• “The smartest historical sci-fi adventure-romance story ever written by a science Ph.D. with a background in scripting 'Scrooge McDuck' comics.”—Salon.com
  • A time-hopping, continent-spanning salmagundi of genres.”
    —ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY
  • “These books have to be word-of-mouth books because they're too weird to describe to anybody.”
    —Jackie Cantor, Diana's first editor

How Do You Read?

How do you read?

I get frequent questions—from readers and interviewers—asking me whether I read. My initial response is always, “What, are you crazy?”, but I usually suppress this in favor of something more politic, like, “How can anybody not read?”

People do (not read, I mean), of course, horrifying as this concept is (my husband once had an employee who told him that her daughter had to read a book for school and so she had rented a copy for the child. Having been in her house, I’d noticed that she owned no books (totally creepy), but to have no idea of what or where the public library is?). But come on—to ask a professional novelist whether he or she reads?

Now, I do hear from other novelists who say that they can’t read books in their own genre, or can’t read while actively writing, and that makes some sense (I don’t read time-travel books, myself). But if you don’t read something, how do you refine your sensibilities, improve your craft, or merely fill up your creative well by listening to the lyrical song of someone else’s words?

Let’s put it this way: If there are any novelists who just don’t read, I probably don’t want to read what they write.

A refinement of the “Do you read?” question comes along every now and then, and this one is kind of interesting: “HOW do you read? I used to love reading, but now I have a job, kids, a house, etc., and I just seem to have no time to read anymore. I know you have a busy life, too, so I just wanted to ask, how do you manage to read?”

Now, that’s a question of logistics, isn’t it? So I took a look at “how” I read, physically. Because I do read pretty much all the time, and normally consume 3-4 books a week (lots more, when traveling), not counting whatever I’m reading for research. So how does it work?

Well, for starters, I always have at least one book within reach. If you’re accustomed to only reading in your favorite chair, when you have two or three hours of leisure, with a good light on and a glass of sweet tea beside you, then yeah, having a family is going to inhibit you some. I read everywhere. All the time.

I have a book on the counter while I’m cooking; I can’t (or shouldn’t {cough}) read while chopping vegetables, but I can certainly read while tearing up lettuce, sautéing garlic, or browning meat—and once something’s on the stove or in the oven, I just need to be there. No problem in reading while waiting for things to brown, cook, simmer, etc. (actually, I do pushups on my kitchen counter while reading during kitchen lag-time—I can read the back Op-Ed page of the Wall Street Journal and do 75 pushups (the sissy kind; I have weak wrists) while waiting for the dogs to eat their breakfast. (Why am I waiting for dogs to eat? Because the fat one eats faster and will muscle his brother out of the last quarter of his meal if I’m not watching)).

I have dogs; my son has dogs, and brings them down with him when he comes to visit. I take the rest of the Wall Street Journal to my office with me and whenever the dogs need to go out, I bring a chunk of it along—or if I’ve finished the paper, I grab my Kindle and read whatever’s up on that while the hounds burrow for gophers or play Questing Beast in the long grass and tumbleweeds.

I have a book on the bathroom counter and read while brushing teeth, applying sunscreen, and performing ablutions. I take the book into my closet and read while I’m getting dressed.

I try to walk five miles a day (and manage it about four days a week; get 2-3 miles on other days), with and without dogs. I have audiobooks on my iPod, and listen to these while walking (on my second re-listen of the entire Aubrey/Maturin series, by Patrick O’Brian—great books, one of my all-time favorite series).

If I have books for review (I do occasional reviews for a newspaper) or waiting for possible blurbs (there’s a small stack of ARCs from publishers), I pick one up whenever I go downstairs and take it along on errands (always take a book to a doctor’s appointment or the post office, is my advice).

Poetry books, and nonfiction books that aren’t for research, but just interesting—I’m reading Simon Winchester’s KRAKATOA at the moment—I leave in the bathroom, and read in small, digestible chunks. That enables me to comprehend everything easily, as I’m seldom dealing with more than a page at a time. {g} Have had KRAKATOA in there for two weeks; about halfway through the book, and now know all kinds of fascinating stuff about plate tectonics, with THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS and John Mark Eberhart’s poetry collection, NIGHT WATCH, waiting for their turn.

The only time (other than traveling) I really read without doing something else is for a brief period after dinner, while my husband watches TV, and for a still briefer period after I’ve tucked him in bed, when the dogs and I lie down on the Taos bed, and I read for 10-30 minutes before falling asleep.

It’s sort of like the way I write. Not in concentrated stretches of 4-5 hours (I do know some writers who claim that’s the only way they can write, and more power to them), but in stretches of an hour at a time, two or three or four times a day (depending where I am in the course of a book; toward the end, I really do write nonstop for ten or twelve hours—bar bathroom breaks (during which I read) and meals (ditto)—but that phase luckily doesn’t last long).

