Outlander author Diana Gabaldon believes Jamie Fraser would be deeply gratified to have inspired author kc dyer‘s Finding Fraser, a book embraced by fans of Gabaldon’s time-traveling romantic series. Finding Fraser follows the adventures of Emma Sheridan, a young woman who is attempting to find herself while finding her very own Jamie Fraser in Scotland. It was a complete and utter delight to speak to kc dyer about the inspiration for Finding Fraser, her friendship with Diana Gabaldon, her love of Scotland, and the importance of being involved in a writers’ community that supports and mentors one another.
kc dyer Exclusive Interview:
You didn’t tell Diana Gabaldon you were writing the book and instead just sent it to her. What would have happened if she said she didn’t like it?
kc dyer: “I would have put it in the drawer.”
You would have?
kc dyer: “I totally would have. I would have rethought the project. I didn’t write this for her at all. I wrote it for me and I wrote it as a joke. I wrote it to make my friends laugh. I was working on another project. It was my back burner project. It was something I was doing for fun, because my other project was not going very well. I was feeling very discouraged. I just needed something that was fun, right? I wrote it basically pretending everybody was dead. Nobody would ever see it, my friends, my family, Diana, anybody… The problem was that I finished it, just by coincidence – this is the way the world unfolds – I finished it on Valentine’s Day about 2:30 in the morning, my first draft. It can get a little crazy in the middle of the night. I finished it and I thought, ‘Okay, I have to tell her sometime. I’m going to have to tell her. I might as well tell her right now.’ You know, that thing that sweeps over you in the middle of the night when you’re crazy. I wrote her this long letter. We’ve known each other for years. We’ve worked together for a long time. She had no idea this was coming. I totally blindsided her. I wrote her this long letter saying, ‘I’ve written this on a whim.’ I told her the whole story behind it. I thought it was just for fun. But, I didn’t want her to feel I was in anyway taking away from her story.
Diana has very strong feelings about fan fiction. So do I, actually. I have too many ideas in my own head to take somebody else’s characters and write about them. I wanted her to know that. This wasn’t an homage to the world that she had created with Jamie Fraser, that it in no way resembles fan fiction. I just wanted her to know that even if she would hated it, I didn’t think that anyone had ever written her a 100,000-word Valentine before. Then I sent it off. Email, which is once you press send, that’s it. When I woke up the next morning, I was just wrecked. I was laying in bed thinking I can’t believe I didn’t even spell check it before I sent it. I just wanted her to see it, but I didn’t… I would never do that. I would never, ever do that. On every level it was wrong.
I opened my email expecting the worst. She sent me a lovely note back. She hadn’t obviously read it in the three hours between the time I sent it and the time I woke up in this massive fear. She said, ‘I trust you,’ basically. ‘I trust you.’ That really meant a lot. Then when she did read it, she liked it. When she heard that I was going to go ahead and publish it she said, ‘I don’t want anyone to think this is fan fiction. I’m going to give you a quote for the cover.’ That was wonderful because I didn’t ask her for it. She offered it. She is so generous.
It’s been fantastic. The whole process has been really fun. Yes, I didn’t tell her but you can see where, if she didn’t like it, you know, she’s in it. She has to like it. She’s never named, but she’s in it. I didn’t want it to do anything that she would feel in the least bit would leave her with any kind of a bad taste in her mouth. That was my goal. Besides, it was just a fun project. It was only for fun. Rebecca, I’m a Canadian writer. This is my seventh novel. I have toiled in obscurity through the first six. I fully expected to toil in obscurity through the seventh. It has taken off and gone bestseller. It has gone so wild. This has just been fantastic. I didn’t expect any of this when I sent off that un-spell checked email that night long ago. It’s turned out really well. It’s a story with a happy ending.”
It is such an entertaining read and I am so glad she liked it. But, truthfully, I began reading it not knowing your relationship with Diana and I thought for a while that Emma was a real person. You did a wonderful job of creating her.
kc dyer: “You are not the only person to think that she was real. I have had so many letters from people who said, ‘I’m so happy you found your Fraser.’ I have to very politely write back and say, ‘I’m sorry but I’m not Emma.’ Emma comes from me, but so does Jack. So does Hamish and so does Morag. So do the little lambs. They all come from me, but I am not them. I am not looking to find my Fraser. A lot of it is taken from the world I live in because I’m a writer and that’s what we do. Big parts of it actually happened or are stories that people have told me or things that I’ve lived through or seen happen. I wanted to make it the funniest mad cap of the self-exploratory adventure I could.
