• “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


Well, now–here’s a question to keep you entertained while I’m gearing up to visit the UK: What sorts of things might you like to see in THE OUTLANDISH COMPANION, Volume II?

I’ll be working on this book during 2010 (yes, yes, along with Book Eight, and a few other things, no doubt), but am just beginning to form up an idea of the potential contents. There will of course be

Detailed synopses of

“Cast of Characters” listings for all the aforementioned books. These lists note which books each character appears in, and give a thumbnail description of each character (for those readers who have trouble remembering who’s who).

A Comprehensive, Alphabetized and Phonetic Glossary of All the Gaelic in All the Books (so far). [g]

Interesting Features on Writing in General (chunk writing vs. outlines, how to organize scenes so you can find them again, the Fine Art of Backing Up, etc.) and Writing These Books in Particular (the “shape” of each book, internal structure, and interconnections)

Reader’s Guides (book-club discussion questions and commentary)

Features on Costume and Cookery of the 18th Century

A Truly Massive (but well-organized!) Bibliography, of allllll the References used in writing the more recent Books.

Many Inspiring and Beautiful Photographs of the Scottish Highlands (and perhaps a few less inspiring ones of the author) taken by Barbara Schnell, the German translator for the books.

A Selection of the most Piquant, Poignant, Offensive, and/or Hilarious (whether deliberately or inadvertently) Letters received–and the Author’s Unexpurgated Responses to Same.

Controversy: Commentary and discussion on the more controversial scenes, themes, or incidents in the various books.

So….what else? All suggestions welcome!

Diana in Sheffield!

Sheffield Hallam University in association with Off the Shelf

An evening with Diana Gabaldon
Monday 18 January 2010 at 6.30 for 7pm, Pennine Theatre, Sheffield Hallam University

Top selling American novelist Diana Gabaldon is our first New Year speaker. Diana Gabaldon is the author of the award-winning, New York Times bestselling, Outlander novels. She will launch the latest book in the series in Europe by making a trip to Sheffield.
Diana is the great, great granddaughter of Sheffield artist Godfrey Sykes, who in 1856 was deputy principal of the Sheffield College of Design which is now part of Sheffield Hallam University. His famous Minerva Frieze has been restored by Sheffield Hallam University and Museums Sheffield, which is currently on display in the Furnival building, City Campus, and Diana will be giving a lecture as part of the University’s retrospective on his work.
Tickets are free but must be booked in advance.
To book, please click the link Diana Gabaldon or visit www.shu.ac.uk/events/

[Just in case that first link isn’t hot–it’s

http://arum.lits.shu.ac.uk/NetCommunity/Page.aspx?pid=1530 ]

UK Publicity Tour for ECHO

For reasons best known to themselves, Orion Books (my UK publisher) published AN ECHO IN THE BONE in Australia and New Zealand when it came out in the US and Canada–but are publishing the hardcover edition in the UK as of January 7th–i.e., in four days!

They are bringing me over to the UK–in conjunction with Sheffield-Hallam University (more about that in tomorrow’s blog entry)–for a quick publicity tour to promote the book. Here’s the breakdown of events in the UK (you’ll notice “tbc” here and there–that means “to be confirmed,” and essentially means that if anyone wants to interview me or ask for a special event, that’s when time is available): I hope to see many of you there!

UK Publicity/Events

January 14th – Glasgow/Ayr

1.30pm Interview with Claire Black for The Scotsman (venue tbc)

3.30pm Interview with BBC Radio Scotland Radio Café contact Serena Field on

TBC 4-5pm Scottish TV ‘The Hour’

5.15pm drive to Ayr with Scottish sales rep

7.30pm Talk and signing for Waterstone’s Ayr at Carnegie Lbrary
12 Main Street, Ayr, KA8 8EB
Organised by Waterstone’s in Ayr – Contact Russell on 01292 262600
(tickets £2 redeemable against book purchase)

