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!