• “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.”
  • “These books have to be word-of-mouth books because they're too weird to describe to anybody.”
    —Jackie Cantor, Diana's first editor


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.

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THE METHADONE LIST: The Tome of the Undergates

I don’t know that one could really say that any author or book is the “opposite” of any other author or book—but by contrast to A.S. Byatt’s THE CHILDREN’S BOOK, a literary novel by an old master at the height of her craft…here’s an epic fantasy by a young debut author—though equally crafty, it couldn’t be much more different in either style or structure.

Sam Sykes’s TOME OF THE UNDERGATES _is_ what’s called “epic fantasy.” It’s not, however, anything like the classic “You know…boy/scroll/prophecy/dragon/sword…” description I once heard from a fan at a con. [g] In fact, one way in which Sykes’s work resembles Byatt’s is that nobody would _ever_ mistake either one of them for someone else.

Now, TOME is definitely not for the faint of heart or stomach. One review of it I saw described it (approximately) as “a slaughter-fest that makes “300” look weak.” It does feature head-eating fish-demons, and it had one scene (involving thumbs, and that’s all I’m going to say about it) that even _I_ thought was disturbing. You have been warned.

On the other hand, it’s absolutely hilarious, with some of the most engaging—if obnoxious—characters I’ve ever met, and that rarest thing in literature, a unique voice. The basic story is a quest, involving the aforesaid Tome—a mysterious volume that can (or so it’s said) open the doors to heaven or hell. Not that any of the characters can agree on just which heaven—or hell—that might be; all of them are followers of different gods. But they’re being paid to find the book, so it’s all good.

I won’t even try to describe the plot, other than to say there’s plenty of it, but I can give you a brief look at the book’s voice:

Copyright 2010 Sam Sykes
‘So,’ Denaos spoke loudly to be heard over the sound of hammering, ‘why the sudden interest in the fairer sex?’
Lenk paused and looked up from his duty of nailing wood over their wrecked boat’s wound, casting his companion a curious stare.
‘Sudden?’ he asked.
‘Oh, apologies.’ The rogue laughed, holding up a hand. ‘I didn’t mean to suggest you liked raisins in your curry, if you catch my meaning.’
‘I . . . really don’t.’
‘Well, I just meant you happened to be all duty and grimness and agonising about bloodshed up until this point.’ Denaos took a swig from a waterskin as he leaned on the vessel’s railing. ‘You know, like Gariath.’
‘Does . . . Gariath like raisins in his curry?’
‘I have no idea if he even eats curry.’ Denaos scratched his chin thoughtfully. ‘I suppose he’d probably like it hot, though.’
‘Yeah, probably.’ Lenk furrowed his brow. ‘Wait, what does that mean?’
‘Let’s forget it. Anyway, I’m thrilled to advise you on the subject, but why choose now, in the prime of your imminent death, to start worrying about women?’
‘Not “women”, exactly, but “woman”.’
‘A noble endeavour,’ Denaos replied, taking another swig.
There was a choked sputter as Denaos dropped the skin and put his hands on his knees, hacking out the droplets of water. Lenk frowned, picking up another half-log and placing it upon the companion vessel’s hole.
‘Is it that shocking?’ the young man asked, plucking up a nail.
‘Shocking? It’s immoral, man.’ The rogue gestured wildly off to some direction in which the aforementioned female might be. ‘She’s a shict! A bloodthirsty, leather-clad savage! She views humanity,’ he paused to nudge Lenk, ‘of which you are a part, I should add, as a disease! You know she threatened to kill me back in Irontide?’
‘Yeah, she told me.’ Lenk began to pound the nail.
‘And what?’ He glanced up and shrugged. ‘She didn’t actually kill you, so what’s the harm?’
‘Point taken,’ the rogue said, nodding glumly. ‘Still, that’s the sort of thing you’re lusting after here, my friend. Say the Gods get riotously drunk and favour your union, say you’re wed. What happens when you leave the jam out overnight or don’t wear the pants she’s laid out for you? Do you really want to risk her making a necklace out of your sack and stones every time she’s in a mood?’
‘Kat doesn’t seem like the type to lay out pants,’ Lenk said, looking thoughtful. ‘I think that might be why I . . .’ He scratched his chin. ‘Approve of her.’
‘Well, listen to you and your ballads, you romantic devil.’ The rogue sighed, resting his head on folded arms. ‘Still, I might have known this would happen.’
‘How’s that?’
‘Well, you’ve both got so much in common,’ he continued. ‘You, a grim-faced runt with hair the colour of a man thrice your age. And her . . .’ Denaos shuddered. ‘Her, a woman with a lack of bosom so severe it should be considered a crime, a woman who thinks it’s perfectly fine to smear herself with various fluids and break wind wherever she pleases.’ His shudder became an unrestrained, horrified cringe. ‘And that laugh of hers—’
‘She has her good points,’ Lenk replied. ‘She’s independent, she’s stubborn when she needs to be, doesn’t bother me too much . . . I’ll concede the laugh, though.’
‘You just described a mule,’ Denaos pointed out. ‘Though you grew up on a farm, didn’t you? I suppose that explains a lot. Still, perhaps this particular match was meant to be.’
‘What do you mean by that?’
I mean you’re both vile, bloodthirsty, completely uncivilised and callous people and you both have the physiques of prepubescent thirteen-year-old boys.’ The rogue shrugged. ‘The sole difference between you is that you choose to expel your reeking foulness from your mouth and she from the other end.’
‘Glad to have your blessing, then,’ Lenk muttered, hefting up another log. ‘So, what do you think I should do?’
‘Well, a shict is barely a step above a beast, so you might as well just rut her and get it over with before she tries to assert her dominance over you.’
‘Uh . . . all right.’ Lenk looked up, frowning. ‘How do I do that?’
‘How’d you do it the first time you did it?’
‘What, with Kat?’
‘No, with whatever milkmaid or dung-shovelstress you happened to roll with when you first discovered you were a man, imbecile.’
Lenk turned back to the boat, blinking. He stared at the half-patched wound for a moment, though his eyes were vacant and distant.
‘I . . . can’t remember.’
‘Ah, one of those encounters, eh?’ Denaos laughed, plucking up the waterskin from the sand. ‘No worries, then. You might as well be starting fresh, aye?’ He brushed the dirt from its lip and took a swig. ‘Really, there’s not much to it. Just choose a manoeuvre and go through with it.’
‘What, there’s manoeuvres?’
‘Granted, the technique might be lost on her . . . and you, but if you’ve any hope of pleasing a woman, you’ll have to learn a few of the famous arts.’ A lewd grin crossed his face. ‘Like the Six-Fingered Sultana.’
‘And . . .’ Lenk’s expression seemed to suggest a severe moral dilemma in continuing. ‘How does that go?’
‘It’s not too hard.’ The rogue set down the waterskin, then folded the third finger of each hand under it, knotting the two appendages over themselves. ‘First, you take your fingers like this. Then, you drop a gold piece on the ground and ask the woman if she wants to see a magic trick, then you—’ He paused, regarding Lenk’s horrified expression, and smiled. ‘Oh, almost got me to say it, didn’t you? No, no . . . that one’s a secret, and for good reason. If you tried it, you’d probably break something.’


[Sykes is doing a signing for TOME OF THE UNDERGATES at 7:00 PM on May 12th at the Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale (www.poisonedpen.com). The PP says they’re happy to take and ship orders to anywhere—which I mention because they told me the book was just released in the UK and will be out in the US later this year, but they will have UK copies in stock. Further information at www.samsykes.com.]

The "Dr. Who" Connection

frazer-hines-with-fanFrazer Hines (the actor who played Jamie MacCrimmon, a companion to the second Doctor, on the BBC series "Dr. Who") sent me these photos this morning— they were taken last summer (2009) in Edinburgh (by a nice journalist named Jean Brittain— thanks, Jean!) while I was appearing at the Gathering there. You can’t see any of it, alas, but we’re on the grounds of Holyrood Palace here, talking with fans who’d come to my reading.

