• “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

UK Cover Proof for ECHO

I just got the cover proof for the UK edition of AN ECHO IN THE BONE. As usual [g], this is Completely Different from the US design–but also different from the most recent UK versions of the series cover, because we have a new UK publisher for ECHO–Orion.

The cover is really striking, and I like it (slight quibble with the typography and balance of the title, but art departments routinely mess with those things; this isn’t a finished product, by any means).

Anyway, I asked the editor whether Orion would mind my showing it to you–since y’all were so interested and helpful in the question of the new US cover–and he said that would be great; he’d be very interested to hear your comments.

Only difficulty being that I don’t know whether I can insert a .jpg into this blog–or if so, how. Do any of y’all have any good technical advice? (If I can’t post it here, I’ll put it up on my website, but that takes a bit longer.)

Thanks!

OK, I _think_ I’ve got it. Let’s see now…OK! I think it worked.

Really striking, as I say–the gradations of blue are gorgeous; don’t know how well they’ll show up here. And the leaf in the center is–they tell me–going to be embossed in gold foil, so will be much more visible. (I was impressed that somebody thought about it enough to come up with the skeletal leaf as a non-bony [g] metaphor for the title.)

Anyway, let me know what you think!

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Thanksgiving: Gravy, Graves, and Sex-Drunk Hoot-Owls

My apologies for taking so long to get my Thanksgiving wishes up for you. Thanksgiving was delightful, but busy—the Most-Eaten dishes (the ones everyone gobbles and raves over—it’s different every time) this time were a new one, mushroom pate’ surrounded by sliced pears sprinkled with gorgonzola crumbles and walnuts and drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette (served with fresh French bread)—and the always popular standby, deviled eggs. [g]

I did the usual fruit-stuffed turkey (a couple of nice people had seen me mention this and asked for the recipe—I don’t think you could actually dignify it by calling it a “recipe”; I literally stuff the turkey with fruit (and onions and garlic and baby carrots—but mostly whatever’s in the fruit bowl; this year it was apples, oranges, and grapes, and I forgot to buy baby carrots). I don’t like bready stuffing or dressing, and since I’m cooking, I get to eat what I like (the main reason for cooking, if you ask me)), but since I was lacking carrots and used oranges (which I usually don’t), the bird was even juicier than usual—the benefit of this particular stuffing method is that you never have a dry turkey, and the subsequent gravy is wonderful; light and very flavorful (now I do sort of have a gravy recipe, which I’ll post on the website, along with a Thanksgiving excerpt from AN ECHO IN THE BONE—www.dianagabaldon.com)—and consequently arrived on the platter in several pieces [cough].

Well, you’re just going to carve it up anyway…though I must here recount an anecdote my husband told me: his mother—a famously good cook, and justly proud of it—had guests one Thanksgiving, and Something Happened to the turkey, causing it to literally collapse. One of the guests viewed the wreckage on the platter, laughed, and said, “Kay, that bird looks like somebody shot it out of the sky with a howitzer!” My mother-in-law—also famously red-headed, and with a famous temper to match—replied, “If you think you can do it better, you son-of-a-b!tch, fix it yourself! Get out of my house!” (My husband says the guest didn’t leave, but apologized, and a nice meal was eventually had by all.)

So a lovely time was had by all here, too, followed by a pleasantly langourous evening. Friday I arose refreshed, and—not being reckless enough to go anywhere near a shopping mall on Black Friday—spent the whole day working on manuscripts: writing another 2000 words of AN ECHO IN THE BONE, and copy-editing for my son, who’s just finishing up the final stages of his first novel (yes, if and when it gets published, I’ll tell you all about it). Followed by a late-night turkey sandwich on whole-wheat bread with sliced pears, walnuts and gorgonzola (and a little mayonnaise to keep the walnuts from falling out), with a glass of white wine—the best part of a Thanksgiving weekend.

Fine. So yesterday, I had it in mind to answer email, finish writing an update for the website, choose an excerpt to post, and possibly begin the Christmas cards (no, don’t write to tell me to skip the Christmas cards so I can finish the book; I only send cards to distant relatives, close friends, editors, and agents, and I can manage twenty Christmas cards without slowing my progress appreciably). The universe had other plans.

Yesterday has to have been one of the more surreal days in a life that’s contained quite a few. As I was brushing my teeth, my husband came in and suggested that as the weather was nice (it had rained for the preceding three days), we might drive down to Tucson, and visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, since we hadn’t been there for ages. (This is a wonderful outdoor live “museum,” featuring the animals, ethnography, geology, and botany of the Sonoran and Anza-Borrego Desert. We’ve been members for years, and usually get down there every three or four months. If any of you who live in the area or pass through are interested, here is their website.)

I thought this was a terrific idea. The email and Christmas cards could certainly wait, and if I took a wodge of Sam’s manuscript to proof-read in the car, I’d still end up with my evening work hours free and clear to work on ECHO, so why not? (Besides, when you’re a writer, you have to prioritize, in order to get the important things done. My personal priorities are 1) family, 2) book, 3) exercise, and 4) garden. You’ll notice that “housework,” “TV watching,” and “taking part in casting discussions” aren’t on that list. Going to the ASDM with Doug definitely falls under #1 there, and also neatly takes care of #3, as circumnavigating the whole place is easily a three or four-mile walk.)

So away we went, and had a wonderful time. The weather was ideal—about 68 degrees, clear and bright—and all the animals were out. The animal residents of the Museum are mostly in natural-habitat (very large) enclosures, which means that it’s just about as easy to spot them in there as it would be in their natural habitats. We normally manage to see about 2/3 of them, but seldom spot the wild turkeys, the deer, or the coyotes.

We’d been batting a thousand, though, approaching the coyote habitat (which is a huge enclosure liberally studded with rocks, mesquite, cactus and….well, they essentially just put up invisible mesh around a quarter-acre of desert); we’d seen mountain lion, bobcats (gato montes; all the legends and signs are bilingual, and it’s very entertaining to back-translate the Spanish names, on occasion. “Cat of the mountains,” it means), porcupine, gray fox, wolves (curled up asleep, but still, we saw them), and the turkey (very gorgeous in the sunlight, with his red head and blue and green iridescent feathers—a far cry from the overbred white creatures who end up on Thanksgiving platters—and remind me sometime to tell you the story of my husband, my father-in-law, the cattle round-up, and the ten thousand white turkeys…), and the deer.

