• “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

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!

Travels and Travails

Sorry to have taken so long to update here! Having declared that I meant to stay home as much as possible this year, in order to Get Things Written, I have in fact done so—but that meant that _all_ this year’s public appearances (almost) were crammed into July.
I had a wonderful time, doing the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games in North Carolina, the Flagstaff Celtic Festival (in Flagstaff, natch), and CONestoga, a great sf/f con in Tulsa—plus all the less-public things I did in those places (I took two extra days to do research in North Carolina, since Grandfather Mountain is smack in the middle of Fraser’s Ridge country [g]—and am now in a position to tell you (if you are one of the people who obsesses about such things, and judging from the mail, many of you _are_…) that Fraser’s Ridge probably lies within about ten miles of Blowing Rock, NC. Couldn’t tell you which way, though, I having no particular sense of direction unless the sun happens to be setting flagrantly in front of me with full technicolor effects—then I know that way is West).

It rained like Noah and the ark during the opening ceremonies at the Grandfather Mountain Games, but I had been assured that it usually _does_, and the participants would conduct their complete program, including the famous Calling of the Clans. Which indeed they did, the various clan chiefs and representatives being thoughtfully equipped with kerosene-fueled tiki torches. [G]
The kindly people at Black Bear Books in Blowing Rock, who had invited me, had told me that it was likely to rain (“That mountain is a weather-maker,” they said—a phrase I carefully filed away for later use), and also informed me that I should bring a blanket to sit on the grass, as there were not really any bleachers as such; merely a grassy hillside next to MacRae Meadow, where the games are held.
I did bring a small blanket, but instead of hunting for a perch on the grass, elected to stroll casually down Clan Row, where the tents of all the clan societies are located, and see whether anyone recognized me. [Cough] (I do a fair number of Highland Games, what with one thing and another, and the nice people who support the clan societies do, too. You get to know people.)
Fortunately, I was spotted by a hospitable bunch of Buchanans, and kindly invited to come and sit in the shelter of their tent for the ceremonies. And a good thing, too; had I been sitting on the grassy knoll, I would have been washed right down the mountainside, rather than allowed to enjoy the events while peacefully eating meat pies and Diet Coke. (Was also royally entertained by the Frasers, the next day, who gave me shelter in which to eat my hot dog in peace—and the odd dram of whisky. I signed 73 _cases_ of books (at 24 trade paperbacks per case) that day, and had my picture taken with just about every single person who bought a book, too. I needed that whisky.)
Unfortunately, neither clan Fraser nor clan MacKenzie had arrived in time to have a representative take part in the Calling of the Clans, because I was all ready to shout “Tulach Ard!” or “Caisteal DHUUUUUUN!” as required, but just as well, as this might have startled the Buchanans.
I also drove down to Greensboro, where I spent a delightful afternoon wallowing in the Guilford Courthouse Battlefield and Visitors Center. Walking battlefields and listening for the echoes is one of my favorite things, and the Visitors Center there is excellent, with a really good film explaining the battle (they used very talented re-enactors for it, and they did a great job. I will note for the record, though—I see a lot of these kinds of films, what with one thing and another—that while the actors’ clothes and uniforms are artfully daubed with mud, blood, and powder-smoke, they still have a sense of unreality about them, because the clothes stand away from the actors’ bodies, having been freshly made and put on for the occasion. To have an actual sense of reality, the people would need to have been living and sleeping in those uniform for weeks, so the fabric goes limp and clings to the contours of the body. But I admit that there are limits to what one can expect an actor to do for his or her art (or the National Park Service), and these people did a fine job).
More tomorrow, perhaps, about CONestoga and Just What Goes on at a Con, Anyway (if anyone invites you to “get fuzzy,” don’t do it, is all I can say).

I did mention travails, though. I’m sorry we haven’t been able to update the website of late; my webmistress, Rosana, has recently lost her father after a short illness, and has been spending time in New Mexico, taking care of her mother and settling things. Our profound sympathies to Rosana and her family—and our prayers are always with them.

In the meantime, I’ll put update stuff here on the blog, to be posted to the website later.

WHAT’S IN _YOUR_ BEACH-BAG?

Well, now, here’s a question: What’s a “beach read?” What’s a good beach read? And what are some of your favorites of the species?

