad’s side (“Gabaldon” is my own name, btw, not my husband’s. If you totally can’t bring yourself to call me Diana {g}, it’s either “Ms. Gabaldon” or “Dr. Gabaldon,” depending on how formal you feel about it); the other side is mostly English, with one German branch.

How do you pronounce your last name?

Depends. If you’re speaking English, it’s GAH-bull-dohn (rhymes with “stone”). If you’re speaking Spanish, it’s gah-vahl-DOHN (still rhymes with “stone”). Just in case, there are a number of podcasts [change this link to YouTube Channel] available online, all of which I start out by spelling and pronouncing my name.

Did you expect the success your books have had?

Not in the slightest. I wasn’t planning to show my first novel to anybody, let alone try to get it published. But things happen, and I’m very grateful that they did.

Has anyone ever thought of making a movie of your books?

You know, whenever someone asks this, I’m always tempted to strike my forehead theatrically and cry, “Why, NO! That would never have occurred to me. What a great idea!” But I mostly don’t.

Yes, the books have been optioned several times for their film rights, and Outlander is currently under option.  It’s the sort of situation where you don’t hold your breath, but just wait and see what happens.

Webmistress’s Update: An Outlander TV Series will premiere on August 9, 2014 in the U.S.A. Click here for more information.

So, who would you cast to play Jamie and Claire?

Well, on the one hand, I don’t watch television at all, and see movies only on DVD, so I know very few actors by name (I was actually obliged to subscribe to People magazine in order to know who the producers were talking about when they mentioned potential cast-ees). On the other hand, acting is an art, just like writing novels. An actor’s ability to embody a character is a lot more important than simple physical similarity, I think. And on the third hand… I know what Jamie and Claire actually look like, and I can’t say I’ve ever seen any actors who look strikingly like them.

There are, however, any number of readers who have Very Definite Ideas about who should be cast in an eventual movie, and some of these have been inspired to make their own mini-casting videos. We’ve collected as many of these as we could find on my YouTube Channel –all except the ones suggesting that Sandra Bullock play Claire; the nice person who does the YouTube Channel for me absolutely refused to include any of those, as a matter of personal principle.

I’ll refrain from comment on these suggestions myself {g}, other than noting that I think a few of you are not considering that if/when a film is made, it would presumably be of OUTLANDER, not the  later books.   And while I think Kevin McKidd and Gerard Butler are both fine actors, there’s no way either one could possibly play a 22-year-old virgin.

Now, I have absolutely no say in the casting; that’s entirely up to the producers/director/casting director, etc.—though the producers are courteous enough now and then to ask me what I think of this or that possibility.   The chief producer did say he was considering the possibility of casting an unknown Scottish actor to play Jamie, and had an eye out, but had not so far seen anyone who looked at all like Jamie.  “Really?” I said.  “I have.”

This would be Allan Scott-Douglas, right, the young actor who sang the role of Jamie Fraser for Outlander: The Musical. Since the writers of the musical cast it with an eye to an eventual stage production, they went to some trouble over physical appearance, as well as vocal talent; Mr. Scott-Douglas is in fact very tall, red-haired, and Scottish, as well as being in his twenties.  If anyone was asking me, I think he’d probably do it very well—I did see him act, in a play in Edinburgh, and he’s a fine actor—but as I said, it’s not my call.  Allan’s website is http://www.allanscottdouglas.com, and there’s another picture of him on my Photos page, on grounds that you can never have too many men in kilts to look at.

How long does it take you to write a book?

Depends on the book. It takes me about three years to write one of the Outlander novels. They’re big, they’re complex, and they involve an immense amount of research. The Lord John books are significantly shorter and more limited in scope; I can write one of those in a year. As for the contemporary crime novels, I don’t know yet, as I haven’t finished the first one.

How did you get from being a scientist to being a novelist?

Wrote a book.  Luckily, they don’t make you get a license.

Where did you get the idea for a time-travel novel?

I had meant OUTLANDER to be a straight historical novel; but when I introduced Claire (around the third day of writing–it was the scene where she meets Dougal and the others in the cottage), she wouldn’t cooperate. Dougal asked her who she was, and without my stopping to think who she should be, she drew herself up, stared belligerently at him and said “Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp. And who the hell are you?” She promptly took over the story and began telling it herself, making smart-ass modern remarks about everything. At which point I shrugged and said, “Fine. Nobody’s ever going to see this book, so it doesn’t matter what bizarre thing I do—go ahead and be modern, and I’ll figure out how you got there later.” So the time-travel was all her fault. {g}

How did OUTLANDER get published?

Well, first I was going to write a book for practice and never show it to anybody. {g}

Nevertheless, I posted a piece of the book in the CompuServe Literary Forum in order to win an argument I was having with a man about how it feels to be pregnant. A lot of people who’d been following the argument read the piece (it’s the bit from OUTLANDER, where Jenny explains to Jamie what it feels like), and they all said, “Hey, this is good! What is it and where’s some more?” And so I put up more, and people read it, and….eventually, John Stith (who writes wonderful science fiction/mysteries, by the way) offered to introduce me to his agent, whom I’d heard many good things about from a number of published writers I’d met online.

The agent took me on, on the basis of an unfinished manuscript, and once I did finish it, sent it to five editors whom he thought might like it. Four days later, three of them had called back wanting to buy it, and we were kind of off to the races.

I told him that by the time I finished OUTLANDER, I knew there was more to the story, but I thought I’d better stop while I could still lift the manuscript. So he told the publishers who wanted the book that there was more story, and Delacorte said, “Trilogies are very popular these days; do you think she could write three?”  Being a good agent, he replied, “I’m sure she could.” So they gave me a three-book contract, and bing! I was a novelist.

