• “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

Not that I have been _entirely_ frivolous over the last couple of weeks. I’ve also just finished a novella titled “Lord John and the Plague of Zombies,” and here’s a bit of it, for your entertainment–hope you enjoy it!

“Lord John and the Plague of Zombies” – excerpt
Copyright 2010 Diana Gabaldon

[This will be published in an anthology titled DOWN THESE STRANGE STREETS, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. No, I don’t have a pub date for this yet, but am assuming sometime in 2011.]

“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.



I’m actually a trifle disappointed. I have a nice official-looking card, signed by my surgeon, informing the world that I have a knee replacement, to be presented to the TSA as needed—and I didn’t need it! Apparently my new knee doesn’t contain enough metal (or not the right kind of metal) to set off most metal detectors in airports. Not that this is a ¬_bad_ thing, mind you…I was just all prepared to have sirens go off and then…nada. Quite the let-down!

On the other hand, if you’re going to spend 21 hours (count ‘em, 21! That’s just about One Whole Day _and_ Night!) getting home from Scotland, having been routed from Edinburgh to Paris to Minneapolis to Phoenix, anything that makes the passage through airports even minimally less complicated is welcome.

(I now have a new unfavorite airport. Granted, Charles DeGaulle is not _quite_ as horrible as JFK—where all the worst experiences of my long traveling life have taken place—but only because it’s newer and the people are somewhat more polite (no, really) while doing irrational things (after sending us through _two_ levels of security, including a hand-search of our cabin luggage, they sent us down a ramp to the gate. Only there wasn’t a plane at the end of it; we debouched into the street _outside_ the terminal, where we were obliged to wait fifteen minutes for a bus–whose driver then got LOST on the way to the plane (not kidding; he circled the terminal three times and kept making U-turns, dodging sewage-pumping trucks and construction equipment as we got closer and closer to flight time). It’s fortunate that among the few French things I know how to say is, “C’est mon mari!” (“That’s my husband!”), because otherwise, I would have lost Doug in CDG for sure…)

But we’re HOME, which is wonderful—the dachshunds were ecstatic at our reappearance and went in for exaggerated writhings of welcome, flinging themselves on the floor at my feet and peeing on the floor in demonstration of their delight–and we had an absolutely great time, zipping (in a leisurely fashion) from Edinburgh to Inverness to London to Ireland and back to Edinburgh.

We arrived in Edinburgh during the Fringe Festival, and left it on the first weekend of the regular Edinburgh Festival—both times, staying at The Scotsman, a delightful (if really eccentric—it used to be the office building for “The Scotsman” newspaper, and rather than gut the building, they just sort of…fitted…bedrooms into it, resulting in some truly peculiar rooms) place on the North Bridge, just off the Royal Mile.

Which I mention only because the Royal Mile in Festival time is something to see. There’s a great Scots word for that—“hoaching.” As in, “the place was hoaching with…” In this case, with hundreds of visitors fighting their way up and down the Royal Mile, or sprawling in tiny chairs outside restaurants with ice cream cones and pints of beer, or—like one family we saw, consisting of a father and four small boys—simply sitting on the pavement in a row, legs outstretched among the throng, placidly eating chips and vinegar out of cardboard trugs.

The Edinburgh Festival is a great cultural extravaganza: plays, musical performances, art exhibitions, literary readings, the Military Tattoo… “Fringe” is the Fringe Festival; a period before the regular Festival, featuring everything anybody wants to do and can find a place to do it in. The whole town becomes a warren of numbered “venues” (ranging from regular theaters to disused toilets), and street performers (you don’t see that many mimes and living statues anywhere else, even in Italy) and hawkers of Fringe performance tickets just about out-number the visitors. It’s the sort of experience that people call “colorful,” out of sheer inability to describe it more closely.

Now, I’ve performed myself a couple of times at the Edinburgh Literary Festival (a separately organized bookish part of the Festival season), but had never experienced “Fringe” before. As Doug observed, the people who benefit most economically during Fringe are the printers, who work day and night madly printing handbills, cards, brochures, posters, tickets, etc. for the constantly-changing array of performances—and the people (mostly young girls) who are hired to cruise through the crowds with litter-grabbers, picking all this stuff up off the street.

