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Excerpt from "The Custom of the Army"

“The Custom of the Army”
Copyright 2008 Diana Gabaldon

[Once again, please note that excerpts may NOT be copied, cut-and-pasted, or reposted anywhere without the author's express permission—though it's totally fine if you'd like to link to one from your own website(s)!]

It was small, but packaged with care, wrapped in oilcloth and tied about with twine, the knot sealed with his brother’s crest. That was unlike Hal, whose usual communiques consisted of hastily dashed notes, generally employing slightly fewer than the minimum number of words necessary to convey his message. They were seldom signed, let alone sealed.
Tom Byrd appeared to think the package slightly ominous, too; he had set it by itself, apart from the other mail, and weighted it down with a large bottle of brandy, apparently to prevent it escaping. That, or he suspected Grey might require the brandy to sustain him in the arduous effort of reading a letter consisting of more than one page.
“Very thoughtful of you, Tom,” he murmured, smiling to himself and reaching for his pen-knife.
In fact, the letter within occupied less than a page, bore neither salutation nor signature, and was completely Hal-like.

“Minnie wishes to know whether you are starving, though I don’t know what she proposes to do about it, should the answer be yes. The boys wish to know whether you have taken any scalps–they are confident that no Red Indian would succeed in taking yours; I share this opinion. You had better bring three tommyhawks when you come home.
Here is your new ring; the jeweler was most impressed by the quality of the stone. The other thing is a copy of Adams’s confession. They hanged him yesterday.”

The other contents of the parcel consisted of a small wash-leather pouch, and an official-looking document on several sheets of good parchment, this folded and sealed–this time with the seal of George II. Grey left it lying on the table, fetched one of the pewter cups from his campaign chest, and filled it to the brim with brandy, wondering anew at his valet’s perspicacity.
Thus fortified, he sat down and took up the little pouch, from which he decanted a gold ring into his hand. It was set with a faceted–and very large–sapphire, that glowed like flame in the palm of his hand. Where had Fraser acquired such a thing? he wondered.
He turned it in his hand, admiring the workmanship, but didn’t put it on. Not yet. Instead, he put it back into its pouch, and tucked this carefully into the inner pocket of his coat. He sipped his brandy for a bit, watching the official document as though it might explode. He was reasonably sure it would.
He weighed the document in his hand, and felt the wind [through the window, from the tent flap] lift it a little, like the flap of a sail, just before it fills and bellies with a snap.
Waiting wouldn’t help. And Hal plainly knew what it said, anyway; he’d tell Grey, whether he wanted to know or not. Sighing, he put by his brandy and broke the seal.

I, Bernard Donald Adams, do make this confession of my own free will…

Was it? he wondered. He did not know Adams’s handwriting, could not tell whether the document had been written or dictated–no, wait. He flipped over the sheets and examined the signature. Same hand. All right, he had written it himself.
He squinted at the writing. It seemed firm. Probably not extracted under torture, then. Perhaps it was the truth.
“Idiot,” he said under his breath. “Read the god-damned thing and have done with it!”
He drank the rest of his brandy at a gulp, flattened the pages upon the stone of the parapet and read, at last, the story of his father’s death.

[end section]

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"The Custom of the Army"

WARRIORS anthology – “The Custom of the Army.”

WARRIORS is a cool, multi-genre, multi-author anthology with stories on the theme of…well, warriors. I haven’t yet really started work on LORD JOHN AND THE SCOTTISH PRISONER (the third Lord John novel)–and won’t, until after ECHO goes to bed– but I am using Lord John for my contribution to this anthology, which I’m titling “The Custom of the Army”:

On balance, it was probably the fault of the electric eel. John Grey could–and for a time, did–blame the Honorable Caroline Woodford as well. In all justice to the lady, though, she certainly hadn’t meant him to fight a duel, and had been appalled at the outcome. The fact remained that if it had not been for the Honorable Caroline, he wouldn’t be in Canada, hip-deep in Indians and Highlanders, and facing one of the most disagreeable prospects he had encountered in a long career of soldiering. Still…no, it was the eel’s fault.”

Thus begins a story that takes us from a duel in London to the Plains of Abraham. The anthology doesn’t yet have a publication date, but it does have a publisher. Tor will be publishing WARRIORS, and presumably _sometime_ in 2009. Check my website (www.dianagabaldon.com) or theirs
(http://us.macmillan.com/TorForge.aspx) for announcements next year. In the meantime, I’ll put an excerpt from “Custom” in the next posting.

Graphic Novel – sample script page

Hmm… OK, the panel formatting didn’t come through, but the text did, so I’ve just divided it with solid lines, so you can see what happens in the various panels on this page.

GRAPHIC NOVEL (untitled)
Copyright 2008 Diana Gabaldon

________________________________________________________________________________

3-51 Murtagh, arms folded. The bird is sitting on his head, pulling at his hair.

Murtagh: Ye’d best ask the lad, not me.

