INTERVIEW: Diana Gabaldon, author of “The Space Between”

Diana Gabaldon is the author of the award-winning, #1 New York Times-bestselling Outlander novels, which include OutlanderDragonfly In Amber, Voyager, Drums Of Autumn, The Fiery Cross, A Breath Of Snow And Ashes, and An Echo In The Bone, with nineteen million copies in print worldwide. She has also written a graphic novel called The Exile, and a number of novels and novellas about her character Lord John Grey, the latest of which, The Scottish Prisoner, came out in 2011.

 

Tell us a bit about your story. What’s it about?

It’s a three-stranded tale, set in Paris, 1778: In his laboratory, the Comte St. Germain carefully poisons rats, trying to discover the means by which a rival alchemist named Raymond (known as the Frog) nearly killed him, thirty years before—because the news from the Paris underworld is that the Frog is back. Meanwhile, Joan MacKimmie, a young Scotswoman, leaves her Highland home, determined to become a Bride of Christ as a nun in Paris. Escorting her on her journey is Michael Murray, a young wine-merchant still mourning his wife’s recent death, and now returning from his father’s funeral in Scotland to his business in Paris, and charged with seeing Joan safely to the convent of the Angels.

Michael is looking for an escape from his grief. Joan is looking for peace from the voices in her head. And the Comte is looking for immortality. The story is about what happens when their paths intersect.

What was the genesis of the story–what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?

What prompted me to write it was you inviting me to submit a story to the anthology, and me thinking that sounded like an interesting proposition.I’d been meaning to deal further with Michael and Joan at some point, since I could see (as of the end of AN ECHO IN THE BONE) that they were on the verge of various interesting things—but clearly neither of them was mad-scientist material. The Comte, though…while he apparently died in my second novel (DRAGONFLY IN AMBER), I knew he wasn’t dead.

(Fwiw, the Comte St. Germain is/was a real historical person, and one of considerable mystery. He appeared and disappeared at odd intervals and in different places, was reputed to have occult dealings—and may in fact have been several different people. Or not.)

Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?

Well, yes, it was, but mostly because I just don’t do Short very well. I was trying to cram the story into 25,000 words, and it just didn’t fit; things were truncated and clumsy. I rewrote it twice—once expanding it to 35,000 words, and then just adding a few bits to make the climax more satisfying and round out a few corners. It ended up at just about 40,000 words, which is a comfortable size for it.

Most authors say all their stories are personal. If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?

All my stories are personal, because how could they not be? People tend to ask eagerly, “Oh, is Claire you?!?” (Claire Beauchamp being the main narrator of the OUTLANDER novels.) I imagine they think this because it’s a first-person narration, Claire is a female and so am I…Q.E.D.

What they miss is the rather obvious fact that a writer is all his or her characters. I mean—where the heck else would they come from? Occasionally I share some superficial bit of history or reference with a character—I am a Roman Catholic and grew up with nuns, for instance, and I do drink wine–but much more frequently, all I share with a character is basic humanity.

Or possibly other things. On one occasion, some years ago, a group of fans took me out to tea and after discussing the books for some time, started in on the character of Black Jack Randall (a sadistic bisexual pervert—and, no, I don’t consider “bisexual” to be the moral equivalent of the other two words in that description; it’s just an indication of his approach as an equal-opportunity brute). “Oh, he’s so loathsome,” they said. “He’s so awful, he’s so creepy, he makes my skin crawl!”

And I, of course, sat quietly sipping my Earl Grey, smiling pleasantly and thinking, “You have no idea that you’re talking to Black Jack Randall, do you?”

What kind of research did you have to do for the story?

I had to find a map of Paris in the 1700’s, and do a little research on religious orders in general, and orders in France in particular—though Joan’s convent and order of nuns is a fictional one. A bit of background on 18th century silver, though I already had a few references on that. And I already knew quite a bit about the wine business, from earlier books and/er, personal research.

What is the appeal of mad scientist fiction? Why do so many writers–or you yourself–write it? Why do you think readers/viewers love it so much?

I wasn’t aware that a lot of writers did write it, to be honest.

I imagine part of the appeal may be the notion of untrammeled power and secret knowledge. After all, if you’re mad, you plainly don’t give a rat’s ass for OSHA or the EPA, and if you happen to succeed in finding out how to create life or turn flax into gold or something fun like that…well, I mean…who wouldn’t?

What are some of your favorite examples of mad scientists in fiction–or fact!–(in any media), and what makes them your favorites?

Loved Gene Wilder in Young Dr. Frankenstein. And there’s one in Judith Merkle Riley’s IN PURSUIT OF THE GREEN DRAGON who was truly creepy (and I have high standards in that department). And Ian Fleming always did a good line in megalomaniacs with scientific gadgets.