Friday, March 21, 2008

In Which I Digress

Sorry—didn't mean to go off and abandon you (and poor Willie) in the Great Dismal Swamp [g]. Had to pause and do a lot of Stuff, though; three books waiting for cover quotes, a new book for review, a short story (no, really!) to be written for an anthology of "noir" crime due this month, further Really Cool artwork from Hoang, needing to be examined carefully and commented on, panel by panel, three high-school and college students wanting me to provide them with information for papers on "My Favorite/Most Influential Author" (this is flattering, but distracting)—I really should make up some kind of standard packet for this; I get a rash of such requests every spring, when it dawns on said students that May is looming and they haven't even started on their papers—a flurry of travel arrangements (me being the de facto travel agent for the family)—kids coming home for Spring Break and Easter, Doug and me going to the UK in April (more on this, later), a couple of local appearances, and a rash of email interviews.

I do a lot of interviews, what with one thing and another—and one question that seems to be a favorite with a lot of interviewers—they being fascinated by the apparent contradiction (well, they think it's a contradiction) of my having been a scientist and now being a novelist, is, "How has your life changed?"

Now, to be honest, I always figured this was a) a pretty stupid question ("Well, I used to teach and run around forests, and now I write books. Duh?"), and b) a symptom of laziness on the part of the interviewer, who had plainly not read any of my books, knew nothing about them or me, and couldn't think of anything more interesting to ask. I know they're just hoping I'll blather on sufficiently for them to pick up some interesting detail or quotable line; I've certainly never seen any material like this in a published interview, or c) is code for, "So, are you Rich and Famous now? Tell me some juicy details of disgustingly conspicuous consumerism I can quote." ("Well, I used to cook spaghetti for dinner four times a week, but nowadays we mostly eat at Vu or L'Orangerie…oh, and did I mention my brand-new Audi S6, with the Lamborghini-Gallarda V-10 engine? It's blue." (In all honesty, my husband's favorite two meals are spaghetti and beanie-weenie—followed closely by macaroni and cheese. He'd be perfectly happy to eat these in rotation all week, perhaps with pancakes and sausages for a treat on the weekend.))

Still, I always make an effort to answer just about anything anybody asks me (a conditioned response from decades of teaching and motherhood). So—ways in which my life has changed:

1. I don't—thank God Almighty!—have to get up at 7:00 AM every day. Probably the greatest benefit of doing what I do is being able to work in accordance with my own biorhythm, rather than in answer to some insane morning-person's notion of a universally desirable schedule. (Spring is also Career Day season; I'm always asked to go talk to various school classes about the chief benefits of being a writer. These would be Not Getting Up Early, and Not Wearing Pantyhose to Work, though the teacher in charge always looks a little startled when I tell the kids this. I don't know what the heck they think would be a good benefit.)

2. Dress. The first thing a man does upon quitting work to write full-time (or for any other reason, come to that) is stop shaving. Women buy sweat-pants. I used to work in sweats, but the fact is that I live in a desert and have a husband who still fortunately looks at me on occasion. Sweats are Rather Warm, and tend to cause adverse comment on the home front when worn for more than three days running. When I work up in Flagstaff (I inherited my old family home up there, and escape up to the mountains a couple of times a month to write by myself), I wear…well, actually, I wear pajamas until I feel hungry enough to go out for lunch, and then I put on the most comfortable available thing. At home, though, I normally work in jeans and a Foxcroft (aka non-wrinkling) cotton shirt in some bright color. This is comfortable, but sufficiently attractive as not to make my husband recoil, and sufficiently respectable as to allow me to answer the door without making the FedEx man blanch and drop his package.

The other side of Dress, though, is the public aspect. Now, this isn't a big problem for authors until and unless they get published. At that point, the specter of Promotion raises its grinning head, and the hapless author is suddenly confronted by the problem of what to wear whilst addressing the local Friends of the Library, or appearing on the local cable-channel's book-discussion show.

