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#114 Diana Gabaldon

114 Gabaldon Headshot.jpg

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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