Naturally, some of what’s going on is great, and a lot of it is…well, it’s entertaining (or at least forces you to look at it, in the manner of traffic accidents). One heck of a lot of energy, though; the Royal Mile zaps and sparks like an electrical conduit, pretty much twenty-four hours a day. (Both Fringe and Festival occupy a lot more space than the Royal Mile, of course—but given limited time and the location of our hotel, we hung out mostly on the Mile and up in New Town.)

We were privileged to be invited to the dress rehearsal of one of the Fringe plays, a musical comedy translated from the Czech original, called “Desire.” Deeply entertaining, though I admit that attending in a mildly intoxicated state (believe me, the whole _town_ is mildly intoxicated during Fringe) probably helped.

Edinburgh wasn’t strictly for fun, though; while there, I met with Mike Gibb and Kevin Walsh, the creative team behind Outlander: The Musical, and we went together to confer with a couple of nice folk at the Scottish Department of Culture, regarding possibilities both for doing the showcase of songs at Tartan Day in New York next April, and for expanding to a full-scale stage production. A lot of encouragement, some useful suggestions—and Mike tells me he’s been sequestered at his hideout in Perthshire for the last two weeks, working feverishly on the complete libretto—can’t wait to see that!

In re knees, though, I will say that hauling up, down, and sideways over the steep terrain of Edinburgh did a lot for my rehab efforts. The next stop in Scotland did even more, that being a castle with a 99-step spiral staircase [g]—and a haunted room at the top. But it’s 4 AM here now, so Castle Stuart is a story for tomorrow!

Live Launch!

Just a quick report from the Aberdeen front: The official “live” launch of OUTLANDER: The Musical took place yesterday, as part of the Aberdeen Tartan Day festivities, and a Really Good Time was had by all, or so I’m told. [g]

Here’s the Official Tartan Day Photo (as taken by the Official City of Aberdeen Photographer—meaning it’s in focus) of the scene in St. Nicholas’s Kirk. And here is the link to the slightly less official but very exciting photos taken by Shona Duthie during the performance. (The white-haired gentleman visible in one of these photos is Mike Gibb, the lyricist who wrote the songs.)

I’ve had lovely emails and enthusiastic messages from a number of people who were there, and Mike reports: “Great performances and amazing audience reaction. Quite a few American and Canadians in the audience who were ecstatic about the whole thing. We were basically full for all three performances with SRO at the first.”

I have family visiting, so we celebrated modestly with a bottle (or two) of wine, and I played the songs for the assembled company from my laptop, showing the pictures from Aberdeen. Spontaneous applause, much admiration for Allan’s socks [g] (not sure that the ladies viewing them realized that he’s wearing ghillies with wrapped garters, rather than having a truly eccentric Argyll pattern decorating his ankles—hard to see fine detail on a laptop screen (well, and there was Rather a Lot of wine, too…), and a general hope that he grows his hair out longer before the next appearance. Sue’s and Allan’s vocals hugely enjoyed, and general raising of glasses to Mike, Kevin, and all the performers (being not limited to the actual stage, I could play them the whole song-cycle. We waited until the young men in the party (aged 17 to 26) went off to their own devices before playing “Say the Words” (the duet between Jamie and Black Jack Randall in Wentworth), though.)

Anyway, congratulations to all involved with OUTLANDER: The Musical!

Anyone wanting to check out song samples, or order a CD of the complete song-cycle, can do so here.

And now I must go and start packing for Scotland! So I’ll be scarce online for the next couple of weeks—might manage one more post before I leave– but will hope to come back with nice pictures.

And Here’s Claire!

Or rather, Sue Robertson [g], who sings the role of Claire (and _very_ beautifully, too; she’s got a lovely warm, cut-crystal voice).