Once in awhile, I find OUTLANDER on someone’s list of “great beach reads,” but usually none of the other books. (This sticks in my mind, because one of the early public appearances I did when OUTLANDER was released, was a “Great Beach Read” program done with several other authors for a public library—wherein we were supposed to talk about our own books, but also give a list of other books we thought were great beach reads. I remember the occasion, because it’s the first—and thankfully one of very few—occasion on which I forgot I was supposed to be somewhere. I was in fact shopping for bunk-beds with my husband—and my children all “turned” last month, being now 26, 24, and 22, so you know it was awhile ago—when he got a frantic call (he having one of the new-fangled car-phones) from his secretary, to the effect that the Glendale (I think) Public Library was looking for me, and why wasn’t I on their stage? We rushed there instantly, and I made it in time to be last on the program, but still, Highly Traumatic. I shudder when I hear the words “Beach Read.”)

Now, personally, I’ve always figured that “great beach read” is one of those left-handed compliments. It implies that the book is a page-turner, all right—but probably not something filled with Deep Meaning, as my husband says (“Does this have lots of Deep Meaning?” he asks, suspiciously, when I hand him a new excerpt to read. “Or does something actually happen?”). Nobody describes WAR AND PEACE as a great beach read (though in fact it is, size quite aside. It actually is a page-turner, though the translation makes a difference. I got an edition translated by someone whose first language was apparently French, resulting in male characters not infrequently threatening to give each other “a bang on the snout!” Which was mildly distracting. But I digress…).

The implication is that the book should be entertaining, but something you can easily put down in order to play volleyball, and it won’t really matter if you doze off and let it fall on your stomach where it will absorb sun-tan lotion and all the pages become transparent. And when you leave the beach, you can toss it in the trash can if you’ve finished it, and into your trunk if you haven’t, there to be ignored until next Thanksgiving, when you discover it while cramming your trunk with turkey, bags of fresh cranberries, and whatever other family-specific food you consider indispensable to the occasion (my stepmother’s family traditionally serves buttered rutabagas at Thanksgiving. I consider this perverse, but as long as I’m not personally required to eat rutabagas—and no force of nature would compel me, I assure you—more power to them).

On the other hand—a beach read has the assurance of being entertaining, and of probably being popular. A beach read is something that everybody (in a given summer) is reading. Which is of course Highly Desirable, if you are the author of said book. I mean, if it comes right down to it, do you want the New York Times to say your book is “a brilliant, if depressing, portrait of humanity, filled with insights on dependency and longing,”—or do you want it to say, “#1″ on the Bestsellers list? Yeah, me too.

(Mind, if anybody happens to want to look for Deep Meaning in my books, it’s there [g]—no, really—but I do think there ought to be a Good Story on the uppermost layer of a book.)

Now, I personally am no judge of a beach read, because a) I read all the time, regardless of location, and b) I don’t live near a beach, and c) if I did live near a beach, I wouldn’t be sitting on it, reading. I hate sitting in the sun; it makes me sweaty and dizzy, and the last thing I’d do is read a book while doing it. But tastes differ.

IF we were to define a “beach read” simply as a book that’s very entertaining, but “light” (in the literary-fiction sense of the word)—what would you pick? (Or if you define a beach read differently, how would you define it?)

The nearest equivalent of a “beach read” for me, is probably a “plane book.” I.e., what you read on a plane to distract your mind from the knowledge that there is nothing under you but 30,000 feet of thin air (though my husband, who flies planes, assures me that air is really much more substantial than it appears). That would be things like Nora Roberts romances and futuristic mysteries, Michael Connelly thrillers, Janet Evanovich’s comic romance/mysteries, Anne Perry’s Victorian mysteries, John LeCarre’ spy/intrigue novels, and the like (I gather I’m not alone in these preferences, since these are the books commonly found in airport bookstores). Not THE LOVELY BONES; I read half of that on a long flight to Sydney, left it on the plane, and never felt the urge to get another copy and read the rest of it. I know a number of folks loved it, but I thought it was hollow and mildly repellant—though I freely admit this impression may have had more to do with the effects of being on an airplane for fourteen hours, than with the book itself.

(I should note here that while I have referred to the books I read on planes as “toilet paper books,” this is not a diss. It’s because such books perform an indispensable function—but you use them only once.)

Speaking historically, though—it seems to me that many of the great “beach reads” of the last 15-20 years have indeed been “big” books: James Clavell’s SHO-GUN (one of my all-time favorite books ever!) or TAI-PAN, Judith Krantz’s SCRUPLES, PRINCESS DAISY, etc., James Michener’s monster sagas, etc. These are books that would get you through an entire vacation.

