An Evening with Diana Gabaldon (sort of)
It all started with a post on an Outlander Facebook page saying that Diana Gabaldon would be doing a Skype presentation at a local Michigan library “an hour south of Ann Arbor.” Given my proximity to Ann Arbor, I thought I should investigate further. In one quick Google search, I found that she would be Skyping into the Adrian library on Monday, June 26. This can’t just be for little ol’ Adrian I thought, so I did a few more Google searches assuming that I would find that this lecture was being broadcast to local libraries across the nation or, at least, the state. Imagine my surprise when I found that, indeed, Herself was appearing via Skype at only the Adrian, Michigan library. Here’s what she had to say.
You can consider yourself forgiven if you are not a Michigander and have never heard of Adrian. Heck, I would forgive you if you are a Michigander and have never heard of it. It’s a small town, population 20,000, nestled between soybean, corn, and cabbage fields in the southeast corner of the state. It’s most known for Adrian College, Siena Heights University, and the Croswell Opera House (oldest in the state of Michigan). How could this be? At 9:30 on Friday night I didn’t much care how it had come to pass. I just knew I needed to get there on Monday. I sent a quick text to my friend Sheri asking if she wanted to come with me and we were all set for “An Evening with Diana Gabaldon.”
|See? Even Sheri was amazed that this was being held at the Adrian library and she used to live there.|
Before I go any further I want to publicly thank Megan Rapp-Frye and Heidi Neil for their efforts in making this happen. Megan is a librarian at the Tecumseh District Library and Heidi is a librarian at the Adrian District Library. They worked together to arrange the interview and promote it jointly between the two libraries. Thank you so much ladies!
We arrived early assuming that we would need to fight hoards of people to get a seat. We were informed by the library staff that the event would take place in the downstairs room and that they wouldn’t open the door until 6:15. It felt like seating was not going to be an issue so we moseyed down the street to grab some food. We immediately spied a table of four women who looked to be having a little too much fun for a Monday evening. Sheri and I agreed that we were all here for the same thing and we made our way to the table. Service was incredibly slow and I was getting a bit antsy when the group got up to leave. I noticed that one of the women was wearing a shirt that had the words “Scottish” and “Highlander” on it, and I knew for sure that they were our people. I walked/ran over to them to confirm that they were here for Diana. They all smiled and said yes. When they noticed that we didn’t have our food yet they offered to save two seats for us. How wonderful! They went on their way and eventually we got our food, ate quickly, and made our way back to the library. No moseying this time. I actually think I might have dragged Sheri a little bit (sorry/not sorry friend!).
The Skype call began and we held a collective breath as Ms. Gabaldon greeted us all. She laughed and said that no one had told her what to talk about and that maybe she could just talk about filming and her recent trip to South Africa and then she would answer some questions. It was a bit awkward, because she could see us but we couldn’t see her. I assumed that this was part of the agreement so I settled in and listened to her voice and looked at her Skype photo on the screen. We learned later that it was the promotional photo taken by the folks at Starz.
Ms. Gabaldon immediately launched into season 3 filming updates and kept us spellbound for 20 minutes with juicy little tidbits ranging from writers’ room dilemmas to set challenges. Honestly, this woman must have the lung capacity of a free diver because I don’t think that she took a single breath. The librarians attempted to interrupt Ms. Gabaldon a couple of times to let her know that we couldn’t see her video feed, but she never heard them and we all seemed happy enough to bask in the glow of these firsthand accounts. Much of what Ms. Gabaldon said was information that I’ve seen in other interviews or articles so my goal here is to provide what felt like breaking news to me. Hopefully it will be news to you too.
She stressed that as the author she has input into the show but no control. She underscored that by saying that the author is sometimes the one who has to be the most flexible as schedules, location limitations, lighting issues, contracts, and even insurance take precedence over the book material. One of my favorite examples was the hot spring scene from Outlander. If you are a book reader you know that near the end of their stay at the abbey, Jamie took Claire to a hot spring underneath the abbey and shared some lovely moments (okay, literally steamy sex) with her. This is also where Claire revealed to Jamie that she was pregnant. If you wonder why the show runners deprived us of this Jamie/Claire love in a hot spring and, instead, gave us a pregnancy reveal on board a ship, it’s because it all came down to logistics. When Diana discussed the scene with showrunner Ron Moore, he told her that the cost of building the set would be prohibitive and “anytime you put actors in water the insurance sky rockets.”
Diana then told us a tale of Laoghaire. Book readers might have been shocked to see Laoghaire appear in The Fox’s Lair episode where Jamie is trying to get his grandfather to support the Jacobite cause by sending his men to battle. In the interest of keeping this spoiler free, I’ll just say that Diana explained that this was an attempt to “rehabilitate” Laoghaire in the hearts and minds of viewers who will see Laoghaire again this coming season. If we used emojis in blog posts I would most certainly insert a frowny face here. The best bit of this story for me was that the script originally called for our lovely Mrs. Fitz to accompany Laoghaire. Mrs. Fitz petitioning for her granddaughter would, hopefully, further endear us to that hateful little thing.
