Monday, April 27, 2009

This is Diana Gabaldon, author of the “Outlander” series. Quite an interesting lady. According to one book jacket, “She holds a bachelor’s degree in zoology, a master’s degree in marine biology, and a Ph.D. in ecology, none of which has anything to do with her novels. She spent a dozen years as a university professor before turning to writing full-time.”

She had a lot of experience writing scientific treatises, and was one of the first women to use what ultimately became the world wide web. She would correspond with fellow scientists at other universities, and at one time she even wrote some comics for Disney. After about the fourth book in the series, she wrote a nonfiction book entitled “The Outlandish Companion”. The cover goes on to say, “In which much is revealed regarding Claire and Jamie Fraser (the two main characters in this epic story) their lives and times, antecedents, adventures, companions, and progeny, with learned commentary (and many footnotes) by their humble creator”.

So that is where I get much of what follows. She says in “The Outlandish Companion” that having done so much other writing, she thought she would try writing a novel -- not for publication, and not even to be read by anyone else. Well, what to write? At first she thought she would write a detective story, but thought she could not do that. How about a historical novel where she could draw on the real facts of history? Having decided that, then what time period, and where? She figured that for a story to be any good, it had to have lots of tension. So she chose 18th century Scotland because twice in that century the Scots rose up and tried to free themselves from English rule -- once in 1715, and again in 1745. Both times the Scots were thoroughly crushed. Gabaldon says she does not have a clear idea where her story is going. She does not have any particular plan, or even use an outline. After all, this was not to be for publication. So she started writing about the fighting between the Scots and the English. Incidentally, the Scot term for an Englishman was “Outlander” hence the title of the first book. The series, in order, are Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber, Voyager, Drums of Autumn, The Fiery Cross, and the latest is A Breath of Snow and Ashes. And Gabaldon said she thought she would stop with a double trilogy, but when her publisher saw what she had written, he told her that it was too much for one book -- there would have to be a seventh. And there is --Echo in the Bone, due out in September or October, this year. No telling where this will stop. But because she does not write in sequence, she says she has already written the end of the series.

Since she worked at a university, she had marvelous access to research material. So she would research an idea, write a scene, and then following another idea, research, and write -- etc. Then she would ‘stitch” the scenes together, much like a patchwork quilt. After a while she read what she had, and discovered she had no women in the story. Well, let’s add a woman protagonist. That should add some tension to the story! And after writing several scenes with the woman, Gabaldon discovered to her horror that while the men all talked like 18th century men, the woman was speaking like a 20th century woman! That simply wouldn’t work! Well, rather than rewrite all of the woman’s dialogue she thought, well, okay, I’ll leave her as a 20th century woman.

So how do you get a 20th century woman back 200 years to the 18th century? Since this is fiction, it’s easy -- time travel. That’s the science fiction part. You’ll have to read the first book to see how this happens, and by then you’ll be hooked.

Anyway, Gabaldon started sending snippets to her university friends, who wrote back saying, “Hey this is good. You ought to have it published.” Ultimately she did, and the rest, as they say, is history!

But be warned -- these are long books, an average of about a thousand pages each! Gabaldon has an amazing sense of humor, Even her acknowledgments are funny, and she will, in the course of this story, write on any subject -- war, love, sex, romance, imprisonment, torture, birth, death, ghosts -- you name a topic, and it’s in there somewhere. I read quickly, and discovered when I reread to Am, that I had glossed over some parts.

Gabaldon’s books have been on the New York Times bestseller list, and has been translated into several other languages. And there are a couple of funny stories about that, too.

For example ( and this will be your humor for the day) she originally was going to title her first book "A Stitch in Time" drawing on the time travel bit. But her publisher said "No" because one would find the books in the sewing section of bookstores. So she renamed the first book "Outlander", which is what the Scots call the English.

But then when it came time to publish the British version, she was told that "Outlander" is what the English call the Aussies. So the British version was titled "A Stitch in Time". Then Diana started receiving emails saying "Guess where I found your book?" If you're thinking the sewing section, you are right.

I mentioned earlier her sense of humor. At her website she told this story, which, she says, she told to an audience in Germany where she was on a book tour. She says she told it in English, and before her translator could make the tratnslation, the whole audience burst out laughing.
Diana's story: When she was teaching she had an 8 a.m. lecture to give in a health class. She said there were several hundred students, half asleep, draped over auditorium seats, and the like. At the start, she came out to the front of the stage, and announced that the topic would be the history of contraception. The audience immediately came awake! And then she recited this little ditty, at which the German audience had roared with laughter:
In days of old
When knights were bold
And condoms not invented,
They tied a sock
Around the cock
And babies were prevented!

1 comment:

  1. She sounds like a great writer and I'll have to try to give one of her "stories" a go--but I may need a LONG cruise with no distractions to finish! Years ago I read and enjoyed Connie Willis' Doomsday Book and Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveller's Wife so I might enjoy this series, too. BTW, given you like Pillars of the Earth you might enjoy that Willis book! There's time travel back to England during the Black Plague but the book is long and involves a big chunk o'time. Check out the amazon reviews and see what you think.