Wednesday, December 3, 2008

UK Cover Proof for ECHO

I just got the cover proof for the UK edition of AN ECHO IN THE BONE. As usual [g], this is Completely Different from the US design--but also different from the most recent UK versions of the series cover, because we have a new UK publisher for ECHO--Orion.

The cover is really striking, and I like it (slight quibble with the typography and balance of the title, but art departments routinely mess with those things; this isn't a finished product, by any means).

Anyway, I asked the editor whether Orion would mind my showing it to you--since y'all were so interested and helpful in the question of the new US cover--and he said that would be great; he'd be very interested to hear your comments.

Only difficulty being that I don't know whether I can insert a .jpg into this blog--or if so, how. Do any of y'all have any good technical advice? (If I can't post it here, I'll put it up on my website, but that takes a bit longer.)


OK, I _think_ I've got it. Let's see now...OK! I think it worked.

Really striking, as I say--the gradations of blue are gorgeous; don't know how well they'll show up here. And the leaf in the center is--they tell me--going to be embossed in gold foil, so will be much more visible. (I was impressed that somebody thought about it enough to come up with the skeletal leaf as a non-bony [g] metaphor for the title.)

Anyway, let me know what you think!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Thanksgiving: Gravy, Graves, and Sex-Drunk Hoot-Owls

My apologies for taking so long to get my Thanksgiving wishes up for you. Thanksgiving was delightful, but busy—the Most-Eaten dishes (the ones everyone gobbles and raves over—it's different every time) this time were a new one, mushroom pate' surrounded by sliced pears sprinkled with gorgonzola crumbles and walnuts and drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette (served with fresh French bread)—and the always popular standby, deviled eggs. [g]

I did the usual fruit-stuffed turkey (a couple of nice people had seen me mention this and asked for the recipe—I don't think you could actually dignify it by calling it a "recipe"; I literally stuff the turkey with fruit (and onions and garlic and baby carrots—but mostly whatever's in the fruit bowl; this year it was apples, oranges, and grapes, and I forgot to buy baby carrots). I don't like bready stuffing or dressing, and since I'm cooking, I get to eat what I like (the main reason for cooking, if you ask me)), but since I was lacking carrots and used oranges (which I usually don't), the bird was even juicier than usual—the benefit of this particular stuffing method is that you never have a dry turkey, and the subsequent gravy is wonderful; light and very flavorful (now I do sort of have a gravy recipe, which I'll post on the website, along with a Thanksgiving excerpt from AN ECHO IN THE BONE——and consequently arrived on the platter in several pieces [cough].

Well, you're just going to carve it up anyway…though I must here recount an anecdote my husband told me: his mother—a famously good cook, and justly proud of it—had guests one Thanksgiving, and Something Happened to the turkey, causing it to literally collapse. One of the guests viewed the wreckage on the platter, laughed, and said, "Kay, that bird looks like somebody shot it out of the sky with a howitzer!" My mother-in-law—also famously red-headed, and with a famous temper to match—replied, "If you think you can do it better, you son-of-a-b!tch, fix it yourself! Get out of my house!" (My husband says the guest didn't leave, but apologized, and a nice meal was eventually had by all.)

So a lovely time was had by all here, too, followed by a pleasantly langourous evening. Friday I arose refreshed, and—not being reckless enough to go anywhere near a shopping mall on Black Friday—spent the whole day working on manuscripts: writing another 2000 words of AN ECHO IN THE BONE, and copy-editing for my son, who's just finishing up the final stages of his first novel (yes, if and when it gets published, I'll tell you all about it). Followed by a late-night turkey sandwich on whole-wheat bread with sliced pears, walnuts and gorgonzola (and a little mayonnaise to keep the walnuts from falling out), with a glass of white wine—the best part of a Thanksgiving weekend.

Fine. So yesterday, I had it in mind to answer email, finish writing an update for the website, choose an excerpt to post, and possibly begin the Christmas cards (no, don't write to tell me to skip the Christmas cards so I can finish the book; I only send cards to distant relatives, close friends, editors, and agents, and I can manage twenty Christmas cards without slowing my progress appreciably). The universe had other plans.

Yesterday has to have been one of the more surreal days in a life that's contained quite a few. As I was brushing my teeth, my husband came in and suggested that as the weather was nice (it had rained for the preceding three days), we might drive down to Tucson, and visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, since we hadn't been there for ages. (This is a wonderful outdoor live "museum," featuring the animals, ethnography, geology, and botany of the Sonoran and Anza-Borrego Desert. We've been members for years, and usually get down there every three or four months. If any of you who live in the area or pass through are interested, here is their website.)

I thought this was a terrific idea. The email and Christmas cards could certainly wait, and if I took a wodge of Sam's manuscript to proof-read in the car, I'd still end up with my evening work hours free and clear to work on ECHO, so why not? (Besides, when you're a writer, you have to prioritize, in order to get the important things done. My personal priorities are 1) family, 2) book, 3) exercise, and 4) garden. You'll notice that "housework," "TV watching," and "taking part in casting discussions" aren't on that list. Going to the ASDM with Doug definitely falls under #1 there, and also neatly takes care of #3, as circumnavigating the whole place is easily a three or four-mile walk.)

So away we went, and had a wonderful time. The weather was ideal—about 68 degrees, clear and bright—and all the animals were out. The animal residents of the Museum are mostly in natural-habitat (very large) enclosures, which means that it's just about as easy to spot them in there as it would be in their natural habitats. We normally manage to see about 2/3 of them, but seldom spot the wild turkeys, the deer, or the coyotes.

We'd been batting a thousand, though, approaching the coyote habitat (which is a huge enclosure liberally studded with rocks, mesquite, cactus and….well, they essentially just put up invisible mesh around a quarter-acre of desert); we'd seen mountain lion, bobcats (gato montes; all the legends and signs are bilingual, and it's very entertaining to back-translate the Spanish names, on occasion. "Cat of the mountains," it means), porcupine, gray fox, wolves (curled up asleep, but still, we saw them), and the turkey (very gorgeous in the sunlight, with his red head and blue and green iridescent feathers—a far cry from the overbred white creatures who end up on Thanksgiving platters—and remind me sometime to tell you the story of my husband, my father-in-law, the cattle round-up, and the ten thousand white turkeys…), and the deer.

So we were making bets on our chances of seeing a coyote—remarking as we did so that in fact, our chances of seeing a coyote were a lot better at home than they were at the ASDM. We live right in the middle of Scottsdale, but coyotes routinely roam our neighborhood; one day we were driving down our street and saw an enormous coyote sitting at the bus stop on the corner, completely nonchalant. I often see them crossing streets in broad daylight, and last New Year's Day, found myself following one up the street—this is a completely urban part of town, mind—while out for a walk, and often hear them carrying on at night. (Coyotes do not actually "howl," btw. Wolves howl. Coyotes gibber, wail, and laugh like maniacs. That's not a figure of speech, either; they laugh like maniacs, and it's one eerie thing to listen to in the dead of night, which is when I usually hear them.)

Well, it was a day in a thousand—we saw not one, but two coyotes, trotting up and down about their business. We also saw the beaver (who was awake, for once), the river otter, prairie dogs, chipmunks, a herd of javelina, and more snakes than you could shake a stick at. (To say nothing of all the cool geology and mineral exhibits, but you can pretty much count on the spectacular chunks of wulfenite, azurite, and malachite still being where you saw them last, waiting patiently to be admired again.)

Rolled home, accompanied by Doug, a Dove ice-cream bar, and a large chunk of son's manuscript (good book, I'm pleased to report). It's nearly winter, and the days are drawing in; it's getting dark by 5:30, which is when we arrived home, and the Great Horned owls were At It already. (Late November/early December is their courting season, and they're hooting to and fro in ecstasy all night long. One of them was sitting in a tall palm tree right next to our house—and if you don't think seeing a Great Horned owl in a palm tree is a slightly surreal experience…)

My first act on returning home, when Sam is visiting, is to greet his dogs (the Little Bad Dogs, aka Charlie the corgi and Otis the pug) and march them directly out back to go potty, as they're very unreliable about this duty if not sternly supervised, dog-door notwithstanding.

We stepped out through the back door of the garage—and they immediately shot for the Back Forty (as we refer to the wild half-acre that forms the back half of our property; there are a couple of horse corrals with a ramada back there, and a tackroom (no, no horses at present; there have been and likely will be again at some point, but none now), but otherwise nothing but eucalyptus trees (the owls adore these), mesquite, palo verde and vast expanses of tumble-weed), barking. I looked to see what they were barking at, didn't spot anything (no surprise), and paused to have a quick look at the garden and draw up a mental chore list for Sunday afternoon (prime gardening time): prune back grapevines, finish harvesting pomegranates (we had a plague of woodpeckers this year, so the crop is much reduced), rip out wads of mint, trim and fertilize the roses…emerging from the garden, I saw that Otis and Charlie were still out back; I could see them under the big eucalyptus, sniffing around.

OK, slight digression here. We had to put down our oldest dog (Really Old. I estimated that in dog years, she was 112. We'd been checking her every morning for the last year, to see if she was still breathing. She was, but having an increasingly hard time of it, poor old thing), Molly, about ten days ago. We bury all the dogs under the big eucalyptus out back, and had planted Molly with due ceremony next to her old pal, Ajax.

It's not unusual for dogs to go smell and scratch at the grave of a recently deceased acquaintance—this behavior usually followed by ceremonially peeing on the gravesite—so I thought that's what Otis and Charlie were about, and strolled out to join them, thinking to pay my respects and put a rose on the grave (the roses do very well this time of year, since it's finally cool enough that the fresh blossoms don't fry on emergence).

Now, it was getting dark, and a good thing, too. For a minute or two, I had no idea what I was looking at. Then I knew what I was looking at, but no idea why I was looking at it. Somebody had shoveled most of the dirt out of Molly's grave, revealing the neat rectangle Doug had made for her—and there was something blobbish, dark, wet and nasty-looking in it. A second later, I realized that the wet-and-nasty was what was left of Molly—this realization aided by the presence of wads of wiry gray hair all over the place (Molly went to the vet's once, and the vet's assistant, passing the door of the exam room, paused and said sympathetically, "Oh—a bad hair day every day, huh?"). The dogs and I were nonplused.