I don’t know whether it’s the current economic climate affecting publishing (paper costs keep rising, as does the cost of shipping books), or whether there’s a change in public taste, but you see fewer “big” books than you used to. (Mind, when a new “big” book appears, it gets a lot of attention—vide THE HISTORIAN, or MR. NORELL AND WHOEVER THE OTHER GUY WAS—on the sheer basis of size. The assumption being, I imagine, that if a publisher was willing to pay to print this, it must be good. Sometimes this assumption is true; sometimes not so much.) What’s the “beach read” of this summer? (I’ve been so busy lately I haven’t paid any attention to publishing news at all. I’m also neck-deep in the research for ECHO IN THE BONE, plus a “Lord John” short piece I’m doing for an anthology, that involves yet another chapter of the Seven Years War. My guess is that neither Francis Parkman’s MONTCALM AND WOLFE, nor Kenneth Webb’s THE GROWTH OF SCOTTISH NATIONALISM would be in most people’s beach-bags.)

So…what’s in your beach-bag?

Rob’s Website

When I was telling you about my brother-in-law’s new book last week, I forgot to include his website address. My sister says she’s been getting lots of requests for the enchilada recipe [g]—hope you enjoy that, btw!—but that several people have been asking how they can get in touch with Rob himself, presumably to tell him how much they liked the book (if by some peculiar chance you didn’t care for it, I imagine he’d rather you kept that to yourself).

Anyway—should you want to talk to Rob or ask about his other books or whatever, his website is www.robpalmerbooks.com. I think he has a German section on the site, too, as his books are also published in Germany.

A Brief Disquisition on the Existence of Butt-cooties

A BRIEF DISQUISITION ON THE EXISTENCE OF BUTT-COOTIES (Gentlemen, kindly avert your eyes)

What with one thing and another, I’ve spent a lot of time in public restrooms. And, having been a scientist in my previous professional incarnation, I can’t help observing things, and drawing statistical inferences. Which is why I am in a position to inform you that roughly half the female population of the US suffer from the twin delusions that 1) butt-cooties exist, and 2) they will, given half a chance, leap several inches from a toilet seat and burrow into the skin of an unsuspecting buttock, resulting in scrofula, assorted STD’s, herpes, and probably leprosy.

I draw these conclusions from the fact that roughly half the time I enter a public restroom cubicle, I observe that the previous user has peed on the seat. Ladies…

I can only guess that at some point in an impressionable youth, these women were told by some female authority figure that One Must Never SIT On A Public Toilet, “because you might catch something.” Firmly indoctrinated with this policy, they do not sit on public toilets. They hover. Ladies, ladies…

Look. The skin of the buttocks is actually pretty germ-free, owing to the fact that we normally keep them covered and don’t (usually) touch other people, animals, etc. with them. Your butt is much cleaner—microbially-speaking—than are your hands.

Various studies of the bacterial content of public restrooms indicate that there are a LOT more germs on the door of said restroom than there are on any toilet seat therein. You acquire millions more microbes by shaking hands with someone than you would if our social system involved mutual butt-rubbing. (To say nothing of the teeming worlds of microorganisms you acquire every time you accept change from the counter-guy at Burger King. How many of you race to the bathroom and scrub your hands after ordering the meal, but before eating it?)

In order actually to catch one of the communicable diseases with which excrement or other bodily fluids are associated, two things would have to occur: 1) the bodily fluid of an infected person would have to be applied to the toilet seat (which would not happen, if said person would sit her bottom on the potty where it belongs and not spray the thing like a hippopotamus), and 2) an uninfected person’s mucous membranes must come in contact with said fluids, within the few seconds that most bacteria and virii can survive outside the human body. You don’t have mucous membranes on your buttocks.

Now, by and large, urine really doesn’t contain all that many bacteria (Male urine contains almost none, owing to the fact that its exit is, um, less impeded by surrounding tissue. A good many alchemical and medical recipes up through the early 19th century require “urine of a newborn male child” as an ingredient—this being the most sterile water available). Feces…well, yes. And I have in fact encountered the Really Nasty evidence that there are not only seat-pee-ers, but also seat-poopers (to say nothing of the occasional person who is so afraid of physically encountering a public toilet that they actually don’t hit it at all, and leave the evidence of their mental derangement on the floor of the facility), but this is fortunately rare.

All right. In periods of heavy traffic, one might possibly encounter a live bacterium or virus present in the urine that some inconsiderate idiot has left on a toilet seat. Not likely, but faintly possible. Are you going to encounter it with your mucous membranes? Not unless your excretory habits are both Highly Athletic and Dang Unusual.

OK. So if the risk of catching a bacterial or viral disease by sitting on a dry toilet seat is negligible, then plainly, the Thing to Fear must be…Butt-cooties!