It was a really cool idea for me to wrap this immature character in the idea that she wants to go out and find someone to make her complete. When in the end, that’s not at all what happens. Actually the criticism that this story has taken is it often centers around Emma. ‘Come on! Knock yourself in the head. You’re acting like a teenager!’ That’s who she was. She couldn’t get her act together. This was her experience. This was her life-changing experience that helped her get her act together. It was kind of fun to go along with her.”
Did you know the end of her journey as you were writing page one?
kc dyer: “No idea. I just have to have this on the record because we live in a world where people really like an outlines. I never write to an outline.”
Good for you.
kc dyer: “I have an idea of what I want to happen. I did not have any idea what was going to happen. I just went with the old subconscious and off we went. Obviously, I feel like in any story – I don’t feel the writer owes the reader a happy ending, ever. I think you owe, as a storyteller, your audience the right to feel satisfied at the ending on some level. There is some level of satisfaction, even if it is not the happy ending you were expecting. I mean, this is not the happy ending that Emma was expecting. The stories that I write are to leave the reader closing a book and feeling like, ‘Awww, okay.’ There is some level of satisfaction.”
That’s important. I know as a reader I need that. I expect that and I’m disappointed when I don’t get it.
kc dyer: “Yes, me too. Also, I’m a big believer in characters in stories. The characters in stories are so important to me. I just really feel like they drive it. In this case I want every character in the story that you come across, any main character anyway, to actually feel like they are three-dimensional. I want you to believe that Morag has a life outside of walking onto the screen in Emma’s story. I want you to believe that this thing that is going on with her and the farmer next door is significant to her. She’s pulled her life together and she is a real person. She is to me.”
Speaking of your characters, is there one in particular you found most enjoyable to write? Not Emma, but a supporting character?
kc dyer: “Emma drives the story, but Emma is exasperating. She’s in many ways the least interesting character for me in the story. I had so much fun with Susan because to me she had to be legit as well. She’s a hero of her own story. She might be the villain in Emma’s story, but she’s the hero in her own story. Every step along the way she takes she feels that she’s doing the right thing at that moment. It might not be the right thing to everybody else, but it’s the right thing for her. She was a lot of fun because she was such a chameleon. She was a lot of fun to write.
Of course, I really love Jack. I wanted to make him human, too. He has his flaws. There’s this scene where he’s going to do this reading and Emma stumbles into it in Edinburgh and then she is sort of massively trying to fake that she meant to do that. She doesn’t want to hurt his feelings. She sees that there’s 50 chairs and three people in the chairs and she’s one of the three. Let me tell you, every writer that you meet will have had that experience. I have had that experience. Everybody. It’s the most mortifying thing when you go in to do a reading and there would be nobody there. He’s a nice guy. He’s a writer. He’s aspiring. He’s trying to do the best that he can. He feels like he’s almost got success, but he’s not quite there. Then, instead of saying, ‘Oh, that was amazing. I just had the best time.’ She says, ‘Well, here’s what you can do to fix things.’ That’s so obnoxious! Of course, he thanks her very politely and then quietly leaves without saying too much at all. Basically, he’s just devastated by this.
Writing him was really fun because he’s a writer. So I get him, right? He’s human. I also was naming the character after someone I know, and that was fun too.”
While you were writing Finding Fraser, did you ever have a problem pulling yourself back from following one particular character too much when it needs to be Emma’s story? Are there pages that didn’t make it into the book because you went off on little tangents?
kc dyer: “Yes, for sure, especially because I don’t write to an outline. There are always extraneous plots, but it always gets used somewhere. I write all the time. It always gets pulled in somewhere. Like with Jack for example, I have had a lot of people write me and say, ‘Oh, I really want more Jack. When’s the next story coming? I want to hear what happens1″ I did that on purpose. I put as little in about him as I could. Obviously, there has to be enough of him to sustain his role in the story. You’ll notice there’s a lot of Hamish. The more we see of Hamish, the more we know him. For Jack, I was saying to myself, ‘Not too much Jack. Take it easy with him.’ Think about the world we live in right now. Reality TV and these reality stars, there are people who are out there that want to expose their whole life. The mystique of the movie star is gone. I think that part of the fun of getting to know people is uncovering the mystery in them. To lay it all out on the page sometimes takes away that mystery. For me, to have a little bit of unknown there is a good thing. It makes it more intriguing.”
