Fangirl Fridays – Diana Gabaldon
It’s time for Fangirl Fridays again, and I can’t think of anyone I’ve more wanted to sing the praises of over the last year than Diana Gabaldon. Given that she has completely taken over my literary life.
|Diana Gabaldon at the Grand Canyon.**|
How could she have inspired such enthusiastic devotion from me in such a short time? Because her stories have engaged me more passionately than the many others which came before. Her characters have rooted themselves in my heart more deeply. And her books satisfy every single desire I have as a reader: to be transported to new worlds; to be completely absorbed by the skillful weaving of events, characters, settings, and ideas; and to enlarge my understanding of life, the universe, and everything.*
But what’s behind the books? If you’ve wondered what special kind of
Click through for some effusive gushing about the author of my very favorite series! And I promise not to spoil anything about the Outlander books along the way.
Why do I love Diana Gabaldon?First of all, she is a master story teller. Period. And I shamelessly admire finely tuned prose.
I love her writing, her ability to craft stories of unsurpassed breadth, scope, and soulfulness. For me, her tales are all encompassing and all consuming.
|Herself in the walled garden of Culloden House, |
where the Ladies of Lallybroch erected a bench
with a plaque bearing her name as the
author of the Outlander series.
The perpetually frustrated household organizer in me admires Gabaldon’s sharp intellect, her ability to track down, retain, and find just the right (artful, clever, or surprising) use for an immeasurably large horde of facts. She has a mind like a sponge with a steel trap around it. She doesn’t even write things down until she’s ready to let go of them—they all stay right there at her synaptic fingertips, so to speak, until she finds and writes the perfect scene for them. I can’t even imagine that kind of mental acuity, sobs the harried multitasker in me who is forever misplacing her lists of vitally important obligations she mustn’t forget.
The instructional design geek in me loves Gabaldon’s boundless enthusiasm for researching and sharing the endlessly fascinating world around her. She makes learning fun! I don’t even realize how thoroughly I absorb the sights, sounds, and textures of the worlds in which her characters live until I begin interjecting historical trivia into everyday conversations or comparing my domestic chores (quite favorably!) to those at Fraser’s Ridge or Lallybroch.
The avid reader in me, whose literary heart has been broken a few times over the years, loves Gabaldon’s artistic dedication to her craft, her stories, and her characters. She is unwavering in her attention to accurate detail in all aspects of her stories, and she never skimps over the parts that are hard to write. Oh no. She NEVER hurries through the difficulties on page. The challenges. The agonizing decisions, the periods of self-doubt and prolonged despair, or any of the painful milestones of personal growth. The readers suffer right along with the characters, just as they also celebrate the many triumphs. Because the characters are completely real. We understand them better perhaps than we know ourselves, whether we like their decisions or not, and we can trust this author 100%, to deliver carefully crafted and totally authentic experiences borne by characters who are unfailingly true to themselves.
But let’s see where all this began. Were there early indications that grand epics and paragons of human perfection such as Jamie and Claire Fraser were lurking about behind Gabaldon’s mischievous, twinkling eyes all these years? Or to use one of her analogies, tumbling around in the rock polisher, buffing themselves into the brilliant gems that emerged?
A Bit of Beauty, Brains, and Bravery
We’ve done some gushing about Diana Gabaldon around here in the past. Wench Merit touched on her early career path and the events that led her to write Outlander in An Unexpected Voyage, and I wrote a little about her inspirations here, plus we’ve described how deeply Outlander has affected us here and here. So I’ll not repeat all that. Okay, maybe just a teensy bit of it. Because I still cannot help but marvel at how such a modest, seemingly random inspiration could have resulted in so many pages of riveting drama!! What kind of mind could forge that broad connection? In what fantasy worlds was she nurtured to make possible such vivid flights of fancy?
|Gabaldon visits the Clark Dome, built by her |
great-grandfather, near Flagstaff, Arizona.
Her family’s lengthy tenure in the state informs some posts about obscure or less popular places that I particularly enjoy catching up on. Her great-grandfather Stanley Sykes built some of the domes where telescopes are housed at the Lowell Observatory that I used to visit outside Flagstaff, including the oldest, Clark Dome, 117 years ago. And she still maintains an old family home in one of my favorite spots, which is uncommonly rich in visually, historically, and scientifically appealing sites―it’s gorgeous and endlessly fascinating. She periodically retreats there to enjoy uninterrupted writing time and take more beautiful photos for me to enjoy. Which I really appreciate, because I used to absolutely love camping and hiking around that area and never have the opportunity to get back there.
Besides inspiring her love of keeping me up to date on Arizona’s natural wonders nowadays, a childhood surrounded by accomplished folks of varied interests probably fostered her ravenous appetite for absorbing details about every conceivable aspect of countless subjects. And though she knew she was a natural-born story teller early on, she became a scientist because she was practical about earning a living. Her natural abilities at tracking facts and figures led her into research, and she became a self-taught expert in the field of scientific computation, locating, organizing, and analyzing data from all over the world.