Mind you, this process—posting, conversations, agent- finding, etc.—took nearly a year of online interaction; I boil it down just to save space here. But that’s essentially it.

What is CROSS STITCH?

CROSS STITCH was my original title (it was a play on “a stitch in time”), and the Brits liked it. The Americans said “It sounds too much like embroidery, can you think of something more….adventurous?” so I did—OUTLANDER (I thought of calling it “Sassenach,” but they said, “No.  Nobody can pronounce it, and since they can’t pronounce your name either…). Also, when I wrote it, I had in mind that it was one book—and knew only enough about it to be pretty sure that Claire would “cross” not once, but twice— future to past, past to future—which would make an X, which is the basic embroidery cross stitch. It also had to do with Claire’s occupation—that of a healer.  Lots of meanings, but overall, not really a good title, I don’t think.

Why is there a date discrepancy between OUTLANDER and CROSS STITCH with regard to the birth of Geillis Duncan?

The discrepancy in dates is a mistake—it’s a copy-editing error caused by differences between the British edition of the books (which begin in 1946) and the American ones (which begin in 1945). The reason being that the American book was already in galleys when we sold Outlander in the UK.

The difference occurred after Reay Tannahill, a Scottish historical author who kindly proofread CROSS STITCH before it was published in the UK, said that 1946 would have been a more accurate representation of conditions as I described them in Scotland. So I changed the date—but the Americans wouldn’t let me change it for OUTLANDER, saying that this would involve re-working all the dates, which would mean re-copy-editing the whole thing, and they didn’t want to do that.

Why did you choose Scotland during the Jacobite period as the setting for your books?

Well, it was an accident. I was looking for a time in which to set a historical novel, because I thought that would be the easiest for me to write (I (ahem)…do know how to do research). While pondering, I happened to see a rerun of an ancient Dr. Who episode on PBS—one in which the Doctor had a young Scottish sidekick, picked up in 1745. The sidekick was a cute little guy, about 17, named Jamie MacCrimmon, and he looked rather nice in his kilt. And I was sitting in church thinking about it, and said, “Well, you’ve got to start somewhere, and it doesn’t really matter where, since no one’s ever going to see this—so why not? Scotland, 18th century.” And that’s where I started—no outline, no characters, no plot—just a place and time…and a man in a kilt.

Is there any significance to the title DRAGONFLY IN AMBER?

The dragonfly in amber is sort of a symbol of Jamie and Claire’s marriage—not only via the token Hugh Munroe gives Claire— but as a metaphor; a means of preserving something of great beauty that exists out of its proper time. Also, amber is an interesting substance that’s been used for magic and protection for thousands of years.

Genre labels and the big “romance” question, are they or aren’t they?

I’ve probably read a couple of hundred “real” romance novels, ranging from traditional category romances to F/F/P (Futuristic/Fantasy/Paranormal). That’s why I say I don’t write romance; because I don’t.

It’s not just that I didn’t intend to write romance (though I didn’t); there are major differences between what I write and the standard form of the genre—as a good many “real” romance writers were only too eager to let me know, when Outlander won the RWA’s RITA award for Best Book of the Year when it came out (that award, btw, isn’t—or wasn’t—limited to romances).

I joined GEnie (one of the big online “information services” available in the late 80’s—well before the Web as it is now existed) shortly after winning the award, and one (quite well known) author sent me a private e-mail, saying that she thought she had better come out and tell me, since there were several messages from her on the board saying so, that she felt it was not right for OUTLANDER to have won, since “it wasn’t really a romance—there wasn’t enough concentration on the relationship between the hero and heroine, she was older than him (hey, everybody knows you can’t do that! (You want to know how many times I’ve heard “You can’t do THAT in a romance!”—from romance writers at romance conventions?) they didn’t meet until page 69, you didn’t know he was the hero until much later, it was much too long, and it had all that HIStory, it was in the first person!! (an utterly heinous crime in that genre, apparently), and as for what I did to Jamie…!!

Now, I do like well-written romance (I read everything, and lots of it).  People do now and then ask who my favorite romance authors are: Susan Elizabeth Phillips is my all-time favorite, but Jenny Crusie, Laura Kinsale, Julia Quinn, Mary Jo Putney and Mary Balogh are all writers I’d recommend without hesitation.

Still, my books don’t fit the standard conventions of the modern romance at all. OUTLANDER alone has some elements of a standard romance—enough to make it appealing to romance readers in general—but none of the other books do; they deal with an ongoing relationship between two decent people who already love each other— there’s no falling-in-love, getting acquainted, now-we-like-each- other-now-we-don’t kind of conflict. It (the Outlander cycle) is primarily an adventure story, in which history is as important a player as any of the individuals. To say nothing of which, I don’t have guaranteed happy endings—which you really must have in a romance (I got threatening letters after DRAGONFLY came out—all saying “How dare you end a book this way, when you know the next one won’t be out for a year!” {g}).

Anyhow, you see what I’m saying, I trust. I don’t object at all to romances, but I don’t write them. I don’t observe the conventions of the genre— or of any other, for that matter.

I don’t like genre labels in the first place; I would much rather have my books taken on their own terms— I think they don’t belong to any genre at all—or all of them. But the way the publishing industry works, books need to have some kind of label in order to facilitate their being sold.