January 15th – Aberdeen/Inverness

12.30 Signing at Waterstone’s Aberdeen
3-7 Union Bridge, Aberdeen AB11 6BG
Contact Gail Cleaver on 01224 592440

Drive to Inverness

7.00pm Talk and signing for Waterstone’s Inverness at the Iron Works
Contact Terry Cleaver on 01463 233500
(tickets £4 partly redeemable again book purchase)

January 16th – Edinburgh

2.00pm Signing at Waterstone’s Edinburgh West End.
128 Princes Street, Edinburgh EH2 4AD
contact there is: CHRIS BARKER
T: 0131 226 2666
E: orders@edinburgh-westend.waterstones.com

January 17th – Sheffield

Travel to Sheffield, University dinner (not a public event)

January 18th – Sheffield
Two Days organised by Sheffield Univerity – contact Andrew McGrath, Corporate Events manager on 01142253855

Venue: Sheffield Hallam University, 20 Furnival Street Sheffield S1 4QT

9.00-12noon – tbc
12noon – 13.30 Lunch
1.30 – 15.00 Sykes in Sheffield tour
15.00 – 16.00 Media Interviews
16.00 – 18.00 Free time
18.00 – 19.00 Preparations for evening lecture
19.00 – 20.15 Guest Lecture, Q&A
20.15 – 21.15 Book signing
21.15 – 23.00 Dinner/Chaffer Buffet and networking with VIP Guests

January 19th – Sheffield

9.00 – 12.30 Meetings with creative writing students and academics

PM book shop stock signings in the Yorkshire area (no details on this; they tend to leave that up to the sales rep who’s accompanying me. If you live near a bookshop in the general vicinity of Sheffield, you might ask the bookshop to contact Orion and ask for a drop-in.)

January 20th – Manchester/London

Stock signings in Manchester (See note on drop-in signings, above. If your local Manchester shop would like a drop-in, they should contact their Orion sales rep.)

Train to London

Publication dinner (not a public event)

Happy New Year, differential nostrillation, and Facebook

HAPPY NEW YEAR to all! My personal idea of a great New Year’s Eve celebration is a nice nap, after which I get up, go up to my office, and light a new pillar candle to work by (the new one is white, scented with—it says on the bottom—Japanese Cedarwood. A very subtle and unobtrusive scent. The old one—which expired the night before, with excellent timing—was dark blue and reeked of cinnamon.)

(I learned something Extremely Interesting recently, btw, speaking of smells. You know how sight can vary between your two eyes, with one being, say, 20/40 and the other 20/200? Or how your hearing may be more or less acute in one ear than the other? Apparently the same thing is true of nostrils.

I was somewhere on a book-tour (believe me, the only way I know where I am, after the third day or so, is to look at the schedule), had escaped momentarily for a quick walk, and came across a huge tree that was dropping fruiting bodies the size of small green baseballs. (Think it may have been a chestnut of some kind, but can’t swear to it, as I didn’t have a knife with which to open one—thanks to the evil machinations of the TSA.) I picked one up and brushed it under my nose, noting that it had a really unusual, pungent fragrance—not like anything else I’ve ever smelled. So I took it along with me, back to the hotel….ah, OK, I was in Lexington, Kentucky. I recall the hotel, because it was under construction, and I couldn’t get a knife from Room Service, either, because there wasn’t any—sniffing it periodically along the way.

At one point, I changed the hand I was carrying it in—and consequently, next time I sniffed it, noticed that the smell was different. “Well, that’s weird,” I said, surprised, and proceeded to experiment. I could certainly smell it with either nostril, but much more strongly, and with a great deal more complexity, on the right than on the left.

I’d forgotten about this—you forget most things on a book-tour, including your name (no, I’m not kidding)—but remembered while doing the Christmas cooking, when I went outside to pick fresh herbs. Sure enough, I can smell rosemary, basil, and sage all just fine on the left—but I pick up a much richer melange of aromatics on the right, while I’m getting mostly basic volatiles (turpenes and the like) on the left. Truly interesting. Something to think about, next time you hit the perfume counter; if you normally test perfume on one wrist, be sure to pass that wrist under the opposite nostril, too.)