(thinking): Oh, is that the way of it? Force him to swear his oath to you? Over my dead body, Colum MacKenzie.

_____________________________________________________________________________

3-52 Dougal, standing, leans forward threateningly, hands on the desk,. Murtagh looks up at him, still cool, bird on his head.

Dougal: Maybe ye’d best have a word with the lad beforehand. Ye’re his godfather—I imagine you’ve his best interests at heart.

_____________________________________________________________________________

3-53 CU Murtagh. He nods, reaching up with one hand.

Murtagh: I’ll do that, aye.

_______________________________________________________________________________

3-54 CU, Murtagh’s hand grabbing the surprised bird, some of his hairs in its beak.

Bird: Chirk!

_______________________________________________________________________________

3-55 Murtagh leans across the desk and parks the bird on Colum’s head. Colum and Dougal both surprised.

Murtagh: Thanks for your hospitality. Always a pleasure to visit Castle Leoch.

___________________________________________________________________________________

GRAPHIC NOVEL

And the next up, in the line-up of what I’m working on–

GRAPHIC NOVEL (so far untitled)

a graphic novel, for them as don’t know, is a sophisticated comic book for adults. (And I do, of course, delight in my Very Sophisticated Readers.) [g] Ballantine, the publisher for this, asked me for a “new” Jamie and Claire story, set in the OUTLANDER universe—but not necessarily just a straightforward adaptation of OUTLANDER. So that’s what they (and you) are getting: a story that sort of cuts at an angle through OUTLANDER. This story is told from Murtagh’s point of view, and begins somewhat before the events described in OUTLANDER (the non-graphic novel).

Since the story isn’t told from Claire’s point of view, we see things that Claire didn’t see, or saw but misinterpreted or didn’t understand. The effect is that there is a new storyline, that weaves through the established events of OUTLANDER. If you’ve read the novel, you’ll recognize the significant events—but you’ll also get a new storyline.

Now, graphic novels being a good deal shorter than novels in term of material, this graphic novel doesn’t encompass the entire original novel. IF it happens to do well, then I imagine there would be further graphic novels that augment the original novels and their storylines. To say nothing of the cool artwork. [g]

Now, a graphic novel is a collaborative effort. I write the script (which involves usually detailed direction as to what happens in each panel of the story), but this is then brought to life by the spectacular Hoang Nguyen, the artist who’s doing the visual part of this project. (You can see some of Hoang’s work at www.liquidbrush.com – fabulous!)

I don’t know whether I can cut-and-paste a page from the graphic novel script here, so you can see what it looks like. If not, you’ll have to wait a bit for us to get it up on the website. There is one sample page up there now, as well as Hoang’s original take (his very first try, and it came pretty close!) on Claire. As we go on, I’ll be able to post more artiwork now and then, perhaps showing you the evolution of a page from script to pencil-sketch to painting to refined, finished panel art.

**** PUBLICATION****

We (the publisher, the artist, and me) are hoping to have this ready to be released in July of 2009. We’d like to unveil it at the Comics Con convention, with both me and Hoang present to sign copies. I don’t have a date for Comics Con yet, but I’m pretty sure it’s around mid-July.

Excerpt 1 – AN ECHO IN THE BONE

AN ECHO IN THE BONE
Copyright 2008 Diana Gabaldon

[Please note: “Copyright” means that this piece may NOT be reposted or otherwise published anywhere, without the written permission of the copyright holder–which would be me. You’re more than welcome to provide a link to it from your own website, if you like, but please don’t cut and paste it. The publisher is already antsy about my posting excerpts on the Web; we don’t want to give them terminal heebie-jeebies. [g])

AN ECHO IN THE BONE
Copyright 2008 Diana Gabaldon

Lallybroch
Inverness-shire, Scotland
197_

“We are alive,” Brianna MacKenzie repeated, her voice tremulous. She looked up at Roger, the paper pressed to her chest with both hands. Her face streamed with tears, but a glorious light glowed in her blue eyes. “Alive!”
“Let me see.” His heart was hammering so hard in his chest that he could barely hear his own words. He reached out a hand, and reluctantly, she surrendered the paper to him, coming at once to press herself against him, clinging to his arm as he read, unable to take her eyes off the bit of ancient paper.
It was pleasantly rough under his fingers, hand-made paper with the ghosts of leaves and flowers pressed into its fibers. Yellowed with age, but still tough and surprisingly flexible. Bree had made it herself–two hundred years before.
Roger became aware that his hands were trembling, the paper shaking so that the sprawling, difficult hand was hard to read, faded as the ink was.

December 31, 1776

My darling daughter,

As you will see, if ever you receive this, we are alive…

His own eyes blurred, and he wiped the back of his hand across them, even as he told himself that it didn’t matter, for they were surely dead now, Jamie Fraser and his wife Claire–but he felt such joy at those words on the page that it was as though the two of them stood smiling before him.
It was the two of them, too, he discovered. While the letter began in Jamie’s hand–and voice–the second page took up in Claire’s crisply slanted writing.