So we were making bets on our chances of seeing a coyote—remarking as we did so that in fact, our chances of seeing a coyote were a lot better at home than they were at the ASDM. We live right in the middle of Scottsdale, but coyotes routinely roam our neighborhood; one day we were driving down our street and saw an enormous coyote sitting at the bus stop on the corner, completely nonchalant. I often see them crossing streets in broad daylight, and last New Year’s Day, found myself following one up the street—this is a completely urban part of town, mind—while out for a walk, and often hear them carrying on at night. (Coyotes do not actually “howl,” btw. Wolves howl. Coyotes gibber, wail, and laugh like maniacs. That’s not a figure of speech, either; they laugh like maniacs, and it’s one eerie thing to listen to in the dead of night, which is when I usually hear them.)

Well, it was a day in a thousand—we saw not one, but two coyotes, trotting up and down about their business. We also saw the beaver (who was awake, for once), the river otter, prairie dogs, chipmunks, a herd of javelina, and more snakes than you could shake a stick at. (To say nothing of all the cool geology and mineral exhibits, but you can pretty much count on the spectacular chunks of wulfenite, azurite, and malachite still being where you saw them last, waiting patiently to be admired again.)

Rolled home, accompanied by Doug, a Dove ice-cream bar, and a large chunk of son’s manuscript (good book, I’m pleased to report). It’s nearly winter, and the days are drawing in; it’s getting dark by 5:30, which is when we arrived home, and the Great Horned owls were At It already. (Late November/early December is their courting season, and they’re hooting to and fro in ecstasy all night long. One of them was sitting in a tall palm tree right next to our house—and if you don’t think seeing a Great Horned owl in a palm tree is a slightly surreal experience…)

My first act on returning home, when Sam is visiting, is to greet his dogs (the Little Bad Dogs, aka Charlie the corgi and Otis the pug) and march them directly out back to go potty, as they’re very unreliable about this duty if not sternly supervised, dog-door notwithstanding.

We stepped out through the back door of the garage—and they immediately shot for the Back Forty (as we refer to the wild half-acre that forms the back half of our property; there are a couple of horse corrals with a ramada back there, and a tackroom (no, no horses at present; there have been and likely will be again at some point, but none now), but otherwise nothing but eucalyptus trees (the owls adore these), mesquite, palo verde and vast expanses of tumble-weed), barking. I looked to see what they were barking at, didn’t spot anything (no surprise), and paused to have a quick look at the garden and draw up a mental chore list for Sunday afternoon (prime gardening time): prune back grapevines, finish harvesting pomegranates (we had a plague of woodpeckers this year, so the crop is much reduced), rip out wads of mint, trim and fertilize the roses…emerging from the garden, I saw that Otis and Charlie were still out back; I could see them under the big eucalyptus, sniffing around.

OK, slight digression here. We had to put down our oldest dog (Really Old. I estimated that in dog years, she was 112. We’d been checking her every morning for the last year, to see if she was still breathing. She was, but having an increasingly hard time of it, poor old thing), Molly, about ten days ago. We bury all the dogs under the big eucalyptus out back, and had planted Molly with due ceremony next to her old pal, Ajax.

It’s not unusual for dogs to go smell and scratch at the grave of a recently deceased acquaintance—this behavior usually followed by ceremonially peeing on the gravesite—so I thought that’s what Otis and Charlie were about, and strolled out to join them, thinking to pay my respects and put a rose on the grave (the roses do very well this time of year, since it’s finally cool enough that the fresh blossoms don’t fry on emergence).

Now, it was getting dark, and a good thing, too. For a minute or two, I had no idea what I was looking at. Then I knew what I was looking at, but no idea why I was looking at it. Somebody had shoveled most of the dirt out of Molly’s grave, revealing the neat rectangle Doug had made for her—and there was something blobbish, dark, wet and nasty-looking in it. A second later, I realized that the wet-and-nasty was what was left of Molly—this realization aided by the presence of wads of wiry gray hair all over the place (Molly went to the vet’s once, and the vet’s assistant, passing the door of the exam room, paused and said sympathetically, “Oh—a bad hair day every day, huh?”). The dogs and I were nonplused.

Went and summoned Doug and Sam, with shovels, and we held a hasty reprise of the funeral, this one much less ceremonious, ending in the placement of a chunk of old swimming pool fence over the site to prevent further desecration. Our best guess was that coyotes had dug up and half-devoured the remains—which was rather a sobering thought, as the entire yard is surrounded by a six-foot concrete block and stucco wall. I knew coyotes could jump, but…

Well, no one in the family is what you’d call squeamish, so we repaired inside for a post-Thanksgiving supper of pancakes and turkey with butter and maple syrup (pancakes being Doug’s piece de resistance, and very tasty they are, too). Tidied up, read a bit while Doug watched football, tucked him in, and prepared to go lie down for a quick evening nap before starting work. Took Otis and Charlie out for a potty-break.

Once again, they shot for the Back Forty, barking their heads off. Followed them at a dead run (in my red flannel pajamas and Uggs, mini-flashlight in hand). Luckily, there was nothing in the yard—but there was what sounded like a sizable pack of coyotes directly on the other side of the back wall (there’s a narrow service alley back there, between us and the neighbors on that side), yipping, gibbering and laughing their heads off. Not what you want to hear at 10 o’clock of a dark night, with sex-drunk owls hooting to and fro overhead, a desecrated grave full of ghastly remains at your feet, a pug Who Knows No Fear (Otis being certifiably insane; he’s the sort who loves to hop up and down, frothing at the mouth and calling big dogs bad names in public, secure in the knowledge that he’s on a leash) shrieking abuse at them from close range, a corgi also shaped like a coyote snack also barking, but from a slightly more prudent distance (Charlie’s bred for a cow-dog and thus possessed of common sense)—and the certain knowledge that those gibbering maniacs can indeed get over that wall if they want to.

