The Accidental Romance Novelist: A Profile of Diana Gabaldon, by Julia Cross

She says it was an accident. She didn’t plan to write an award-winning romance novel that would break all the rules of the genre and evolve into a popular double trilogy. Diana Gabaldon, a former research professor with a doctorate in ecology, insists she was simply writing a novel for practice.

“I never meant to show it to anyone,” she says, “let alone publish it.” A natural storyteller who had sold scripts for Disney comic books in the past, Gabaldon thought the best way to learn how to write a novel would be to sit down and do it. So that’s what she did.

The inspiration for the story that would become Outlander arrived in the form of a “rather fetching” Scottish character in a kilt on the science-fiction serial “Doctor Who.” Gabaldon had never been to Scotland, and she knew no more about 18th century life in the Highlands than the average person, but she had access to a good library at Arizona State University and knew how to use it. With the time and place fixed as a starting point for her story, she got to work.

The historical novel Gabaldon intended to write might have proceeded normally from there if her heroine Claire hadn’t refused to cooperate with the premise. It soon became obvious that this character preferred to speak and act like a modern Englishwoman, even in the midst of the 1745 Jacobite Rising. To accommodate her, Gabaldon found a way for Claire to travel 200 years back in time through a magical ring of stones. And that was only the beginning.

“I included any element that took my fancy,” she says, “which is why I now find it on every shelf in the bookstore!”

It became so difficult to categorize the story that Gabaldon didn’t know what to call it then and finds it no easier a decade later, after publishing Outlander and the three novels that followed: Dragonfly in Amber, Voyager and Drums of Autumn (the final two books in the second trilogy are still in the works). Categorizing it didn’t matter much at the time, however, because she still planned to keep the novel to herself. So what happened?

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