#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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