Outlander author Diana Gabaldon was lured out of the Spartan employee break room of a Los Angeles Barnes & Noble Sunday with a Diet Coke and an enthusiastic round of applause from the hundreds of fans who had gathered. Some came as early as 6 a.m. to ensure they scored one of the 350 wristbands that secured entrance to her Q&A and signing. Before that, Gabaldon sat down with Vulture to speak about the intense, controversial finale, the disturbing add Tobias Menzies threw in with aplomb, her favorite and least favorite season-one changes, season two, and when to expect the next book. She admitted she still doesn’t know how she plans to end her best-selling franchise. (We have a thought: Maybe don’t?)
Caught a nice Easter egg. Outlander was in part inspired by the 18th-century Scot Jamie McCrimmon on Dr. Who, and the actor who played that Jamie, Frazer Hines, made a cameo as Wentworth’s warden. Did you know about this?
I actually recommended him to them. I thought it would be a little treat for the fans who knew the story. He was the original man in the kilt.
What was your favorite scene from season one?
I said very early on to Sam [Heughan, who plays Jamie Fraser] publicly that I wanted to see him raped and tortured. This is terrific stuff for an actor, amazingly heavy material. And rape is always going to make people talk. When the Game of Thrones rape controversy happened a few weeks earlier, I thought, Just you wait. But it is also a pivotal plot point in their story. I wanted to see what Sam and Tobias could do with it, and I wanted to see how they would handle such a controversial, emotionally draining, twisted scene that was going to be hard to watch, but so important. And I was right to say that. It was wonderful.
Of all the changes this season, what change/tweak/addition did you think was the best idea. Why?
The book is structured with three major climaxes — when Jamie takes Claire to the stones and she decides to stay, when Claire rescues him, and when she saves his soul at the Abbey. But in the show they don’t have enough time to do all of that. So they did something different than what I did. In essence, the show has two climaxes. I think they did condense it very effectively, but now they will have to deal with Jamie’s healing, recovery, and redemption in a different way in season two. We’ve been having a lot of conversations about that in the last few months. I have confidence they’ll figure it out.
What change/tweak was the hardest to swallow?
I had a long time to get used to the fact that the hot-springs scene would not be in there. Ron told me that when we were showing the pilot [to buyers], and I knew that would disappoint lots of readers. I ended up getting most of the things that I felt strongly about in there. There were only a few instances where the most important stuff in my opinion didn’t get in. One thing they did not do in the finale at the start that I felt was a considerable loss was Claire’s interview with Father Anselm in the chapel. I spoke to Ron about it. Claire’s spirituality here is important. I am a Roman Catholic, and most of the people involved in making the show are not religious and are not sensitive to those sorts of things. I knew they couldn’t go into it as far as I did in the book, but I thought even a little bit of that conversation would be good. He very obligingly filmed a long sequence between the two characters. But they did not include it in the final cut. They felt it slowed the tone and pace quite considerably. They showed me what they filmed so that I could understand why they thought it didn’t fit. I understood and I appreciated the consideration. Then, interestingly enough, I was seated next to one of the Starz executives at a dinner, and he brought up the same scene and said he wanted to see that. I swear I did not put him up to it. I felt Claire really needed that extra spiritual boost to give the walk into the darkness more power. Apparently he had a lot more juice than I did because it made the final cut. The most important lines — where Claire says she was sitting alone and Father Anselm asks if she was in fact alone — made it in.
So what’s your overall opinion of the finale?
It was terrific. My fear going into it was that they might think it was too heavy or that they were not up for it and that would cause them to draw back and water it down. I was talking to Ron and Tobias about it at a Comic-Con event, and Ron was saying he wasn’t sure how they would film it exactly. Then we flew somewhere else together, and while on the plane, I wrote this little page and a half of really horrifying choreography for how you could do that scene. He didn’t do it how I suggested exactly, but I think it convinced him that I would be fine however they decided to do it, and that I was never going to accuse him of going too far. And we agreed from the beginning on the most important element. We all said they can’t just have sex and it be all good. Not after experiencing all of that. He’s a mess mentally and emotionally and physically. The poor guy isn’t even all the way healed, so that’s not going to be enough.
The show incorporated a POV change so that we could see some of it through Jamie’s eyes and experiences, which changed how we learned about the extent of the rape and torture by Black Jack in the end. How did you feel about this change?
I wrote the book in first person because it was my first book, and it was easier. I thought that shift works very effectively because this is a visual medium. I understand the visual media very well as I used to write comic books for Walt Disney, and I’ve written a graphic novel. How you carry a story in pictures is different than how you do it in text. In the book, Jamie is telling her little bits and pieces ex post facto about what he went through. He’s telling very vivid, horrifying little details, but it still doesn’t have quite the impact of seeing those little vivid horrifying details. Imagine how boring a scene [would be] where the camera comes in, and it is focused on their faces as he is brokenly spilling these little bits to her. If you aren’t seeing anything but their faces for 15 minutes, you’d be bored. The way they did it is much more effective in terms of the visual medium.
Speaking of that finale, those were some of the most brutal, dark, intense scenes I have ever seen on TV. I was so impressed by the actors and their willingness to go there. I can’t even with the spitting-in-the-hand moment.
That was not in the script. That was all Tobias. You can always trust Tobias to go there. I trust Tobias with my life.
As they start on season two, what are you most excited/nervous about coming to the screen?
It has got to be the farewell scene at the stones. That’s going to be important and emotional. I don’t think they will mess with that to any perceptible degree. What could you do, really?
I heard you are writing books nine and ten. True? When can we expect the release of book nine?
I am writing nine now, but I am not that far into it yet. It was a busy year so it has been harder to write. Normally it takes me about three years to write one of the big books. It is usually four years between releases because of the huge amount of travel and PR and just nuisance going on around them. I have a lot of pressure from publishers and agents. They keep saying, “When George [R.R. Martin]’s show hit its third season, that is when it broke lose. It would be nice if we had another book to release during your third season.” I can’t write to order, so there are zero guarantees here, and it also depends on how many distracting things I have to do in between. I am aiming for 2017.
Is book ten the end?
I don’t plan the books ahead of time. It’s not like Harry Potter. I don’t work in a straight line. I don’t write with an outline. I write where I can see things happen, and then things get glued together. I do have the final scene, but that really is an epilogue. It’s not part of the plot.