Your father’s hand won’t stand much more, she wrote. And it’s a bloody long story. He’s been chopping wood all day, and can barely uncurl his fingers–but he insisted on telling you himself that we haven’t–yet–been burnt to ashes. Not but what we may be at any moment; there are fourteen people crammed into the old cabin, and I’m writing this more or less sitting in the hearth, with old Grannie MacLeod wheezing away on her pallet by my feet so that if she suddenly begins to die, I can pour more whisky down her throat.

“My God, I can hear her,” he said, amazed.
“So can I.” Tears were still coursing down Bree’s face, but it was a sun-shower; she wiped at them, laughing and sniffing. “Read more. Why are they in our cabin? What’s happened to the big house?”
Roger ran his finger down the page to find his place and resumed reading.
“Oh, Jesus!” he said.

You recall that idiot, Donner?

Gooseflesh ran up his arms at the name. A time-traveler, Donner. And one of the most feckless individuals he’d ever met or heard of–but nonetheless dangerous for that.

Well, he surpassed himself by getting together a gang of thugs from Brownsville, to come and steal the treasure in gems he’d convinced them we had. Only we hadn’t, of course.

They hadn’t–because he, Brianna, Jemmy, and Amanda had taken the small hoard of remaining gemstones to safeguard their flight through the stones.

They held us hostage and rubbished the house, damn them–breaking, amongst other things, the bottle of ether in my surgery. The fumes nearly gassed all of us on the spot…

He read rapidly through the rest of the letter, Brianna peering over his shoulder and making small squeaks of alarm and dismay. Finished, he laid the pages down and turned to her, his insides quivering.
“So you did it,” he said, aware that he shouldn’t say it, but unable not to, unable not to snort with laughter. “You and your bloody matches—you burned the house down!”
Her face was a study, features shifting between horror, indignation–and yes, a hysterical hilarity that matched his own.
“Oh, it was not! It was Mama’s ether. Any kind of spark could have set off the explosion–”
“But it wasn’t any kind of spark,” Roger pointed out. “Your cousin Ian lit one of your matches.”
“Well, so it was Ian’s fault, then!”
“No, it was you and your mother. Scientific women,” Roger said, shaking his head. “The eighteenth century is lucky to have survived you.”
She huffed a little.
“Well, the whole thing would never have happened if it weren’t for that bozo Donner!”
“True,” Roger conceded. “But he was a trouble-maker from the future, too, wasn’t he? Though admittedly neither a woman, nor very scientific.”
“Hmph.” She took the letter, handling it gently, but unable to forbear rubbing the pages between her fingers. “Well, he didn’t survive the eighteenth century, did he?” Her eyes were downcast,
their lids still reddened.
“You aren’t feeling sorry for him, are you?” Roger demanded, incredulous.
She shook her head, but her fingers still moved lightly over the thick, soft page.
“Not… him, so much. It’s just–the idea of anybody dying like that. Alone, I mean. So far from home.”
No, it wasn’t Donner she was thinking of. He put an arm round her and laid his head against her own. She smelled of Prell shampoo and fresh cabbages; she’d been in the kailyard. The words on the page faded and strengthened with the dip of the pen that had written them, but nonetheless were sharp and clear–a surgeon’s writing.
“She isn’t alone,” he whispered, and putting out a finger, traced the postscript, again in Jamie’s sprawling hand. “Neither of them is. And whether they’ve a roof above their heads or not–both of them are home.”

[end section]

WORKS IN PROGRESS

WORK(S) IN PROGRESS

I’ve been getting the occasional email lately expressing interest in what-all I’m writing these days, since there seems to be a lot of it. [g] Well, there is a lot of it. I do normally work on multiple things at once (it keeps me from having writer’s block, for one thing), but I will say there’s more variety in the old to-do pile than usual, thanks to several invitations from interesting anthologies.
I’ve also been hearing wildly varied guesses-most of them totally wrong, and where y’all get this stuff, I have no idea.regarding when any of these various works will be published.

In (rough) order of priority at the moment, though, I’m working on the following things-and I’ll post an excerpt or two from each of these, over the next few days (so if you’re an excerpt-avoider, be careful!):
AN ECHO IN THE BONE – this is the 7th (but NOT the last!) book in the main OUTLANDER series, in which we continue the adventures of Jamie, Claire, Roger, Brianna, Young Ian, Willie, Lord John-and a Lot of Other Interesting People You Haven’t Met Yet.

I’m hoping to have the manuscript finished by the end of this year-and therefore am trying Really Hard not to go anywhere for the rest of the year.

**** THIS DOES NOT MEAN THE BOOK WILL BE OUT IN DECEMBER of this year-IT WON’T!!!! It means I’ll be through writing it, I hope. IT WILL BE PUBLISHED (God willing and the creek don’t rise) probably in Fall of 2009. *******
SEE (OR DON”T SEE [g]) NEXT POST FOR EXCERPT.

