Diana Gabaldon answers our burning questions about Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone
Warning: This article contains spoilers for Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone, by Diana Gabaldon.
After seven years of a bookish droughtlander, the newest entry in the Outlander saga is finally here.
Diana Gabaldon satisfied all the Sassenachs out there with the release of her ninth Outlander novel, Go Tell The Bees That I Am Gone, on Tuesday. The book picks up right where Written in My Own Heart's Blood left off, with Brianna, Roger, and family returning to Fraser's Ridge (and by extension, Jamie and Claire).
Having once been torn apart by the Jacobite Rising, the Frasers now face another challenge as the American Revolution rages on. They attempt to retreat to a quieter life on Fraser's Ridge, but the tentacles of war are insidious and wide-reaching, and even the North Carolina backcountry isn't free from the conflict.
As tensions rise, Jamie must face up to the fact that his tenants on the ridge hold opposing viewpoints, as war edges ever closer. Meanwhile, Bree and Roger try to readjust to life in the past, while William Ransom struggles to come to terms with his true father's identity — and his own.
Go Tell the Bees may have just dropped, but we're already bursting with queries about the events of the novel and what they could mean for book 10, slated to be the final one in the series. We called up Gabaldon to get answers to all our burning questions, including why she had such a long gap between books this go-round, how she devised the return of some familiar faces, and what that final time-travel twist means for the saga.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: It's been seven years since the last of what you refer to as the "big books" came out, which is the longest gap you've ever had (typically it's about five years). Why do you think this one took longer than all the others?
DIANA GABALDON: Multiple reasons. In my own defense, I must note that I wrote four other books during this time period, which I don't normally do. The other thing was that the show started right when the eighth book was published. I'm a consultant on the show, which means that they show me everything and invite my comment on it, which means while they're filming, I get all of the scripts and eight iterations or so of each script as they come in, and I read them all. I read the season outlines. Also, they send me all the new dailies, which means five days a week, they send me about an hour and a half of really fascinating film clips of the dailies that they've shot that day. Then they send me the edited, completed episodes, and those too go through three or four even five different versions before they settle on what they think is the final one. This means that there's just a lot of really interesting stuff to look at. So that takes up a little more of my time than when that's not happening. It doesn't happen all the time, just during the filming season. But that's nine months at a time, and we've done five seasons in that time. That's 45 months I was engaged in doing that as well as everything else that I do. Also during that seven years we had two grandchildren, so that takes up a little bit of your time.
Over the years you've added more and more points of view for narration in your stories, but I think this book might feature the most. How has that evolved for you, and how do you decide who's voice to include and use where?
It wasn't until I think the fourth or fifth book that someone mentioned, just casually, that I seem to be adding one more point of view per book. I hadn't actually realized that consciously. But in fact, I did. So I wouldn't be at all surprised if there are at least nine points of view in this. As to who it is, some people are just obviously there. Jamie and Claire have very well-developed points of view that I can slip into easily. Likewise Lord John, and William is turning into one of those people. It's just really easy to hear what he's thinking and see what he says.
Was there one who's voice you found you enjoyed writing most this time?
I enjoy them all. If I have trouble with writing one, I usually figure it's not the right viewpoint and I switch to something else. Roger's viewpoint in this one was was different than it usually is, because of the particular conflict that he's dealing with. An interesting thing to try to depict fictionally is why religious people are religious and what they do about it. Because not everybody is and a lot of people think this is nonsense, and "I don't want to read about that" and so forth. So you have to be just very honest about it and put it out there for what it is and do it as well as you can do it. [I sought] the advice of a very nice Presbyterian minister, who's been a fan of mine for years and years. When I began doing Roger like this, I said, "Would you mind looking at Roger's stuff and see if this rings true for you?" Luckily enough she said, "Boy, it really does. That's just how you feel in this particular circumstance." She gave me some really useful anecdotes of her own calling, which I used.
There's always talk of how the Civil War was brother vs. brother and tore apart families, but in some ways the American Revolution was even more so. Was that something you wanted to hammer home in the stories of William and his cousin and the events on the ridge?
It wasn't that I chose that so much as it was intrinsic to the situation. Jamie founded Fraser's Ridge. He attracted a lot of people because he was offering them a good deal on land and so forth. And he's got a naturally charismatic and fair personality. He's a born leader. People gravitate to him. So he's got this nicely settled ridge. On the other hand, he has never messed with people's political beliefs. Up to this point it hasn't been necessary to even ask anybody what they think. And then suddenly he's come back to the ridge after being gone for two years, things have changed, and they're not exactly the way he left them. He does have people who are not devoted to him personally, and who do have different beliefs. This sets up this immediate embedded conflict, because he is fair-minded. He wouldn't push people off or evict them for having different political beliefs. When they start out trying to kill him, then it's a different question.
