Sunday, September 28, 2008

Updates to Diana Gabaldon web site

You may have noticed that Diana's official web site is now getting regular updates again, after a long period where it wasn't being updated at all.

Go to www.dianagabaldon.com to see the latest, including the update dated 28 September, which is a very long and detailed explanation of all the steps in the production process from the point when she finishes writing the book to the day it actually arrives in the bookstores.

There are also two new ECHO excerpts posted there today (though I didn't peek, and would very much appreciate it if you don't discuss the contents of those excerpts here).

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Photos of Roan Mountain

A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled across a site with some absolutely breathtaking photographs of Roan Mountain, which is located near the North Carolina/Tennessee border. Even if it's not precisely the same place as where Fraser's Ridge is supposed to be located, it's definitely in the same general area, and Diana confirmed, when I asked, that it would be visible from Fraser's Ridge.

Apologies to those of you who may have seen these already when I put the link up on Compuserve, but I thought the pictures deserved a wider audience. They are truly stunning. And for those of you who have never visited the mountains of western North Carolina, I hope this will give you a better idea of what the area is like.

Enjoy!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Diana's strange and unusual words

One of the things that has impressed me from the beginning about Diana Gabaldon's writing is her amazing vocabulary. I have always considered myself to have a reasonably good vocabulary; I'm a college graduate with a lifelong love of reading, but I frequently run across words in Diana's books that I've never seen before.

Just to name a few of my favorites:

coccygodynia (from DRUMS OF AUTUMN)

poltroon (from DRAGONFLY IN AMBER)

chisping (from BOTB)

absquatulation (title of ABOSAA chapter 94)

And in a recent discussion on Compuserve, Diana used the word armigerous, which had me completely baffled, until I looked it up. <g>

I think this thread on the subject was particularly interesting. What it reveals is that Diana has a fascination for those odd and unusual words, and she does indeed sprinkle them in her books on purpose, just as some of us had suspected. <g>

What do you think of her use of unusual words? Do you keep a dictionary nearby when you read? Jot down words to look up later? Or does this sort of thing get in the way of your enjoyment of the story? Do you have a favorite example of one of these unusual words?

Speaking only for myself, I love it when I encounter words like these in Diana's books. The really bizarre ones always make me laugh.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

New podcast from Diana

Here is a link to the latest podcast from Diana Gabaldon, which was just posted on her web site:

http://www.its.caltech.edu/~gatti/gabaldon/media/podcasts/episode20.mp3

Thanks very much to Merrymags at LOL for putting the word out!

For those of you who've been following Diana's recent blog entries, there's really not much news here, other than:

1) LORD JOHN AND THE PRIVATE MATTER will be out in mass market paperback in October

2) The "Dirty Scottsdale" story may be out as early as February or March of 2009 (check the publisher's web site here)

3) Diana does indeed intend to publish an OUTLANDISH COMPANION VOLUME II at some point.

The podcast includes a brief excerpt from the upcoming Lord John story, "The Custom of the Army".

I enjoyed listening to this and I hope you will too.

Monday, September 22, 2008

ECHO's length: "Perceptibly shorter"?

Diana Gabaldon had this to say yesterday on Compuserve on the subject of the length of the upcoming OUTLANDER book, AN ECHO IN THE BONE:

"ECHO should be perceptibly shorter than ABOSAA or FIERY CROSS (both of which were pushing the physical limits of what can be bound between covers)"

"Well, it'll probably be somewhere in the OUTLANDER/DRAGONFLY/VOYAGER size range, is what I mean. Adequate to the purpose. <g>."

My initial reaction to that was disappointment, but on the other hand, she can certainly pack a tremendous amount into a relatively shorter book (like VOYAGER, for example). And as she notes, the book won't get done by the end of the year (and therefore, published on time next fall) if it's as long as ABOSAA or FIERY CROSS.

Thoughts? Opinions? Reactions? (Rampant speculation is always welcome, too. [g])

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Some thoughts on Lord John

I definitely did not start out as a fan of Lord John Grey.