When we sold OUTLANDER, the publisher held onto the book for 18 months, trying to figure out what to sell it as. They finally decided that—of all the different classifications the books could fit in—”Romance” was by far the largest single market.   I agreed that they could market the paperback that way—provided that we had dignified covers (no Fabio, no mad bosoms), and provided that if and when the books became “visible” (which is publisherese for “hit the New York Times list”), they would reposition them as Fiction.

The publisher very honorably did this—but it then took me a number of years to force Barnes and Noble to move the books out of the Romance section. (I finally did it by writing a rather rude letter to the then-CEO of B&N, pointing out that another bookstore chain, who shelved the books as Fiction, sold 40% more of all my titles than did B&N.  Pointing out that Lord John Grey is gay, and there was no heroine at all in his  books didn’t keep them from shoving PRIVATE MATTER into the Romance section, mind, but the bottom line carried more weight.)

What kind of research do you do for your books?

I know a lot of people who feel that they need to do all the research before they begin to write, but that wouldn’t work for me—since I never know what’s going to happen, I wouldn’t know where to begin, let alone where to stop.  After all, there’s always more you can find out, isn’t there?

Instead, I research concurrently, doing the research along with the writing.   I find that the research and the writing feed off each other in a useful way: while looking up some bit of information I need for a scene, I almost invariably also find some fascinating thing that stimulates a completely different scene—which in turn will require some further information, that in turn yields further novelties, and so on.

I buy books like salted peanuts, and by this time, I have a pretty substantial collection.  The core reference collection is about 1500 volumes, and includes things like…{going to shelf to count}… 109 books on herbs and folk-medicine (ranging from Nicholas Culpeper’s Herbal, published in 1647, to MEDICINAL PLANTS OF EUROPE AND BRITAIN, to INDIAN HERBOLOGY, to NEW AGE HERBS), forty or fifty on Scottish culture in general and Highland culture in particular (customs, geography, language, costume, history, etc.), sixty or so assorted dictionaries (running from my enormous Webster-Merriam Third International Unabridged, my all-time favorite, to several specialized dictionaries of slang, including Eric Partridge’s huge DICTIONARY OF SLANG AND UNCONVENTIONAL ENGLISH, Samuel Johnson’s 1757 DICTIONARY (to answer another Frequently-Asked Question, this is how you find words like “stultiloquy” or “fop-doodle”), and Captain Francis Grose’s A DICTIONARY OF THE VULGAR TONGUE (originally published in 1807, and very vulgar some of the Captain’s selections are, too: e.g., “admiral of the narrow seas – one who, from drunkenness, vomits into the lap of his dinner companion,” while “Scotch Greys” (a famous Scottish regiment) is a euphemism for lice), the OPUS MALEDICTORUM: A Book of Bad Words, A DICTIONARY OF MONSTERS, the Collins DICTIONARY OF TROUT FLIES, and general-purpose dictionaries in languages from Maori and Navajo (though I can’t say I’ve ever had to use either of those in a novel, at least not yet) to French, German, Spanish, etc.  (I do have three Gaelic/English dictionaries, but I really rely on the kind help of Cathy-Ann MacPhee (noted Gaelic singer and representative of the Gaelic Mafia) for translation.)

Then there are the medical books, ranging from the 1969 edition of the Merck Manual that defines the limits of Claire’s medical knowledge to memoirs by surgeons and monstrous coffee-table books on the (illustrated) History of Medicine.  And the shelf of books on weapons, artillery, knives, guns, battles, and warfare.   And the books on antique methods of wood-working, house-building, cookery, sewing, etc.  And…well, let’s just say that I tend to organize the books by shelf and bookcase (i.e., the history of North Carolina is the bottom three shelves of the bookcase whose top four shelves contain specific histories of the American Revolution—not biographies; those are in the secondary collection out in the back bedrooms (my husband won’t let me keep bookshelves in the main part of the house, he wanting to keep the walls visible so we can hang art on them)—accounts and maps of particular battles, General von Steuben’s drilling instructions, Advice to the Officers of His Majesty’s Army, and that kind of stuff.  Oh, and the bottom shelf of that case is the books on slavery.

I carry a research book around when I go outside with the dogs, I leave one in the bathroom, and I read research stuff while I ride my exercise bike. Sometimes I do have something specific to look up—like how to extract a tooth, or how many slaves were on the average sugar plantation in North Carolina in 1767, or how much a black bear weighs, but it really doesn’t take much time to discover a discrete fact—it’s the browsing and finding fascinating items like hanged-men’s grease (that’s historically true, by the way—it was one of the perks of an 18th century hangman) that takes time. Fortunately, it’s also fun.

(Yes, I do use the Internet for research, too.  It’s marvelous for finding specific facts quickly—someone’s birthdate, for instance, or whether it was George II or George III who was in charge during the American Revolution (the III, in case you care)—and also excellent for locating pictures of places you aren’t able to conveniently visit or plants and animals not normally hanging round your backyard (given what normally is hanging round my backyard, this would be limited to things like giraffes and beavers).   But it’s worth noting that the Internet is a mile wide and an inch deep, as the saying goes.  Also, that there is no such thing as credibility online.  Caveat lector.)

How did you get the accent?

I “got” the Scottish accents from quite a few sources, but the main ones are from reading Scottish novels, and from listening to Scottish folksong recordings. Especially in live recordings, groups (like The Corries, for example) will banter with the audience, and you can hear them talk, as well as pick up idiom and vocabulary from the songs.

I also read all the novels I could find with a Scottish setting, particularly those written by Scots.  The “accent” isn’t purely an accent, of course—it’s (my approximation of) Scots, which is a real dialect of English. It’s not the same thing as Gaelic, which is a completely separate language. Scots is (more or less) English, but has quite a number of specific words and idioms not found in standard English, and also has its own peculiarly idiosyncratic sentence structures, which you notice if you start paying close attention.

