“Well, THIS oughta take your minds off the election for a little while….(don’t forget to vote, though!)….
“Well, THIS oughta take your minds off the election for a little while….(don’t forget to vote, though!)….
Random House announces a Halloween Treat! They’re offering all seven of the extant OUTLANDER novels AS E-BOOKS, in a 7-book bundle for $49.99. Which is pretty good, I think.
Here’s the link for the Nook version at barnesandnoble.com and
Here’s the link for the Kindle version at amazon.com:
UPDATE/CLARIFICATION on the SHORT PIECES
Well, it’s like this. Over the last few years, I’ve written several novellas for various anthologies. (An anthology is a set of stories on a common theme, written by a number of different authors.) The thing is, anthologies don’t usually stay in print for a long time, so the stories will revert to the writer after some period of time—and then the writer can sell them again through other publishers or publishing venues.
My old stories are starting to come back to me (that sounds mildly sinister, doesn’t it? Like ghosts…
Now, because publishing rights are Just Plain Weird, I have back the rights to publish some stories in some territories, but not (yet) in others. Basically, I have back the rights to four stories that can now be published in the UK (and Australia and New Zealand), but not all of these can yet be published in the US and Canada.
However, the US/Canada rights _are_ coming back, one at a time. So what I’ve done is to arrange to publish these four stories together IN BOOK FORM in the UK/Commonwealth this fall, and to publish each story separately as a stand-alone (i.e., “cheap”
So below, I’ve listed each story, and with it, the various forms in which you may be able to get it. If you’re interested in any of these, pick the easiest/most interesting/most economical option—and have fun!
The novellas are:
“The Custom of the Army”
[This is a Lord John novella, set in 1759, involving an electric eel party, an ill-fated duel, and the Battle of Quebec. Originally published in the anthology WARRIORS, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. (Later this anthology was published in _three_ paperback volumes; “The Custom of the Army” is in WARRIORS 3. Evidently, people didn’t care for that approach, though; I see a new single paperback is being released in early 2013.)]
OK. You can get “The Custom of the Army”
1) as a stand-alone e-book (in the US/Canada, but _not_ in the UK/Commonwealth) for $1.99 through Amazon.com:
2) As part of the original anthology—hardcover, paperback, and Kindle edition—at Amazon prices ranging from $18.47 to $11.55 (you can likely find it used for less, as well).
3) Or (in the UK/Commonwealth, but _not_ (yet) the US/Canada) as part of A TRAIL OF FIRE—this is the book-length collection of “Four Outlander Tales,” as they put it.
Now, you _can_ order this book from Amazon.co.uk (or the Book Depository), even if you live in the US/Canada—but you can’t get the Kindle version of it unless you live in the UK/Commonwealth territory.
So these are your choices:
Stand-alone e-book ——– Original anthology ————- A TRAIL OF FIRE
$1.99 ————————- $18.47-$11.55 (later) ————— £10.44 – £7.99 (later)
US/Canada only ————- Anywhere (plus s/h) ————– Anywhere (plus s/h)
—————————–(Kindle only in US/C) ———— (Kindle UK/Com. Only)
“A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows”
[This one is the story of Roger MacKenzie’s parents, Jerry and Marjorie (aka Dolly) during WWII. Events in this story tie in (briefly) to AN ECHO IN THE BONE. Originally published in SONGS OF LOVE AND DEATH, edited by George R.R. Martin and Garder Dozois.]
This will be released as a stand-alone e-book in October (we hope), and will be included in A TRAIL OF FIRE. Your choices are:
Stand-alone e-book———-Original anthology———-A TRAIL OF FIRE
$1.99————————-$10.40 – $8.99—————£10.44 – £7.99
US/Canada only————–Anywhere (plus s/h)———–Anywhere (plus s/h)
————————— Ebook only in US/Can.———-Ebook only in UK/Com.
“Lord John and the Plague of Zombies”
[This deals with Lord John’s first journey to Jamaica, in charge of a battalion of soldiers meant to put down a slave rebellion. If only rampaging slaves were all he had to deal with… Originally published in DOWN THESE STRANGE STREETS, ed. George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. I won’t have the publication rights to this one back until April of 2013, so that’s when the standalone ebook will be available.]
Standalone E-book Original anthology A TRAIL OF FIRE
$1.99 $17.79 – $13.98 £10.44 – £7.99
US/Canada only Anywhere (plus s/h) Anywhere (plus s/h)
(Available 4/13) Kindle in US/Can. only Kindle UK/Com. Only
“The Space Between”
[This is a long—40,000 words—novella that takes place in 1778 (right after the events in AN ECHO IN THE BONE) and deals with Michael Murray (Young Ian’s older brother), Joan (Marsali’s younger sister), the Comte St. Germain, Mother Hildegarde, and a few others. This one was also written for an anthology—THE MAD SCIENTIST’S GUIDE TO WORLD DOMINATION—but the anthology is not due for publication until Jan/Feb of 2013. That being so, I won’t get back the reprint rights for a year, so won’t be able to offer it as a standalone ebook before January of 2014.]
Original anthology (US _or_ UK)—————– A TRAIL OF FIRE
$15.25 – $10.98————————————£10.44 – £7.99
(No ebook listed yet)
IF you’re only interested in these stories, and not in anthologies, then you want the standalone ebooks if you’re in the US, and A TRAIL OF FIRE if you’re in the UK (though you can order the book in the US).
Price for all four as standalone ebooks is about eight bucks—but you’d have to wait a bit for the last two stories. If you’re not in a hurry, want to sample one before buying all of them, or are buying these to fill out your collection, probably your best bet if you live in the US.
If you’re interested in sampling other authors, the anthologies are the way to go.