Will Jack show up in your eight, ninth, or tenth books?
kc dyer: “You know, nobody’s asked me to do a sequel yet. I would like to.”
Maybe a spin-off of Jack’s story?
kc dyer: “I think that would be really fun to write. I have lots of ideas for that. But we have to see how the world unfolds. We have to make sure enough people like this book first before we talk about another one.
I’m actually still working on the other project which is a really big project that I was working on and the reason I started writing this book. I am almost done now, thank goodness. I started writing it in 2006, so 10 years is long enough for any project. It’s going to be five books when it is done. I’m sort of comforting myself with that thought. It is just an epic story. It’s YA, so it’s not even the same market that this one is. But I am definitely contracted to write another book at some point – a grown up book. It will definitely be a romantic comedy.”
Five books over a 10 year period?
kc dyer: “That’s my back burner project. I’ve actually had a few other books published in the meantime.”
How do you keep yourself from going crazy writing that big of an epic story over a five book, 10 year span?
kc dyer: “You don’t. You’re talking to a crazy person. [Laughing] My kitchen wall is covered with like… You know in mysteries on TV? Like on CSI, whenever they uncover the bad guy, they go into his lair and you see all the walls are covered with pictures of the woman he’s been stalking, all the details. You look at this and you think, ‘Holy, moly. That guy’s paranoid or crazy.’ That’s what my kitchen looks like! I have timelines. It’s because it’s a time travel story. It’s epic. It takes place over a thousand-year span. I have timelines and plot outlines. I said to you earlier in this conversation that I don’t write to an outline, and I don’t. But, I have to go back when I’m writing something this vast and sort out all the details. Make sure everything ties up together, look at all my loose ends, follow all the character arcs. That is all on my kitchen wall. It definitely looks like a house of a mass murderer.”
Do you have to be equally passionate about each of the five books in the series or is it more like you can’t wait to move on from book three to get to book four?
kc dyer: “I have to say, I’ve never done anything like this. I’ve got one three book series. I’ve got one two book series. Then I’ve got two stand-alones. I did not know when I started that this would be five books. I didn’t know until probably I got three or four years into the process. I think what happened, at least in my case… I never try to speak for other writers, everyone has their own process. In my case, what happens is I fall in love with the story. The story that I’m working on is always my favorite. After you’ve written a few books people say, ‘Which one is your favorite? Was it your first one?’ My first one was so much my favorite when I was writing it. Then, I’m writing something else and that has to capture my whole imagination. I don’t think it would be worth writing if I didn’t fall massively in love with it. That’s actually what has happened here. I’ve so massively fallen in love with this story. The problem is getting it all down. I think the reason it’s taken so long is that I’m distractible and I’ve written a few other books in between. But also because it’s a big world-building exercise, I’ve had to create this whole universe and it’s going to be pretty epic when it’s all done. You start with one book and suddenly, bam, you’ve got more. I’m just really lucky that I’ve got the best job in the world.”
Is it nice to be able to do something for a living that you’re so passionate about?
kc dyer: “It is the best. It is the best thing ever. As I say, my first six books I completely toiled in obscurity. I wasn’t making very much money at it. I’ve been very happy that I’ve actually made grown up money on [Finding Fraser]. It’s really nice. My kids don’t know what to do. My kids have grown up watching me, they’re in their early 20s and they’ve grown up watching me have this…I love what I do, but never ever had financial success with it. It’s kind of shocking for them to see something come out of me that’s doing well.”