A really quick example: A hotel clerk in New York will say, “Can I help you?” A hotel clerk in London will say, “May I help you?” A hotel clerk in Inverness will say (I’ve heard them), “Can I be helpin’ ye at all, then?”

Likewise, I picked up Claire’s British vernacular mostly from novels; I’ve always had a great fondness for British authors and have read any number of them — especially a long and intensive exposure to the works of P.G. Wodehouse and Dorothy L. Sayers. I’d been reading English novels for years and years, and could easily see the differences between those and American novels, both in idiom and vocabulary. And for some strange reason Claire’s British dialogue felt more natural to me than American speech does.

Part of this can be attributed to half my family tree being British. My great-great grandfather emigrated from England in the late 1800′s and settled in Flagstaff, Arizona where I grew up—next door. He died (at the age of 92) when I was four or so, but I do remember him, and there are a number of peculiarly British expressions that linger in the family.

Your books are so complex! Do you use an outline?

No. Of course, I also don’t write in a straight line; I write in lots of little pieces and then glue them together like a jigsaw puzzle. So I’ll work forward and back, backwards and forward, until a scene is finished—then hop somewhere else and write something different. I don’t even have chapters, until just before I print the completed manuscript to send to my editor; breaking the text into chapters and titling them is just about the last thing I do to a book.

And yes, now and then I’ll have scenes or fragments that either don’t fit or are redundant or extraneous (I’m sure no one thinks I ever edit or cut anything {g}, but I really do). In most cases, though, those scenes can be “recycled” into the next book–one of the benefits of writing a series.  For example–the brief scene with Meyer Rothschild, the traveling numismatist, was originally written for Dragonfly. It wasn’t that it didn’t fit well there— but it wasn’t necessary, so I removed it. And lo and behold, it tied in beautifully with the clue of the ancient coins in Voyager, where I used it in almost the original version, making only small adjustments for the plot. Meyer of Frankfort was a real historical person, by the way—he and his uncle were traveling dealers in rare coins, and he was the original founder of the famous Rothschild banking fortune.

Then there are versions of things that simply don’t work—I rewrote the front half of the “frame” story for DRAGONFLY seven times before I was happy with it— keeping whatever small pieces seemed to work from each iteration.

I mentioned above that I do the research concurrently with the writing.  As I’m working, I’m also semi-consciously composing a sort of historical timeline, noting important events and deciding—there’s nothing organized about this at all, I’m afraid; it’s just how things strike me at the time—whether we’re going to live through a particular event (like the Battles of Saratoga, for instance) adapt it/fictionalize it (this is how you use historical events that don’t occur conveniently where you want them to, btw; you just change the names), or merely refer to some well-known event (like the publication of the Declaration of Independence) in order to orient the reader timewise.

Well, as I write my bits and pieces, they gradually begin to stick together, and form larger and larger pieces.  By the time I have five or six big “chunks” of 40-60 pages each, I also usually have a good idea of the historical chronology, and can therefore line these chunks up in rough order against that timeline in the back of my head.  With any luck, at this point, I see the shape of the book (all my books have an underlying geometrical shape.  It isn’t usually visible to the reader—though you’d see it, if I explained it to you—but it’s helpful to me to see it) and the writing gets much faster then, because I can see what’s missing.

Do your readers give you ideas?

Well, in all honesty, not often, and not usually on purpose. I generally know the shape of the story, if not the specifics—and as I tell the people who enjoy speculating as to what might happen in the story, “Y’all are always wrong.”

Still, now and then, someone will suggest something that starts a train of thought, and I do end up with something. I think the only cases I can recall were with a couple of my LitForum (CompuServe) friends—both people I’ve known for years, who’ve watched the development of the books and characters from the earliest days.

One woman asked—half-kiddingly—what I thought Jamie would say, think, or do, if he came forward in time and saw his daughter in a bikini. Now, there’s no way Jamie can travel forward in time—but it did spark a train of thought that led to that conversation by moonlight in VOYAGER, and Claire’s letter to her daughter.

And then….well, I have a dear friend named Margaret Campbell. Who insists that one of her fondest secret ambitions as a child was to be a carnival geek—you know, the person who bites the heads off live chickens in the old carnival side-shows? Well, one thing in the conversation led to another, and I found myself writing in a white geek voodoo priestess with a sideline in oracles. And if you think that was easy to work into the plot…!  (It did start something of a trend, though; a number of other writers who hung out on the Forum have also used “Margaret Campbell” as a character.)

Oh, I’m wrong—there have been a couple of others, though they weren’t so much giving me ideas, as acting as ideas. Barry Fogden was in fact a very good (and well-known) English poet, now a very good cellist— whose grandfather was a shepherd. Consequently, we (the LitForum people on CompuServe—now the Compuserve Books and Writers Community) used to tease him about his supposed relations with sheep. And as usual, one thing led to another, and so we have Father Fogden, the disgraced and exiled priest of Hispaniola—and his flock.

To say nothing of his dog, Ludo, who was a real person (er, so to speak), too. So I wouldn’t say the readers don’t influence me, exactly. It’s not usually very direct, though.

Why is OUTLANDER written in the first person point of view?

Well, I kind of like to experiment and try new and hair-raising things in terms of structure and literary technique (not that writing in the first person is either new or hair-raising). However, OUTLANDER was my first novel, I was writing it for practice, and it just seemed the easiest and most comfortable, is the answer.