After a certain amount of yelling and flashlight brandishing—and running down Otis the Fathead and snaffling him by the collar—we repaired inside, locked the panel over the dog-door (hey, if they’re going to come pillage the family cemetery, what’s to stop them coming right on in after the dog food?), lay down, and passed out. Temporarily.

The phone rings, waking me out of a sound sleep, so I’m more than slightly confused to hear my younger daughter telling me that her friend (visiting from New York) is in terrible pain, and they think she needs to go to the hospital, but she (the friend) won’t go without me. (Longtime childhood friend of Jenny’s, deplorably estranged from her parents for years. I’m sort of a surrogate mother.)

Shaking my head in hopes of clearing my wits enough to drive, I go wake Doug to tell him where I’m going and assure him that he doesn’t need to come with me, get dressed, stuff a cold-pak from the freezer and a bottle of ibuprofen into my purse, and go—pausing on my way out to grab the folder containing Sam’s manuscript (I’ve been in emergency rooms before. No matter what the situation, you’re probably going to want something to read).

Arrive to find the poor girl writhing in pain, unable to find a comfortable position that will ease it, terrible pain from the middle of her back down her right arm, pins-and-needles…Jenny and another friend had taken her to an urgent care facility earlier in the day, where they diagnosed the problem as muscle spasm/possible pinched nerve, and prescribed her a painkiller. Painkiller is obviously not working, and now it’s 11 PM. Tried a little trigger-point massage, just in case—it helped slightly, but pain resumed full-force as soon as I stopped, and when we asked if she thought she needed to go to the emergency room, she said she did.

So the four of us—C. (the injured friend) lying on a seat, writhing and emitting small, pitiful cries, Jenny, self, and other friend taking it in turns to rub her neck or her arm or chafe her hands for distraction—spent an hour in the lobby (luckily, it wasn’t a busy night), chatting and making remarks under our breaths about the other people in the waiting room, who were the usual motley crew one sees in an emergency room on a Saturday night, including a young man who looked as though he’d been living in a dumpster with an ice-bag on his head (that is, he had the ice-bag on his head in the waiting room, not in the dumpster), accompanied by his much spiffier girl-friend, a buxom specimen with drug-googly eyes and a large coat on which was painted in big red and green letters, “Kill the Brain and the Whole Ghoul Dies”. Not that we looked that great, all things considered, but still.

Four hours later, staggered (literally; C. had been given Valium, a shot of muscle relaxant and some Very Potent painkiller—sufficiently potent that she couldn’t keep it down, and barfed twice getting from the emergency room to the car—a distance of about a hundred feet) out of the hospital, drove the girls to Jenny’s place, and made my way home—just in time to take Otis and Charlie out again. This time, I took them into the inner yard, and they accomplished their business at 4 AM by the peaceful glow of Christmas lights, the night now silent save for the soft Hoo! Hoo-hoo! (male owls hoot once, females twice) of love in the trees.

And I hope all y’all had a lovely weekend, too! [g]

MOVIE NEWS UPDATE

I’ve been getting a number of enquiries, since press releases have started appearing about the movie production of OUTLANDER—excited folk asking “Is it true?” “When?” and (I hope you’ll pardon a brief roll of the eyes here), “Who would you cast?” (I couldn’t begin to guess how many thousands of times I’ve been asked that over the last twenty years.)

It’s very early days as yet, but I’ll answer what I can.

Yes, Essential Productions is developing OUTLANDER as a “major motion picture.” (What that means is that they want to make a two-to-two-and-a-half hour feature film.)

And yes, Randall Wallace (the talented gentleman who wrote both BRAVEHEART and PEARL HARBOR—hey, ancient Scots and WWII, how about that?) is writing the script.

No, I have absolutely nothing to say about the casting of the movie. The production people do occasionally ask me what I think of this or that person, but this is simple politeness on their part.

No, I have no control whatever regarding the script.

No, I really don’t want to have anything personal to do with the development of the movie.

Why not? Well, two major reasons (putting aside the fact that producers seldom want the original writer sticking his or her oar in and causing trouble):

1. I have books to write and a family to be with. I can’t be hopping planes every other week or dropping everything else at a moment’s notice to do script adjustments. (I do know that all movie scripts go through many (many, many) iterations, rewrites, etc. in the process of development and filming.) That kind of thing eats your time and sucks your soul, and to no good end.

2. For nearly twenty years now, people have been saying to me, “Oh! I’m dying to see the movie of your books! But I want it to be just like it is in the book!” To which the only possible reply is, “Yeah? Which forty pages do you want to see?”

Obviously, a book of the size and complexity of OUTLANDER won’t fit into a two-hour movie. But it might be possible for a good movie based on the book to exist.

Adaptations can be either good or bad—they’re seldom indifferent—but a skilful adaptation is just as much a feat of skill as is writing an original book or script.

Yes, I could adapt the book myself. With the net result that even if a) no one then messed with the script (and they would; that’s how film works), and b) the end result was wonderful (odds of about 900:1)—ten million people would still email me about, “But how could you leave out that scene?” Or “But why did you change this character?” Or “But you left out my favorite line in the whole book!

I’d really rather write a new novel.

Now, do bear in mind a couple of things here:

1. Essential Productions have an option on the book. This means that they paid us a modest amount of money and we gave them a span of time, in which they can do anything they want to, in order to put together the necessary financing and logistics to make a movie (that includes hiring a scriptwriter).

We (my agents and I) get a lot of option requests. We decided to grant Essential Productions an option because we like them, we think they understand the book and its central characters, and insofar as such a thing is possible, we trust them to do their best to make it a great movie.

But it is an option.

2. Not all movies that are optioned actually get made. Even movies that have excellent scripts, A-list directors and recognizable stars don’t always get made. Naturally, we hope this one will, because we do like the EP people and think that of all the producers who’ve approached us about the film rights, they have the best chance of succeeding in making a great movie.

