I promised you the second half of my interview with Diana Gabaldon, the internationally bestselling author of the Outlander series, and you shall have it in just a moment. First, though, I have some exciting news of my own to share, and a confession to make.
The confession is this: I used to envy Diana. Not her work—I love her books, but they are hers and I have my own. No, what I envied was the fact that they were all in print, all the time. Readers who aren’t also writers may not realize how rare that is. Publishing is a bottom-line business, and shelf space is valuable; books that don’t sell very well are quickly replaced by new books. Just a few years ago, there were only a handful of living writers whose entire body of work could be found on the shelves of bookstores, even virtual ones. For the rest, the most one could hope for was to have a new book in hardcover while the one before it was still available in paperback. Once the stores started returning copies, the books were essentially dead, except for copies circulating in libraries and used-book stores. They’d be remaindered and declared officially out of print. Writers could then get their rights back, but there was nothing much they could do with them.
The explosion of ebooks has changed all that. Now it costs nothing for publishers to keep every book they’ve ever published in print perpetually, so long as they own the rights. And writers who have regained the rights to their old work can reissue it with an ebook publisher or on their own: the literary equivalent to the elixir of life. One year ago, Simon & Schuster published ebook editions of my last three books, SUSPICION, HINDSIGHT, and ROWING IN EDEN, and since then I’ve had the pleasure of seeing them out in the world, making friends and finding readers.
And now for the news I promised. Two of my earliest books, CAFÉ NEVO and SAVING GRACE, have just come out in e-book editions with E-Reads. Print editions will be available within a week. I’m quite proud of those books, and when they first came out other people seemed to like them too.
Kirkus called CAFÉ NEVO “An inspired, passionate work of fiction…a near-magical novel,” and Madeleine L’Engle praised it as “a wonderful novel…with richly developed characters acting and interacting…the café and its clients will long remain in memory.”
Library Journal wrote of SAVING GRACE: “Readers are quickly enmeshed and will be staying up all hours to see what happens next…what BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES tried to be.”
And now, back to my interview with the delightful Diana Gabaldon, whom I no longer envy but admire as much as ever. If you haven’t already read Part 1, you can find it here. In Part 2, the second half of the interview, Diana talks about her life as an international literary star, her relationship with her fans, the book industry’s attitude toward women writers, and lots, lots more. Enjoy!
Q: I read some time ago about certain fanatical GAME OF THRONES readers who were furious that George Martin doesn’t churn the books out faster, ignoring any possible link between quality, time and effort. They seemed to feel he was holding the books hostage and could release them in the blink of an eye if he chose. The Outlander series inspires equal devotion among its readers. Have you ever had to deal with overzealous or irrational fans?
A: Deal with them? Well, they’re there, certainly. Most people have no idea how writers work, and many of them seem to feel that a writer is a sort of artistic Pez dispenser: all the stories are stacked up inside, one on top of the other, and all you have to do is bonk the writer on the head hard enough to make them spit one out.
(In re which, James Patterson and his marketing machine have done a lot to promote this injurious notion. For the record, folks—when the cover says, “by JAMES PATTERSON and someotherperson”, it was someotherperson who wrote the book. Don’t believe me? Google “James Patterson ghost writer.”)
That is, of course, not how it works. <cough> I explain, periodically, how it does work, and most of my readers are intelligent, well-meaning people who are happy to direct new readers to the places where I’ve explained my working methods.
But as for dealing with people who clamor for the next book, all I can be is honest. I.e., it’s my name on the front of the book, and with luck, said book will be out there for a long time. Ergo, it’s going to be as good as I can make it before I send it to the publisher.
Barbara: Would you like to have lived in the world you created?
Diana: To a point. <g> That point stopping well short of life-threatening disease, warfare, injury, extremes of temperature or gross poverty.
Barbara: Lord John Gray is one of my favorite characters of your invention. What made you choose a gay man in particular as a series character?
Diana: Well, that was an accident. Some years ago, I was invited to write a short story for a British anthology: historical crime stories. “Well,” I said to the editor, “it would be an interesting technical challenge, to see whether I can write anything under 300,000 words. Sure, why not?”