Now that I know more about writing, there are other good reasons to have done it, but that’s why I did do it at the time; it felt natural to me. I think I may have felt most comfortable with this (aside from the minor fact that Claire Beauchamp Randall took over and began telling the story herself), because practically all of my favorite works of literature were done this way. If you look at the classic novels of the English language about half of them are written in the first person, from MOBY DICK and DAVID COPPERFIELD to TREASURE ISLAND— even large chunks of the Bible are written in the first person! (I point this out with great regularity to romance readers who come up to me at conferences and ask “How did you dare to write a book in the first person?” “Easy,” I say, “I just sat down and typed ‘I’. (cough)  It is for some reason considered a High Crime and/or Misdemeanor to write romance novels in the first person.  No one ever asks me this at science-fiction/fantasy conferences, mystery conferences, or book festivals.)

Which is not to say that there are no drawbacks to it, or that it suits everyone. But if it fits your style and your story, why on earth not?

The framing story of DRAGONFLY is written partly in Claire’s first-person voice, partly in the third-person voice of Roger Wakefield. And, If you look at the first half of Voyager, you’ll see that it’s done in a “braided” technique, telling Jamie’s story in third person in a linear chronology, Claire’s story in first person backwards, in flashback, and using the sections in Roger’s voice as the “turn” points that trigger the other two voices.

I didn’t actually realize I was doing this until someone pointed it out to me, but in fact, I’ve been adding one major viewpoint character to each book.  OUTLANDER is entirely in Claire’s viewpoint.  DRAGONFLY is mostly Claire, but there are sections in Roger MacKenzie’s (third-person) point of view.  VOYAGER adds Jamie’s voice, DRUMS OF AUTUMN adds Brianna Randall Fraser, and so on.  All the viewpoints save Claire’s are third-person, though.

What have been the most difficult sections for you to write?

Difficult? Goodness, all of them. Well, not really, but it is work, you know, even though a great deal of fun. As for emotional difficulty, which is what I suspect you mean–Claire’s farewell letter to Bree, the rape scene in OUTLANDER, the farewell scene in DRAGONFLY IN AMBER, and a few others that don’t come immediately to mind. The ones you’d expect, in other words.

Are all the locations used in the books real?

Well, places like Inverness, Loch Ness and Fort William are certainly real, as are Paris, Fontainebleu, Cap Haitien, Philadelphia, etc. If you mean the stone circle….I don’t know. Bear in mind that I had never been to Scotland when I wrote Outlander. When I finally did go, I found a stone circle very like the one I described, at a place called Castlerigg (which is not in the Highlands, but in the Lake District, in England). There is also a place near Inverness called the Clava Cairns, which has a stone circle, and another place called Tomnahurich, which is supposed to be a fairy’s hill, but I’ve never been there, so I don’t know how like it is. So far as I know, there isn’t a physical basis for Lallybroch, but then again, I do repeatedly find things that really exist after I’ve written them, so I wouldn’t be at all surprised.

Are the books out in audio format?

Yes, indeedy.  Recorded Books, Inc. (www.recordedbooks.com ) has produced Unabridged (meaning they didn’t leave anything out; all the books are complete) audiobooks of all the OUTLANDER and the Lord John Grey books, with the exception of THE OUTLANDISH COMPANION, which really doesn’t lend itself to being read aloud.

Now, I should note that at present (as of January 3, 2011), all the books are available through Audible.com, except for THE FIERY CROSS and A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES.  These books ARE AVAILABLE—just not through Audible.com, and I will tell you why.

OK, follow me like a leopard here. Back in the day, nobody had any idea whether audiobooks would amount to anything; it was new-fangled technology, nobody was familiar with the concept as anything beyond the material for the blind that the Library of Congress’s Talking Books program does, nobody was sure it would ever be worth anything—and it cost a lot to produce one.

That being so, when Bantam-Dell (a subgroup of my US publisher, Random House) contracted with us (me and my agent) fifteen (or so) years ago for audiobooks, they did so very cautiously—and only for the rights to make an abridged version, because the thought of anyone being willing to listen to (let alone pay for) an unabridged version of something the size of OUTLANDER was laughable.

Now, in my naivete, I had no idea that “abridged” actually meant, “butchered into little bloody shreds, one-quarter of which will then be scraped up into a pile and kind of patted into the rough semblance of a story, rather like a sculpture made of raw hamburger.” I did, though, insist on keeping the Unabridged rights, having faith that at some far distant date, someone might be willing to take the gigantic gamble of recording the Whole Thing, down to the last word.

Bantam-Dell fussed about this—publishers hate to give up any rights, whether they know what to do with said rights or not; they might come in handy someday, after all—but eventually gave in, since they were positive that the unabridged rights were worthless. They did, however, insist on a non-compete clause in the contract, just in case: to wit, that if anybody did ever do an Unabridged version, this version could not be sold in retail outlets where the abridged version was sold. (They reasoning—correctly—that if anybody saw the two versions side by side on a shelf, they’d instantly realize that ¾ of the story had been omitted from the abridged version. (Not kidding, here; the FIERY CROSS abridged audiobook contains only 23% of the original book’s text. Just so you know…))

OK. A few years later, I happened to meet some representatives of Recorded Books, Inc. (well, actually, I engineered an “accidental” meeting at a librarians conference, having ascertained that Recorded Books was the biggest of the only two companies who even did unabridged books), got them interested (though they were a little goggle-eyed at the sheer tonnage involved; OUTLANDER was the longest book they’d ever done), and…well, Bob’s your uncle.