(You don't wear red on TV, and you don't wear things with busy small patterns, and you really don't wear black-and-white checks. Neither do you want to wear a white shirt/blouse, because it casts unflattering shadows on your neck. Ideal is something blue or violet, or something in the rose/mauve/pink line. Tailored or draped is fine, but avoid ruffles or anything fussy. OK to wear jewelry, but make sure it isn't the kind that swings or rattles, and don't wear too much of it. You do want to learn to do at least basic makeup, because most TV stations no longer make up their guests, and you will look dead if you go on without blush, concealer, and eyeliner, at least. This is not hard; go to a department store on Saturday morning, and have somebody at the makeup counter "do" you, so you can see how. It ain't rocket science.)

3. Books. You get to read and call it work, and BOOKS ARE TAX-DEDUCTIBLE!! (Theoretically, this applies only to books you use as resources in your own writing—but given the kind of indescribable stuff I write, that's pretty much everything, including THE PLEASURES OF THE TORTURE CHAMBER, THE SEX LIFE OF THE FOOT AND SHOE (which provided the genesis of Mr. Willoughby), and THE FABULOUS HISTORY OF THE DISMAL SWAMP COMPANY (cf., Willie, above).)

4. Public Life. I don't cite this as a benefit, so much, but it's one of the more obvious ways in which life changes when you become a professional novelist. See, most people have only one life: their marriage, their family, their job, their religion, their hobbies--and one life is frequently more than most people seem able to handle, judging from the stuff one sees on Jerry Springer.

In order to become a writer, though, you have to develop a whole new life—an interior life, where it's just you and the page and the people inside your head. The difficulty often lies in balancing this second life with the first one. I know a lot of people who say they'd like to write a novel, but who just can't manage to carve time and energy out of their first life—and never do. I also know a lot of people (though fewer, and all men, for obvious reasons) who are now divorced, because they went too far into their interior life, neglected their mates and families, and are now left, red-eyed and unshaven, staring into a computer screen all night.

Well, the thing is, if you're lucky enough to be not only published but popular, then all of a sudden you have a third life. This is your public life—the requests to go on three-week book-tours, to address the local library, to give lectures in Florida, Hawaii, and Alaska, to do radio and cable-TV shows, to do print interviews, to have lunch with readers passing through town who think it would be great to meet you (I once had the president and vice-president of the Arizona Turtle and Tortoise Society turn up unannounced on my front porch and invite themselves in for a chat—nice gentlemen. [g] The president was a fan of my books and had been recommending them to the vice-president, who was visiting from out of town, and as the president knew me from the university where I used to work and knew where I lived…), etc., etc., etc.

And if you don't learn to control and balance this third life, it'll eat both the others alive. On the one hand, you certainly want to promote your book—and you like to talk to readers, and—up to a point—it's fun to travel and see interesting places (though in all truth, you don't see a heck of a lot on the average book-tour save hotels, airports, and bookstores)—but on the other, you really, truly do need to have time in which to take care of your family, and to write.

So if I have to say no to many kind invitations these days—it's with reluctance, but out of a sense of realism. I physically can't accept all the invitations I get—or even half of them—but I do appreciate them, nonetheless.

5. You do occasionally experience things that the average person doesn't. For instance, I spent all of Saturday at the local Rennaissance Faire, judging the Sexy Knees in a Kilt contest (well, so that didn't take all of Saturday; I also wandered round with a friend and my three (adult) kids, marveling at the amazing diversity of human form (all the proof one needs that God not only exists, but has a pronounced sense of humor, I think), to say nothing of the ways in which said humans decorate their forms, and had a very tasty chocolate milkshake)—I'll put up a couple of pictures that a kind fan who was present sent me, on the website.

I spent the first weekend of the month doing a gig in San Antonio (for a trade organization of campus booksellers), at which I met Wally Lamb and Greg Mortenson (THREE CUPS OF TEA)—both great guys—and the second weekend doing the Fountain Hills Library Festival, at which I met Joe Garagiola (also a great guy [g]).

And the National Trust for Scotland did invite me to come to the dedication of the new Visitors Centre at the Culloden Battlefield (in Scotland) next month. So yeah, there are definitely perks to this, the lack of health insurance and 401(k) notwithstanding.

