• “The smartest historical sci-fi adventure-romance story ever written by a science Ph.D. with a background in scripting 'Scrooge McDuck' comics.”—Salon.com
  • A time-hopping, continent-spanning salmagundi of genres.”
  • “These books have to be word-of-mouth books because they're too weird to describe to anybody.”
    —Jackie Cantor, Diana's first editor

About Diana

2012-12-15-diana-on-cliff1Diana Gabaldon currently lives in Scottsdale, Arizona with her husband, two big, fat dachshunds, 2.5 cats,  a varying number of parakeets and a lot of uninvited wildlife.  They have three adult children.

The Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) below about Diana Gabaldon and The Outlander Series have been taken from her answers to the questions from her online fans (America On Line and CompuServe). In most cases, the answers are direct quotes from Diana’s posts. In others, she has edited the original answer to include more information.

Readers be cautioned that some of the answers to these questions will contain SPOILERS. If you don’t want to know anything about the books you haven’t read yet, be cautious in your reading.

How is Gabaldon pronounced?

My name is pronounced GAB-uhl-dohn (long o). In Spanish it’s pronounced gav-ahl-DOHN (still with a long o).  It rhymes with “stone.”  (For reasons unknown, people from New York City are completely unable to pronounce my name.  They invariably pronounce it to rhyme with “mastodon.”  One of these days, I’m going to put the accent mark over the “don” that the name probably had when it came from Spain back in, and see if that helps.)  (It is, btw, my own (maiden) name.  I declined to take my husband’s name when we got married, on grounds that I’d been spelling “Gabaldon” for twenty-five years, and was attached to it.)

Are you Scottish or English?

American. Raised in Flagstaff, Arizona. However, my ancestry is both English and Mexican-American (well, “Hispanic,” let us say, or latino, as you prefer.  Los Gabaldones arrived in what later became New Mexico somewhere in the very late 16th century, and were peacefully acquired by the United States by the Gadsden Purchase in 1853, so that side of the family didn’t actually come from Mexico; they were just there when that part of Mexico became part of the US). The other side is Johnny-come-lately; one of my maternal great- grandfathers emigrated from England to Arizona in the late 1800′s, but two other English branches (and one German one) came over during the American Revolution.

German fans often ask if I know where in Germany the German branch originated.  I don’t, but fwiw, the family name on that branch is “Switzer”—i.e., “the guy from Switzerland.”

Have you ever been to Scotland?

I did Outlander entirely from library research (since at the time, I thought the book was purely for practice, I hardly thought I could tell my husband I had to go to Scotland to do research). I did take part of the advance money and go to Scotland for two weeks, though. It was (luckily!) just as I’d been imagining it.  I’ve gone back at every opportunity, and have probably been there nine or ten times by now.

What did you do before Outlander was published?

I have a B.S. in Zoology, an M.S. in Marine Biology from Scripps Institution of Oceanography and a Ph.D. in quantitative behavioral ecology (that’s just animal behavior with statistics, don’t worry about it).  My dissertation was titled, Nest Site Selection of the Pinyon Jay, Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus , (or as my husband says, “Why Birds Build Nests Where They Do, and Who Cares Anyway?”).

I did a post-doctoral appointment at the University of Pennsylvania, where my chief responsibility was butchering sea-birds (I can reduce a full-grown gannet—this being something like a turkey with a five-foot wing-spread and a skull like concrete; I had to use a hammer and chisel to get the brain out—to its component parts in a mere three hours, including plucking the thing.  Oddly enough, I’ve never found much use for this skill in later life, other than writing the description of drawing and quartering in DRAGONFLY IN AMBER),  wrote comic books (free-lance) for Walt Disney for a year or two in the late 1970′s— while holding a post-doc in marine biology at UCLA. Then I was a professor at Arizona State for twelve years or so, in the Center for Environmental Studies. What I actually did there was (weirdly enough) to become an “expert” in the brand-new field of scientific omputation (the use of computers to do scientific research— in botany, ecology, physiology, meteorology, etc. Completely different from computer science, which is the study of computers and how they work). All I can say about that is that it’s pretty easy to be an expert, if there are only six people in the world who do what you do, and that was my position at the time.

As part of this, I started and ran a scholarly journal called Science Software Quarterly for several years. See, I started using computers for scientific analysis in the early 1980′s, just when microcomputers were getting started. It occurred to me that there should be a venue for other scientists who did what I did (not many, back then) to share their work. The journal took off, and took over—within a year, I was doing virtually nothing else; I ran the journal, did training seminars for scientists wanting to get into computers and lab automation, wrote texts and manuals and so on.

Essentially, I invented my own specialty. I then called up magazine editors and offered to write about it. That is, I started sending copies of SSQ around to the editors of the mainstream computer press (along with one of my Walt Disney comic books, just to be sure they looked at my query{g}), asking for assignment— which I got instantly, because at that time, there weren’t a lot of people who knew anything about scientific and technical software and could write coherently about it.

In other words, I became established as an “expert” in scientific computation (and a professional free-lance writer) the same way I started writing fiction; I just did it.