For today: Just finished Charlaine Harris’s new Sookie Stackhouse novel, DEAD RECKONING (good as always) this morning, 35% of the way through Anne Perry’s TREASON AT LISSON GROVE, which I picked up right afterward, four more pages about subduction zones in KRAKATOA, and about 25 pages into the ARC of a thriller off the blurb pile. Plus entertaining stuff from WSJ about the medical maladies of historical characters and why birth-control pills make women marry less-masculine men (also good op-ed piece by a British writer on pusillanimous response of Brits to killing of bin Laden).

Now mind, I don’t watch television. That helps.

Quick Question – 20th-Anniversary Edition

Well, it’s like this:  The new, snazzy, all-signing, all-dancing (well, singing, at least) 20th-anniversary edition of OUTLANDER will be released on July 5th.

On July 5th, I personally will be traveling from New York to Laramie, WY (which is one of those places that you can’t get there from here, so it will take all day, starting before dawn) in order to be the keynote speaker at the Sir Walter Scott Symposium held at the University of Wyoming. What with one thing and another (ThrillerFest, for one–it’s even more impossible to get _back_ from Laramie to New York, taking all night as well as part of the next day), I won’t be back in Arizona until sometime on the 10th.

Now, The Poisoned Pen bookstore has graciously offered to host an event for the launch of this book, if I’d like. The question, though, is really–would _you_ guys like this?

I’d be happy to spend an evening with you and sign your books (and perhaps read a few excerpts from the upcoming SCOTTISH PRISONER and the so-far-untitled Book Eight (I really must come up with a title one of these days), but I don’t know how much demand there might be for Diana Live {g}, given the nature of this particular book. I mean, it’s a _beautiful_ book, and stuffed full of entertaining extra material–but it’s not a brand-new novel, either.

Let me know what you think, and I’ll tell the bookstore in a couple of days.

Thanks

HAPPY BIRTHDAY! (and other news for May)

“”This is a morning my father never saw,” Jamie said, still so softly that I heard it as much through the walls of his chest, as with my ears. “The world and each day in it is a gift, mo chridhe-no matter what tomorrow may be.”

I sighed deeply and turned my head, to rest my cheek against his chest. He reached over gently and wiped my nose with a fold of his shirt.

“And as for taking stock,” he added practically, “I’ve all my teeth, none of my parts are missing, and my cock still stands up by itself in the morning. It could be worse.”

–The Fiery Cross, Chapter 58: “Happy Birthday To You.” Copyright 2001 Diana Gabaldon.

HAPPY MAY DAY! And many, many thanks to all of you who have sent me messages wishing James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser a happy 290th birthday. {g}

My husband was just asking me if there was a reason why I chose May 1 for Jamie’s birthday. In fact, there is—or there are, rather. To begin with, I thought it might have something to do with Claire’s passage through the stones, which happened on Beltane (April 30). (As it was, it didn’t really seem to have much to do with that, but that’s sort of what I had in mind to begin with.)

Beyond that—I knew Jamie was a Taurus, so obviously born sometime in May (ask me how I know this; my husband and all three children are born in May (this is the fault of Arizona State University, where I used to be a professor, and which said (at the time), “You can have all the maternity leave you want, but we aren’t going to pay you for any of it.” To which I replied, “Fine. I’m on a 9-month academic-year contract, and you don’t pay me in the summers anyway. I’ll have babies in May.” (A Ph.D. in Biology has to be good for something, after all))). My husband’s birthday is May 3, but I didn’t think it was right to make him share his birthday with Jamie, so….there you are. May 1.

(I have had assorted people cast Jamie’s horoscope, and assure me that yes, indeed, he is a Taurus. I never doubted this.)

Anyway, moving right along here—in Other May News:

LEPRECON 37 – May 6-8

I will be appearing at LepreCon 37, an sf/f con held in Tempe, AZ next weekend. The con runs May 6-8, but I’ll be there only on the 7th and 8th. The location is the Tempe Mission Palms Hotel, and here is the con’s website.

I’ll be doing the following appearances:

(panel) LIT – HOW TO DO A READING  —   Sat 10a-11a, Joshua Tree

(panel) LIT – DIY SOCIAL MEDIA   –  Sat noon-1p, Xavier

READING   –  Sat 2p-230p, Boardroom

AUTOGRAPHING  —   Sat 230p-330p, Dealers Room

(panel) LIT – OUR FAVORITE MILITARY SF  –  Sun 10a-11a, Xavier

(panel) LIT/MED – BOOKS TO MOVIES  —   Sun 3p-4p, Xavier

Now, on my way home Saturday from LepreCon, I’ll be stopping at the COMIC ZONE bookstore for a quick one-hour signing, as part of their “Free Comics!” Day festivities:

Location:
Comic Zone
5909 N. Granite Reef, rd.
Scottsdale, AZ 85250
480-483-2685 for more info

This appearance will naturally be focused mostly on THE EXILE, as it’s a graphic novel, but if y’all have other books you’d like signed, I’d be happy to do that.