Recorded Books has done a magnificent job with the Unabridged audiobooks. They found marvelous readers (the hugely talented Davina Porter, who reads the OUTLANDER novels, and the equally talented Jeff Woodman, who does the Lord John books), and have risen nobly to the challenge of getting the audiobook versions produced more or less simultaneously with the print versions (no easy job, given how close I always come to the pub date in delivering the manuscript).

Now, going back to the original Bantam-Dell contract for the abridged audiobooks: my agent (who was an excellent agent) reasoned that since no one actually knew how the audiobook market might develop, he didn’t want to lock me into the usual sort of semi-permanent contract that we’d do for a book (i.e., you essentially grant the publishing company the right to publish your book as long as it sells. Only if it stops selling and they allow it to go out of print, can you get back the rights to it), and instead sold the audiobook abridged rights on a ten-year license. Meaning that we gave Bantam-Dell the right to produce an audiobook of each title (six books were covered under the original contract; they weren’t all written then, but were all under contract as print titles) for a period of ten years, from the date of publication of each title. So the license for VOYAGER, for instance, expired in 2004, as that book was originally published in 1994. And so on. We could then, if we liked, renew the license for an additional period. Or not.

Well, having seen what a travesty the abridged books are (meaning no offense either to the reader or the production team; there’s just no way of doing a good version of a book from which you’ve essentially omitted every other word), the answer was a resounding NOT, and we’ve been canceling those licenses the instant they come due. (Bantam-Dell is allowed a certain period post-cancellation during which they can still sell whatever stock they have on-hand, but they can’t produce any more.)

Result being that we’ve pretty much stamped out the abridged versions of OUTLANDER, DRAGONFLY IN AMBER, VOYAGER, and DRUMS OF AUTUMN. But THE FIERY CROSS was published in 2001. Which means that its license doesn’t expire until 2011. Which (hahahaha!) is NOW! So we’ll get to cancel that license Right Soon, leaving only ABOSA to go.

But that’s the reason why you haven’t been able to get FIERY CROSS or A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES from Audible.com—it’s considered a retail outlet that sells the abridged versions. [I’m putting the following in caps, because I keep telling this to people, but they often don’t seem to notice or understand:]

YOU CAN GET THE UNABRIDGED VERSIONS OF FIERY CROSS AND ABOSA!! You just can’t (yet) get them from Audible.com, which is most people’s default supplier of audiobooks. You totally can either rent or buy the unabridged audio of both books, right here (and here). But I admit that it will be much more convenient for everyone when the license on ABOSA expires as well, and all the Unabridged audios can be found on Audible.com.

(You can get AN ECHO IN THE BONE and all the Lord John books in Unabridged form on Audible now, because none of these books were covered in the original contract with Bantam-Dell, and thus no abridged version of them has ever existed. It’s not going to, either, I can tell you that much….)

Will there be an audiobook version of THE EXILE?

Well, no,  I really don’t think there will be an audio version of THE EXILE, unless it’s made by Recording for the Blind or the Talking Books program (in which the reader describes all illustrations for the benefit of a visually impaired reader). This book is a graphic novel. And while I was quite surprised to discover that there are a lot of people (judging from the comments on Amazon.com) who have never heard the term “graphic novel” (and didn’t bother to find out what it meant, or to scroll down far enough in the product description to see what it meant, and thus were shocked—shocked!—to find that it was A COMIC BOOK! (and thus concluded that this was calculated fraud on my part…people are Very Strange on occasion))—a graphic novel is, in fact, a comic book. For adults, but it is a novel told largely in visual images.  Ergo, kind of hard to do as an audiobook, I mean. Reading just the dialogue part of the script might not be all that effective.

How do you develop your characters? Do you keep charts or index cards to keep track of them?

No, I don’t keep charts of characters–I don’t write down anything much but the text of the book, and I don’t even write that in a straight line. I write in scenes; lots of little pieces that eventually get glued together.

In the later books, I do have to sort of count back and see what month of what year it is when a given scene takes place, so I’ll know what the weather should be like, but that’s about as far as it goes. I don’t forget the characters, because I can “see” them.

As for where the characters come from:
There’s a local group of fans here in Phoenix who have been taking me out to tea every spring for the last few years. There’s a resort that does a full formal English tea, with scones and clotted cream and finger sandwiches and all kinds of goodies–we all have a good time and they get to pick my brains about the book in progress.

Anyway, at one of these teas, the readers got onto Jack Randall, and what a horrible, terrible, nasty, loathsome, repellent….etc. he was. And all the time, I was sitting there, quietly sipping my tea, and thinking, “You really don’t have any notion that you’re talking to Black Jack Randall, do you?”   Just bear that in mind.

 

Are any of the fictional characters based on real historical figures?

There’s a “real” female witch (late 16th century) named Geilis Duncane in Daemonologie, a treatise on witches by King James of Scotland (later James I of England….)–the book is about the trial of a coven of witches whom James believed tried to assassinate him via black magic. (You know how women are always teaming up with the devil to do things like that…). I figured anybody up on Scottish witchcraft would know the name, and for anyone who wasn’t, it didn’t matter.

It is, of course, not the OUTLANDER witch’s real name–we meet her in Dragonfly under (what we suppose is) her original name of Gillian–she took Geillis deliberately as a name, because of the original, whom she of course was familiar with, owing to her researches into witchcraft.

Jack Randall is not real–so far as I know. I add that proviso, because quite frequently in the writing of these books, I’ve written someone, presumably out of my head–and then found them, in the historical record. Mildly eerie when it happens, but it always reassures me that I’m on the right track.

