Monday, June 28, 2010

A Closer Look

OK—this is what it looks like on the inside. Just had my post-surgery checkup—all well—and the surgeon kindly presented me with a souvenir X-ray of my right leg, with unicompartmental knee in place. [g] (This is, if I’m not mistaken, a back view of my right leg (taken while I was unconscious following surgery). I _think_ that they flipped the negative while making the copy, thus making it look like my left leg.)

Many thanks to all the kind people who’ve sent me flowers, Starbucks cards, get-well cookies, and lovely cards and emails! Buoyed by so many positive vibes, I did get back to work after only a few days of blissful drug-induced stupor [g], and have been beavering away. Mostly on a story for an anthology, which is really due pretty much Right Now, but it’s nearly finished.

This one is for an anthology titled DOWN THESE STRANGE STREETS, which has a sort of mystery/thriller-with-fantasy-elements theme. I’m not sure as to the title; I have been calling it “Terror Daemonium” (that’s Latin for “Terror of Demons”—it’s from the Catholic Litany of St. Joseph, in case you couldn’t quite place it), but for the last couple of days have been thinking of calling it “The Space Between.” I’ll know better when it’s finished.

Anyway, the story itself deals with Michael Murray—Young Ian’s elder brother, another of Jamie Fraser’s nephews—whom we saw briefly in AN ECHO IN THE BONE—and with Joan MacKimmie, Marsali’s younger sister, whom we also saw briefly in ECHO.

Joan has a vocation to be a nun, and—there not being many convents in the Highlands—is going to France in order to do so. Michael, junior partner in a flourishing wine business in Paris, has offered to see her safely there. The road to the convent may present a few challenges, though.
This bit takes place on the Channel ferry, taking them across to France. Joan has just gone up for air, leaving the passengers in the cabin.

“Terror Daemonium”
Copyright 2010 Diana Gabaldon

“What a waste of a wonderful arse,” Monsieur Brechin remarked in French, watching Joan’s ascent from the far side of the cabin. “And mon Dieu, those legs! Imagine those wrapped around your back, eh? Would you have her keep the striped stockings on? I would.”

It hadn’t occurred to Michael to imagine that, but he was now having a hard time dismissing the image. He coughed into his handkerchief to hide the reddening of his face.

Madame Brechin gave her husband a sharp elbow in the ribs. He grunted, but seemed undisturbed by what was evidently a normal form of marital communication.

“Beast,” she said, with no apparent heat. “Speaking so of a Bride of Christ. You will be lucky if God Himself doesn’t strike you dead with a lightning bolt.”

“Well, she isn’t His bride yet,” Monsieur protested. “And who created that arse in the first place? Surely God would be flattered to hear a little sincere appreciation of His handiwork. From one who is, after all, a connoisseur in such matters.” He leered affectionately at Madame, who snorted.

A faint snigger from the young man across the cabin indicated that Monsieur was not alone in his appreciation, and Madame turned a reproving glare on the young man. Michael wiped his lips carefully, trying not to catch Monsieur’s eye. His insides were quivering, and not entirely either from amusement or the shock of inadvertent lust. He felt very queer.

Monsieur sighed as Joan’s striped stockings disappeared through the hatchway.

“Christ will not warm her bed,” he said, shaking his head.

“Christ will not fart in her bed, either,” said Madame, taking out her knitting.

“Pardonnez-moi…” Michael said in a strangled voice, and clapping his handkerchief to his mouth, made hastily for the ladder, as though sea-sickness might be catching.

It wasn’t mal-de-mer that was surging up from his belly, though. He caught sight of Joan at the rail, and turned quickly aside, going to the other side, where he gripped the rail s though it were a life-raft, and let the overwhelming waves of grief wash through him. It was the only way he’d been able to manage, these last few weeks. Hold on as long as he could, keeping a cheerful face, until some small unexpected thing, some bit of emotional debris, struck him through the heart like a hunter’s arrow, and then hurry to find a place to hide, curling up on himself in mindless pain until he could get a grip of himself.