And if you only want these stories, but you WANT THEM ALL _NOW_!!! –and don’t mind whether it’s a print book or ebook, then you probably want to order A TRAIL OF FIRE.
I know it’s confusing—I hope this helps!
THE METHADONE LIST: THE SKYBOUND SEA
To answer a frequently-asked question of late: No, I’m not going to DragonCon. (I got home from Younger Daughter’s wedding and a short recuperative stay in the UK just day before yesterday. I have to stay home and write!)
BUT….Sam Sykes, epic fantasy author (and brother of the bride) came home from the wedding much earlier, has already recovered from the festivities (in spite of being struck in the face with a handful of rice thrown by an inebriated guest shouting “Viva los Novios!”), and _will_ be attending DragonCon, at which he’s launching his third novel, THE SKYBOUND SEA (published in the US by Pyr Books; UK publication happens a little later this fall, published by Orion/Gollancz).
[Pyr booth, #709 at DragonCon, Marriott Marquis Hotel]
Scott Lynch says of Sam’s books:
“Sam Sykes does blood and noise in the liveliest tradition of contemporary fantasy, with all the brash vigor of youth, and with a sly, penetrating sensitivity all his own. Not many writers can give you fireworks and subtlety at the same time like he can.”
Which is a great quote, and pretty accurate—though my favorite of Sam’s cover quotes is this one:
“I do not wish Sam Sykes dead.”
THE SKYBOUND SEA is the third book in the “Aeon’s Gate” trilogy, which began with THE TOME OF THE UNDERGATES and continued with BLACK HALO. And as always, the best illustration I can give you of the virtues of the book is to provide a brief excerpt [with permission of the author]:
THE SKYBOUND SEA [excerpt]
Copyright 2012 Sam Sykes
And his foe, all seven green feet of him, stared back.
Another pointy-eared human, he recognized. A pointy-eared green human. A pointy-eared green human with hands for feet and what appeared to be a cock’s crest for hair.
There had to be a shorter word for it. What had the other pointy-eared human called it? Greenshict? She had carried their scent, too.
This one was taller, tense, ready to spill blood instead of teary emotions. The greenshict’s bones were long, muscles tight beneath green skin, dark eyes positively weeping scorn as he narrowed them upon Gariath.
He liked this one better already.
At least until he looked down to his foe’s hand and saw, clenched in slender fingers, a short, stout piece of wood.
“A stick?” The fury choked his voice like phlegm. “You came to kill me with a stick?”
The shict snarled, baring four sharp teeth. Gariath roared, baring two dozen of his own. The stones quaked beneath his feet, the sky shivered at his howl as he charged.
“I WAS EATEN TODAY AND YOU BROUGHT A STICK?”
He lashed out, claws seeking green flesh and finding nothing as the greenshict took a long, fluid step backward. He flipped the stick effortlessly from one hand to the other, brought it up over his head, brought it down upon Gariath’s.
It cracked against his skull, shook brain against bone. But this was no cowardly blow from behind. This was honest pain. Gariath could bite back honest pain. He grunted, snapped his neck and caught the stick between his horns to tear it from the greenshict’s grasp.
The stick flew in one direction, his fist in the other. It sought, caught, crushed a green face beneath red knuckles in a dark crimson eruption. Bones popped, sinuses erupted, blood spattered. A body flew, crashed, skidded across the stones, leaving a dark smear upon the road.
Therapeutic, Gariath thought, even as the blood sizzled against his flesh. It hurt. But he couldn’t very well let the greenshict know that.
“I AM RHEGA!”
Yelling hurt, too. Possibly because his teeth still rattled in their gums. A trail of blood wept from his brow, spilling into his eye. The greenshict had drawn blood—with a stick.
Impressive, he thought. Also annoying. He snorted; that hurt. Just annoying.
The greenshict did not so much leap as flow from his back to his feet like a liquid. He ebbed, shifting into a stance—hands up, ears perked, waist bent—with such ease as to suggest that he had simply sprung from the womb ready to fight.
Suggestions weren’t enough for Gariath. He needed more tangible things: stone beneath his feet, blood on his hands, horns in the air, and a roar in his maw as he fell to all fours and charged.
And again, the greenshict flowed. He broke like water on a rock, slithering over Gariath, sparing only a touch for the dragonman as he leapt delicately over him and landed behind him. Gariath skidded to a halt, whirled about and found his opponent standing.
And just standing.
He didn’t scramble for his stick. He didn’t move to attack. He just stood there.
“Hit back,” Gariath snarled as he rushed the greenshict once more. “Then I hit you. Then you fall down and I splash around in your entrails.” His claw followed his voice, twice as bloodthirsty. “Don’t you know how this works?”
The greenshict had no respect for Gariath’s instruction or his blows, leaping away, ducking under, stepping away from each blow. He never struck back, never made a noise, never did anything but move.
Slowly, steadily, to the floating corpses.
The next blow came and the greenshict flew instead of flowed. He leapt away and up, hands and feet finding a tether and scrambling up. Hand over foot over foot over hand, he leapt to the fresh netherling corpse and entangled himself amongst its limbs, staring down at Gariath.
“Good,” he grunted, reaching out and seizing the tether. “Fine.” He jerked down on it. “I’ll come to you.”
Hand over hand, claw over claw, he pulled, drawing his prey and the corpse he perched upon ever closer.
One more hard pull brought him within reach and Gariath seized the opportunity. His claws were hungry and lashed out, seeking green flesh. That green flesh flew again, however, leaping from the corpse. The flesh his claws found was purple and wrapped around a thick jugular.
That promptly exploded in a soft cloud of blood.
Engulfed in the crimson haze, he roared. His mouth filled with a foul coppery taste. His nostrils flared, drank in the stench of stale life. No sign of the greenshict, no scent of the greenshict. Annoying.