Went and summoned Doug and Sam, with shovels, and we held a hasty reprise of the funeral, this one much less ceremonious, ending in the placement of a chunk of old swimming pool fence over the site to prevent further desecration. Our best guess was that coyotes had dug up and half-devoured the remains—which was rather a sobering thought, as the entire yard is surrounded by a six-foot concrete block and stucco wall. I knew coyotes could jump, but…

Well, no one in the family is what you'd call squeamish, so we repaired inside for a post-Thanksgiving supper of pancakes and turkey with butter and maple syrup (pancakes being Doug's piece de resistance, and very tasty they are, too). Tidied up, read a bit while Doug watched football, tucked him in, and prepared to go lie down for a quick evening nap before starting work. Took Otis and Charlie out for a potty-break.

Once again, they shot for the Back Forty, barking their heads off. Followed them at a dead run (in my red flannel pajamas and Uggs, mini-flashlight in hand). Luckily, there was nothing in the yard—but there was what sounded like a sizable pack of coyotes directly on the other side of the back wall (there's a narrow service alley back there, between us and the neighbors on that side), yipping, gibbering and laughing their heads off. Not what you want to hear at 10 o'clock of a dark night, with sex-drunk owls hooting to and fro overhead, a desecrated grave full of ghastly remains at your feet, a pug Who Knows No Fear (Otis being certifiably insane; he's the sort who loves to hop up and down, frothing at the mouth and calling big dogs bad names in public, secure in the knowledge that he's on a leash) shrieking abuse at them from close range, a corgi also shaped like a coyote snack also barking, but from a slightly more prudent distance (Charlie's bred for a cow-dog and thus possessed of common sense)—and the certain knowledge that those gibbering maniacs can indeed get over that wall if they want to.

After a certain amount of yelling and flashlight brandishing—and running down Otis the Fathead and snaffling him by the collar—we repaired inside, locked the panel over the dog-door (hey, if they're going to come pillage the family cemetery, what's to stop them coming right on in after the dog food?), lay down, and passed out. Temporarily.

The phone rings, waking me out of a sound sleep, so I'm more than slightly confused to hear my younger daughter telling me that her friend (visiting from New York) is in terrible pain, and they think she needs to go to the hospital, but she (the friend) won't go without me. (Longtime childhood friend of Jenny's, deplorably estranged from her parents for years. I'm sort of a surrogate mother.)

Shaking my head in hopes of clearing my wits enough to drive, I go wake Doug to tell him where I'm going and assure him that he doesn't need to come with me, get dressed, stuff a cold-pak from the freezer and a bottle of ibuprofen into my purse, and go—pausing on my way out to grab the folder containing Sam's manuscript (I've been in emergency rooms before. No matter what the situation, you're probably going to want something to read).

Arrive to find the poor girl writhing in pain, unable to find a comfortable position that will ease it, terrible pain from the middle of her back down her right arm, pins-and-needles…Jenny and another friend had taken her to an urgent care facility earlier in the day, where they diagnosed the problem as muscle spasm/possible pinched nerve, and prescribed her a painkiller. Painkiller is obviously not working, and now it's 11 PM. Tried a little trigger-point massage, just in case—it helped slightly, but pain resumed full-force as soon as I stopped, and when we asked if she thought she needed to go to the emergency room, she said she did.

So the four of us—C. (the injured friend) lying on a seat, writhing and emitting small, pitiful cries, Jenny, self, and other friend taking it in turns to rub her neck or her arm or chafe her hands for distraction—spent an hour in the lobby (luckily, it wasn't a busy night), chatting and making remarks under our breaths about the other people in the waiting room, who were the usual motley crew one sees in an emergency room on a Saturday night, including a young man who looked as though he'd been living in a dumpster with an ice-bag on his head (that is, he had the ice-bag on his head in the waiting room, not in the dumpster), accompanied by his much spiffier girl-friend, a buxom specimen with drug-googly eyes and a large coat on which was painted in big red and green letters, "Kill the Brain and the Whole Ghoul Dies". Not that we looked that great, all things considered, but still.

Four hours later, staggered (literally; C. had been given Valium, a shot of muscle relaxant and some Very Potent painkiller—sufficiently potent that she couldn't keep it down, and barfed twice getting from the emergency room to the car—a distance of about a hundred feet) out of the hospital, drove the girls to Jenny's place, and made my way home—just in time to take Otis and Charlie out again. This time, I took them into the inner yard, and they accomplished their business at 4 AM by the peaceful glow of Christmas lights, the night now silent save for the soft Hoo! Hoo-hoo! (male owls hoot once, females twice) of love in the trees.

And I hope all y'all had a lovely weekend, too! [g]

Monday, November 10, 2008


I've been getting a number of enquiries, since press releases have started appearing about the movie production of OUTLANDER—excited folk asking "Is it true?" "When?" and (I hope you'll pardon a brief roll of the eyes here), "Who would you cast?" (I couldn't begin to guess how many thousands of times I've been asked that over the last twenty years.)

It's very early days as yet, but I'll answer what I can.

Yes, Essential Productions is developing OUTLANDER as a "major motion picture." (What that means is that they want to make a two-to-two-and-a-half hour feature film.)

And yes, Randall Wallace (the talented gentleman who wrote both BRAVEHEART and PEARL HARBOR—hey, ancient Scots and WWII, how about that?) is writing the script.

No, I have absolutely nothing to say about the casting of the movie. The production people do occasionally ask me what I think of this or that person, but this is simple politeness on their part.

No, I have no control whatever regarding the script.

No, I really don’t want to have anything personal to do with the development of the movie.

Why not? Well, two major reasons (putting aside the fact that producers seldom want the original writer sticking his or her oar in and causing trouble):

1. I have books to write and a family to be with. I can't be hopping planes every other week or dropping everything else at a moment's notice to do script adjustments. (I do know that all movie scripts go through many (many, many) iterations, rewrites, etc. in the process of development and filming.) That kind of thing eats your time and sucks your soul, and to no good end.

2. For nearly twenty years now, people have been saying to me, "Oh! I'm dying to see the movie of your books! But I want it to be just like it is in the book!" To which the only possible reply is, "Yeah? Which forty pages do you want to see?"

Obviously, a book of the size and complexity of OUTLANDER won't fit into a two-hour movie. But it might be possible for a good movie based on the book to exist.

Adaptations can be either good or bad—they're seldom indifferent—but a skilful adaptation is just as much a feat of skill as is writing an original book or script.

Yes, I could adapt the book myself. With the net result that even if a) no one then messed with the script (and they would; that's how film works), and b) the end result was wonderful (odds of about 900:1)—ten million people would still email me about, "But how could you leave out that scene?" Or "But why did you change this character?" Or "But you left out my favorite line in the whole book!"

I'd really rather write a new novel.

Now, do bear in mind a couple of things here:

1. Essential Productions have an option on the book. This means that they paid us a modest amount of money and we gave them a span of time, in which they can do anything they want to, in order to put together the necessary financing and logistics to make a movie (that includes hiring a scriptwriter).

We (my agents and I) get a lot of option requests. We decided to grant Essential Productions an option because we like them, we think they understand the book and its central characters, and insofar as such a thing is possible, we trust them to do their best to make it a great movie.

But it is an option.

2. Not all movies that are optioned actually get made. Even movies that have excellent scripts, A-list directors and recognizable stars don't always get made. Naturally, we hope this one will, because we do like the EP people and think that of all the producers who've approached us about the film rights, they have the best chance of succeeding in making a great movie.

But we'll all have to wait and see what happens next.

And that's all I can tell you.

Le meas,


P.S. Well, I can also tell you that a) yes, Gerard Butler is a fine-looking specimen of Scottish manhood, even if he is a Lowlander, but b) I think he might have difficulty playing a 22-year-old virgin; c) Keira Knightley would probably make an excellent Claire (she has the accent and the capacity for sarcasm), if she gained forty pounds, but d) James McAvoy is probably a wonderful actor, but he's only 5'7", for heaven's sake. (Mind, none of the production people has mentioned any of these actors to me as serious casting prospects, either.)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


Dear All--

Hmm. So, my editor at Random House called this morning to tell me they were going to have "the cover conference" for AN ECHO IN THE BONE tomorrow--and did I have suggestions, opinions, preferences?

He'd earlier suggested the possibility of re-covering the series--he's a new editor, and of course would like to contribute something significant in addition to his editing skills on the new book--and I'd said I was agreeable, providing the new covers were an improvement. At the same time, I don't have any greata objection to continuing with the jewel-toned iconic covers, if we _don't_ have a better suggestion. (Not that I can think of a suitable icon for _that_ title, right off the top of my head....and what on earth color would we use? Pink? A pale, leafy green? (Not yellow; I hate yellow, and besides, yellow books don't do well--accepted wisdom in marketing circles. ))

John (the editor) suggested something more pictorial/historical, which I said I was open to--provided there are no humans on the cover. To which he said that would make it more difficult--he rather likes the later editions of George MacDonald Fraser's "Flashman" novels, which have a sort of graphic-art version of the main character in various situations--and he doubted that putting a rubber duck on the cover would impair sales to any great extent.

"Regardless...." I said. "Besides, we can't put rubber ducks on _all_ the covers."

The last time this subject came up, I'd just been seized by the shape of ECHO, and in the grip of this enthusiasm, suggested (to Doug, whom I happened to be talking to at the time) doing a new cover series in which the covers were done in attractive deep colors, with the underlying "shape" of each novel done in a striking abstract style (possibly embossed) on the front. This caused Doug to make faces, so is possibly not as inspired a notion as I thought. [g]

Anyway--since y'all obviously have a personal interest in what the books look like, I thought I'd ask whether anybody has any strong opinions, suggestions, whatever. No telling _what_ will happen--as John assured me, this cover conference is merely the instigating point of the process; no final decisions are expected to emerge tomorrow--just some ideas to pursue.

So if you have ideas...let me know!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Where Titles Come From

And a Happy All Souls Day to you!

A lot of folk ask me how I come up with titles. To which the short answer is, "Well, I just sort of tumble short phrases around in the back of my mind, like a rock polisher, and every once awhile, I pull out a handful and see if anything looks smooth and shiny yet."

But there is (you knew there would be) a longer answer, of course. [g] This varies from book to book, but as it happens, I just stumbled across the account I wrote for a friend regarding where AN ECHO IN THE BONE came from. So, for the benefit of anyone else who might be curious...