Traveling as much as I do, I am in a position to collect international data, albeit in an anecdotal and unstandardized manner. On the basis of such casual observation, though, I hypothesize that while butt-cooties presently have a fairly wide global distribution, they probably originated in the United States. Speaking generally, at least fifty percent of all public toilets in US airports, convenience stores, museums, and restaurants indicate evidence of infestation (judging from the aversive techniques employed by the patrons). European toilets have a much lower incidence—perhaps 10-15%.

(Point of etiquette: ought one to meet the eyes of, and/or nod to, a person emerging from a toilet cubicle that one proposes to enter? Common politeness would argue for such cordial acknowledgement—but if the next few seconds reveal that the departing patron was possessed of butt-cooties, this might lead one to think harsh and unchristian thoughts of said person, and surely it’s worse to think unchristian thoughts (WWJD? I’m pretty sure He wouldn’t pee on a public toilet seat, and if He did, He would certainly wipe it off. Ditto the Buddha, and doubtless any other religious figure you care to name) about someone whose face is imprinted in your short-term memory, than of an unknown quantity.)

In fact, we might hypothesize the geographical origin of butt-cooties as having occurred in or near Chicago. On what basis? Well, of all the airports I’ve been in (and I’ve been in a lot of airports, from New Zealand to Saskatchewan), only O’Hare International has public toilets equipped with a sliding cylinder of plastic sheeting that encases the seats; you wave your hand in front of a magic button, and voila! The plastic slides round the seat, and you are presented with a pristine surface on which to park your booty. Such is the prevailing fear of butt-cooties, though, that people pee on these toilet seats, too.

Well, there’s no arguing with psychological aberration, and thus I make no attempt to persuade Those Who See Butt-Cooties away from their convictions. I would, though, urge them—in the most kindly manner—to address the results of their antisocial psychosis, and thus leave them with this classic advice:

“If you sprinkle when you tinkle—

Please be neat, and wipe the seat.”

Rob’s New Book is Out!

New and Recommended!

For all of you who read and enjoyed my nice brother-in-law’s excellent first book (No Time to Hide), I’m thrilled to announce that his even better second book came out today!

Rob (Rob Palmer is his name) writes marvelous, twisty thrillers, with 3-D characters and breath-holding suspense. And very appropriately to this election season–

Eyes of the World is a story of lies and betrayal, the tragedies that bind us together, and the blinding trust of love. America has its first woman president, Lynnie Connor, whom Mike Stanbridge has known since childhood. Their friendship is common knowledge; their love affair is the most carefully guarded secret of their lives. It’s campaign season, and as Lynnie runs hard for reelection, Mike is framed for murder. His only way out is to dig into Lynnie’s past, learning something that seemingly turns her whole life into a lie. Pursued by the FBI and a squad of assassins, Mike runs for Lynnie’s political life—and his own survival.

Praise for Eyes of the World:

“Suspenseful and affecting. A top-notch thriller with a tender heart.”

Diana Gabaldon, bestselling author [cough] of the Outlander and Lord John series

“5 Stars! A perfect read for the election year! . . . Rob Palmer’s book [is] superlative. . . . I was kept on the edge of my seat the entire time. I cannot recommend this one highly enough. Magnificent!

Huntress Reviews

“You’re gonna want to read this one! Hold on for an intricately plotted, wickedly smart trip through presidential politics. Just when you think you’ve got it figured out, you’ll realize the games have just begun. An excellent book.”

Fresh Fiction

I’m sure you’ll enjoy this terrific book as much as I did—though should you need any extra inducement [g], my sister, Theresa Gabaldon, is offering the famous family enchilada recipe to anyone who buys the book before the 4th of July.

Here’s the link to the book’s page on amazon.com:

http://www.amazon.com/Eyes-World-Rob-Palmer/

dp/0843956763/ref=pd_bbs_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=

1209538104&sr=1-1

And here’s my sister’s email address, if you’d like the enchilada recipe:

tgabaldon@gmail.com

Dedication

[I originally posted this as a "Letter from Home"(or abroad) in the Compuserve Books and Writers Forum, so some of you will have seen it. I know not everyone who subscribes to the blog lurks over there, though--so for the rest of you, here it is.]

April 16th was the 262nd anniversary of the Battle of Culloden, and thus an appropriate date for the dedication of the new Visitors Centre (among other things, they’d discovered that the battlefield wasn’t _exactly_ where they originally thought it was–and that in fact, the old Visitors Centre was sitting on top of part of the second Government line of battle [cough]).

Having decided to build a new Centre, though, they did it right. An immense amount of thought, inspiration, and technology went into the construction, and the staff behind it are immensely–and justifiably–proud of it.