Which might have led to some transformative discovery of irreplaceable value to civilization as we know it, had she remained on that course. But sadly, my path would then never have intersected with hers amidst the book aisles, and I wouldn’t be here today telling you how much I love her! So I’ve made my peace with the sacrifice required by the scientific community for me to get my Claire and Jamie fix, and try not to lose much sleep over it.... :-)
I can’t imagine finding “spare” time to perform the mountains of research required to create Outlander from the ground floor up, so to speak, much less WRITE it!! But she never seems to do anything partway—she always seems to give it her all! Her “practice” got published and became an international best seller (now published in 34 countries and 31 languages), so she courageously set free her Muse to tell stories full time. With full access to her toolbox of sharply honed scientific skills that I think are invaluable to her creative process: careful observation, attention to detail, and recognition of an essential interconnectivity that binds all molecules within the vast web of life. To spin via prose a tale of tumultuous times and lives richly lived and loved. To which I and millions of other readers are completely addicted. In case I didn’t mention that yet.
A Touch of Magic
I suppose many people know how to research and retain details. As she said in a recent interview, “you shouldn’t write what you don’t know—but you can find out anything you need to know.” But I research and document details every day for my job, and believe me, there’s a potent alchemy that occurs during Gabaldon’s writing process that transforms it into art. Years of working as a field ecologist taught her to observe the details around her and notice how they fit together. But simply replicating the world she sees around her in text form would not be particularly moving, and I certainly would not be gushing about it. Gabaldon’s fabulous mind possesses the one thing no one else has: the unique layers of imagination through which these details percolated in order to be distilled and reformed into Outlander.
One aspect of her genius that adds a richness of authenticity and color to the worlds she creates—the ability to ask the right questions, to ferret out the juicy tidbits and deduce improbable patterns in how seemingly dissimilar properties might work together. And she asks those questions every chance she gets. While visiting Fort Ticonderoga, she took full advantage of the guides dressed in period attire to slake her curiosity. Were those homespun wool pants as scratchy and uncomfortable as they looked? Why, yes they were. Did our ancestors wear bloomers underneath them? Well, no they didn’t. Then however did they protect their tender bottoms from irritation? Very long, cotton shirttails. See what I mean about asking the questions that others might not think of? But what historical novel worth its salt would skimp on the very details that are so much a part of daily routine we rarely stop to think about them?
Plus a Big Heart and a Friendly Smile
Gabaldon is such a funny, down-to-earth, and charming person, it’s easy to forget she’s brilliant. There’s no artifice, just her, and her unrelenting energy and enthusiasm, and her very high standards for literary quality. She seems to have been that way all her life. She reminisced (in the same interview, which is chock full of goodies) about the frustrations of being a discriminating young reader: “I do remember turning up on the first day of kindergarten, flipping critically through DICK AND JANE and dropping it, remarking, ‘That’s a stupid book. Is there anything else to read?’” I love a smart woman who speaks her mind! Reminds me a lot of Claire Fraser!!
|When Gabaldon attended a tree-planting event at Castle Leod, |
Strathpeffer, Scotland, she found this tree planted by
Mary of Guise, Mary Queen of Scots’ mother.
She is very active with fans online. In addition to her own blogsite, Gabaldon has communicated through the same CompuServe forum for years. She often responds to comments from fans and answers their questions. I was speechless the first time I saw her show up in a thread about a new short story that had just been published, to explain some of the details. And I see her popping up in all sorts of other places, too.
She often posts daily via Facebook and Twitter (Writer_DG) accounts, and she schedules a few speaking engagements and book signings all along. She might not have a lot of time for face-to-face fan events while she’s writing, but whenever she appears, her audience gets her undivided attention. She never gives anything less than 100% of her effort! She recently spoke at Northern Virginia Community College in Fairfax, Virginia, where fans lined up for hours with books for her to sign. (And remember, these were fans who have been waiting like four years for the next Outlander book, so they had to be a little conflicted about her sitting around gabbing with the public while there’s a book to write!!) She stayed into the wee hours of the morning, according to the Fairfax County Public Library, “until every last fan left happy.” And if the photos posted on Facebook are any indication, she smiled the entire time!
So many successful authors seem to lose interest in their characters and their readers, or find a way to mass produce books with a cookie-cutter formula on an assembly line. But Gabaldon never seems to lose sight of her deep investment in her stories, or the investment her faithful readers have made, or their unflagging patience in waiting the long years between books.
|Book 8 has a cover!!|
And fans learn what an octothorpe is.
I love Diana Gabaldon because she’s exactly the kind of writer I wish I could be, if I didn’t hate math (which nixed a detour into scientific interests) and my mind didn’t leak details like a sieve. She uses her singular blend of scientific observation and artistic wizardry to create the stories I have always wanted to read. She broadens my horizons with her personal observations on the myriad wonders of life. And she gives me a long-term goal, to which I can rededicate myself every morning as I greet the new dawn: living long enough to read the end of the incomparable Outlander series!!
* Nod to Douglas Adams, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
** Photos from Diana Gabaldon’s Facebook page unless otherwise noted.