Author Diana Gabaldon Dishes on All Things Outlander
Want to know the latest about Outlander? Author Diana Gabaldon dishes on Outlander Season 5, Go Tell the Bees That I am Gone and more.
Rarely in life do we sit down and converse with the person who continually inspires us — someone whose light shines brilliantly all around the world. While we interact a bit online, I had only met author Diana Gabaldon once, at a signing in Savannah. Imagine my joy when my favorite author (and mentor) graciously gave me the gift of her time on a busy day at New York Comic Con.
I received the news late Saturday night, literally hours before we would speak Sunday morning. So, with very little prep time, this is a bit less “organized interview” and a bit more a “stream of consciousness” conversation. However, we touched on many topics: Outlander Season 4, Outlander Season 5, the trailer, characters, her episode, her upcoming book and much more.
Trailer, Challenges and Roger Repair
On the previous day at Comic Con, fans enjoyed a lively fun panel as well as the premiere of the first teaser trailer for Season 5.
Angela: I enjoyed the panel. One of the tidbits that jumped out to me was that the writers pulled things from the sixth book into Season 5.
“Yes, a few things,” Diana confirmed.
There’s been a great stramash in the fandom, especially among the Roger fans. While Richard Rankin’s acting in the role was fantastic, many felt the show misrepresented him a bit in Season 4.
“Yes, the writing didn’t do him any favors,” she said with a laugh.
Exactly. Did they address this or even recognize it was an issue?
“Oh YES…” Diana said emphatically. “You’re going to like him A LOT better in Season 5.”
Big sigh of relief — the first of several. (The minister’s cat is a misunderstood cat!) Book fans who treasure Roger have spent the off-season trying to repair the damage. For example, a dedicated fan @ThanklessChild4 has been releasing a #RogerRetold thread series on Twitter each Friday. This series contextualizes Roger’s character as well as he and Bree’s relationship using book passages in Roger’s POV, artwork and commentary. Well worth a look…
So, did the “powers that be” pay attention to the fans and realize there was an issue?
“Well, they paid attention to me,” Diana said. “And to Rik…” she added with a laugh.
(Ahh… it seems Richard and Herself both went to bat for this beloved character. Thank you.)
This relieves my mind a bit because the trailer almost made it seem like there would be some inner debate with Roger about whether he was willing to stay. But, I know trailers and previews can be misleading.
“Yes they can, and no,” she said with a laugh, “no, it’s not that at all.”
The Outlander gods have left us verra thirsty this Droughtlander, so we deeply drank every drop of the teaser, frame by frame. However, Diana suggested some good advice on her Facebook page regarding assumptions:
Writing miscues aside, Diana has a high opinion of Richard Rankin’s talent, understanding of the character and dedication to craft. In a comment on her Literary Forum, she wrote: “[He’s] intense, in a good way. Also, One Really Good Actor. As in, good enough to play a cuddly university professor, and then morph through time-traveler, seaman, captive, and into Something Really Else in Season Five.”
OOOOOH… are we getting excited yet? We’ve only just begun.
Sticking to the Source
How close to the source material did the writers and producers stay this season, compared to other seasons? We have certainly run the gamut there, and this season has some challenges.
“Well, in some places, extremely close, using the original dialog and scenes from the book. In others, you know, it’s only 12 episodes, so they have to cut and slice. But, they’ve done a good job preserving the flow of story line and only making up as much as they need to keep the story moving in parts where the original didn’t go smoothly from “part A” to “part B” because I’ve got something else going on — Or, when the characters are separated in time. If Jamie and Claire are not in the same place at the same time, I’ll follow both of them on separate storylines.”
Some of us were concerned because several elements combine this season to work against a faithful adaptation. (I began to enumerate as she smiled and nodded along.)
- While not the most structurally complex, The Fiery Cross IS the biggest book of the series.
- You have one less episode to work with than you did in previous seasons.
- You have the added Murtagh story line and whatever gets nudged out to accommodate it.
- And now we found out that they are pulling things in from book six…
Then, I half-jokingly said…
So, you have to think: Are we even going to SEE anything from The Fiery Cross this season?
(Thankfully, she recognized a fellow sarcastic sense of humor and laughed along with me.)