But we’ll all have to wait and see what happens next.

And that’s all I can tell you.

Le meas,

–Diana

P.S. Well, I can also tell you that a) yes, Gerard Butler is a fine-looking specimen of Scottish manhood, even if he is a Lowlander, but b) I think he might have difficulty playing a 22-year-old virgin; c) Keira Knightley would probably make an excellent Claire (she has the accent and the capacity for sarcasm), if she gained forty pounds, but d) James McAvoy is probably a wonderful actor, but he’s only 5’7″, for heaven’s sake. (Mind, none of the production people has mentioned any of these actors to me as serious casting prospects, either.)

COVER ART – OPINIONS?

Dear All–

Hmm. So, my editor at Random House called this morning to tell me they were going to have “the cover conference” for AN ECHO IN THE BONE tomorrow–and did I have suggestions, opinions, preferences?

He’d earlier suggested the possibility of re-covering the series–he’s a new editor, and of course would like to contribute something significant in addition to his editing skills on the new book–and I’d said I was agreeable, providing the new covers were an improvement. At the same time, I don’t have any greata objection to continuing with the jewel-toned iconic covers, if we _don’t_ have a better suggestion. (Not that I can think of a suitable icon for _that_ title, right off the top of my head….and what on earth color would we use? Pink? A pale, leafy green? (Not yellow; I hate yellow, and besides, yellow books don’t do well–accepted wisdom in marketing circles. ))

John (the editor) suggested something more pictorial/historical, which I said I was open to–provided there are no humans on the cover. To which he said that would make it more difficult–he rather likes the later editions of George MacDonald Fraser’s “Flashman” novels, which have a sort of graphic-art version of the main character in various situations–and he doubted that putting a rubber duck on the cover would impair sales to any great extent.

“Regardless….” I said. “Besides, we can’t put rubber ducks on _all_ the covers.”

The last time this subject came up, I’d just been seized by the shape of ECHO, and in the grip of this enthusiasm, suggested (to Doug, whom I happened to be talking to at the time) doing a new cover series in which the covers were done in attractive deep colors, with the underlying “shape” of each novel done in a striking abstract style (possibly embossed) on the front. This caused Doug to make faces, so is possibly not as inspired a notion as I thought. [g]

Anyway–since y’all obviously have a personal interest in what the books look like, I thought I’d ask whether anybody has any strong opinions, suggestions, whatever. No telling _what_ will happen–as John assured me, this cover conference is merely the instigating point of the process; no final decisions are expected to emerge tomorrow–just some ideas to pursue.

So if you have ideas…let me know!

Where Titles Come From

And a Happy All Souls Day to you!

A lot of folk ask me how I come up with titles. To which the short answer is, “Well, I just sort of tumble short phrases around in the back of my mind, like a rock polisher, and every once awhile, I pull out a handful and see if anything looks smooth and shiny yet.”

But there is (you knew there would be) a longer answer, of course. [g] This varies from book to book, but as it happens, I just stumbled across the account I wrote for a friend regarding where AN ECHO IN THE BONE came from. So, for the benefit of anyone else who might be curious…

Dear X–

Well, we (Doug and I) were on a plane to Alaska, and I was thinking about the shape of the book (of which I have a vague approximation, but not firm at all, yet), and generally considering it in abstract visual terms (i.e., not “visual,” as in thinking of incidents that occur in the plot, but rather the pattern that emerges from them). I kept seeing pebbles dropped into water, each with concentric ripples spreading out, and those ripples intersecting. Now, “ripple” is not really a good title word, generally speaking. “Pebble” is better, but not suitable to the tone of this book. But looking at the ripples made me think of lakes and water, and waves, which led me to Loch Ness, and a consideration of standing waves–which is one suggestion as to the origin of the Loch Ness monster; i.e., that people saw a standing wave–which occur frequently in the loch–and assumed it to be the back of a sea monster. (Here, btw, is one of the simplest definitions of what a standing wave actually is:

“A type of wave in which the surface oscillates vertically between fixed nodes, without any forward progression; the crest at one moment becomes the trough at the next. Standing waves may be caused by the meeting of two similar wave groups that are travelling in opposing directions.”

Well, this image had some promise, in terms of what I think’s going on in this book, and at this point, I turned to Doug and said, “What do you think of STANDING WAVE as a title for Book Seven?” His response was to hold his nose, so I abandoned that one.

But I still kept seeing ripples, and since I’d started thinking of them in terms of waves (“wave” being much more evocative than “ripple,” just as a word), I kept thinking–in a vague, half-conscious sort of way–of various wave-forms. And arrived at “echo.” Which is (courtesy of YourDictionary.com):

echo (ek’o)
noun
1.
1. the repetition of a sound by reflection of sound waves from a surface
2. a sound so produced
2.
1. any repetition or imitation of the words, style, ideas, etc. of another
2. a person who thus repeats or imitates
3. sympathetic response
4. Electronics; a radar wave reflected from an object, appearing as a spot of light on a radarscope
5. Gr. Myth. a nymph who, because of her unreturned love for Narcissus, pines away until only her voice remains
6. Music
1. a soft repetition of a phrase
2. an organ stop for producing the effect of echo
7. Radio, TV the reception of two similar and almost simultaneous signals because one of them has been delayed slightly by reflection from the E layer in transmission

Etymology: ME ecco < L echo < Gr echo < IE base *(s)wagh-, var. of *wag-, to cry out > L vagire, OE swogan, to sound, roar

“Well, all _righty_, then,” I thought. Echo is a much more evocative word than “ripple,” and has multiple related definitions, virtually all of which might apply to the metaphorical levels of this book. Cool. I like “echo.”

So–and mind you, this process took several days–I was tossing “echo” around in my head, letting it form what associations it wanted to, and I started picking up the echo [g] of a line from BROTHERHOOD OF THE BLADE:

He spared a moment to look before touching off the next shot–so far, he had been firing with not the slightest thought for attitude or effect–and forced himself not to blink as the gun went off with a jump like a live thing and the thunder that made you feel as though the ground shook, though in fact it was your own flesh shaking.”