Dear X--

Well, we (Doug and I) were on a plane to Alaska, and I was thinking about the shape of the book (of which I have a vague approximation, but not firm at all, yet), and generally considering it in abstract visual terms (i.e., not "visual," as in thinking of incidents that occur in the plot, but rather the pattern that emerges from them). I kept seeing pebbles dropped into water, each with concentric ripples spreading out, and those ripples intersecting. Now, "ripple" is not really a good title word, generally speaking. "Pebble" is better, but not suitable to the tone of this book. But looking at the ripples made me think of lakes and water, and waves, which led me to Loch Ness, and a consideration of standing waves--which is one suggestion as to the origin of the Loch Ness monster; i.e., that people saw a standing wave--which occur frequently in the loch--and assumed it to be the back of a sea monster. (Here, btw, is one of the simplest definitions of what a standing wave actually is:

"A type of wave in which the surface oscillates vertically between fixed nodes, without any forward progression; the crest at one moment becomes the trough at the next. Standing waves may be caused by the meeting of two similar wave groups that are travelling in opposing directions."

Well, this image had some promise, in terms of what I think's going on in this book, and at this point, I turned to Doug and said, "What do you think of STANDING WAVE as a title for Book Seven?" His response was to hold his nose, so I abandoned that one.

But I still kept seeing ripples, and since I'd started thinking of them in terms of waves ("wave" being much more evocative than "ripple," just as a word), I kept thinking--in a vague, half-conscious sort of way--of various wave-forms. And arrived at "echo." Which is (courtesy of

echo (ek'o)
1. the repetition of a sound by reflection of sound waves from a surface
2. a sound so produced
1. any repetition or imitation of the words, style, ideas, etc. of another
2. a person who thus repeats or imitates
3. sympathetic response
4. Electronics; a radar wave reflected from an object, appearing as a spot of light on a radarscope
5. Gr. Myth. a nymph who, because of her unreturned love for Narcissus, pines away until only her voice remains
6. Music
1. a soft repetition of a phrase
2. an organ stop for producing the effect of echo
7. Radio, TV the reception of two similar and almost simultaneous signals because one of them has been delayed slightly by reflection from the E layer in transmission

Etymology: ME ecco < L echo < Gr echo < IE base *(s)wagh-, var. of *wag-, to cry out > L vagire, OE swogan, to sound, roar

"Well, all _righty_, then," I thought. Echo is a much more evocative word than "ripple," and has multiple related definitions, virtually all of which might apply to the metaphorical levels of this book. Cool. I like "echo."

So--and mind you, this process took several days--I was tossing "echo" around in my head, letting it form what associations it wanted to, and I started picking up the echo [g] of a line from BROTHERHOOD OF THE BLADE:

" He spared a moment to look before touching off the next shot--so far, he had been firing with not the slightest thought for attitude or effect--and forced himself not to blink as the gun went off with a jump like a live thing and the thunder that made you feel as though the ground shook, though in fact it was your own flesh shaking."

And I thought, "Yes! That's it, it's the echo of artillery fire, felt in the flesh." Well, now I felt I had a grip on something, and began playing with that concept. "ECHO IN THE FLESH" has a lot of impact [g], but as Doug noted, sounds butcherous, rather than substantial. "ECHO IN THE BLOOD" is pretty evocative, but sounds too much like a crime novel. OK, there ain't much to the body, in simple terms, beyond flesh, blood, and...bone. A bit of to and fro with the prepositional phrases, (of the flesh? through the blood?), singular vs. plural--bone or bones?--and articles for rhythm (ECHO IN THE BONE is OK, but I like AN ECHO IN THE BONE better). And I liked the repeated "O" (as Baerbel notes, it's the same thing going on as with the "U" in DRUMS OF AUTUMN"), and the balance of four letters--ECHO/BONE.

Meanwhile, the more I played with it, the more I began to pick up the metaphorical echoes [g], and thus to be convinced I'd found it. I tried it out on my agent and editors, then on a couple of roomsful of people while touring, and finding the general response to be a collective "OOOOh!", decided I probably had it.

So now you know, too!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Ghost Story

Well, it being Halloween--one of my favorite holidays--I thought I'd post something suitable. [g]

Now, you'd think that I'd meet a lot of ghosts, what with my habit of walking battlefields, handling historical artifacts, touring ancient castles and houses, etc., but noooooo.

In fact, I've only met two ghosts in my life (I did have one that haunted my house for awhile, but she wasn't conscious of me, so no interaction there)--and the only strange thing about both occurrences is how utterly normal they both seemed. About fifteen years ago, though, a friend asked me to write up the first encounter for a newsletter published by the "Psychic Writers Network" (no, I haven't the slightest idea), so I did. Later, a website called asked for permission to use it as well. So some of you may have seen this piece before. But for all of you--


Copyright 1994 Diana Gabaldon

In May of 1990, I was at a writer's conference in San Antonio, staying at the Menger Hotel, a rather charming old place built in the late 1800's. It's also located across the street from the Alamo, which now stands in a little botanical park, full of trees and shrubs, each with a little metal label bearing its name.
A friend had driven up from Houston to see me, and he suggested that we go walk through the Alamo, he being a botanist and therefore interested in the plants. He also thought I might find the building interesting. He said he'd been there several times as a child, and had found it "evocative." So we strolled through the garden, looking at plants, and then went inside.
The present memorial is the single main church building, which is essentially no more than a gutted masonry shell. There's nothing at all in the church proper a stone floor and stone walls, bearing the marks of hundreds of thousands of bullets; the stone looks chewed. There are a couple of smaller semi open rooms at the front of the church where the baptismal font and a small chapel used to be originally separated from the main room by stone pillars and partial walls.
Around the edges of the main room are a few museum display cases, holding such artifacts of the defenders as the Daughters of Texas have managed to scrape together rather a pitiful collection, including spoons, buttons, and (scraping the bottom of the barrel, if you ask me) a diploma certifying that one of the defenders had graduated from law school (this, like a number of other artifacts, wasn't present in the Alamo, but was obtained later from the family of the man to whom it belonged).
The walls are lined with perfectly _horrible_ oil paintings, showing various of the defenders in assorted "heroic" poses. I suspect them all of having been executed by the Daughters of Texas in a special arts and crafts class held for the purpose, though I admit that I might be maligning the D of T by this supposition. At any rate, as museums go, this one doesn't.
It is quiet owing to the presence of the woman waving the "Silence,Please! THIS IS A SHRINE!" sign in the middle of the room but is not otherwise either spooky or reverent in atmosphere. It's just a big, empty room. My friend and I cruised slowly around the room, making _sotto voce_ remarks about the paintings and looking at the artifacts.
And then I walked into a ghost. He was near the front of the main room, about ten feet in from the wall, near the smaller room on the left (as you enter the church). I was very surprised by the encounter, since I hadn't expected to meet a ghost, and if I had, he wasn't what I would have expected.
I saw nothing, experienced no chill or feeling of oppression or malaise. The air felt slightly warmer where I stood, but not so much as to be really noticeable. The only really distinct feeling was one of...communication. Very distinct communication. I _knew_ he was there--and he certainly knew _I_ was. It was the feeling you get when you meet the eyes of a stranger and know at once this is someone you'd like.
I wasn't frightened in the least; just intensely surprised. I had a strong urge to continue standing there, "talking" (as it were; there were no words exchanged then) to this man. Because it _was_ a man; I could "feel" him distinctly, and had a strong sense of his personality. I rather naturally assumed that I was imagining this, and turned to find my friend, to re establish a sense of reality. He was about six feet away, and I started to walk toward him. Within a couple of feet, I lost contact with the ghost; couldn't feel him anymore. It was like leaving someone at a bus stop; a sense of broken communication.
Without speaking to my friend, I turned and went back to the spot where I had encountered the ghost. There he was. Again, he was quite conscious of me, too, though he didn't say anything in words. It was a feeling of "Oh, there you are!" on both parts.
I tried the experiment two or three more times stepping away and coming back with similar results each time. If I moved away, I couldn't feel him; if I moved back, I could. By this time, my friend was becoming understandably curious. He came over and whispered, "Is this what a writer does?", meaning to be funny. Since he evidently didn't sense the ghost he was standing approximately where I had been I didn't say anything about it, but merely smiled and went on outside with him, where we continued our botanical investigations.
The whole occurrence struck me as so very odd while at the same time feeling utterly "normal" that I went back to the Alamo alone, this time on each of the next two days. Same thing; he was there, in the same spot, and he knew me. Each time, I would just stand there, engaged in what I can only call mental communication. As soon as I left the spot it was an area maybe two to three feet square I couldn't sense him anymore.
I did wonder who he was, of course. There are brass plates at intervals around the walls of the church, listing the vital statistics of all the Alamo defenders, and I'd strolled along looking at these, trying to see if any of them "rang a bell," so to speak. None did.
Now, I did mention the occurrence to a few of the writers at the conference, all of whom were very interested. I don't think any of them went to the Alamo themselves if they did, they didn't tell me but more than one of them suggested that perhaps the ghost wanted me to tell his story, I being a writer and all. I said dubiously that I didn't _think_ that's what he wanted, but the next and last time I went to the Alamo, I did ask him, in so many words.
I stood there and thought consciously, in words "What do you want? I can't really do anything for you. All I can give you is the knowledge that I know you're there; I care that you lived and I care that you died here."
And he _said_ not out loud, but I heard the words distinctly inside my head; it was the only time he spoke he said "That's enough."
At once, I had a feeling of completion. It _was_ enough; that's all he wanted. I turned and went away. This time, I took a slightly different path out of the church, because there was a group of tourists in my way. Instead of leaving in a straight line to the door, I passed around the pillar dividing the main church from one of the smaller rooms. There was a small brass plate in the angle of the wall there, not visible from the main room.
The plate said that the smaller room had been used as a powder magazine during the defense of the fort. During the last hours of the siege, when it became apparent that the fort would fall, one of the defenders had made an effort to blow up the magazine, in order to destroy the fort and take as many of the attackers as possible with it. However, the man had been shot and killed just outside the smaller room, before he could succeed in his mission more or less on the spot where I met the ghost.
So I don't know for sure; he didn't tell me his name, and I got no clear idea of his appearance just a general impression that he was fairly tall; he spoke "down" to me, somehow. But for what it's worth, the man who was killed trying to blow up the powder magazine was named Robert Evans; one of the survivors of the Alamo described him as being "black haired, blue eyed, nearly six feet tall, and always merry." That last bit sounds like the man I met, all right, but there's no telling. I got this description, by the way, from a book titled ALAMO DEFENDERS, which I bought in the museum bookshop as I was leaving. I had never heard of Robert Evans or the powder magazine before.
And that's the whole story.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008


THIN AIR – Appearance/book-signing in Flagstaff - November 14th!