Building Scenes


Somebody had asked me (well, and everybody else), on the Compuserve forum, what the “legos” of building a scene are. How do you do it?

Given that there are undoubtedly as many answers to that as there are writers…this is a brief example of how _I_ do it. Fwiw. [g]


[Section ? God Willing and the Creek Don't Rise]

OK, I began this—oddly enough –with the first line. I had a good-sized chunk—25,000 words or so—written and assembled, which (again, oddly) begins the book. That was neatly tied off, in structural terms, though. So I needed a way into Whatever Happens Next.

So I began with the worms. Claire’s generally the default voice for me, and since at least part of What Happens Next would be on the Ridge, unless I specifically “heard” Jamie or Young Ian, it would likely be her explaining what the state of the wicket was. So I began to sink into her. Well, I knew it was now spring, because we’d been waiting for the snow to melt when I finished the earlier chunk.

This being Claire, she didn’t say, “It was spring.” She said, “Spring had sprung.”

So what happens on a mountain in the spring time? The snow melts. You get water. Hence, the first line:

Spring had sprung, and the creek was rising.

(Which of course brought to mind the old country saying, “God willing and the creek don’t rise,” which I at once put up top, knowing a good chapter or section title when one shows up .)

So at once I have the notion of a rising creek, fed by snow-melt. So that’s where I began to dig, feeling my way into the descriptive details.

Spring had sprung, and the creek was rising. Swelled by melting snow and fed by hundreds of tiny waterfalls that trickled and leapt down the mountain’s face, it roared past my feet, exuberant with spray. I could feel it cold on my face, and knew that I’d be wet to the knees within minutes, but it didn’t matter. The fresh green of arrowhead and [ ] rimmed the banks, some plants dragged out of the soil by the rising water and whirled downstream, more hanging on by their roots for dear life, leaves trailing in the racing wash. Dark mats of cress swirled under the water, close by the sheltering banks.

Now, I’m writing this slowly, picking and choosing words, reshaping sentences, while re-entering the personal memories I have of snow-fed mountain creeks and adjusting these for the different vegetation patterns of North Carolina (my memories being of Northern Arizona ). And then—a toadstool popped up.

And fresh greens were what I wanted.

Well, of course she does. A) this is Claire, who would almost never be outdoors without taking note of what might be edible or useful in her surroundings, and B) it is spring, which means we’re just coming out of a winter with no fresh food. You bet she wants fresh greens.

So I started thinking along those lines—she’s not just watching the creek, she’s out gathering. What’s she gathering? How? I see the watercress in the creek; I know she wants it.

My gathering-basket was half full of [ginseng roots?] fiddleheads, ramp shoots [ck.] and wild asparagus [ck.]. A nice big lot of tender new cress, crisp and cold from the stream, would top off the winter’s Vitamin C deficiency very well. I took off my shoes and stockings, and after a moment’s hesitation, took off my gown and jacket as well and hung them over a tree-branch. The air was chilly in the shade of the silver birches that overhung the creek here, and I shivered a bit, but ignored the cold, kirtling up my shift before wading into the stream.

That cold was harder to ignore. I gasped, and nearly dropped the basket, but found my footing among the slippery rocks, and made my way toward the nearest mat of tempting dark green. Within seconds, my legs were numb, and I’d lost any sense of cold in the enthusiasm of forager’s frenzy and salad-hunger.

Now, again, I’m writing this very slowly, integrating the information (what kind(s) of plants are likely to be there) with the sensory aspects, balancing sentences, choosing the paragraph break (not positive yet on that. It’s a little longer paragraph than I prefer, especially when being descriptive; I might go back and break it after “tree-branch,” but I do like beginning the next paragraph with the simple declarative sentence ” That cold was harder to ignore.” The rhythm is better.

That I can mess with some more next time I go back and forth through here. For the moment….

She’s moving, she’s doing something, and I’ve got well stuck into the sensory impressions of the scene; if I need backstory/explanation, this would be the place to do it (remember the comic-book model; you have the intro panel which establishes the character and situation, and then you have the 2/3/4 small panels beneath to do any backstory needed, after which the character(s) must be in motion).

So, a quick recap, for the benefit both of readers for whom this is the first book, and for those who don’t necessarily reread the whole series before a new one comes out.

A good deal of our stored food had been saved from the fire, as it was kept in the outbuildings: the springhouse, corncrib, and smoking-shed. The root-cellar had been destroyed, though, and with it, not only the carrots, onions, garlic, and potatoes, but most of my carefully gathered stock of dried apples and wild yams, and the big hanging clusters of raisins, all meant to keep us from the ravages of scurvy. The herbs, of course, had gone up in smoke, along with the rest of my surgery. True, a large quantity of pumpkins and squashes had escaped, these having been piled in the barn, but one grows tired of squash-pie and succotash after a couple of months–well, after a couple of days, speaking personally.

