If you happen to feel like voting for ECHO or any of the others, the link to do so is
If you happen to feel like voting for ECHO or any of the others, the link to do so is
Merry Christmas to all!
I’ve been telling you about various short pieces involving dragons and murder and what-not–but there’s another short story you may want to hear about. This one is for (yet another) anthology, titled STAR-CROSSED LOVERS, and the story itself is titled “A Leaf on the Wind.” This is the story of What Happened to Roger’s Father–those of you who’ve read AN ECHO IN THE BONE may be especially interested, [g] though I think most folks who’ve enjoyed the series–and Roger–will like this.
I’ve begun working on Book Eight, but really don’t have anything resembling coherent (let alone suitable) scenes to show you from that as yet, so I thought I’d post a brief scene from this short story as a small token of love and esteem for Christmas–and I wish y’all many happinesses of the season!
“A Leaf on the Wind” (excerpt)
Copyright 2009 Diana Gabaldon
In STAR-CROSSED LOVERS (edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois)
Marjorie MacKenzie—Dolly to her husband—opened the blackout curtains. No more than an inch…well, two inches. It wouldn’t matter; the inside of the little flat was dark as the inside of a coal-scuttle. London outside was equally dark; she knew the curtains were open only because she felt the cold glass of the window through the narrow crack. She leaned close, breathing on the glass, and felt the moisture of her breath condense, cool near her face. Couldn’t see the mist, but felt the squeak of her fingertip on the glass as she quickly drew a small heart there, the letter J inside.
It faded at once, of course, but that didn’t matter; the charm would be there when the light came in, invisible but there, standing between her husband and the sky.
When the light came, it would fall just so, across his pillow. She’d see his sleeping face in the light: the jackstraw hair, the fading bruise on his temple, the deep-set eyes, closed in innocence. He looked so young, asleep. Almost as young as he really was. Only twenty-two [ck.]; too young to have such lines in his face. She touched the corner of her mouth, but couldn’t feel the crease the mirror showed her—her mouth was swollen, tender, and the ball of her thumb ran across her lower lip, lightly, to and fro.
What else, what else? What more could she do for him? He’d left her with something of himself. Perhaps there would be another baby—something he gave her, but something she gave him, as well. Another baby. Another child to raise alone?
“Even so,” she whispered, her mouth tightening, face raw from hours of stubbled kissing; neither of them had been able to wait for him to shave. “Even so.”
At least he’d got to see Roger. Hold his little boy—and have said little boy spit up milk all down the back of his shirt. Jerry’d yelped in surprise, but hadn’t let her take Roger back; he’d held his son and petted him until the wee mannie fell asleep, only then laying him down in his basket and stripping off the stained shirt before coming to her.
It was cold in the room, and she hugged herself. She was wearing nothing but Jerry’s string vest—he thought she looked erotic in it–”lewd,” he said, approving, his Highland accent making the word sound really dirty–and the thought made her smile. The thin cotton clung to her breasts, true enough, and her nipples poked out something scandalous, if only from the chill.
She wanted to go crawl in next to him, longing for his warmth, longing to keep touching him for as long as they had. He’d need to go at eight, to catch the train back; it would barely be light then. Some puritanical impulse of denial kept her hovering there, though, cold and wakeful in the dark. She felt as though if she denied herself, offered that denial as sacrifice, it would strengthen the magic, help to keep him safe and bring him back. God knew what a minister would say to that bit of superstition, and her tingling mouth twisted in self-mockery. And doubt.
Still, she sat in the dark, waiting for the cold blue light of the dawn that would take him.
Baby Roger put an end to her dithering, though; babies did. He rustled in his basket, making the little waking-up grunts that presaged an outraged roar at the discovery of a wet nappy and an empty stomach, and she hurried across the tiny room to his basket, breasts swinging heavy, already letting down her milk. She wanted to keep him from waking Jerry, but stubbed her toe on the spindly chair, and sent it over with a bang.
There was an explosion of bedclothes as Jerry sprang up with a loud “FNCK!” that drowned her own muffled “damn!” and Roger topped them both with a shriek like an air-raid siren. Like clockwork, old Mrs. Munns in the next flat thumped indignantly on the thin wall.