Interviewers always ask, "How has your life changed, now that you're a best-selling author instead of a scientist?" My impulse is usually to answer, "Well…now I write books instead of doing research or teaching classes. You know…duh." Being a naturally polite person (no, really. I mean, usually…well, if I'm not worn to a frazz on a book tour, at least…) and understanding that thinking up good interview questions is not the easiest thing in the world to do, so far I haven't done this.

In fact, my life has changed a lot (well, look, I've lived more than half a century; naturally it's going to change; everybody's does), but the details are by and large either too complicated or too boring to make a good answer.

One of the ways in which it's changed, though, is that I now have the opportunity to consort with all kinds of Really Interesting People, and to be involved in all kinds of entertaining projects, beyond the limits of just the stuff I personally write.

One of these entertaining projects (staffed by Really Interesting People ) is Thin Air. This is the literary magazine produced, edited, and published by an enterprising (and most creative) group of students at Northern Arizona University. (NAU is my old alma mater, in Flagstaff—which is 7000 feet above sea level. "Thin air," geddit?)

I have the honor to be "consulting editor" for this excellent magazine—which basically means that I help support their printing costs and drop by now and then to talk with the staff and hear all about the neat things they're doing.

On one recent visit to NAU, I was invited to visit an advanced Creative Writing seminar to talk about graphic novels: what they are (this being a college class, they already knew that), how they're put together, what a script looks like, how collaboration with the artist works, what the business side (contracts, etc.) is like, and so on. Well, the editor-in-chief of Thin Air was part of this class, and asked whether I'd be willing to do an interview for the magazine, covering some of the high points of this presentation. Sure, I said.

Well, you know how one thing sort of leads to another? (Or at least it certainly does around here…) We ended up with what I think is probably an interesting interview, illustrated not only with a page of my working script, but with the "pencil page" (the preliminary sketch) of the artwork for that page, and the finished (not necessarily final; there's always tweaking) full-color art of the same page (page 48, I think. It's part of the scene where Claire tends Jamie's shoulder on the road and he tells Dougal to find him a clean shirt and take the lassie off his chest). Many thanks to Hoang Nguyen, the artist, and Betsy Mitchell, the Ballantine editor, for letting us use these!

In addition to the interview, I'll also be doing a fund-raising appearance for the magazine at Northern Arizona University on November 14th. This will be in the afternoon—3:00 PM—and I'll be talking (about graphic novels, to start with, though I imagine other things will be talked about, and I'll certainly be reading a few bits of this and that—excerpts from AN ECHO IN THE BONE, that sort of thing…) for a couple of hours and signing books. (Books will be available for sale there, but you're certainly welcome to bring your own for signing, if you'd like.)

For more details—or to order tickets for the talk—or to order a copy of the magazine itself—
go to . And I'll see you in Flagstaff in two weeks!

Monday, October 20, 2008



Well, good news! I finally know what the shape of AN ECHO IN THE BONE is!

I think I've explained a little before, about how I write: to wit, not with an outline, and not in a straight line. [g] I write in bits and pieces, doing the research more or less concurrently with the writing (meaning that assorted bits of plot or new scenes may pop up unexpectedly as the result of my stumbling across something too entertaining to pass up).

As I work, some of these bits and pieces will begin to stick together, forming larger chunks. For example, I'll write a scene, and realize that it explains why what happened in a scene written several months ago happened. Ergo, the later scene probably ought to precede the first, already-written scene. So I haul both scenes into the same document, read through this larger chunk, and at that point, sometimes will see what has to happen next. (Sometimes not.) If so, then I can proceed to write the next bit. If not, I go look for another kernel (what I call the bits of inspiration that offer me a foothold on a new scene), and write something else.

Anyway, this process of agglomeration continues, and I begin to see the underlying patterns of the book. I get larger chunks. And all the time, I'm evolving a rough timeline in my head, against which I can line up these chunks in rough order (E.g., the battle of Saratoga—which is in this book—was actually two battles, fought by the same armies on the same ground. But the dates of those battles are fixed: September 19th and October 7th, 1777. Some specific historical events occurred and specific historical persons were present in each of those two battles. Ergo, if I have assorted personal events that take place in the fictional characters' lives, and various scenes dealing with those, I can tell that logically, X must have taken place after the first battle, because there's a wounded man in that scene, while Y has to take place after the second battle, because the death of a particular person (who died in the second battle) precipitates Y. Meanwhile, Z clearly takes place between the battles, because there's a field hospital involved, but there's no fighting going on. Like that.)

Now, at a certain point in this chunking process (and I've been chunking for awhile now on ECHO; in fact, I've sent my German translator two largish chunks already, to begin translating), I discern the underlying "shape" of the book. This is Important.

All my books have a shape, and once I've seen what it is, the book comes together much more quickly, because I can then see approximately what-all is included, how it's organized, and where the missing pieces (most of them, anyway) are.

OUTLANDER, for instance, is shaped like three overlapping triangles: the action rises naturally toward three climaxes: Claire's decision at Craig na Dun to stay in the past, Claire's rescue of Jamie from Wentworth, and her saving of his soul at the Abbey.

DRAGONFLY IN AMBER is shaped like a dumbbell (no, really [g]). The framing story, set in 1968 (or 1969; there's a copyediting glitch in there that has to do with differences between the US and UK editions of OUTLANDER, but we won't go into that now), forms the caps on the ends of the dumbbell. The first arc of the main story is the French background, the plots and intrigue (and personal complications) leading toward the Rising. Then there's a relatively flat stretch of calm and domestic peace at Lallybroch, followed by the second major arc, the Rising itself. And the final end-cap of the framing story. All very symmetrical.

VOYAGER looks like a braided horse-tail: the first third of the book consists of a three-part braided narrative: Jamie's third-person narrative runs forward in time; Claire's first-person narrative goes backward in time (as she explains things to Roger and Brianna), and Roger's third-person narrative sections form the present-time turning points between Claire's and Jamie's stories. After Claire's return to the past, though, the story then drops into the multi-stranded but linear first-person narrative (moving forward) that we're used to.

DRUMS OF AUTUMN…well, that one's a little more free-form, but it does have a shape. It's shaped like a curving, leafy stem, with a big, showy rose at the end, but with two side-stems, each with a large bud (these being Roger and Brianna's independent part of the story, and the Jocasta/Hector/Ulysses/Duncan/Phaedre part).

THE FIERY CROSS looks either like a rainbow or a shower of fireworks, depending how you want to look at it. [g] There are a number of separate storylines that arc through the book—but every single one of them has its origin and root in that Very Long Day at the Gathering where the book begins. Each storyline then has its own arc, which comes down at a different point toward the end of the book.

A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES…Well, probably you've seen that very well-known Hokusai print, titled "The Great Wave Off Kanagawa." (In case you haven't, here's a link.) When I happened to see this print while assembling the chunks for this book, I emailed my agent in great excitement, to tell him I'd seen the shape of the book. "It looks like the Great Wave," I said. "Only there are two of them!" [g] Notice, if you will, the little boats full of people, about to be swamped by the wave—these are the characters whose fate is affected by the onrush of events. And in the middle of the print, we see Mt. Fuji in the distance, small but immovable, unaffected by the wave. That's the love between Claire and Jamie, which endures through both physical and emotional upheaval. (The waves are the escalating tides of events/violence that remove Claire and Jamie from the Ridge.)

So that leads us to the current book. And, as I say, I've just recently seen the "shape" of AN ECHO IN THE BONE. It's a caltrop.


OK, normally I'd make y'all look it up [g], but the only person to whom I announced this revelation (husband, literary agents, editors, children) who already knew what a caltrop is, was my elder daughter (who is unusually well-read). So, all right—this is a caltrop (so's this, which is very elegant, I think), and this is the definition thereof.

Nasty-looking little bugger, isn't it? (And if you think this image presages something regarding the effect of this book, you are very likely right. Enjoy. [g])

Friday, September 26, 2008

It's their HEADS that are full of spackle...

I drove up from Scottsdale to my old family place in Flagstaff yesterday. On car trips where I'm driving, I usually listen either to CD's or the radio—thanks to my husband, I have Sirius radio, and thus can choose from the BBC (love the accents, as well as the different world views you get), any kind of music one can think of, or the Usual Suspects in terms of domestic news. Given the hair-raising state of current affairs, I was mostly listening to the domestic channels. Which have advertising.

Now, I don't really mind hearing guff about credit-counseling agencies, truck-driving companies, or male-enhancement products (the best was one I heard last week, while driving with my husband: a "lotion-based" enhancement "guaranteed to increase your size as soon as you rub it in!" My husband nearly died laughing). I do, however, draw the line at the ads for colon cleansers.

I don't know if they're all the same company under different product names, but they all have the same script. Their product, they assure you, will rid you of, "the ten to twenty-five pounds of UNDIGESTED WASTE that some experts say is stuck to the walls of your colon, like spackle or paste!"

This isn't the first time I've heard this quaint theory; I once visited a massage therapist who earnestly showed me a "scientific booklet" showing cross-sectional illustrations of the large intestine, looking like a kitchen drain clogged by ever-increasing grease deposits.

Now, look…

Were y'all not paying attention in Junior High biology, when the gross anatomy and general function of the large intestine were explained? Evidently a lot of people weren't.

For starters, stand in front of a mirror and open your mouth. You are looking at one end of your digestive system. Do you see food sticking to the back of your throat? I sincerely hope not. OK, do you know why food is not sticking to the back of your throat?

Because it is slippery! Yes, very good. And why is it slippery? Because the back of your throat (and the inside of your nose, just for good measure) is lined with a mucous membrane. That means the tissue there is equipped with a large number of cells that produce….yes, indeedy, mucus! Mucus is exceedingly slippery. Slimy, even. Stuff does not stick to it.

All right. Stop-press news here: your whole, entire intestinal system is lined by this same mucous membrane. If food isn't sticking at the top of your alimentary canal, it isn't sticking at the bottom, either. No spackle.

