How do you know Diana Gabaldon, and how is it that her characters wandered into Into the Wilderness?
I met Diana through the Research and Craft section of CompuServe writers’ forum, where I used to visit regularly. R&C is a forum for discussion of matters having to do with technical issues (point of view, flashback, character motivation, etc) and research problems (how did a person light a fire in 1790? how long did it take a horse and buggy to travel ten miles on good road?). Diana and I had many of the same interests, as our characters were involved in some of the same historical events. One day the subject of the Battle of Saratoga came up and Diana mentioned that she had used the battle as a setting for a scene, and this happened just as I was writing a similar scene. I said (truly in jest) hey, I need a doctor over here for this boy with pneumonia, can I borrow Claire? To which Diana said, Why not?
Diana is one of the most supportive and generous people I have ever known, but still I was taken by surprise. I did write the scene and send it to her, but said that I would drop it if she had not been serious. She liked it, and so it stayed. The idea was simply a bit of an inside joke — characters wandering from one novel to another — and was never meant to be anything else. I have been called a Diana Wannabe, which of course is silly — who would not want to write such wonderful stuff as her Outlander series? But there’s only one Diana. I have my own stories to tell, in my own voice.
More on this subject, excerpts from an interview I did with Linda Richards of January Magazine when Dawn on a Distant Shore was published:
–Does your friendship precede the books? Or is it through the books?
We met online and started conversing about our research and work. Then once in a while she’d show me something she was working on and I’d show her something I was working on. This was before Into the Wilderness sold. Diana was extremely supportive. I had an agent at the time that I wasn’t really happy with and she introduced me to the agent I have now.
The funny part is — and most of her readers will know — is that when I was doing the research [for Into the Wilderness] there’s a flashback to the battle of Saratoga which was a major battle in the Revolutionary War. I mentioned this to Diana and she said to me, “Hey my characters are in the battle of Saratoga too.” It was the first time our story lines intersected. And I said, “Well, I’ve got this sick boy over here and Nathaniel is looking for a doctor. Can I have Claire?” I was completely joking. And Diana said, “Sure. I’ll send her over.” So her characters show up briefly in my storyline.
–Oh how fun!
And it’s just meant to be an inside joke — you know it’s very short, it’s in flashback. It’s like two paragraphs, there’s no dialog between the characters or anything — they come and they go.
–Did readers catch it?
Oh yes! Did readers catch it? Yeah! In fact there was this persistent rumor that we were the same person. People were sometimes very insistent on that, and I know that Diana was sometimes irritated by the whole debate.
–The periods you write in are close but your stories and your styles are very different.
My novels are not time travel and hers are; I write in third person, and she writes in first. The beauty of her books — and it was a really masterful stroke on her part — is that since Claire is from the 20th century she can observe what’s going on in the past from a modern sensibility. So mine is a very different kind of story in every way. It’s human nature to compare things, though, and there were some pretty heated discussions among readers about my work. Which was unfortunate, because I don’t consider myself in competition with Diana or with any other novelist. What we do is too idiosyncratic for that kind of comparison.