37 comments:

  1. Thanks for the comments regarding your three "lives." My husband is always trying to find time to write (screenplays are his focus, novels and short stories being his secondary projects. If he's ever famous and actually has his work "out there," I hope you have a chance to see it. You mentioned writing from different POVs in an earlier post and the way my husband writes in this manner makes my head spin!). He never has enough time and, aside from his job, I know I'm the main time burglar. It's nice to hear your opinion on this. I am definitely going to try to stop being such a distraction if he's ever going to finish what he starts. Thanks for the advice, even if you weren't directing it to the non-writers!

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  2. I absolutely ADORE the fact that you get your books tax-deducted!!
    Kinda makes me want to dedicate to writing. Too bad that I lack of enough imagination for that...

    (loved the Sexy Knees in a Kilt contest part)

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  3. I'm not sure which one of the Three Lives you consider this blog a part of, but "Thank You" for including us.

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  4. Love the whole thing today. But...I am going to pose the most important question for me!

    Who cleans?

    :P

    I just would like to make enough to have someone come in and vacuum once a week.....

    Thank you. You always make me smile.

    nm

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  5. What an exciting thing that you were invited to the new Visitor Centre at the Culloden Battlefield! What an honor. You made my day, it was so good to hear your voice today! Have a blessed Easter.

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  6. wow Diana. I am in such awe of your honesty. I think its one of the most refreshing things about you, or should I say, your third life. Does being candid and honest make the three lives easier to balance? Fanny Hill is extremely bawdy. wow. I love how you incorporated that sort of prose into a loving relationship between husband and wife instead of prostitution. It's far worth the read , in my opinion.

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  7. I was just reading about the new Visitor Center at Culloden Battlefield today. Very cool beans that you are going!! Make pictures for us!!

    Have you read anything on Frances Marion, the Swamp Fox, from South Carolina? Not sure if that is part of the Dismal Swamp. Neat name…one of my ancestors was named for him.

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  8. Dear Melanie--

    Y'all are part of the Public Life. [g]

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  9. Dear nightmusic--

    I had the advantage of a mother who went back to work (as an elementary school teacher) when I started kindergarten, and who at that point hired a housekeeper, both to clean and do laundry, and so that there would be someone at home when my sister and I came home from school, two hours before my mother did.

    As she explained it to us, "It makes much more sense for me to do something I like and am good at, and pay someone to clean the house. That gives Annie May (the housekeeper) a job, we have somewhat more money as a family, and you get a happy mother."

    In other words, I have an excellent part-time housekeeper (who's worked for us for the last 22 years), who comes three mornings a week to do laundry and keep us from being condemned by the County Health Department.

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  10. Dear Polly's--

    Yes, I've read a bit about Francis Marion--though so far, he hasn't crossed my path directly. (South Carolina is a good bit south of the Great Dismal, but has plenty of its own swamps. [g])

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  11. Diana:

    Well, "conditioned response" or not, I've been amazed for a long time at your willingness to answer just about any question. So here's another one for you: The visit from the people from the Arizona Turtle and Tortoise Society -- was that before or after VOYAGER was published? The turtle soup scene in that book is one of my all-time favorites [g]and I'm wondering if their visit had anything to do with it? Just curious...

    I also wanted to wish you a happy Easter. I'm Jewish, so obviously my holiday traditions are different. But I have always appreciated the fact that your books show a tolerance for different religious practices, and that you go to such great lengths to show how people of different faiths coexisted (with varying degrees of success, of course) even in the 18th century.

    Karen

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  12. Your mom sounds wonderfully practical - a trait she no doubt passed on to her daughter (then to be given to Claire!). I'm of a similar bent wrt cleaning. My 3 kids gave me a t-shirt that said "life's too short to do housework! I wear it alot.

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  13. Diana and bedelia,
    Your comments remind me of my husband's gram, who was very well read, and who had a plaque on the wall which read, "A clean house is a sign of a wasted mind."