And I thought, “Yes! That’s it, it’s the echo of artillery fire, felt in the flesh.” Well, now I felt I had a grip on something, and began playing with that concept. “ECHO IN THE FLESH” has a lot of impact [g], but as Doug noted, sounds butcherous, rather than substantial. “ECHO IN THE BLOOD” is pretty evocative, but sounds too much like a crime novel. OK, there ain’t much to the body, in simple terms, beyond flesh, blood, and…bone. A bit of to and fro with the prepositional phrases, (of the flesh? through the blood?), singular vs. plural–bone or bones?–and articles for rhythm (ECHO IN THE BONE is OK, but I like AN ECHO IN THE BONE better). And I liked the repeated “O” (as Baerbel notes, it’s the same thing going on as with the “U” in DRUMS OF AUTUMN”), and the balance of four letters–ECHO/BONE.

Meanwhile, the more I played with it, the more I began to pick up the metaphorical echoes [g], and thus to be convinced I’d found it. I tried it out on my agent and editors, then on a couple of roomsful of people while touring, and finding the general response to be a collective “OOOOh!”, decided I probably had it.

So now you know, too!

Ghost Story

Well, it being Halloween–one of my favorite holidays–I thought I’d post something suitable. [g]

Now, you’d think that I’d meet a lot of ghosts, what with my habit of walking battlefields, handling historical artifacts, touring ancient castles and houses, etc., but noooooo.

In fact, I’ve only met two ghosts in my life (I did have one that haunted my house for awhile, but she wasn’t conscious of me, so no interaction there)–and the only strange thing about both occurrences is how utterly normal they both seemed. About fifteen years ago, though, a friend asked me to write up the first encounter for a newsletter published by the “Psychic Writers Network” (no, I haven’t the slightest idea), so I did. Later, a website called www.allaboutghosts.com asked for permission to use it as well. So some of you may have seen this piece before. But for all of you–

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

THE GHOST IN THE ALAMO
Copyright 1994 Diana Gabaldon

In May of 1990, I was at a writer’s conference in San Antonio, staying at the Menger Hotel, a rather charming old place built in the late 1800′s. It’s also located across the street from the Alamo, which now stands in a little botanical park, full of trees and shrubs, each with a little metal label bearing its name.
A friend had driven up from Houston to see me, and he suggested that we go walk through the Alamo, he being a botanist and therefore interested in the plants. He also thought I might find the building interesting. He said he’d been there several times as a child, and had found it “evocative.” So we strolled through the garden, looking at plants, and then went inside.
The present memorial is the single main church building, which is essentially no more than a gutted masonry shell. There’s nothing at all in the church proper a stone floor and stone walls, bearing the marks of hundreds of thousands of bullets; the stone looks chewed. There are a couple of smaller semi open rooms at the front of the church where the baptismal font and a small chapel used to be originally separated from the main room by stone pillars and partial walls.
Around the edges of the main room are a few museum display cases, holding such artifacts of the defenders as the Daughters of Texas have managed to scrape together rather a pitiful collection, including spoons, buttons, and (scraping the bottom of the barrel, if you ask me) a diploma certifying that one of the defenders had graduated from law school (this, like a number of other artifacts, wasn’t present in the Alamo, but was obtained later from the family of the man to whom it belonged).
The walls are lined with perfectly _horrible_ oil paintings, showing various of the defenders in assorted “heroic” poses. I suspect them all of having been executed by the Daughters of Texas in a special arts and crafts class held for the purpose, though I admit that I might be maligning the D of T by this supposition. At any rate, as museums go, this one doesn’t.
It is quiet owing to the presence of the woman waving the “Silence,Please! THIS IS A SHRINE!” sign in the middle of the room but is not otherwise either spooky or reverent in atmosphere. It’s just a big, empty room. My friend and I cruised slowly around the room, making _sotto voce_ remarks about the paintings and looking at the artifacts.
And then I walked into a ghost. He was near the front of the main room, about ten feet in from the wall, near the smaller room on the left (as you enter the church). I was very surprised by the encounter, since I hadn’t expected to meet a ghost, and if I had, he wasn’t what I would have expected.
I saw nothing, experienced no chill or feeling of oppression or malaise. The air felt slightly warmer where I stood, but not so much as to be really noticeable. The only really distinct feeling was one of…communication. Very distinct communication. I _knew_ he was there–and he certainly knew _I_ was. It was the feeling you get when you meet the eyes of a stranger and know at once this is someone you’d like.
I wasn’t frightened in the least; just intensely surprised. I had a strong urge to continue standing there, “talking” (as it were; there were no words exchanged then) to this man. Because it _was_ a man; I could “feel” him distinctly, and had a strong sense of his personality. I rather naturally assumed that I was imagining this, and turned to find my friend, to re establish a sense of reality. He was about six feet away, and I started to walk toward him. Within a couple of feet, I lost contact with the ghost; couldn’t feel him anymore. It was like leaving someone at a bus stop; a sense of broken communication.
Without speaking to my friend, I turned and went back to the spot where I had encountered the ghost. There he was. Again, he was quite conscious of me, too, though he didn’t say anything in words. It was a feeling of “Oh, there you are!” on both parts.
I tried the experiment two or three more times stepping away and coming back with similar results each time. If I moved away, I couldn’t feel him; if I moved back, I could. By this time, my friend was becoming understandably curious. He came over and whispered, “Is this what a writer does?”, meaning to be funny. Since he evidently didn’t sense the ghost he was standing approximately where I had been I didn’t say anything about it, but merely smiled and went on outside with him, where we continued our botanical investigations.
The whole occurrence struck me as so very odd while at the same time feeling utterly “normal” that I went back to the Alamo alone, this time on each of the next two days. Same thing; he was there, in the same spot, and he knew me. Each time, I would just stand there, engaged in what I can only call mental communication. As soon as I left the spot it was an area maybe two to three feet square I couldn’t sense him anymore.
I did wonder who he was, of course. There are brass plates at intervals around the walls of the church, listing the vital statistics of all the Alamo defenders, and I’d strolled along looking at these, trying to see if any of them “rang a bell,” so to speak. None did.
Now, I did mention the occurrence to a few of the writers at the conference, all of whom were very interested. I don’t think any of them went to the Alamo themselves if they did, they didn’t tell me but more than one of them suggested that perhaps the ghost wanted me to tell his story, I being a writer and all. I said dubiously that I didn’t _think_ that’s what he wanted, but the next and last time I went to the Alamo, I did ask him, in so many words.
I stood there and thought consciously, in words “What do you want? I can’t really do anything for you. All I can give you is the knowledge that I know you’re there; I care that you lived and I care that you died here.”
And he _said_ not out loud, but I heard the words distinctly inside my head; it was the only time he spoke he said “That’s enough.”
At once, I had a feeling of completion. It _was_ enough; that’s all he wanted. I turned and went away. This time, I took a slightly different path out of the church, because there was a group of tourists in my way. Instead of leaving in a straight line to the door, I passed around the pillar dividing the main church from one of the smaller rooms. There was a small brass plate in the angle of the wall there, not visible from the main room.
The plate said that the smaller room had been used as a powder magazine during the defense of the fort. During the last hours of the siege, when it became apparent that the fort would fall, one of the defenders had made an effort to blow up the magazine, in order to destroy the fort and take as many of the attackers as possible with it. However, the man had been shot and killed just outside the smaller room, before he could succeed in his mission more or less on the spot where I met the ghost.
So I don’t know for sure; he didn’t tell me his name, and I got no clear idea of his appearance just a general impression that he was fairly tall; he spoke “down” to me, somehow. But for what it’s worth, the man who was killed trying to blow up the powder magazine was named Robert Evans; one of the survivors of the Alamo described him as being “black haired, blue eyed, nearly six feet tall, and always merry.” That last bit sounds like the man I met, all right, but there’s no telling. I got this description, by the way, from a book titled ALAMO DEFENDERS, which I bought in the museum bookshop as I was leaving. I had never heard of Robert Evans or the powder magazine before.
And that’s the whole story.