When I first started reading the OUTLANDER books, I was (of course) captivated by Jamie and Claire's story, and wanted to focus on them. Lord John kept popping up in the story, but I brushed him aside rather irritably, much as Claire reacts to him in DRUMS: "What is he doing here? I really wish he'd go away. I don't want to read about some gay English soldier, I'd much rather read about Jamie and Claire!"

This attitude was compounded, in the beginning, by the timing. When I first discovered Diana Gabaldon's section of the Compuserve Books and Writers Forum, in the spring of 2007, virtually the only excerpts she was posting there were from LORD JOHN AND THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE BLADE. And at that time, I had essentially no interest in reading Lord John stories. I resented him for taking Diana's time and attention away from the main OUTLANDER series, and I just could not understand at all why she would prefer to focus on Lord John instead of Jamie, Claire, Roger, Bree, and the rest.

Based on what I've heard Diana say in the months since, this seems to be a fairly common attitude among the fans: "I really wish you'd quit writing about Lord John and get back to your real writing." This usually produces an irritated reaction from Diana, *rolling eyes* or a mildly sarcastic comeback. And the reason for that is very simple: What the fans who make comments like that don't understand is that the Lord John stories are in fact an integral part of the overall OUTLANDER storyline, and that Lord John's life is inextricably tangled with Jamie's, in a number of ways.

What Jamie Fraser and Lord John Grey have in common

Lord John Grey and Jamie Fraser have a good deal in common. Both are decent, honorable men who will move heaven and earth to protect the ones they love, no matter the cost to themselves. They come from similar social and educational backgrounds; Jamie's facility with the Latin and Greek classics is every bit as good as Lord John's. They share a love of literature, and Lord John periodically sends Jamie books to add to his collection at Fraser's Ridge. And of course, they both have a military background, although they were fighting on opposing sides (as during their first meeting, at Prestonpans, in DRAGONFLY IN AMBER). They understand one another very well indeed, and this is one of the things that has enabled them to form such a close friendship.

And then there's Willie, Jamie's illegitimate son by Geneva Dunsany. Lord John is one of only a tiny handful of people who know the truth of Willie's paternity. To the rest of the world, the boy is the ninth Earl of Ellesmere, son of an English nobleman. And Lord John goes to great lengths to help Jamie keep that secret. I love this exchange between Lord John and Brianna:

"I have never spoken to your father regarding Geneva, Ellesmere, or William himself--save to inform him of my marriage to Isobel and to assure him that I would fulfill my responsibilities as William's guardian to the best of my ability."
She set her foot on the stone, driving it into the soft sand, and stopped.
"You never said anything to him? What did he say to you?" she demanded.
"Nothing." He returned her stare.
"Why did you marry Isobel?"
He sighed, but there was no point in evasion.
"In order to take care of William."
The thick red brows nearly touched her hairline.
"So you got married, in spite of--I mean, you turned your whole life upside down, just to take care of Jamie Fraser's illegitimate son? And neither one of you ever talked about it?"
"No," he said, baffled. "Of course not."
(From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 116("The Ninth Earl of Ellesmere"). Copyright© 2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)


To people who don't understand how Lord John thinks (as Brianna certainly does not), this whole exchange is rather baffling. Why in the world would he do such a thing?

The answer, of course, is that he loves Jamie Fraser. In his own way, John loves Jamie as passionately and as devotedly as Claire loves him -- even as he knows full well that Jamie cannot, will not, ever acknowledge his feelings openly.

I think this is the key to understanding what Lord John means to the OUTLANDER series as a whole, and to Jamie in particular. Their relationship is complex and multi-layered, and I've come to find it very intriguing.

The Lord John Books

For those of you who have not read any of the three Lord John books (LORD JOHN AND THE PRIVATE MATTER, LORD JOHN AND THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE BLADE, and LORD JOHN AND THE HAND OF DEVILS), I would highly recommend starting with BOTB. It's the best of the three books, in my opinion, and gives a great deal of insight into how Lord John thinks and what motivates him as a person.

PRIVATE MATTER is by far the weakest of the three Lord John books, in my opinion. It's the only thing I have ever read by Diana that I have to force myself to keep reading. Still, parts of it are enjoyable, and I certainly wouldn't dismiss it entirely.