KABAM! (Kingman Area Books Are Magic) –aka the Kingman (AZ) Book Festival – May 12-14

I couldn’t begin to remember what-all I’ll be doing for this festival, but it ranges from school visits and public autographings to panels, readings, and all sorts of stuff. I’ll be there for three days, and busy most of the time, let’s leave it at that. {g}

SCOTTSDALE PUBLIC LIBRARY AUTHORS AND APPETIZERS – May 20th , 7:00 PM.

This is a nice event, held at the Scottsdale Public Library, wherein they invite a number of different authors, each of whom does a quick 7-10 minute talk and is then available to chat and sign books—and they provide food!

(There are several websites where you can find more detail and/or buy tickets: here’s one.)

Right, see you at one of these events—and if not…I’ll post the schedule for June/July/August a little later. Meanwhile, in Other Interesting News:

THE UNABRIDGED AUDIOBOOK FOR A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES IS NOW AVAILABLE THROUGH AUDIBLE.COM!!!

I’ve explained (roughly ten million times) why THE FIERY CROSS and ABOSA were not available via Audible.com—owing to restriction in the contract with Bantam Audio, who do the (disgustingly eviscerated, bloody mangled shreds) abridged audio versions, we were not allowed to sell the unabridged versions through retail outlets while the original license (ten years from date of print publication) was in effect.

The licenses to earlier books have expired and been revoked, thus preventing those abridged excrescences from being sold any longer, and ECHO was fortunately not covered under the earlier contract (so there has never been and never will be an abridged audio version). Great. Well, THE FIERY CROSS license expires this November, and the instant it does, FIERY CROSS will also be available via Audible.com and anywhere else audiobooks are sold.

The license for ABOSA, though, doesn’t expire until 2014. We tried to get Bantam Audio to allow us to sell the unabridged version now (without revoking their abridged one), but they wouldn’t budge. So—in order to make the whole series available in unabridged form as soon as possible—we (me and my agent) did them a deal. They go on selling the abridged version until 2014 (at which point we cut them off at the knees), but meanwhile we release the unabridged version in retail markets—and share the income with them.

So that’s why ABOSA is now available and FIERY CROSS isn’t yet. It wasn’t worth doing a deal to get the unabridged version into retail outlets six months earlier than it will happen anyway. But come November, ALL the OUTLANDER and LORD JOHN books will be available in Unabridged versions through any retail outlet you care to use!

April 16, 1746

Today is the 265th anniversary of the Battle of Culloden. In honor of that, I thought I’d just post links to the two blogposts I did a couple of years ago, when I was privileged to attend the dedication of the new Visitors Centre at Culloden.

“Dedication”

“Culloden”

Urram do na mairbh.

The Ides of April – or, Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

In honor of the date, a song of the American Revolution:

A Junto Song

‘Tis money makes the members vote
And sanctifies our ways,
It makes the patriot turn his coat
And money we must raise, and
A-taxing we will go, will go
And a-taxing we will go.

More taxes we must sure impose
To raise the civil list;
Also pay our ayes and noes,
And make opposers hist, and
A-taxing we will go, &c.

The power supreme of Parliament
Our purpose did assist.
And taxing laws abroad were sent
Which rebels do resist, and
A -taxing we will go, &c.

Boston we shall in ashes lay,
It is a nest of knaves;
We’ll make them soon for mercy pray
Or send them to their graves, and
A-taxing we will go, &c.

Each colony, we will propose,
Shall raise an ample sum;
Which well applied, under the rose,
May bribe them—as at home, and
A-taxing we will go &c,

We’ll force and fraud in one unite,
To bring them to our hands;
Then lay a tax on the sun’s light
And king’s tax on their lands, and
A -taxing we will go, &c.

From Songbook of the American Revolution, Rabson
Note: in 1775, Britain sent a “Junto” of three generals, Clinton
Howe and Burgoyne, to th colonies to put the rebellious
colonists in their place.

