#114 Diana Gabaldon
Reading and Writing History.
When the Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murieta was announced for a reprint from Penguin, I was so excited to see that Diana Gabaldon wrote the foreword.
In speaking with Diana both about this novel from history as well as her experience writing fiction set in a historical setting, I was hit with a variation on the classic real estate slogan: Context! Context! Context!
Just like location is everything for a home purchase, context is everything when reading and writing history. We had a juicy conversation about her writing process - one of the most unique I have heard about so far- her research methods, and what it meant to her to read The Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murieta today in a time when there is still so much work to be done on cultural awareness and literacy for the world as a whole.
Diana's take on writing and history is refreshing, candid, and straightforward. She cuts to the chase and provides thoughts and advice you can act on immediately. This is a jolt of motivation for anyone looking to write about history or who needs to research another era for their book. Such a delight to share this one - happy listening and may it spur you into action like it did for me.
Discussed in Episode 114 with Diana Gabaldon:
- Was written as a dime novel. Not with a huge concern with historical accuracy. It was sensationalized reportage about a supposed historical event.
- "Cultural context is very important when you're writing historical fiction."
On grappling with the time period you're writing about.
- The challenge writing historical fiction is to make a very different historical context relatable to the reader.
- "What you do is establish a real cultural reality."
On grounding your historical character in a coherent context.
- "You don't need to paint very deep character motivations if you're dealing with a time that's fairly close to the readers'."
On the relatability of our own time period.
- "It's actually both very complex and very simple."
On the historical research required to ground your characters.
- "I didn't do any research to begin with. I just began writing."
On research supplementing the writing, not overtaking it.
- "I don't want to read it unless it's interesting."
On knowing what research is needed to write your novel.
- "I don't read most of the stuff in my library cover-to-cover."
On not getting bogged down in the research.
- "You don't have to know everything before starting to write a story."
Why research shouldn't stop you from writing.
- "If you write historical fiction, you read everything."
On understanding a historical context well enough to make it sympathetic.
- "The way people write reveals a great deal about who they were."
On reading primary documents.
- "The main point of writing a book is not just to avoid offending people."
On not whitewashing historical attitudes.
- "Most people who read historical fiction do so, in part, because it was different."
On not shying away from problematic points of view.
- "My obligation is to the book."
On an author's responsibility when writing historical fiction.
- "History is not actually what happened. It's what somebody wrote down."
Why it's so important that everyone writes.
- When writing actual historical characters, you have an obligation to get them right.
- "I usually have no idea where the beginning of a story is."
On not being an outliner.
- "It's like playing Tetris in my head, but very slowly."
On piecing together scenes and incorporating her research.
- "Anything that lets you get words on the page is the right way to do it."
On knowing how you write best.
- "It doesn't matter how you write something. It only matters how it looks on the page."
On not worrying about what kind of writer you are.
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