HAND OF DEVILS is a must-read for Lord John fans. "Succubus" is a fun story, with lots of humor in it, and "Haunted Soldier" picks up right where BOTB left off. I don't care for "Hellfire" very much, but it's so short that ignoring it won't interfere with your enjoyment or understanding of the other Lord John stories.

I would encourage anyone who likes Diana Gabaldon's writing to at least give the Lord John books a try. You may be surprised!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Confessions of an OUTLANDER Audiobook Addict

Well, all right, to be honest, I'm just addicted to the series, period. In whatever form. [g] But I wanted to share some thoughts on the unabridged audio versions of the OUTLANDER and Lord John books, which I've now been listening to almost daily since about April 2007.

First of all, if you don't know what the unabridged audio versions are or where to get them, go to Diana Gabaldon's web site, which explains it all in detail.

(Can I say this without sounding like I'm bragging? I was the one who suggested to Diana, in this thread on Compuserve, that putting together a comprehensive explanation of the current audiobook situation on her blog would be very useful to the fan community. And she posted this entry just three days after I made that suggestion. And included every single item I suggested that she put in it. I was flabbergasted. Not only does she listen to me. Occasionally -- very occasionally -- she actually takes my advice. Wow.)

Things I Like About the Audiobooks:

1) They force you to sloooow doooown [g] and take in all the details.

I have always been a fast reader, and a "skimmer". I missed huge chunks of Good Stuff the first time around, particularly in DRAGONFLY, because I was reading much too fast. (Example: "Wait, you mean to tell me Claire lost the baby? When did that happen? Did I miss something?" [frantically flipping back through the book]) Because the audiobook narrators read Every Single Word, you learn to slow down and listen for the smaller details, the subtleties, the lyrical descriptions that skim-readers like myself often breeze right past. Slowing down has enabled me to see things in Diana's writing that I never would have picked up on otherwise, no matter how many times I re-read the books, because I just read too fast.

2) The narrators are terrific.

Davina Porter's voice is so expressive, and she does a wonderful job with all of the accents. (Well, almost all. See Things I Don't Like, below.) I love being able to hear what the Scottish accents and Gaelic phrases actually sound like. And she can be very creative with the voices at times. I absolutely love the way her voice for Roger changes in FIERY CROSS, for example: strong and resonant in the beginning; barely more than a hoarse whisper when he begins to speak again after the hanging; and by the end, a sort of harsh, rasping shadow of his original voice. Very much as it's described in the book, in other words. And Davina Porter's voice for Mrs. Bug sounds so exactly like the way I imagined, that I always have to laugh whenever I hear it.

Jeff Woodman, narrator of the Lord John audiobooks, is also a wonderful reader. I love his voices for Lord John, Hal, Tom Byrd, and Harry Quarry. He doesn't do so well (understandably enough) with the female voices, but overall he does a good job.

3) You can listen anywhere, any time.

I experimented for a while with listening to the audio CD's while driving back and forth to work. It works out pretty well, especially if you are sitting in traffic, but I would recommend caution if you are listening to one of the really emotionally intense parts of the books! One day last fall, I was driving home while listening to the scene in OUTLANDER where Jamie is being given last rites. I suddenly found myself half-blinded by tears, still driving down the road, about a mile from my house. I got home without incident, but it was a pretty scary experience.

I would also recommend that those of you with young children be careful which parts of the books you listen to when your kids are around. There are a lot of scenes in these books that would be awkward to explain, to put it mildly. [g]

Things I Don't Like:

Some of the voices are just plain wrong. If you've read A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES, you'll recall Wendigo Donner, the time-travelling Native American who whistles "Yellow Submarine". He's clearly not British in the book:

"Man," he said, longing clear in his voice, "what I wouldn't give for a cold Bud
and a baseball game on TV." (From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES by
Diana Gabaldon, chapter 123 ("Return of the Native"). Copyright© 2005 by
Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

But the voice Davina Porter uses for him in the audio version sounds, to my American ears at least, like a Liverpudlian or something. [g] Certainly he doesn't sound like a man born and raised in the U.S.

Brianna's accent is also a bit odd. She lived her whole childhood in Boston, yet she doesn't have a trace of a Boston accent. I've always thought she should.

