• “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.”
  • “These books have to be word-of-mouth books because they're too weird to describe to anybody.”
    —Jackie Cantor, Diana's first editor

“PLAGUE OF ZOMBIES” – Publication, and an Excerpt!

I’m delighted to announce that there’s a brand-new Lord John novella out TOMORROW (October 4th)—though a few people have already emailed to say they’ve got a copy and are…er…devouring it with gusto. (Really. That’s what they said.)

The title of the novella is “Lord John and the Plague of Zombies.” Please note that this is NOT a stand-alone book. It’s a novella of {going off to run a quick word-count}…27,000+ words. It’s _in_ an anthology (a collection of stories by different authors; this one includes pieces by Charlaine Harris, Carrie Vaughn, and a number of other cool writers), and the anthology is called DOWN THESE STRANGE STREETS (don’t ask me; I didn’t think that one up). Here’s the Amazon link to it—though as always, if you’d like a signed or personalized copy of the book, email patrick@poisonedpen.com. I’ll sign a bunch this week, and they’ll ship them out immediately, anywhere in the world.

Right, so what is this story about? Well, the title is _very_ descriptive. {g} In this tale of adventure, murder, snakes, revenge, and zombies, the Royal Governor of Jamaica sends an SOS to
London, asking urgently for help in putting down a burgeoning slave rebellion. London replies by sending Lieutenant-Colonel Lord John Grey, with half a battalion of infantry, a company of artillery, and his trusty valet, Tom Byrd.

Lord John knows from the instant he enters Government House that things are not what they seem: “There was a snake on the drawing-room table. A small snake, but still. Lord John Grey wondered whether to say anything about it. “

The situation quickly reveals itself to be more than a simple rebellion: ““Zombie,” he said carefully. Mindful of the Governor’s reaction earlier, he asked, “Is a zombie perhaps a snake of some kind?”
Rodrigo gasped, but then seemed to relax a little.
“No, sah,” he said seriously. “Zombie are dead people.” He stood up then, bowed abruptly and left, his message delivered.

Lord John’s investigations take him to remote mountain plantations, to an interview with the notorious witch of Rose Hall, and a close brush with _something_: “He smelled it first. For an instant, he thought he had left the tin of bear-grease ointment uncovered—and then the reek of sweet decay took him by the throat, followed instantly by a pair of hands that came out of the dark and fastened on said throat.”

But zombies and armed slaves are not the only challenges Jamaica holds for his lordship:

“Lord John and the Plague of Zombies” – Excerpt (not a spoiler)
Copyright 2011 Diana Gabaldon

“Your servant, sah,” he said to Grey, bowing respectfully. “The Governor’s compliments, and dinner will be served in ten minutes. May I see you to the dining room?”

“You may,” Grey said, reaching hastily for his coat. He didn’t doubt that he could find the dining-room unassisted, but the chance to watch this young man walk…

“You may,” Tom Byrd corrected, entering with his hands full of grooming implements, “once I’ve put his lordship’s hair to rights.” He fixed Grey with a minatory eye. “You’re not a-going in to dinner like that, me lord, and don’t you think it. You sit down there.” He pointed sternly to a stool, and Lieutenant-Colonel Grey, commander of His Majesty’s forces in Jamaica, meekly obeyed the dictates of his nineteen-year-old valet. He didn’t always allow Tom free rein, but in the current circumstance, was just as pleased to have an excuse to sit still in the company of the young black servant.

Tom laid out all his implements neatly on the dressing-table, from a pair of silver hairbrushes to a box of powder and a pair of curling tongs, with the care and attention of a surgeon arraying his knives and saws. Selecting a hairbrush, he leaned closer, peering at Grey’s head, then gasped. “Me lord! Tthere’s a big huge spider–walking right up your temple!”

Grey smacked his temple by reflex, and the spider in question—a clearly visible brown thing nearly a half-inch long—shot off into the air, striking the looking-glass with an audible tap before dropping to the surface of the dressing-table and racing for its life.

Tom and the black servant uttered identical cries of horror and lunged for the creature, colliding in front of the dressing table and falling over in a thrashing heap. Grey, strangling an almost irresistible urge to laugh, stepped over them and dispatched the fleeing spider neatly with the back of his other hairbrush.

He pulled Tom to his feet and dusted him off, allowing the black servant to scramble up by himself. He brushed off all apologies as well, but asked whether the spider had been a deadly one?

“Oh, yes, sah,” the servant assured him fervently. “Should one of those bite you, sah, you would suffer excruciating pain at once. The flesh around the wound would putrefy, you would commence to be fevered within an hour, and in all likelihood, you would not live until dawn.”