“Yes, yes,” Diana said with a smile. “Yeah, you will recognize large sections [from the book], as well as original dialogue.”
So, in spite of these obstacles to adaptation, would you say you’re satisfied with what you have seen so far?
“I’d say it’s a lot better than Season 4,” she said with a laugh.
(I didn’t actually embarrass myself by breaking into a happy dance, but on the inside?)
Now don’t get me wrong, I truly enjoyed certain aspects of Outlander Season 4. However some things hit book fans really wrong. Take for example, the finale.
It just felt abrupt. Important pieces were left unfinished, disconnected or completely left out.
(She nodded sympathetically.)
Many book fans were sad to lose Jamie and Claire at the birth. We barely saw any resolution between Bree and Jamie. We never even saw Jamie and Claire realize that Roger came back or react to it. We never saw Roger see the baby or the beautiful book moments that surround it. They cut the best parts from the end of Drums of Autumn to give us the Murtagh story line. I know this is a hotly debated issue, but it disappointed me personally. Och weel … I dinna mean to digress, but I shared these feelings with Diana, and that led me to this next wee revelation:
Do they plan to just skip over these key beloved moments and open Outlander Season 5 with the Fraser family all back on the Ridge? Or, will they pick up at the moment they left, so we can see some of those elements?
Of course, she could not directly answer how and when they will open the show. However, she did give me this piece of very encouraging news…
“Hmmm…oh… well, they start it in a place where all that will be addressed. That will wrap up well.”
(MORE HAPPY DANCING!)
In the meantime… a reminder where we left off with Bree and Roger:
Diana’s Season 5 Favorite Episode
If you can answer this, what is your favorite episode in Outlander Season 5, based on what you’ve seen so far? And why?
“Oh, well I see the dailies that come in every day, and then I see the assembled episodes. On the basis of the dailies, 5.09 is going to be my favorite, but I have liked several of the others a lot as well,” she replied.
OK, 5.09, and can you tell us why, as much as you can? Was it close to the book version? Particularly emotive? Did anyone in particular shine?
“Yes it’s very close to the book and very dramatic. It covers one of my favorite book story lines, and sticks very close to the events, dialogue and sense of the original. Sam and Rik are particularly good; they have several intense scenes together.”
Book fans probably grasp what she refers to here. Like Diana, it’s one of my favorite sections of The Fiery Cross. I prayed they would get it right, and it sounds like they did!
However, the MOST encouraging news dropped the following day, igniting an eruption of excitement in the Outlanderverse!
Diana Wrote an Episode of Season 5?!?
When this colossal news released on Monday, the day after my interview, I stared at my phone in shock… for several reasons:
For one thing, I knew she limited projects this year to finish the ninth book in the Outlander series, Go Tell the Bees That I am Gone. I never dreamed she would write a script for Outlander Season 5. Second, why didn’t they announce this at NYCC?! Talk about burying the lead. JHRC! I don’t think the powers that be comprehend the immense joy this brings to the book fan base. Third, OMG! Diana is writing the penultimate episode of Season 5! This is EPIC NEWS! She previously wrote only one other episode for the series, back in Outlander Season 2.
Here is one of my favorite scenes from that episode, “Vengeance Is Mine.” It demonstrates her mastery of these characters. This is our Jamie and Claire:
I realized I had to address this monumental development. She verra graciously responded to a few follow-up questions:
How did you come to write this episode? You said you asked Matt [Roberts], and he gave you episode 5.11. Why did you want to write an episode for Outlander Season 5 (especially when you were in the “final frenzy” of writing BEES)?
“I like to stay involved with the show (without letting it devour my life…) and writing a script is a good way to do that. Also, it’s fun. I’d asked Matt if I could do one of the later scripts because I thought there was a good chance I’d be done with BEES by then…<cough>.”
Did you have to make a lot of changes to the source material of that section to fit the changes they’ve established, or were you able to basically stay true to your original story?
“There are always changes, naturally — for logistics (some things are too expensive, time-consuming or just plain impossible to film), plot (there’s not room for anything like as much plot as the book has), flow (it needs to be congruent with the other episodes of the season, which means adapting to the insertions and assumptions made in earlier eps), or inspiration (mine or theirs — sometimes I have a bright idea or hear a new line of dialogue).
