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Diana Gabaldon, mind behind the ‘Outlander’ series, to speak at Santa Fe Literary Festival

Courtesy of Diana Gabaldon

Diana Gabaldon, the mind behind the popular "Outlander" and Lord John Grey series of novels, will be a featured speaker at the Santa Fe International Literary Festival, which runs May 19-21.

Gabaldon spoke with KUNM about the connections between fiction and reality and her family’s deep roots in Belen, New Mexico.

DIANA GABALDON: My dad was born in Bethlehem [Belén, NM] as the youngest of 13 children to a very important New Mexico dirt farmer who died three months after he was born. So, he grew up in what you might call dire poverty, as they didn’t have enough to eat. He ended up being the only member of his family to go to college and graduate and then later became a state senator in Arizona.

KUNM: I want you to tell me a little bit about your wildly different life you had before writing fiction. 

GABALDON: I was a biologist and a scientist in general. At the age of eight, I knew better than to tell my parents that I wanted to write novels, because my father, from his upbringing and so forth, was deeply conservative. He would have said, you know, "Don't do that! You could never make any money doing that! Do something else!" I wasn't going to put up with that, so I just didn't tell him. So, I went into science. I liked science. I was good at it. I enjoyed it. But I knew I was supposed to write novels.

At the age of 35, I had been thinking about it casually for several years, I was going to start writing a novel. Just to learn how. This is not for publication. I'm not going to show it to anyone and tell anyone what I'm doing, let alone my husband because he would have tried to stop me.

KUNM: Well, to be fair to you, your "Outlander" series is now a big hit across the US and even across the pond.  Why do you think people are so captivated with tales of romance and fantasy like yours?

GABALDON: Oh, well, those are both very, very old story forms. And it's reasonable enough these both deal with: What are we? How do we complete ourselves? What are we looking for in life? Most people are looking for a stable relationship, whatever it's for, maybe they want to have families whatever form those take.

KUNM: What connections do you make personally, when you look back at your writing, and what's currently going on right now?

GABALDON: Human chaos is basically something that I deal with all the time. And, you look at what's going on on television. You know, aside from the introduction of technology, things have not changed that much. People still want to stone each other for believing the wrong thing. People still want to shriek and carry on and gibber. I mean, watching people on TV having protests in the street, and so forth. It's not that different from what you see in the jungle. Human behavior is instinctive, rather than reasoned. It's all too easy for people to abandon their reason, and just behave instinctively. And instinct is a very short fuse kind of thing.

KUNM: What do you think your take-home message is for someone when they pick up one of your novels? 

GABALDON: I would hope they take from it a sense of the innate goodness of people. I get people who see something in the book and frequently, it speaks to them on a very deep and visceral level.

I wrote the first book, as I say, for practice, I wasn't planning to publish it. So when it did get published, I was wondering how people would respond to it. Because I didn't pull any punches at all. I said, "If you're gonna write this book, it's got to be honest," and so I was honest. And consequently, it's a very powerful book. It has some very dark substances in it here and there. I wondered what people were going to do about this... Were they going to burn the book? Ban me, etc?

I got an immense number of messages and letters from people who had had terrible sexual experiences… Who had suffered, rape, torture, or whatever. But what they all said was: "Thank you so much for writing this." They said, "It is immensely cathartic to see this approached in this way so honestly, and I could see myself in the story, and it relieved me of my guilt... I realized it wasn't my fault…"

So, it's very moving when people respond that way. But, it's not something that I could have foreseen happening. When you write a book, you just go into it as honestly as you can. And you tell the truth.

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault––call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

Bryce Dix is our local host for NPR's Morning Edition.
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