I’m wondering if you ever had a different fictional character in mind if the story didn’t work centering around Jamie Fraser?
kc dyer: “No. Come on! Is there anyone else in the world? Realistically, as a reader – because all writers are readers first – everybody falls in love with characters from books. Right? Like when you’re a little kid it’s Winnie the Pooh or Anne of Green Gables. For me it was the Wart in the Once and Future King who grew up to become King Arthur. That was a pivotal book when I was growing up. Lord of the Rings, reading about Frodo or Bilbo. I was a little kid when I read those books. I fell for those characters. What I was doing with Emma, it was clear that Emma needed to fall for a romantic hero. To my mind, the quintessential romantic hero is Jamie Fraser. He was just so perfect for this story. So, no, I didn’t have a fall back. I wasn’t going to go back and rewrite it with Mr. Darcy. It wasn’t going to happen.”
Have you ever waited for hours to see somebody?
kc dyer: “Many times. So many times. There’s a scene in the book where Emma, who had never come across fan fiction and she’d never actually heard a writer speak in person, she went to see Neil Gaiman and she had to sit in the overflow room. I tried to see Neil Gaiman and I didn’t make it in. One time I stood in line for David Sedaris. He came to Maine and he would read his stories out loud on ‘This American Life’ on NPR. He is an essayist; he writes about his own life. They are priceless stories. They are so funny and he is so self-deprecating. He came to Maine and I stood in line for him for hours and I didn’t have a ticket but somebody came and said, ‘I’ve got a ticket I don’t want. So I got to get in. I listened to him. He did his talk, his reading. Afterwards, he filled this auditorium that’s at the university and it’s a decent sized auditorium. It’s where they graduate and the place has got a lot of seats. He sat there until everyone’s book was signed. Everyone who wanted a signature, he waited. It was hours that he did that. I thought, ‘You know what? This is a guy who appreciates the people who are his readers.’ That was pretty awesome. That has really set a tone for my own life as a writer, too.”
Do you make a point of doing that?
kc dyer: “For sure. Of course. I have an interesting route that I came to this. I’m a member of the board of directors of the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. This is a big writers conference we hold every year here in Surrey, British Columbia. I first heard about this when I joined a writers’ forum that Diana was on in about 1996, I think. I live in a little village on the side of a mountain up by Vancouver. In those days we just had dial-up. The only internet connection I could get was through CompuServe. That was pretty wild because that’s an American company. I couldn’t even get a Canadian company. When I went on I discovered that they had a readers’ and writers’ forum. At that time I had started to write. My kids were really small. I was writing freelance as a journalist, but I wanted to write fiction. On this writers’ forum that I joined, one of the sysops, one of the people that manage the site was Diana Gabaldon. I thought, ‘Oh, I’m sure I’ve heard the name somewhere.’ Everyone was talking about this Surrey Writers’ Conference. I was thinking one day I’ll save my money, because I thought it was in Surrey, England. [Laughing] It turned out it was like 50 miles from me.
I went to my first conference and I was so thrilled by the idea that people would help each other, that other writers would help each other, that I thought, ‘I’m going to write a book.’ I went away and the following year I wrote a book, mostly after midnight, because my kids were really little. I got this book finished and I thought I’m going to take it to this writers’ conference and I’m going to pitch it there. Sure enough, Diana was there. This is how we got to know each other before the turn of the century. Since then, I have gone on to pen that book. It took me two years, but I published my very first book that I wrote out of the inspiration I got from being on the writers’ forum and doing this writers’ conference. I’m still involved with this conference. I’ve been on the board of directors ever since. It’s really awesome because it’s a great way to help other writers. That is something that I do. It has always defined who I am as a writer. It is really cool to see in that case with David Sedaris. I know Gaiman does that. A lot of good writers take the time for their readers. In this day and age, how can you not?”
It’s interesting that you don’t hear much about writers helping other writers.
kc dyer: “That is very true. You know what? It’s because it doesn’t happen a lot. But if you can get into an environment where it does happen, it is like gold. This conference that I’m involved with, the writers come from all over the world. This year we are going to have more than 50 writers, agents, editors, and publishers. They all come for the weekend. You walk in the door, you check your ego at the door and everybody is just a writer, whether you’ve been published or not, whether you are New York Times bestseller or not. Diana’s going to be there. We’ve had the most brilliant people, Jack Whyte, Anne Perry, this year Jasper Fforde is coming, Cat Rambo. Chuck Wendig was there last year, Sam Sykes. We have all genres. It’s really a cool experience because we also have tons of beginning writers, but also we have tons of widely published writers that just come for the professional development. To come hang with their friends and learn something new maybe about how to get their word out on the internet, or how to network, or how to work with other writers, how to self publish, how to be a hybrid publisher. Hybridly publish, which is when some of your work is traditionally published and you self-publish other parts of your work.