Essentially, they give me a “beat sheet” — a semi-outline of the events and information that we need to happen in this episode (given what’s already happened and what information we need to have going into the finale) — and I write the script any way I want, so long as it incorporates most of that information…(and I achieve the necessary end).
So the majority of the episode is very true (original dialogue and all) to the book, but there are also minor scenes added to take care of previous inventions or to add what Somebody (it can be somebody at Sony or Starz, a show-runner or producer; I never know the source… though I can usually guess…) thinks we need in terms of explanation.
For example, Somebody decided (quite late in the process… there are usually 6-8 revisions on a script) that there needed to be a specific (brief) conversation between Brianna and Lizzie. OK, everybody’s already aware that Show Lizzie isn’t the same as Book Lizzie, and this conversation wouldn’t/didn’t occur in the book. It doesn’t do any damage to the stuff that is from the book, though, and it’s maybe 90 seconds on film, so fine. Since it was a late inclusion, I didn’t write it — normally the writer doesn’t mess with the script past the first revision, unless a major rewrite is needed; smaller stuff is put in by the show-runner. (Though I see all revisions, and can comment on them and suggest that this or that might work better — and usually they do it my way, on one of my scripts.)”
This is the penultimate episode. What do you see as any special considerations in the purpose or structure?
“For any episode, you need to know what you have coming in (in terms of information or character assumptions) and what you need to produce, coming out. Those considerations are usually spelled out in the beat sheet, but if I see something I think should be there, I’m at liberty to include it (and/or ask about it, if it’s going to be a major inclusion).”
Are there any non-spoiler tidbits you can share? Is it more of a character/emotional episode? Or, is it more adventurous and action-based?
“Actually, both. Probably more of a character/emotional one, but there’s definitely action.”
Are We Excited Now?
Diana’s enthusiasm and deeper connection to Outlander Season 5 boosted my own anticipation. As recently as Nov. 17, she left the following comment on TheLitForum about Season 5:
“I will say (cautiously) that I’m really pretty pleased with Season Five. I’ve seen five or six fully-assembled eps by now, and while there’s always going to be the occasional minor thing that makes me go, “on your heads be it” under my breath, by and large I think it’s a really good, sensitive adaptation, and has a much better grip on the characters. People show strength and resilience because of who they are and the circumstances in which they find themselves, not because someone decided they should be Strong…. I think you might like it. ”
– Diana Gabaldon, TheLitForum
Three more months—I canna wait! Maybe we will observe a wee bit less invention and a wee bit more adaptation. 🙂 Speaking of writing…
The Buzz on Bees and All Things “Gabaldonian”
We’ve all begun our countdown to Feb. 16, 2020, a mere three months until the premiere of Outlander Season 5. However, book fans eagerly await news announcing the end of their own five-year droughtlander — the release date for Go Tell the Bees That I am Gone (“BEES”), the ninth installment of the Outlander series. The buzz is getting much louder as Diana nears the end of her “final frenzy” writing stage.
I refused to ask the dreaded, “When will BEES be out?” question. I know the answer: “Sometime after I’ve finished writing it.” However, during a recent appearance at her home bookstore, The Poisoned Pen, she said she will finish within this year. Keep in mind, once finished, the publisher determines an actual release date based on their printing schedules.
But have no fear, the end is in sight!
I know you work on several things at once. With BEES in its “final frenzy,” what do you think might come next? Is another Lord John novel on the horizon before Outlander Book 10? Or maybe another novella in the works?
“Oh. I have a lot of things in the works.”
Well I know you have some things planned for after the last book like the Master Raymond story and the prequel novel [based on Jamie’s parents]…
“Oh well, it’s not planning, you know. It’s not saying, ‘Here I’m going to do this, and here I’m going to do that.’ It’s if something bubbles up in my head, and I write it down.”
I secretly hope it’s the next Lord John novel.
(Fans of the Lord John series know the next novel will explore a very mysterious, unknown and intriguing part of John’s past… We are verra curious, and I expect it will be the best yet of the series).
“Oh there WILL be another Lord John novel, but I can’t say when. No idea [if it will be before Book 10]. I mean probably, just because it would be shorter, but I have no idea.”