This time, it was Madame’s remark that had come like a dart out of the blue, and he grimaced painfully, laughing in spite of the tears that poured down his face, remembering Lili. She’d eaten eels in garlic sauce for dinner—those always made her fart with a silent deadliness, like poison swamp gas. As the ghastly miasma had risen up round him, he’d sat bolt upright in bed, only to find her staring at him, a look of indignant horror on her face.

“How dare you?” she’d said, in a voice of offended majesty. “Really, Michel.”

“You know it wasn’t me!”

Her mouth had dropped open, outrage added to horror and distaste.

“Oh!” she gasped, gathering her small pug-dog to her bosom. “You not only fart like a rotting whale, you attempt to blame it on my poor puppy! Cochon!” Whereupon she had begun to shake the bedsheets delicately, using her free hand to waft the noxious odors in his direction, addressing censorious remarks to Plonplon, who gave Michael a sanctimonious look before turning to lick his mistress’s face with great enthusiasm.

“Oh, Jesus,” he whispered, and sinking down, pressed his face against the rail. “Oh, God, lass, I love you!”

He shook, silently, head buried in his arms, aware of sailors passing now and then behind him, but none of them took notice of him. At last the agony eased a little, and he drew breath.

All right, then. He’d be all right now, for a time. And he thanked God, belatedy, that he had Joan—or Sister Gregory, if she liked—to look after for a bit. He didn’t know how he’d manage to walk through the streets of Paris to his house, alone. Go in, greet the servants, face their sorrow, order a meal, sit down…and all the time wanting to throw himself on the floor of their empty bedroom and howl like a lost soul. He’d have to face it, sooner or later—but not just yet. And right now, he’d take the grace of any respite that offered.

He blew his nose with resolution, tucked away his mangled handkerchief, and went downstairs to fetch the basket his mother had sent. He couldn’t swallow a thing, himself, but feeding Sister Joan would maybe keep his mind off things for that one minute more.

“That’s how ye do it,” his brother Ian had told him, as they leant together on the rail of their mother’s sheep pen, the winter’s wind cold on their faces, waiting for their Da to find his way through dying. “Ye find a way to live for just one more minute. And then another. And another.”

He ‘d wiped his face—he could weep before Ian, while he couldn’t, with his elder brother or the girls, certainly not in front of his mother—and asked, “And it gets better after a time, is that what ye’re telling me?”

His brother had looked at him straight on, the quiet in his eyes showing through the outlandish Mohawk tattoos.

“No,” he’d said softly. “But after a time, ye find ye’re in a different place than ye were. A different person than ye were. And then ye look about, and see what’s there with ye. Ye’ll maybe find a use for yourself. That helps.”

“Aye, fine,” he said, under his breath, and squared his shoulders. “We’ll see, then.”

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety Jog

Well, I’m home—and thrilled to be here, believe you me. [g] I actually got sprung late afternoon on Friday, earlier than expected. Possibly because I was standing beside my bed, dressed in my street clothes, when the surgeon came in to see me (very funny; there was an RN and a LPN in the room at the time, and he apparently thought I was one, too. He glanced at the empty bed, then—startled—at me, and blurted, “Oh, you’re the _patient_! I didn’t recognize you.” No reason why he should, after all—I look quite different when out cold with my head in a bag).

Anyway, all’s well so far, but I’m not going to write much because I _am_ significantly Under the Influence of pain meds and rat poison. The knee is hugely swollen, of course—and was wrapped in layers and layers and layers of cotton batting and Ace bandage, as seen in the accompanying photo (my other leg is wearing an elastic compression stocking, to assist with circulation).

I got to unwrap it this morning, which was a great relief, though the underlying flesh is a nasty sight. (My husband took a photo of the incision-plus-steri-strips, but says I ought not to post that, as being too gross and indicating a tendency to egomania, assuming that people would be interested in looking at my gross knee. Now, personally, I’m always interested in looking at gross things, but I’ll bow to his better judgement here, since he’s _not_ on pain pills.)

