iana Gabaldon inspires deep devotion in her fans. There are readers
who gather to discuss her Outlander series -- romantic sci-fi epics about a
modern English-woman who time-travels back to 18th-century Scotland -- while
wearing tartans and nibbling shortbread. But what pleases her most is when
people think shes a Highland lass herself. "I get mail from
Scotland," says the Arizona-bred author, "asking, How long did
you live here before moving to Arizona?"
In fact, Gabaldon had never set foot on Scottish
soil before starting to write Outlander in 1988, a detail that
hasnt affected her success. Together there are more than 2 million copies
in print of Outlander and its sequels Dragonfly in Amber,
Voyager and her latest, Drums of Autumn, which was an instant
bestseller. Her secret? Meticulous research.
Itís what she was trained for. The daughter of
Flagstaff schoolteachers, Gabaldon, now 45, got a Ph.D. in ecology and wrote
software to "analyze bird gizzards" at Arizona State University.
Inspired by an episode of PBSís Dr. Who that featured a male time traveler
"who looked good in a kilt," she says, she immersed herself in
Scottish history. After she posted excerpts of Outlander on a CompuServe
literary forum, a reader put her in touch with an agent. Soon she landed a
Gabaldon writes about 3 hours a day at the
sprawling Scottsdale home she shares with husband, Doug Watkins, 46, a
property developer, and their children Laura, 14, Samuel, 12, and Jennifer,
10. But back in 1990, she did manage a trip to Scotland. "It was just the
way I imagined it," Gabaldon says. "It felt like coming home."