Diana

Into THIN AIR!

THIN AIR – Appearance/book-signing in Flagstaff – November 14th!

Interviewers always ask, “How has your life changed, now that you’re a best-selling author instead of a scientist?” My impulse is usually to answer, “Well…now I write books instead of doing research or teaching classes. You know…duh.” Being a naturally polite person (no, really. I mean, usually…well, if I’m not worn to a frazz on a book tour, at least…) and understanding that thinking up good interview questions is not the easiest thing in the world to do, so far I haven’t done this.

In fact, my life has changed a lot (well, look, I’ve lived more than half a century; naturally it’s going to change; everybody’s does), but the details are by and large either too complicated or too boring to make a good answer.

One of the ways in which it’s changed, though, is that I now have the opportunity to consort with all kinds of Really Interesting People, and to be involved in all kinds of entertaining projects, beyond the limits of just the stuff I personally write.

One of these entertaining projects (staffed by Really Interesting People ) is Thin Air. This is the literary magazine produced, edited, and published by an enterprising (and most creative) group of students at Northern Arizona University. (NAU is my old alma mater, in Flagstaff—which is 7000 feet above sea level. “Thin air,” geddit?)

I have the honor to be “consulting editor” for this excellent magazine—which basically means that I help support their printing costs and drop by now and then to talk with the staff and hear all about the neat things they’re doing.

On one recent visit to NAU, I was invited to visit an advanced Creative Writing seminar to talk about graphic novels: what they are (this being a college class, they already knew that), how they’re put together, what a script looks like, how collaboration with the artist works, what the business side (contracts, etc.) is like, and so on. Well, the editor-in-chief of Thin Air was part of this class, and asked whether I’d be willing to do an interview for the magazine, covering some of the high points of this presentation. Sure, I said.

Well, you know how one thing sort of leads to another? (Or at least it certainly does around here…) We ended up with what I think is probably an interesting interview, illustrated not only with a page of my working script, but with the “pencil page” (the preliminary sketch) of the artwork for that page, and the finished (not necessarily final; there’s always tweaking) full-color art of the same page (page 48, I think. It’s part of the scene where Claire tends Jamie’s shoulder on the road and he tells Dougal to find him a clean shirt and take the lassie off his chest). Many thanks to Hoang Nguyen, the artist, and Betsy Mitchell, the Ballantine editor, for letting us use these!

In addition to the interview, I’ll also be doing a fund-raising appearance for the magazine at Northern Arizona University on November 14th. This will be in the afternoon—3:00 PM—and I’ll be talking (about graphic novels, to start with, though I imagine other things will be talked about, and I’ll certainly be reading a few bits of this and that—excerpts from AN ECHO IN THE BONE, that sort of thing…) for a couple of hours and signing books. (Books will be available for sale there, but you’re certainly welcome to bring your own for signing, if you’d like.)

For more details—or to order tickets for the talk—or to order a copy of the magazine itself—
go to www.thinairmagazine.com . And I’ll see you in Flagstaff in two weeks!

THE SHAPE OF THINGS

THE SHAPE OF THINGS

Well, good news! I finally know what the shape of AN ECHO IN THE BONE is!

I think I’ve explained a little before, about how I write: to wit, not with an outline, and not in a straight line. [g] I write in bits and pieces, doing the research more or less concurrently with the writing (meaning that assorted bits of plot or new scenes may pop up unexpectedly as the result of my stumbling across something too entertaining to pass up).

As I work, some of these bits and pieces will begin to stick together, forming larger chunks. For example, I’ll write a scene, and realize that it explains why what happened in a scene written several months ago happened. Ergo, the later scene probably ought to precede the first, already-written scene. So I haul both scenes into the same document, read through this larger chunk, and at that point, sometimes will see what has to happen next. (Sometimes not.) If so, then I can proceed to write the next bit. If not, I go look for another kernel (what I call the bits of inspiration that offer me a foothold on a new scene), and write something else.