But I digress. [g]

One of the things on my New Year to-do list is to do something about my (putative) Facebook page—which you may notice has apparently disappeared.

Why? I have _no_ idea. See, I don’t personally “do” Facebook. At all. (Had we but world enough, and time…) BUT, when ECHO came out, Borders invited me to come do a two-hour chat on _their_ Facebook page, and in order to get to said page, I was obliged to open a Facebook account.

Naturally, I asked my youngest daughter how to go about this. [g] She told me that I should start a “celebrity” page, rather than a plain individual page, so I did that when I signed up, and the software asked me if I wanted to link my page to my blog. I shrugged and said, “Yeah, why not?” So that’s where the original listing came from. Mind, there was never anything _on_ my Facebook page, save my picture.

Promptly departed on two months of book-touring, and somewhere in there, the page I’d started apparently disappeared (or so I gather, since the link from my blog no longer works; I haven’t been back on the Facebook site since the Borders interview). Have had _no_ time to worry about it since, though one kindly person who’d noticed it mentioned to me that there are other “Diana Gabaldon” pages on Facebook, and one of these might have complained about my page on “intellectual infringement” grounds and had it removed. [rolling eyes]

Anyway. I have a whole list of Promotional Things that need to be addressed, from correcting idiocies on my Wikipedia page to re-registering an official Facebook page (preferably with a little content on it [cough]), updating the website (well, that one’s a little easier; at least I know _how_–I just didn’t want to send my long-suffering webmistress more Stuff until the holidays were over [g]), etc.

_That_ stuff all starts on Monday, along with a return to a regular writing routine, now that a) all the kids, in-laws, guest dogs, etc. are or shortly will be gone (hallelujah. Not that I don’t love them all dearly, but seven dogs and nine people in one house is pushing it, even for me), b) I will have finished the last revisions to “A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows” (may actually finish that one tonight, though I’ll read it through again tomorrow before sending it on to the anthology’s editors), and c) I finally (in spite of guests, double-Christmas, etc.) managed to dig through the piles that had accumulated in my office during my absence, put things away, sweep the floor [g], and deal with (mostly) everything that had been neglected for the two-plus months I was away, and d) have managed to prune all the roses, grapevines and fruit trees, as well as rip tons of dead grass and mint-stalks out of my garden. Tomorrow, with luck, I’ll be able to turn over a few square feet of soil (removing the _roots_ of said grass and mint) in order to plant nasturtium seeds, which have to be put in no later than the first week of January, if you want good bloom before the heat hits and kills them.

So anyway, I _should_ maybe have something in order about the Facebook thing sometime next week. If and when, I’ll announce it here, as well as on the website (which, for those as may not know, is www.dianagabaldon.com).



Someone mentioned to me that ECHO is on the list of Goodreads’ candidates for Best Book of 2009. At a glance, there seem to be a _lot_ of good books listed, and I’m honored to be among them.

If you happen to feel like voting for ECHO or any of the others, the link to do so is


Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas-and a small treat for your stocking

Merry Christmas to all!

2009-Sam-n-pug-cropI’ve been telling you about various short pieces involving dragons and murder and what-not—but there’s another short story you may want to hear about. This one is for (yet another) anthology, titled STAR-CROSSED LOVERS, and the story itself is titled “A Leaf on the Wind.”

This is the story of What Happened to Roger’s Father—those of you who’ve read AN ECHO IN THE BONE may be especially interested, <g> though I think most folks who’ve enjoyed the series—and Roger—will like this.

I’ve begun working on Book Eight, but really dono’t have anything resembling coherent (let alone suitable) scenes to show you from that as yet, so I thought Io’d post a brief scene from this short story as a small token of love and esteem for Christmas—and I wish y’all many happinesses of the season!