The dedication wasn’t until 2 PM, so we spent the morning engaged in research–beginning with what one eats on “traditional Scottish porridge” (heavy cream and Demerara sugar (this being brown, crystallized sugar), at Culloden House). (The first day we arrived, I’d left something in the car, and had to go round to the car-park at the side of the house to get it. Coming back in, I couldn’t recall whether the front door pushed or pulled, and did the wrong thing. Seeing my struggles, the very nice receptionist rushed over to open the door for me, observing, “Ye mustn’t have had your porridge this morning!” “Indeed I have not,” I replied cordially. Tuna and red onion apparently doesn’t stimulate the brain cells the way porridge does.)

Research then took us into Inverness, where we found a car-park and went down to the river on foot, to undertake a census of the city’s churches (no, I’m not telling you why that, either). Fortunately, this was pretty easy; most of the churches in town are located on one bank or another of the River Ness, within a span of a few blocks. I am now in a position to state authoritatively that Inverness is absolutely crawling with Presbyterians. No fewer than _six_ Church of Scotland churches–all within a quarter-mile of each other–by comparison with a couple of Free Church establishments, one Episcopalian church (though it _is_ a fairly grand cathedral), and one Roman Catholic church, done in the “Gothic perpendicular” style, according to the plaque on its front, and with a heavily Polish congregation, judging from the notices in the vestibule.

Started out to walk down the riverside–there’s a lovely small park on the Islands of the Ness at the end of the walk–but realized we wouldn’t have enough time to get there and back, eat, and still have time to change clothes for the dedication. Zipped back up the High Street–which has changed quite a bit since I was last here; many shops shut up, or moved into the new Eastgate shopping mall at the top of the street–to a small Italian restaurant (Bella Italia) we’d seen on our way to the river, and had a quick salad to sustain us. (One feature of the new High Street is “automatic bollards” which can rise out of the pavement to block car traffic, so that the entire street becomes a walkway–but can be retracted, if an emergency vehicle needs to come down the street. Doug was fascinating by these–he kept referring to them as “automatic ballocks”–and insisted on hanging around to watch for a bit and see if they’d pop up, but they didn’t oblige.)

Zoomed back to the hotel and changed; I’d brought the blue version of my Santa Fe silks, and Doug had asked earlier if I meant to be the only peacock at the ceremony. I replied that since I would likely be in the company of innumerable men attired in kilts and grouse feathers, I rather doubted that anyone would notice me. (Doug had originally planned to wear his own kilt, but decided against it on logistical grounds; the thing takes up so much room–even without accessories like stockings and sporran–that it would have required an extra suitcase to bring it (we travel light; just one small roller bag each.)).

Not everyone was kilted (well, the women weren’t, of course–though one elderly lady had a fabulous blue tartan ensemble, heavy silk straight floor-length skirt and a box-cut jacket), but there were a good many kilts in evidence–the reception the night before had been for only 40 or so people; 250 were invited to the dedication, and there was quite a mob in the foyer of the Visitors Centre. By sheer accident, we were fairly near the front, and thus able to hear everything, and see some of it.

After a simple speech by Alexander Bennett (whose actual title I forget, but he’s in charge of the Visitors Centre–and looks Very Nice in a kilt), a lady from the National Trust for Scotland introduced the two little boys (aged 6–he’d be 7 next day–and 11) who’d been chosen to perform the actual dedication; both of them were descended from men who’d fought at Culloden–one from a Jacobite soldier, the other from _both_ a Jacobite and a Government soldier. They were introduced, and together, cut a red ribbon stretched across the entrance to the new exhibition area–after which a drape was pulled aside on the wall beside us, revealing a plaque stating that the place was dedicated on April 16, 2008, by Shonaig Somebody (whose last name I forget) from the NTS, Somebody Haigh (kid #1, whose first name I forget, too), and Philip Nicoll (kid #2, and I have no idea why _his_ name stuck). Applause all round, followed by sandwiches and canapes and tiny plastic cups of whisky–”Culloden Cream” (this being a cream and whisky drink, ala Bailey’s Irish Cream, but with a sharper whisky edge to it) and “Tomatin” whisky.

Also Celtic music, supplied by a local group called Blazing Fiddles (and they _were_!) and then Highland Dancers, a quartet of young girls performing to taped pipe music. Neglected to mention before that a piper had been playing on the battlefield prior to the dedication–they said he was to play for the exact duration of the battle.