The next bit I just heard, as I was inside Claire’s head (that “speaking personally” kind of pulls you in there), and this is what she was thinking:

Not for the first time, I mourned Mrs. Bug’s abilities as a cook, though of course I did miss her for her own sake. Amy McCallum Higgins had been raised in a crofter’s cottage in the Highlands of Scotland and was, as she put it, “a good plain cook.” Essentially, that meant she could bake bannocks, boil porridge, and fry fish simultaneously, without burning any of it. No mean feat, but a trifle monotonous, in terms of diet.

My own piece-de-resistance was stew–which lacking onions, garlic, carrots, and potatoes, had devolved into a grim sort of pottage consisting of venison or turkey stewed with cracked corn, barley, and possibly chunks of stale bread. Ian, surprisingly, had turned out to be a passable cook; the succotash and squash-pie were his contribution to the communal menu. I did wonder who had taught him to make them, but thought it wiser not to ask.

So no one had starved, nor yet lost any teeth, but by mid-March, I would have been willing to wade neck-deep in freezing torrents in order to acquire something both edible and green.

OK. Young Ian’s in her head, and given what’s happened in the previous chunk of story, she’d be paying particular attention to him. I can’t (of course ) tell you what did happen , but this is what she’s thinking:

Ian had, thank goodness, gone on breathing. And after a week or so, had ceased acting quite so shell-shocked, eventually regaining something like his normal manner. But I noticed Jamie’s eyes follow him now and then, and Rollo had taken to sleeping with his head on Ian’s chest, a new habit. I wondered whether he really sensed the pain in Ian’s heart, or whether it was simply a response to the sleeping conditions in the cabin.

Hm. OK. Well, now, here I have a choice: I’ve opened the door to describing the sleeping conditions in the cabin, and I sort of want to do that, both for backstory and what you might call “forestory” (because I have another, partial scene that takes place in spring on the mountain, and think it may link up with this one)—but we’ve been doing backstory long enough. I need to pop back out of Claire’s memories and into her physical present.

I stretched my back, hearing the small pops between my vertebrae.

OK, we’re back. Now what? Well, we’ve just been looking back—let’s look forward, as I don’t see anything vivid happening right in the moment.

Now that the snow-melt had come, I could hardly wait for our departure. I would miss the Ridge and everyone on it–well, almost everyone. Possibly not Hiram Crombie, so much. Or the Chisholms, or–I short-circuited this list before it became uncharitable.

At which point Claire said:

“On the other hand,” I said firmly to myself, “think of beds.”

I left the sleeping conditions unexplored, but evidently she’s still thinking about them, though willing to go along in the forward-looking with me:

Granted, we would be spending a good many nights on the road, sleeping rough–but eventually, we would reach civilization. Inns. With food. And beds. I closed my eyes momentarily, envisioning the absolute bliss of a mattress. I didn’t even aspire to a feather-bed; anything that promised more than an inch of padding between myself and the floor would be paradise. And, of course, if it came with a modicum of privacy…even better.

OK. Interesting practical question; given that we have ten or twelve people crammed into Roger and Bree’s old cabin, and the weather prevents any outdoor forays, and we assume that Claire and Jamie weren’t willing to go for three or four months without sex—what were they doing?

Jamie and I had not been completely celibate since December. Lust aside–and it wasn’t–we needed the comfort and warmth of each other’s body. Still, covert congress under a quilt, with Rollo’s yellow eyes fixed upon us from two feet away was less than ideal, even assuming that Young Ian was invariably asleep, which I didn’t think he was, even though he was sufficiently tactful as to pretend.

At this point, my innate sense of rhythm and pacing is getting restless and thinking, “Enough with the backstory, description, and thoughts—something should happen!” So it does:

A hideous shriek split the air, and I jerked, dropping the basket.

Another toadstool. Fine—but what now? Do we find out immediately who shrieked and why?

No, this is Claire, she’s after food—and she didn’t just hear a shriek, she dropped her basket! So–

I flung myself after it, barely snatching the handle before it was whirled away on the flood, and stood up dripping and trembling, heart hammering as I waited to see whether the scream would be repeated.

Well, only two alternatives here: either the scream will be repeated, or it won’t. If not, though, she’s going to have to go looking for what made it. The story’s focus is fixed, at this point—you can’t ignore the scream and do more backstory or interior monologue or whatever—you have to deal with the scream. (Now, by this time, I do myself know what the scream was—remember, I know where and when we are—so the next bits were written with a knowledge of what was coming—which I didn’t have when I began the scene.)

It was–followed in short order by an equally piercing screech, but one deeper in timbre and recognizable to my well-trained ears as the sort of noise made by a Scottish Highlander suddenly immersed in freezing water. Fainter, higher-pitched shrieks, and a breathless “Fook!” spoken in a Dorset accent indicated that the gentlemen of the household were taking their spring bath.