No twenty-five pounds of undigested food, either. Now, even if you take my word for it that "undigested waste" (which is a contradiction in terms; if it hasn't been digested, it isn't waste; it's just chewed-up food. Believe me, you would notice if you were excreting undigested food) is not sticking to the walls of your large intestine, it might be argued that if your colon were especially sluggish, glop might be lollygagging around in there, making you weigh more.

It might be argued, but that isn't true, either, and it's pretty dang easy to prove it. You know the colonoscopy that you're supposed to get when you turn 50, and every so often thereafter? Well, before a doctor goes sticking an endoscope up your rear end, he or she would like to make sure of having an unobstructed view. To this end, the preparation for a colonoscopy involves drinking a solution of a liquid containing magnesium, which is a powerful laxative. You can buy this stuff in any drug store; it's called Fleet, and it's utterly revolting. But effective. It will remove everything in your colon within a few hours. And if you—out of a spirit of scientific inquiry—should happen to weigh yourself before and after this process, you will note that you do not—alas—lose ten to twenty-five pounds. You might—temporarily—lose one. If you drink enough water to kill the taste, you'll probably—temporarily—gain weight.

If you have any doubts, ask the medical personnel who do your colonoscopy if they noticed any spackle-like deposits clinging to the walls of your colon. If they did, I bet they'd mention it.

I haven't looked at the ingredient list of any of these products—I've never even seen one in the flesh—but I'd bet money that magnesium is one of, if not the, main ingredient. Taking two 500 mg magnesium tablets (which will cost you about 6 cents) will do anything one of these colon-cleansers does, I assure you. (I take magnesium tablets for occasional migraines—along with three aspirin and a nice glass of white wine, plus a schmear of Tiger Balm on temples and under nose. Treatment for migraines is highly idiosyncratic; I don't recommend this for anybody else, but it usually works for me. But that's how I know about the other effects of magnesium tablets.)

Putting aside the question of their supposed physiological basis, which is utter nonsense, do these colon-cleansers actually work, in terms of weight loss?

Well, yeah, they probably do—if used as directed. My chiropractor (hey, writing for a living is physically destructive; I have major arthritis in my neck, and my spine looks like I'm playing Twister, even while sitting down) once tried one of these "cleanser" regimes, and was so enthused, he was recommending it to all his clients.

"Yeah?" I said. "What do you do?"
"Oh," he said, "it's easy! Three days a week, you just drink the cleanser crystals, in juice or water or whatever. I've lost ten pounds in a month!"
"Great!" I said. "And you eat normally while you do this?"
"Oh, no," he said. "You don't eat on the days you take the cleanser."


"Jeffrey," I said, when he had stopped twisting my head, "you are losing weight because you've cut your caloric intake in half. You'd get the same effect if you just didn't eat solid food every other day."

He didn't believe me, of course. But I hope you will. Drink water, eat less (but whatever you do eat should have fiber), and save your money, is my advice. And listen to the BBC. It's soothing to realize that the world is bigger than Wall Street and Washington.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


So….you really want to know what I think Jamie looks like, do you? [g]

Well, Hoang has been doing wonderful stuff on the artwork for the graphic novel; amazing action, terrific characters, beautiful color and composition—just marvelous. And I love what he's done with Claire ( yes, her hair is somewhat wilder where it ought to be—as when freshly emergent from a gorse bush—but certainly not ringlets, good grief), Murtagh, Dougal, Jack Randall….

Now, Jamie has been a little more problematic, simply because everyone has such a well-defined (if not well-articulated) notion of what he looks like. The descriptions of him are more detailed than those of other characters in the books, because we're looking at him through Claire's eyes, and she's paying close attention. [g] But to take those details and come up with a gestalt that embodies the whole…harder to do.

The consequence of this has been that Hoang's been working with Jamie in different aspects, looking for a good "look" for him that can be used throughout the graphic novel.
And the poor artist, of course, has little to go on other than my rather fumbling feedback—"Well, this one is pretty good, but the jaw is too heavy…. that one's nice, too, but he seems kind of thuggish…and that one's a little too soft, too young-looking, but the hair's great!" sort of thing.

Well, in the preliminary shufflings to and fro, I'd collected a few photos of assorted actors and models who had slanted eyes of an appropriate sort—and many thanks to all the kind people who sent me their favorites (and isn't it a good thing for the men of the world that women have such diverse tastes…)—which I'd sent on to Hoang to add to his mental compost pile.

Among these was a photo of Gabriel Aubrey, and I'd mentioned in re this photo that Mr. A. did in fact have a strong resemblance to Mr. Fraser, in terms of facial physiognomy. So yesterday, an enterprising person named Grace who inhabits one of the "Outlander" discussion boards evidently came across my idle remarks and decided to see if she could make something of them. So she dragged Mr. Aubrey into her PhotoShop for a little revision, and….¤t=Jamie7.jpg

(sorry; I tried to make a link for this, but it wouldn't show up in the post, don't know why. You'll have to cut and paste the URL, unless somebody else can fix it for me.)

OK. Yeah. That's very much what he looks like. In case you were wondering. [g]

[I'll venture out on a limb and make a small prediction here: to wit, that half the comments made here will be along the lines of, "Well, that's not what I thought he looked like! I thought he looked like Josh Holloway/Sean Bean/David Cassidy/etc.!" [wry g] To each her own, as I said. But do remember that I can see him.]

Sunday, September 7, 2008

DRAGONS anthology


And this is the last item on the list of "What I'm Working On Now" (or have just finished working on, since both "The Custom of the Army" and "Dirty Scottsdale" are done, though not yet published.

OK, follow me carefully here (because I think, from comments on other entries, that some of y'all are perhaps becoming confused by the plethora of information here):

1. "DRAGONS" is the title of a proposed anthology.

A. An anthology is a collection of short pieces, contributed by lots of different authors.

B. This particular anthology is meant to include short pieces on the subject of….well, dragons.

2. I was invited to contribute a piece to this anthology. All clear so far? Good.

3. I told the editors of the anthology that I have Way Too Much work to do, to write a short story or novella for this anthology myself—BUT that my son, who is also a writer, would be willing to coauthor a story with me.

A. He's a fantasy writer, and thus more qualified to handle dragons in the first place.

B. We've coauthored a couple of fantasy short stories before, with good results:

i. Mirror Image , in an anthology titled MOTHERS AND SONS, edited by Jill Morgan, and

ii. The Castellan, in OUT OF AVALON, edited by Jennifer Roberson.

4. The editors said that would be cool, and so did my son, so we accepted.

5. My son is doing the major writing on this piece, with me providing brainstorming and editing.

6. No, we don't have a projected publication date for this one yet, but most likely sometime in 2009.

7. Here (in the next blog entry) is a selected snippet of this (so far untitled) short piece.

8. And that's what-all I'm doing/have done these days! Hope y'all will enjoy the various bits and pieces as they come available!

Untitled Story for DRAGONS anthology - excerpt

"Untitled" (for DRAGONS, editors Gardner Dozois and Jack Dann)
Copyright 2008 Sam Watkins and Diana Gabaldon

“We…I…am not a man without mercy.” He regarded the man before him evenly. “Am I?”

Nitz’s first thought was that the glittering spiked mace hanging from the man’s sash would beg to differ. Whatever other terrifying features the priest might have, his scarred scalp, his clenched jaw, his huge, brutish arms, ceased to have any effect in the presence of the ominous weapon. Its crimson was far deeper than that wrought by the sunlight; it had seen many heathen skulls caved, countless barbarian bones broken, untold numbers of false priest’s faces smashed.

The blood would never fully wash off of it.

“Am I?”

“N-no, Father,” Nitz replied, straining to hide the quaver in his voice.

To have even a foot touched by the shadow of Father Scheitzen, the shadow of a Crusader so famed and noble, would make a fully-grown man quiver. When half of the priest’s long shadow was enough to engulf a man such as Nitz, it took all he had to keep his legs from twisting together in an unconscious attempt to control his bladder.

“I am not,” Father Scheitzen nodded in reply, his neck creaking. “Nor are you.” He cast a glance over the smaller man’s head, toward the towering figure behind him. “Nor, I suspect, is she.”

Nitz followed the priest’s gaze to his companion. Father Scheitzen’s shadow did not yet extend so far as to engulf Madeline. Nitz doubted there was a man yet who had grown tall enough to do that. She did not cast a shadow, but rose as one, towering and swaddled in the ominous blackness of her nun’s habit, her head so high as to scrape against the torch ensconced in the pillar she stood alongside.

“Maddy,” Nitz caught himself, “Sister Madeline…is not without mercy, no, Father.” He flashed a smile, painfully aware of the stark whiteness of his teeth in the church’s gloom. “After all, she owes her life to the mercy of others. Who else would have a…creature such as her?”

Nitz took private pleasure in the shudder Father Scheitzen spared for her as Madeline stepped forward.

The torchlight was decidedly unsympathetic. All her face was bared, from the manly square curve of her jaw, to the jagged scar running down her cheek, to the milky discolored eye set in the right of her skull and the grim darkness of her left. The jagged yellow of her smile-bared teeth was nothing more than a sigh, a comma at the end of the cruel joke that was a woman’s visage.

“I suspect you may have inadvertently stumbled upon a solution to a problem that has long plagued the order,” Father Scheitzen murmured, bringing his lips close to Nitz. “There are rumors, complaints of lesser men accompanied by lesser women thinking themselves and each other worthy servants of God. Their mutual weakness feeds off of each other, men raise illegitimate children by tainted nuns.” He spared a glancing shudder for the woman behind them. “I trust you and your companion have no such temptations.”