The obvious first question was—what or whom to write about? I didn’t want to use the main characters from the OUTLANDER series for this story, because—owing to the peculiar way I write—if I were to incorporate some significant event in this story (and it would need to be, to be a good story)—that would make the event a stumbling block in the growth of the next novel.
“But,” I said to myself, “there’s Lord John, isn’t there?” Lord John Grey is an important character in the OUTLANDER series, but he isn’t onstage all the time. And when he isn’t…well, plainly he’s off leading his life and having adventures elsewhere, and I could write about any of those adventures without causing complications for future novels. Beyond that obvious advantage, Lord John is a fascinating character. He’s what I call a “mushroom”—one of those unplanned people who pops up out of nowhere and walks off with any scene he’s in—and he talks to me easily (and wittily).
He’s also a gay man, in a time when to be homosexual was a capital offense, and Lord John has more than most to lose by discovery. He belongs to a noble family, he’s an officer in His Majesty’s Army, and loves both his family and his regiment; to have his private life discovered would damage—if not destroy—both. Consequently, he lives constantly with conflict, which makes him both deeply entertaining and easy to write about. So I wrote the short story—titled, “Lord John and the Hell-Fire Club”—for the British anthology.
Well, it was a good story; people liked it. But just as word was spreading into the US about it, the anthology went out of print (it was called PAST POISONS, edited by Maxim Jakubowski, for those bibliophiles who are curious). People kept asking me about the story, though, and I thought, “Well, I enjoyed writing it—maybe I should write two or three more short pieces about Lord John, just as time an inspiration allow…and when I have a handful, we could publish them as a book, and all the Lord John fans could get the stories easily.”
So I did that. I began writing the second Lord John story after returning from a book-tour, as a way of easing back into my writing routine, and continued working on it, picking away with one hand whilst picking up the threads of my novel with the other…and six months later, I’d just about finished it. Well, at this point, I left for another book-tour, in the UK, and stopped in New York on the way, to have lunch with my two literary agents.
I was telling them all about what I’d been doing, and casually mentioned that I’d nearly finished the second Lord John short story. “Oh?” said they. “How long’s this one?”
“Well, I knew you’d ask,” I said. “So I checked last night. It’s about 85,000 words; I need maybe another 5000 to wrap it up.”
The agents looked at each other, then looked at me, and with one voice said, “That’s the size normal books are!”
“I thought it was a short story,” I said.
“Well, it’s not,” they said—and proceeded to take it off and sell it all over the place. Publishers were thrilled. “It’s a Gabaldon book we weren’t expecting—and it’s short! Can she do that again?” they asked eagerly. To which my agents—being Very Good agents—replied, “Of course she can,” and emerged with a contract for three Lord John Grey novels.
Now, the Lord John books and novellas are in fact an integral part of the larger OUTLANDER series. However, they’re focused (not unreasonably) on the character of John Grey, and—Lord John not being a time-traveler—tend not to include time-travel as an element. They’re structured more or less as historical mystery, but do (like anything else I write) include the occasional supernatural bit or other off-the-wall elements. (Yes, they do have sex, though I don’t consider that really unusual, myself.) And they do reference events, characters (particularly Jamie Fraser) and situations from the OUTLANDER novels.
In terms of chronology, the Lord John books fall during the period covered in VOYAGER, while Jamie Fraser was a prisoner at Helwater. So if you’re wondering where to read the Lord John books in conjunction with the larger series—you can read them anytime after VOYAGER.
In terms of further chronology: As well as the three Lord John novels under contract, I’ve also written several novellas for various anthologies. Three novellas (two previously published and one written specifically for the volume) are included in a book titled LORD JOHN AND THE HAND OF DEVILS, while two further novellas have appeared or will shortly appear in anthologies. The original short story (“Hell-Fire Club”) preceded the first novel, and—just to be confusing—the novellas fall between the novels.