But merely annoying.
At least, until the shark.
He saw the teeth only a moment before he felt them as they sank into the flesh of his bicep. He had seen worse: steel, glass, wood. That was small com- fort when this particular foe was hungry, persistent. Its slender gray body jerked violently, trying to tear off a stubborn chunk.
Gariath snarled, struck it with a fist, raked at it with a claw. The beast tightened its grip, snarled silently as it shredded skin, growing ever more insistent with each attempt to dislodge it.
It was only when he felt the stick lash out and rap against his skull that he remembered there was a reason for trying to fight off a shark on dry land. He staggered out of the cloud, his writhing parasite coming with him, his suddenly bold foe right behind him. The corpse went flying into the sky and the rest of the sharks flew for the easy meal. Not his. He would have to get the only shark with principles.
The greenshict leapt, stick lashing out like a fang. It struck against wrist, skull, leg, shoulder, anywhere that wasn’t a flailing claw or a twisting fish. The pain was intense, but it wasn’t as bad as the insult of being beaten with a stick. Gariath fought between the two, dividing his attention between the shark and the shict and failing at fending off either.
A choice had to be made.
And the shark was only acting out of hunger.
Here is a link to Pyr’s DragonCon author signing schedule (though please note, it is Booth 709, not 209):
For those not lucky enough to be attending DragonCon this weekend, you can get the book at
*(We hope this sentiment survives DragonCon, as I understand Sam will be accompanied once again by Mr. Scalzi’s stand-in, “John Spudzi”.)
**Anyone wanting a signed copy of THE SKYBOUND SEA (or any other of Sam’s books) can get one from The Poisoned Pen bookstore. Email Patrick@poisonedpen.com and tell him what you’d like inscribed in your book. The Pen ships everywhere in the world.
A couple of publishers asked me this week to write a brief bit of catalog copy for them, describing MOBY–so I did. For those of you wondering What to Expect from the eighth book in the OUTLANDER series:
WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART’S BLOOD is the eighth novel in the world-famous OUTLANDER series. In June of 1778, the world turns upside-down. The British army withdraws from Philadelphia, George Washington prepares to move from Valley Forge in pursuit, and Jamie Fraser comes back from the dead to discover that his best friend has married Jamie’s wife. The ninth Earl of Ellesmere discovers to his horror that he is in fact the illegitimate son of the newly-resurrected Jamie Fraser (a rebel _and_ a Scottish criminal!) and Jamie’s nephew Ian Murray discovers that his new-found cousin has an eye for Ian’s Quaker betrothed.
Meanwhile, Claire Fraser deals with an asthmatic duke, Benedict Arnold, and the fear that one of her husbands may have murdered the other. And in the 20th century, Jamie and Claire’s daughter Brianna is thinking that things are probably easier in the 18th century: her son has been kidnapped, her husband has disappeared into the past, and she’s facing a vicious criminal with nothing but a stapler in her hand. Fortunately, her daughter has a miniature cricket bat and her mother’s pragmatism.
The best of historical fiction with a Moebius twist, WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART’S BLOOD weaves the fibers of a family’s life through the tapestry of historical drama.
NB: I’m still _writing_ this. With luck, it will be published in fall of 2013. (Update from the webmaster: This book will be released by the publisher on March 25, 2014, in the U.S.A.) Hope you enjoy it! (In the meantime, if you’re the sort of reader who likes to see bits and pieces as we go along, I do post brief snippets–from this book and other works in progress or coming up for release–most days, on both Twitter (my ID there is @Writer_DG) and Facebook.
NB2: I told my editor I want an octopus on the cover of this book. (There are eight main characters whose stories are told–and they’re all linked together.)
NB3: I call the book MOBY for short. My Own Heart’s Blood = MOHB = MOH-B = Moby. Geddit?
From the webmaster: Visit the MOBY home page for the latest information.
Chronology of the Outlander series
The Outlander series includes three kinds of stories:
The Big, Enormous Books that have no discernible genre (or all of them);
The Shorter, Less Indescribable Novels that are more or less historical mysteries (though dealing also with battles, eels, and mildly deviant sexual practices);
The Bulges—These being short(er) pieces that fit somewhere inside the story lines of the novels, much in the nature of squirming prey swallowed by a large snake. These deal frequently—but not exclusively—with secondary characters, are prequels or sequels, and/or fill some lacuna left in the original story lines.
Now. Most of the shorter novels (so far) fit within a large lacuna left in the middle of VOYAGER, in the years between 1757 and 1761. Some of the Bulges also fall in this period; others don’t.
So, for the reader’s convenience, here is a detailed Chronology, showing the sequence of the various elements in terms of the storyline. _However, it should be noted that the shorter novels and novellas are all designed suchly that they may be read alone_, without reference either to each other or to the Big, Enormous Books—should you be in the mood for a light literary snack instead of the nine-course meal with wine-pairings and dessert trolley.
OUTLANDER (novel)—If you’ve never read any of the series, I’d suggest starting here. If you’re unsure about it, open the book anywhere and read three pages; if you can put it down again, I’ll give you a dollar. (1946/1743)
DRAGONFLY IN AMBER (novel)—It doesn’t start where you think it’s going to. And it doesn’t end how you think it’s going to, either. Just keep reading; it’ll be fine. (1968/1744-46)
VOYAGER (novel)—This won an award from EW magazine for “Best Opening Line.” (To save you having to find a copy just to read the opening, it was: “He was dead. However, his nose throbbed painfully, which he thought odd, in the circumstances.”) If you’re reading the series in order, rather than piecemeal, you do want to read this book before tackling the novellas or the Lord John novels. (1968/1766-67)
LORD JOHN AND THE HAND OF DEVILS/”Lord John and the Hellfire Club” (novella)—Just to add an extra layer of confusion, The Hand of Devils is a collection that includes three novellas. The first one, “Lord John and the Hellfire Club,” is set in London in 1757, and deals with a red-haired man who approaches Lord John Grey with an urgent plea for help, just before dying in front of him. [Originally published in the anthology Past Poisons, ed. Maxim Jakubowski, 1998.]
