• “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

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.”

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Don’t Look if You’re Squeamish


I mean, it’s not _that_ bad. But still mildly gross. [g]

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!

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]

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.)

BEWARE THE GREEN SLIME!!

BEWARE THE GREEN SLIME!

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!

WALKING BATTLEFIELDS

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.

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:

THE TOME OF THE UNDERGATES
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.
‘Kataria.’
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?’
‘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:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/console/b00sb9x2

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

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:

THE CHILDREN’S BOOK
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!