Good to be home, though—and many, many, many thanks to all the kind people who’ve kept me in their thoughts and prayers!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Meet My New Little Friend

Meet my new little friend. The reason I’m not going anywhere much in June and July is—aside from my needing to stay put and write books—that I’m having partial (or at least I _hope_ it’s partial) knee replacement surgery tomorrow.

I went to see an orthopedic specialist at the behest of Elder Daughter (an OR nurse), when what I thought was chronic tendinitis in my right knee got suddenly worse. She said a cortisone injection might clear tendinitis up entirely, and could certainly make it feel better. Worth a try, eh?

So I went, and they took X-rays of my knees. In comes the doctor, remarking, “You’re awfully young to have so much arthritis.” Then he glanced at my chart and said, “Oh! You’re 58!” (I suppose this is a more respectable age to have so much arthritis.) He then said, without preamble, “You need a partial knee replacement”—adding, somewhat more kindly, “It’s probably hereditary.” (My total lack of cartilage, he meant.)

So we’re doing that. In about eight hours. For the curious (and un-squeamish), here’s a link to the surgical manual for the operation.

I’ll probably be in the hospital only two days, if everything goes well. Will try to write again and describe events, as soon as I feel up to it, but if you want to, you can check in here, on the “Diana’s Knee” thread in my Compuserve Books and Writers Community folder; my assistant Susan will post brief updates there until I’m back.

Many, many thanks to all the kind people who’ve been praying for me and wishing me well—I appreciate it HUGELY!

See you in a couple of days! [g]

Monday, June 14, 2010

Yes, the Green Slime _will_ have THE EXILE excerpt

Image copyright 2010 Hoang Nguyen

Just a note to answer the question about the graphic novel excerpt (I have no idea why, but the blog won't let _me_ post comments now). Yes, the new (green) US trade paperback edition does indeed have an eight-page, full-color excerpt from THE EXILE.

THE EXILE, for anyone who wasn't plugged in over the last six months or so, is the official title for the graphic novel based on OUTLANDER. This is being billed as "Jamie's side of the story"--and it is that, though Jamie's is not the only viewpoint. The bulk of the story is told from Murtagh's viewpoint, but that's obviously a harder sell for the poor marketing people. [g] And we do indeed get to see all the things that Claire _didn't_ see, wasn't privy to, or didn't understand--which means that there's a whole new storyline weaving through the events that you'll recognize from OUTLANDER.

And all of it _gorgeously_ illustrated by the remarkable Hoang Nguyen.

Edited to add an image of one of the pages (now that I figured out how)--this is one of my favorite "takes" of Jamie, down in the last panel, and gives you some idea of how the dialogue is handled. (And no, Jamie doesn't have pointed ears; his hair is just overlying the top of his ear.)

Sunday, June 13, 2010



Back in the day, when I was sixteen, I won a speech contest. The contest was sponsored by the International Order of Oddfellows, and the prize was a three-week trip (by bus) to New York City, and a week at the UN, with other winners from all over the country.

I traveled on a chartered Greyhound bus with thirty-three other sixteen-year-olds, winners from California, Arizona, and New Mexico, and it was one of the big highlights of my teenage years, not only for the trip itself, but for the lasting friendships made there.

As groups do, we evolved all kinds of in-jokes and catch-phrases, one of which was “Beware the Green Slime!”—because there was a horror movie by that name (“The Green Slime”) playing at theaters in what seemed like every small town where we spent the night. So…all kinds of Green Slime jokes, and we later published The Green Slime Gazette—a newsletter for the group—etc., etc.

So the term “Green Slime” is one of affection and delight, to me. It’s also the first thing that sprang to mind when I saw the new cover for the trade paperback edition of AN ECHO IN THE BONE.

Yes, I hear you all shrieking “Whyyyyy?!?”—whether in shared delight or horror. Well, because The Publisher (a person, rather than the company overall) thought that the black version of the cover—striking as it is—would be “lost” on a bookstore table in the scrum of trade paperbacks, and suggested that we change the color to something more vivid.

