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    —Jackie Cantor, Diana's first editor

Fergus Scottish Festival and Highland Games: Dingbats and Whale Penises

Had a wonderful (if very busy!) time at Fergus last weekend! Thanks to everyone who came, and my apologies to all the Very Patient People who waited in line for _hours_. (Not that I was slow signing, but there were a heck of a lot of people, and many of them took me at my word when I said I’d sign anything they felt like lugging through the fairgrounds. {g})

And speaking of such Patient People, here’s a charming blog post from MichelleK’s anotherlookbookreview, on her own Fergus Experience. {g}

I had a good time speaking to y’all–and for those who asked about the whale penises {cough}–

I was explaining about what-all goes on with a book _after_ I deliver the manuscript (and why the book doesn’t appear instantly on the shelves the moment I finish writing it), and had got to the part about the book designer–that wonderful person who decides what the pages will look like, what typeface will be used, how wide the margins are, how the lines are spaced, where the page number appears….and what dingbat to use to delineate one scene from another. A dingbat is a symbol that’s used generally as a spacer or placeholder in the text; you might see asterisks, curlicues, or some other scenic bit–there are a lot of them, but the same dingbat has been used in all my books as a spacer between scenes. It’s a graceful sort of thick curvy shape, which my beloved first editor invariably referred to as a “whale penis.”

That’s because, around the time the first book was being laid out, I happened to tell her the story of what happened when my eldest daughter’s fourth-grade teacher asked me to come and talk to the class–not about writing, but about marine biology. (I used to be a marine biologist, briefly, at one point in my scientific incarnation.)

Well, we were getting along nicely, the fourth-graders and me, talking about pelagic (free-swimming) and sessile (fixed in place) organisms, when one intelligent lad asked me, “If barnacles are stuck in one place, how do they mate?” So I explained–they shed their gametes into the water, where they fertilize and develop into free-swimming forms, which then settle down and stick to the substrate. This evidently started a train of thought, though, because the kid’s next question was “Do whales have penises?”

“Indeed they do,” I said. Which led naturally to the next question. (About six feet) And the next–why don’t you ever see a whale’s penis at Seaworld? “Well, they’re retractable,” I said. “You know–drag.”

At this point, I observed the teacher in the back of the room, who had evidently turned into a pillar of salt. Oddly enough, I was never invited back to talk to the students about marine biology.

But that’s the story of the whale penises.

And yes, I _will_ put up the excerpt that made a tent full of two hundred people gasp out loud–but not tonight. {g}

One nice gentleman took a brief video of me signing, and I’ll _try_ posting a link to that here, but no guarantees. (I have my laptop working momentarily and wanted to take advantage of the ability to upload pictures.)

Thanks to Lynn Boland Richardson, Warren Trask, and the other amazing people who organize the Fergus Festival–this was their 66th anniversary, and a great time had by all!

And many thanks also to Iwona, who sent me the photos here, of me with her son’s fiancee, Natasha, her daughter, Farida, and herself–in the bottom photo, with me and my husband, Doug.

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40 Responses »

  1. Whale penises…..(slap forehead) and here I was thinking “oh, what a cute and dainty curlycue between the sections!”

    Your post is riotous! What I wouldn’t give to have you present your marine biology lesson in my twin boy’s six grade class this year (this is the year they learn all about s-e-x)….

    What was the craziest thing you signed that weekend?
    Can’t wait for the video. Will your link send us to the Diana Gabaldon YouTube channel?

    Anyway, I’m glad you had a good time in Fergus, tell Doug the shades and cap look great….oh and the kilt isn’t bad either {vbg}.

  2. Dianna, where on earth do you manage to find such beautifully colored clothing items for your wardrobe? Often the photos you post show you in brilliant blues, purples, and greens. If you ever stop writing (heaven forbid!) you should think about a career in some kind of design work! I hope someday I’ll be lucky enough to be where you’re appearing so I can tell you in person how MUCH I love your books – and you blog and you sense of humor!

    • Dear Polly Anna and Peggy–

      I buy the flamboyant silks in Santa Fe, for the most part. The purple stuff I’m wearing as a basis there, is very cheap (but bright!) Indian cotton shirt and skirt; there’s a store in the mall where I go to walk (when the weather is 108) called (why, I can’t imagine) “Bohemian Chic,” and after eyeing something for four or five circuits of the mall, I occasionally nip in and buy it on my way out. (The store is run by an Indian lady, and has a TV over the cash desk that plays Bollywood musicals, nonstop. Very festive.)