“A Leaf on the Wind” (Excerpt)

Copyright © 2009 by Diana Gabaldon
In STAR-CROSSED LOVERS (edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois)

Marjorie MacKenzie—Dolly to her husband—opened the blackout curtains. No more than an inch, well, two inches. It wouldn’t matter; the inside of the little flat was dark as the inside of a coal-scuttle. London outside was equally dark; she knew the curtains were open only because she felt the cold glass of the window through the narrow crack. She leaned close, breathing on the glass, and felt the moisture of her breath condense, cool near her face. Couldn’t see the mist, but felt the squeak of her fingertip on the glass as she quickly drew a small heart there, the letter J inside.

It faded at once, of course, but that didno’t matter; the charm would be there when the light came in, invisible but there, standing between her husband and the sky.

When the light came, it would fall just so, across his pillow. She’d see his sleeping face in the light: the jackstraw hair, the fading bruise on his temple, the deep-set eyes, closed in innocence. He looked so young, asleep. Almost as young as he really was. Only twenty-two [ck.]; too young to have such lines in his face. She touched the corner of her mouth, but couldno’t feel the crease the mirror showed her—her mouth was swollen, tender, and the ball of her thumb ran across her lower lip, lightly, to and fro.

What else, what else? What more could she do for him? He’d left her with something of himself. Perhaps there would be another baby—something he gave her, but something she gave him, as well. Another baby. Another child to raise alone?

“Even so,” she whispered, her mouth tightening, face raw from hours of stubbled kissing; neither of them had been able to wait for him to shave. “Even so.”

At least he’d got to see Roger. Hold his little boy—and have said little boy spit up milk all down the back of his shirt. Jerry’d yelped in surprise, but hadn’t let her take Roger back; he’d held his son and petted him until the wee mannie fell asleep, only then laying him down in his basket and stripping off the stained shirt before coming to her.

It was cold in the room, and she hugged herself. She was wearing nothing but Jerry’s string vest—he thought she looked erotic in it—“lewd,” he said, approving, his Highland accent making the word sound really dirty—and the thought made her smile. The thin cotton clung to her breasts, true enough, and her nipples poked out something scandalous, if only from the chill.

She wanted to go crawl in next to him, longing for his warmth, longing to keep touching him for as long as they had. He’d need to go at eight, to catch the train back; it would barely be light then. Some puritanical impulse of denial kept her hovering there, though, cold and wakeful in the dark. She felt as though if she denied herself, offered that denial as sacrifice, it would strengthen the magic, help to keep him safe and bring him back. God knew what a minister would say to that bit of superstition, and her tingling mouth twisted in self-mockery. And doubt.

Still, she sat in the dark, waiting for the cold blue light of the dawn that would take him.

Baby Roger put an end to her dithering, though; babies did. He rustled in his basket, making the little waking-up grunts that presaged an outraged roar at the discovery of a wet nappy and an empty stomach, and she hurried across the tiny room to his basket, breasts swinging heavy, already letting down her milk. She wanted to keep him from waking Jerry, but stubbed her toe on the spindly chair, and sent it over with a bang.

There was an explosion of bedclothes as Jerry sprang up with a loud “FNCK!” that drowned her own muffled “damn!” and Roger topped them both with a shriek like an air-raid siren. Like clockwork, old Mrs. Munns in the next flat thumped indignantly on the thin wall.

Jerry’s naked shape crossed the room in a bound. He pounded furiously on the partition with his fist, making the wallboard quiver and boom like a drum. He paused, fist still raised, waiting. Roger had stopped screeching, impressed by the racket.

Dead silence from the other side of the wall, and Marjorie pressed her mouth against Roger’s round little head to muffle her giggling. He smelled of baby-scent and fresh pee, and she cuddled him like a large hot-water bottle, his immediate warmth and need making her notions of watching over her men in the lonely cold seem silly.

Jerry gave a satisfied grunt and came across to her.

“Ha,” he said, and kissed her.