Amy's death by bear mauling is so brutal. What compelled you to include that and end her life in such a bleak way?
I don't plan the books out ahead of time. I had no idea anybody was going to be eaten by a bear. I had Brianna and Amy out gathering grapes, and it was just atmospheric. They're brushing ants off the grapes and so forth. I was as almost as surprised as Brianna when she turned around and saw Amy lying on the ground with her head in a bear's mouth. After that it just unspooled as you would expect it to, so to speak. But no, I didn't plan that.
You also re-introduce a figure readers were probably surprised to see return, Ulysses. Had you always intended to bring him back into the story, or were you surprised when he turned up on the ridge too?
Now him I planned for. I knew he was coming back. I just didn't know what his circumstances were. But luckily enough, I knew that the British Army solicited slaves to run away from their masters and join the army. This was one of the factors in the Southern campaign, which is important in the American South because there were a lot of slaves. It was an important factor in the Battle of Charleston, in fact, which I hadn't realized until I read up on it. But anyway, once I started seeing that, I was thinking, "Oh, so perhaps this is where Ulysses comes in." I knew he had gone to join Lord Dunmore when he left Jocasta's place because one of Lord Dunmore's things was that he openly solicited runaway slaves or people who were disaffected by the Americans. But he was in Virginia, so I didn't expect that to impinge geographically on the story at all. But then I ran into His Majesty's Company of Black Pioneers. I'm thinking, "Aha, okay, that's where he went." A lot of these things are just fortuitous; they come out of the research. They come along at a spot where I need a particular set of circumstances to occur and I don't know what it is, but I recognize it when I see it.
You have quite the time-travel reveal at the end here, which is that Ezekiel Richardson, who has been a dastardly figure in William's life over several books, is very likely a time traveler and Mike Callahan, the archaeologist, who had his face altered by plastic surgery. How long has that been in the works, and were you tempted to ever reveal it before?
I have known there was something fishy about Ezekiel Richardson. I've had him appearing very briefly since Fiery Cross here and there [Editor's Note: The first mention of Ezekiel Richardson we can find is in An Echo in the Bone], always seeming to be obviously up to something. But I had no idea of what it was he was up to until this book, and that also suddenly revealed itself to me. That led naturally from the Majesty's Company of Black Pioneers, and the Ulysses story line that led me indirectly to this because I did know that slavery had been abolished in Great Britain. And so I had to look up at what time that happened, and that's what I found out the other things about abolishing slavery in their empire possessions, which meant that they held on to the American colonies, slavery would have been abolished there when they won the war. And I thought "Aha, okay, that's what he's there for," you know, that's a big enough surprise to be worth time-traveling and hiding your identity and so forth.
What implications might that have for Bree and Roger and everyone going forward?
I don't really know. The aspect of it that I would be immediately concerned with is William's needs to find and liberate Lord John. He only knows what Percy was able to tell him. And that's as much as he can tell Jamie and Claire. Brianna and Roger may be able to deduce more from from what they personally know as Bree and Roger do. But I don't know. We'll just have to see. As I said, I don't plan the books ahead of time. But he is in play, you might say.
William arrives on the last page asking for Jamie's help. Is it safe to assume that's about Richardson and Lord John?
Yes. He understands Lord John is in considerable danger, because Richardson is using him as a threat to compel the Duke of Pardloe to not give a speech that would affect the course of the war. As a matter of fact, a couple of noblemen and other people did give those speeches and they did affect the decision of the prime minister at the time to abandon the American campaign. Because this was a razor's edge for quite a long time. The rebels would never have won if the British Army had continued their campaign with the full weight of the crown and its financing behind them. They wouldn't have lasted another six months. But with support cut off, the British Army immediately starts to wither and make mistakes and so forth. Even though they engaged with the rebels at Yorktown. Because of this balancing act, essentially, between the British and the Americans at this particular stage, it wouldn't have taken very much to push it one way or the other. It's entirely possible that Hal's speech and his personal influence in the House of Lords would, in fact, have made the difference, that a speech such as Hal's would have moved the prime minister to abandon the American adventure, so to speak, and recall the troops, cut his losses and come home, which is what happened, essentially. It did happen slower than I make it sound, but it did happen that way. And suddenly the Americans were able to win. They won Yorktown for a very specific reason, which we'll deal with in book 10, but that's Claire's personal conflict where that one comes in. That's one of the few things I know. I do usually know a few things going into a new book, I just don't plan them in detail. I know this is going to happen. I don't know where, I don't know why, but it'll reveal itself to me.