Beyond the great impact (and I do mean impact; they pull no punches; among the exhibits are not only the usual round musket balls retrieved from the field, but some of those flattened by the impact of passing through a man’s body) and excellent execution of the new Centre, the designers also put a great deal of subtle interpretation into the fabric of the Centre itself. At the beginning of the exhibit, you have the Government side of the story on one side (they make a great point of its being “the Govenrment” versus the Jacobites, rather than “Scots versus English”–very properly, as Scots (both Highland clans and Lowlanders) fought _with_ the Government in order to defeat what they saw as a Stuart invasion (with concomitant efforts to return Britain to Catholicism, popery, and French influence)), and the evolving Jacobite story on the other (both with eerie shadow-boxes, where you touch a lighted panel, and the shadow of a person–nearly life-size–comes forward and tells you his or her story; the stories are from men and woman, people on both sides, and told in both English and Gaelic (a lot more emphasis is paid to the Gaelic culture in this new version). The backing of the exhibits on the Government side is made of raw-looking boards–which at the beginning are all higgledy-piggledy, but as you pass through, begin to lie closer together, and by the end of the story, are running in tight, true lines. This–as the staff explained to us–symbolizing the ragged nature of the Government’s information and organization, as they began to get wind of the advancing Jacobite plot–this then becoming firmer and more orderly, to culminate in the solid battle lines that had won the day.

Because of the crowd of people, they were sending them through the exhibit in small groups at ten-minute intervals. We’d seen the exhibit the night before, so instead, we went outside for a brief look at the battlefield itself–not wanting to forget just what the point was, amongst the hoopla and celebration.

It was a day of sun and shadow, with a booming wind that came roaring over the moor. I’d luckily thought better of wearing the long, floaty silk skirt [g], in view both of the wind and the fact that the temperature was about 9 degrees Celsius–but I did have the floaty silk ruana, worn over three layers of warm clothes. When we stepped out, the wind caught the back of this and whirled it up around my head; Doug said it looked as though I was proposing to introduce Islam to Scotland (did not see any mosques on Huntly Street or Bank Street, though I wouldn’t bet that there isn’t one, somewhere in Inverness).

Got disentangled to find myself standing beside a long outer wall of the building, built of stones some 3-4″ in height, most a foot or so long–some of them set so that they protruded from the wall itself. One of the staff explained that these, too, were symbolic–the protruding stones were of two kinds, and each stone sticking out symbolized either a dead Jacobite (some 700 of them) or a Government soldier (about 50) who’d died on the field. (There’s a part of the battlefield near the Center, with a stone of its own that reads, “The Field of the English. They were buried here.”)

Going down along this wall toward the battlefield, we met a woman with a black eye (a _big_ black eye), who stopped dead and said, “Excuse me–but are you by any chance Diana and Doug?” This turned out to be “Mac”–an online friend of Susan’s (Susan being the helpful person who comes to do the bookkeeping and haul all my junk to the post office). I’d told Susan that I’d hang about a bit after the dedication, in case any of the online listers or Ladies of Lallybroch who might live nearby might want to stop by and say hello–and Mac had driven down from Thurso (! )–which is _not_ nearby–to do so, with her friend Linda.

We chatted for a bit, and Mac explained that the black eye was the result of her having walked into the new plate-glass sliding door at her local supermarket, and told us that she’d just met a staff member hurrying along, who’d stopped to ask about her eye, and then said, “I’m just going to inspect the gentleman who’s been reported lying in the grass, to see if he’s all right.” (Returning, the lady reported that indeed, the gentleman lying in the grass was fine, “He was just lying back in the grass, listening to the birds.” Scotland is a very tolerant country, it’s history of religious schism notwithstanding.)

Parting from Mac and Linda, we walked down onto the battlefield. It’s a quiet place. Notwithstanding wind, or visitors, or the Highland sheep that the NTS has used now and then to remove the saplings and help restore the moor to what they think is likely its original condition. Very quiet.

The lines of the two armies are shown by lines of flags–red and blue–fluttering in the wind. And just beyond the end of the Government lines, the path leads down beside the Well of the Dead “Where the Chief of the MacGillvrays Fell”. It’s a very small spring, welling out of the ground just by the path; you’d miss it, without the stone beside it. Someone had put the heads of fresh–cut daisies in the water; they floated there, safely out of the wind.

And just beyond this, the path lies between wide, grassy verges, on which the clan stones are ranged. These were put up to commemorate the fallen of the various clans–Clan MacIntosh (which has three stones; evidently MacIntosh was in the thick of it); MacGillivray, Stewart of Appin, Cameron…Clan Fraser. People who visit Culoden often send me pictures of the Fraser clanstone. Not like the pictures they send me of standing stones; those always have the sender or a friend standing with the stone, smiling and waving. There are never any people in the photographs of the clan stone. Just the lump of lichened granite that says “Clan Fraser.”