Just prior to filming, someone (I didn’t catch the name) came to Anne Kenney, the episode writer, and told her that the schedules for Nell Hudson and Annette Badland would not line up. They could have Nell on some days and Annette on others, but they could not get them at the same time. Anne went back that night and rewrote five scenes, removing Mrs. Fitz from all of them. Let’s imagine another frowny face emoji here shall we? Before shooting Nell’s scenes, a member of the production crew came to Kenney and told her that with the Scottish winter sunlight, or lack thereof, they could only film the courtyard scenes with Laoghaire between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. They went on to say that of the seven scenes that needed to be filmed, there would only be enough daylight to film four. The writers then had to scramble to decide which scenes were most important for the story.
At this point, Heidi stepped in front of the laptop, waved her arms, and let Ms. Gabaldon know that we couldn’t see her video feed. She clicked the video button and then, suddenly the lovely Diana Gabaldon was there in the room with us. A giddy cheer rose up from the crowd and we all applauded. Can I just take a moment to say that this lady is lovely? Seriously, if I look like that at 64 I will be a happy woman.
At this point, Ms. Gabaldon asked if there were any questions she could answer for us. Oh, did we have questions! I’ll list the them here and then provide Ms. Gabaldon’s answers as fully as my notes and sketchy memory will allow.
Q: We all have such an emotional investment in these books and in the characters that you’ve created. What is your emotional investment?
A: I am invested in all my characters and when I write about them I am them. When I’m writing about Bree, I’m in Bree’s head.
Diana then went on to tell an interesting story related to this subject. There is a group of ladies that she occasionally has tea with. She said they like to pick her brain. One day as they drank their tea, the ladies were talking about how terrible Black Jack Randall is and how he makes their skin crawl. They summed him up as evil. Diana said all she could think to herself was that they had no idea that they were talking to Black Jack Randall. I am equal parts creeped out and amused by this.
Q: Do you prefer writing books or working on the television production?
A: I definitely prefer the writing.
Q: How much fun was it to dream up Jamie?
A: Ms. Gabaldon told a story (are you sensing a theme here?) about Jamie’s creation. You probably know that she wrote Outlander as practice. What I had never heard is that her husband didn’t know about it until it was sent to the publisher. When he read the book he recognized the 6’4” red-headed character as he possesses the same traits. She laughed and said that her husband is definitely Jamie’s body double. She also said that she gave Jamie her husband’s sense of humor and romantic turn. For book readers, there is a line in the Fiery Cross that gets quoted a great deal. “…if my last words are not ‘I love you’-ye’ll ken it was because I didna have time.” Her husband actually said that to her one day. She was so moved by it that she included it in her next book. Do you want to take a moment and let that settle in? Her husband is basically Jamie minus the constant sword fighting. Ms. Gabaldon also mentioned that she loves the fact that the Outlander series defies genre. She said that when she wrote the first book she just included everything that she loves and that’s why librarians and book sellers never know where to shelve her books. Are they historical fiction, science fiction, romance or something else altogether?
Q: Is the show influencing the way you view Jamie and Claire and the other characters?
A: Absolutely not! The casting of the show is brilliant, but the Jamie and Claire of the show are different from the Jamie and Claire of the books because they have to be. The Jamie and Claire that I write about are the Jamie and Claire who live in my head and that’s the way it always will be.
Q: Which book is your favorite?
A: Whichever one she is currently writing. At the moment her favorite book is Go Tell the Bees that I Am Gone.
I got to ask a question so I used the opportunity to thank Ms. Gabaldon for the interview that she did with my blogging colleague Jayne Coleman when she was in South Africa. I sent her our thanks from the staff and readers of the Outlander Cast Blog. I then asked how she feels about the online communities that exist in support of her and her books. She said that she tries to steer clear of them because she never wants to be seen as playing favorites. She does manage her own Facebook page and actively participates in the CompuServe Books and Writers Community. She says that she is grateful for all of the communities and thinks that they are great.
And with that, we were done. Megan thanked Ms. Gabaldon for her time and she then disconnected. I was positively giddy. No, we weren’t in the same room with her for an hour, but I feel as if I got to spend an hour rummaging around in Diana Gabaldon’s head and it was glorious. I was amazed at how seamlessly she switched from talking about filming to talking about writing. She can talk about them in the same breath, but it’s clear to me that she keeps them entirely separate. As she said, the Jamie and Claire in her head will always be the same Jamie and Claire. I feel strangely comforted by that. While she has put these two through hell and back, she’s done it for their own good (like any decent parent) and I know that when the time comes that they part, she will do it the right way.
You might be wondering what the header picture has to do with Outlander. The answer is nothing and everything. As we left Adrian I told Sheri that I needed a header for my blog post and I couldn’t imagine what it was going to be. As we drove east, I realized that sky was putting on quite a show behind us. I pulled into one of those tiny 1-1/2 lane farm roads and drove about a quarter mile to find an unobstructed view. As I walked around a grove of trees, there it was, the most amazing sunset I’ve seen in quite awhile. So, with one of those previously mentioned soybean fields behind me and a hay field in front of me, I snapped the picture. In my home, I am completely surrounded by buildings so I don’t often get a chance to see the sun sink into the horizon. It‘s even more rare that I get to witness it with a dear friend. Once again, my love of Outlander had given me an evening full of awesomeness that I otherwise wouldn‘t have had.