LORD JOHN AND THE PRIVATE MATTER (novel)—Set in London, in 1758, this is a historical mystery steeped in blood and even less-savory substances, in which Lord John meets (in short order) a valet, a traitor, an apothecary with a sure cure for syphilis, a bumptious German, and an unscrupulous merchant prince.
LORD JOHN AND THE HAND OF DEVILS/”Lord John and the Succubus” (novella)— The second novella in the Hand of Devils collection finds Lord John in Germany in 1758, having unsettling dreams about Jamie Fraser, unsettling encounters with Saxon princesses, night-hags, and a really disturbing encounter with a big, blond Hanoverian graf. [Originally published in the anthology Legends II, ed. Robert Silverberg, 2004.]
LORD JOHN AND THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE BLADE (novel)—The second full-length novel focused on Lord John (but it does include Jamie Fraser) is set in 1759, deals with a twenty-year-old family scandal, and sees Lord John engaged at close range with exploding cannon and even more dangerously explosive emotions.
LORD JOHN AND THE HAND OF DEVILS/”Lord John and the Haunted Soldier” (novella)—The third novella in this collection is set in 1759, in London and the Woolwich Arsenal. In which, Lord John faces a court of inquiry into the explosion of a cannon, and learns that there are more dangerous things in the world than gunpowder.
“The Custom of the Army” (novella)—Set in 1759. In which his lordship attends an electric-eel party in London and ends up at the Battle of Quebec. He’s just the sort of person things like that happen to. [Originally published in Warriors, eds. George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, 2010.]
THE SCOTTISH PRISONER (novel)—This one’s set in 1760, in the Lake District, London, and Ireland. A sort of hybrid novel, it’s divided evenly between Jamie Fraser and Lord John Grey, who are recounting their different perspectives in a tale of politics, corruption, murder, opium dreams, horses, and illegitimate sons.
“Plague of Zombies” (novella)—Set in 1761, in Jamaica, when Lord John is sent in command of a battalion to put down a slave rebellion and discovers a hitherto unsuspected affinity for snakes, cockroaches, and zombies. [Originally published in Down These Strange Streets, eds. George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, 2011.]
DRUMS OF AUTUMN (novel)—This one begins in 1766, in the New World, where Jamie and Claire find a foothold in the mountains of North Carolina, and their daughter, Brianna, finds a whole lot of things she didn’t expect, when a sinister newspaper clipping sends her in search of her parents. (1968-1969/1766-67)
THE FIERY CROSS (novel)—The historical background to this one is the War of the Regulation in North Carolina (1767-1768), which was more or less a dress rehearsal for the oncoming Revolution. In which Jamie Fraser becomes a reluctant Rebel, his wife, Claire, becomes a conjure-woman and runs into a ghost. Something Much Worse happens to Brianna’s husband, Roger, but I’m not telling you what. This won several awards for “Best Last Line,” but I’m not telling you that, either. (Mid-1760s)
A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES (novel)—Winner of the 2006 Corine International Prize for Fiction, and a Quill Award (this book beat novels by both George R. R. Martin and Stephen King, which I thought Very Entertaining Indeed). All the books have an internal “shape” that I see while I’m writing them. This one looks like the Hokusai print titled “The Great Wave Off Kanagawa.” Think tsunami—two of them. (Early to mid-1770s/1970-71)
AN ECHO IN THE BONE (novel)—Set in America, London, Canada, and Scotland. The book’s cover image reflects the internal shape of the novel: a caltrop. That’s an ancient military weapon that looks like a child’s jack with sharp points; the Romans used them to deter elephants, and the Highway Patrol still uses them to stop fleeing perps in cars. This book has four major story lines: Jamie and Claire; Roger and Brianna (and family); Lord John and William; and Young Ian, all intersecting in the nexus of the American Revolution—and all of them with sharp points. (1777-1778/1972)
WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART’S BLOOD (novel)—The eighth of the Big Enormous Books, this will probably be published in 2013. It begins where An Echo in the Bone leaves off, in the summer of 1778 (and the autumn of 1973—or possibly 1974, I forget exactly).
“A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows” (short story (no, really, it is))— Set (mostly) in 1941–43, this is the story of What Really Happened to Roger MacKenzie’s parents. [Originally published in the anthology Songs of Love and Death, eds. George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, 2010.]
“The Space Between” (novella)—Set in 1778, mostly in Paris, this novella deals with Michael Murray (Young Ian’s elder brother), Joan MacKimmie (Marsali’s younger sister), the Comte St. Germain (who is Not Dead After All), Mother Hildegarde, and a few other persons of interest. The space between what? It depends who you’re talking to. [To be published in early 2013 in the anthology The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Dominiation, ed. John Joseph Adams.]
“Virgins” (novella)—Set in 1740, in France. In which Jamie Fraser (aged nineteen) and his friend Ian Murray (aged twenty) become young mercenaries. [To be published in late 2012, in the anthology Dangerous Women, eds. George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois.]
NOW REMEMBER . . .
You can read the short novels and novellas by themselves, or in any order you like. I would recommend reading the Big, Enormous Books in order, though.
P.S. There are a couple of other books to note here, though they don’t fit conveniently into the Chronology above:
THE EXILE (graphic novel) – written by me, and illustrated by the delightful artist Hoang Nguyen, this is OUTLANDER from Jamie’s point of view. Since there are lots of things that Claire (the outlander) didn’t see, didn’t understand, or was purposely left out of, this book shows you some of what she missed.