“What d’ye think you are?” she whispered, leaning into him. “A gorilla?”

“Yeah,” he whispered back, taking her hand and pressing it against him. “Want to see my banana?”

Note: The final title of the anthology (mentioned above) after publication was SONGS OF LOVE AND DEATH: ALL-ORIGINAL TALES OF STAR-CROSSED LOVE, not STAR-CROSSED LOVERS, which was a working title. And Diana’s final story title was “A Leaf On The Wind of All Hallows.”

This blog entry was originally posted on December 24, 2009 by Diana Gabaldon.

This webpage was last updated (with HTML upgrades) on Wednesday, December 18, 2019, by Diana’s Webmistress.

HOW Long ’til the next book?!?

I have, as you might suppose, been getting a certain amount of agitated mail following publication of ECHO, [g] all centering on one question: HOW long is it until the next book will be out?!? (This accompanied by various pleas of increasing age or senility on the part of some readers. It’s not that I’m not sympathetic, and I _am_ flattered–but the fact that you think you might not live long enough to read the next book really can’t make me write any faster. Look, just exercise and take your vitamins; you’ll be fine.) As to the question…

It wouldn’t do much good to speculate; I’m always wrong. The books are invariably longer and more complex than I think they’ll be, and _always_ take longer to finish than I think they will. Sufficiently so, that anyone who’s had the misfortune to work production on one of the OUTLANDER books emerges from the experience with several new white hairs and trembling visibly in every limb.

General observation is that in terms of actual research/writing/etc., it takes me _about_ two to two-and-a-half years to write one of the big novels of the main series. That’s baseline. However…

A) The books get increasingly popular. While this is, generally speaking, A Good Thing, it has side-effects. There’s a HUGE demand on my time, in terms both of physical travel and in-person appearances, and the smaller drag created by endless email, propositions, invitations, cover quote pleas, and now–with the upsurge of online venues available–the demand to create TONS more subsidiary material for blogs, online chats, interviews, phone apps (don’t even ask about that one; the publisher just suggested it and I have _no_ idea), enhanced e-books, viral animated videos, etc. I lose at least two/three months a year, if not more, to this kind of stuff (much more, in years when a new book is out and several different countries want me to come and tour. So far this year, I’ve done Scotland, the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia–for a total of two and a half months _just on the road_–and will be doing the UK in January, Germany in March, and some miscellaneous Scottish stuff [g] in August. Three European trips in one year? It has its fun aspects, but man, it eats up your work time.

B) I don’t work on one project exclusively, for the most part. I never have. Being able to switch mental tracks keeps me from ever having writer’s block, and it’s good for the separate projects, insofar as pushing one off the front burner while I deal with something else lets the first one simmer peacefully on the subconscious’s lower heat–so the result has _lots_ more flavor and subtlety than it would if I cooked it at a furious boil and splashed it scalding into people’s bowls (cf. James Patterson, if you want to know what _that_ looks like).

So (for instance), while the pub date for ECHO was four years after that for ABOSA, it doesn’t mean that I spent four years tapping away on ECHO without cease or respite. I also wrote (and published) two other books in that time (LORD JOHN AND THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE BLADE, which was a complete novel, and LORD JOHN AND THE HAND OF DEVILS, a collection of novellas), wrote the complete script for THE EXILE (the first “Outlandish” graphic novel), did work on a contemporary crime novel (about half-done at present), worked on THE OUTLANDISH COMPANION, Volume II (rudimentary stuff, but still work), consulted on a film script, and poked around in the research material, coming up with bits and pieces of other, future books (like the first Master Raymond) that I haven’t started working on in any focused way, but that are waiting on the sideboard for their turn.

So I have no idea when Book Eight’ll be up. Not for at least two and a half years (the publisher does need _some_ lead time to actually print the book), but that’s _all_ I could tell you for sure.

