Shawn L. Bird

Original poetry, commentary, and fiction. All copyrights reserved.

Diana Gabaldon said to me… October 20, 2012

The green shoulder is mine. I’m cropped out because I look like a troll in this shot! lol Diana does not seem to be able to take a bad photo! Check out her funky turquoise nails!

Today I had a blue pencil appointment with Diana Gabaldon at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference.  A blue pencil is 15 minutes of time in front of a professional author, who reads a very short selection of your work, and provides some general feedback.

I knew I’d be completely starstruck, so I asked her a month ago via Facebook if it’d be okay if I recorded the conversation, and she was fine with that.

I arrived into the empty seat in front of her desk in a flurry because I’d been in a line and lost track of the time, so I was nearly late for my appointment (and we’re not going to even discuss what a trauma that would have been after counting down, sometimes by the hour, for 135 days!).  I pulled out my scene, which is a very early, poorly cobbled together start to Grace Beguiling, which is/will be a historical/fantasy novel set in 14th century France.  The scene is 6 pages, which is way too long for a blue pencil, so I’d highlighted parts I particularly wanted her feedback on.  She just smiled, said that she was a fast reader, and zipped through the whole thing, laughing out loud in places, and making corrections of typos.  It is very cool to have your favourite author laughing out loud while reading your writing.  It’s a little embarrassing to have your favourite author correcting your typos.

When she was finished reading, I turned my iPhone’s memo recorder on and recorded her observations, suggestions, and reminders.

The part I most wanted to know about (and had spent months researching) she dismissed with a wave as, “Fine.”  We had some discussion about language choice in historical work and development and structuring of a ‘very beginning’ where there needs to be some action to grab the reader and the story must be established right away.  I am so glad I have that recording to remind me of my focus.  Grace Beguiling offers a number of stylistic challenges, and she’s helped me think about how I’m going to solve them.  There was nothing earth shattering, just common sense reiteration of basic principles.  It’s good to hear those words from someone whose knowledge you trust implicitly.  “Remember that…”  Oh right.  I know that.

Do it.

I wish the piece I’d brought wasn’t quite so rough, but it was a worthwhile endeavour.  One quote is going to be artistically rendered and put above my writing desk.

My favourite author, Diana Gabaldon said to me, “You know how to tell a story.”  That will keep me inspired for a very long time.

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21 Responses to “Diana Gabaldon said to me…”

  1. I knew you had no faith you silly girl. Of course she was impressed. You’re a talented lady. I had the pleasure of tweeting this and adding it to my Author Interview board on Pinterest. I wish I knew how to say, ner ner ner ner ner on here xxxx Hugs

    • Shawn Bird Says:

      Ahh. That’s sweet of you. Diana is a very gracious lady. I appreciate her words, but know that she has to be gentle because she’s dealing with fans whose dreams she can crush with an ill-spoken word. She may be inclined to more generous encouragement than not! lol Still, it was pretty great! 🙂

  2. des Says:

    YAY!!! That is wonderful Shawn! 😀 So excited, and more than slightly jealous, of your experience.

  3. sepiastories Says:

    So cool! I don’t remember you saying she had told you that. So, TERRIFIC! 🙂

    • Shawn Bird Says:

      She had another particularly complimentary line, but I’ve completely forgotten it! However, I will transcribe the recording, and then I’ll find it. She is very encouraging.

      • Shawn Bird Says:

        It was, “The writing is very smooth.” Funny, that’s not a huge thing, but one seizes on those good words! It was such a rough scene. It might have been more value to have provided ‘best work’ as opposed to this new beginning of a completely different project than the previous pieces. She said that it was “shaping up really well.” She is very kind.

        I really think it’s a good idea to record the blue pencil. I caught a few things I wouldn’t have remembered.

  4. Susan Maxey Says:

    So happy that you were able to do this!!! What a compliment to have DG say you tell a fine story! Seriously thrilled for you … and she is correct of course.

  5. […] At my blue pencil, Diana and I discussed historical language, dialogue, and whatnot, and while that was important,  what I keep hearing in my head is her laughing voice summarizing,  ”You need to have something happen …   And it needs to be something fairly interesting.” […]

  6. […] At first glance, I thought it should be ’that underlaid the laughter,’ but Diana has corrected my grammar before, so I […]

  7. wordcoaster Says:

    Aw, this is really great! It is so wonderful when people you admire like your work. Speaking of which, thank you so much for following my blog! I’ll definitely be following yours as well 🙂

  8. bethwesson Says:

    Wow. Great idea to record it. You know she told you the same thing she was told, “you know how to tell a story”. She was thrilled and I’m sure you were as well. I appreciated your reflection on her being careful not to crush us and how it might reflect in her comments about your writing. Diana has actually read a least four of my pieces that I know of and her comments were very nice, but I wondered if she was just being kind. But, someone else said, no, she only says what she means. I’ll…go…with…she only says what she means…😜☺️. Thank you for sharing this!

    • She’s said, “You’re a good writer” subsequently, and last year, she told me that she had no suggestions for improvement on the piece I brought her. It was strong and engaging. She asked about the ending, I showed her the synopsis; she said she had some concerns about how I’d handled the last couple of chapters, because it could be trite. She asked me to send her that to look at. I did. She wrote back to say it was great as it was, and to send it to the agent who’d requested it, as it was ready. The agent took it. We’re still waiting to hear back from the publisher where it’s been pitched.


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