Jerry’s naked shape crossed the room in a bound. He pounded furiously on the partition with his fist, making the wallboard quiver and boom like a drum. He paused, fist still raised, waiting. Roger had stopped screeching, impressed by the racket.
Dead silence from the other side of the wall, and Marjorie pressed her mouth against Roger’s round little head to muffle her giggling. He smelled of baby-scent and fresh pee, and she cuddled him like a large hot-water bottle, his immediate warmth and need making her notions of watching over her men in the lonely cold seem silly.
Jerry gave a satisfied grunt and came across to her.
“Ha,” he said, and kissed her.
“What d’ye think you are?” she whispered, leaning into him. “A gorilla?”
“Yeah,” he whispered back, taking her hand and pressing it against him. “Want to see my banana?”
I have, as you might suppose, been getting a certain amount of agitated mail following publication of ECHO, [g] all centering on one question: HOW long is it until the next book will be out?!? (This accompanied by various pleas of increasing age or senility on the part of some readers. It’s not that I’m not sympathetic, and I _am_ flattered–but the fact that you think you might not live long enough to read the next book really can’t make me write any faster. Look, just exercise and take your vitamins; you’ll be fine.) As to the question…
It wouldn’t do much good to speculate; I’m always wrong. The books are invariably longer and more complex than I think they’ll be, and _always_ take longer to finish than I think they will. Sufficiently so, that anyone who’s had the misfortune to work production on one of the OUTLANDER books emerges from the experience with several new white hairs and trembling visibly in every limb.
General observation is that in terms of actual research/writing/etc., it takes me _about_ two to two-and-a-half years to write one of the big novels of the main series. That’s baseline. However…
A) The books get increasingly popular. While this is, generally speaking, A Good Thing, it has side-effects. There’s a HUGE demand on my time, in terms both of physical travel and in-person appearances, and the smaller drag created by endless email, propositions, invitations, cover quote pleas, and now–with the upsurge of online venues available–the demand to create TONS more subsidiary material for blogs, online chats, interviews, phone apps (don’t even ask about that one; the publisher just suggested it and I have _no_ idea), enhanced e-books, viral animated videos, etc. I lose at least two/three months a year, if not more, to this kind of stuff (much more, in years when a new book is out and several different countries want me to come and tour. So far this year, I’ve done Scotland, the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia–for a total of two and a half months _just on the road_–and will be doing the UK in January, Germany in March, and some miscellaneous Scottish stuff [g] in August. Three European trips in one year? It has its fun aspects, but man, it eats up your work time.
B) I don’t work on one project exclusively, for the most part. I never have. Being able to switch mental tracks keeps me from ever having writer’s block, and it’s good for the separate projects, insofar as pushing one off the front burner while I deal with something else lets the first one simmer peacefully on the subconscious’s lower heat–so the result has _lots_ more flavor and subtlety than it would if I cooked it at a furious boil and splashed it scalding into people’s bowls (cf. James Patterson, if you want to know what _that_ looks like).
So (for instance), while the pub date for ECHO was four years after that for ABOSA, it doesn’t mean that I spent four years tapping away on ECHO without cease or respite. I also wrote (and published) two other books in that time (LORD JOHN AND THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE BLADE, which was a complete novel, and LORD JOHN AND THE HAND OF DEVILS, a collection of novellas), wrote the complete script for THE EXILE (the first “Outlandish” graphic novel), did work on a contemporary crime novel (about half-done at present), worked on THE OUTLANDISH COMPANION, Volume II (rudimentary stuff, but still work), consulted on a film script, and poked around in the research material, coming up with bits and pieces of other, future books (like the first Master Raymond) that I haven’t started working on in any focused way, but that are waiting on the sideboard for their turn.
So I have no idea when Book Eight’ll be up. Not for at least two and a half years (the publisher does need _some_ lead time to actually print the book), but that’s _all_ I could tell you for sure.
Now, I _can_ say what I plan to be working on during 2010 (putting aside all the roaming around the world stuff, promotion for the graphic novel, and Eldest Daughter’s upcoming wedding): I’ll be feeling my way into Book Eight, working in a serious way on LORD JOHN AND THE SCOTTISH PRISONER, ditto the OC II (because I’d like to have that one done before the end of the year), and seeing if I can pull together the contemporary crime novel (which is about half-done, and I think I know where the other half _is_, more or less).