DG Note: I particularly recommend “Music of the American Colonies” by Anne and Ridley Enslow, for an excellent performance of this song, as well as many others. In case you wondered what kind of music I listen to while writing. {g}

Historical Sex Scenes

Historical Sex Scenes

Now, don’t start hyperventilating. This isn’t about how to write historical sex scenes (though I might show you a sort-of one, in a bit*). It’s a solicitation. {g}

I was going to start out by saying that I have no idea how this happened, except that I do. I just don’t remember who to blame for it. What did happen was that six(ish) years ago, the Historical Novel Society (of which I am a member) held its biannual conference in Albany. It was the first conference of the HNS that I’d attended, and in my usual amiable way, I’d told the organizers that I’d be happy to do whatever they liked, in the way of panels, etc.

So they put me on three or four panels, and one of those was a panel on writing sex scenes. There were six people assigned to the panel—which is kind of a lot, really; you get a great variety of input, but with such a large number, it’s hard to have a good discussion.

Anyway, the six of us conferred via email as to the best way of managing the panel, traffic-wise, and someone (actually I think it may have been me, maybe I am to blame for this, what a horrifying thought…) said that it’s really hard to talk about the techniques involved in sex scenes without having examples to refer to.

So someone (and it may have been Chris Humphreys…then again, it might have been me…) suggested that since there was no conceivable way in which six people could read sex scenes in an hour, and then have any time in which to talk about them, that we see if the conference would allow us a separate session, outside the regular programming, during which any panelists who liked to could read one or two samples. That way, attendees who really didn’t want to hear sex scenes could avoid them and just hear about techniques, whereas those who wanted the…er…full experience (so to speak), could listen to the samples, which we would then talk about the next day.

Well, the organizers were willing (and it was Chris Humphreys who suggested it to them, I know that much), and they scheduled the Saturday Night Late-Night Sex-Scene Reading, after the official banquet.

I think five of the six panelists agreed to read sex-scenes—a couple of us came in nightwear (I almost always change into a yukata covered with cranes—I have three, in different colors—after the official part of a conference day, because while I’m happy to go on socializing into the wee hours, I’m not doing it in an underwired bra and high heeled boots, after wearing such clothes all day); Chris wore a suit, I seem to recall—or it may have been the pirate shirt open to the waist.

Anyway, two-thirds of the conference attendees came, and a Very Good Time was had by all, let’s put it that way. {cough} (The hotel kindly kept the bar in the dining-room open for this event, and when I staggered up afterward for a glass of much-needed wine, the bar-staff applauded and insisted on giving me the drink for free, which was nice of them.)

Anyway, the long-term effect of this public spectacle was that I’ve been urged (and/or dragooned) into doing it twice more—once as another team effort for the last HNS conference in Illinois, and a solo appearance for The Poisoned Pen bookstore—and now find myself not only booked for a reprise at this year’s HNS conference in San Diego, but charged with running the event.

Chris (that’s C.C. Humphreys, btw, whose Jack Absolute series is on my Methadone List, and I recommend it highly for fans of the 18th century, the British army, adventure, and/or Mohawks) tells me that he and Gillian Bagwell (MY DARLING STRUMPET—which I also really enjoyed (life of Nell Gwyn), and gave a cover quote to) want to do a team-reading of a scene from her book, which he described as “one of the best blow-jobs in fiction.” (Bear in mind that as well as being an excellent author, Chris is also a professional actor. I’m looking forward to this. He did just say “reading,” mind…)

To get to the point here, though—

In order to insure variety and the increased pleasure of the audience {cough, cough}, we’ll need a few participants besides Chris, Gillian, and me. SO—

If you are

1) A published author of historical fiction (traditional publication, please, not self-published)

2) Who will be attending this year’s HNS conference, and

3) Has a good sex-scene (the scene can be from an unpublished manuscript, if you like), and

4) Relatively few inhibitions about reading it aloud in public (costuming (including mask) optional)…

Let me know. {g} Email me at dgabaldon@aol.com, or find me on the Compuserve Books and Writers Community board.

I don’t think we will have to hold auditions {g}, but we’ll see how many volunteers we get.

*You’re sure you want to see one? Well, OK. I’m going to put it here, because not everyone likes to read excerpts. This is—I think—the beginning of SCOTTISH PRISONER, even though my husband, who read it, wrote in the margin, “Are you sure you can print this?!?”

Willkommen!

I’m delighted to announce that we now have a German-language version of the Diana Gabaldon official website!

Thanks to Jeremy Tolbert for the design, and to Barbara Schnell, who is the German translator for the Outlander novels, for not only translating the relevant information from this site, but adding a lot of special bits, such as the many photographs she’s taken of German book-tours, fans, and readings (Barbara is also a wonderful photo-journalist; be sure to check out her own website at www.bschnell.de for her gorgeous horse photography!).

Even those of you who don’t speak German may want to visit the new site to check out the great visuals. {g} And for those who do speak German—Willkommen!