Bree has another child in the past in the book. Mandy is what sent her to the future before, so what's the likelihood this is something that could once again separate the Frasers and Mackenzies?
Without revealing too much to the readers about what actually happens at the Battle of King's Mountain, remember the three things that Jaime tells Claire just before the battle? One of those is what Mandy said to him about her little brother. That she can see the other time travelers in her family as red lights and so forth, but she doesn't see or hear Jamie that way. He's not the same color. She remarks that the little baby is the same color as Jamie. Jamie's supposition is that the baby does not have the time-traveling gene, which in fact is a totally realistic expectation because Roger and Brianna are both heterozygous for that gene, meaning they have one time-travel allele and one non-time-traveling allele. It only takes one, and both Jemmy and Mandy got either one or two. We don't know. But it doesn't matter because one would be enough. But baby apparently got the non-traveling alleles from both parents, and therefore is not a time traveler. In other words, he can't go to the future even though his parents and his siblings can. So there's not going to be that kind of conflict.
Bree is determined to figure out why some people can travel through the stones and others cannot. Do you already have that all worked out for yourself?
I know a little bit more than Bree does. But yeah, we're just working out as we go along. I think it would be more believable if we did that, rather than having a story where you meet someone who knows everything and will explain it all to you at the psychologically dramatic moment. There is no authority on time travel. Bree is as close to one as there is with her note-making and so forth. It's possible that in the future her notes might actually be the key to someone who's going to explicate the whole thing. Because while book 10 may be the end of this particular story, it's not the last thing I may write about them. There are always lacunae in all of the books to which I could return with a novella or a stick-in novel like the Lord John ones, things like that. We may return to time travel in a more detailed form. We certainly learn more about it in book 10, but we do not explicate the whole thing there. I do know a few things, but basically we're letting the reader figure it out along with Roger and Brianna. They don't have perfect data. They just have bits of information here and there. They're putting them together and making hypotheses. "Maybe it's this way," and then something else happens and they're like, "Well, no, that couldn't have been that way because it wouldn't have happened this way." And add to their store of knowledge.
What prompted you to bring back Ian's first wife and introduce a child he didn't know he had?
That one is something that I've known for a couple of books was there. Partly it's a conflict with Rachel, that he was married before and he did love his first wife, and was forcibly parted from her. There's got to be some residue of feeling there, which for a young, newly married woman like Rachel, she might reasonably perceive as being something — at least the possibility of distress for the husband that she loves dearly. I wanted to resolve that in one way or another, and I knew how it resolved because I left open the door as to Lizard's parentage ever since Drums of Autumn and Ian talked to Claire at Fort Ticonderoga about the possibilities of his being able to have a baby at all. I was thinking, "Well, given the timing of the arrival of Lizard on the scene, it's possible."
Claire has always been a self-possessed heroine, but she's finally coming into her own in every sense of the word in this book — whether it's her constant place at Jamie's side or her gradual discovery of her power as a healer. Why was now the time for her to reach this place in her journey? Is that a reflection of your own belief of women coming into their own more as they age?
To a certain extent, yes. You reach a certain age and there are certain respects in which you become socially untouchable. You lose your respect for society, I guess. You're not afraid of what people think about you any more. Therefore you don't take any any steps to to make other people feel comfortable around you, which you do when you're younger because you perceive other people as having power over you. And the older you get, the less you think that's true.
Is that something we'll see her continue to develop and get a handle on in book 10?
Yes, you will. That one I can answer because I know what she does with her power in book 10.
How much do the events of this book, particularly as it pertains to Claire and her power, possibly connect back to the series you want to write about Master Raymond?
You probably won't notice the connection immediately directly from this end. You'll see it clearly when I actually do tell Master Raymond's story.
You've teased that you have started book 10. Do you still think it will be the last of the Jamie and Claire saga?
I think so. Because I can see various things dovetailing together. We don't have to actually wrap everything up with — this person's dead, this one's buried. But it has to come to what you might call a dramatically satisfying close. I know what the very end scene of what book 10 is. I just have no idea how we get there.
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