THE OUTLANDISH COMPANION – This is a non-fiction book, supplying background, trivia, commentary and general Stuff on the first four novels of the series. There are detailed synopses (for those who don’t want to re-read the whole series when a new book comes out, but would like to refresh their memories), articles on how I work, do research, develop characters, etc., a detailed bibliography of the main references I used while writing the first four books, a Cast of Characters listing—in case you don’t recall immediately who someone is—a Gaelic pronunciation guide and glossary, appendices on Poetry and Quotations used in the books, and so on. [There is a second COMPANION in the works, this one meant to cover the next four books in the main series, as well as the shorter novels and stories listed above. With luck, this will be out shortly after WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART’S BLOOD is published.]
HOW TO WRITE SEX SCENES
Copyright 2012 Diana Gabaldon
[This is a short piece that I wrote on request for a Canadian magazine called Chatelaine, earlier this year. I have the reprint rights back, though, and since a Twitter acquaintance recently expressed a desire to “write smut”—I thought I’d at least provide him with the basics.]
Where most beginning writers screw up (you should pardon the expression) is in thinking that sex scenes are about sex. A good sex scene is about the exchange of emotions, not bodily fluids. That being so, it can encompass any emotion whatever, from rage or desolation to exultation, tenderness, or surprise.
Lust is not an emotion; it’s a one-dimensional hormonal response. Ergo, while you can mention lust in a sex-scene, describing it at any great length is like going on about the pattern of the wall-paper in the bedroom. Worth a quick glance, maybe, but essentially boring.
So how do you show the exchange of emotions? Dialogue, expression, or action—that’s about the limit of your choices, and of those, dialogue is by far the most flexible and powerful tool a writer has. What people say reveals the essence of their character.
_“I know once is enough to make it legal, but…” He paused shyly.
“You want to do it again?”
“Would ye mind verra much?”
I didn’t laugh this time, either, but I felt my ribs creak under the strain.
“No,” I said gravely. “I wouldn’t mind.”_
Now, you do, of course, want to make the scene vivid and three-dimensional. You have an important advantage when dealing with sex, insofar as you can reasonably expect that most of your audience knows how it’s done. Ergo, you can rely on this commonality of experience, and don’t need more than brief references to create a mental picture.
You want to anchor the scene with physical details, but by and large, it’s better to use sensual details, rather than overtly sexual ones. (Just read any scene that involves a man licking a woman’s nipples and you’ll see what I mean. Either the writer goes into ghastly contortions to avoid using the word “nipples”—“tender pink crests” comes vividly to mind—or does it in blunt and hideous detail, so that you can all but hear the slurping. This is Distracting. Don’t Do That.)
So how _do_ you make a scene vivid, but not revoltingly so? There’s a little trick called the Rule of Three: if you use any three of the five senses, it will make the scene immediately three-dimensional. (Many people use only sight and sound. Include smell, taste, touch, and you’re in business.)
_The road was narrow, and they jostled against one another now and then, blinded between the dark wood and the brilliance of the rising moon. He could hear Jamie’s breath, or thought he could—it seemed part of the soft wind that touched his face. He could smell Jamie, smell the musk of his body, the dried sweat and dust in his clothes, and felt suddenly wolf-like and feral, longing changed to outright hunger.
In essence, a good sex scene is usually a dialogue scene with physical details.
_”I’ll give it to ye,” he murmured, and his hand moved lightly. A touch. Another. “But ye’ll take it from me tenderly, a nighean donn.”
“I don’t want tenderness, damn you!”
“I ken that well enough,” he said, with a hint of grimness. “But it’s what ye’ll have, like it or not.”
He laid me down on his kilt, and came back into me, strongly enough that I gave a small, high-pitched cry of relief.
“Ask me to your bed,” he said. “I shall come to ye. For that matter–I shall come, whether ye ask it or no. But I am your man; I serve ye as I will.”_
And finally, you can use metaphor and lyricism to address the emotional atmosphere of an encounter directly. This is kind of advanced stuff, though.
_He’d meant to be gentle. Very gentle. Had planned it with care, worrying each step of the long way home. She was broken; he must go canny, take his time. Be careful in gluing back her shattered bits.
And then he came to her and discovered that she wished no part of gentleness, of courting. She wished directness. Brevity and violence. If she was broken, she would slash him with her jagged edges, reckless as a drunkard with a shattered bottle.
She raked his back; he felt the scrape of broken nails, and thought dimly that was good–she’d fought. That was the last of his thought; his own fury took him then, rage and a lust that came on him like black thunder on a mountain, a cloud that hid all from him and him from all, so that kind familiarity was lost and he was alone, strange in darkness._
I’m as fascinated by y’all’s responses to my bookshelves as y’all are by the books, etc. [g] It seems to be about 20:1 in terms of “OMG, this looks just like my shelves!/I love it!” vs. “What a mess!/How can you FIND anything!/Let me come and organize that for you!”
I appreciate both schools of thought—and my sincere thanks to the kind souls who think I would do better (in some undefined way), if my books were alphabetized, sorted by color, arranged by height, or generally tidied into a visually pleasing (to them) formation that has nothing to do with what’s actually _in_ the books.
Now, putting aside any of my private opinions regarding the psychology that causes people to value Tidiness Uber Alles, tidiness _qua_ tidiness has two possible aspects that recommend it as a virtue: aesthetics and/or function.
As to aesthetics, I’ll just note that there are people who like Gustav Klimt and there are people who like Mondrian, and leave it at that. [g] Aesthetics rests on the perception of pattern, and there are patterns in total chaos (this is the basis of chaos theory). Some people like simpler patterns, some like more complex ones, and that’s fine.