Now, Mother Hildegarde was a real historical person, though she lived in the 12th century, rather than the 18th. Likewise, M. Forez, the hangman of Dragonfly, was a real public hangman in the Paris of the 18th century. Bonnie Prince Charlie and many of the Jacobite lords were naturally real people {cough}, as were Benedict Arnold, General Burgoyne, and George III.   But most of the historical people are treated as historical people; i.e., I haven’t messed around with the facts of their lives or personalities—with one minor exception.  Simon, Lord Lovat, aka “The Old Fox” was certainly a real person, and a very colorful one, too.   I made no alterations to his life or persona, save for grafting an illegitimate and totally fictional branch onto his family tree by making  him Jamie Fraser’s grandfather.  Given Old Simon’s persona as recorded, attributing an illegitimate son to him would in no way be character assassination.

In the fullness of time, we’ll have THE OUTLANDISH COMPANION, Part II, which will include a complete listing and brief description of historical characters, as well as the overall Cast of Characters listing for the series.

Who is the ghost in Outlander? (SPOILER)

The ghost is Jamie–but as for how it fits into the story, All Will Be Explained—in the last book.

How is Sassenach pronounced?

SASS-uh-nak. It’s actually a little guttural on the end, a bit like the German “ach”, but not quite so throaty. That’s close, though.

When is Jamie’s birthday?

May 1. I had one reader argue with me about this, insisting that he had to be a Leo, but I assure you he isn’t. My husband and kids are all Tauruses, and I know what they’re like {grin}. May 1 it is.

Is the story of the Dunbonnet and the laird who hid for seven years true?

Leap o’ the Cask is real; you can see it on maps—and so is the story of the laird who hid in the cave for seven years, whose tenants called him the Dunbonnet, and his servant, who brought the ale to him in hiding.  The Dunbonnet’s name? Ah…..James Fraser. Really.

Who/what is Master Raymond? What is his significance? (SPOILER)

Well, he’s a prehistoric time traveler. I think he came from somewhere about 400 BC or perhaps a bit earlier (not technically “prehistoric,” but they certainly weren’t using written records where he started out), and the 18th century is not his first stop.

He is–or was–a shaman, born with the ability to heal through empathy. He sees auras plainly; those with his power all have the blue light he has–born warriors, on the other hand, are red (so yes, “the red man” is iconic). He has a rather strong aversion to Vikings, owing to events that happened in his own time; hence his nervousness when he sees Jamie. He’s afraid of them, but he also realizes just what a strong life-force they have–that’s why he makes Claire invoke it (using the sexual and emotional link between her and Jamie) to heal her.

His descendants–a few of whom he meets now and then in his travels–have the blue light about them, too; in large degree or small, depending on their talents. So he knows Claire, when he sees her, as one of his great-great, etc. grand-daughters. And Gillian/Geillis is another–you notice she has Claire’s sense of plants, though she tends naturally to poison, rather than medicines.

We’ll see him again–though not in Jamie and Claire’s story, I don’t think. Master Raymond should get his own series of books, eventually.  So in fact, we’ll see Claire, Jamie, and Geillis again, then– but as secondary characters in Master Raymond’s story (you recall, Geillis mentions having met “one other” (time-traveler) in Voyager, but doesn’t tell Claire who it is).

Heaven knows just when we’ll get to that–in about ten years, at this rate–but we will get to it. {grin}

Were Jonathan Randall and the Duke of Sandringham lovers?

No, the Duke and Randall weren’t lovers, though the Duke certainly understood Randall’s psychology, and no doubt used it to control him.

How is Laoghaire pronounced? Where did the name come from?

I got Laoghaire off a map.  And no, I had no idea how it was pronounced, though I had a guess.  Since then, I’ve asked various Scots, and got answers ranging from “L’heer” to “Leera” to “Leery.”  “Leery” seems to be the most common, though.

How is Geillis’ name pronounced?

Well. {cough} I don’t know. FWIW, the reader on the abridged audiotapes (Geraldine James) called her GAY-liss or GAY-lee,  while Davina Porter, who reads the unabridged audiobooks calls her GEE-liss (with a soft “g”) and I’ve also heard “GUY-liss”—so I suppose you can take your choice.

Why doesn’t Jamie use the endearment “mo duinne” in Voyager?

Er….well….{cough}. He doesn’t say “mo duinne” in Voyager, because between DRAGONFLY IN AMBER and  VOYAGER, I acquired the gracious assistance of a native speaker of Gaelic, one Iain MacKinnon Taylor (who kindly advised on all the Gaelic bits in VOYAGER, DRUMS OF AUTUMN, and THE FIERY CROSS). Mr. Taylor informed me that while “mo duinne” had the right words for what I meant to convey, it wasn’t idiomatically correct–that is, the proper expression would be”mo nighean donn“. So I used that in Voyager, wishing (as always) to be as accurate as possible.

Who were the Paleolithic lovers in Dragonfly in Amber? What was their significance?

I didn’t really have anything specifically in mind about the Paleolithic lovers–they were simply a metaphor for the briefness of life and the importance of love–but then again, often I write something that I intend to be only colour, and it sort of turns into something else in later books.

There’s that ghost in Outlander, for instance….

I got the lovers from The National Geographic, as a matter of fact.  The original were a couple from Herculaneum (or possibly Pompeii) whose skeletons had been found during the excavation, lying the manner I described in Dragonfly–his arms around her, trying to protect her when the fire came down on them. One of the most touching and dramatic pictures I’ve ever seen. It’s stuck in my mind for years and years, so it was there when my subconscious needed it as an image of mortality and love. One reason why writers ought to read widely.

As a scientist what do you really think about the Loch Ness Monster?