You will get a couple of things in 2010, though: 1) THE EXILE. This is the much-talked-about graphic novel, due out September 28!, 2) a new Lord John novella, “The Custom of the Army” (due in March from Tor books, in an anthology titled WARRIORS), and (probably) 3) “A Leaf on the Wind,” a short story in a Penguin anthology titled STAR-CROSSED LOVERS. This one tells the story of what really happened to Roger’s father, for those with a particular interest either in MacKenzie family history and/or time-travel. [g]
So you will get something to read, and fairly soon. As for Jem…don’t worry about him; he’s a pretty resourceful little guy.
Speaking of that, though–which is the storyline _you_ most want to see addressed Right Up Front in Book Eight?
If you’re still in the market for stocking-stuffers, and have people on your list who prefer mystery to dragons….
“Dirty Scottsdale” is also the debut in print of Tom Kolodzi, who’s the protagonist of the contemporary crime novel I’ve been working on for some time (in and amongst other things), which I hope to finish sometime next year (along with SCOTTISH PRISONER and the second volume of THE OUTLANDISH COMPANION). As you can tell, Tom’s’ got a voice of his own:
in PHOENIX NOIR (edited by Patrick Millikin)
It was high noon, and 110. The cops were in shirt-sleeves, the home-owner was wearing plaid bermuda shorts and a wtf? expression. The body floating face-down in the swimming-pool was wearing a navy blue wool suit, which was odder than the veil of blood hanging like shark-bait in the water.
The girl by the pool was more appropriately dressed–if you could use that word to describe the triangles of turquoise fabric that covered her nominally private parts.
“The poor dope,” I said, shaking my head. “He always wanted a pool. Well, in the end he got himself a pool–only the price turned out to be a little high.”
The girl looked at me. She had a hot-pink towel clutched dramatically to her mouth, eyes wide above it. Turquoise eye-shadow, to match her suit, and a lot of waterproof mascara.
“Tom Kolodzi,” I said, with a jerk of the head toward the uniformed cops. “I’m with the police.” You notice I didn’t say I was the police. “You know the guy in the pool?”
Her eyes got wider, and she shook her head . I took out my notebook and flipped it open, turning to shield it from the cops.
She blinked, and lowered the towel. Her mouth was blurred with red, and she looked like a little kid who’d been eating a popsicle, breast implants notwithstanding.
“Any relation to Clint?” I smiled, friendly.
I should have flipped a coin and said “Call it, friendo.” Instead, I asked, “Do you live here?”
She nodded like a bobble-head doll, her eyes going back to the body. “I just…I just came out to tan, and…there he was.”
“You called it in?”
She shook her head, blonde ponytail swishing over baby-oiled shoulders.
“I screamed and Cooney came running out, and the yard-guys and everybody.” She waved vaguely toward the house, where three nervous-looking Mexicans were clustered. A Mexican woman, too, with a blond boy of five or six clutching her leg. “I guess Cooney called.”
Her eyes went to the homeowner: Mr. Bermuda Shorts, shoulders hunched in aggression. One of the uniforms caught sight of me and opened his mouth to order me out. The two uniforms exchanged a quick look, though, then looked right through me before turning deliberately toward the pool.
I relaxed a little. I’d been doing a ride-along–you always want to get acquainted with the cops in a new place–when the 410 call came through. They’d told me to stay in the car, of course, but didn’t lock me in. It could get up to 140 in a parked car, and they didn’t want to explain a dead reporter in the back seat. They didn’t want to explain a live reporter in their crime scene, either; if I kept my mouth shut, they’d pretend they had no idea how I got there, and leave it to Homicide to throw me out.
Now, the Poisoned Pen definitely does have signed copies of PHOENIX NOIR in stock; I know, because I signed a bunch of them a week ago.
I’m always a trifle taken aback to see myself described as one of “the masters of modern fantasy”—but I can’t say that I really object to finding myself in the company of people like Gregory Maguire and Naomi Novik.
For those looking for something small and different, either as a Christmas gift or as a distraction from looking for Christmas gifts, let me call your attention to THE DRAGON BOOK, recently released. It is, as you probably suspect, an anthology of stories featuring dragons, in one way or another.