Now, I’ve known Frazer on paper for years; when my first book was published, I sent him a couple of copies, with a letter explaining that it was a “Dr. Who” episode in which he’d appeared that caused me to set the book in eighteenth century Scotland, and he’d kindly replied to me. But we’d never met in person.

bbc-diana-frazer-hines-2Last summer, though, a BBC reporter, seeing my name on the list of guests for the Gathering, had a brainstorm, and called to ask whether I’d be willing to do an interview with Frazer for a radio program. I said I’d love to, and was expecting to meet him at the hotel that evening. As I was working my way toward the end of the enormous signing line, though, I looked up and smiled at the next person, thinking, "Well, he looks familiar; did I see him in the bar… oh. Oh!"

Oh, indeed. <g> Anyway, we had a lovely chat, with each other and with a few fans, and then did our main interview the next day as planned (more or less interviewing each other while watching snippets of "War Games"— the episode in which Frazer—er… well, Frazer’s kilt, at least [cough]— had caught my attention).

The BBC has finally finished all its editing— boiling down three or four hours of material to half an hour— and is broadcasting the interview this week. There are two scheduled broadcasts on the BBC proper, but they also have a podcast version, available for listening anytime during the next seven days. So I thought I’d put up a link for those who don’t want to try to figure out the time changes:


Note: The radio broadcast, "Time-Travelling Scots," was broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland on Monday, May 5 and 15, 2010. It is re-broadcast periodically.

For those who are interested, the Dr. Who connection to OUTLANDER is also explored in my FAQ under the question "So where did you get the idea to write these books?"

THE METHADONE LIST: The Children’s Book


I love A.S. Byatt’s work. She writes “literary fiction”–this being on one hand a catchall phrase for any book that doesn’t fit conveniently into a genre designation, and on the other, a term that generally implies particularly good writing, often accompanied by unique insight and acute perception. Byatt’s got all of this, in spades. (Some of you might remember her earlier book, POSSESSION: A Romance. (One British friend told me he’d picked up a copy of this in the library, to find that an earlier reader had penciled a helpful message on the title page: “They finally do it on page 572.” I mention this in case you too might find it helpful.))

She also writes books in which terrifically interesting things happen—not always a hallmark of literary fiction [g]. THE CHILDREN’S BOOK is a wonderful creation, set during the transition between the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth, which encompasses the flowering romanticism of the Arts and Crafts Movement in England (I found this part particularly fascinating, as my great-great-grandfather was an artist who was part of this movement), the political upheavals of suffragism, socialism, and anarchy, and the onrush of the First World War.

Now, whatever the theme, setting, and plot of a book, the really important thing is the character(s) who carry it out. And I tell you what: few people do better characters than Byatt does. Her people are remarkably multi-faceted, complex, interesting, and _real_. She knows what artists are like, and captures a range of them—the central egotism and ruthlessness of character that makes a good one, the helplessness of a failed artist, the mutual jealousy between the commercially successful and the unsuccessful but “pure” artist.

The story—or stories; there are many of them—center on an unorthodox family and its friends. [ ] is a writer—a very successful writer, whose huge family provides her with both impetus and material. The “children’s book” of the title refers not to a single book, but to the private stories—one for each child—that she maintains in notebooks, adding to each one as inspiration comes. The way in which love works—supportive, exploitative, pragmatic, idealistic, romantic, familial, jealousy, selflessness, free love, marriage—is at the core of the novel (as it is at the core of most great books).

At the same time, it’s a wonderful exploration and dissection of a society—the British middle-class—in a time of intellectual ferment and unprecedented political change. AND written with an exquisite eye for detail and tremendous lyrical energy. Here’s a brief excerpt of the text:

Copyright 2009 A.S. Byatt

“ Hedda lay in the long grass, with her skirt rucked up above her knickers, and her lengthening brown legs stretched out. She was fortunate not to have hay fever, as Phyllis did. She was not exactly reading _The Golden Age_. I am a snake in the grass, she thought, a secret snake. Violet was sitting on the roughly mown grass in the orchard, at some distance, in a low wicker armchair, sewing. Hedda spent a lot of time spying on Violet, as a revenge for the fact that Violet spied on her, going through her private drawers and notebooks. Hedda, like Phyllis, was perpetually agitated by being left out of the group of older children, Tom and Dorothy, Charles and Griselda, and now Geraint. But whereas Phyllis was plaintive, Hedda was enraged. She was the traitor in all tales of chivalry and in myths. She was Vivien, she was Morgan Le Fay, she was Loki. She despised the cow-eyed and the gentle, Elaine the lily maid, faithful Psyche, Baldur’s weeping wife, Nanna. She was a detective, who saw through appearances. No one was as nice as they seemed, was her rule of judging characters. She was the darkest of the children, with long black hair and very solid black brows, drawn in a frown more often than not, and long, black lashes which in themselves were beautiful, especially when she was asleep. She had no one to talk to about her investigations. Phyllis was an idiot. Florian was a baby. She had had hopes of Pomona, but Pomona was an idiot, too, of the same kind as Phyllis. Dorothy was who she hated, because she was older, and in the way, and got things Hedda didn’t get. And because she had Griselda, and they were together, and Hedda had no one. But Dorothy didn’t know what Hedda knew, or partly knew. “

Much as I love series, with the possibilities of ever-evolving characters and the charm of renewed acquaintance, I love one-of-a-kind treasures like this just as much. Highly engrossing, highly recommended!


For those who like series, mysteries, books with rich, idiosyncratic settings, engaging characters, Strong Women (which frankly, I think is getting to be something of a cliché’—not the women themselves, of course, but the mention of them as a talking point for a book. I mean, who recommends a book by saying, “The heroine is a weak, whiny, wilted piece of toast—but it’s a great book!”) and reasonably hot sex on occasion….let me recommend Dana Stabenow.
Dana is one of those amazing people who actually produces a book a year (I gasp in envy), and develops her characters and plots beautifully as the series progresses, though each book is a complete stand-alone mystery, and can be read on its own. The personal lives of the characters—particularly the main character, Kate Shugak—definitely would repay the effort of starting from the beginning, with A COLD DAY FOR MURDER.

Dana’s Wikipedia entry (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dana_Stabenow ) gives the following description of the series, and since they do it a lot more succinctly than I can [g], I’ll let them:

Kate Shugak is a Native Alaskan, an Aleut, living in a fictional national park in Alaska, based loosely on the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve. Formerly an investigator for the Anchorage District Attorney’s office, an incident during which she is badly injured on the job causes her to quit and return home to live on her own. Regular characters in the Shugak series include:
Mutt, Kate’s part-wolf dog.
Jack Morgan, Anchorage District Attorney, and Kate’s lover for the first nine books.
Ekatarina Shugak, Kate’s grandmother
Bobby Clark, Vietnam vet and ham operator
Dan O’Brien, Ranger assigned to the Park
Sgt. Jim Chopin, a State Trooper assigned to the Park
Shugak stories:

• A Cold Day for Murder (1992) (the first in the Kate Shugak series) – A park ranger is missing, and so is the investigator the Anchorage police sent in to look for him. Kate’s ex-boss and ex-lover, Jack Morgan, convinces her to investigate their disappearances on her own terms, beginning her new career as a private investigator. This book introduces us to main characters that will remain constants in the books to come and sets the tone for the coming books. The storyline establishes the relationship between Kate and Jack and gives some background information and insight into their relationship.

• A Fatal Thaw (1992) – A killer claims eight victims but nine bodies were found lying in the snow.

• Dead in the Water (1993) – Kate hires on as a deckhand on a crabber where two former deckhands mysteriously disappeared. This novel talks about life on a crab fishing boat and the dangers on the sea.

• A Cold-blooded Business (1994) – A novel that talks about life in the oil fields above the Arctic Circle has Kate looking into drug smuggling and finding other illegal situations as well.

• Play With Fire (1995) – While picking mushrooms, Kate and her friends stumble upon the body of the son of the leader of a religious sect.

• Blood Will Tell (1996) – Mostly set at the annual Alaska Federation of Natives convention, which Kate attends at the insistence of her grandmother, Kate looks into the death of one of the local village’s board members.

• Breakup (1997) – Breakup is the season of early Spring, when the rivers and ground starts to thaw and people can start spending more time outdoors again. Kate looks into the death of a woman by a bear that doesn’t quite add up.

• Killing Grounds (1998) – Set in the summer fishing season of salmon, Kate investigates the death of a fellow fisherman while working as a deckhand on a tender.