Nitz hesitated a moment to answer, allowing the image of temptation to fill his mind. He had seen what lay beneath the layers of black cloth: the rolling musculature, the scarred, pale flesh, the biceps that could break ribs with an embrace. The thought of succumbing to “temptation” had not, until this moment, crossed his mind; the foreplay alone could shatter his pelvis.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Something Different - "Dirty Scottsdale"

PHOENIX NOIR – "Dirty Scottsdale"

And for Something Completely Different…I know I've been talking about this contemporary crime novel I have in progress for a long time—and I really do have it in progress, too [g], though it's on hold 'til I finish ECHO—but the opportunity offered to do a short story (no, really) for a new anthology titled PHOENIX NOIR. This is part of a large series of "noir" crime anthologies, each centered on a different city. (See for a listing of all the anthologies in the series.) The story, "Dirty Scottsdale," will be the print debut of Thomas Kolodzi, who's the protagonist for the (eventual [cough]) contemporary crime novel. Here's a brief glimpse of him in action:

" The time/temperature display outside the McDonald's where I got coffee in the mornings said it was 100 degrees at 8 AM. Now it was high noon, and the half-cup of coffee I'd left in the car would sear the panties off any granny unwary enough to drive down the street with it tucked between her legs. The cops were in shirt-sleeves, the home-owner was wearing plaid bermuda shorts and a wtf? expression. The body floating face-down in the swimming-pool was wearing a navy blue wool suit, which was even more remarkable than the veil of blood hanging like shark-bait in the water."

Excerpt from "Dirty Scottsdale"

"Dirty Scottsdale" (in the PHOENIX NOIR anthology, editor Patrick Millikin)
Copyright 2008 Diana Gabaldon

[Excerpts may not be reposted, copied, or otherwise published without the express permission of the author. It's fine if you want to link to one, though.]

"What. The. F***. Is. Going. On. Here?" said a voice behind me. Whoever it was had a pretty good Voice of Doom, too; it cut through the argument like a hot wire through ice-cream.

I turned around to see a tall blond woman in a sunhat, a Hawaiian shirt flapping open over a white bikini. Chloe and Tyrone's mother; the breast implants must be hereditary.

"Cooney!" she barked. "What are you doing? What's--" She caught sight of the guy in the pool and stopped dead, her mouth hanging open far enough for me to see that one of her molars was gold. I wondered if she had a diamond in it.

Cooney, hearing his master's voice, came trundling over, sweating and apologetic.

"It's OK, Pammy--"

"Don't call me Pammy! Who are you?" she demanded, swiveling a laser eye on me. "Are you in charge here? Who's that in my swimming pool?"

"Tom Kolodzi, Ma'am," I said, offering her a hand. "Do you know the man in the pool?"

"Of course not!" she snapped, taking my hand by reflex. Hers was cold and damp and covered by a transparent latex glove. She let go fast, peeling the glove off with a snap. "Oh, sorry. I was drowning squirrels in the garage."

"Squirrels?" I tried to keep a pleasant tone of inquiry, but it seemed to dawn on her that a mention of drowning things might not be the best thing she could have started off with.

"Ground squirrels," she said through her teeth. "They eat the g*dd*mn plantings. Are they going to get that—him—out of the pool?" Her eyes kept sliding toward the water, where the body had resumed its peaceful dead-man's float. Another siren coming down the street--police, this time.

Slamming car-doors and the crackle of a radio, and the brass was with us. I heard the word, "Lieutenant..." and froze for a millisecond. But of course it wasn't my lieutenant--she was Phoenix PD, and we were on the Scottsdale side of Shea. That was luck; Lieutenant Griego would have had me locked in a squad car in three seconds, and if I died of heatstroke before she came back…well, accidents happen, especially in the summertime.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Excerpt from "The Custom of the Army"

"The Custom of the Army"
Copyright 2008 Diana Gabaldon

[Once again, please note that excerpts may NOT be copied, cut-and-pasted, or reposted anywhere without the author's express permission—though it's totally fine if you'd like to link to one from your own website(s)!]

It was small, but packaged with care, wrapped in oilcloth and tied about with twine, the knot sealed with his brother's crest. That was unlike Hal, whose usual communiques consisted of hastily dashed notes, generally employing slightly fewer than the minimum number of words necessary to convey his message. They were seldom signed, let alone sealed.
Tom Byrd appeared to think the package slightly ominous, too; he had set it by itself, apart from the other mail, and weighted it down with a large bottle of brandy, apparently to prevent it escaping. That, or he suspected Grey might require the brandy to sustain him in the arduous effort of reading a letter consisting of more than one page.
"Very thoughtful of you, Tom," he murmured, smiling to himself and reaching for his pen-knife.
In fact, the letter within occupied less than a page, bore neither salutation nor signature, and was completely Hal-like.

"Minnie wishes to know whether you are starving, though I don't know what she proposes to do about it, should the answer be yes. The boys wish to know whether you have taken any scalps--they are confident that no Red Indian would succeed in taking yours; I share this opinion. You had better bring three tommyhawks when you come home.
Here is your new ring; the jeweler was most impressed by the quality of the stone. The other thing is a copy of Adams's confession. They hanged him yesterday."

The other contents of the parcel consisted of a small wash-leather pouch, and an official-looking document on several sheets of good parchment, this folded and sealed--this time with the seal of George II. Grey left it lying on the table, fetched one of the pewter cups from his campaign chest, and filled it to the brim with brandy, wondering anew at his valet's perspicacity.
Thus fortified, he sat down and took up the little pouch, from which he decanted a gold ring into his hand. It was set with a faceted--and very large--sapphire, that glowed like flame in the palm of his hand. Where had Fraser acquired such a thing? he wondered.
He turned it in his hand, admiring the workmanship, but didn't put it on. Not yet. Instead, he put it back into its pouch, and tucked this carefully into the inner pocket of his coat. He sipped his brandy for a bit, watching the official document as though it might explode. He was reasonably sure it would.
He weighed the document in his hand, and felt the wind [through the window, from the tent flap] lift it a little, like the flap of a sail, just before it fills and bellies with a snap.
Waiting wouldn't help. And Hal plainly knew what it said, anyway; he'd tell Grey, whether he wanted to know or not. Sighing, he put by his brandy and broke the seal.

I, Bernard Donald Adams, do make this confession of my own free will...

Was it? he wondered. He did not know Adams's handwriting, could not tell whether the document had been written or dictated--no, wait. He flipped over the sheets and examined the signature. Same hand. All right, he had written it himself.
He squinted at the writing. It seemed firm. Probably not extracted under torture, then. Perhaps it was the truth.
"Idiot," he said under his breath. "Read the god-damned thing and have done with it!"
He drank the rest of his brandy at a gulp, flattened the pages upon the stone of the parapet and read, at last, the story of his father's death.

[end section]

"The Custom of the Army"

WARRIORS anthology – "The Custom of the Army."

WARRIORS is a cool, multi-genre, multi-author anthology with stories on the theme of…well, warriors. I haven't yet really started work on LORD JOHN AND THE SCOTTISH PRISONER (the third Lord John novel)--and won't, until after ECHO goes to bed-- but I am using Lord John for my contribution to this anthology, which I'm titling "The Custom of the Army":

" On balance, it was probably the fault of the electric eel. John Grey could--and for a time, did--blame the Honorable Caroline Woodford as well. In all justice to the lady, though, she certainly hadn't meant him to fight a duel, and had been appalled at the outcome. The fact remained that if it had not been for the Honorable Caroline, he wouldn't be in Canada, hip-deep in Indians and Highlanders, and facing one of the most disagreeable prospects he had encountered in a long career of soldiering., it was the eel's fault."

Thus begins a story that takes us from a duel in London to the Plains of Abraham. The anthology doesn't yet have a publication date, but it does have a publisher. Tor will be publishing WARRIORS, and presumably _sometime_ in 2009. Check my website ( or theirs
( for announcements next year. In the meantime, I'll put an excerpt from "Custom" in the next posting.

Graphic Novel - sample script page

Hmm... OK, the panel formatting didn't come through, but the text did, so I've just divided it with solid lines, so you can see what happens in the various panels on this page.

GRAPHIC NOVEL (untitled)
Copyright 2008 Diana Gabaldon


3-51 Murtagh, arms folded. The bird is sitting on his head, pulling at his hair.

Murtagh: Ye'd best ask the lad, not me.

(thinking): Oh, is that the way of it? Force him to swear his oath to you? Over my dead body, Colum MacKenzie.


3-52 Dougal, standing, leans forward threateningly, hands on the desk,. Murtagh looks up at him, still cool, bird on his head.

Dougal: Maybe ye'd best have a word with the lad beforehand. Ye're his godfather—I imagine you've his best interests at heart.


3-53 CU Murtagh. He nods, reaching up with one hand.

Murtagh: I'll do that, aye.


3-54 CU, Murtagh's hand grabbing the surprised bird, some of his hairs in its beak.

Bird: Chirk!


3-55 Murtagh leans across the desk and parks the bird on Colum's head. Colum and Dougal both surprised.

Murtagh: Thanks for your hospitality. Always a pleasure to visit Castle Leoch.



And the next up, in the line-up of what I'm working on--

GRAPHIC NOVEL (so far untitled)

a graphic novel, for them as don't know, is a sophisticated comic book for adults. (And I do, of course, delight in my Very Sophisticated Readers.) [g] Ballantine, the publisher for this, asked me for a "new" Jamie and Claire story, set in the OUTLANDER universe—but not necessarily just a straightforward adaptation of OUTLANDER. So that's what they (and you) are getting: a story that sort of cuts at an angle through OUTLANDER. This story is told from Murtagh's point of view, and begins somewhat before the events described in OUTLANDER (the non-graphic novel).

Since the story isn't told from Claire's point of view, we see things that Claire didn't see, or saw but misinterpreted or didn't understand. The effect is that there is a new storyline, that weaves through the established events of OUTLANDER. If you've read the novel, you'll recognize the significant events—but you'll also get a new storyline.

Now, graphic novels being a good deal shorter than novels in term of material, this graphic novel doesn't encompass the entire original novel. IF it happens to do well, then I imagine there would be further graphic novels that augment the original novels and their storylines. To say nothing of the cool artwork. [g]

Now, a graphic novel is a collaborative effort. I write the script (which involves usually detailed direction as to what happens in each panel of the story), but this is then brought to life by the spectacular Hoang Nguyen, the artist who's doing the visual part of this project. (You can see some of Hoang's work at – fabulous!)

I don't know whether I can cut-and-paste a page from the graphic novel script here, so you can see what it looks like. If not, you'll have to wait a bit for us to get it up on the website. There is one sample page up there now, as well as Hoang's original take (his very first try, and it came pretty close!) on Claire. As we go on, I'll be able to post more artiwork now and then, perhaps showing you the evolution of a page from script to pencil-sketch to painting to refined, finished panel art.


We (the publisher, the artist, and me) are hoping to have this ready to be released in July of 2009. We'd like to unveil it at the Comics Con convention, with both me and Hoang present to sign copies. I don't have a date for Comics Con yet, but I'm pretty sure it's around mid-July.