Now, I _can_ say what I plan to be working on during 2010 (putting aside all the roaming around the world stuff, promotion for the graphic novel, and Eldest Daughter’s upcoming wedding): I’ll be feeling my way into Book Eight, working in a serious way on LORD JOHN AND THE SCOTTISH PRISONER, ditto the OC II (because I’d like to have that one done before the end of the year), and seeing if I can pull together the contemporary crime novel (which is about half-done, and I think I know where the other half _is_, more or less).

You will get a couple of things in 2010, though: 1) THE EXILE. This is the much-talked-about graphic novel, due out September 28!, 2) a new Lord John novella, “The Custom of the Army” (due in March from Tor books, in an anthology titled WARRIORS), and (probably) 3) “A Leaf on the Wind,” a short story in a Penguin anthology titled STAR-CROSSED LOVERS. This one tells the story of what really happened to Roger’s father, for those with a particular interest either in MacKenzie family history and/or time-travel. [g]

So you will get something to read, and fairly soon. As for Jem…don’t worry about him; he’s a pretty resourceful little guy.

Speaking of that, though–which is the storyline _you_ most want to see addressed Right Up Front in Book Eight?


If you’re still in the market for stocking-stuffers, and have people on your list who prefer mystery to dragons… <g>. PHOENIX NOIR is a brand-new paperback anthology of short crime stories set in—as one might suppose—Phoenix. I wrote one of the stories, titled “Dirty Scottsdale;” this one is a solo effort by me.

“Dirty Scottsdale” is also the debut in print of Tom Kolodzi, who’s the protagonist of the contemporary crime novel I’ve been working on for some time (in and amongst other things), which I hope to finish sometime next year (along with THE SCOTTISH PRISONER and the second volume of THE OUTLANDISH COMPANION). As you can tell, Tom’s got a voice of his own.

Excerpt from “Dirty Scottsdale” in PHOENIX NOIR (edited by Patrick Millikin):

phoenixnoir-coverIt was high noon, and 110. The cops were in shirt-sleeves, the home-owner was wearing plaid bermuda shorts and a wtf? expression. The body floating face-down in the swimming-pool was wearing a navy blue wool suit, which was odder than the veil of blood hanging like shark-bait in the water.

The girl by the pool was more appropriately dressed—if you could use that word to describe the triangles of turquoise fabric that covered her nominally private parts.

“The poor dope,” I said, shaking my head. “He always wanted a pool. Well, in the end he got himself a pool—only the price turned out to be a little high.”

The girl looked at me. She had a hot-pink towel clutched dramatically to her mouth, eyes wide above it. Turquoise eye-shadow, to match her suit, and a lot of waterproof mascara.

“Tom Kolodzi,” I said, with a jerk of the head toward the uniformed cops. “I’m with the police.” You notice I didn’t say I was the police. “You know the guy in the pool?”

Her eyes got wider, and she shook her head. I took out my notebook and flipped it open, turning to shield it from the cops.

“Your name?”

She blinked, and lowered the towel. Her mouth was blurred with red, and she looked like a little kid who’d been eating a popsicle, breast implants notwithstanding.

“Chloe Eastwood.”

“Any relation to Clint?” I smiled, friendly.


I should have flipped a coin and said “Call it, friendo.” Instead, I asked, “Do you live here?”

She nodded like a bobble-head doll, her eyes going back to the body. “I just… I just came out to tan, and… there he was.”

“You called it in?”

She shook her head, blonde ponytail swishing over baby-oiled shoulders.

“I screamed and Cooney came running out, and the yard-guys and everybody.” She waved vaguely toward the house, where three nervous-looking Mexicans were clustered. A Mexican woman, too, with a blond boy of five or six clutching her leg. “I guess Cooney called.”

Her eyes went to the homeowner: Mr. Bermuda Shorts, shoulders hunched in aggression. One of the uniforms caught sight of me and opened his mouth to order me out. The two uniforms exchanged a quick look, though, then looked right through me before turning deliberately toward the pool.