We came back, quiet in the wind, to meet other online people who’d come to the Visitors Centre to say hello–I think I met seven or eight, all told–and sign books. On the way, I saw the boggy hollow where Jamie woke after the battle, knowing he was dead. And looked back at the clan stones, ragged lines beside the path, that say, “Don’t forget.” And back again at the new wall, with its fresh gray stones that say, “We haven’t.”

Culloden

Well, I _was_ going to kick off my trip to the UK with a sprightly essay entitled “A Brief Disquisition on the Existence of Butt-Cooties.” Had it mostly done; meant to post it just before we left, then follow on with a general blog about our doings in England, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. Unfortunately, I left it in my other computer. (No, really; I brought my new MacBook on the trip, and forgot to transfer the essay out of my PC, where it’s still sitting.) So I guess I’ll use that as a closing flourish, instead.

We arrived in Scotland today! (Spent two days in New York first, to break the journey–poor Doug is 6’3 or 4, and Suffers Terribly on long flights, as he can’t sleep on airplanes.) Then landed in England, which was quick, but fun. We had dinner with friends, had another dinner with the new UK publishing people–Orion is now my UK publisher, and a lovely lot they all are, too–went to the Museum of London (amazing place! It’s address is One London Wall; it’s built on what’s left of the city wall), the National Portrait Gallery (just as amazing, in a different way. So cool to see the faces of history, especially all the Tudors and Stuarts and their cohorts), and…well, ate. As my husband remarked in tones of amazement last night, “We’ve been in England for 48 hours, and we haven’t eaten anything awful yet!” The wonders of globalization. [g] (Had a wonderful time sitting in pubs drinking red wine and listening to the conversations, too. More globalization, I suppose–or the influence of television; while the people _all_ had accents–and not all English accents, either–we could understand them easily, whereas on previous visits it often took several repetitions of an exchange for both parties to understand what was being said. This time, they understood _us_, too.)

Anyway, got up Way Early and dragged our bags to the Tube station at Pimlico (lovely cool day; cold enough to see your breath, but a sweatshirt was enough to keep warm), and went to Victoria, where we caught the Gatwick Express, arriving in enough time to hunt food–had wonderful sandwiches for breakfast at the airport (the UK in general has _great_ sandwiches; they’ll put _anything_ between two slices of bread (usually very fresh and good), and it’s usually extremely tasty, though I drew the line at sweet-corn with bacon and Branston pickle): I had tuna, salad, and red onion, and Doug had egg, cress, and mayo, both on “malted granary bread” (aka multi-grain; delicious)).

Flew to Edinburgh, and got our rental car–a brand-new Audi A3 (whose right windshield wiper stopped working about three miles out of the lot; luckily, it didn’t rain much), then drove north. After the hair-raisingness of negotiating the Edinburgh round-abouts on the left-side, Doug got comfortable again, and we could enjoy the ride, heading up through the rising lands of the Highlands, into big, rolling mountains still covered with snow on the heights, the un-treed slopes covered with a thick coat of dusty heather with the purple ghost of its summer glory lingering, and thick growths of gorse sprouting out of the rocks, so dark a green as to look black, covered with yellow flowers even brighter than the scads of daffodils growing on the roadside verges. Big, puffy clouds and small intermittent showers, but overall, a brilliant, beautiful day.

We stopped in Pitlochry, ostensibly to look for lunch. I had a secret agenda, though, which I hadn’t mentioned, because I knew Doug was worried about reaching Inverness in good time to find our hotel and change for the evening reception at Culloden. I’d discovered, in the process of recent research, that Pitlochry has a hydroelectric dam, built in the 50′s, and along with it, has a visitor’s centre that recounts the development and history of hydroelectric power in the Highlands–that, and a fish chamber [g], where one can watch migrating salmon and trout making their way up a fish-ladder past the dam.

By good fortune [cough], we happened to see the sign for “Dam and Fish-ladder,” and I (in my position as navigator) pointed and said, “Oh, let’s stop there!” “Why do you want to see a fish-ladder?” Doug asked, pulling into the lot. “I don’t,” I replied, leaping out and heading for the dam. “I want to see a hydroelectric plant!” (No, I told him why, but I’m not telling you, sorry. It’s to do with the next book, that’s all.)