OK. Well, now we have fairly clear sailing for a bit, because of course we want to go and watch. The only thing to bother with, really, is simple craft things like description, detail, sensory impressions, imagery, and emotional undertow. (And I think I need to revise the next bit to include her wringing out her wet skirt and getting her shawl, but leave that, for now…)

There are few things more enjoyable than sitting in relative warmth and comfort while watching fellow human beings soused in cold water. If said human beings present a complete review of the nude male form, so much the better. I made my way through a small growth of fresh-budding river willows, found a conveniently-screened rock and spread out the damp skirt of my shift, enjoying both the bright sun on my shoulders and the sight before me.

Jamie was standing in the pool, nearly shoulder-deep, his hair slicked back like a russet seal. Bobby stood on the bank, and picking up Aidan with a grunt, threw him to Jamie in a pinwheel of flailing limbs and piercing shrieks of delighted fright.

“Me-me-me-_me_!” Orrie was dancing around his stepfather’s black-furred legs, his chubby bottom bouncing up and down among the reeds like a little pink balloon.

Bobby laughed, bent and hoisted him up, holding him for a moment high overhead as he squealed like a seared pig, then flung him in a shallow arc out over the pool.

He hit the water with a tremendous splash and Jamie grabbed him, laughing, and pulled him to the surface, whence he emerged with a look of open-mouthed stupefaction that made them all hoot like gibbons. Aidan and Rollo were both dog-paddling round in circles by now, shouting and barking.

I looked across to the opposite side of the pool and saw Ian, evidently answering this invitation, rush naked down the small hill and leap like a salmon into the pool, uttering one of his best Mohawk war-cries. This was cut off abruptly by the cold water, and he vanished with scarcely a splash.

I waited–as did the others–for him to pop back up, but he didn’t. Jamie looked suspiciously behind him, in case of a sneak attack, but an instant later, Ian shot out of the water directly in front of Bobby with a blood-curdling yell, grabbed him by the leg and yanked him in.

Matters thereafter became generally chaotic, with a great deal of promiscuous splashing, yelling, hooting, and jumping off of rocks, which gave me the opportunity to reflect on just how delightful naked men are. Not that I hadn’t seen a good many of them in my time, but aside from Frank and Jamie, most men I’d seen undressed usually had been either ill or injured, and were encountered in such circumstances as to prevent a leisurely appreciation of their finer attributes.

From Orrie’s round bottom and Aidan’s spidery, winter-white limbs to Bobby’s chunky, black-furred torso and neat little flat behind, the McCallum-Higginses were as entertaining to watch as a cageful of monkeys.

Ian and Jamie were something different–baboons, perhaps, or mandrills. They didn’t really resemble each other in any attribute other than height, and yet were plainly cut from the same cloth. Watching Jamie squatting on a rock above the pool, thighs tensing for a leap, I could easily see him preparing to attack a leopard, while Ian stretched himself glistening in the sun, warming his dangly bits while keeping an alert watch for intruders. All they needed were purple bottoms, and they could have walked straight onto the African veldt, no questions asked.

They were all lovely, in their wildly various ways, but it was Jamie my gaze returned to, over and over again. He was battered and scarred, his muscles roped and knotted, and age had grooved the hollows between them. The thick welt of the bayonet scar writhed up his thigh, wide and ugly, while the thinner white line of the scar left by my treatment of a rattlesnake’s bite was nearly invisible, clouded by the thick fuzz of his body-hair, this beginning to dry now and stand out from his skin. The scimitar-shaped swordcut across his ribs had healed well, no more than a hair-thin white line by now.

He turned round and bent to pick up a cake of soap from the rock, and my insides turned over. It wasn’t purple, but could not otherwise have been improved on, being high, round, delicately dusted with red-gold, and with a delightful muscular concavity to the sides. His balls, just visible from behind, were purple with the cold, and gave me a strong urge to creep up behind him and cup them in my rock-warmed hands.

I have some reservations about the rhythm of the next bit, but this is what she thought:

I clapped a handful of shawl to my mouth to muffle the snort of amusement at thought of the standing broad-jump that would likely result if I did.

OK, the preceding several paragraphs have all been internal description, but the broad-jump sentence—whether I keep it or not—has pulled me back into Claire’s mind—and I catch the implied thread of the “sleeping conditions” issue from above.

It occurred to me, with a small sense of shock, that I was so struck by him because I had not, in fact, seen him naked–or even substantially undressed–in several months. Owing to the weather and the cramped and semi-public nature of our accommodation since the Big House had burned, what lovemaking we had managed had been mostly accomplished at dead of night, mostly clothed, and under a blanket.

But now…I threw back my head, closing my eyes against the brilliant spring sun, enjoying the tickle of my own fresh-washed hair against my shoulder-blades. The snow was gone, the weather was good–and the whole outdoors beckoned invitingly, filled with places where privacy could be assured, bar the odd skunk.

OK. That’s probably the end of this scene; we’ll jump and take up further matters with a new one, because I don’t feel anything of a dramatic nature happening with the guys bathing in the creek. But we’ll see.