Now function. That’s the “How can you FIND anything in there?” response, which assumes that in fact, I can’t find anything _unless_ the books are filed according to an arbitrary pattern that the observer personally finds aesthetically appealing. OK, this is conflating the two aspect virtues of tidiness, which do not necessarily operate in correlation with each other.
For an alphabetized reference system to be useful, the user has to know that the book s/he wants is written by a specific author. This in turn means that the user has to have read every word in all of the books to hand (so as to know what’s in them), and to be sufficiently familiar with them as to recognize almost any author’s content. If I had twenty books, I could do that, [g] though there wouldn’t be much point to it.
As it is…let me illustrate, briefly, how I work and how I use reference books. (This is, btw, my core reference collection. The books I read for pleasure—mostly fiction—are mostly alphabetized by author, because in that case, I’m usually looking for a specific author, not for specific content. They’re in several different collections/locations, though; not in this set of shelves.)
As I work my way into a new novel (the one I’m writing, I mean), I begin to pick up certain books—either from the extant collection, or new acquisitions—that I think _might_ be useful as background or specific references for that project. I’ll put these references on a shelf by themselves, and add occasionally to this mini-core collection, as new thoughts occur to me or as I come across new relevant reference books. One book that’s been on the mini-core shelf for the last several Jamie and Claire books is THE ALMANAC OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION. This helpful reference lists and briefly describes a huge variety of the events—large and small—that occurred during the Revolution, organized by date.
I use the ALMANAC not only to check dates, but to choose historical events that a) have intrinsic interest or importance historically, b) have or can have _fictional_ or dramatic significance to the people in my story, and c) are plausible to use in a geographical or chronological sense.
Now, I left everyone in the 18th-century part of the story in Philadelphia at the end of AN ECHO IN THE BONE, in mid-July of 1778. Ergo, even though many interesting historical events occurred in 1778, a lot of them were much later in the year and/or weren’t anywhere near Philadelphia. (In some cases, I could begin a new book substantially later than where the last one stopped, but owing to the spectacular triple cliff-hanger at the end of ECHO, I pretty much have to resolve those cliff-hangers in WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART’S BLOOD, and therefore MOBY (MY OWN HEART’S BLOOD = MOHB = MOH-B = MOBY. Geddit?) pretty much has to start where ECHO ended.)
So what happened in or near Philadelphia in the middle of July, 1778? Three very interesting things, according to the ALMANAC: 1) the British troops started to withdraw from their occupation of Philadelphia on July 15th, 2) Benedict Arnold became the military governor of Philadelphia for the Continental army on July 18th, and 3) the Battle of Monmouth took place near Philadelphia (well, near enough) on July 28th.
These events can all serve my purposes. So I need to know a few things, as I work. I need to know who the commander-in-chief of the British forces in Philadelphia was, what his personality and background were, and (insofar as possible) what he looked like. I need to know where Benedict Arnold was in terms of his personal political arc at that time. And I need to know what the location, order of battle, chief historical personalities present, and outcome of the battle of Monmouth was.
Let’s start with the battle. If you look at the original photo of my bookshelves (at the head of the previous post), just above and behind Otis’s right ear, you’ll see a book with a yellow cover, on which the word “BATTLES” is clearly visible. I have no idea who wrote this book; it isn’t important. What _is_ important is that it’s an encyclopedia of historical battles throughout the ages. What’s also important is that it’s standing with five other encyclopedias of battle. And it’s standing on _that_ shelf, because that’s where the general-purpose military books—encyclopedias of battle, treatises on weapons and artillery techniques, Osprey Men at War books dealing with the history and equipment of relevant regiments, a novel on the siege of Havana, two books on dueling, and THE MILITARY EXPERIENCE IN THE AGE OF REASON (a survey of the military structures and operations in effect across Europe in the 18th century)—are. So when I want to know the general information about a battle (where was it, what happened, who was fighting, who won), I go to that shelf.
Now, I have much more specific references that deal with the American Revolution, and there are a couple of _very_ detailed books that will give me maps and exhaustive descriptions of the Battle of Monmouth (those are in the smaller bookshelf, which you haven’t seen, and which contains most of the American Revolution-specific references)—but there’s no point reading through all that until/unless I decide that I really want to use that battle. So I start with the general reference, which tells me—among other things—that General Washington commanded the American and allied troops at that battle. Cool. Jamie/Claire et al haven’t yet met George Washington, but this might be a good opportunity.
So…if, say, Jamie is going to meet George Washington, what do I (as his amanuensis) need to know about GW? I need to know what he looks like, what his overall impression (as in personality) was, and how he talked. Where will I find that sort of information? In fact, I found what color his eyes were by googling that question, but other specific information is on my mini-core shelf, in the form of ANGEL IN THE WHIRLWIND, an excellent biography of GW by an author whose name I don’t know and don’t need to know, because I know exactly where that book is.
_Vide_: [Excerpt from MOBY]
“ Jamie ducked under the lintel after Dan and found himself in a dark, shabby room that smelled of cabbage-water, grime, and the sharp reek of urine. There was one window, its shutters left open for air, and the sunlight coming in silhouetted the cropped head of a large man sitting at the table, who raised his head at the opening of the door.
“General Morgan,” he said, in a soft voice touched with the drawl of Virginia. “Have you brought me good news?”
“That’s just what I brought you, General,” auld Dan said, and shoved Jamie ahead of him toward the table. “I found this rascal on the road, and bade him come along. This’ll be Colonel Fraser, who I’ve told you of before. Just come back from Scotland, and the very man you need.”