And as for Jeff Woodman's voices: Well, let's just say that I don't care for his Jamie-voice at all. Jamie sounds half-dead in most of the scenes where he appears in BROTHERHOOD OF THE BLADE, his voice dull and almost inflectionless. And even if this is Woodman's way of showing a more subdued or even depressed Jamie than we're used to from the OUTLANDER books (which would be reasonable under the circumstances, I suppose), I still don't like it one bit. Especially compared to Davina Porter's Jamie.

Still, these are minor quibbles at best. I am thoroughly addicted to the unabridged OUTLANDER audiobooks, and I would strongly encourage anyone who's interested to go to one of the sites below to check them out:

Recorded Books (http://www.recordedbooks.com/)

Audible.com (http://www.audible.com/)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Pictures from Colonial Williamsburg

About two weeks ago, my parents and I visited Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. I had a wonderful time, and it was fascinating to see how many things I recognized from the OUTLANDER books. I thought I'd share a few examples:

This first picture comes from the apothecary shop in Williamsburg. There was a small room off the main part of the shop, roped off so you couldn't get inside. The medicine chest with the little drawers looks exactly like the one that Jamie gives Claire as an anniversary gift in DRUMS OF AUTUMN. [g] My parents didn't understand my excitement at seeing it, until I explained where I'd seen one like it before. Can't you just imagine Claire sitting here?



We had lunch one day in the cafeteria of the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum (fascinating place, if you ever get a chance to visit). Directly across from the cafeteria, there was a display of 18th century firearms. Including a fowling piece (the shorter one near the bottom with the odd-looking barrel). I was fascinated, since I had never actually seen one before, and knew the term only from the OUTLANDER books. ("Ohhh!" I said when I saw it. "So that's what they look like!") And again, my parents sort of looked on, bemused, but humoring me. [g]


This picture is a closeup from that same firearms display. What caught my eye here were the devices for molding lead balls. I think maybe the smaller one with the wooden handles could be similar to the one Jamie uses in ABOSAA, when he's talking with Major MacDonald.


And notice the bayonet in this picture. That blade looks really dangerous, doesn't it?


This picture was taken just after our arrival in the historical section of Williamsburg on our first full day there. We saw this man leading a pair of oxen across the street almost directly in front of us. (Definitely a sight you don't see every day!) There are in fact a pair of them in this picture, although you can't really tell unless you look closely. I like the way the ox is looking directly into the camera.


And finally, here is a picture of Patrick Henry (no, he's not a relative of mine, though our family does like to jokingly claim him as a relation anyway [g]). We saw him do a 45-minute lecture and Q&A, and he was terrific!

I love the way the re-enactors stay in character no matter what bizarre question you ask them. When we were there, they were re-enacting events from 1774. Someone asked one of the re-enactors his opinion on the Revolution, and he looked quite shocked at the prospect. "Revolution?! What sort of treasonous nonsense is that?" [g]

It was a great trip, and I hope you enjoy these pictures!

Monday, September 15, 2008

My new role on Compuserve

As some of you may have heard, over the weekend I was offered the position of Section Leader (SL) in Diana Gabaldon's folder on the Compuserve Books and Writers Forum, which is the online community where Diana hangs out.

Naturally I was delighted (and rather stunned) that Diana and the other forum staff would think of me, and I accepted the offer with pleasure. Now, when you look at my posts on Compuserve that were created since the announcement, you will see a little picture of a gavel beside my name, which indicates that I am a member of the forum staff.

If you want to read what Diana said in her public announcement on the forum, click here.

So, what does a Section Leader do? The job was described to me as "a cross between moderator and janitor". [g] I can -- theoretically, as I'm only just starting to learn how -- move, edit, and delete posts, change thread titles, split off discussions into new threads, and so on.

Basically, the idea is to keep the discussions from getting out of control, and also to free Diana from having to do these sorts of housekeeping functions herself -- so she can spend more time focused on finishing AN ECHO IN THE BONE [vbg], which she hopes to have completed by the end of the year.

By the way, in case you're wondering, the forum staff are all volunteers.

I really enjoy the atmosphere and the intellectual stimulation of the discussions on Compuserve, and I'm thrilled that they let me take on this role even though I have only been a member for a year and a half, and only posting regularly on the forum since BOTB came out about a year ago. (Some of the people there, like Diana herself, have been members for 20 years or more.)

