Photo courtesy of EW
Outlander author Diana Gabaldon herself sat down with Dyer recently, and the two chatted about all things Jamie, their own fictional crushes, and why novels about strong women aren’t just for women. Check out an excerpt from their conversation, below. Finding Fraser is available on shelves now.
KC DYER: It’s wonderful to have a chance to chat today, Diana. Thanks so much for joining me! So— let’s jump right in. Sending you the first draft of Finding Fraser, in the middle of the night, un-spell-checked and without giving you any warning has to be my most embarrassing publishing moment ever. What did you think when you first spied it in your inbox? Was your first instinct—murder?
DIANA GABALDON: Haha! No, I saw it was from you, so was at once curious and entertained. The more entertained, once I’d read your cover note and then began reading the manuscript.
KD: I cannot tell you how relieved that made me! In spite of my massive sender’s remorse after that email, you have always been so encouraging and supportive.
So, now you’ve heard mine … what’s been your most embarrassing publishing moment?
DG: I’m afraid I’m given to very blunt remarks—and sometimes make them in places where they’re seen or heard by people for whom they weren’t intended. *cough*
KD: Well, you’re not the only one. (Actually, in Finding Fraser, Emma has a very similar problem…!) What about the opposite—can you share the greatest joy in your writing life?
DG: Oh, every day that I write is a joy. But in terms of Big Moments—whenever I finish a book; that’s sheer euphoria and it lasts for days. (Oddly enough, the really big moments—the day I sold Outlander, the day I heard that Voyager had hit the New York Times list—have tended to strike me with numbness; I just had no idea how to respond emotionally, because this kind of event had never happened to me before.)
KD: There’s nothing like post-book euphoria, is there? Okay, let’s talk about character for a minute. I’ve heard you talk about how the genesis of Jamie’s character came from one of the companions in Doctor Who. But have you ever fallen in love with a character from a book the way Emma has fallen for Jamie Fraser?
DG: Oh, all the time. Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond, of course—the Duke from Laura Kinsale’s Flowers from the Storm, the magician from a couple of Christopher Brookmyre’s crime books (Snowball in Hell is one of them; don’t recall the other title), the hero of Raymond Feist’s Magician series (I must have a thing for magicians…)—dozens of others, over the years. I love men who are prisoners, men who are bound by circumstance, men who fight their way out. (Add the hero of Cheryl Reavis’s The Prisoner to the list.)
KD: Interesting about the thing for magicians! Something about writers and magic—and when you add the odd heroic action into the mix, it is irresistible. So, speaking of magic—my family hails from Scotland, and the country has always held a huge mystique for me. What do you think it is about Scotland that caught your imagination, when it came to setting Outlander there?
DG: More the Highlands, than just Scotland per se…. Hmmm…. Mountains, for one thing. I grew up in the mountains and have always felt a sense of mystery and romance (in the classic sense of something exotic, unknown, beyond normal daily experience) to them. Add in the layers and layers of ancient civilizations that still lie open on the ground there—the sense of enchantment in the land itself, that emerges so clearly in the folklore of the place. And then there’s the tribal sense of the Highland clan system, with its very clear-cut rules of masculine behavior—courage, honor, protection, responsibility. And of course, the doom of the place—that sense of terrible things that have happened, and the amazing resilience of the people who survive those things.
KD: Couldn’t agree more. Emma’s sense of wonder as she travels through the country in Finding Fraser is a direct translation of my own. This book is definitely a love letter to Scotland.
We both hang out with writers a lot. Accepting that, as a group, we are all a bunch of weirdos, do you ever thinly disguise or plant acquaintances or other writers as characters into your books?
DG: Oh, sure. Not all the time, but when the inspiration strikes me. I always show the piece to a person I’ve used in this way, just in case they have reservations or would like something changed. Margaret Campbell, one of the long-time sysops of the Compuserve Books and Writers Forum, ended up as a chicken-ripping, blood-drinking voodoo oracle in Voyager (this was more or less her idea), while another Literary Forum friend, John L. Myers, strode onto the stage of Drums of Autumn as a mountain man with a hernia (which Claire repaired—with the assistance of a bottle of whisky—on the dining room table). I showed John the piece starring “Johnny Lee Myers,” asking, as usual, if he had objections. He said oh, no, he loved it—noting that my description actually looked very much like his great-grandfather, who’d been a Revenue agent in the North Carolina mountains, and he asked whether, in honor to his great-grandfather (Quincy Myers), I’d change the name to John Quincy Myers—which I was happy to do.
