Written by: Janet Reynolds
It was a big day in the Big Apple yesterday as Random House held its annual open house with authors that included Jodi Picoult, Trevor Noah, Fannie Flagg, and, yes, Diana Gabaldon. The event, which included author panels and a gift bag filled with free books — be still my beating book lover’s heart! — was wonderful. And that was before Diana even took the stage.
A few of us Outlander Cast Blog writers were there. So for those who weren’t, here are a few of the tidbits Gabaldon shared during the Q&A. Consider it an early holiday present.
The questions kicked off with OCB writer Teddie Potter asking Gabaldon about the high number of surrogate parents in her series. Many characters, such as Fergus and Claire, are raised by people who are not their biological parents. What’s the reason for that?
|Photo courtesy: Jayme Hettinger|
DG was direct. “It grew naturally out of the characters and the situations,” she told the sold-out crowd. “Some of it was simple logistics.” It was easier, she pointed out, to have Claire be an orphan, rather than having to deal with sisters or other siblings in story lines.
Another fan asked about one of the new stories, “Besieged,” that will be included in DG’s new book, Seven Stones to Stand or Fall, coming out this spring. “Can you tell us more about Lord John Grey?” the audience member asked. Nope, DG flatly said. “I haven’t written it yet.” All she could says is LJG’s mother will be involved and there will be something about an invasion of Cuba and her being a captive.
What about new characters who might get their own book or novella? Master Raymond remains high on the list.
What about how she managed a full-time job, raising three kids and writing a novel. “It helps if you have a good spouse.” It also helps, apparently, if said spouse is willing to go to bed at 9 p.m. so he can have the morning shift and you — night owl Gabaldon — can stay up to write from midnight to 4 a.m., which is her preferred writing time. Having a cleaning person three times a week helps, too.
A Frank fan — yes, they do exist — asked DG if she would share some secret of Frank’s backstory. There might be a small book, Gabaldon said, suggesting a title, What Frank Knew. She then noted that some Frank details will come up in book nine. “You know how Frank wrote a lot of books? No one reads his books.” In book nine, someone will apparently finally read one of those books and some Frank tidbits will be revealed.
Did having a master’s in marine biology and a PhD in quantitative behavioral ecology help her writing, another asked? “Anything you write helps you as a writer,” she said. Gabaldon then illustrated how she writes, after noting she is a slow writer.
On good days, she said, she starts with a kernel, perhaps a line of dialogue, “anything that’s concrete.” A “cold day” is one in which she doesn’t have a starting idea; none of her characters has “spoken” to her. On a day — or night really — like that, she heads over to her bookshelves that include some 1500 reference books and randomly picks one and starts flipping through it until she finds a kernel.
Maybe it’s one of old Sotheby’s catalogs she owns, and it lands on a Scottish silver and crystal goblet with thistles on it. From there DG illustrates her process by asking a series of questions: The goblet is on the table. What color is the wood? Where is the light falling from? Is it low light? Blue light? Mid-winter light? “It must be mid-afternoon,” she says. “I see it’s winter light, the light of a late winter afternoon.”
My hands are cold, she continues, but my feet are warm. I realize there’s a fire. “The cold blue light of the late winter afternoon fell through the crystal goblet on the table. It’s making a pool. It’s casting a glow. Why is it casting a glow? I realize there is an amber liquid in it and now I know where I am. I’m in Jocasta Cameron’s room because she is the only one I know who would have a goblet with whiskey.” And now she’s ready to write.
Wow, just wow.
Hardest character to write? Brianna. Why? “She’s a character of necessity rather than one that came to me,” she said. That’s why Jamie and Claire spent 20 years apart, she joked, noting she didn’t want to have to write about baby Brianna growing up because writing about kids is “boring.”
Easiest character to write? Lord John Grey.
Another audience member wanted to know if Jamie Fraser is modeled on any real life character. “Well, I have been married to a tall redhead with a sense of humor for almost 45 years,” Gabaldon says. Her husband also reads what she writes each night. DG places the pages on the sink as she goes to bed and he reads them over coffee while she sleeps. He leaves notes, too. “Nipples again?” was apparently one. He did also give her the best last line ever, for The Fiery Cross: “When the day shall come that we do part,” he said softly, and turned to look at me, “if my last words are not ‘I love you,’ you’ll ken it was because I didna have time.”
One brave fan asked about her favorite sex scene. Really? Who could pick one??? But DG did, and what a one it was. It’s from Voyager — hint to Ron D. Moore, it would be really good to include this. It’s the scene where Jamie and Claire are on the boat and he’s shaving and they haven’t actually had sex in a while because of being on this boat and having zero privacy and some other reasons I won’t mention here so I don’t spoil anything. Anyway, Jamie, while he’s shaving his face, begins to tell Claire what he will do to her — inch by inch down, starting at the top of her body — until, he says, she makes that little squeaky noise she always makes. “I do not make a squeaky noise,” she says with indignation. To which Jamie gives her one of those looks and then continues his play-by-play before turning to her, and finishing, “And then I’ll see what noises you’ll make now, Sassenach.” Or words to that effect… If you’ve read the books, I know you remember this scene. It’s the one you read twice… or maybe three times. Just for good measure.
Perhaps the most poignant moments came during questions about Culloden. Gabaldon had received a three-book contract after selling Outlander and could finally afford to visit Scotland. She and her husband had visited the moor and were sitting on a bench, quietly. “You know how evocative it is,” she said, getting choked up. She recounted her husband turning to her and said, “Where is Murtagh?” “And I said, ‘Over there,'” Gabaldon paused as she told the story. “I can’t believe I’m getting choked up over someone who doesn’t exist.”
And then the real kicker question came. A woman stood up and thanked Gabaldon for Outlander. What does it feel like to have created something, she asked, that has so profoundly affected millions of people? Gabaldon paused, clearly emotional. “It’s moving and gratifying,” she said, finally. “I’ve known since I was eight I wanted to be a writer.” Then she talked about going to Catholic school and talking to God. “I want to write books. I want to write the kind of books that lift people up,” she recalled telling God. “And He said, ‘That’s okay.'”