Sue Robertson (Claire)

Sue started on stage at the grand old age of 16 with Dundee Operatic Society (DOS) with whom she has played many principal roles over the years such as Nancy in ‘Oliver’, Minnie-Fay in ‘Show Boat’, Adelaide. in ‘Guys & Dolls’ and Millie in ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’. Sue has also had the privilege of working alongside playwright Mike Gibb playing the part of Grace on four occasions during 2005 – 2007 in theatres across Scotland in his musical play ‘Five Pound & Twa Bairns’ and Barbara in ‘Sunday Morning on Dundee Law’ which Kevin Walsh wrote the music for. She has also been in the ‘The Steamie’ playing Doreen in 2002 and again in 2004. Sue has recently enjoyed playing the ‘mad’ role of Helen for the second time, working with the cast of ‘The Berries – Twa an’ a Half Pence a Pund’, written by her husband Dundee author, poet and playwright Gary Robertson.

Jamie and Claire in Aberdeen this Saturday!

Edinburgh born actor and singer, Allan Scott-Douglas has worked extensively in various musical and theatrical productions all over the UK since graduating with distinction from drama school in 2006.

In 2009, he had the distinct honour of being cast as ‘Scotland’s favourite son’, poet Robert Burns in ‘Ae Fond Kiss: The Life and Loves of Robert Burns’ for which he received critical acclaim. This included recording his first ever ‘Original Cast Recording CD’ which has been useful experience for his work on ‘Outlander – The Musical’.

He has also recently been involved in a modern day re-telling of the legend of King Arthur, playing the Macchiavelian war monger Sir Breunor. The play had it’s World Premiere in 2009 at the Edinburgh Fringe and is currently being re-rehearsed for an open air run in a castle in September. It is then likely to be touring all over the UK in 2011.

Allan is absolutely delighted to have joined the Outlander universe and hopes he can live up to the expectations and fluttering hearts that Jamie’s words have set over the years — if all else fails, he is at least a 6’4″ redhead who regularly wears a kilt and whose nose is slightly too long…so at least he’s got that part of Jamie covered!

Sue Robertson (Claire)

(sorry, no picture available yet!)

Sue started on stage at the grand old age of 16 with Dundee Operatic Society (DOS) with whom she has played many principal roles over the years such as Nancy in ‘Oliver’, Minnie-Fay in ‘Show Boat’, Adelaide. in ‘Guys & Dolls’ and Millie in ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’. Sue has also had the privilege of working alongside playwright Mike Gibb playing the part of Grace on four occasions during 2005 – 2007 in theatres across Scotland in his musical play ‘Five Pound & Twa Bairns’ and Barbara in ‘Sunday Morning on Dundee Law’ which Kevin Walsh wrote the music for. She has also been in the ‘The Steamie’ playing Doreen in 2002 and again in 2004. Sue has recently enjoyed playing the ‘mad’ role of Helen for the second time, working with the cast of ‘The Berries – Twa an’ a Half Pence a Pund’, written by her husband Dundee author, poet and playwright Gary Robertson.

July 31st—that’s THIS Saturday!—is “Tartan Day” in Aberdeen. Which would naturally be cause for great excitement on its own [g]. However…

This Saturday is also the Official Launch of OUTLANDER: The Musical, with three live showcase performances of songs from the show. Mike Gibb, lyricist and producer of the show, says:

“The showcases are in the Drum Aisle (where the ancient “Drum of Irvines” were buried) of St Nicholas Kirk in the centre of Aberdeen at 1.00, 2.15 and 3.30 on Saturday. Admission is free. Any Gabaldonians wanting to come should email me (info@hamepages.com) so I can reserve seats. Reckon all will be “sold out” as it is at a Scotsman’s favourite price! Lots of overseas holiday makers over here just now as well and an article going into the local press on Thursday.”

Those of us not fortunate enough to be in Aberdeen this weekend are promised later video of the event, though! If that works out, it’ll be up on the OUTLANDER:The Musical YouTube Channel as soon as possible.


Inspired by a remark anent rationality and emotion in the last post, I thought I’d put up a brief excerpt illustrating the point. [g] This is from a short story (well, all right, it’s 25,000 words, but still…) I’ve just done for an anthology. The story was originally called “Terror Daemonium” and is the story of what happened to Michael Murray (the middle brother, between Young Jamie and Young Ian, Janet’s twin) and to Joan MacKimmie (Laoghaire’s younger daughter; Marsali’s sister) when they went to France at the end of AN ECHO IN THE BONE. I later changed the name to “The Space Between”, but it’ll be up to the anthology editor as to which title he prefers.