Oh–there’s upposed to be  a German flag on the home page that will take you to the German site.  If it’s not there yet, though, here’s the URL:

http://www.schnellphoto-2.de/dianagabaldon.de/

METHADONE LIST: BLACK HALO

METHADONE LIST: BLACK HALO

Last year, I mentioned Sam Sykes’s first book, THE TOME OF THE UNDERGATES. BLACK HALO is the second book in the AEON’S GATE trilogy, and even better than the first.

These books are epic fantasy. Meaning—I’m told—that characters and storylines are writ large. This is certainly true of BLACK HALO, which includes the most striking assemblage of vivid misfits ever to try to save the world (or at least themselves) from demons—and a jaw-dropping array of creepy opponents, ranging from six-foot purple-faced female elite troops and jewel-wielding sexual sadists to the Akaneed, a giant cross between jelly-fish and sea-serpent, especially dangerous when mating. Add in the Omens, a chorus of harpy-like doom-sayers, giant cockroaches with rainbow-colored farts, and green Schicts (don’t ask), and you can be reasonably sure that Our Heroes are in for adventure on a grand scale.

Add in the heroes’ personal problems—Asper, a priestess with a lethal left (not as in a talent for boxing; as in, people she touches with her left hand suddenly aren’t there anymore), Dreadaleon, a young wizard whose illicit use of magic causes his body to begin to break down (one of the more striking symptoms being flammable urine), Kataria, a Schict in love with a human but who has been taught to regard humanity as a disease, Lenk, the human in question, who is in love with Kataria but can’t pursue his feelings because there’s an ancient warrior inside his head who won’t have it, Denaos, a self-professed coward and professional assassin, whose dreams are more dangerous than anything he meets while awake, and Gariath, a red dragon-man who can’t quite figure out what he’s doing in the company of these morons but can’t bring himself to abandon them, either—and you have a True Epic, believe me.

I won’t even try to describe the plot, cool as it is. What you have here is a world of Highly Original fantasy, populated by people so real you occasionally want to punch them in the nose—when you aren’t rolling on the floor laughing at the things they say to each other.

You can read an excerpt from BLACK HALO here,

And here is an entertaining interview with Mr. Sykes.*

(Excerpt from interview):

What is it about your work that you would recommend to someone who had never read you before?

Sam Sykes: Vigor. Imagination. Energy.

The nicest thing anyone ever said about my writing was Scott Lynch suggesting I swing for the fences every time I write a sentence. I take this to be high praise of my skills with a baseball bat (shortly after saying this, he asked me to go hit people with said instrument) and also interpret it like this:

I don’t see a big reason not to do whatever the hell I want in writing. This entire genre was born on that idea and I have absolutely no qualms throwing everything I have into what I’m writing about, from the weirdest things with the deepest emotions to the mundane things twisted by their own philosophy.

To summarize it: I wrote a section in which a dragonman, driven to suicidal impulse by the sudden extinction of his species, takes a man’s failure to kill him as a personal insult and promptly stomps the poor fool’s crotch in.

You know you want it.

If you do want it,  click here for the Amazon link;  autographed copies are available from the Poisoned Pen bookstore–email patrick@poisonedpen.com .

Amended here to note that Sam just called to tell me that his first book, TOME OF THE UNDERGATES, has been short-listed for the David Gemmel Award for Best Fantasy Debut!  Yay, Sam!!

*Given that interview, I’m not sure I should admit this, but in the interests of Full Disclosure—Mr. Sykes has fifty percent of my DNA, which may have something to do with his style, if not his subject matter.

As Seen on TV!

Many thanks to whichever nice reader is a scriptwriter for “General Hospital”! Earlier this month, a number of people called my attention to the fact that one show featured a young girl bringing books to her older sister in the hospital—at one point, pulling a copy of the trade paperback edition of OUTLANDER out of her bag and saying, “It’s really long—but really good!” {g}

I did have someone ask whether this was product placement by the publisher, but I can assure you it wasn’t. With the dire state of publishing these days, nobody has ¬that kind of money, even if they thought it would be a good idea (which I kind of doubt). Random House does have a lot of great promotional ideas—they’re giving away mass-market copies of OUTLANDER in all kinds of venues, in anticipation of the new 20th-anniversary edition (more about that in a separate post, a little later), doing Google-TV ads, and other entertaining things—but I’m sure they would have told me if they’d figured out how to get the book on “General Hospital”. {g}

This isn’t my first brush with screen-fame, though. One of my books—I think it was DRUMS OF AUTUMN—was visible on Eddie Murphy’s nightstand in the movie “Dr. Doolittle.” (Or so I’m told. I never watch television, and see movies mostly on DVD years after release—have just now started watching the Matt Smith first season of “Dr. Who”.)

I do get the occasional shout-out from someone else’s book, too—always appreciated! Both Dana Stabenow (the Kate Shugak series) and John Sandford (BAD BLOOD) have had characters reading a Diana Gabaldon novel. {g} I get by with a little help from my friends!