    Melissa

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  14. Something that hasn't to do much with your post.
    Is it also so difficult to get a master place in biology in America?
    I had to talk to some Profs and so on and they didn't pick me and now I will do some practical work in a lab.Dunno what I do when they don't pick me in winter term.Bachelor doesn't count very much in Germany.
    Happy Easter.

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  15. Diana,

    Congrats on the invitation to dedicate the Culloden Visitor Centre! Wish I could be there.

    Reading your comment on going over more artwork from Haong, I may have found the perfect Jamie butt for him to draw inspiration from! Check it out at http://eyesofgarnet.blogspot.com/.

    Mary

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  16. I've been absent too and am luckily of the mind that it doesn't matter how long it takes you to post. I will patiently wait to read.

    I was needing a good long post from you this week. Thank you for coming through and squeezing us (your thirds) into to the craziness that is your multiple-life (dis)order. (Ah parentheses, what would I do without you?)

    Thanks too to my cohorts, who always provide thoughtful (who are these scarily intelligent people?) and entertaining commentary.

    Nontheless, I am post-surgical and medicated so all I can comment on is you said, "drop his package." Hee Hee Hee! Sorry, its the meds talking. I'll be back when I'm more coherent.

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  17. Dear Karen--

    Chag Sameach! The ways in which people and approach the knowledge of G_d are various--but the reasons why are not.

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  18. Dear Julia--

    Oh, I'm sorry you're having trouble finding a place. I think our educational system works a little differently; you do have to be accepted to a Master's Degree (or Ph.D.) program, but that's usually not much different than the application process to university in general.

    Oh--you do need to have a major advisor; perhaps this is what you're referring to? That would be a professor under whose guidance you do your thesis/dissertation project.

    Any way, good luck with the next term. If biology doesn't work out...maybe you can write novels? [g]

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  19. Hi, Mary!

    I saw this piece (and photo [g]) some time ago on...electricscotland.com, I think. Thanks for reposting it!

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  20. Don't you just love electricscotland???

    And thanks for the heads up on the cleaning arrangements. I'm going to have to try that. I have always adhered to the belief that an investment in my girls was much more important the arguing with the health department so the housework always came last but with your schedule. Oi!

    ;)

    nm

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  21. Diana~

    To echo Karen Henry, I am grateful that you answer our questions honestly. I am happy I waited to respond to your post -- I saw it last night and was uncertain as to my feelings: my Catholic self felt instant guilt for wanting more from you, of you, and never once contemplating the drag on your psyche, your hubby, or your children; my intellectual self responded to the titles of your tax-deductible books (lovely, those); my avaricious streak thrilled to the thoughts of the perks and gobs of money I assume you make; the chick in me nodded to the fact that you still dress for your hubby because it does matter, even after thirty-some years of marriage.

    Then, there was the part of me that simply wanted to confront you and ask, "Didn't you, at least one time, ponder what could happen to your life when your publisher gave you your initial three-book contract?" Though, I admit, there is no true understanding of some events until you personally experience them, tell me you at least thought about it?!?

    So, all that being said, thank you for an honest glimpse into your life. You have given me much to consider.

    Midge
    Pax and Happy Easter

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  22. Dear Midge--

    Well, I did _wonder_ what it might be like, but at the time, I knew only a few published authors, and while they'd occasionally tell stories about (usually humiliating) book-signings and horrible cover-art, I don't believe I heard a word about book-tours, fan-mail, or what to wear on TV. [wry g]

    Bear in mind also that all this stuff only happens to you if you're sufficiently lucky as to be fairly popular. I didn't have any expectation that I would be.

    And in all fairness, I've been accustomed to a large amount of hair-raising change in life, ever since I met my husband. [g] Not that he is solely responsible for this; it's just that we both have this wild streak of "Oh, why NOT?" and we reinforce it in each other. So we've done something guaranteed to turn our lives upside down, on an average of once every two years. Move across the country with all our possessions in a U-Haul to go to graduate school? Have a baby? Buy a house? Have another baby? Start a business? Have _another_ baby?!? Buy a much bigger and more interesting house? (that's what we did with the advance, when I sold OUTLANDER, btw). Write a novel? Quit your job? Oh, heck...why NOT? [g]

    You know, we just roll with the punches.