“Oh, I see,” Grey said mildly, his flesh creeping briskly. “Well, then. Perhaps you would not mind looking about the room while Tom is at his work? In case such spiders go about in company?”

Grey sat and let Tom brush and plait his hair, watching the young man as he assiduously searched under the bed and dressing-table, pulled out Grey’s trunk, and pulled up the trailing curtains and shook them.

“What is your name?” he asked the young man, noting that Tom’s fingers were trembling badly, and hoping to distract him from thoughts of the hostile wildlife with which Jamaica undoubtedly teemed. Tom was fearless in the streets of London, and perfectly willing to face down ferocious dogs or foaming horses. Spiders, though, were quite another matter.

“Rodrigo, sah,” said the young man, pausing in his curtain-shaking to bow. “Your servant, sah.”

He seemed quite at ease in company, and conversed with them about the town, the weather—he confidently predicted rain in the evening, at about ten o’clock–leading Grey to think that he had likely been employed as a servant in good families for some time. Was the man a slave? he wondered, or a free black?

His admiration for Rodrigo was, he assured himself, the same that he might have for a marvelous piece of sculpture, an elegant painting. And one of his friends did in fact possess a collection of Greek amphorae decorated with scenes that gave him quite the same sort of feeling. He shifted slightly in his seat, crossing his legs. He would be going into dinner soon. He resolved to think of large, hairy spiders, and was making some progress with this subject when something huge and black dropped down the chimney and rushed out of the disused hearth.

All three men shouted and leapt to their feet, stamping madly. This time it was Rodrigo who felled the intruder, crushing it under one sturdy shoe.

“What the devil was that?” Grey asked, bending over to peer at the thing, which was a good three inches long, gleamingly black, and roughly ovoid, with ghastly long, twitching antennae.

“Only a cockroach, sah,” Rodrigo assured him, wiping a hand across a sweating ebon brow. “They will not harm you, but they are most disagreeable. If they come into your bed, they feed upon your eyebrows.”

Tom uttered a small strangled cry. The cockroach, far from being destroyed, had merely been inconvenienced by Rodrigo’s shoe. It now extended thorny legs, heaved itself up and was proceeding about its business, though at a somewhat slower pace. Grey, the hairs prickling on his arms, seized the ash-shovel from among the fireplace implements and scooping up the insect on its blade, jerked open the door and flung the nasty creature as far as he could—which, given his state of mind, was some considerable distance.

Tom was pale as custard when Grey came back in, but picked up his employer’s coat with trembling hands. He dropped it, though, and with a mumbled apology, bent to pick it up again, only to utter a strangled shriek, drop it again, and run backwards, slamming so hard against the wall that Grey heard a crack of laths and plaster.

“What the devil?” He bent, reaching gingerly for the fallen coat.

“Don’t touch it, me lord!” Tom cried, but Grey had seen what the trouble was; a tiny yellow snake slithered out of the blue-velvet folds, head moving to and fro in slow curiosity.

“Well, hallo, there.” He reached out a hand, and as before, the little snake tasted his skin with a flickering tongue, then wove its way up into the palm of his hand. He stood up, cradling it carefully.

Tom and Rodrigo were standing like men turned to stone, staring at him.

“It’s quite harmless,” he assured them. “At least I think so. It must have fallen into my pocket earlier.”

Rodrigo was regaining a little of his nerve. He came forward and looked at the snake, but declined an offer to touch it, putting both hands firmly behind his back.

“That snake likes you, sah,” he said, glancing curiously from the snake to Grey’s face, as though trying to distinguish a reason for such odd particularity.

“Possibly.” The snake had made its way upward and was now wrapped round two of Grey’s fingers, squeezing with remarkable strength. “On the other hand, I believe he may be attempting to kill and eat me. Do you know what his natural food might be?”

Rodrigo laughed at that, displaying very beautiful white teeth, and Grey had such a vision of those teeth, those soft mulberry lips, applied to—he coughed, hard, and looked away.

“He would eat anything that did not try to eat him first, sah,” Rodrigo assured him. “It was probably the sound of the cockroach that made him come out. He would hunt those.”

“What a very admirable sort of snake. Could we find him something to eat, do you think? To encourage him to stay, I mean.”

Tom’s face suggested strongly that if the snake was staying, he was not. On the other hand….he glanced toward the door, whence the cockroach had made its exit, and shuddered. With great reluctance, he reached into his pocket and extracted a rather squashed bread-roll, containing ham and pickle.

