A Lesson In What I Don’t Want

I hope the title, and the contents of this post, is not too off-putting when I say it’s about Diana Gabaldon’s visit here last week. It’s just that the simple fact is that as I read my notes from her reception and subsequent public presentation and viewing it in hindsight, I wasn’t left in awe or inspired or thinking “I want to be her” or “I wish I could be like that!”

First, I will admit my ignorance. My interest in going was because I like to meet other authors and hear what they have to say. The rare occasion is when I go to hear an author whom I adore. So I was there to hear from Diana Gabaldon, a successful author for many decades, who has had her series turned into a TV show. I haven’t read her novels and I don’t watch the show. So if that’s not okay and you’re reading this, like with fanfiction you aren’t enjoying, I hope you’ll go read something else rather than get mad at me for my opinion and experience in this instance.

In the moment, she was quite funny. She made sure the audience laughed and that made it a good time, especially getting to sit next to my friend and fellow writer Rebecca Henderson Palmer. Paying for the reception ticket merited us not just access to the pre-presentation reception, but reserved seating at the presentation venue and priority in the book signing. There were, however, 350 people with this privilege, due to a server error when the tickets went on sale. Same with the presentation. 700 tickets turned into 1200. Just proves that she has quite the fanbase! People came from Canada and other states to see and hear her. Diana herself woke up at 3:30AM to catch a flight to Columbus…which was then delayed. She arrived not long before the reception started, poor thing.

What I find the most odd is that while I was never overly impressed with anything she had to say, I look back and am surprised at how…not impressed I am with the event. There was this edge under most everything she said. On the surface it was fine, even made you laugh, but there were some less than pretty things that seemed to be lurking under the things she said. She said how she wanted to write since she was eight years old. But she then said that nothing she ever read, or any person, inspired her on her path to becoming an author. In deciding to pursue publication, she said she was 35 and made a quip about Mozart dying at 36 so she had better get a move on. It was funny, we laughed, but in the end that statement, like others, hasn’t set right with me. In talking about the TV series and making an appearance on it, she–again, humorously at the time–compared acting to indentured servitude.

In becoming published, the whole arc was not anything to take away from. The entire story hinged on her exposure to the internet in the 80s thanks to one of the few early providers: CompuServe. Based in Columbus. She never linked those things together for the audience to make us cheer and feel apart of her story, however indirectly. When she signed my book, I asked her if she knew it was based here and she said yes. I said I had been waiting for her to say something about it. And then was carted off because she had at least another 1-200 signatures to go. But without the people she befriended on those early message boards, without that networking, she said she would have never been able to connect with Perry Dalton, her agent, who after he sent out the first book had publishers bidding on it and won her a three book contract in two weeks.

She never talked about writing. She mentioned the word perseverance once in regards to what it takes. The rest of the story sounded like nothing but luck and circumstances. These are factors in everyones life at some point, but talking about it is not uplifting and inspiring nor a particularly interesting story. Which everything she spoke about in the public presentation is discussed in the two page foreword in the 20th anniversary edition of Outlander. In that sense, it wasn’t even special. She didn’t share anything with her audience that she hadn’t shared how many times over all these years? All I know is that’s not what I would want if I were in her place. When you rise up and have followers and fans, you have the joy of creating a community around your creations–your stories. As the creator, I’d want to be a part of that community, to connect with it.

Finally, I have my big axe to grind with this esteemed author. Fanfiction. Diana admitted to writing historicals because she loved research. But how did she chose mid-18th century Scotland for her story? Because the roots of her story is Doctor Who fanfiction. A form of writing which she stands against and does not permit for her Outlander universe. The male character in the Doctor Who episode is even named Jamie–her protagonists name. Doctor Who’s Jaime was a character who was a companion during the second Doctor’s incarnation, not just a one-off character. She’s very forthcoming about the inspiration. So why hate fanfiction? No one can profit from it in the legal sense. It’s fan work and a form of love and gives people a place to begin writing, as well as share their love with other fans and just have fun. It’s something I can’t understand, aside from the fact that it is where I began writing. I didn’t believe I could write, and Gossip Girl helped me learn otherwise, and make amazing friends in the process. Why take that away from people? All the original stories have been told. To think your creation stands alone from the rest of the written word is to silence the voice of future writers.

So my adventure to meet Diana Gabaldon and sit at her feet for an evening was worthwhile in seeing my good friends, as we found Melinda Sabo afterwards and had drinks, but also a lesson and who I don’t want to become. I want to inspire, encourage, and give to those that honor me with their time and attention.

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