The big man had risen from the table, and put out a hand, smiling—though he smiled with his lips pressed tight together, as though afraid something might escape. The man was as tall as Jamie himself, and he found himself looking straight into sharp gray-blue eyes that took his measure in the instant it took to shake hands.
“George Washington,” the big man said. “Your servant, sir.”
“James Fraser,” Jamie said, feeling mildly stunned. “Your…most obedient. Sir.”
“Sit with me, Colonel Fraser.” The big Virginian gestured toward one of the rough benches at the table. “My horse pulled up lame, and my slave’s gone to find another. No notion how long it may take him, as I require a good sturdy beast to bear my weight, and those are thin on the ground these days.” He looked Jamie up and down with frank appraisal; they were much of a size. “I don’t suppose you have a decent horse with you, sir?”
OK. Going back to the original set of questions, plainly I need to know the particulars of Benedict Arnold’s actions, context, and state of mind when he took over as military governor of Philadelphia. Fine. In the mini-core collection is BENEDICT ARNOLD, a very detailed and excellent biography whose author I could check by looking at the spine, but I don’t care who wrote it, only that I can find it when I need it.
_Vide_: [Excerpt from MOBY]
“ I thought I could manage the three blocks to the livery stable without incident, but at the corner of Market Street and Seventh, I was hailed by a familiar voice from a carriage window.
“Mrs. Fraser? I say, Mrs. Fraser!”
I looked up, startled, to see the hawk-nosed face of Benedict Arnold smiling down at me. His normally fleshy features were gaunt and lined, and his usually ruddy complexion had faded to an indoor pallor, but there was no mistaking him.
“Oh!” I said, and made a quick bob. “How nice to see you, General!”
My heart had sped up. I’d heard from Denny Hunter that Arnold had been appointed military governor of Philadelphia, but hadn’t expected to see him so soon—if at all.
I should have left it there, but couldn’t help asking, “How’s the leg?” I knew he’d been badly injured at Saratoga—shot in the same leg that had been wounded a short time before, and then crushed by his horse falling with him in the storming of Breymann’s Redoubt—but I hadn’t seen him then. The regular army surgeons had attended him, and from what I knew of their work, I was rather surprised that he was not only alive, but still had two legs.
His face clouded a bit at that, but he continued to smile.
“Still present, Mrs. Fraser. If two inches shorter than the other. Where are you going this morning?” He glanced automatically behind me, registering my lack of a maid or companion, but didn’t seem disturbed by it. He’d met me on the battlefield, and knew me—and appreciated me—for what I was.
I knew what he was, too—and what he would become.
The hell of it was that I _liked_ the man.”
And, not by serendipity, but by the fact that historical events form a logical nexus when people are writing about them _ex post facto_, the ALMANAC, ANGEL IN THE WHIRLWIND, and BENEDICT ARNOLD all mention that General Clinton had taken command of the British troops in Philadelphia at the time of the withdrawal, and our friend Wikipedia supplies me with a painting of the general and his birthdate (so I know how old he is in 1778. He was 48, if you’re curious; of an age to think Claire very charming).
Now, if Claire—it has to be Claire, for logistical reasons—is going to talk to General Clinton, I need to know a few other things, like what she’d be wearing and how she would travel. The bottom shelf of the second bay of my shelves has the large pictorial books on historical costume, while DRESS IN 18th CENTURY EUROPE is among the books on social/cultural English/European background—these being just to the right of the encyclopedias of battle.
_Vide_: [Excerpt from MOBY]
“ By the time we’d got my hair done up in something resembling order, corralled in a cap-like snood and pinned respectably under a broad-brimmed woven straw hat, I’d come up with at least a rough notion what to tell General Clinton. _Stick to the truth as far as possible_. That was the first principle of successful lying, though it had been some time since I’d been last obliged to employ it.
Well, then. A messenger had come for Lord John—one had—bringing a note—he did. I had no idea what was in the note—totally true. Lord John had then left with the messenger, but without telling me where they were going. Also technically true; the only variance being that it had been a different messenger. No, I hadn’t seen in which direction they had gone; no, I didn’t know whether they had walked or ridden—Lord John’s saddle-horse was kept at Davison’s livery on Walnut Street, two blocks away.
That sounded well. If General Clinton chose to make inquiries, I was reasonably sure he’d discover the horse still in its stall, and thus conclude that John was somewhere in the city. He would also presumably lose interest in me as a source of information, and send soldiers round to whatever haunts a man such as Lord John Grey might be supposed to be visiting.
And with any luck at all, by the time the General had exhausted such possibilities as Philadelphia offered, John would be back and could answer his own damn questions.”
Beginning to see how this works? For me, that is. I imagine some of the tidier-minded writers of historical fiction actually spend years poring through their references, tidily transferring bits of information to index cards (or their electronic equivalent) so that they could instantly look up “women’s clothing,” “Revolutionary War battles,” “George Washington, physical appearance,” and the like.
If that suits the way they work, great. Anything that helps you get words on the page is the right thing to do. This is just how _I_ do it.
I get a lot of questions about what I read, what resources I find “useful”, how much research I do, etc., etc. And when interviewers come to talk to me at home, they always want to see my office, and frequently spend half an hour or more browsing my bookshelves in fascination. So I thought y’all might want to have a peek, too.
(One question I often get is about how I organize my material. It is to larf, as John Lennon so eloquently put it. I have two—no, three—ways of organizing research material. The books live in bookshelves. Loose papers, maps, reprinted emails, etc. go into one of three zippered…things. (I can’t really describe them; they’re about the size of small briefcases, but made of nylon fabric, mesh on one side, and they zip on three sides.) The red one holds all the printed miscellanea for the contemporary mystery that I’ll eventually get round to finishing, the black one has stuff about the Lord John stories’ background—maps of London, a guide to the geology of Jamaica, that sort of thing—and the blue one has Stuff that might at some point be useful to the Big Book—MOBY, at the moment—under construction. Interesting websites and material people email me ends up either as a site bookmark or in a catch-all folder/directory called “JRESRCH”.) And, um….that’s about it, really.