Anyway, this process of agglomeration continues, and I begin to see the underlying patterns of the book. I get larger chunks. And all the time, I’m evolving a rough timeline in my head, against which I can line up these chunks in rough order (E.g., the battle of Saratoga—which is in this book—was actually two battles, fought by the same armies on the same ground. But the dates of those battles are fixed: September 19th and October 7th, 1777. Some specific historical events occurred and specific historical persons were present in each of those two battles. Ergo, if I have assorted personal events that take place in the fictional characters’ lives, and various scenes dealing with those, I can tell that logically, X must have taken place after the first battle, because there’s a wounded man in that scene, while Y has to take place after the second battle, because the death of a particular person (who died in the second battle) precipitates Y. Meanwhile, Z clearly takes place between the battles, because there’s a field hospital involved, but there’s no fighting going on. Like that.)

Now, at a certain point in this chunking process (and I’ve been chunking for awhile now on ECHO; in fact, I’ve sent my German translator two largish chunks already, to begin translating), I discern the underlying “shape” of the book. This is Important.

All my books have a shape, and once I’ve seen what it is, the book comes together much more quickly, because I can then see approximately what-all is included, how it’s organized, and where the missing pieces (most of them, anyway) are.

OUTLANDER, for instance, is shaped like three overlapping triangles: the action rises naturally toward three climaxes: Claire’s decision at Craig na Dun to stay in the past, Claire’s rescue of Jamie from Wentworth, and her saving of his soul at the Abbey.

DRAGONFLY IN AMBER is shaped like a dumbbell (no, really [g]). The framing story, set in 1968 (or 1969; there’s a copyediting glitch in there that has to do with differences between the US and UK editions of OUTLANDER, but we won’t go into that now), forms the caps on the ends of the dumbbell. The first arc of the main story is the French background, the plots and intrigue (and personal complications) leading toward the Rising. Then there’s a relatively flat stretch of calm and domestic peace at Lallybroch, followed by the second major arc, the Rising itself. And the final end-cap of the framing story. All very symmetrical.

VOYAGER looks like a braided horse-tail: the first third of the book consists of a three-part braided narrative: Jamie’s third-person narrative runs forward in time; Claire’s first-person narrative goes backward in time (as she explains things to Roger and Brianna), and Roger’s third-person narrative sections form the present-time turning points between Claire’s and Jamie’s stories. After Claire’s return to the past, though, the story then drops into the multi-stranded but linear first-person narrative (moving forward) that we’re used to.

DRUMS OF AUTUMN…well, that one’s a little more free-form, but it does have a shape. It’s shaped like a curving, leafy stem, with a big, showy rose at the end, but with two side-stems, each with a large bud (these being Roger and Brianna’s independent part of the story, and the Jocasta/Hector/Ulysses/Duncan/Phaedre part).

THE FIERY CROSS looks either like a rainbow or a shower of fireworks, depending how you want to look at it. [g] There are a number of separate storylines that arc through the book—but every single one of them has its origin and root in that Very Long Day at the Gathering where the book begins. Each storyline then has its own arc, which comes down at a different point toward the end of the book.

A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES…Well, probably you’ve seen that very well-known Hokusai print, titled “The Great Wave Off Kanagawa.” (In case you haven’t, here’s a link.) When I happened to see this print while assembling the chunks for this book, I emailed my agent in great excitement, to tell him I’d seen the shape of the book. “It looks like the Great Wave,” I said. “Only there are two of them!” [g] Notice, if you will, the little boats full of people, about to be swamped by the wave—these are the characters whose fate is affected by the onrush of events. And in the middle of the print, we see Mt. Fuji in the distance, small but immovable, unaffected by the wave. That’s the love between Claire and Jamie, which endures through both physical and emotional upheaval. (The waves are the escalating tides of events/violence that remove Claire and Jamie from the Ridge.)

So that leads us to the current book. And, as I say, I’ve just recently seen the “shape” of AN ECHO IN THE BONE. It’s a caltrop.

[pause]

OK, normally I’d make y’all look it up [g], but the only person to whom I announced this revelation (husband, literary agents, editors, children) who already knew what a caltrop is, was my elder daughter (who is unusually well-read). So, all right—this is a caltrop (so’s this, which is very elegant, I think), and this is the definition thereof.

Nasty-looking little bugger, isn’t it? (And if you think this image presages something regarding the effect of this book, you are very likely right. Enjoy. [g])

It’s their HEADS that are full of spackle…

I drove up from Scottsdale to my old family place in Flagstaff yesterday. On car trips where I’m driving, I usually listen either to CD’s or the radio—thanks to my husband, I have Sirius radio, and thus can choose from the BBC (love the accents, as well as the different world views you get), any kind of music one can think of, or the Usual Suspects in terms of domestic news. Given the hair-raising state of current affairs, I was mostly listening to the domestic channels. Which have advertising.

Now, I don’t really mind hearing guff about credit-counseling agencies, truck-driving companies, or male-enhancement products (the best was one I heard last week, while driving with my husband: a “lotion-based” enhancement “guaranteed to increase your size as soon as you rub it in!” My husband nearly died laughing). I do, however, draw the line at the ads for colon cleansers.

I don’t know if they’re all the same company under different product names, but they all have the same script. Their product, they assure you, will rid you of, “the ten to twenty-five pounds of UNDIGESTED WASTE that some experts say is stuck to the walls of your colon, like spackle or paste!”

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this quaint theory; I once visited a massage therapist who earnestly showed me a “scientific booklet” showing cross-sectional illustrations of the large intestine, looking like a kitchen drain clogged by ever-increasing grease deposits.

Now, look…

Were y’all not paying attention in Junior High biology, when the gross anatomy and general function of the large intestine were explained? Evidently a lot of people weren’t.

For starters, stand in front of a mirror and open your mouth. You are looking at one end of your digestive system. Do you see food sticking to the back of your throat? I sincerely hope not. OK, do you know why food is not sticking to the back of your throat?