Thank you!!

Language, Language….(Part I)

It doesn’t happen often, but I do occasionally get email from people asking—always very politely (well, almost always very politely)—whether I have ever considered producing a bowdlerized edition of my books.

Mind, none of them uses the word “bowdlerized”; I doubt most people under the age of forty have ever heard it. It comes from:

Thomas Bowdler (pronounced /ˈbaʊdlər/) (11 July 1754 – 24 February 1825), who was an English physician who published an expurgated edition of William Shakespeare’s work, edited by his sister Harriet, intended to be more appropriate for 19th century women and children than the original.

He similarly published an edited version of Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. His edition was the subject of some criticism and ridicule and, through the eponym bowdlerise (or bowdlerize),[1] his name is now associated with censorship of literature, motion pictures and television programmes.

[Source: Wikipedia]

Now, what these readers would like me to expurgate from my own work, in order to accommodate their desires and sensibilities, ranges from sex-scenes (one very nice woman wrote to ask if I could produce an edition of OUTLANDER from which all the sex scenes were removed, because she was very eager to be able to discuss the book with her fifteen-year-old daughter, but didn’t think her girl was quite ready for the original. By biting my thumb rather hard (she was very nice, and meant well), I was able to refrain from writing back and asking her whether it might not be a trifle simpler just to wait a year or two for her daughter to be ready for the notion that married people have sex, than for me edit and republish a 700-page book–always assuming that I could convince any publisher that there was a market for such a thing? (My guess is that unless her daughter has been living under a rock for the last five years, she knows a lot more than I’ve ever thought of putting in a book, but possibly her mother doesn’t let her watch television)) to Bad Words in general (“I notice people say “Fuck” a lot in your more recent books,” one reader wrote, rather censoriously. “Jamie doesn’t even know what that word means in OUTLANDER!” Well…he’s probably picked up a few expressions from Claire over the last twenty years. But Jamie’s not usually the one saying that word, even in the later books. It would be pretty common to Roger, though, as well as to some of the coarse folk who live in the backwoods), to—very specifically—the use of the Lord’s name (only “Jesus” or “Christ,” evidently. “God” doesn’t appear to bother these particular readers in this context, let alone local variants like “the Holy Spirit”.).

OK. Approaching these concerns from last to first:

I have every sympathy for someone whose religious sensibilities make them uncomfortable with blasphemy, whether casual or heart-felt. I personally am very disturbed by people who curse or use profanity and crude language in restaurants, and a terrible lot of people do these days. (I don’t think it’s just the places I eat in…)

On the other hand, I’m kind of bemused that not one of the people who take the Third Commandment so much to heart that they are horrified at seeing it broken in print are evidently bothered in the slightest by the shattering of the other nine commandments that goes on in these novels. Graven images, skipping church on Sunday, dishonoring one’s parents, bearing false witness, coveting oxen, asses, wives…theft, murder, fornication, adultery–yeah, we don’t mind seeing any of that. The J-word, though….

(Let me pause for a moment of didacticism here, in which I will attempt to explain the subtleties of the terms blasphemy, profanity, and obscenity. To wit:

blas•phe•my

Show Spelled[blas-fuh-mee] Show IPA
–noun, plural -mies.
1.
impious utterance or action concerning god or sacred things.
2.
Judaism .
a.
an act of cursing or reviling God.
b.
pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton (YHVH) in the original, now forbidden manner instead of using a substitute pronunciation such as Adonai.
3.
Theology . the crime of assuming to oneself the rights or qualities of God.
4.
irreverent behavior toward anything held sacred, priceless, etc.: He uttered blasphemies against life itself.

pro•fan•i•ty
Show Spelled[pruh-fan-i-tee, proh-] Show IPA
–noun, plural -ties for 2.
1.
the quality of being profane; irreverence.
2.
profane conduct or language; a profane act or utterance.
3.
obscenity ( defs. 2, 3 ) .

Profane
–adjective
1.
characterized by irreverence or contempt for god or sacred principles or things; irreligious.
2.
not devoted to holy or religious purposes; unconsecrated; secular ( opposed to sacred).
3.
unholy; heathen; pagan: profane rites.
4.
not initiated into religious rites or mysteries, as persons.
5.
common or vulgar.
–verb (used with object)
6.
to misuse (anything that should be held in reverence or respect); defile; debase; employ basely or unworthily.
7.
to treat (anything sacred) with irreverence or contempt; violate the sanctity of: to profane a shrine.

obscenity
- 5 dictionary results
ob•scen•i•ty
Show Spelled[uh b-sen-i-tee, -see-ni-] Show IPA
–noun, plural -ties for 2, 3.
1.
the character or quality of being obscene; indecency; lewdness.
2.
something obscene, as a picture or story.
3.
an obscene word or expression, especially when used as an invective.