The best answer I can give here, I think, is the one I gave to a sixth-grade student who wrote to ask me the same question (I include her very nice letter, as well).

Dear Dr. Gabaldon,
I am a sixth grade student at Falk School, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At school, we are working on a project called the I-Search. This involves doing a lot of research about a chosen topic and writing a paper. My topic is The Loch Ness Monster. I was hoping that you could answer a few questions about it, because  I know that you write books about Scotland. My mother is a fan of them and said that you mentioned the Loch Ness Monster in one of your books.

If you could answer these questions, I would be very grateful. If not, it’s okay. I know you are very busy.

  • Have you ever been to Loch Ness?
  • Do you believe in the Loch Ness Monster?
    • Why or why not?
  • If so, what kind of being do you think he/she/it is?
  • Do you know anyone who thinks they saw Nessie?
    • If so, what did he/she/it look like?
    • If not, what do imagine he/she/it looks like (If you believe)?
  • What role did the Loch Ness Monster play in your book?
  • What inspired you to include the Loch Ness Monster in your book?
  • Do you think that scientists should continue to search for evidence of the Monster?

Thank you very much for your time.  I hope to also become an author one day.

Sincerely,
Olivia Perfetti

Dear Olivia–

Well, let’s see…

Yes, I have been to Loch Ness.  It’s huge!  Very, very deep, and a dark blue color in good weather–almost black in bad weather, under the clouds.

I don’t know about the Loch Ness monster.  On purely scientific grounds, then probably not–at least, not if the monster is as big as it’s been described; I’ve seen an analysis of the amount of biomass produced in the loch, and it isn’t great enough to sustain a population of creatures of that size (see, there can’t be just one monster, unless a) it’s immortal, and we don’t know of any immortal flesh-and-blood creatures, so you shouldn’t assume that one exists, a priori (that means, “in advance of finding anything out”), or b) you have a situation in which the monster isn’t confined to the loch.   Unless that’s the case, you have to have a population of a size to permit breeding; otherwise, they’d die out.

On the other hand…I don’t know how much your mother’s told you about my books, but the main thread of the story involves time-travel.  Now, if you believe that time-travel is possible–and both Stephen Hawkings and I think it is {g}-then you don’t have to have either a set quantity of biomass or a breeding population of monsters.  All you need is a time-portal under Loch Ness, which would occasionally allow a prehistoric creature to pass through it.

OK, if this is the case, then the monster could quite easily be a plesiosaur, elasmosaur, or any other acquatic prehistoric reptile.  Going just on the basis of the most popular published photo of the supposed monster, my guess would be plesiosaur.
I don’t know anyone personally who’s seen the monster, but I’ve met a lot of people in Scotland who believe it’s there.

In my books, there’s a scene in which the heroine (a WWII nurse who passes through a time-portal in a stone circle in the Highlands, and ends up in 1743) sees the Loch Ness monster when she goes down to get water from the loch.   In a later book, when she’s talking to her daughter’s boyfriend, she tells him she thinks the creature she saw was a plesiosaur, and speculates that maybe it got there the same way she did–but through a portal under the water.

What made me include it?  I’m tempted to say pure whimsy, because that certainly had something to do with it.   However, there really is more to it than that.  In Highland folklore, there’s a creature called a waterhorse; this is a supernatural thing that lives in bodies of water, and is rather dangerous; there are lots of stories about them.   I did a lot of research on folklore, customs, etc. when writing these books, and so I saw a sort of tie-in between the notion of the Loch Ness monster, and the much older notion of the waterhorse.   And when I began thinking about it in depth, I could see the poignancy of having this woman, thrown out of her own time, meeting a creature that might also be displaced–or might be an omen to her.  You know, thematic stuff.

Well, I was a scientist before I began writing novels (I have a Ph.D. in ecology, a Master’s degree in Marine Biology, and a Bachelor’s degree in Zoology), and I’m all in favor of scientists looking into anything they think is interesting.   Still, there have been a number of studies of the loch, using radar, sonar, and so on, which have not found anything.   But you can’t prove a negative (this is an axiom of the scientific method, btw; you have to have a falsifiable hypothesis.  That means you have to have an idea that could theoretically be proved wrong.   That’s why creationism isn’t science–it can’t be; you can’t prove that God doesn’t exist.  Ergo, you don’t have a falsifiable hypothesis) in this case; there’s always a possibility that something is there, and we just haven’t found it yet.   The odds are against it, but after all, you only need one monster. {g}

Good luck with your report!  (Btw, there’s a Loch Ness Monster center at Drumnadrochit, on the shores of the loch.  You might try Googling them and see if they have a website.)

Best wishes,

–Diana

Where will the story end? SPOILER

I think the Outlander books will end in 1800. If this tells you anything, more power to you. {g} And yes, the last book will have a happy ending, though I confidently expect it to leave the readers in floods of tears, anyway.

What are the plans for future books?

Well, let’s see…

I don’t yet know whether Book Eight, titled WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART’s BLOOD, of the main OUTLANDER series will be the last one or not.  If it’s not, then there will be another one after that.

There’s THE OUTLANDISH COMPANION, Part II, which I’ve just barely begun working on. That’s under contract, and will be published whenever it’s done—soon, I hope!

There’s a prequel book, about Jamie Fraser’s parents, which is sort of under contract, but I haven’t really touched it yet.

And I do have two contemporary crime novels under contract, which have had to wait.

As for things that aren’t yet under contract but that I’d like to write…

  • Another graphic novel.
  • Master Raymond’s story.  I’ve got part of the first chapter of the first book, and a prologue, so far. {g}