Outlander Author Diana Gabaldon on Writing Best Sellers and Playing Nice With Hollywood

Lunch At Michaels

LunchAtMichaelsJudging by the decibel level at Michael’s today the media mavens and swells had plenty to talk about between bites of their Korean tacos (delish!) and Cobb salads. There’s always a flurry of activity on the last Wednesday in July before most of the last remaining power lunchers depart for their much-needed vacations in August. You can only be fabulous (or pretend to be) for so long before you have to regroup and refuel.

For us, July isn’t going out with a whisper but rather with a bang as I had one of the most fascinating Michael’s lunches in eons with best-selling author Diana Gabaldon, whose wildly popular Outlander novels rocket right to the top spot on The New York Times best-seller list as soon as they’re published. She has sold a head-spinning 25 million books that have been translated into 24 languages. The mind reels. Her most recent, Written in My Own Heart’s Blood (how’s that for a title?) came out in June, the same week Hillary Clinton‘s book did. I guess you know whose publisher had a better week. I was “the last stop” on Diana’s magical mystical media tour, which has included an SRO appearance at Comic-Con, a sell-out conversation at the 92nd Street Y and, just this morning, an appearance on CBS This Morning with the two lead actors of the new original series based on the books that premieres August 9 on Starz.

Diana Gabaldon and Diane Clehane.
Diana Gabaldon and Diane Clehane

It’s always a bit of a crapshoot sitting down with someone I’ve never met to make conversation over lunch with the expressed purpose of learning as much as I can about my companion in about an hour while fielding the numerous “newsflashes” that come courtesy of the diners around the room. I was grateful I got a good night’s sleep last night because simply put, Diana is a force of nature. I could barely keep up as she recounted the story of how she decided “to write a book just to learn what it took to do it; I did it for practice” and how her pragmatic approach to novel writing (which hasn’t changed much, by the way) has catapulted her to international stardom.

“I’ve known I was meant to be a novelist since I was 8,” she explained. “But I was doing a lot of other things. I thought to myself, Mozart was dead at 36, so I better get going.” So, without further ado back in 1988, while holding down two full-time jobs (more on those later) and raising three young children, she decided to try her hand at historical fiction. “I thought the easiest thing to write would be historical fiction. Since I was a researcher, I thought it would be easier to look things up than make them up.” Alrighty. She told me she was inspired by a classic episode of Doctor Who she happened to see around that time, which depicted a Scotsman transported back in time. “So I thought, why not 18th-century Scotland? The kilts looked pretty fetching.”

She continued, barely taking a breath, while sipping on her Diet Coke: “I knew nothing about Scotland, so I headed to the library, but the point was not to learn everything about Scotland — just enough to write a novel.” She made it sound as if it were as easy as following a recipe by Martha Stewart. “I knew a novel had to have conflict in it, so I added a woman for some sexual tension.” This is where our conversation got really interesting. “Three days into the writing, I unleashed her into this cottage full of Englishmen to see what would happen. I was fighting with her for the next several pages over her smart-ass remarks. She was speaking in too modern a language.” And that’s how Outlander was born.

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