No fish were migrating, alas, but the visitors centre was fascinating, the stream (full of middle-aged and elderly men in waders with fly-rods) was rushing and glorious, spring plants were greening up all over, the trees were full of birds about their courting, and there was a delightful small stone inn/restaurant called Port-na-Craig below the car-park, where we stopped into the Fisherman’s Bar (so-called for the dozens of ancient fishing-rods hung from the ceiling) and had absolutely decadent burgers–tender, juicy Scottish beef, overlaid with bacon (of the British kind–soft and streaky, not the crispy American sort) and thick with melted cheese–a tangy sort of local white cheddar. You couldn’t pick them up to eat; they were so juicy, the bun fell apart, so we had to eat them with a fork (“We havena got tomahto _sauce_,” the nice waitress explained (‘tomato sauce” being Scottish for “ketchup”), ‘But we’ve got a bit of tomahto salsa, if ye’d like that?” (We did. [g]) Homemade chips with white vinegar, a little salad on the side….and we went back to the car and nearly fell asleep on the next part of the journey, from sheer satiation.

Didn’t go off the road, though, and made it to the Culloden House Hotel without incident. This place is a marvel; a very old, very large, stone-built country house, renovated and restored into a four-star hotel. Victorian wallpapering and furniture, luscious thick carpeting, windows with ancient wooden shutters to keep the morning light out, and a first-class dining room, equipped with Royal Worcester china, etched crystal goblets, heavy silver–and a menu to die for. I had the tournedos of Scottish fillet of beef, with wild-mushroom risotto, and Doug had a pork cutlet topped with pickled red onion, and a creamed sweetcorn soup with crawfish tails and chili oil (don’t laugh; it was great [g]).

You might be more interested in the fact that during the final days before the Battle of Culloden, Jacobite troops rested on the grounds here–and Jacobite officers stayed in the house (the original house; the present house was built on the same site in 1780). Also because it was in one of the attic rooms of Culloden House that Jamie had his final, fatal confrontation with his uncle Dougal (of which we may possibly hear more, anon).

You’ll be thinking that we don’t do anything while traveling but eat, by this time. But no–our actual reason for being here today was a reception this evening at the new Culloden Battlefield Memorial Visitors Centre, to which we’d been invited by the National Trust for Scotland, they generously regarding us as donors to the project.

The new Visitors Centre is wonderful from the outside–very modern, with long, low, clean lines, so that it seems to fit into the landscape, rather than stick up out of it. The outside landscaping is still in progress, but they’ve begun to lay the stones for the Culloden Walk Project. I’ll include a link here, in case any of you might be interested in contributing to the project yourselves.

www.nts.org.uk/Culloden/Home/

I’d contributed a “chieftain stone” saying “Urram do na mairbh” (To the honor of the dead.”)–and my thanks to Catherine-Ann McPhee (noted Gaelic singer and teacher) for the proper Gaelic! The Ladies of Lallybroch had very generously donated a stone to the project as well, in my honor. [modestly pleased cough] Anyway, the walk is a long way from finished, but even the beginnings of it are very impressive indeed–flat, dark stones, covered with names, leading up to the entrance.

I won’t go into exhaustive detail about the evening or the exhibition, save to say that the evening was delightful (met all kinds of lovely people), and the design and execution of the exhibition is amazing–both striking and thoughtful. I _do_ want to tell you about what they call the “battle immersion” zone, though. This is a section where you walk through a dimly lit hallway, accompanying the Jacobite troops on the failed night march to attack the Government troops (you may not know about that, because Jamie didn’t take part–he was busy getting Claire safely to the stones); you hear the noises of the Government encampment to your left, and to your right, the shuffling and muttering and jangling of the exhausted, starving Jacobites as they go.

As you come to the end of this hallway, you turn into a small theatre–but it’s not the usual kind, with seats. It’s a completely empty room, with screens lining the walls on all four sides. You stand in the middle of this, turning constantly round as the battle begins, is fought, and ends….around you. It was fascinating to see the Jacobite troops lining up, sidling uneasily to and fro, getting into their formation–both very real, and very eerie, knowing what was coming. Empty horizon on the other side of the room, the wind stirring the moor grasses–and then the Government troops are there, coming up out of the distance. And coming. And coming. Rank upon rank, Brown Bess muskets on their shoulders. And the cannon rolling into position.

I was looking back at the Jacobite line when the firing began. Two Jacobite artillery pieces fired; a moment’s pause–and then English cannonballs struck two men in the front line, a few yards away from me. It was one of the most visceral experiences I’ve ever had. It went on from there in the same fashion; the terrible hesitation of the Jacobite line, before the order to charge finally came–the yelling mass of men, seeming to sweep right over us and carry us along–into the opposite screens, where the Government line stood firm….just waiting. You could smell the smoke of their volleys.

And then the wind again, over the quiet moor. And the dead.