I do have to say that I feel somewhat more of an imposter here than I usually do when contributing to a fantasy anthology, insofar as the story with my name on it, “Humane Killer”, was written largely by my co-author, Sam Sykes. It is, though, a Really Good—if Really Weird—story (www.thebooksmugglers.com says, “…some of the weirdest characters that I have ever seen… I quite liked [it], for its surreal feel.”
Let me just note for the record that this story has no ties to Jamie, Claire, Lord John Grey, or anybody else you’re used to finding in my pages [g]—but I think you won’t regret meeting Lenny, the pot-smoking zombie, let alone Sister Madeline:
” Nitz followed the priest’s gaze to his companion. Father Scheitzen’s shadow did not yet extend so far as to engulf Madeline. Nitz doubted there was a man yet who had grown tall enough to do that. She did not cast a shadow, but rose as one, towering and swaddled in the ominous blackness of her nun’s habit, her head so high as to scrape against the torch ensconced in the pillar she stood alongside.
“Maddy,” Nitz caught himself, “Sister Madeline…is not without mercy, no, Father.” He flashed a smile, painfully aware of the stark whiteness of his teeth in the church’s gloom. “After all, she owes her life to the mercy of others. Who but the church would have a…creature such as her?”
Nitz took private pleasure in the shudder Father Scheitzen gave as Madeline stepped forward.
The torchlight was decidedly unsympathetic. All her face was bared, from the manly square curve of her jaw, to the jagged scar running down her cheek, to the milky discolored eye set in the right half of her skull and the grim darkness in her left. The jagged yellow of her smile-bared teeth was nothing more than a sigh, a comma at the end of the cruel joke that was a woman’s visage.
“Ah, a Scarred Sister. I suspect you may have inadvertently stumbled upon a solution to a problem that has long plagued the Order,” Father Scheitzen murmured, bringing his lips close to Nitz. “There are rumors, complaints of lesser men accompanied by lesser women thinking themselves and each other worthy servants of God. Their mutual weakness feeds off of each other, men raise illegitimate children by tainted nuns.” He spared a glancing grimace for the woman behind them. “I trust you and your companion have no such temptations.”
Nitz hesitated a moment to answer, allowing the image of temptation to fill his mind. He had seen what lay beneath the layers of black cloth: the rolling musculature, the scarred, pale flesh, the biceps that could break ribs with an embrace. The thought of succumbing to “temptation” had not, until this moment, crossed his mind; the foreplay alone would shatter his pelvis.”
For further entertainment, check out www.samsykes.blogspot.com.
This recipe is in THE OUTLANDISH COMPANION, but I’m in Santa Fe right now and don’t have a copy with me, so this is out of my head. It may read a little differently from the printed version, but it should taste the same. [g]
Chicken breasts (allow one per person) – diced
Mushrooms, sliced or chopped – 2/3 good sized mushrooms per chicken breast.
(Any kind—I like a mixture of the regular ceps (default grocery-store mushrooms), porcini (these usually come dried and need to be soaked in water for half an hour before using—see below), and oyster mushrooms. You might not want to use portobello mushrooms, because while the texture is great and the flavor excellent with sauces, the gills will stain this sauce and make it look muddy. You can, though, if you really like them. Or if you or your spouse only like the ceps mushrooms, it’s fine to use only those.)
Chicken broth/soup base/broth cubes
(I like Penzey’s Chicken Soup Base, myself; it’s a sort of strongly chicken-flavored paste, and easy to use. Fresh or canned broth or the little cube things will work fine, though.)
Orange juice, any kind (you need anywhere from 1-3 cups of it probably, so any size carton or bottle will supply enough)
Flour (3-6 Tablespoons, depending on quantity)
I like garlic and onion, so I use roughly two cloves garlic per chicken breast, and an equivalent amount (by volume) of onion. If you’re not that fond of alliums [g], cut that in half. However much you use, mince it, and saute it in a heavy pan—I like to use a large saute’ pan, but a sauce pan is fine, too; just not as easy to stir the chicken—with butter, olive oil, or a combination of the two (you want enough butter/oil to just cover the bottom of the pan to a depth of about 1/8″). Once the onions and garlic have begun to go translucent, add the chopped/sliced mushrooms*, stirring occasionally until mushrooms are also sauteed.