The Saga of Doug’s Ear

I’d mentioned “travails” as well as “travels,” didn’t I? Well, amongst the major travails of the summer was the Saga of Doug’s Ear. I know a number of people who heard about the beginnings of this Adventure in Diagnostic Medicine and have kindly asked for updates, so thought I’d post the Whole Thing.

The first bits here are my original postings of things as they happened—I’ll add the update at the end.

[late June]

OK, this sounds ridiculous, but–

It’s 110-plus these days in Scottsdale, and no one goes out without a coat of sunscreen. Doug’s in the habit of using spray-on sunscreen, with which he mists his whole head, particularly his ears, since he works outside a lot, and fries easily. So we ran out of the Neutrogena spray-on sunscreen we normally use, and when I was at the store later in the day, the store was out of it, too. So I shrugged and bought a can of Banana Boat 80 SPF, figuring that would tide us over until I found the Neutrogena stuff again.

All right. So Doug picks up the can, shakes it, points it at his left ear–and instead of emerging in a fine mist, as he’s accustomed to, the liquid shoots out in a pinpoint stream, striking him directly in the eardrum. Certain amount of consternation, hilarity on the part of witnesses [cough], and swabbing, followed by syringing with hydrogen peroxide (on advice of RN daughter). So he woke up the next morning with tinnitus–ringing in the ear–which has gotten rapidly worse. (Naturally, this happened Friday, so it was the weekend by the time he was convinced it was a problem, and didn’t get in to see the doctor ’til yesterday–you can judge how bad it was, by the fact that he actually _went_ to the doctor voluntarily). Doctor says the eardrum is reddened, and it -may- be an infection–prescribed antibiotics and says wait ten days, and if it doesn’t improve, see an ENT specialist.

It’s driving him crazy, though–he says it’s not a hearing _loss_, at all; on the contrary, everything in that ear sounds painfully loud, so that eating dinner in a quiet restaurant is like eating in the middle of a rock concert, and the ear itself is making constant loud racket, which Doesn’t Stop. Ever. Having read about people who wake up one day with tinnitus that never, ever stops, he’s more than a little worried, as well as harried by the racket. I’m keeping all my appendages crossed that this _is_ an infection, rather than something inexplicable, since if it is, chances are good that it can be cleared up without residual damage. But all good thoughts would certainly be appreciated! From his description, it looks like the kind of thing that drives people to bang their heads against walls in the vain hope of making it stop–and I do hope it doesn’t come to that.

[later post]

It isn’t physical pain–it’s hyperacusis. Even normal ambient sounds–like his own footsteps–are horrifyingly loud, in addition to his ear generating incessant siren-like wails on its own. And it just. doesn’t. stop. Awful.

[early July]

The noise was so bad during the night that Doug asked me to take him to the ER—this kind of concerned me, since he wouldn’t normally go within miles of a hospital unless he had a severed artery.

The doctor who checked him over thought there was a possibility that he might have a dissecting aneurysm in the carotid artery (which would naturally be a Very Bad Thing), and sent him for a CAT-scan with dye, telling him that there would be a sort of “warm, flushed” feeling when they injected the dye.

He said there was. In fact, he said it felt exactly as though he was wetting his pants, and he was convinced he had—but luckily hadn’t. Still more luckily, he wasn’t having an aneurysm, and we tottered home at dawn.

On the upside, the ER visit got him through a terrible night, and he was sufficiently exhausted that he actually slept for a few hours during the morning. (He’s barely slept in the last five days, and it shows. He’s lost something like ten pounds this week, and he isn’t a beefy person to start with.)

[mid-July]

Well, the saga continues [wry g], but things are looking much better.

Doug wound up having three appointments yesterday: with an ENT, an otoneurologist, and another ENT. All of them agree that he most probably has Sudden Hearing Loss Syndrome—and weirdly enough, none of them seemed to think the infamous Banana Boat incident had anything to do with it. It might (they all agree) be the result of a) a viral infection of the inner ear, b) a small stroke in one of the vessels supplying that ear, or c) a brain tumor, but a) is hugely more probable on the basis of statistics.

Beyond statistics, there’s evidently no way of telling whether someone’s had a stroke in the ear, other than by autopsy [cough], and he’s having an MRI tomorrow morning, just to rule out the brain tumor possibility.

Now, the night before all these appointments, he a) had the noise suddenly stop for ten minutes, spontaneously, and b) noticed that he could hear voicemail on the phone in his left (affected) ear, whereas he hadn’t been able to make out even the prompts for the menu, earlier in the week. So it looks as though he’s begun to improve on his own.

However, the first ENT prescribed oral corticosteroids. The otoneurologist (whom Doug liked a lot; evidently he was fascinated by Doug’s ear peculiarities—among other things, Doug hears stimuli in his left ear a half-tone to a tone-and-a-half higher than he does in his right—no wonder his brain is confused, and making weird noises in response—and spent more than an hour testing him with tuning forks and reflex hammers) approved, but pushed the idea of doing an inter-tympanic injection of steroids (i.e., through the ear-drum). The third ENT was a second opinion on the injection possibility—and was also an ear surgeon, one of these being required actually to do such an injection.