I _do_ group books among and within bookshelves, though. This is a small office, so there are only two sets of shelves up here: the huge, built-in set of four bays that my husband got me for an anniversary present in 1993 or so, and a much smaller one that got added during a renovation a couple of years ago. Downstairs, in the lower office, two walls are lined with built-in shelves, but a lot of those books are the family “core” library—classics and series that anybody might want to read anytime. (It has got my collection of ghost stories, the field guides, and the natural history references, too, though.)
Anyway, it’s the big bookshelf in my upper office that mostly fascinates people, so I thought I’d show you that, for starters. Above is the overview, guarded by Otis (my son’s pug, who visits often and likes that chair).
And here’s a closeup of the top shelf, upper left:
This is the larger part of my collection of herbals (which continues on to the next shelf). You’ll note that I plainly need a third (and possibly a fourth) shelf for these, but there’s no place to add more up here. I need to weed through these, and move the less-useful references out to one of the tertiary bookcases in one of the (adult, moved-out) kids’ bedrooms.
The books in this class that are/have been most useful are generally the field guides, which tell me where things grow, which plants are native and which are introduced species, which are edible, poisonous, or medicinal. THE PETERSON FIELD GUIDE TO MEDICINAL PLANTS, Eastern/Central region is the main guide to American herbs, while the Hamlyn GUIDE TO MEDICINAL PLANTS OF GREAT BRITAIN is…well, the British equivalent. Both of these books have indices that include diseases and symptoms, with listings for which herbs are or have been used for treatment of same.
Mrs. M. Grieves’ A MODERN HERBAL (published in 1931; the edition I have is an unabridged 1971 Dover reprint) is a much more detailed and more scholarly reference that includes the chemical analyses of many plants’ active principles, as well as historical and cultural notes on usage. The illustrations are not of the quality you’d find in a more modern production, being mostly line-drawings, but still helpful.
Nicholas Culpeper’s CULPEPER’S COMPLETE HERBAL (published in 1647) is the oldest one I have; less directly useful, but still interesting to see just how far back some of the common herbal medicines were known, as well as to see the theoretical/philosophical basis underlying some of the treatments.
And Paul Beyerl’s THE MASTER BOOK OF HERBALISM gives a thumbnail of each of many commonly useful herbs, with preparation and treatment details—but does so from a Magickal point of view, including information like the phases of the moon and how to use certain herbs in conjunction with various gem stones. (You’ll notice that the few gem magic books I have are also mostly in this section.)
As for the inspirational artifacts… [g]
Moving from left to right:
Basket full of letter-openers. In practice, I usually open letters with a steak-knife (or a pair of poultry shears, for particularly intransigent parcels), as I’m generally reading the mail at the kitchen table. Kindly intentioned people often give me letter-openers (and very beautiful hand-made bookmarks, which—alas—I don’t use, either. If reluctantly compelled to stop reading a book, I normally set it face-down, open to the page I abandoned), though, and I also inherited a couple of these from my father, who didn’t use letter-openers, either, preferring a thumbnail, but kept an ornamental one on his desk for show.
Ferocious dinosaur, made by my son, aged about six at the time. (He’s now 28 and a published novelist in his own right. Sam Sykes, esteemed author of THE TOME OF THE UNDERGATES, BLACK HALO, and—coming in September from Pyr Books (US) and Orion (UK)—THE SKYBOUND SEA.)
Sticks. Mind, these are not just any old sticks. They’re twigs from a silver birch tree, growing on the edge of Alamance Creek in North Carolina. I picked them up during a brief research trip, and used them to evoke the whole sense of vegetation, atmosphere, and weather in parts of THE FIERY CROSS.
Replica of an 18th-century ink-well and tray, given to me by a good friend, John L. Myers (also a writer—of gay crime fiction (the novel HOLY FAMILY ), as well as daily prayers and contemplations (at www.sacredpauses.com)). The quill in the inkwell is a raven’s wing-feather (the original goose-quill that came with the inkwell is over in the basket with the letter-openers), and the very large feather is—I think; I lose track of which feathers came from where (this is another thing people give me fairly often, but I do actually use them)—from a golden eagle, given to me in 1974 by a friendly zoo-keeper (now deceased) at the San Diego Zoo (I was doing a small research project there); it came from one of the captive birds at the zoo. If that’s _not_ what it is, it’s a turkey feather.
The tray is filled with dried roses. Each of my daughters, at some point in her adolescence, gave me roses. I kept them.
The small ceramics of the housefly, the panda and the chubby baby’s head were gifts made by my sister—the baby was done from a notorious photograph of my son; the one the family refers to as “you know, the one of Sam as Mr. Potato-head…”.
The small basket is full of stamps, though I find that I seldom need one anymore, in these days of ubiquitous emails and the Invaluable Susan, the assistant my husband and I share, who hauls anything outgoing over to the mail-place.
The little statue of the young Virgin was given to me in 6th grade, as a classroom prize of some kind. I was a confirmed teacher’s pet through high-school. Not very popular, as one might expect.
The white unfired ceramic is a memorial paw-print, sent to me by the kindly people at the animal hospital after my first beloved dachshund, Gus, died. [Below are the present incumbents, Homer and JJ, who also like the office chair and ottoman.]
My husband gave me the Disney Cheshire Cat as a souvenir of a family trip to Disneyland.
And the things over to the right are the sort of little bags that people put small gifts of jewelry, scented oil, or knicks-knacks in. I keep thinking they’re bound to be useful one of these days.