Because it is slippery! Yes, very good. And why is it slippery? Because the back of your throat (and the inside of your nose, just for good measure) is lined with a mucous membrane. That means the tissue there is equipped with a large number of cells that produce….yes, indeedy, mucus! Mucus is exceedingly slippery. Slimy, even. Stuff does not stick to it.

All right. Stop-press news here: your whole, entire intestinal system is lined by this same mucous membrane. If food isn’t sticking at the top of your alimentary canal, it isn’t sticking at the bottom, either. No spackle.

No twenty-five pounds of undigested food, either. Now, even if you take my word for it that “undigested waste” (which is a contradiction in terms; if it hasn’t been digested, it isn’t waste; it’s just chewed-up food. Believe me, you would notice if you were excreting undigested food) is not sticking to the walls of your large intestine, it might be argued that if your colon were especially sluggish, glop might be lollygagging around in there, making you weigh more.

It might be argued, but that isn’t true, either, and it’s pretty dang easy to prove it. You know the colonoscopy that you’re supposed to get when you turn 50, and every so often thereafter? Well, before a doctor goes sticking an endoscope up your rear end, he or she would like to make sure of having an unobstructed view. To this end, the preparation for a colonoscopy involves drinking a solution of a liquid containing magnesium, which is a powerful laxative. You can buy this stuff in any drug store; it’s called Fleet, and it’s utterly revolting. But effective. It will remove everything in your colon within a few hours. And if you—out of a spirit of scientific inquiry—should happen to weigh yourself before and after this process, you will note that you do not—alas—lose ten to twenty-five pounds. You might—temporarily—lose one. If you drink enough water to kill the taste, you’ll probably—temporarily—gain weight.

If you have any doubts, ask the medical personnel who do your colonoscopy if they noticed any spackle-like deposits clinging to the walls of your colon. If they did, I bet they’d mention it.

I haven’t looked at the ingredient list of any of these products—I’ve never even seen one in the flesh—but I’d bet money that magnesium is one of, if not the, main ingredient. Taking two 500 mg magnesium tablets (which will cost you about 6 cents) will do anything one of these colon-cleansers does, I assure you. (I take magnesium tablets for occasional migraines—along with three aspirin and a nice glass of white wine, plus a schmear of Tiger Balm on temples and under nose. Treatment for migraines is highly idiosyncratic; I don’t recommend this for anybody else, but it usually works for me. But that’s how I know about the other effects of magnesium tablets.)

Putting aside the question of their supposed physiological basis, which is utter nonsense, do these colon-cleansers actually work, in terms of weight loss?

Well, yeah, they probably do—if used as directed. My chiropractor (hey, writing for a living is physically destructive; I have major arthritis in my neck, and my spine looks like I’m playing Twister, even while sitting down) once tried one of these “cleanser” regimes, and was so enthused, he was recommending it to all his clients.

“Yeah?” I said. “What do you do?”
“Oh,” he said, “it’s easy! Three days a week, you just drink the cleanser crystals, in juice or water or whatever. I’ve lost ten pounds in a month!”
“Great!” I said. “And you eat normally while you do this?”
“Oh, no,” he said. “You don’t eat on the days you take the cleanser.”

[pause]

“Jeffrey,” I said, when he had stopped twisting my head, “you are losing weight because you’ve cut your caloric intake in half. You’d get the same effect if you just didn’t eat solid food every other day.”

He didn’t believe me, of course. But I hope you will. Drink water, eat less (but whatever you do eat should have fiber), and save your money, is my advice. And listen to the BBC. It’s soothing to realize that the world is bigger than Wall Street and Washington.

JAMIE AND THE GRAPHIC NOVEL: MR. F. and Mr. A.

So….you really want to know what I think Jamie looks like, do you? [g]

Well, Hoang has been doing wonderful stuff on the artwork for the graphic novel; amazing action, terrific characters, beautiful color and composition—just marvelous. And I love what he’s done with Claire ( yes, her hair is somewhat wilder where it ought to be—as when freshly emergent from a gorse bush—but certainly not ringlets, good grief), Murtagh, Dougal, Jack Randall….

Now, Jamie has been a little more problematic, simply because everyone has such a well-defined (if not well-articulated) notion of what he looks like. The descriptions of him are more detailed than those of other characters in the books, because we’re looking at him through Claire’s eyes, and she’s paying close attention. [g] But to take those details and come up with a gestalt that embodies the whole…harder to do.

The consequence of this has been that Hoang’s been working with Jamie in different aspects, looking for a good “look” for him that can be used throughout the graphic novel.
And the poor artist, of course, has little to go on other than my rather fumbling feedback—”Well, this one is pretty good, but the jaw is too heavy…. that one’s nice, too, but he seems kind of thuggish…and that one’s a little too soft, too young-looking, but the hair’s great!” sort of thing.

Well, in the preliminary shufflings to and fro, I’d collected a few photos of assorted actors and models who had slanted eyes of an appropriate sort—and many thanks to all the kind people who sent me their favorites (and isn’t it a good thing for the men of the world that women have such diverse tastes…)—which I’d sent on to Hoang to add to his mental compost pile.

Among these was a photo of Gabriel Aubrey, and I’d mentioned in re this photo that Mr. A. did in fact have a strong resemblance to Mr. Fraser, in terms of facial physiognomy. So yesterday, an enterprising person named Grace who inhabits one of the “Outlander” discussion boards evidently came across my idle remarks and decided to see if she could make something of them. So she dragged Mr. Aubrey into her PhotoShop for a little revision, and….

http://smg.photobucket.com/albums/v514/aag567/Role%20Playing/?action=view&current=Jamie7.jpg

(sorry; I tried to make a link for this, but it wouldn’t show up in the post, don’t know why. You’ll have to cut and paste the URL, unless somebody else can fix it for me.)

OK. Yeah. That’s very much what he looks like. In case you were wondering. [g]

[I'll venture out on a limb and make a small prediction here: to wit, that half the comments made here will be along the lines of, "Well, that's not what I thought he looked like! I thought he looked like Josh Holloway/Sean Bean/David Cassidy/etc.!" [wry g] To each her own, as I said. But do remember that I can see him.]