This object being placed on the floor before it, the snake inspected it gingerly, ignored bread and pickle, but twining itself carefully about a chunk of ham, squeezed it fiercely into limp submission, then, opening its jaw to an amazing extent, engulfed its prey, to general cheers. Even Tom clapped his hands, and—if not ecstatic at Grey’s suggestion that the snake might be accommodated in the dark space beneath the bed for the sake of preserving Grey’s eyebrows, uttered no objections to this plan, either. The snake being ceremoniously installed and left to digest its meal, Grey was about to ask Rodrigo further questions regarding the natural fauna of the island, but was forestalled by the faint sound of a distant gong.

“Dinner!” he exclaimed, reaching for his now snakeless coat.

“Me lord! Your hair’s not even powdered!” He refused to wear a wig, to Tom’s ongoing dismay, but was obliged in the present instance to submit to powder. This toiletry accomplished in haste, he shrugged into his coat and fled, before Tom could suggest any further refinements to his appearance.


40 Responses »

  1. I must admit that when Lord John first came into the picture, I really did not want to like him. However, as we have come to know him a bit better I find that he simply will not let me hate him. Increasingly I like him more and more when he is in the starring role and not just mixing it up for Jamie and Claire – though I could do with a bit of that, too. Just, you know, whenever you get a chance : )

  2. To those of you on Twitter:

    In honor of the release of “Plague of Zombies” on Tuesday, a number of us will be tagging our tweets with #Zombies. (Short and simple and easy to remember. ) We’ve had fun with this on various OUTLANDER-related birthdays and other special occasions over the past year or so, and we hope you’ll join us….when you’re not too busy reading the new story, that is! Please help spread the word to anyone else who may be interested. Thanks!


  3. Lovely! And I’m so glad to finally see a positive depiction of a snake — that’s rare in literature :)

    • Yes indeed- snakes get lots of undeserved bad press. Most are harmless (the Australians may disagree) if left alone. Many are rodent eaters that help keep rat and mouse populations under control.

  4. Living in sub-tropical Brisbane, Australia we often share our urban space with large spiders, large flying cockroaches, gekkos, rats, bats [the size of cats we call them flying foxes], possums, bush turkeys, and snakes.
    I introduced a German friend, new to living in Australia, to a high tea with a group of professional women last summer and was delighted to hear the banter about how ‘so and so’ had a carpet snake, (large non-venomous python) in her roof space, and how the other women wished that they had one to control the rats!
    Love your wonderful descriptive way with words Diana.
    From your antipodean fan
    p.s. BTW to those Aussie DG blog devotees, the house with the carpet snake was in inner-suburban Kelvin Grove, Brisbane.

    • Steve Irwin’s shade would be pleased to hear of other Aussies peacefully coexisting with the native (and perhaps some introduced) wildlife.

  5. Love Lord John’s wanderings in the midst of the excitement. For a minute, I thought we might be meeting Manoke, but then realized that was a bit far-fetched in terms of timeline. :)

  6. What I love most about Lord John Grey was the early connection when he “rescued” Claire from the filty Scottsmen- only to be captured by Jamie and then they met again at Ardsmuir. Now Zombies?? Just his style I would say.

  7. Looking forward to getting the book. Lord John won my heart many times over, as his code of honor, courage and ability to love even though unrequited, is great.

  8. We have a nice black snake in our basement, about 4.5 feet long. The kids met it and petted it. It eats mice and is safer and more humane than traps, in my opinion.

    The spider? I’d be out of that room at an unbelievable rate of speed. Ick!

    The roach …well, I’d have left the room before the roach showed up.

  9. Not really into the vampire thing but just bought the hardcover book. But, hey, it’s almost Halloween and I need something to hold me until BOOK #8. :-D

  10. I have almost finished rereading the whole shebang.
    This will make a nice filler untill Prisioner comes out.
    You cannot help but love Lord John. All that pluck from the time is was a kid.
    Brave, honorable and as many adventures as Jamie.

    Note to author: It would be nice to hear some more about Jamie’s God father in book 8.
    I have always been curious about Murtagh’s back story.

    • @ Mary Robbie: Murtagh was featured in “The Exile,” but I wouldn’t say his complete back story was revealed. I too would like to hear more about him. He doesn’t seem to be ALL that much older than Jamie, but he was in love with Jamie’s mother and gave her the boar’s-tusk bracelets as a wedding gift, so he must be at least 18 or 20 years older than Jamie. Anybody remember any more details about the gap between Murtagh and Jamie’s ages? I have, by the way, read books 1 through 7 many times; every time a new one comes out, I start over with “Outlander” and read my way up to the new adventure.

      Looking forward to seeing how Lord John deals with zombies!