      By and large, though, everything I wear in public is “book tour clothes.” These have to be light (so I can roll them up and not take up a lot of room in my luggage), bright, and look good wrinkled. They also need to be either of an absorbency or a color-pattern that the sweat won’t show. (Not kidding; it was a steam-bath inside that tent–it always is–and most outdoor events are hot at one time or another. You can see the hair pasted to my head in some shots from Saturday (when I was wearing red)–these are from Sunday, when the weather was cooler.



  3. Oops! “Your” blog and “your” sense of humor. I should remember to proof read what I write. ;)

  4. ok, I think I have stopped laughing…..nope gotta giggle a bit more. The whale penis story will be the hit of my dinner party tonight I am sure, so thank you for sharing that one.

    I get that it takes a long time to write, as I am writing a book too (non fiction), but some days I wish your next book could just “appear on the shelves” and I can get the book, sit in my favorite chair and be taken to a time and place that intrigues me and takes me away from current events that overwhelm me sometimes. So thank you for all the books, everytime I re-read one and I get lost in that creative world of yours and my world of demands and drama go away.

  5. Wow those boy whales must be PROUD!

    Also, I was wondering, dear Diana – where do you shop for clothes? Every time I see photos of you from book singings and other events, you alway have the prettiest things on! I love the colors of the outfit you have on at the Fergus Scottish Fetival. (BTW I once named a new computer “Fergus” in honor of Fergius/Claudel.)

  6. I love it! Thanks to Karen H for pointing out the new entry, and what a lovely glimpse of the day at Fergus. It looks like you had a wonderful time, and I agree. Doug does indeed looks great… perhaps … ‘fetching’? :-)

    I noticed in the lovely video you were wearing a plaid and brooch yourself, but couldn’t tell the Tartan. Doug’s actually looks like a Fraser tartan; is that correct?

    In any case, thanks for all you do to keep the Outlander world alive between books, ma’am. We’uns appreciate it.

    • Dear Pat–

      No, Doug’s tartan is Ancient MacDonald. I _think_ mine is actually Fraser of Lovat, but I wouldn’t swear to it. The person who gave it to me said it was, though. {g}


  7. Diana, I believe you are the cheeriest person I know. It’s non-stop entertainment with you. :) Written word, spoken word – you never quit. I’m glad you enjoyed Fergus yet again. :)



  8. Moochos grassy-ass (phonetic interpretation of thank you in spanish with an extreme southern accent). It may be a slight exaggeration, but a guy I know has an unmanageable drawl that sounds really strange in another language. Many thanks again for the whale tale. I adore genital jokes. Drag…oh it is to laugh. Ah’m jest dickled pink. Equipment of that nature is certainly not something to leave hanging out in an aquatic environment. A favorite large mammal gag is: Why do elephants have four feet? Because eight inches just isn’t enough.

  9. After seeing the picture of you & your husband together, I ken why Jamie is so tall! I was only introduced to Outlander about a month ago (I have no idea how I remained ignorant all these years except I usually read mysteries) and am half-way through Voyager tonight. I always wondered what the Dingbat font was good for, thanks for the entertaining education.

  10. Your presentation at Fergus was excellent. Sorry I couldn’t have met you in person, but my husband and I felt that our kids were good for the hour and a half before and during your seminar, so standing in line for an autograph was pushing our luck — couldn’t have asked any more of them. (Fortunately I ordered a personalized copy of the 20th Anniversary Outlander over a month ago, from the Poisoned Pen. So I already had my little treasure!) BOTH of our kids knew who you were, had quietly resigned that they would just have to put up with it. Actually our son, got into the game and was taping and photographing you as well. (That was me in the back row on Saturday in the early morning, covering the ears of my son (albeit too late) at the end of the limerick – way too funny.)

    You are lovely to listen to and a joy to read. My husband had the pleasure of introduing himself to your husband (aka. the baggage handler) after your early morning seminar. You are a lovely couple. Thank you for taking the time to come to Fergus.

    Not only has my husband read the Outlander series, but now my mother and my father have started reading them.

    Keep up the great writing! Oh, by the way — who have you elected to start your next book with Lord John or Jamie? I meant to ask you, but was more interested in hearing you read exerpts from your new books!