It’s a very cool experience and it’s very, very helpful for people who are just breaking into the whole industry. It is a really complicated industry. You have to be so good at what you do. You have to be a brilliant storyteller and then also be so lucky. It’s unlike a merit-based job anywhere. You can be the best storyteller and still just not get your book in the right place at the right time. We try to distill whatever magic we can and give writers the tools that they need to get their work out there.”
How has social media evolved and changed the way you interact with your readers or publicize your work?
kc dyer: “That’s a really good question. It has changed everything. As a writer, you really have to have a social media presence. Even if you are incredibly anti-social, you still need to have that online presence. Actually, it’s very helpful if you are shy or introverted to be able to have that screen to hide behind. You can still get your work out there and not have to have yourself right in front of the stage. I was a teacher before I was a writer so I’m really comfortable talking in public, but lots and lots of writers are not. Social media is really very important. For me in particular with this last book, Finding Fraser, when I tell you I wrote this book having no idea that it would succeed – all my other books have done fine and I thought this book would do fine, too. What I didn’t anticipate, what I didn’t foresee at all, I wrote this book before there was a television series for Outlander. On the last edit, I had to go in and make a few changes because Emma is a purist. She is only a reader and she hasn’t looked at the television series. A reality of the television series is that it has increased the awareness of the book as well. There is a massive fandom out there. I was very lucky that most of them can relate to Emma. They can relate to falling for Jamie Fraser and so they’ve taken the book to heart. They have talked about it with each other.
This is where Facebook comes in handy. If I post something on Facebook to say I’m going to do a signing, then people will repost it to their friends. ‘Did you see this?’ This book has been purely word of mouth from day one. Ironically, that’s really what happened with Diana’s books, too. It was entirely a word of mouth book for many, many years. The way that word was spread was on the internet. It is very interesting. It would be worth a college course, I think.”
It’s also amazing that Outlander fans really do take trips to Scotland, but you weren’t aware of that when you wrote Finding Fraser.
kc dyer: “No, I had no idea. It was really funny. Actually, since the book has come out, people keep sending me clips online, URLs of various people who have taken these journeys. Or, they write to me. Before the book came out we created a website for Emma which has her travels and some of her pictures from her travels and stuff on it. I had to put up ‘Fraser Fan Page’ on it because I had so many people sending me their love stories of how they found their Fraser. These were so beautiful. I wanted to have a place for them to put them. ‘Here’s how I met my Jamie,’ they’d say. I love that! I really wanted to have a place to celebrate that, too. I had no idea about any of this. This is all serendipity. This has just been the most amazing journey.”
If you were to return to Scotland and you only had one hour to explore, where would you go?
kc dyer: “I would probably go to Edinburgh Castle because you can see the most in an hour there. You would get the most bang for your buck there. I took Emma there. You go there and your heart just swells with the beauty of the place. I’ve actually lost my daughter to all of this. I’ve obviously taken her there too many times. The first time I took her, I think she was 11 when I was writing my very first book that was called Seeds of Time. It was set in Scotland. I took her back two or three times after that. Then when she was in university she had a chance for an exchange, so she took a year at Edinburgh. Then as soon as she came home, she finished her degree and went straight back and got her Masters. Now she’s at the University of Edinburgh getting her PhD. That’s it, she’s gone! She’s got a Scottish boyfriend. I look at it this way: I can go visit her in Edinburgh.”
That gives you a perfect reason to go.
kc dyer: “Talking about the book and Scotland, obviously the whole ‘Emma going on the journey to see who she is and find her inner Claire’ is key but the second most important part of this book was the fact that it is a love letter to Scotland. It is a country that I love very much. I go there as often as I can. I have explored all the corners and crannies of it. I tried to put as much of that love on to the page as I could, so that people could go on that journey with Emma. They can actually travel through Scotland with her and see what she sees. From being chased by the naked fishmonger along the bridge in Glasgow, up to what it was like walking on the shores of Moray Firth and seeing the dolphins in the water. I really wanted it to be a vivid backdrop for this story. It is such a beautiful country.”