I relaxed a little. I’d been doing a ride-along—you always want to get acquainted with the cops in a new place—when the 410 call came through. They’d told me to stay in the car, of course, but didn’t lock me in. It could get up to 140 in a parked car, and they didn’t want to explain a dead reporter in the back seat. They didn’t want to explain a live reporter in their crime scene, either; if I kept my mouth shut, they’d pretend they had no idea how I got there, and leave it to Homicide to throw me out.

Now, the Poisoned Pen definitely does have signed copies of PHOENIX NOIR in stock; I know, because I signed a bunch of them a week ago.

Ordering Signed PHOENIX NOIR From the Pen

To order a printed copy of this book signed by me from the Poisoned Pen bookstore, go to:


and enter "Phoenix Noir" in the Search box.

You may also order it in the usual way from your local independent bookstore or through the usual online sources.

Ordering information and formatting on this blog post was updated on January 2, 2017 at 4:00 a.m. (PT) by Diana’s Webmistress.

The Dragon Book

I’m always a trifle taken aback to see myself described as one of “the masters of modern fantasy”—but I can’t say that I really object to finding myself in the company of people like Gregory Maguire and Naomi Novik.

For those looking for something small and different, either as a Christmas gift or as a distraction from looking for Christmas gifts, let me call your attention to THE DRAGON BOOK, recently released. It is, as you probably suspect, an anthology of stories featuring dragons, in one way or another.

I do have to say that I feel somewhat more of an imposter here than I usually do when contributing to a fantasy anthology, insofar as the story with my name on it, “Humane Killer”, was written largely by my co-author, Sam Sykes. It is, though, a Really Good—if Really Weird—story (www.thebooksmugglers.com says, “…some of the weirdest characters that I have ever seen… I quite liked [it], for its surreal feel.”

Let me just note for the record that this story has no ties to Jamie, Claire, Lord John Grey, or anybody else you’re used to finding in my pages [g]—but I think you won’t regret meeting Lenny, the pot-smoking zombie, let alone Sister Madeline:

” Nitz followed the priest’s gaze to his companion. Father Scheitzen’s shadow did not yet extend so far as to engulf Madeline. Nitz doubted there was a man yet who had grown tall enough to do that. She did not cast a shadow, but rose as one, towering and swaddled in the ominous blackness of her nun’s habit, her head so high as to scrape against the torch ensconced in the pillar she stood alongside.

“Maddy,” Nitz caught himself, “Sister Madeline…is not without mercy, no, Father.” He flashed a smile, painfully aware of the stark whiteness of his teeth in the church’s gloom. “After all, she owes her life to the mercy of others. Who but the church would have a…creature such as her?”

Nitz took private pleasure in the shudder Father Scheitzen gave as Madeline stepped forward.

The torchlight was decidedly unsympathetic. All her face was bared, from the manly square curve of her jaw, to the jagged scar running down her cheek, to the milky discolored eye set in the right half of her skull and the grim darkness in her left. The jagged yellow of her smile-bared teeth was nothing more than a sigh, a comma at the end of the cruel joke that was a woman’s visage.

“Ah, a Scarred Sister. I suspect you may have inadvertently stumbled upon a solution to a problem that has long plagued the Order,” Father Scheitzen murmured, bringing his lips close to Nitz. “There are rumors, complaints of lesser men accompanied by lesser women thinking themselves and each other worthy servants of God. Their mutual weakness feeds off of each other, men raise illegitimate children by tainted nuns.” He spared a glancing grimace for the woman behind them. “I trust you and your companion have no such temptations.”

Nitz hesitated a moment to answer, allowing the image of temptation to fill his mind. He had seen what lay beneath the layers of black cloth: the rolling musculature, the scarred, pale flesh, the biceps that could break ribs with an embrace. The thought of succumbing to “temptation” had not, until this moment, crossed his mind; the foreplay alone would shatter his pelvis.”

For further entertainment, check out www.samsykes.blogspot.com.