• Hunter’s Moon (1999) – Kate and Jack take on a job to escort a group of business men and woman into the park trophy hunting.

• Midnight Come Again (2000) – After the events in the previous novel, Kate has gone missing from her home and friends.

• The Singing of the Dead (2001) – Kate hires on to protect the life of a candidate for Alaskan State Senator.

• A Fine and Bitter Snow (2002) – A novel that talks about oil drilling in a wildlife preserve, Kate looks into an attack on two friends of her late grandmother.

• A Grave Denied (2003) – Some students on a field trip discover a body in the mouth of a glacier.

• A Taint in the Blood (2004) – A woman hires Kate to clear her mother of a thirty year old murder, but the mother doesn’t want to be cleared.

• A Deeper Sleep (2007) – Kate tries to get a conviction on a repeat offender while her tribal elders try to get her to take a more solid role in the tribe.

• Whisper to the Blood (February, 2009) – A world-class gold mine is discovered in the Park at almost the same moment Kate is whipsawed by the Aunties into a seat on the local Native association board of directors.

• A Night Too Dark (scheduled for 2010)

I’ve just read the new A NIGHT TOO DARK, and it’s every bit as good as the rest of the series; I’ve seldom met a more dependable author, in term both of productivity and quality. [g]

I like Dana’s Liam Campbell series even better (the German translator who has worked on both our books, and has read all Dana’s mysteries, says that Liam Campbell is the closest thing she’s seen to a modern-day Jamie Fraser—and the sex is particularly good in those), but the three Campbell books are unfortunately out of print at the moment (totally worth finding on eBay, alibris, or abebooks, though), and no more under contract, which is a shame.

Anyway, I thought that when recommending books, when possible, I might include a small bit of text so as to give a taste of an author’s style (NB: An author’s works are copyrighted, but quoting a short passage for review purposes is considered “fair use”). So here’s a tiny bit of A NIGHT TOO DARK (Copyright 2010 Dana Stabenow):

She heaved a martyr’s sigh. ”All right,” she said, as they had both known she would. “I’ll find him and talk to him for you. I’d like to see this Lothario for myself, anyway.”
She came around the counter and sauntered toward him. He admired her while she did so. Yeah, maybe she didn’t have the figure Laurel had, but when she wanted to, Kate could telegraph her intentions in a way that was little less than incitement to riot. Jim had watched plenty of women walk in his lifetime, both toward him and away, and he had never appreciated the amalgamation of brain and bone, muscle and flesh the way he did when it came wrapped in this particular package.
“Beat it,” she said to Mutt.
Mutt flounced over to the fireplace, scratched the aunties’ quilt into a pile, turned around three times, and curled up with her back most pointedly toward them.
Kate smiled down at Jim. Just like that, Jim got hard. And she knew it, he could tell by the deepening indentations at the corners of that wide, full-lipped mouth. “Jesus, woman,” he said. If he wasn’t flustered, it was as close as he ever got.
“What can I say,” she said. “I have special powers.” He was pulled to a sitting position with a fistful of shirt and she climbed aboard.

(My husband caught sight of one of Dana’s books on the kitchen table, asked me what it was, and upon being told that it was a murder mystery set in Alaska, exclaimed, “And her name is Stab-‘em-now”?! What a _great_ name for a mystery writer!” Alas, it’s really pronounced STAB-uh-no, but still great books.)
See more about Dana at


(And I think the Poisoned Pen bookstore in Scottsdale still has a few autographed copies from the event that Dana, Laurie King, and I did together a couple of months ago. www.poisonedpen.com . )

April Appearances

April Appearances

I’ve mostly been staying home and writing this month. Yes, am definitely working on both SCOTTISH PRISONER and Book Eight [g]—though this week, most of my work time has been devoted to reading/correcting the galleys for THE EXILE—for which the cover art has just been released! (Yes, yes, yes, Claire should indeed be wearing her shoes here [g], and with luck, that will be fixed along with a number of other small things. And the flashes among the rocks are musket-fire.)

I’m doing a few appearances/jobs this month, but most of them are not public functions (I’ll be giving the keynote speech at the Glyph Awards banquet, for instance—this is the annual dinner for the Arizona Publishers Association—and judging undergraduate science presentations for Northern Arizona University’s UGRAD program; also meeting with the committee of judges for the Agassiz Prize for Science Writing, which I (and a couple of like-minded scientists) fund and support).