It…IS…vivid, you have to admit that much. [g] And I did say I liked green, and I do.

Anyway, this new US trade paperback will be released This Month, on June 22nd.

No, I’m not doing a book-tour for it. For one thing, one usually doesn’t tour for a paperback release, only for the initial hardcover publication. For another, I’m doing only two appearances in the early part of this summer, both local:

June 26th – I’ll be doing a multi-author event sponsored by The Poisoned Pen bookstore, held at the Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix. See here for details!

July 17th – I’ll be appearing at the Arizona Highland Celtic Festival, which is in Flagstaff, Arizona. I usually do a public reading at this event (will be reading excerpts from Book Eight, as I now have a few!—in case you want to know how some of those cliffhangers turn out…), and will be signing books much of the day. More details anon, but the basics of the Festival are here. ]

See you there—and if I don’t, I hope you’ll enjoy the vivid new addition to the jewel-toned US covers!

Sunday, June 6, 2010


Walking Battlefields

I had a wonderful time last week in North Carolina. I talked at the Literary Symposium in honor of New Bern’s 300th anniversary—the city was covered in decorated bears (Bears being a symbol of Switzerland, and New Bern being named after…well, old Berne, which is _in_ Switzerland. [g])—and to the New Bern Scottish Heritage Society.

Yes, I hear you all muttering, “Why is she running around talking to symposia instead of staying home and writing BOOKS?” (My husband keeps saying this out loud, adding, “And what’s a symposium, anyway?”) Well, in all honesty, lovely as New Bern is and nice as all the kindly folk I met in North Carolina are, I probably _wouldn’t_ have gone to do this, save that it _was_ in North Carolina. And so is a part of Book Eight.

Everybody knows about Valley Forge and Washington Crossing the Delaware (you do know, I hope, that artists of the period took considerable license, and were not, in fact, present at most of the stirring scenes they painted—including the one of General Washington standing up like a ninnyhammer in a boat making its way through a surging river full of ice-floes), and the Continental Congress in Philadelphia—1776 and all that.

Not so many people know about the Battle of Alamance—the first tax revolt in the American Colonies—or the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge—the first battle of the Revolution. Or at least they probably didn’t until they read THE FIERY CROSS and A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES. Bet a lot of you have heard of the Battle of Saratoga—maybe not so many,of Guilford Courthouse, Waxhaws, and Cowpens. (Unless you live in the Carolinas, of course.)

The battle of Guilford Courthouse, which was—oddly enough—fought in the general vicinity of the Guilford County Courthouse in Guilford County, North Carolina—was the high point of British achievement in what was called “the Southern Campaign,” this being what the British tried next, following the shattering defeat at Saratoga. In other words, they decided to try to cut the Colonies in two, occupy and subdue the southern colonies, and thus be able eventually to attack the northern colonies from two sides, as well as to more effectively throttle trade by controlling all the southern ports.

It might have worked. In fact, the British won the battle at Guilford Courthouse. But it cost them dearly. In the words of General Cornwallis (whom you met earlier, when William Ransom joined his staff in New York—and who you’ll meet again in the course of the war): “I never saw such fighting since God made me. The Americans fought like demons.” And General Lord Charles Cornwallis was a gentleman who’d seen his share of fighting at this point.

The British army won the ground, but sacrificed a great many men to do so—what we call a Pyrrhic victory—and the war began to go downhill for them from this point.

Right. So much, I could get from books. That, and a lot more—biographies of the major people involved (Major Banastre Tarleton, for one. You met him briefly at the Mischianza in Philadelphia, though many of you will likely know him better as the blueprint for the sadistic villain in Mel Gibson’s “The Patriot”), order of battle, names of regiments involved, the regimental books with muster rolls, sutlers’ and victuallers’ lists, the commanders’ despatches, etc., etc. But I’m not a historian—I’m a novelist. I want to know all the things you can find in books—but I still want to see where it happened. So, if you’re a historical novelist, exactly what are you looking for, when you walk a battlefield?