  11. Ah! Now you’ve put a name to those little dividers within chapters and n’er will the name be forgot!

  12. Diana,

    Pleasure meeting you in Fergus. Your smile is infectious and so genuine! :)
    My fiance and I couldn’t get over how generous and patient you were with all of your fans. I hate to say it, but I feel as if some fans took advantage of *your word* when they brought BAGS FULL of books for you to sign. I can only imagine how tedious it was signing for hours on end. Your devotion and dedication to your fans is greatly appreciated and highly respected.
    Wishing you all the best. Can’t wait for book 8!!!


  13. I am still trying to wrap my head around the fact that dingbats are whale penises.

    Keep writing Diana…

  14. Hi Diana,

    My goodness! How do you make it through these marathon signing sessions without your hand/wrist/arm giving out? Ice packs? Prophylactic ibuprofen? A body double? You may want to think about getting a nice rubber stamp, so you can save your hand for writing :o)

    Sounds like a good time was had by all – thanks for the recap!

    ~ Lara

  15. So THAT’s why the whales sing?

    • Sing softly but carry a big… I know why the free whale sings… Paraphrasing quotes is fun to do. Madeline Kahn’s (sp?) song from “Young Frankenstein” sort of fits too- Oh sweet mystery of life at last I’ve found you!

  16. Hello everyone,

    96 days until the Scottish Prisoner is released!

    Sorry if this is the wrong sort of forum. But I need help.

    I am a ‘Outlander/Lord John’ tragic from ‘Down Under’.

    I would be enormously grateful if anyone out there might be able to advise me how I should go about pre-ordering an electronic version of ‘The Scottish Prisoner’.

    I have emailed ‘The Poison Pen’ bookstore to request a couple of hard copies of ‘The Scottish Prisoner’ but don’t think that I will be able to wait for the international shipping, thus my need for an instantaneous electronic version on the 29th November.

    I don’t seem to be able to find any English language e-book sites that offer anything other than ‘Echo in the Bone’.

    I don’t have a Kindle, only an Ipad2.

    Any ‘simple to understand’ advice would be most appreciated.

    With thanks and warmest regards from

    Antipodean Janet
    Brisbane, Australia

    • Hi Janet,

      Forgive me if this advice doesn’t work out for you. I don’t have a Kindle or and Ipad, so I haven’t tried this myself. But you can get a Kindle app for free at the Apple website for your Ipad. That way you can read Kindle books on your Ipad. (I’m pretty sure Barnes and Noble has a Nook app for the Ipad as well.) Then, I would assume you can just order the book on Amazon or B&N and download it to your Ipad (when it becomes available) and read it from there. Hope this helps.


      • To clarify, I see this ebook for pre-order on both Amazon.com and the Barnes & Noble website. Hopefully these are accessible to you in Australia.

      • I was just looking at the Barnes & Noble wesite and the Nook Book version will be released on November 29. It is titled as “The Scottish Prisoner, A Lord John Novel” not as “Lord John and the Scottish Prisoner”. I also have an Ipad rather than an E Reader, and I downloaded the Nook app (free) and order my Ebooks that way. I can order books on my PC and read them on the Ipad, or, if I am in WiFi range, order directly from the Ipad. You just have to register your payment credit card on B&N first. If you have a B&N gift card, you register that also, and they will deduct your purchases from the gift card until it’s used up, then will charge your credit card. Easy breezy.

      • I think there may be some trouble getting this book overseas. On the Amazon UK site it is not available as an ebook from what I could see. Others would know way more than I do (and I know Diana has explained it a gazillion times) but I think if the rights haven’t been made specifically available in Australia (or any other country) then you can’t go online from overseas and buy the book. Some of the B&N forums said that you can’t purchase nook books overseas, etc. I did notice, however, that on the Amazon UK website you can click a link that says that you would like to send the publisher a message requesting the book be made available for the Kindle.

    • My heartfelt thanks to Lindsey and Peggy,

      Your kind advice and recommendations have brought me much closer to being able to purchase Diana’s books in electronic format. I have now installed a ‘Kindle’ app for my Apple IPad2.

      I have spent literally hours trawling about the internet trying to work out the best way to purchase electronic versions of Diana’s books.

      I was dreadfully disappointed that the Apple Ipad2 ibooks app only had ‘An Echo in the Bone’ available for purchase. Apple appears to have placed many impediments in the way of those wishing to purchase for the Kindle app via any stores other than ‘Apple’. One needs to go to the IPad2 – Safari- to access the Amazon in order to select the ‘buy’ option.

