Interview: Diana Gabaldon

It’s no secret that I love, just love, Diana Gabaldon’s novels. Every last one of them. She’s one of the authors that made me into the Historical Fiction fan that I am today, and I was so thrilled that she agreed to answer my questions!

Please welcome Diana to the blog!

You have three (3!) degrees in science: Zoology, Marine Biology, and Quantitative Behavioral Ecology. Whew!! So, from marine life to…18th century Scottish and English history! Have you always had an interest in history?

Not at such, no. I just intended to write a novel for practice—in order to learn how—and thought a historical novel would be the easiest kind for me to write. I was a research professor; I knew my way around a library. It seemed easier to look things up than to make them up—and I thought if I turned out to have no imagination, I could steal things from the historical record.

When you started writing Outlander, it was as practice to see what it took to write a novel and if it was something you’d like to do! I’m so glad you didn’t decide not to show it to anyone! When did it start to dawn on you that you just might have a hit on your hands?

Oh, probably five or six years after the book was published.That’s when it finally earned out its initial advance.

Your novels are impeccably researched and I’ve read that they each take 2-3 years to write. Do you have help in keeping all of the facts straight, and also someone to help with your research?

  No, I do all the research—and fact-checking—myself.
My favorite analogy regarding research is what I call “Hot dogs and beans.” Consider that you’re planning dinner for your family. You decide to have hot dogs and beans; tasty and cheap and everybody likes them. You have a busy life, and thus an assistant—you tell the assistant to go to the store and get hot dogs and beans for you. The assistant does, and you have a nice supper.
OK. If you go to the store yourself, you’re intending to get hot dogs and beans. But on your way to the sausage-and-cheese section, you pass the fresh meat section—where you observe that there’s a sale on organic chicken breasts. “Ooh,” you think. “I could make chicken curry!” So you get the chicken breasts, go back through the aisles to get spices, vegetable juice, mango-peach applesauce, mango chutney, jasmine rice…and coming back toward the front of the store with this, you pass through the fresh produce section and see the water droplets gleaming among the fresh lettuces and long green onions—and it occurs to you that a shrimp salad would be Really Good with the curry—so you go back to Meats and get half a pound of fresh baby shrimp, then to the condiments aisle for dressing—and thence to the chilled wine cabinet near the checkout, for a lovely dry Riesling, which will just top this meal off….
Well, if you write historical novels and you depend heavily on research assistants, you get hot dogs and beans.

Which novel, among all of your work, has been your favorite to write?

It’s always the novel in progress, since that’s the one where I don’t yet know everything that happens.

If (fingers crossed) Outlander ever makes it to the big screen, who do you picture as Jamie and Claire? How about Lord John Grey?

  Er…I don’t. Picture anyone as them, I mean. I can see these people; I don’t pick actors and then think about those actors as the images of my characters (some writers do do this, and if that works for them, fine).
If you mean who do I think might be able to play the characters successfully—I have no idea. An actor is an artist, just like a novelist, sculptor, painter, etc.—and their art is to embody and bring to life someone that they aren’t. Ergo, superficial physical resemblance just isn’t the point; you need an actor who can be Jamie Fraser, or Claire Randall, or Lord John Grey. And that’s why you have casting directors.

When you find time to yourself, how do you like to spend it?

Reading. Walking, traveling, gardening.

Is there any news you can share with us about upcoming projects?

  Sure! Let’s see…first off is the 20th-anniversary special edition of OUTLANDER. Random House is publishing this special edition to celebrate the fact that the book has been continuously in print—in hardcover!—for 20 years. It’s a cool book; it has a lot of additional special material (timelines, maps, essays) in the back, a ribbon bookmarker, a nifty padded faux-leather cover, and even a sampler CD of OUTLANDER: The Musical!
  The 20th-anniversary edition will be released on July 5th, and I’ll be doing a launch party for it at The Poisoned Pen bookstore in Scottsdale on July 11th. (Btw, The Poisoned Pen bookstore is my local independent bookstore, and always carries all of my books, in all available formats: hardcover, trade paperback, mass-market paperback, and audiobook. They also will ship anywhere in the world, so if you happen to want an autographed book, just email, and tell him what you want and how you want it inscribed. I go by the store every couple of weeks and sign all the orders.)

  Right. Next up is THE SCOTTISH PRISONER. This is a pretty cool book; while it’s one of the shorter Lord John novels, it’s written as a two-person book, with the viewpoint alternating between Jamie Fraser and Lord John throughout. It’s set in 1760, and explains—among other things—how it came about that Lord John and Jamie became friends. I’ve just put up the two beginnings of this book on my website at – go and check them out!SCOTTISH PRISONER has a pub date of November 29th, in both the US and the UK (also Australia, New Zealand, and Canada). 

  And then—there’s Book Eight, the sequel to AN ECHO IN THE BONE. I haven’t got a title for this one yet, but have been working along on it in parallel with SCOTTISH PRISONER (I normally do work on more than one thing at a time; it keeps me from having writer’s block). I hope to have this one finished by the end of 2012, but then it’s up to the various publishers when the book actually comes out.
  Now, just to help the time pass more quickly…there’s also an anthology (titled DOWN THESE STRANGE STREETS, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois) coming out in October that has a Lord John novella in it: “Lord John and the Plague of Zombies”.Hope you’ll enjoy them all, in the fullness of time!

You may order the gorgeous Outlander: 20th Anniversary Edition here: Amazon | Barnes and Noble


  1. Great interview Kristin! I'm glad Diana included the bit about getting an autographed copy. I know what I'm buying when I get paid. 🙂

    Reader's Refuge

  2. Oh, I had no idea I could get an autographed copy without actually going to a signing. Exciting! 🙂

  3. Such an interesting, exciting interview. Thanks for sharing it:)

  4. Logan E. Turner

    I kind of wanted to cry while reading all of this good stuff. I love DG's books soooo much. I must go order the special edition now!

  5. Offbeat Vagabond

    Amazing interview. I have Outlander, but I know it will be quite the read, so I hope to read it soon. Anything about the Scottish is usually a go-to for me LOL! How do you have three different degrees in Science and go to write historical fiction? It is so vast, but quite exciting. I love that you said that it is easier to find something than make something up. It is so true. Thank you for the analogy, I am definitely remembering that one. Great interview guys, thank you 🙂

  6. Jules@OneBookShy

    Nice interview. I loved Diana's answer regarding a research assistant. She has such a knack for explaining things. I can't wait to get my copy of the anniversary edition.

  7. Great interview! I LOVE Outlander and I really enjoyed reading this! Thank you!

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