Diana Gabaldon knew from the age of eight that she wanted to be a novelist. However, growing up in a conservative family with a straight-laced father she realized that might not be an acceptable career path.
“My father told me I wasn’t a very good judge of character and that I would probably end up marrying a bum, so to make money I needed to get a good education,” she says.
So with that in mind, Gabaldon proceeded to get a Bachelor of Science degree from Northern Arizona University in 1973; a Masters of Science in marine biology from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego in 1975, where she studied under neuroscientist Walter Heiligenberg; and a Ph.D. in ecology from Northern Arizona University in 1978.
Gabaldon then worked as an assistant professor at Arizona State University and became an expert in scientific computing, which during the 1980s was still a fairly unknown field. However, her passion for writing never waned and she continued to dabble in writing, even authoring a few Disney comic books in her free time.
Galaldon finally decided in 1988 that she would dedicate herself to writing a novel for practice to see if she could really make a career out of it.
“I only had two rules: I must finish and I have to do my absolute best,” she says.
And so what started out as an experiment to test her non-fiction writing skills turned into a best-selling novel series called Outlander. Salon.com described it as "the smartest historical sci-fi adventure-romance ever written by a science Ph.D. with a background in scripting Scrooge McDuck comic books."
This can be hard to believe, but Gabaldan partly attributes what she learned while earning her science degrees to her success as an author. The investigative skills and ability to maneuver around the library made researching 18th century Scotland, the time period in which her novels are set, much easier to understand and convey accurately.
Gabaldon also credits personal experiences for helping her detail certain scenes in her novels. For instance, she had never been to Scotland before she began the series, but from her time here in La Jolla she could recall what the waves sounded like crashing on the beach, what the sand felt like slipping through her toes, and the distinct smell of the ocean.
“My personal experiences help tell the story,” Gabaldon says.
Gabaldon recently visited La Jolla for the first time in 20 years for a book signing and to discuss her latest book, the graphic novel, The Exile, and although science is no longer driving force in Gabaldon’s life or career it has been influential in her success as a historical fiction writer.
“It’s easier to look something up than to make something up. I can always refer to books for help,” she says.
Spoken like a true scientist.
-- Caitlin Denham