  11. Diana,
    You and Sharon Kay Penman at the Poison Pen tomorrow…wish I was closer. What a great day that will be!
    I live in Sunnyvale, CA, and was in the middle of the “Siege” that beset my neighborhood this week. Locked in my house for 10 hours, while Assault Vehicles, and rifles and a Platoon of “Bloody Men” patrolled my Ultra Suburban street, helicopters roaring …couldn’t help but think of all those young men out there willing to put Our safety before their own…Happen to be re-reading the” Fiery Cross,” … some things don’t change…there are those that will put Families,Home and Hearth ahead of themselves, men and women! It was pretty Surreal to say the least…just never know where your feet and going to take you in the morning…Had Jaime, Roger, Bree, and Claire to distract me!

  12. John’s really lucky (maybe Tom’s charm worked) not to be a dead redcoat. Kraits can be killers. Joe Slowinski (professional herpetologist-subject of the biography “The Snake Charmer”) died from a banded krait bite. Kraits are mostly asian, though the name might be used for an african species. Warren, the gay werewolf PI in the Patricia Briggs story, reminds me a bit of Lord John. He’s very protective of those he cares for.

  13. Diana!!
    I just ordered Down These Strange Streets from Amazon, and this weekend, my boyfriend drove from near Wichita, KS to Scottsdale for some business. I am relatively new to the Outlander phenom, but everything I can find of yours in print, I have read!! I just realized he missed your book signing yesterday, and am beside myself!! Also, I think he and his father are currently on OUR honeymoon, as they ate at a Brazilian (I don’t even know how many that is! ;}) steakhouse last night and he said it was interesting and great food. I am so jealous I could spit!! The restaurant in question is across from the Hilton. Have you been there? What do you think of it?

    BTW, Lord John is awesome, and I can’t wait for Scottish Prisoner (not to mention book 8) so I can see Jamie again. It is great to finally have something like the love between he and Claire (except for the whole going there without me thing! ;}) Thanks for your prose! Great fun, great stories, and great sense of humor!!! ;}

    • Dear Lolly–

      Sorry to miss your husband! {g} I do know the Brazilian steakhouse, but haven’t (yet) eaten there–hope you get to come back for a second honeymoon!


  14. “Plague” is a wonderful Lord John story. It brought out the very best of him – brave, funny, compassionate, and, most of all, a truly honorable man. The only shortcoming was that it was too darn short! When will the next all-John Grey story be written and published? BTW, does Lord John have an established birth date? If not, he should. Also, what exactly was the near-scandal that got him exiled to Ardsmuir? And how did Manoke find his way from Quebec to Mount Josiah?

  15. Just finished ‘Lord John and the Plague of Zombies’. I read the anthology from front to back. I really wanted to skip straight to Lord John and then to Patricia Briggs offering, but I was good.

    Did you use your time in Jamaica to flesh out the feel of place? I must say I don’t think there is a straight road in Ja. and all of them either go up hill or downhill! One thing I overheard while in Ja. was that no matter how poor the people, nobody starves, there is food to be had everywhere, as long as you know what to look for. The spiders there are truly large and scary though. *G*

    I found it interesting that the publisher/editors put yours and Patricia’s stories back to back, both involving zombies, albeit that phenomenon treated entirely differently in each story. Enjoyed most of the short stories and as always yours was the best.

    Looking forward to Surrey and then to LJatSP launch. I’m almost glad it isn’t out yet, the temtpation would be too great and I have a swack of stuff to do!


  16. I love it! The hints to grays sexual desires are great too! Not too much, just enough to say…more please.

  17. I like Lord John best in his interaction with Jamie and Claire.

  18. I didn’t want to like Lord John ,either, when you first brought him in to his own, but I am really enjoying his adventures. I can’t wait for LJ and TSP and wont touch my outlander books until I know the publishing dates for book #8 . Then I will reread the last book like a fiend to get ready for it. –

    BTW – I have several gay male friends and have shared the Lord John series. they send their compliments and thanks for 1) portraying the “gay male personna realistically and very accuratley for the times. 2) making a “gay” man the Lead and the Good Guy.

    Thanks, Diana

    Patti in Las Vegas

  19. I have read and re-read the series so far..what is the update on the project to tell us more about Jamie’s mother & father? Or did I dream that somewhere??? My copies of the Outlander Series are tattered, but they have moved with me from Wyoming to Oklahoma to South Dakota…I will never give them up!!!

  20. Hi Diana,
    Looking forward to all the new books coming out, just a question that I know a lot of your fans are wondering about, is there a change that all your short stories will come out in their own book?
    I have all of your books in hard cover and their one of my most cherished possessions, and would LOVE to add an book with all your short stories…..hint hint….
    Anthologies are all nice and dandy but I would be buying them only for your part in them, not that I won’t enjoy the other stories, but you know what I mean~ I hope~ so maybe something to keep in mind?
    Thanks for all the reading enjoyment you’ve brought me and will in the future, your the best!!


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