[Source for all of the above: dictionary.com])

Let me state for the record that no one in any of my books has ever pronounced the Tetragrammaton in the original. Not once.

And Jamie Fraser is on record as stating that he only _felt_ like God (while having sex with his wife); he never said he _was_. So I think we’re clear on those particular charges of blasphemy. I’ll get back to the question of impious utterances in a bit.

Now, if you read further on the dictionary.com site (and others), you’ll find that blasphemy, profanity, and obscenity are often used as synonyms for each other—and they often overlap, depending on usage–but there are differences.

The F-word (I’m sorry, I was raised as a Catholic and I have considerable trouble saying that word out loud. Fortunately most of the people in my books have no such scruples) is often obscene, and quite possibly profane, but not blasphemous. I.e., there’s no mention of God or anything sacred (well, not in the word itself. If you started applying it to sacred concepts—which a good many cultures do, in terms of insult (French-Canadian Catholics, for one)—then that’s different). (Ulster Protestants given to tattooing such sentiments as “F— the Pope” on their foreheads (no, I’m not kidding; some of these people feel strongly about their sectarian sensibilities) are not committing blasphemy _per se_, as while the Pope may be a person of reverence, he isn’t God. “F the P” is therefore mere profanity.)

Profanity can also be blasphemous, if an invocation of God is involved—but if you leave God out of it, profanity is not usually blasphemy. It’s just irreverence, and that’s pretty firmly in the eye of the beholder and the standards of the times. Go to, thou saucy fellow!

As for obscenity…the Supreme Court couldn’t do better than, “we know it when we see it,” and I don’t propose to try to top that.

Anyway, the point here is that it’s only blasphemy (or what is perceived as blasphemy) that concerns the “I do wish you would not take the Lord’s Name in vain” letters. One reader informed me that she had gone through my books with a black marker and obliterated all such usages, so that she could read the books in comfort. I congratulated her on her helpful ingenuity; genius often lies in simplicity.

But let’s look at that. Does any use of the C-word (the six-letter one) or the J-word that is not portrayed as a prayer or a scriptural reference constitute blasphemy?

I don’t think so.

Here we come to the “impious utterances” definition of blasphemy. “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” Well…what is “in vain”?

When we did catechism class back in the day, we were taught that “in vain” meant that you mustn’t use God’s name to curse somebody, in the “You g_d_ son of a four-legged what-not..!” kind of way. (Catholics, btw, do include “God” (and the Holy Spirit, for that matter) as being “the Lord’s name.”). Using God’s name as a casual interjection—“Jesus, it’s hot,” or “God, I’d kill for a beer,” was crude and thoughtless and a well-brought-up person ought not to do it—but it wasn’t blasphemy, either.

People in my books do in fact use this sort of casual reference fairly often—because men in certain professions (soldiering, for one) and in the exclusive company of other men, very frequently _do_ do that. (You notice that the women in my books don’t do this.)

In my experience (owing to unorthodox career choices, most of my colleagues and close friends were men, up to my early forties), men who do this are customarily calling unconsciously upon God to witness something, asking for casual assistance in a moment of stress, or merely expressing an intensification of emotion (amazement, shock, anger), and do not actually intend offense to their comrades or impiety toward the Almighty.

Now, plainly opinions differ on just what’s an impious utterance and what’s not. That being so, though, we’ve got a few different considerations going here:

1. The notion that a writer ought to try never to offend anyone’s conception of morality or decency.

2. Whether a writer should or should not portray offensive behavior (i.e., behavior condemned by a majority of the populace), and if so, under what circumstances?

3. The question of how far historic speech might differ from modern speech, and whether an historical novelist should take that into account?

OK, #1 is simple. Putting aside aesthetics and the moral imperatives of art, it’s flat-out physically impossible to write something that won’t offend somebody. Ergo, the notion that a writer should try to do so is ludicrous.

#2 is also pretty simple. People don’t always behave well; the briefest glance at the television news makes that pretty clear. If art (whether novels, photographs, or anything else) is going to serve as a reflection of or a reflection on humanity, it’s going to show people doing stuff that may not be moral by anybody’s compass. The essence of art is conflict. Conflict may be difficult to look at (or utterly fascinating. Sometimes both at once), but you can’t do without it and make art.

#3. Now, historicity. Language evolves, and so does social custom. What is obscene or blasphemous in one time often isn’t, in another. If you called a man a fig-licker today, he would probably merely blink at you, whereas them was duelin’ words in the 18th century.**
A writer dealing with historical settings has a lot of things to consider, and one of these is how much “historical” language or figures of speech to use, and how to portray historical characters in such a way that they seem realistic and empathetic to a modern audience, but still belong plainly to their own time.