Spoiler Alert: This next section discusses the structure and character of BEES. It’s not really spoilery. However, if you are a TV viewer only or avoiding Diana’s “Daily Lines” posts and all discussion of Bees, you may wish to skip to the end.
Regarding BEES, you’ve said it is shaped like a snake, and its theme is conscience. Do you see it more of a family and pastoral-type vibe? Political? Adventure? Battle-focused?
“All of the above.” (We both laugh)
Right, yes. Well they are ALL “all of the above” to some extent, but some shift into one area more than another, you know? If you had to compare it to a previous book, which would you say it most resembles?
“Hmmm, probably Voyager.”
Voyager? That’s adventurous!
“Yes it is, but it also has the domestic passages.”
Oh for sure, but I mean there’s a lot going on in Voyager.
“Well, they are actually in the middle of the American Revolution, so that’s happening. But on the Ridge, they’re in the back country. On the other hand, you have the Indians — with whom they are getting along at the moment. But, on the other hand, the British Crown was paying the Indians at this point to scalp settlers over the Treaty Line in hopes of discouraging them. They may not make a point to recognize that you are, or are not, an illegal settler.”
Why the comparison to Voyager?
“Well, both involve major story lines that work independently: In Voyager, we follow (at least for the first third of the story) Jamie’s life post-Culloden, Claire’s life post-Culloden in the ’50s and ’60s, and Roger and Bree’s evolving interest in each other, paired with the detective work of finding out what happened to Jamie.
In BEES, we’ll have four major story lines (some involving more than one person), and a few minor ones, but they overlap periodically and instead of just changing from one to another, they sort of swirl around what I can only call mob-scenes [scenes with more than two characters], which occur as a kind of sub rosa punctuation. That’s really all I can tell you.”
Genetics, Kids and “Writing Cute”
Our conversation concluded on a more personal note..
I shared how truly impressed I was by her son, fantasy author Sam Sykes, when I interviewed him a few days before. Art often reflects life. Diana’s science background frequently emerges in her work, in numerous ways. Genetics, for example, defines characters and even plays a role in the time travel lore itself. You can observe genetics at work in her own family. All three of her children write! Nature and nurture exemplified.
With talk of genetics, she pulled out her phone and began to show me recent pictures of her newest adorable grandson, Leo. He had just learned to smile, and it was on full display. It touched my heart to see this intimate side of her and the joy she felt over the newest wee member of her family. I wonder if Leo’s gummy grin and emerging personality will develop into the next generation’s great writer. (Those creative, literary genes in the Gabaldon clan are verra strong, ye ken?)
Thinking along the lines of art reflecting life, I asked…
Since you (and husband Doug) became new grandparents during the writing of BEES, do you find more inspiration when writing scenes with kids? Does having your own cute, adorable experiences with Santiago and Leo give you additional perspective for the Frasers’ “Grandma and Grandda” moments?
“I don’t write cute,” she replied with a wry sarcasm.
(Does she not think the scenes she writes with kids are heartwarming and adorable? Especially with Jamie … Good grief…)
However, she was referring to intention… She doesn’t write meaningless scenes for a saccharin or “cute” appeal.
“I like to think that I don’t write superficial scenes, even those involving children (who often have immense emotional depths — and share them). And I have truly NEVER come into a scene with the intent of committing cuteness,” she explains. “Quite often, the child/children is only there because they’re a natural part of the milieu, but — like most of the adult characters — they have minds of their own and will say or do things (appropriate to their age and unique personality) that make some readers think, ‘Oh, that’s adorable!’ If so, good, but that’s never my intent — it just emerges naturally from the situation and the people in it.”
This is patently true. All of her scenes, even those with children, reflect great emotional depth and are driven by well-defined characters. (Adorableness is a bonus.)
Her response exemplifies what I said in my last blog post—she embodies the soul of each character with everything they think, feel and believe based on their own culture, perspective, personal history, genetics, knowledge, fears and values. She doesn’t write FOR the audience and how they will react. These books are character driven, not plot driven or reader driven.
What are your hopes for Outlander Season 5 and Go Tell the Bees That I am Gone?
Did anything in my interview with author Diana Gabaldon make you nervous? More relaxed?