The books and novellas do stand alone, and can be read separately in any order. If you do want to read them in strict order, though, here it is:
“Hell-Fire Club” [short story. Originally published in PAST POISONS, ed. Maxim Jakubowski. Collected in HAND OF DEVILS]
LORD JOHN AND THE PRIVATE MATTER [novel]
“Lord John and the Succubus” [novella, originally published in LEGENDS II: Short novels by the Masters of Modern Fantasy, edited by Robert Silverberg. Collected in HAND OF DEVILS]
LORD JOHN AND THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE BLADE [novel]
“Lord John and the Haunted Soldier” [novella. Published only in HAND OF DEVILS]
LORD JOHN AND THE HAND OF DEVILS [book-length collections of three novellas: “Hell-Fire Club,” “Succubus,” and “Haunted Soldier”]
“Lord John and the Custom of the Army” [novella, originally published in WARRIORS, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois.]
“Lord John and the Plague of Zombies” [novella. Published in DOWN THESE STRANGE STREETS, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, 2011.]
NB: “The Custom of the Army” and “A Plague of Zombies” are both available (in the US and Canada) as standalone ebooks (as are a couple of other non-Lord John novellas).
Barbara: Was his sexuality or your portrayal of it an issue for any of your publishers, domestic or foreign?
Diana: I think some of the foreign publishers may have boggled slightly at it, but no one’s ever said anything directly to me about it, no.
Barbara: The upside of great literary success is plain to see: millions of books sold, legions of devoted fans, awards, invitations to the White House, the opportunity to inhabit a wider world full of interesting accomplished people. Is there a downside?
Diana: The major drawback is the sheer amount of travel and appearances (both in person and online) associated with being very popular in a lot of different places. I really like to talk to readers and sign books—but I could do without the enormously time-consuming (and energy-sapping) travel involved in getting to them.
Then there are the constant demands for “content”—updates to websites, phone interviews, interviews for blogs <g>, podcasts, Twitter, Facebook, etc. (though I know how to deal with Twitter and Facebook; I spend an average of 10-15 minutes a day on each, and that’s It. I have no Friends <g>, and I don’t follow anybody).
And there are the readers who think they’re entitled to dictate when and what a favorite writer writes, and yap at me in public about why am I writing all this Other Stuff, when THEY only want Jamie and Claire? And why am I gallivanting all over the place, when I should be home WORKING? These people are, of course, sadly mistaken about the importance of their opinions, but can be a little annoying. Luckily most of my readers are very intelligent and have beautiful manners.
Barbara: What do you know now about writing that would have helped you when you first started out?
Diana: I’m not sure I actually know anything more about writing now than I did when I started—though I like to hope that I improve with experience. Most of the novel (sic) things I do, in terms of ambitious structure, time-juggling, and playing with literary devices, are things that are the result of experience; I couldn’t have done them when I was first writing, whether I knew about them or not.
Barbara: What do you know now about publishing that you wish you’d known earlier?
Diana: Just who has the power in various situations. For example, it took me eight years of hassling with Barnes and Noble in an attempt to make them move my novels out of the Romance section—until I finally got fed up and wrote a rude letter to Steve Riggio, then the CEO. Twenty-four hours later, I got a call from the B&N VP of Marketing, telling me they were moving the books to Fiction, where they’d belonged all along. Had I know that Mr. Riggio was the only person in that company who could change the diktat on where books went, I’d have started with him.
Barbara: Do you think women writers are taken as seriously as men by the literary/critical establishment?
Diana: Of course not.
Barbara: What’s the most common misconception readers have about you? (Here’s your chance to correct it!)
Diana: Well, they all seem to think I’m much taller than I actually am, and they can’t pronounce my name, but neither of those misapprehensions is actually offensive. <g> (For the record: I’m five-foot-two-and-a-half. And my name has two pronunciations, both accurate: If you’re speaking Spanish (it is a Spanish name, and it is my own, not my husband’s), it’s pronounced “gaah-vahl-DOHN” (rhymes with stone). If you’re speaking English, it’s “GAH-bull-dohn” (still rhymes with stone).
That’s it, folks. Thank you, Diana!
Looking for something good to read between Outlander titles? Diana Gabaldon recommends A DANGEROUS FICTION: “A terrific read! A thriller with a psychological heart of mystery, a double-ended love story, and a fascinating look at the world of high-stakes publishing.”