Excerpt from “The Space Between” (aka “Terror Daemonium”)

After a short tour through the rooms of the gaming club, Michael indicated a desire to play whist. Cards weren’t Charles’s favorite; he preferred the excitement of dice. Neither was whist at all fashionable; the tables were in a small, dingy salon at the rear of the establishment.

“Whist is too much like work,” Charles grumbled, though good-naturedly. “That’s why you like it, no doubt. Your Scottish sense of virtue doesn’t allow you to do something just for fun.”

There might be something to this. Beyond such philosophical questions, though, the choice of whist did allow Michael to control Charles’s gambling to some extent. Charles had a wife, two sons, and a mistress to support, and while Michael disapproved the existence of the mistress, he did like the lady—and pitied the wife. Michael shrugged and smiled, they found a pair of Italian gentlemen willing to play, and settled down to a peaceful evening of cards.

It _was_ peaceful. Much to his surprise, Michael found after an hour’s play that the thorns of his personal briar patch had coiled themselves up and withdrawn. His mind was quiet, and if he was not happy, he wasn’t actively miserable, either.

He shuffled the cards and laid them out, counting under his breath. Count to ten, he heard, in the back of his mind, and his Da’s laugh. He smiled involuntarily.

The one thing good about the manner of his father’s dying had been that there was time. He wouldn’t wish such a death by inches on anyone, but it had at least allowed all the children and grandchildren to come to Lallybroch, to see each other, to test the bonds of their family and find they held steady, despite years and distance. And time to talk with Da.

Who had, in the course of one conversation in the kitchen with his sons, pointed out a little-known use of mathematics.

“Ye ken how they say ye should count to ten before ye speak, if ye’re blazin’ wi’ fury?”

“Aye. So?” Young Jamie raised a brow.

“Well, that’s because ye canna think of numbers and be angry at the same time. That’s why I took up the study o’ mathematics when I met your Mam.”

There was laughter, and a certain amount of skepticism expressed, but Da insisted it was so, and Michael and Young Ian had undertaken to insult Young Jamie while the latter did sums, by way of experiment, but this enterprise had broken down into giggles as the insults grew sillier, and finally into open roaring, when their mother walked in unexpectedly, in time to hear her youngest son call her oldest son “Ye whore-mongering son of a hypotenuse!”

“Really, Michel,” Charles said to him disapprovingly in English, “you mustn’t grin like that, even if your cards are stunning. It makes them nervous.” He nodded slightly toward the two Italians, who were regarding Michael with an obvious suspicion.

Michael’s cards were in fact mediocre, but he subdued his grin to a satisfied smile, which unnerved one of the Italians sufficiently as to make him throw in a much superior hand. His partner glared.

_Well, then_, Michael thought, feeling better. _I should ha’ thought of that before. I’ll take to solving problems in geometry, just before bed. That’ll put paid to the dreams. Maybe._


NEW Outlander:The Musical Website is UP!

Logo Credit: David Stout, of “Sketchpad”


With immense thanks to Michelle Moore, who popped up like a fairy godmother and offered to make a website for Outlander: the Musical….and _did_, in less than 48 hours….

Here it is:


Complete with pictures and bios of the performers, ordering links and information (yes, in the fullness of time, you’ll also be able to do this via Amazon and iTunes, but we aren’t quite there yet), a downloadable version of the complete “Blood of my Blood” song, aaaaannnnd….a complete list of the songs, each with its own sample snippet to listen to!

Huge applause for Michelle, and great thanks to Kevin Walsh, who kindly supplied the musical snips! Also to all the performers, who did an amazing job on this project. I hope y’all will enjoy it as much as I have!


I know writers of novels who say they don’t read fiction at all while working on a book, out of fear of “being influenced” by what they read. I am struck by horror at the thought of going years without being able to read fiction (though perhaps these people write faster than I do, and take long vacations between books?)—but more struck by the sheer silliness of this.