The one thing that _is_ public is a book-signing held as part of the local RWA chapter’s “Desert Dreams” conference (I’m doing a workshop for them, too, but that’s open only to conference attendees). That’s this Saturday—April 17th—at the Chaparral Suites hotel, and the mass book-signing (attended by _all_ the published authors at the conference, not just me) will be open to the public.

Owing to the large number of people participating, the bookseller can’t bring _all_ the titles for everyone, so they asked me which of my books I’d like to have available for sale. They’ll have OUTLANDER in hardcover and trade paperback, ECHO in hardcover, and THE OUTLANDISH COMPANION (hardcover), but if you would like to bring your own books to be signed, too, that’s totally OK by me.

The book-signing runs from 5:45 – 7:00 PM. See you there!

Auf Wiedersehn…

I’m back! Amazingly enough, so is my luggage. [g]

I think I’ve been to Germany five or six times now—and my luggage has never once reached the place when I did. It’s always showed up eventually, after one, two, three, or even four days, but I’m probably one of the few Americans who knows exactly where the British Airways lost-luggage office is in the Duesseldorf airport. Mind, the first time I went to Germany, Things Happened en route, and I ended up in Amsterdam rather than Frankfort, so it was no wonder that the luggage ended up somewhere in the bowels of Gatwick airport and I was obliged to attend my German god-daughter’s christening in the jeans and T-shirt in which I’d been traveling.

(That was the four-day delay, which led to my being Really Tired of those jeans and T-shirt by the time I arrived in London two days after the christening, which in turn led to my washing said clothes in the bathtub of my borrowed flat with a bottle of shampoo (I’d arrived on a Sunday evening, nothing was open save the little shop down the road, and I had only two pounds in English money on me; all I could afford was a tiny bottle of shampoo and a carton of milk) and hanging them out the window to dry, only to discover that the humidity of a summer night in London is about 92%. I eventually resorted to drying my jeans in the oven, though I was still pretty damp when I squelched off to Selfridge’s in the morning to buy a fresh shirt and a pair of earrings before my first interview.)

You’d think I’d learn. But nooooo….I entrusted my luggage this time to USAirways (my current candidate for Worst Airline Ever, and I speak from vast experience), to be handed over to Lufthansa when I changed planes in Chicago. Not that I really had much choice; you can’t carry the Necessary for a week-long book-tour in a book-satchel, after all. I was not really surprised, though, to eventually reach Cologne and discover that my luggage hadn’t.

Well, one gets philosophical about this sort of thing, and the Lufthansa lost-luggage people kindly gave me an emergency overnight kit, with toothbrush, toothpaste, and a size XL white cotton T-shirt in which to sleep. I had my book-satchel with me, containing Kindle, takeoff/landing book (because they won’t let you read your Kindle during those periods), chocolate, and essential meds, after all—what else did I really need?

Granted, there was a photoshoot scheduled for the next morning, during which the German publisher proposed to get a new dust-jacket author photo. And while I could do interviews perfectly well in jeans, turquoise Uggs, and a turquoise plaid shirt (my travel ensemble), that seemed a little casual for the evening event at LitCologne, the city’s very elegant literary festival, for which I was meant to address the multitudes—in company with Cologne’s Vice-Mayor for Culture (Cologne has seven or eight vice-mayors, I’m told. And there is evidently quite a bit of vice, too; I was told that the new Metro was constructed by the German equivalent of the Mafia, who stole so much material from the project that a new underground station had recently collapsed—taking with it the state Archives (which was sitting on top of it) and destroying the biggest collection of medieval manuscripts in northern Europe) and Daniela Hoffman, the actress who reads the German audiobook version of my work, this event to be held on a ship cruising up and down the Rhine.

The resourceful publicist who’d met me at the airport checked me into the Hotel im Wasserturm (Hotel in the Watertower, and it is. Built inside an ex-water-tower, I mean. Interesting place. Wedge-shaped rooms. http://www.hotel-im-wasserturm.de/), then asked the desk clerk where to find a department store likely to be open in the evening, and we charged down the street in the rain (propelled by the enormous umbrella helpfully supplied by said desk clerk, which acted as a wind-sail) to Kaufhof, a monstrous store with acres of clothes, shoes, luggage, jewelry, etc.