Do you remember what it felt like the first time you visited Culloden?
kc dyer: “Oh, yeah, vividly. Culloden in the book is a scene where poor Emma massively gets the wool pulled over her eyes. But the actual setting of Culloden is so skin-crawlingly real for me. The first time I was there I had my children with me. We were trying to figure out how they would ever have a battle on these lumpy fields that were, at the time, filled with black sheep. When we were walking through, black sheep were everywhere grazing on the field. As soon as I was out there, it takes the words out of your mouth, obviously. It takes your breath away. I had such an eerie feeling. It’s such a tiny, tiny place.
The English army massacred the Scots there, just flattened them. But quite a few Englishmen died, too, certainly. Maybe 20 died as well. Both leaders were 25 years old. Both of them were 25 years old, leading those two armies into battle. This is what we don’t remember. So many of the Scots were not soldiers. They were not trained at all. They were there just doing the best that they could with what paltry weapons they had at the time, which were very little. They were cut down in their prime. They were being led by 25 year olds. These were all babies. It’s just very dramatic, very beautiful country. My family comes from there. I feel very connected.”
Your love of Scotland drips off the pages of your book.
kc dyer: “That’s wonderful. I’m delighted to hear that, because I’m totally inclined to be a smart ass. [Laughing] I don’t want the smart ass to overtake the all the dramatic possibilities.”
I have to ask you about Emma’s relationship with her sister. Is that based on anyone in particular?
kc dyer: “Listen, I admit to nothing. The thing about Sophia is that Sophia is the angel on Emma’s shoulder. She comes across sounding so severe, so together. You know what? To give some balance to Emma’s character there has to be a Sophia. Because if Emma just goes through life with no one ever calling her on her craziness, then there’s no consequence. Sophia exists to let Emma push against her. She’s her younger sister. She’s younger, she’s married – successfully married. She’s a successful business woman. She knows how to dress. She has hand-tailored suits. She’s cute. She’s got it together. She’s everything, but Emma does not want to be Sophia. She does not want that. But there needs to be a Sophia for Emma to push against to figure out what she does want.”
Everybody needs a Sophia.
kc dyer: “Right. I feel kind of sorry for Sophia because she really does worry. Because of the nature of Emma’s journey, she’s blogging about the journey, the only communication apart from that very first meeting where they meet in person at the beginning to define sort of who Sophia is, we only see her through her words on the page. You have this email that is stripped of emotion. If you come across this very chilly and demanding and not at all a romantic character, that helps Emma because she gets irritated by that. I think underneath they love each other and I think that is evident. I think that we can see that Sophia is truly, truly worried for her crazy sister and truly wants the best for her even though she doesn’t maybe know what’s the best for Emma. She’s a really good pushing off point for Emma. I loved writing Sophia. I loved Sophia’s email.
I also loved HiHoKitty. HiHoKitty is the dreamer. She’s a romantic. She believed in Emma when no one else did. Even Emma wasn’t sure that she was a real person. Then of course at the very end of the book – a lot of people don’t pick up on this – but when HiHoKitty makes it to Scotland with her book group, Emma passes them and of course they never know. She just sees this group of dark haired women that are coming through making peace signs. She never knows that it is HiHoKitty. I love that relationship because I have had relationships like that. Maybe not adoring ones like that butut where people I have known only online, have influenced what I’ve done in my life. I’ve come to meet them in real life and become dear friends with them.”
I was going to ask you if HiHoKitty was someone real.
kc dyer: “She’s totally not. She’s completely a figment of my imagination. I love the idea of her, because she is the counterbalance to Sophia. You asked me about Sophia and Sophia is the relationship that we don’t choose our relatives and we can’t choose that Sophia is her sister. She feels no support from Sophia at all, but HiHoKitty is the balance for that because she can say, ‘Well, you might not like what I’m doing, but look this person here does.’ And Sophia is so dismissive of this figment of her internet imagination. She feels like, ‘I don’t even know if that’s a real person. Is she even a real person?’
It’s good because we all have this push and pull in our life. That’s what drives us forward, right? You take a stand against something, or you believe in something, or you run away from something. All those elements are at play here with Emma in her life. She has a very much a push-pull relationship with her sister.”