Add the diced chicken and brown, stirring occasionally. When chicken appears to be cooked through (it isn’t actually brown [g]; that’s just what you call it when you cook raw meat in a pan until it isn’t raw anymore), sprinkle thickly with flour and stir, coating everything in the pan. Make sure all the flour gets in contact with butter/oil, no white lumps left. You want all your chicken pretty thickly coated with flour.
All right. Now you stir in orange juice a little at a time (alternating with porcini mushroom water, if you like) until you have a fairly runny sauce. Add chicken broth, in whatever form you like. I generally cook three chicken breasts at a time, and add about three teaspoons of the Penzey’s Chicken Soup Base. (When I use bouillon cubes instead, I normally add only two, as these are pretty salty.) If you use liquid chicken broth, add it sparingly; you want more of the liquid to be orange juice.
Lower heat to simmer and if possible, cover pan (it’s OK to cook uncovered, but you have to add liquid more often). Now cook your noodles (or rice, or whatever farinaceous substance you plan to serve this over), keeping an eye on the chicken/sauce. Add a little more orange juice every now and then, as the sauce thickens, and be sure to stir every few minutes, so it won’t burn on the bottom (this shouldn’t be a problem if you’re just simmering it, but just in case).
You should get a feel fairly quickly for how long it takes the sauce to thicken; time your last additions of orange juice/broth/water so that the sauce will be a good consistency by the time the noodles are done. I don’t add salt myself, finding that there’s usually plenty supplied by the broth/soup base, nor pepper (because it makes me cough), but if you feel it needs salt or pepper, certainly go ahead and add them to taste.
Drain noodles, ladle the chicken and sauce onto them, and top with shredded romano cheese (freshly-shredded parmigiano reggiano is my favorite with this, but it’s not nearly as convenient as the little tubs of shredded cheese you buy at the supermarket).
* Note on porcini mushrooms. As I said, these usually come dried in a packet, and are reconstituted by soaking them in water. You want to rinse them first, before soaking, as they shed a lot of dust and twiggy bits. Then you can save the water you soaked them in and use it in addition to the orange juice and chicken broth, to add flavor to the sauce.
It takes me about three years to write one of the big books of the main OUTLANDER series, and that’s just about how long it takes for most of the towels around here to be worn out, destroyed in the wash, or taken away by Persons Unnamed to be used to wrap greasy engine parts in. So when a new book is finished, I ceremonially buy new towels for the household.
Back in the day when we had three kids (well, usually more like six, as our kids would bring home friends who liked living at our house more than theirs) and four dogs in the house, and the Person Unnamed would use good towels to wipe up Substances That Any Normal Person Would Use a Paper Towel For (if not a trowel and a blowtorch), I used to buy a special nice fluffy towel, (always red) which I would keep in my closet, hanging concealed inside my bathrobe, just so I could be sure of having something reasonably sanitary and findable, with which to take a shower.
Anyway, when I finished AN ECHO IN THE BONE, the household was down to three rather ratty towels. But I’d finished the book a mere five weeks prior to the publication date (you could hear the poor Production people screaming, all the way from New York, without a phone), and thus the next three weeks were a blinding flurry of last-minute copy-edits, galley proofs, corrections, etc. (which is why I have a brief “Errata” listing for that book, which will be along on the website soon. [cough] All books have errata, alas. And you’re right, Ian couldn’t have made it from Ticonderoga to the Dismal Swamp in the time apparent—but he could if “June 12″ had been properly corrected to “June 1″. We did instigate all the corrections in time for the trade paperback, which will be out this summer, they tell me.)
Once that was done, I had to race around like a mad thing, doing what I could of all the urgent stuff that I hadn’t been doing for the last three months while finishing the book, and doing all the urgent stuff one has to do before leaving on a two-month, four country, two-continent tour (I didn’t even try to count the cities. There were a lot of them, that’s all I can tell you).
So I never managed to buy towels.