One hour of frantic shopping, and I was hastily but respectably equipped with black short-sleeved sweater, black long-sleeved sweater, black pants, colorful scarf, a rudimentary makeup kit, gold earrings, and what my husband described upon seeing them as “fetish boots.” (see above).

Got up early the next morning and dressed in my new finery, went off to be photo-shot. The art director from the publishing company had chosen two locales for this: the basement of the City Hall, and the ruins of a bombed-out church. (Don’t ask me; I’m not an art director.)

The entourage included said art director, the publicist with me, the photographer, the photographer’s assistant (the hapless person whose job it is to hold immense reflectors and carry the tripod), and a nice young stylist named Xenia, who plied her art subtly enough that while I did look older than I do unadorned (_vide_ the less formal snapshots, which were taken that evening in a café with some local readers, after the LitCologne event, and the lovely rain-soaked one taken by my German translator coming down into the Moser Valley). I did not look like a prostitute, I’m happy to say.

I did nearly freeze to death. It had stopped raining, but spring had not yet sprung, and I tell you what, old stone buildings are C-O-L-D, especially if you have to stand very still on said stones for very long. The photoshoot took abour four hours, all told, and Xenia and the publicist took turns leaping forward to swathe me in coats and shawls whenever the photographer paused to change equipment.

The locales were actually very picturesque; the basement of the City Hall is open to the sky, and is the oldest part of the building, with arches and twining vines; they told me that it’s a popular site for weddings (preferably in warmer weather). The church is St. Alban’s, and the ruins enclose a very moving war memorial called “Grieving Parents”, which I think you can see here:


and in more detail here:

(We were naturally not shooting near the sculpture, but off to either side.)

Cologne is also where I made rendezvous with my friend and translator, Barbara Schnell—who is also a photojournalist. You can see some of the pictures she took of the German tour here (click on one of the pictures to enter the site, then click on “blog” and you’ll see the entry for March 20th there is of the German tour):


I had a wonderful time in Germany, but am glad to be back—and so is my luggage. [g]

Tournament of Audiobooks!

Well, here’s a quickie: some kind person just notified me that AN ECHO IN THE BONE is one of the entrants in Audible.com’s “Tournament of the Audiobooks.” [g] I’m very flattered!

Should you be an Audible.com member—or just feel like voting—the first round of voting is open until (I think) March 15. This


is the page for the “Customer Favorites” category, which is where ECHO is (there are also several other categories, all accessible from this page. Have fun!


You know, I’d have gone to the Tucson Book Festival this coming weekend (I went to the first one last year, and had a wonderful time—heartily recommend it to all of you who live in the Tucson area!), save that I’m leaving for Germany on Sunday, and didn’t want to be gone all of Saturday, rolling home after midnight and then having to rush around packing and watering plants and all the stuff one does when leaving home for a week. So I declined with regrets.

However, late last week, I got a request from the Peoria Book Festival, through the Poisoned Pen, asking whether I might be able to come just for a couple of hours on Saturday. Well…Peoria is a lot closer to where I live than Tucson is, and a couple of hours is do-able, so I said OK, sure.

So, I didn’t want those of your connected with the Tucson Book Festival to feel I was snootering you if you heard I’d been in Peoria on Saturday. But I do want those of you who might be closer to Peoria and might be interested, to know about their book festival—which actually is titled “Bravo Peoria!” [g] For those who might be interested, here are the details:

Event: Bravo Peoria!
Date: Saturday, March 13th
Time: 9:00am – 4:00pm
Location: Sunrise Mountain Library
Description: A community event to celebrate Culture and the Arts. Sunrise Mountain Library will host a day long event with entertainment, artists, antiques, book sale and more. The event is sponsored by the Friends of the Library. Sunrise mountain Library 21200 N 98th Ave., Peoria, AZ 85382.
Contact Person: Library Staff
Contact Phone: 623-773-8650

OK, now please note that I’ll be there only between 1 and 3 PM. (I will be talking for about half an hour, then signing books.) But the Poisoned Pen will be there all day, and will have what the manager refers to as “Gabaldoniana” in quantity. If you plan to come to the festival, but won’t be there when I am, feel free to buy a book at the Poisoned Pen booth, and leave it with a note as to how you’d like it signed. You can pick it up later in the day, or ask the store to mail it to you.