More recently (in Written in My Own Heart’s Blood), I had a blacksmith named Heughan, who doesn’t appear physically, but is overheard (by a couple of other characters) blasphemously apostrophizing his tools. This was, of course, in compliment to Sam Heughan, who had been recently cast in the Outlander TV show, to play the part of Jamie Fraser, and who had injudiciously told me once that he thought he cursed too much. I showed him “his” piece, with the usual assurance that I’d change or omit anything he liked, but he assured me that he was “honoured to be your foul-mouthed smith.”
KD: I love that! So, in Finding Fraser, my Emma doesn’t want to watch the televised version of her heroes. Do you feel conflicted about seeing your creations leap off the page and onto the screen?
DG: No. I might have, save that I fortunately saw Sam Heughan’s audition as Jamie Fraser before seeing anything else of the show. That was sufficiently startling—and reassuring—that I was possessed by curiosity to see what else might be in store.
I was also reassured by what I’d seen and heard from the production people—specifically Ron Moore and Maril Davis, who took the time to come to my house and spend two whole days talking to me about character, backstory, pacing, etc. before they began.
But I’ve never had any trouble maintaining separate versions of a story, in terms of print and movie. The fact that people constantly ask me if “my” view of Jamie and Claire has been replaced by the actors’ faces likely indicates that most people probably aren’t able to maintain separate images—and therefore think I don’t, either. But I do.
KD: Okay, a final question. As your friend—not to mention a fan of your series—I’ve read many articles about you and your books over the years. For this last question, I want to give you the opportunity to address any topic you always wish you were asked, or to correct a misapprehension about your stories. What do you want readers to know?
DG: I understand—being that you’re a good friend and have been privy for years to my opinions of interviewers who ask the same six questions all the time—that this is a kind attempt to give me control of the interview, and I appreciate it.
As to popular misapprehensions—it won’t help, but since you give me the opportunity—let me say that I don’t write women’s fiction and I don’t write books for women. People will of course assume that any book written by a woman is plainly written for women—the more so, if the book in question has a female protagonist—but this isn’t the case.
Frankly, I don’t write books for any audience; I write them for myself. Of course, I’ve been informed by more than one person that I was obviously a gay man in a previous life, and I suppose that might explain a few things….
Now I have new and different marketing things going on, owing to having a successful TV series made of my books. While this is undoubtedly A Good Thing, it results in a few odd labels. Apparently I’m now a feminist icon, and I write “Strong Woman” books.
OK … people have told me for years, “Oh, you write such strong women!” To which I’ve responded automatically with, “I don’t like stupid, whiny ones; why would I write about them?”
But now we have *gasp* television critics saying that I write Strong Women. Which means … automatic default to the easiest buzzword, regardless of whether the label is appropriate or informational. Now it’s all about Strong Women, and interviewers have started asking me questions about what was the first book I remember reading with a Strong Woman in it… (Alice in Wonderland, I suppose, but what kind of question is that?).
It’s not romance novels, but it’s still marginalization; the notion that only women care about books about women, and that a female writer can only write interestingly about women.
OK, I know that’s not true; both because I can read, and because I get quite a lot of mail and messages from male readers who identify with and appreciate Jamie Fraser for who and what he is, and female readers who likewise appreciate the male characters—though often on different grounds.
The show has nearly as many male viewers as female ones—and a great many of those men are now potential book-readers, because they’ve had a chance to see what the story is (adventure, excitement, fighting, history, deep emotion of a kind that’s understandable to anyone regardless of gender) and what it isn’t.
KD: The ‘strong woman’ issue is an interesting one, isn’t it? I thought about it with Finding Fraser, too. This is not just a story about a girl who is looking for a man to complete her. It takes nerve to do what Emma does—to go off and shape her own destiny. And while things don’t always go as planned, in the end, she learns how to stand up for herself and trust her instincts to find her own way.
As for male readers—I’ve met a bunch of guys (many of them in kilts, I might add) at my readings. I wrote Finding Fraser for anyone who’s ever fallen for a character in a book, and it’s awesome to meet and talk to readers, regardless of gender, who know and love that feeling, too!
Anyway, it’s been awesome chatting with you. Thank you for all your support with Finding Fraser —and see you soon!