Chicken and Mushrooms in Orange Sauce

This recipe is in THE OUTLANDISH COMPANION, but I’m in Santa Fe right now and don’t have a copy with me, so this is out of my head. It may read a little differently from the printed version, but it should taste the same. [g]

Chicken breasts (allow one per person) – diced

Garlic, minced

Onion, minced

Mushrooms, sliced or chopped – 2/3 good sized mushrooms per chicken breast.
(Any kind—I like a mixture of the regular ceps (default grocery-store mushrooms), porcini (these usually come dried and need to be soaked in water for half an hour before using—see below), and oyster mushrooms. You might not want to use portobello mushrooms, because while the texture is great and the flavor excellent with sauces, the gills will stain this sauce and make it look muddy. You can, though, if you really like them. Or if you or your spouse only like the ceps mushrooms, it’s fine to use only those.)

Chicken broth/soup base/broth cubes
(I like Penzey’s Chicken Soup Base, myself; it’s a sort of strongly chicken-flavored paste, and easy to use. Fresh or canned broth or the little cube things will work fine, though.)

Orange juice, any kind (you need anywhere from 1-3 cups of it probably, so any size carton or bottle will supply enough)

Butter/Olive oil

Flour (3-6 Tablespoons, depending on quantity)

I like garlic and onion, so I use roughly two cloves garlic per chicken breast, and an equivalent amount (by volume) of onion. If you’re not that fond of alliums [g], cut that in half. However much you use, mince it, and saute it in a heavy pan—I like to use a large saute’ pan, but a sauce pan is fine, too; just not as easy to stir the chicken—with butter, olive oil, or a combination of the two (you want enough butter/oil to just cover the bottom of the pan to a depth of about 1/8″). Once the onions and garlic have begun to go translucent, add the chopped/sliced mushrooms*, stirring occasionally until mushrooms are also sauteed.

Add the diced chicken and brown, stirring occasionally. When chicken appears to be cooked through (it isn’t actually brown [g]; that’s just what you call it when you cook raw meat in a pan until it isn’t raw anymore), sprinkle thickly with flour and stir, coating everything in the pan. Make sure all the flour gets in contact with butter/oil, no white lumps left. You want all your chicken pretty thickly coated with flour.

All right. Now you stir in orange juice a little at a time (alternating with porcini mushroom water, if you like) until you have a fairly runny sauce. Add chicken broth, in whatever form you like. I generally cook three chicken breasts at a time, and add about three teaspoons of the Penzey’s Chicken Soup Base. (When I use bouillon cubes instead, I normally add only two, as these are pretty salty.) If you use liquid chicken broth, add it sparingly; you want more of the liquid to be orange juice.

Lower heat to simmer and if possible, cover pan (it’s OK to cook uncovered, but you have to add liquid more often). Now cook your noodles (or rice, or whatever farinaceous substance you plan to serve this over), keeping an eye on the chicken/sauce. Add a little more orange juice every now and then, as the sauce thickens, and be sure to stir every few minutes, so it won’t burn on the bottom (this shouldn’t be a problem if you’re just simmering it, but just in case).

You should get a feel fairly quickly for how long it takes the sauce to thicken; time your last additions of orange juice/broth/water so that the sauce will be a good consistency by the time the noodles are done. I don’t add salt myself, finding that there’s usually plenty supplied by the broth/soup base, nor pepper (because it makes me cough), but if you feel it needs salt or pepper, certainly go ahead and add them to taste.

Drain noodles, ladle the chicken and sauce onto them, and top with shredded romano cheese (freshly-shredded parmigiano reggiano is my favorite with this, but it’s not nearly as convenient as the little tubs of shredded cheese you buy at the supermarket).

* Note on porcini mushrooms. As I said, these usually come dried in a packet, and are reconstituted by soaking them in water. You want to rinse them first, before soaking, as they shed a lot of dust and twiggy bits. Then you can save the water you soaked them in and use it in addition to the orange juice and chicken broth, to add flavor to the sauce.