So he wound up having the injection this afternoon. We discover that they punch a small extra hole in the eardrum first, “Like the hole in a beer can,” as the surgeon explained, “so the air can get out.” Doug said it was uncomfortable (I bet! yak), and made him very dizzy for a few minutes, but not terrible, and he was obliged to stay lying down for an hour afterward, to allow the inner ear to marinate. He says the steroidal medicine then drained down his eustachian tubes, and tasted like he was swallowing bits of tinfoil.

Meanwhile, he’d started taking the oral steroids yesterday, and reported today that the tinnitus noise was a lot better—very bearable (and occasionally pleasant; he says all kinds of interesting little noises show up, including a very nice three- or four-note chord and a high-pitched series of noises that he describes as a sort of glittering curtain), save that the hyperacusis is still there, and voices (especially) cause blasts of the less-pleasant noises.

Further meanwhile, we’ve got an iPod shuffle going with a selection of variously-colored noises (his ear didn’t like the pink noise selections, so I’ve just deleted those, but it does like the waterfall noises, the purple noise, and the brown noise. Our eldest daughter, the OR nurse, btw, informs me that brown noise causes people to lose control of their bowels and poop in their pants, but I must say I haven’t noticed that effect. I quite liked the brown noise myself), and the otoneurologist gave him a specially-composed CD of white noise that sounds like one of those rain-sticks, with crickets chirping in the background—he’s been listening to that in his car. (Reminded of the brown noise, I turned that on—the file’s on my computer—just now. It bothered Otis the pug, who’s napping on my feet; he started making little “whuff!” noises in his sleep. Did not, luckily, poop on my feet, but I turned it off, just in case.)

So anyway. [g] Things are much better, both physically and mentally, and—always provided that the MRI doesn’t indicate that he has a brain tumor—all the assorted doctors agree that the prognosis is good.

[And now returning to the present, mid-August]

Things are lots better. Doug still has the tinnitus, but it’s gone down to a livable level. Followups with the various ENT’s, audiologists, etc. indicate that his hearing has recovered to within 6 decibels of normal—which is pretty darn close, if you ask me.

One of the ENT’s told him that tinnitus is a secondary symptom of damage to the inner ear—hearing loss being the primary symptom, of course. He said also that if the hearing loss recovers, the tinnitus usually also subsides—but much more slowly, usually taking several months to go away, following recovery of hearing.

Just hearing that it’s likely to go away eventually is very heartening—and as I say, in the meantime, it seems to be tolerable (of course, I’m not the one tolerating it, so my perception may be inaccurate, but still).

MANY thanks to all of you for the prayers, good thoughts, and helpful advice!

"Storyteller’s Award" writing contest!

I’d meant this to go up on the website, but since I’m not sure when we’ll have new stuff up there, and the deadline is growing closer, thought I’d post it here (and repost to the website when possible):

“Storyteller’s Award” Writing Contest

I stumbled into the Surrey (BC) International Writers Conference while on a booktour back in…goodness, 1994—and was so charmed by the organization and personality of the conference that I’ve gone back every year since. (And I’ll be back this year, too—October 24-26—doing (among other things) a workshop with the ever-hilarious Chris Humphreys about how to write sex scenes.)

Well, another of the Old Regulars at this conference is the delightful Jack Whyte, author of the excellent Arthurian “Brood of Eagles” saga, and more recently, several novels about the Knights Templar. Jack’s a long-time friend, and at one of these conferences, we got talking about what we like to read, as well as what we like to write, and concluded that Story is Everything.

The upshot of this discussion is that Jack and I ended up funding the “Storyteller’s Award”—a cash prize awarded for the best short story submitted to a contest sponsored by the SiWC each year. Jack and I are the judges of this contest, and first prize is $1000. (We also have in progress a project in collaboration with Chapters bookstores to compile and publish a book containing the winning entries.)

There are also contests for non-fiction and poetry—and no, you needn’t attend the conference to enter, though of course I think the conference is well worth it. [g] (Further details about the conference can be found at HYPERLINK “http://www.siwc.ca/” http://www.siwc.ca/ .)

For those of you who work in short forms…give the contest a look, here!

HYPERLINK “http://www.siwc.ca/contest/index.php” http://www.siwc.ca/contest/index.php

New Podcasts

Oh–just a short note, here. Random House (US) has asked me to do a new series of 5 or 6 podcasts, to be broadcast next month for the release of the trade paperback edition of LORD JOHN AND THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE BLADE (HAND OF DEVILS will be out in trade paper in a couple of months, too).

I’ll be recording these on Monday, and do have a few ideas [g]–but if there’s something _you’d_ particularly like to hear me talk about in a podcast, let me know!