Everything writers see, think, and experience influences their work. How could it not? Now, it’s true that people do ask writers, “Where do you get your ideas?” and that writers–out of facetiousness or desperation–give answers like, “From the Sears catalog” (or “From Ideas.com,” depending on the writer’s vintage). But the truth is that writers get ideas from every damn thing they see, hear, smell, touch, taste, think, feel, or do—including the books they read.

Naturally, one wants to develop a unique voice, but do kids learn to talk without ever being talked to? You have an individual voice, by virtue of being an individual. And your individuality is composed of your essential God-given spark of personality and of the sum total of the things you encounter in life. Now, whether each encounter is a bruising collision or a fruitful act of love…who knows? But all of it is grist to a writer’s mill; so much should be obvious, if one reads at all widely.

Personally, I learned to read at the age of three, and have read non-stop ever since. I’m 58 now; you can read a lot of books in fifty-five years. I’m sure that every single book I’ve ever read has had some influence on me as a writer, whether negative (I’ve read a lot of books with the mounting conviction that I would never in my life do something like that) or positive.

When I first began to write fiction, though, I was deliberately looking for positive influences, and luckily had quite a few to hand. During the writing of my first novel (OUTLANDER/CROSS STITCH, which I wrote for practice, not intending to ever show it to anyone), I consciously considered the art and techniques of these five writers in particular:

Charles Dickens – Nobody does characters like Dickens did, and that’s why his books endure. He told excellent stories and painted a vivid portrait of Victorian society, but that society consists of people who live, breathe, and speak on the page. I learned from him the art of evoking a character: naming and describing people in such vivid detail as to make them live.

Robert Louis Stevenson – One of the earliest and best of the romance writers—back when “romance” meant adventure and excitement, escape from daily life. TREASURE ISLAND? KIDNAPPED? THE MASTER OF BALLANTRAE? The titles alone are enough to transport you, but the clean prose and vivid characters bring you back again and again.

Dorothy L. Sayers – Mistress of dialogue, character, humor and social nuance. From her, I learned that dialogue is the single most defining trait of character, and just how much you can do with accent, idiom, and dialect. Also, that a character is embedded in his or her social matrix, and that matrix is as important as the individual’s personal characteristics.

John D. MacDonald – John D. was a prolific writer, with more than five hundred novels to his credit, in more than one genre, but was best known for his Travis McGee mystery/thrillers. From him, I learned how to sustain characters over the course of a long series, how to maintain a narrative drive, how to write action, and how to pace a story.

P.G. Wodehouse – one of the most popular humorists ever. Pelham Grenville Wodehouse taught me how much sheer amusement you can derive from the English language—and the art of constructing a plot that works so seamlessly that it doesn’t matter how absurd it is. And no one who’s ever had the pleasure of meeting Bertie Wooster and his gentleman’s personal gentleman, Jeeves—let alone his bevy of friends and nemeses (Gussie Fink-Nottle and his Aunt Agatha, to mention only two)—will ever forget them.

I learned a great deal from all these writers—and from hundreds more. What every
writer on this list of personal muses has in common, though, is great skill in the matter of creating characters. And character, I think, is the single most important thing in fiction. You might read a book once for its interesting plot—but not twice. When you meet a fascinating person in the pages of a book, though, you come back, discovering new relevance, seeing new depths—or just enjoying the renewal of a long and lasting friendship.

Appearances for the Rest of 2010



July 17th – Flagstaff Celtic Festival
Foxglenn Park, Flagstaff, AZ
Reading – 1 PM, book-signing – 2-4 PM


August 7th – International Clan MacKenzie Gathering/Strathpeffer Highland Games
Grounds of Castle Leod, Strathpeffer
Times TBA, but probably there from noon to 4 or 5. No reading, as the clan chieftain (aka the Earl of Cromartie) tells me the sound system is too antique to provide an adequate level of quality, but will have books for sale, and will sign books people bring, as well. And you get to see the Castle!

August 28th – Tucson Circle of Book Clubs Salon (open to the public)
4-6 PM. Short talk, followed by book-signing.
Windmill Inn
4250 N. Campbell Ave., Tucson, AZ
Books will be available for sale, courtesy Antigone Books
Contact Judy Ranzer (judy@ranzer.com) or Donna Grant (grantlimpan@aol.com) for further details.