Arizona Diary Essay – Myth and Mountain Birthdays

My birthday was always the coldest day of the year. If not literally true, it was family legend, and everyone knows that myth is much stronger than meteorology, even in the north country, where the snow lies deep on the mountaintops, and houses are built to keep the heat in, not out.

This particular legend had its origin—reasonably enough—on the date of my birth, January 11, 1952. My family lived in Flagstaff, but the family doctor had been having a difference of opinion with the hospital board, and had moved his practice to the Williams Hospital. So, when my mother went into labor early in the morning, my twenty-one-year-old parents were obliged to drive thirty miles over a two-lane ice-slick road, through the teeth of a driving blizzard, in order to get to the doctor.

When I was finally born, just at dark, my father was so unnerved by the entire experience that he went out to a nearby restaurant and ordered ham and eggs for dinner—forgetting that it was Friday. (Way back when, Catholics didn’t eat meat on Fridays.) Driving the thirty miles home through snow and black ice, he ran off the road twice, got stuck in the drifts, and—as he later recounted—managed to free himself only because he couldn’t stand the thought of freezing to death and leaving my mother with a one-day old child.

At the age of two days, I too made the perilous trip through the dark pines of the frozen landscape, to become a third-generation native of Flagstaff. There aren’t a lot of us, if only because Flagstaff isn’t that old.

Among the early founders of the town were my great-grandparents. Stanley Sykes was born in Yorkshire, England, but at the age of fifteen, was diagnosed with consumption. The only chance, his doctor told him, was to leave England; go to Arizona, where the warm, dry air was good for the lungs (well, it was 1868, after all; the midwesterners hadn’t got here with their damn mulberries and bermuda grass yet). Stanley heeded this advice, and with his elder brother Godfrey, set sail for the New World and the healing balm of the desert air.

Like many another outlander—my husband, for example—who thought Arizona was a desert, Stanley was startled to find that the northern third of the state sits atop the Colorado Plateau, and that the San Francisco Peaks are covered with the largest forest of Ponderosa Pine in the world. In search of desert, Godfrey went south… but Stanley stayed, seduced by the rush of wind through the pines and the clear dark skies of the mountain nights, thick with stars.

Great-grandmother Beatrice Belle Switzer came from Kentucky, along with her seven brothers and sisters, when the family farm was flooded out. It must have been a flood of biblical proportions, because once the Switzers started moving, they didn’t stop until they came to Flagstaff, which—at 7000 feet—they evidently considered high enough ground to be safe.

The air in Flagstaff may not have been hot, but apparently it was dry enough, since Stanley lived to be 92, finally dying on a vacation to San Diego (that fog will get you every time). I was four when he died, and still have a vivid memory of him in his armchair, the smoke from his pipe drifting in the lamplight, as he taught me the delicate art of building houses out of cards—a skill that’s stood me in good stead since.

His son, Harold—my grandfather—became the mayor of Flagstaff— and thereby hangs another family tale.

It was a scandal, in fact—or so everyone said—when my mother, Jacqueline Sykes, the mayor’s daughter, descendant of one of the First Families of Flagstaff, fell in love with Antonio Gabaldon. Tony was smart, handsome, athletic, hardworking—and a Mexican-American, born in Belen, New Mexico. In 1949, in a small Arizona town, this was miscegenation—or so everyone said.

My mother’s friends said so. Mrs. X, her English teacher, said so, telling her firmly that she couldn’t possibly marry a Mexican; her children would be idiots. The parish priest who refused to marry them said so; such a marriage would never last. The “interested parties” who took out a public petition against the match said so; it was a scandal. Her parents said so—and at last she was persuaded, and reluctantly broke the engagement.

My mother’s parents sent her south, to the University of Arizona in Tucson, to leave the scandal behind; to forget. But she didn’t forget, and six months later, on a dark December night, she called Tony and said, “I still want you. If you still want me— come and get me.”

He drove down from the snow-covered mountain to the desert and brought her back the same night—and they were married at 6:30 the next morning, by a priest from another parish.

It was a long and happy marriage—dissolved only by death—and thirteen months after the wedding, I arrived, the third generation born on the mountain.

We (and the fourth generation) live in Scottsdale, but I still keep the family house in Flagstaff, and escape there regularly to write; to me, the ideal weather for writing involves a gleaming portcullis of icicles to keep out all intruders, soft white drifts on the pines and the sidewalks, and the muffled grind of cars in the distance, crushing cinders into the slippery packed snow as they labor uphill. No salt on these roads; the San Francisco peaks are in fact one mountain, the remains of an extinct volcano—or least we hope it is extinct; the US Geological Survey is not so sure.

It’s 72 on this Christmas Day, and the dogs are swimming in the pool. My husband gives me warm slippers, though, knowing I’ll need them soon. My birthday, after all, is always the coldest day of the year.

(Oh…Mrs. X? You were wrong.)

Copyright © 1990 by Diana Gabaldon. All Rights Reserved.

This page was last updated by Diana’s webmaster on Friday, January 17, 2014 at 11:53 p.m.

Photo caption: Diana Gabaldon at the edge of Arizona’s Grand Canyon in 2012. Photo taken by her husband.