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  23. Hello!
    New Visitor Centre at Culloden Battlefield?? You there? Next month? :D
    I missed you when visiting Canada by about a week at a book signing in Victoria a few years ago and was QUITE bummed to put it nicely... I live on the opposite side of Scotland... and will be 8 months pregnant by then.... hmmmmm.... wonder if it'd be possible.... :)

    How did you manage to find yourself as a judge for a sexy knees competition? That'd be great fun! :D

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  24. Dear Diana,

    At the risk of fawning, you never cease to amaze me. Whether it's from the books directly, or this Blog that I am come lately to...you continually "deliver".

    You never disappoint (well, maybe when you used "normalcy" in ABOSA, I was a LITTLE taken aback, but that's just a personal pet peeve, and certainly just a very small point!) and I can never get enough of what you write! Your writing gives me SUCH pleasure and entertainment, and has reinforced my interest in our American History!

    I felt very bad for you when you lost your Gus. I am a Dachsie lover from way-back and know how much the little guys can wrap themselves around your heart!

    I thank you very much for everything you write, here, the books (OF COURSE!), and the CompuServe list, and any others I'm not aware of.

    All my best, always,

    Mikki

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  25. Thanks for your answer Diana.
    I had an interview and they checked my marks and said I was not good enough.It's a bit unfair cause for the diploma you had to sign on only once and with bachelor and master you have to apply both times and they only take the best.
    So practical work for now or my Mom will kill me. :)
    Oh I write something right now.It's a crime story in which a young policewoman has to find the killer of the president of the university in Braunschweig.I know the city so I thought I write something which plays there.

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  26. Diana:

    I think that "why not?" attitude carries over very clearly into your writing, too. It shows in your willingness to let your characters be who they are. Claire insisted on "being modern" right from the beginning, something you clearly didn't anticipate. But you said, "Why not?", and here we all are 20 years later [g]. Or, to take another example: I imagine you didn't create Lord John specifically as a gay character, but when he revealed himself to be attracted to men, you said, "Why not?", and ended up exploring all sorts of issues, both personal and societal, that we never would have heard about otherwise.

    I also think that your characters share that same attitude of "rolling with the punches". You've put them through some really traumatic situations (to put it mildly!); in some cases it may take years for them to recover, but in the end they always manage to pull themselves together and get on with their lives. And in my opinion at least, that constant struggle to deal with whatever life throws at them, their refusal to allow themselves to be destroyed by it, is one reason that they are so compelling to watch.

    (Hmmm...pretty deep thoughts for a Sunday morning [g]. Didn't mean to get quite that analytical, but once I started, I just couldn't seem to stop myself.)

    Karen

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  27. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  28. Ok, don't know how I did that, but somehow I managed to accidentally delete my post? Oh well, here's what it was:

    And a GREAT BIG THANK YOU for allowing me a part your "lives" and for bringing so very many blessings into my life! Hugs! -- JP

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  29. Diana,
    I bestow upon you the crown and title of "The Queen Juggling"! I am still a victim of early morning rising... I have to get up at 6:40 to get myself ready for work and then my boys ready for school.. Well, DS#1 is pretty self sufficient. I have a lot of first life interruptions in the evenings too.

    I guess my "second life" of writing... or other obsessions... fits in where the housework portion of the first life is. Fortunately, the hubby doesn't mind too much. Wish I could hire a housekeeper... I guess I need to do a better job training the boys! ; ) If my Mom were still alive, I am sure she would ring my neck. ; ) Well, she was a 'stay at home Mom'.

    As always, your blogs are refreshing to read! You have been a busy girl... hope you get a chance to relax a bit in Scotland! Thanks for sharing yourself to us in your "third life".

    Well, I gotta get back to my first life... work. Have a good day!!