I know that some of Diana's fans view her Compuserve forum as a scary or intimidating place, especially for first-time posters. I understand why people feel this way, but I don't happen to agree. I hope to use my new position to make the forum a more welcoming place for newbies. And the fact that I've been given this opportunity just proves what I have said for a long time: you definitely don't have to be a writer (or even an aspiring one [g]) to participate in the discussions over there.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Searching inside the books

Have you ever been frustrated by not being able to find a specific quote that you're looking for in one of the OUTLANDER books? If so, here's something that may be useful to you:

Amazon.com's "Search inside this Book" function lets you type in a keyword and search the entire text of the book for all references to that keyword. It works better for single words than for phrases, but I've found it to be quite accurate. And in the case of the OUTLANDER books, it can be quite a time-saver, when the alternative is to try leafing through 900+ pages by hand!

Here are the "Search inside this book" pages for the OUTLANDER books:

OUTLANDER

DRAGONFLY IN AMBER

VOYAGER

DRUMS OF AUTUMN

THE FIERY CROSS

OUTLANDISH COMPANION

Unfortunately, ABOSAA and the Lord John books are not yet searchable. I asked Diana about this on Compuserve a few months ago, and she showed no interest in contacting either her agent or the publisher to get them to follow up on it. (Well, she is awfully busy....) Still, we'll take what we can get.

I hope you find these links as useful as I have. They don't (apparently) work for everybody, but it's probably worth a try. And if you have more search tips, feel free to share them.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Tom Christie's sacrifice

One of the things that intrigues me about the OUTLANDER books is that the characters change, learning and growing from their experiences. Even the most rigid and dogmatic of characters can experience this sort of epiphany, a moment of decision that changes them forever.

Take Thomas Christie, for example. He seems at first to be nothing more than a humorless, repressive, and tiresomely dogmatic man, with virtually no redeeming qualities. He beats his daughter Malva, disapproves openly of Claire's refusal to act the part of a properly submissive 18th-century woman by covering her hair, constantly quotes Scripture at people, and insults Jamie to his face.

And yet in the end, Tom Christie in essence throws his life away, sacrificing himself to save Claire's life, by agreeing to confess to his daughter Malva's murder. It is a breathtaking act of self-sacrifice, made all the more remarkable by the fact that Tom has shown almost nothing but contempt for both Claire and Jamie since he first arrived on the Ridge.

So, what made him do it? The answer, on the surface, seems simple enough: He loves Claire, even as he realizes that his love for her will never be either acknowledged or reciprocated. Once Jamie's attempt to free Claire from the Governor's custody fails, it becomes clear that the only way she will go free is if someone else confesses to the crime. And so Tom Christie does the only thing he can, to save her life.

"I have yearned always," he said softly," for love given and returned, have spent my life in the attempt to give my love to those who were not worthy of it. Allow me this: to give my life for the sake of one who is."
"Mr. Chr--Tom," I said. "You mustn't. Your life has--has value. You can't throw it away like this!"
He nodded, patient.
"I know that. If it did not, this would not matter."

From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 97 ("For the Sake of One Who Is"). Copyright© 2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.


From the point of view of the story, and the fictional world of the OUTLANDER universe, it makes perfect sense. But ask yourself, how many of us would be capable of literally giving up our lives for someone else?

Jamie, of course, came very close to doing just that, when he offered himself to Jack Randall in OUTLANDER, in exchange for Claire's freedom. But Jamie is the hero of the story, and somehow we expect heroes to be self-sacrificing; it doesn't come as a shock. Much more startling, in my opinion, to see an ordinary man -- and not a particularly heroic or admirable man, up to this point in the story -- sacrifice himself in this way.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

What Jamie Fraser looks like

Yesterday on her blog, Diana Gabaldon posted this approximation of what the Jamie of her imagination looks like.

This is a Photoshopped image of model Gabriel Aubry, whom I had never heard of before yesterday. (Apparently he's Halle Berry's boyfriend, or so I gather....)

I think he looks terrific, very much like the Jamie in my mental picture. I am delighted to see that his red hair is so close to my own hair color.

So, what do you think?