Thursday, September 4, 2008


Copyright 2008 Diana Gabaldon

[Please note: "Copyright" means that this piece may NOT be reposted or otherwise published anywhere, without the written permission of the copyright holder--which would be me. You're more than welcome to provide a link to it from your own website, if you like, but please don't cut and paste it. The publisher is already antsy about my posting excerpts on the Web; we don't want to give them terminal heebie-jeebies. [g])

Copyright 2008 Diana Gabaldon

Inverness-shire, Scotland

"We are alive," Brianna MacKenzie repeated, her voice tremulous. She looked up at Roger, the paper pressed to her chest with both hands. Her face streamed with tears, but a glorious light glowed in her blue eyes. "Alive!"
"Let me see." His heart was hammering so hard in his chest that he could barely hear his own words. He reached out a hand, and reluctantly, she surrendered the paper to him, coming at once to press herself against him, clinging to his arm as he read, unable to take her eyes off the bit of ancient paper.
It was pleasantly rough under his fingers, hand-made paper with the ghosts of leaves and flowers pressed into its fibers. Yellowed with age, but still tough and surprisingly flexible. Bree had made it herself--two hundred years before.
Roger became aware that his hands were trembling, the paper shaking so that the sprawling, difficult hand was hard to read, faded as the ink was.

December 31, 1776

My darling daughter,

As you will see, if ever you receive this, we are alive...

His own eyes blurred, and he wiped the back of his hand across them, even as he told himself that it didn't matter, for they were surely dead now, Jamie Fraser and his wife Claire--but he felt such joy at those words on the page that it was as though the two of them stood smiling before him.
It was the two of them, too, he discovered. While the letter began in Jamie's hand--and voice--the second page took up in Claire's crisply slanted writing.

Your father's hand won't stand much more, she wrote. And it's a bloody long story. He's been chopping wood all day, and can barely uncurl his fingers--but he insisted on telling you himself that we haven't--yet--been burnt to ashes. Not but what we may be at any moment; there are fourteen people crammed into the old cabin, and I'm writing this more or less sitting in the hearth, with old Grannie MacLeod wheezing away on her pallet by my feet so that if she suddenly begins to die, I can pour more whisky down her throat.

"My God, I can hear her," he said, amazed.
"So can I." Tears were still coursing down Bree's face, but it was a sun-shower; she wiped at them, laughing and sniffing. "Read more. Why are they in our cabin? What's happened to the big house?"
Roger ran his finger down the page to find his place and resumed reading.
"Oh, Jesus!" he said.

You recall that idiot, Donner?

Gooseflesh ran up his arms at the name. A time-traveler, Donner. And one of the most feckless individuals he'd ever met or heard of--but nonetheless dangerous for that.

Well, he surpassed himself by getting together a gang of thugs from Brownsville, to come and steal the treasure in gems he'd convinced them we had. Only we hadn't, of course.

They hadn't--because he, Brianna, Jemmy, and Amanda had taken the small hoard of remaining gemstones to safeguard their flight through the stones.

They held us hostage and rubbished the house, damn them--breaking, amongst other things, the bottle of ether in my surgery. The fumes nearly gassed all of us on the spot...

He read rapidly through the rest of the letter, Brianna peering over his shoulder and making small squeaks of alarm and dismay. Finished, he laid the pages down and turned to her, his insides quivering.
"So you did it," he said, aware that he shouldn't say it, but unable not to, unable not to snort with laughter. "You and your bloody matches—you burned the house down!"
Her face was a study, features shifting between horror, indignation--and yes, a hysterical hilarity that matched his own.
"Oh, it was not! It was Mama's ether. Any kind of spark could have set off the explosion--"
"But it wasn't any kind of spark," Roger pointed out. "Your cousin Ian lit one of your matches."
"Well, so it was Ian's fault, then!"
"No, it was you and your mother. Scientific women," Roger said, shaking his head. "The eighteenth century is lucky to have survived you."
She huffed a little.
"Well, the whole thing would never have happened if it weren't for that bozo Donner!"
"True," Roger conceded. "But he was a trouble-maker from the future, too, wasn't he? Though admittedly neither a woman, nor very scientific."
"Hmph." She took the letter, handling it gently, but unable to forbear rubbing the pages between her fingers. "Well, he didn't survive the eighteenth century, did he?" Her eyes were downcast,
their lids still reddened.
"You aren't feeling sorry for him, are you?" Roger demanded, incredulous.
She shook her head, but her fingers still moved lightly over the thick, soft page.
"Not… him, so much. It's just--the idea of anybody dying like that. Alone, I mean. So far from home."
No, it wasn't Donner she was thinking of. He put an arm round her and laid his head against her own. She smelled of Prell shampoo and fresh cabbages; she'd been in the kailyard. The words on the page faded and strengthened with the dip of the pen that had written them, but nonetheless were sharp and clear--a surgeon's writing.
"She isn't alone," he whispered, and putting out a finger, traced the postscript, again in Jamie's sprawling hand. "Neither of them is. And whether they've a roof above their heads or not--both of them are home."

[end section]



I've been getting the occasional email lately expressing interest in what-all I'm writing these days, since there seems to be a lot of it. [g] Well, there is a lot of it. I do normally work on multiple things at once (it keeps me from having writer's block, for one thing), but I will say there's more variety in the old to-do pile than usual, thanks to several invitations from interesting anthologies.
I've also been hearing wildly varied guesses-most of them totally wrong, and where y'all get this stuff, I have no idea.regarding when any of these various works will be published.

In (rough) order of priority at the moment, though, I'm working on the following things-and I'll post an excerpt or two from each of these, over the next few days (so if you're an excerpt-avoider, be careful!):
AN ECHO IN THE BONE - this is the 7th (but NOT the last!) book in the main OUTLANDER series, in which we continue the adventures of Jamie, Claire, Roger, Brianna, Young Ian, Willie, Lord John-and a Lot of Other Interesting People You Haven't Met Yet.

I'm hoping to have the manuscript finished by the end of this year-and therefore am trying Really Hard not to go anywhere for the rest of the year.

**** THIS DOES NOT MEAN THE BOOK WILL BE OUT IN DECEMBER of this year-IT WON'T!!!! It means I'll be through writing it, I hope. IT WILL BE PUBLISHED (God willing and the creek don't rise) probably in Fall of 2009. *******

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Building Scenes

Somebody had asked me (well, and everybody else), on the Compuserve forum, what the "legos" of building a scene are. How do you do it?

Given that there are undoubtedly as many answers to that as there are writers...this is a brief example of how _I_ do it. Fwiw. [g]

[Section ? God Willing and the Creek Don't Rise]

OK, I began this—oddly enough --with the first line. I had a good-sized chunk—25,000 words or so—written and assembled, which (again, oddly) begins the book. That was neatly tied off, in structural terms, though. So I needed a way into Whatever Happens Next.

So I began with the worms. Claire's generally the default voice for me, and since at least part of What Happens Next would be on the Ridge, unless I specifically "heard" Jamie or Young Ian, it would likely be her explaining what the state of the wicket was. So I began to sink into her. Well, I knew it was now spring, because we'd been waiting for the snow to melt when I finished the earlier chunk.

This being Claire, she didn't say, "It was spring." She said, "Spring had sprung."

So what happens on a mountain in the spring time? The snow melts. You get water. Hence, the first line:

Spring had sprung, and the creek was rising.

(Which of course brought to mind the old country saying, "God willing and the creek don't rise," which I at once put up top, knowing a good chapter or section title when one shows up .)

So at once I have the notion of a rising creek, fed by snow-melt. So that's where I began to dig, feeling my way into the descriptive details.

Spring had sprung, and the creek was rising. Swelled by melting snow and fed by hundreds of tiny waterfalls that trickled and leapt down the mountain's face, it roared past my feet, exuberant with spray. I could feel it cold on my face, and knew that I'd be wet to the knees within minutes, but it didn't matter. The fresh green of arrowhead and [ ] rimmed the banks, some plants dragged out of the soil by the rising water and whirled downstream, more hanging on by their roots for dear life, leaves trailing in the racing wash. Dark mats of cress swirled under the water, close by the sheltering banks.

Now, I'm writing this slowly, picking and choosing words, reshaping sentences, while re-entering the personal memories I have of snow-fed mountain creeks and adjusting these for the different vegetation patterns of North Carolina (my memories being of Northern Arizona ). And then—a toadstool popped up.

And fresh greens were what I wanted.

Well, of course she does. A) this is Claire, who would almost never be outdoors without taking note of what might be edible or useful in her surroundings, and B) it is spring, which means we're just coming out of a winter with no fresh food. You bet she wants fresh greens.

So I started thinking along those lines—she's not just watching the creek, she's out gathering. What's she gathering? How? I see the watercress in the creek; I know she wants it.

My gathering-basket was half full of [ginseng roots?] fiddleheads, ramp shoots [ck.] and wild asparagus [ck.]. A nice big lot of tender new cress, crisp and cold from the stream, would top off the winter's Vitamin C deficiency very well. I took off my shoes and stockings, and after a moment's hesitation, took off my gown and jacket as well and hung them over a tree-branch. The air was chilly in the shade of the silver birches that overhung the creek here, and I shivered a bit, but ignored the cold, kirtling up my shift before wading into the stream.

That cold was harder to ignore. I gasped, and nearly dropped the basket, but found my footing among the slippery rocks, and made my way toward the nearest mat of tempting dark green. Within seconds, my legs were numb, and I'd lost any sense of cold in the enthusiasm of forager's frenzy and salad-hunger.

Now, again, I'm writing this very slowly, integrating the information (what kind(s) of plants are likely to be there) with the sensory aspects, balancing sentences, choosing the paragraph break (not positive yet on that. It's a little longer paragraph than I prefer, especially when being descriptive; I might go back and break it after "tree-branch," but I do like beginning the next paragraph with the simple declarative sentence " That cold was harder to ignore." The rhythm is better.

That I can mess with some more next time I go back and forth through here. For the moment….

She's moving, she's doing something, and I've got well stuck into the sensory impressions of the scene; if I need backstory/explanation, this would be the place to do it (remember the comic-book model; you have the intro panel which establishes the character and situation, and then you have the 2/3/4 small panels beneath to do any backstory needed, after which the character(s) must be in motion).