    Vicki (Piper Mom)

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  30. Err... that should say "The Queen OF Juggling!" hmm... first life got in the way at that moment! ; )

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  31. Diana:

    Well I now have a second life as well. It's composed of deciding which book of yours to re-read, deciding which cd of your books to listen to in the car on the way to work, and deciding when to log in to Voyages of the Artemis to see what you've been up to. I think I need to start a Gabaldon 12-step program....

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  32. Karen, I couldn't have said that better myself! Well said.

    Diana, you? Digress? How on earth would your characters have gotten into such wild situations if not for a little digression once in a while? I'm so glad it's in your nature to follow wherever your thoughts lead, to answer honestly, to say "why not?" You books wouldn't be half as fun otherwise.

    Oh, and I'm looking forward to seeing those pics!

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  33. I am a "Stay-at-Home-Mom" in training. :) Having worked throughout my first 10 years of motherhood, I've left teaching for awhile to stay home while my one-year-old is little. I find that I get less accomplished now that I'm home! I find that I have too many "interests" that pull me in different directions now that my "teaching life" is on hiatus. Unexpectedly, housework continues to be a disruption of my valuable time! *laugh* And here I thought I would have House Beautiful knocking down my door once I was home and had the "time" to keep it neat. What a myth!

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  34. Diana, you are just the best. I wish I could have been your student in college. Two quick questions, just because: are you excited for the new X-Files movie (providing you knew about it and/or gave a shite anyway), and did you like the 1993 movie Contact? I have English and theater degrees, but have a fascination with science fiction and astrology, and sometimes wish my career path (high school teacher) would have taken a more interesting route. Maybe the vision of myself in "robes of oriental splendor" telling fortunes is just an amusing result of reading about Mrs. Graham and her triple strand of pearls. Anyway, I was just curious how you (one of my Favorite People I've Never Met But Feel As Though I Actually Know) felt about an old favorite movie. I would love love love to read a contemporary novel you wrote with an X-Files-like plot. Not that you don't already have enough to do. Thanks again! You rock. =)

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  35. Diana said:

    "And in all fairness, I've been accustomed to a large amount of hair-raising change in life, ever since I met my husband. [g] Not that he is solely responsible for this; it's just that we both have this wild streak of "Oh, why NOT?" and we reinforce it in each other. So we've done something guaranteed to turn our lives upside down, on an average of once every two years. Move across the country with all our possessions in a U-Haul to go to graduate school? Have a baby? Buy a house? Have another baby? Start a business? Have _another_ baby?!? Buy a much bigger and more interesting house? (that's what we did with the advance, when I sold OUTLANDER, btw). Write a novel? Quit your job? Oh, heck...why NOT? [g]

    You know, we just roll with the punches."
    ************************************************

    Midge responds (belatedly):

    There are folks in this world with adventurous spirits and those without; there are those who roll with the punches and those who get bruised. One is not better or more preferable, but it takes both to appreciate the specific gifts and talents of the other.

    Diana, you are a most talented writer. You have put to good use the gift that God granted you. You have a mighty support system -- your beloved husband, your loving children and family, the professionals who help make it possible. But, without your fans, your gift would go largely unappreciated and you would be unfulfilled.

    I do not subscribe to the gluttonous consumption of celebrity that is prevalent in our world today because it smacks of one being better than the other. But, I will admit that when you signed my hardback copy of FC at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena, CA., way back when, my knees were knocking and I was speechless. I may have even drooled on my blouse......!

    All I'm saying is that the pleasure of our dialogue here at this blog, the glimpses inside your marvelous brain and thought processes, the fun of sharing with the other bags at LOL, being challenged to be intelligent at CompuServe, all of it is a wonder and gift. I am deeply aware that we, I, take up your time when you could be better employed -- thank you for every bit that you share. And thanks to us for keeping you motivated!

    Midge

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  36. Mrs. Gabaldon you live a truly amazing life!! I do not know anyone who can accomplish all of that AND still have time for themselves. I just have one question. When all is said and done, when do you think you will be able to come up to Canada? Is that your choice or your publishers ?

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