August 28th – Tucson RWA Chapter (members only)
10:00 AM – speaking, book-signing


September 3-6 (Labor Day Weekend)

Decatur Book Festival
Downtown Decatur, GA (8 miles from Atlanta)
No set schedule as yet, but I always do at least one major talk, plus one or more book-signings.


Atlanta (This con is immense, and held in four hotels at once. I don’t yet have any sort of schedule, but will be attending with Betsy Mitchell, the DelRey editor for THE EXILE, and we’ll be doing at least one panel together, with slides of artwork from the graphic novel. I’ll certainly also be doing autographing.)

I’ll be switching back and forth between the Decatur Festival and Dragon*Con, so catch me at whichever one is most convenient and/or suited to your personal style!

September 11 – BOOKMARKS Book Festival
Winston-Salem, NC
Speaking and signing – times TBA.
www.bookmarksbookfestival.org for details.

THE EXILE is the new graphic novel, with Jamie’s (and Murtagh’s) side of the OUTLANDER story, script by me, spectacular artwork by Hoang Nguyen.

The launch will be held at the Scottsdale Center for the Arts (http://www.scottsdaleperformingarts.org/ ),
And will feature not only me, books, and food—but also a slideshow with commentary by me and Hoang Nguyen, who did the artwork for THE EXILE, and who will also be available to answer questions and autograph books.

While this event is sponsored by (and books supplied by) The Poisoned Pen Bookstore, they asked me to inform you that instead of reserving a book at the bookstore, you need to buy a ticket from the Center for the Arts (http://tickets.scottsdaleperformingarts.org/tickets/calendar.aspx ) to the event, and the price of your book is included in that. (You can also buy a ‘companion’ ticket for $5, if you want to bring a friend who doesn’t want a book.) [NB: The Center may not yet have their September program up; if not, please check back in a week or two.]

If you won’t be in town, or don’t live here, but would like to order a copy of THE EXILE signed by me, Hoang, or both of us, pleased contact Patrick@poisonedpen.com, or phone the bookstore at 480-947-2974.

Then comes a short(ish) book-tour. This is arranged by Random House, the publisher, and so far, I have only the following information available:

September 22nd – Tattered Cover
Denver, CO

September 23rd – Rainy Day Books
Kansas City

September 25th – National Book Festival
Washington, DC

September 28th – Book Passage
San Francisco, CA
Joint talk & signing with illustrator, Hoang Nguyen.

September 29th – San Diego Booksellers Coalition (Warwick’s, Mysterious Galaxy, Book Works)
Actual venue TBA, but somewhere in San Diego
Talk & signing

September 30th – Vroman’s
Pasadena, CA
Talk & signing

October 2 – Barnes & Noble
Tucson, AZ
Talk & signing

October 3rd – Borders
“The Waterfront,” Scottsdale, AZ
1-3:30 PM – book-signing; don’t know if they’ll be set up for speaking.

October 7th – Borders
Westbury, NY
Talk & signing—10/7

October 8-10
New York Comic-Con/ Special guest spotlight panel, signing
(with Betsy Mitchell, editor for THE EXILE)

October 17th – West Virginia Book Festival
(Yes, I am on the program, even though not listed on the website at the moment.)

October 22-24 – Surrey International Writers Conference
Surrey, BC
This is a paid writers conference (and an excellent one; the only one I do every year), but they do also have an open-to-the-public mass autographing session on Friday evening. This is held at the Guildford Sheraton Hotel, which hosts the conference, and is usually from 5:45 – 7:30 PM.

I may do one or two outside (public) events to promote THE EXILE while I’m attending the conference, but no information on that as yet.


November 11-14 – Scribbler’s Retreat Writers Conference
St. Simon’s Island, GA

November 16th – Arizona Library Association conference
Radisson Hotel, Scottsdale
Contact Jennifer.Whitt@pima.gov for details.