Well, one of the ways in which you do this is to use figures of speech that are extremely common, and likely always have been, as well as those particular to a specific age. And calling upon the name of the Almighty in moments of strong emotion and/or casual conversation has probably been part of human speech since people discovered the concept of a deity.

Now, I could go on and on (well…even more on and on {g}) about this business, because I find it fascinating, but I do have work to do. I think the best I can do here may be to quote a bit from THE OUTLANDISH COMPANION. This letter was written as part of an exchange with a courteous gentleman who’d written to object to the F-word, which emerged from one of the audiobooks as he was driving with his four-year-old grand-daughter, and is included in the “Controversy” section of the COMPANION:

“ Well, I have children myself (11, 13, and 15 at the moment), and we try not to expose them to “bad language,” either, in spite of the fact that they all know all the words already (there’s still some point to insisting that these are not suitable for civilized conversation, after all).

The thing is, though–my books are definitely written (and carefully written at that) for adults. When I do use bad language in the books (oddly enough, I never use it, personally; never), it’s because it seems to me to be called for, by the circumstances and character. In the case of the F-word in DRUMS (I did use that same word in all the other books, by the way, though sparingly), it’s used by a young man in the grip of angry (and sexually motivated) passion, in the late 1960s. Given this character, this time period, and this set of circumstances, his language seemed entirely appropriate.

Now, one reason for insisting that bad language not be used in everyday discourse is, of course, that it’s low-class and offensive. One other reason–equally important, in my opinion–is that such language does have its own legitimate purpose; that is, to express feeling that is also beyond the limits of normal civilized discourse. To use such words casually deprives them of their impact.

You can see that, in the scene in question in DRUMS. If Roger normally spoke like that, the reader wouldn’t have (what I hope is) the impression of a man driven almost beyond endurance, and holding on to his notions of decent behavior with great effort.

Okay. So, the point is that when I do use strong language, I have a specific reason for doing so. It really doesn’t seem reasonable to me to eradicate such language–chosen and used carefully, to a purpose–on the grounds that someone might someday wish to listen to a taped version of an adult book in the presence of a small child.”

(My correspondent very graciously thanked me for hearing his concern, btw, and agreed with my conclusion.)

Right. Well, moving backward from blasphemy and Rude Speech, we come back to the inclusion of sex in my books. I can honestly say that of a thousand letters I get that mention this, 999 readers think there should be more sex. {g}. But there is the occasional one who thinks that the inclusion of sex lowers the tone, impairs my literary reputation, or should be omitted so as to make the books more…um…acceptable {cough} to younger (or possibly older; you wouldn’t believe how many people think their elderly parents or grandparents would enjoy my books but be put off by the sex*) readers.

Well, I think my literary reputation will have to take care of itself; I can’t do anything but write the best books I can, and history and the readers will make of them what they want to.

I do think that the sex scenes are both necessary and integral to the story, or they wouldn’t be there. These aren’t romance novels, but they are (among other things) the story of a very long and complex marriage. Now, there may possibly be long and successful marriages that don’t include sex, but I don’t personally know of any.

Neither are any sex-scenes included for the sake of gratuitous titillation (any titillating that happens is purely fortuitous, I assure you), nor are any of them just about sex. They have structural and emotional reasons for being where they are, and the book would not be the same story, nor have the same complexity, without them.

Still, the bottom line here is the Eye of the Beholder. There is no book that will say the same thing to all readers. A good book will say something different each time it’s read, even by the same person. And each reader brings his or her experience, background, prejudices, desires, and perceptions to the reading.

That being true, there’s little point in bowdlerization. What offends one person will be revelation and elevation to the next. That’s why we have a great variety of books.

“If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out,” seems a trifle extreme here as a response—but if there are particular things in my books that annoy or offend a reader as an individual, the ultimate power to control these does lie with the reader, not with me.***

Thank you for reading!

*(I am irresistibly reminded here of a book-signing event in Chicago, where I signed books for a grandmother, her daughter, and grand-daughter (intergenerational—and multi-gender–trios are pretty common at my signings). I was chatting with the grandmother while signing a book for her grand-daughter, and she said, “You know, I was in the middle of VOYAGER and I turned to my grand-daughter and said, ‘I’ve just had the most terrible thought! We’re both lusting after the same man!’”)

**To save you looking it up, the modern equivalent slang would be “muff-diver.” Weirdly enough, I don’t think there’s a female slang version of this epithet, though there is a purely formal descriptive term. But when was the last (or the first, for that matter) time you heard someone called a fellatrix?

*** A good-quality Sharpie costs about $1.79.