Well, then, I arrived back from Australia right into the teeth of Thanksgiving (see post on the delights of turkey sandwiches….ahhhh. We ate all the turkey in three days, but there’s still plenty of white wine left; luckily, it goes really well with Chicken and Mushrooms in Orange Sauce on Noodles). So it was that I only this week got around to finally buying The New Towels.
And these are the towels I bought (I can’t think why anyone would care, but people always ask, so just in case you do care [g]). In Graphite and Cajun Blue. They are in fact delightfully soft, very absorbent, and so far have not been used to swab down muddy dogs nor conscripted into a game of tug-o-war. So, the book is finished, the touring is Done (until mid-January, at least), I’m back in the heart of my household, and the cycle of creation is complete. [g]
[I've not yet figured out how to do captions with photos. The picture at the top there is Homer, hunting lizards in the backyard, while the bottom one is of Homer and his brother JJ playing Tug-o-War with their friend Ranger. (My husband just came in, glanced at the picture and remarked, "You know, _you_ can double-dog dare somebody, and back it up!") Photos courtesy of Ranger's mistress, Susan Butler. Thanks, Susan!]
Turkey is good. Turkey sandwiches are better. Eaten without the distraction of pumpkin pie, mashed rutabagas (not my idea of a good time, but tastes vary), yam fries with maple aioli, and the other fripperies of a Thanksgiving table, turkey achieves its highest calling between two slices of bread.
I like two kinds of turkey sandwiches. The night-of-Thanksgiving turkey sandwich, eaten late and alone, in the peaceful muzziness that follows a successful party, is moist white meat on 12-grain bread, with Dijon mustard, mayonnaise, and leafy lettuce. With a nice glass of a full-bodied chardonnay to go with. Ahhhhh.
Day-after-Thanksgiving turkey sandwich is a little fancier. Eaten for lunch (with Diet Coke if working in the afternoon, otherwise, more wine [g]), again on 12-grain bread, but mixed white and dark meat, thickly daubed with gorgonzola cheese, heavily studded with walnuts, and layered with a sliced ripe pear. You put mayonnaise on the bread, but mostly to keep it all stuck together. Oooooh.
But of course turkey (etc.) is not the primary reason to celebrate Thanksgiving. (No, really. Add in a nice bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne, and I’m not saying, but….no, really.) So let us concentrate on the essentials.
I’m thankful for whatever it is that makes me write books.
I’m very thankful for those of you who read the books, because I might tell stories to amuse myself, but it’s having those stories read that closes the cosmic circle of creation.
I’m especially thankful to have met so many of you (in the US, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia) over the last two months. I’ve never met so many nice people in such a short period of time. But…
I’m most thankful of all to be home with my family!
Hope you all had a lovely day, and much to be thankful for, whether you celebrate Thanksgiving or not.
Well, AN ECHO IN THE BONE debuts on the New York Times list next week at #2! (My publisher sent me a large bottle of single-malt Scotch in congratulation–and, I suspect, in apology for having released Dan Brown’s book a week before ECHO [g].)
HUGE thanks to all of you, and I’m thrilled that y’all seem to be enjoying the book!
A word about the ending…I did say, did I not, “Nobody’s going to hit the end of _this_ book, and think it’s the last one?” [g] Indeed it is not. There will certainly be a Book Eight–and no, I have no idea when that one will be out. At the moment, I’m home on a (very brief) furlough from book-touring; back on the road Monday, and won’t be home for good until Thanksgiving, which is the soonest I could reasonably resume anything like a productive writing routine–as well as a prequel volume about Jamie’s parents, a Volume II of the OUTLANDISH COMPANION, and heaven knows what-all else. But the story is definitely not over!
I’ll be back later with observations on Game Day [g], but wanted to let y’all know right away that the launch party for the book is tonight _at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel_, not at the Poisoned Pen bookstore. (The Pen is organizing the event and selling books, but they can’t possibly cram hundreds of people into the bookstore.)
Rosana, my webmistress, sent out an email this morning to the website subscribers, welcoming them to the party, but mistakenly ended it with “…at the Poisoned Pen.” I’m sure she’ll be sending out a quick PS shortly [g], but wanted to put in an early word here, since I don’t know when she’ll get my email about it.
Hope to see many of you in person, tonight and on the road–and I hope ALL of you will enjoy the new book! Thanks for buying it. [smile]