For other inquiries regarding book-tour appearances, please contact
Katie Rudkin | Publicity Manager | Random House
1745 Broadway | New York, NY 10019
Tel: 212-782-9356 | krudkin@randomhouse.com

Steinkreis 1.1

In an amongst all the exciting and impending New Stuff, I mustn’t omit to note the recent publication in Germany of DER MAGISCHE STEINKREIS, which is…

Well. For starters, the book that was published in the UK as THROUGH THE STONES, and in the US as THE OUTLANDISH COMPANION, was published in Germany as DER MAGISCHE STEINKREIS. Now, personally, I dislike this title very much; it means [gag me with a spoon] “The Magic Stone Circle”. As I keep telling careless interviewers, there isn’t any magic anywhere _in_ the books, unless you want to count a little voodoo in VOYAGER. [g]

But that’s what the German publisher called it (I’m not all that mad about any of the German titles, but most of the rest aren’t awful, either).

Well, the original COMPANION/STEINKREIS has been very popular, for which I’m glad. The book was an attempt on my part to answer all the questions that people have asked me over the first ten years and four books of the series. And people have been kind enough to tell me that they’ve found it entertaining in itself, as well as a helpful adjunct to an enormous, complicated…chronicle/legend/saga/series, whatever.

Right. Now I am working on (slowly, in the interstices of Real Writing [g])the second volume of the COMPANION, but that’s nowhere near finished and won’t be for awhile. The German publisher, though, got the bright idea of updating the original volume–sort of a COMPANION 1.1, if you will.

I told them I was WAY too busy to undertake anything of the sort, but they asked Barbara Schnell, my valuable and excellent translator, if she might undertake it, with occasional suggestions and assistance from me. She very nobly did this, and the devil of a sweat it was, too, I can tell you.

I actually ended up writing synopses for THE FIERY CROSS, A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES, and AN ECHO IN THE BONE, which are included in this updated volume. I also gave Barbara _all_ my interview files [g], from which she culled an enormous new FAQ section. She also removed some of the material (like websites) that was obsolete, and included some of her own spectacular photography of Scotland, and me in Scotland, and so on. And we found a couple of “out-takes” from the series to include, in lieu of excerpts of upcoming books.

ANYway…that’s what it is. I know some people have been wondering–and one misguided soul has (I’m told) already put up a comment on amazon.de accusing me of “finding a new way to rip off readers.”

(Now, normally, I just don’t read amazon comments, even in English; there’s just not world enough or time. And generally speaking, I’d pay no attention to the opinion of someone who patently hasn’t looked at the book, and does not understand the concept of free choice. HOW, exactly, does one “rip off” anyone by offering anything whatever that people are free to look at and then buy or reject as they like? But I will admit to finding this a little raw.)

OK. The book _is_ available only in German. There will NOT be a version 1.1 in English–because there WILL be a _completely_ new VOLUME II in English, probably within the next year or so (this will include FC, ABOSA, ECHO, _and_ the Lord John series, plus recipes, costumes, maps, and timeines, among other things). But…we don’t want the English readers to feel left out, entirely. [g] (I may update the first volume, too, but only insofar as deleting obsolete references and maybe redoing the Glossary.)

So here’s one of the out-takes we included in DMS. From the date on the file, it was originally written for FIERY CROSS, but just didn’t really fit anywhere. This doesn’t happen often; usually a bit that doesn’t fit in one book _does_ fit into the next one (waste not, want not, you know). In this case, though, that didn’t work, both because Jemmy’s age and Roger’s knowledge of Gaelic were too advanced by the time I got to work on ABOSA. So here you go:

I could hear Jamie and Roger on the other side of the screen of bushes that divided the clearing from the creek. They were talking casually together in Gaelic as they stripped for bathing, and Brianna tilted her head toward the bushes, frowning in concentration as she listened.

“It’s a lovely language, isn’t it?” I said.

“Unique, at least,” she said, grinning as Roger repeated a phrase several times. Whatever it meant, it began with a peculiar noise that resembled nothing so much as the inadvertent exclamation of someone stepping unexpectedly on a slug. “What did he say?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve heard that one before.”

Jamie’s voice came back, sounding amused and questioning. Evidently he hadn’t heard it, either. There was a splash, a high-pitched exclamation, another splash, another exclamation, and a chorus of breathless male laughter. Bree smiled, listening.