So, a quick recap, for the benefit both of readers for whom this is the first book, and for those who don't necessarily reread the whole series before a new one comes out.

A good deal of our stored food had been saved from the fire, as it was kept in the outbuildings: the springhouse, corncrib, and smoking-shed. The root-cellar had been destroyed, though, and with it, not only the carrots, onions, garlic, and potatoes, but most of my carefully gathered stock of dried apples and wild yams, and the big hanging clusters of raisins, all meant to keep us from the ravages of scurvy. The herbs, of course, had gone up in smoke, along with the rest of my surgery. True, a large quantity of pumpkins and squashes had escaped, these having been piled in the barn, but one grows tired of squash-pie and succotash after a couple of months--well, after a couple of days, speaking personally.

The next bit I just heard, as I was inside Claire's head (that "speaking personally" kind of pulls you in there), and this is what she was thinking:

Not for the first time, I mourned Mrs. Bug's abilities as a cook, though of course I did miss her for her own sake. Amy McCallum Higgins had been raised in a crofter's cottage in the Highlands of Scotland and was, as she put it, "a good plain cook." Essentially, that meant she could bake bannocks, boil porridge, and fry fish simultaneously, without burning any of it. No mean feat, but a trifle monotonous, in terms of diet.

My own piece-de-resistance was stew--which lacking onions, garlic, carrots, and potatoes, had devolved into a grim sort of pottage consisting of venison or turkey stewed with cracked corn, barley, and possibly chunks of stale bread. Ian, surprisingly, had turned out to be a passable cook; the succotash and squash-pie were his contribution to the communal menu. I did wonder who had taught him to make them, but thought it wiser not to ask.

So no one had starved, nor yet lost any teeth, but by mid-March, I would have been willing to wade neck-deep in freezing torrents in order to acquire something both edible and green.

OK. Young Ian's in her head, and given what's happened in the previous chunk of story, she'd be paying particular attention to him. I can't (of course ) tell you what did happen , but this is what she's thinking:

Ian had, thank goodness, gone on breathing. And after a week or so, had ceased acting quite so shell-shocked, eventually regaining something like his normal manner. But I noticed Jamie's eyes follow him now and then, and Rollo had taken to sleeping with his head on Ian's chest, a new habit. I wondered whether he really sensed the pain in Ian's heart, or whether it was simply a response to the sleeping conditions in the cabin.

Hm. OK. Well, now, here I have a choice: I've opened the door to describing the sleeping conditions in the cabin, and I sort of want to do that, both for backstory and what you might call "forestory" (because I have another, partial scene that takes place in spring on the mountain, and think it may link up with this one)—but we've been doing backstory long enough. I need to pop back out of Claire's memories and into her physical present.

I stretched my back, hearing the small pops between my vertebrae.

OK, we're back. Now what? Well, we've just been looking back—let's look forward, as I don't see anything vivid happening right in the moment.

Now that the snow-melt had come, I could hardly wait for our departure. I would miss the Ridge and everyone on it--well, almost everyone. Possibly not Hiram Crombie, so much. Or the Chisholms, or--I short-circuited this list before it became uncharitable.

At which point Claire said:

"On the other hand," I said firmly to myself, "think of beds."

I left the sleeping conditions unexplored, but evidently she's still thinking about them, though willing to go along in the forward-looking with me:

Granted, we would be spending a good many nights on the road, sleeping rough--but eventually, we would reach civilization. Inns. With food. And beds. I closed my eyes momentarily, envisioning the absolute bliss of a mattress. I didn't even aspire to a feather-bed; anything that promised more than an inch of padding between myself and the floor would be paradise. And, of course, if it came with a modicum of privacy...even better.

OK. Interesting practical question; given that we have ten or twelve people crammed into Roger and Bree's old cabin, and the weather prevents any outdoor forays, and we assume that Claire and Jamie weren't willing to go for three or four months without sex—what were they doing?

Jamie and I had not been completely celibate since December. Lust aside--and it wasn't--we needed the comfort and warmth of each other's body. Still, covert congress under a quilt, with Rollo's yellow eyes fixed upon us from two feet away was less than ideal, even assuming that Young Ian was invariably asleep, which I didn't think he was, even though he was sufficiently tactful as to pretend.

At this point, my innate sense of rhythm and pacing is getting restless and thinking, "Enough with the backstory, description, and thoughts—something should happen!" So it does:

A hideous shriek split the air, and I jerked, dropping the basket.

Another toadstool. Fine—but what now? Do we find out immediately who shrieked and why?

No, this is Claire, she's after food—and she didn't just hear a shriek, she dropped her basket! So--

I flung myself after it, barely snatching the handle before it was whirled away on the flood, and stood up dripping and trembling, heart hammering as I waited to see whether the scream would be repeated.

Well, only two alternatives here: either the scream will be repeated, or it won't. If not, though, she's going to have to go looking for what made it. The story's focus is fixed, at this point—you can't ignore the scream and do more backstory or interior monologue or whatever—you have to deal with the scream. (Now, by this time, I do myself know what the scream was—remember, I know where and when we are—so the next bits were written with a knowledge of what was coming—which I didn't have when I began the scene.)

It was--followed in short order by an equally piercing screech, but one deeper in timbre and recognizable to my well-trained ears as the sort of noise made by a Scottish Highlander suddenly immersed in freezing water. Fainter, higher-pitched shrieks, and a breathless "Fook!" spoken in a Dorset accent indicated that the gentlemen of the household were taking their spring bath.

OK. Well, now we have fairly clear sailing for a bit, because of course we want to go and watch. The only thing to bother with, really, is simple craft things like description, detail, sensory impressions, imagery, and emotional undertow. (And I think I need to revise the next bit to include her wringing out her wet skirt and getting her shawl, but leave that, for now…)

There are few things more enjoyable than sitting in relative warmth and comfort while watching fellow human beings soused in cold water. If said human beings present a complete review of the nude male form, so much the better. I made my way through a small growth of fresh-budding river willows, found a conveniently-screened rock and spread out the damp skirt of my shift, enjoying both the bright sun on my shoulders and the sight before me.

Jamie was standing in the pool, nearly shoulder-deep, his hair slicked back like a russet seal. Bobby stood on the bank, and picking up Aidan with a grunt, threw him to Jamie in a pinwheel of flailing limbs and piercing shrieks of delighted fright.

"Me-me-me-_me_!" Orrie was dancing around his stepfather's black-furred legs, his chubby bottom bouncing up and down among the reeds like a little pink balloon.

Bobby laughed, bent and hoisted him up, holding him for a moment high overhead as he squealed like a seared pig, then flung him in a shallow arc out over the pool.

He hit the water with a tremendous splash and Jamie grabbed him, laughing, and pulled him to the surface, whence he emerged with a look of open-mouthed stupefaction that made them all hoot like gibbons. Aidan and Rollo were both dog-paddling round in circles by now, shouting and barking.

I looked across to the opposite side of the pool and saw Ian, evidently answering this invitation, rush naked down the small hill and leap like a salmon into the pool, uttering one of his best Mohawk war-cries. This was cut off abruptly by the cold water, and he vanished with scarcely a splash.

I waited--as did the others--for him to pop back up, but he didn't. Jamie looked suspiciously behind him, in case of a sneak attack, but an instant later, Ian shot out of the water directly in front of Bobby with a blood-curdling yell, grabbed him by the leg and yanked him in.

Matters thereafter became generally chaotic, with a great deal of promiscuous splashing, yelling, hooting, and jumping off of rocks, which gave me the opportunity to reflect on just how delightful naked men are. Not that I hadn't seen a good many of them in my time, but aside from Frank and Jamie, most men I'd seen undressed usually had been either ill or injured, and were encountered in such circumstances as to prevent a leisurely appreciation of their finer attributes.

From Orrie's round bottom and Aidan's spidery, winter-white limbs to Bobby's chunky, black-furred torso and neat little flat behind, the McCallum-Higginses were as entertaining to watch as a cageful of monkeys.

Ian and Jamie were something different--baboons, perhaps, or mandrills. They didn't really resemble each other in any attribute other than height, and yet were plainly cut from the same cloth. Watching Jamie squatting on a rock above the pool, thighs tensing for a leap, I could easily see him preparing to attack a leopard, while Ian stretched himself glistening in the sun, warming his dangly bits while keeping an alert watch for intruders. All they needed were purple bottoms, and they could have walked straight onto the African veldt, no questions asked.

They were all lovely, in their wildly various ways, but it was Jamie my gaze returned to, over and over again. He was battered and scarred, his muscles roped and knotted, and age had grooved the hollows between them. The thick welt of the bayonet scar writhed up his thigh, wide and ugly, while the thinner white line of the scar left by my treatment of a rattlesnake's bite was nearly invisible, clouded by the thick fuzz of his body-hair, this beginning to dry now and stand out from his skin. The scimitar-shaped swordcut across his ribs had healed well, no more than a hair-thin white line by now.

He turned round and bent to pick up a cake of soap from the rock, and my insides turned over. It wasn't purple, but could not otherwise have been improved on, being high, round, delicately dusted with red-gold, and with a delightful muscular concavity to the sides. His balls, just visible from behind, were purple with the cold, and gave me a strong urge to creep up behind him and cup them in my rock-warmed hands.

I have some reservations about the rhythm of the next bit, but this is what she thought:

I clapped a handful of shawl to my mouth to muffle the snort of amusement at thought of the standing broad-jump that would likely result if I did.

OK, the preceding several paragraphs have all been internal description, but the broad-jump sentence—whether I keep it or not—has pulled me back into Claire's mind—and I catch the implied thread of the "sleeping conditions" issue from above.

It occurred to me, with a small sense of shock, that I was so struck by him because I had not, in fact, seen him naked--or even substantially undressed--in several months. Owing to the weather and the cramped and semi-public nature of our accommodation since the Big House had burned, what lovemaking we had managed had been mostly accomplished at dead of night, mostly clothed, and under a blanket.

But now...I threw back my head, closing my eyes against the brilliant spring sun, enjoying the tickle of my own fresh-washed hair against my shoulder-blades. The snow was gone, the weather was good--and the whole outdoors beckoned invitingly, filled with places where privacy could be assured, bar the odd skunk.

OK. That's probably the end of this scene; we'll jump and take up further matters with a new one, because I don't feel anything of a dramatic nature happening with the guys bathing in the creek. But we'll see.