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Cast ashore in the American colonies, the Frasers are faced with a bleak choice: return to a Scotland fallen into famine and poverty, or seize the risky chance of a new life in the New World--menaced by Claire's certain knowledge of the coming Revolution.
Still, a highlander is born to risk--and so is a time-traveler. Their daughter, Brianna, is safe--they think--on the other side of a dangerous future; their lives are their own to venture as they will. With faith in themselves and in each other, they seek a new beginning among the exiled Scottish Highlanders of the Cape Fear, in the fertile river valleys of the Colony of North Carolina.
Even in the New World, though, the Frasers find their hope of peace threatened from without and within; by the British Crown and by Jamie's aunt, Jocasta MacKenzie, last of the MacKenzies of Leoch.
A hunger for freedom drives Jamie to a Highlander's only true refuge: the mountains. And here at last, with no challenge to their peace--save wild animals, Indians, and the threat of starvation--the Frasers establish a precarious foothold in the wilderness, secure in the knowledge that even war cannot invade their mountain sanctuary.
But history spares no one, and when Brianna follows her mother into the past, not even the mountains can shelter a Highlander. For Brianna too has an urgent quest: not only to find the mother she has lost and the father she has never met, but to save them both from a future that only she can see.
They're historically rich, but they're not history. They're thrilling, but they're not thrillers. And, oddest of all, they all hinge on the notion of time travel, but they're not science fiction.
What exactly are these novels by Diana Gabaldon?
For one thing, they are popular: more than a million copies of Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber, and Voyager have been sold since Outlander first appeared in 1991. Now, with the publication of Drums of Autumn, a much-anticipated fix has arrived.
It's easy to see why the series is most often mistaken for romance. Now 3,738 pages long after four volumes, the story remains quite simple. Amid Gabaldon's careful research and historical detail, at the heart of the story is a relationship-a complex, textured marriage of two strong souls. The only catch is that it's a mixed marriage.
Really mixed. Claire Randall has traveled through time from 1945 to 1743, back to the time of the Scottish clans. Pay no attention to how she does it; once you get accustomed to the notion that Claire hears buzzing in a circle of ancient stones in Scotland and is magically transported back 200 years, the story heats up. When she meets the ultracharismatic Scottish warrior Jamie Fraser (he's tall, with long red hair and a tender heart under all that plaid), the chemistry works. And keeps working through the Jacobite rebellion of 1745, through journeys to Paris, the West Indies, and, in this latest book, to new worlds and a brewing revolution. (It's cruelty to give away the plot.)
Running through all this adventure is Gabaldon's intelligence and keen observation, and such a convincing knowledge of Scotland that it surprises readers to learn that not only is she not Scottish (she has spent most of her life in Arizona), she had never even been to Scotland when she wrote the first book.
Meeting this author, you expect a Barbara Cartland, a woman with big pink hair and a taste for ruffles. You know, a romance author.
You'd be very surprised to meet Diana Gabaldon (pronounced GAB-uhl-dohn, with a long o). She's a compact woman, simply dressed in every way except for her nails, which are perfectly manicured. Like her heroine Claire Randall, she's all sense, with a scientist's precise way of talking and a wry sense of humor.
Her background gives the nonscientist a headache even to consider: with a masters in marine biology and a Ph.D. in quantitative behavioral ecology (don't ask), Gabaldon had a successful academic career before deciding to do what she'd always wanted to do.
"I originally began to write a mystery," she says, "because that was what I read the most of." But the prospect of thrashing out a mystery plot sent her to practice first. "What's the easiest possible kind of book to write? Well, for me, probably a historical novel because I was a research professor, had the university library, and I figured I could always go and steal things from the historical record if I turned out not to have any imagination." Scotland ended up as the setting thanks to a Dr. Who rerun she saw in which he had a young Scottish sidekick. "You've got to start somewhere," she smiles, "so why not Scotland?"
The time travel element evolved out of necessity: "Claire wasn't a historical person." Her modern ways constantly cropped up despite the historical setting, so turning her into a time traveler was the best way to make her anachronisms acceptable.
It's clear that Gabaldon works like crazy on these books. Each 900-plus-page installment takes only 18 to 22 months to write, an astonishing accomplishment considering that she has three children, a huge amount of research to do, and an eager publisher nudging her to write faster. How does she do it?
"It's sort of arranged around my kids' schedule. I started writing late at night when I was writing Outlander, because it was the only time I had, and I've sort of stuck to it. I've always been a night person, so I still do my main heavy writing late at night."
It helps that she writes with a sure hand. "My editor never interferes with me. In fact, she's never 'edited' me, so to speak. What she does is she'll take a manuscript home and she says she spends three days in the bathtub and absorb it and think about it for a couple of weeks. She'll call up and we'll spend an afternoon on the phone rustling back and forth through the papers."
The skills that allowed her to write a dissertation on the nesting habits of pinyon jays work as well when writing a spicy sex scene. There's never an outline ("I write in lots of little pieces and then glue them together like a jigsaw puzzle"), and she researches as she goes. "I know a lot of people do all the research and then begin to write, but that wouldn't work for me-since I never know what's going to happen, I wouldn't know where to stop researching!"
But she does know where the series is going. Two more books featuring Jamie and Claire are ahead: The Fiery Cross and King, Farewell, as well as The Outlandish Companion which will provide bibliographies and background on the series. In addition-her wish fulfilled-she's under contract with Delacorte for two contemporary mystery novels. "This may be my only chance to make anybody pay me for writing mysteries," she says with a laugh.
Despite her success, Gabaldon still feels free of expectations from readers. "Because the books are so peculiar, they're not classifiable, so I've always heard from some romance readers who say, 'Oh, but it's not a romance-they don't even kiss until page 346.' So I say, 'Fine, so it's not supposed to be a romance.' Some readers of fantasy will turn up their nose and say, 'There's no magic.' That's right-I didn't intend there to be. So I have so many diverse audiences that I've never felt any crushing expectation from one or the other."
As for the way these books have found their audience, Gabaldon laughs. "It spreads like a virus, that's what my editor says. She says these have to be word of mouth books because they're so weird you can't describe them to anybody. So all you can do is say, 'Here, read this.' "
Interview by Ann M. Shayne