Well, you’re looking for the soul of that particular battle. Battles are different, one from another, and not only because of the arrangement of troops, the movement of cavalry, and the array of artillery.

The personalities of the officers—and often, of individual soldiers—affect a battle, as does the condition of the two armies when it takes place. More important than any other factor, though, is the mood of the men when they come together—and the mood of the place where they meet.

Places do have moods. Sometimes, the mood that strikes you is a function of the place itself; something in the rock, in the air and water. Sometimes, it’s a mood that’s sunk into the place as the result of something that happened there.

I’ve walked a number of battlefields, and while all of them are extremely interesting, they aren’t all haunted, by any means. I’ve been in places where I knew something terrible had happened, and yet there was no psychic trace of it left in the fabric of the place. In others, there _is_.

The battlefield at Gettysburg is huge; many separate engagements took place there that day, many of them bitterly fought, and much blood shed. The whole of the battlefield is quiet, dotted with monuments and explanatory plaques. But only one place there is haunted—the long field where Pickett’s charge took place. It’s haunted in the same way that the field at Culloden is haunted—and for the same reason. Someone who had no idea what had happened there would still know that _something_ happened.

What happened is that hundreds of men stood still on a field for a long time, knowing they were going to die.

You walk the ground. You don’t want to know that it was a hundred yards from the first American line to the second, which was on a rise of ground; you want to walk uphill and feel the pull of your thigh muscles and the sweat running down the crease of your backbone and look over your shoulder down the slope to see the thicket that the enemy came out of—running, were they? Or slower, cautious? No, running for sure, because at the top of the slope are two of the cannon that were there that day and nobody walks toward manned artillery. So, running, jostling, zig-zagging, bayonets fixed—because they would have fired from the shelter of the wood, not to much effect because the distance is too far, but there’d be smoke from the firing hanging over that slope and drifting through the trees, and if I had to charge a cannon-crew, I’d sure as heck do it coming out of the smoke if I could…

You look at what’s growing now, and you think about what might have been growing then. Landscape changes; some battlefields are conserved, so that the ground is maintained in an approximation of the vegetation at the time of the battle—Saratoga is, for one—but others are not (Alamance, for instance), some are in the process of being revised (Culloden has been substantially revised over the last 10-15 years, with the assistance of a small herd of Highland sheep, who eat the birch saplings on the moor), and you have to meld the accounts you’ve read of the battle with your impressions of what’s now there. And you make mental adjustments for the time of year.

The battle of Cowpens was fought in January of 1781; Guilford Courthouse in March of that year. I was walking those fields in mid-May, surrounded by soft green leaves and the smell of blooming grass (yes, grass blooms [g]; the blooms just don’t _look_ like what you think of as flowers], so was automatically thinking of what the meadow at Cowpens (and it _was_ a meadown then, too; it was called “cowpens,” because that’s what it was—the place where cattle-drovers gathered their beasts and fed them on the abundant grass before driving them to market in Charleston) would be like in winter: trampled brown grass, the gravel of the Green River Road (its trace is still there, edging the field) glinting with ice crystals in the still early morning (I know it was still, because several of the eyewitness accounts of the battle mention the unusual stillness).

Two wild turkeys tiptoed out of the forest at different points in my walk and peered at me suspiciously before going about their business. They wouldn’t have been obvious or plentiful in winter, but good to know they live in that neck of the woods—and one of them left me an iridescent breast feather for inspiration (most writers I know have feathers somewhere in their offices. I don’t know why this is, but it’s true).

And by the road was a small tree, completely covered with blue-green lichens. Now, lichens would have been there, no matter what the time of year. And that’s the sort of image that you use, as a novelist, to invoke a specific sense of place. So I paused for a minute to rest my hand on the trunk and look up, to see the lichens growing all the way to the upper branches, ten feet above my head. I don’t take pictures when I go looking—if I’m constantly worrying about composing a picture or snapping something, then I’m not actually _looking_ at it. And if I _am_ looking…I won’t forget.