(Also, if you’d like to buy a particular book to have signed there, you might want to call the Poisoned Pen ahead of time; I know they’ll have a lot of OUTLANDER and ECHO, because the first and most recent titles always sell best—but I’m sure they’d bring any of the other books you like, if you let them know. The PP phone number is 480-947-2974.)

THE METHADONE LIST: Christopher Brookmyre

THE METHADONE LIST: Christopher Brookmyre

I seldom write fan letters to other authors. Not that I don’t want to; there are lots of wonderful books that move me to admiration, laughter, tears, etc., and I’d love to let the authors of them know that. In some cases, the authors in question are dead, though, which kind of renders a fan letter moot (though I do Say a Word during my evening rosary—that’s my Lenten devotion this year, saying the rosary every night (provided I don’t fall asleep in the middle, but I haven’t yet; lovely, peaceful meditation)). In most cases, though, I just don’t get around to it. You know, busy life, obligations, family, dogs, book-tours, saying the rosary [g], answering the nice messages people send me, etc., etc.

Which is why I particular appreciate the letters and emails people send me; I know just how much effort it takes to actually do something like that, rather than just think about it. So it’s all the more remarkable that upon reading Christopher Brookmyre’s PANDAEMONIUM recently, I put down the book and actually wrote him a fan letter. Which said:

Dear Christopher–

I’ve just finished wallowing in PANDAEMONIUM, pausing occasionally to gasp with admiration at your sheer technical brilliance (we’ll take the tremendous energy, amazing ear for dialogue and eye for social dynamics, and your talent for chronic hilarity (ranging from subtle to belly-laugh) as read). All of which is _nothing_ to my enjoyment of the way your mind works. [g] I couldn’t have done a clearer explanation of just what science _is_ (and how it works) myself–and I do it frequently, what with the appalling state of prevalent ignorance and the many practitioners thereof. And the sheer bloody brilliance, not only of the concept, but the _ending_…!

I’ve been enjoying your books for years, and you’ve been getting better and better, juggling the ideas so deftly with the satire and the plot (speaking of juggling, I adore your magician from THE SACRED ART OF STEALING and SNOWBALL IN HELL, too). This one is Just Great. Thanks so much.


So anyway, still in the grip of this unaccustomed burst of energy [g], I thought I’d mention Chris as the latest recommendation on The Methadone List, and an excellent one he is, too—not only for the quality of his books, but the quantity as well; he produces something close to a book a year (a feat which excites my envious admiration).

Brookmyre’s books are all violent, bloody, and absolutely hilarious. They’re not a series; some of the books feature a recurring main character, the journalist Jack Parlabane, two of them have a wonderful, emotionally vulnerable, light-fingered magician as the hero (I fell in love with him, and I have high standards in that department [cough]), and some are one-off standalones. ALL of them are wonderfully plotted, deeply satirical, and done with a distinctly Scottish sense of humor.

The only real drawback to Brookmyre’s books is that they aren’t all published yet in the US (US publishers in these parlous times fight shy of anything offbeat, like stories written with Scots vernacular—but I sort of don’t think that would be a problem for most of you guys [g]). Still, Amazon.com does have all of them for sale at least in paperback


though I’m displeased to note that they only have PANDAEMONIUM listed in the Kindle edition. (I bought mine in hardcover—I grab Brookmyre on sight—from The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale; they import a lot of British authors, and routinely carry all of Brookmyre’s books. If you’d like a hard copy (undeniably expensive, but worth it), see

http://www.poisonedpen.com/search?SearchableText=Christopher+Brookmyre .) I’m sure you could get them all from amazon.co.uk, but then there’s the shipping to pay, so it’s pretty much a wash.

Hope you enjoy him as much as I have!

(And here’s his website, too, which has brief excerpts from some of his books:

http://www.brookmyre.co.uk/ .)