“Do you know very much Gaelic, Mama?” She reached out a hand and deftly collared an escaping Jemmy, grabbing him under the stomach and swinging him up onto her lap.
“Here, a chuisle, let Mama wipe your face.”

“Well, I understand quite a lot by this time,” I said. “Which is occasionally very helpful indeed. I’m not sure I could _speak_ it if my life depended on it, though. I have inborn prejudices that inhibit me from making some of the necessary noises.”

In fact, I understood Jamie much better than I did Roger, when it came to Gaelic. The language appeared to have evolved somewhat over the two hundred years between them, and while the overall effect seemed quite the same to the naked ear, Jamie spoke something Roger referred to –with an academic fascination that Jamie bore fairly patiently–as “Erse.”

I had been exposed to the dialect Jamie and other Highlanders spoke for some time, now, whereas I had never heard much modern Gaelic at all.

“_Cac_,” said Roger, through his teeth. I did know that one.

So did Brianna, evidently.

“Are you all right?” she called through the bushes.

“Fine,” Roger shouted back. “Stubbed my toe on a rock. The water’s murky here.”

Jamie said something I didn’t catch, and both men laughed. The splashing grew louder, and Jemmy made urgent noises and struggled to get away, obviously wanting to go join the fun with the other boys.

“Cut it out,” Bree said firmly. “Here, look here. Look, where’s Mommy?” She held up a linen towel in front of her face, then lowered it, peeking over the top. “Peek-a-boo!”

Jemmy gave his funny deep laugh, and watched enchanted as the towel went up again.

“Boo!” Brianna appeared again suddenly. “[Where's Mommy?"]”

It occurred to me to wonder why Jamie had at once begun teaching Brianna Gaelic; he had never tried to teach me, though he would obligingly translate for me in any setting where the talk was chiefly Gael.

“Did Roger teach you any Gaelic?” I asked, curious.

Bree lowered the towel, stuck out her tongue and wiggled it at Jemmy, who went into ecstasies.

“No,” she replied, pulling up the towel again, “he doesn’t know a whole lot himself–just bits he picked up from the fishermen he used to work with in the summertimes. He says it’s a real education to talk to Da.”

“Yes, it must be,” I said, privately wondering what the hell else Jamie was teaching Roger. The two of them were up to something, that was clear enough–to me, at least–and something they thought a mnai–the women–were better off not knowing. I wondered whether Brianna was also aware of it, and whether I ought to say something.

Jamie wasn’t given to keeping secrets from me, no matter how unpleasant the news. If he was doing it now, it could only be because Roger had decided not to tell Bree.
Sloshing noises on the other side of the bushes announced the emergence of one of the men from the water. “Whoo,” said Roger under his breath, quite near to hand. Noises came like a dog shaking itself, and drops spattered on the ground as he squeezed water from his hair.

“Boo-boo-boo-boo-boo!” Brianna emerged from her towel, and tickled Jemmy into a frenzy of giggles, her long hair falling down over him as she bent forward.

Jamie said something from the creek in a mildly imperative tone that sounded like “…_seil-uisge a cnapach_.”

“Eh?” said Roger, on the other side of the bush.

“_Seil-uisge a cli\pachd_,” Jamie said, quite clearly.

“Aye?” Roger sounded questioning. “[What does cli\pachd mean?] [and] _cnapach_?”

“Cli\pachd is the floppy bit under a turkey’s chin,” I called back, seized by a desire to show off. “You know–the wattle. I don’t know what a _cnapach_ is, though.”

“A little bump or a lump, I think.” Brianna looked up, hair falling back from her flushed face. “And _seil-uisge_ is a leech, right?” She made a moue of distaste at the thought; no one shared my regard for leeches, no matter how I sang their praises.

“Oh, aye?” Roger sounded rather uncertain, as well he might. No turkeys about that I could see. “It’s a colloquialism of some kind, then? A, um, popular term that means something besides the formal meaning of the word?”

There was a moment’s silence. I could feel Jamie–who knew quite well what a colloquialism was–choosing his words carefully.

Then he spoke in English, with the clarity and diction of a BBC announcer.

“I _said_,” he repeated in slow, cultured tones, “there is a leech…on…your…cock.”

[end section]