      I believe that Amazon.uk is going to serve me best, although I see that I will have to wait until 31st August for most of Diana’s books to be available in e-format. Oh the joy of being able to have a complete Diana Gabaldon e-library. I will never relinquish my cherished collection of hard copies, but to have all the books available anytime, anywhere, at the swish of a finger across a screen will be wonderful.

      My ridiculous ‘buy e-books’ desperation is brought about by the fact that I will be away on holiday when ‘Scottish Prisoner’ is released, thus my interest in ‘instantaneous electronic gratification.’

      Thank you, one and all, for your kindness and assistance.

      With gratitude and warmest regards from

      Antipodean Janet

      • Thank you, Janet, Lindsey and Peggy!!!
        I have to surf this forum much more often :-).
        I live in Spain and I have an iPad2. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to get electronic copies of Diana’s books, I’m almost desperate.
        Not that I have a clear solution yet, but now I know that there are many others looking for the same treasure, and some of them are at the same side of the Atlantic as I am.
        I’m short of dumb technically wise. If you’re so kind to provide me with an easy process to get the e-books in my iPad, you’ll make me very happy.
        I’m leavin on holidays on the 17th September, btw :-)
        Thanks in advance, and warm regards,


      • Hello Angela,
        I am an absolute ‘luddite’ – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luddite – when it comes to technology, BUT, nothing is going to stand between me and access to an entire and easily transportable library of Diana’s books.
        I am hopeful that others who are more technologically literate than me will jump in and help you.
        In my specific case I have found that downloading the ‘Kindle’ app onto my Ipad2 is the best first step.
        I then went to Amazon.com and ended up with Amazon.com.UK where I have found that most of Diana’s books will be available for purchase/download on the 31st August 2011. Regrettably, there is no mention of being able to pre-order an electronic copy of ‘The Scottish Prisoner’.
        Wonderful Patrick from Diana’s favourite bookstore ‘The Poison Pen’ has communicated to me that they are “looking into” the sale of e-copies of Diana’s books, but did not specify a time-line for that facility. I have pre-ordered a couple of signed copies of ‘Scottish Prisoner’ from them and they truly are most helpful.
        It is so nice to have a forum where us ‘Outlander’ addicts can go.
        Best wishes from Brisbane, Australia
        94 days until ‘Scottish Prisoner’ is released!

      • Dear Janet,

        thank you so much for your explanation! I love all Diana’s fan, and your solidarity with newly arrived.
        I’ll try your proposal, later today, once I’m back home.

        Kind regards, Angela

  17. Hi, there!
    Where’s the excerpt? I’m longing to read it!
    Thank you!

  18. Dianna, thanks for the clothing answer. Doubt if I have any luck finding a “Bohamian Chic” type store but I’ll be in Santa Fe this coming spring so while there will have to embark on a quest to try and find some of the lovely silks.

  19. I can personally vouch for the whale penis size of around 6 feet. I lived in Iceland for nearly four years (my husband was stationed at the Naval Air Station that is now defunct) and had the opportunity to visit the Phallological Museum in Husavik. I popped in as a sort of joke, so I could say I had been there. Truly, it was both fascinating and revolting. And yes, there was a specimen from nearly every male species, including plaster casts of three humans with accompanying letters willing the “real thing” upon the owner’s demise. Trust me when I say, in my humble experience, from the size of the three casts, those males NEED to be in a museum!!!

    • Thanks for the museum info. Are flashers in Iceland cold cocked? There is an interesting wiki entry that has links and trivia (hamster penis) about the collection. They mention that 60% of the visitors are female. On an even weirder note, a restaurant in Beijing specializes in serving deer, yak and snake penis dishes.

  20. Diana,

    I was just wondering if you are coming to the Decatur Book Festival over Labor Day weekend? I’ve been hoping you would be here so I could meet you and get one of my books signed. My aunt introduced me to the Outlander series a year ago and I have been hooked ever since. I only asked for your books in hardback for Christmas…my husband couldn’t believe it. :) I’ve read all of them at least four times over the past year – sadly neglecting my family at times…but I couldn’t help myself. I’ve introduced my mom to the series and now she is completely hooked. She is ready to start A Breath of Snow and Ashes.

    I am anxiously awaiting The Scottish Prisoner, and of course, the next Outlander book. Hope to see you in the Atlanta area, if not this year, maybe next year!

    Happy writing!

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