Friday, November 30, 2012

A wee giftie

An online acquaintance sent me this wee giftie, which arrived just in time for St. Andrew's Day!

Thanks, Rita!  I think he's pretty cute. :-)

Friday Fun Facts - 11/30/2012

Here are this week's Friday Fun Facts about Diana Gabaldon's books.

1) I was surprised to learn in THE SCOTTISH PRISONER that Jamie was familiar with Punch and Judy.
He’d seen things like this in Paris, often. Wee puppets posturing and squeaking. These were long-nosed, ugly ones, shouting in shrill insult and hitting one another with sticks.

He was breathing easier now, dizziness and fear leaving him as the sheer ordinariness of the day closed round him like warm water. Punchinello—that was the man-puppet’s name—and his wife was Judy. She had a stick, Judy did, and tried to strike Punch on the head with it, but he seized the stick. She whipped it up, and Punch, clinging to it, sailed across the tiny stage with a long drawn-out “Shiiiiiit!” to crash against the wall. The crowd shrieked with delight.

(From THE SCOTTISH PRISONER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 10, "Punch and Judy". Copyright© 2011 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.) 
Here is a short video of a modern Punch and Judy show.

Here's some information on the history of Punch and Judy shows.  Bonus fun fact: Punch's distinctive squawking voice -- Wikipedia describes it as "a vocal quality as though he were speaking through a kazoo" -- is produced by means of a device known as a swazzle.

Silkworm and cocoon

2) The photo above shows a silkworm (Bombyx mori) on a mulberry leaf, along with a cocoon made of silk.  (Photo credit: Eeva47 on Flickr.)  I didn't know anything about the connection between mulberry trees and silkworms until I read DRUMS OF AUTUMN.
"Where does this silk come from?” I asked. “It isn’t China silk; is it French?”

The sempstress looked up, her crossness temporarily relieved by interest.

“No, indeed it’s not. That’s made in South Carolina, that is. There’s a lady, Mrs. Pinckney by name, has gone and put half her land to mulberry trees, and went to raising silkworms on ’em. The cloth’s maybe not quite so fine as the China,” she acknowledged reluctantly, “but ’tisn’t but half the cost, either."

(From DRUMS OF AUTUMN by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 6, "I Encounter a Hernia". Copyright© 1997 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
The sempstress was referring to Eliza Lucas Pinckney.  Here's an excerpt from a letter written by her husband, Charles Pinckney, on April 1, 1755:
Can any thing then more strongly point out that Nature intend these Climates to be Silk Countries, in which She has so liberally provided the only proper food for the Silkworms - And we have our own Experience to demonstrate the little Silk hitherto made in these Countries is as good as is made in any part of the World. The piece that I had the honour to present to her Royal Highness the Princes of Wales for a suit of Cloaths the last winter was of Mrs Pinckneys own making on my Plantation near Charles Town in South Carolina, and was as good in the Judgment of the Manufactures & Mercers, as any ever made of the Sort.
Here are some more photos of silkworms and mulberry leaves.  You can learn more about the habits of silkworms here.

3) You may recall that Jamie had a copy of John Brickell's THE NATURAL HISTORY OF NORTH CAROLINA.  As you can see from the cover photo above, this is a real book, published in 1737.
"That’s a fine wee book, Uncle Jamie,” Ian said, with approval. “Does it say more about the snakes?” He looked hungrily over the expanse of table, in search of more food. Without comment, I reached into the hutch and brought out a plate of spoonbread, which I set before him. He sighed happily and waded in, as Jamie turned the page.

“Well, here’s a bit about how the rattlesnakes charm squirrels and rabbits.” Jamie touched his plate, but encountered nothing save bare surface. I pushed the muffins toward him.

“ ‘It is surprizing to observe how these Snakes will allure and charm Squirrels, Hedge-Conneys, Partridges and many other small Beasts and Birds to them, which they quickly devour. The Sympathy is so strong between these, that you shall see the Squirrel or Partridge (as they have espied this Snake) leap or fly from Bough to Bough, until at last they run or leap directly into its Mouth, not having power to avoid their Enemy, who never stirs out of the Posture or Quoil until he obtains his Prey.’ ”

His hand, blindly groping after sustenance, encountered the muffins. He picked one up and glanced up at me. “Damned if I’ve ever seen that, myself. D’ye think it likely?"

(From DRUMS OF AUTUMN by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 25, "Enter a Serpent". Copyright© 1997 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
If you want to read this book for yourself, it's available online here in various electronic formats.  The bit Jamie is reading in the scene quoted above comes from pp. 144-145 of Brickell's book.

The photo above shows some of the illustrations of flora and fauna from the book.  If some of them look familiar to you, that may be because Diana included a number of these drawings in the OUTLANDISH COMPANION.

4) The painting shown above, by Robert Lindneux (1942), commemorates the suffering of the Cherokee people on the "Trail of Tears" in the 1830s.  Click on the picture for a bigger view.
"About sixty years from now,” she said at last, eyes on the ground, “the American government will take the Cherokee from their land and move them. A long way--to a place called Oklahoma. It’s a thousand miles, at least, and hundreds and hundreds of them will starve and die on the way. That’s why they called it--will call it--the Trail of Tears.”

He was impressed to hear that there should be a government capable of doing such a thing, and said so. She shot him an angry glance.

“They’ll do it by cheating. They’ll talk some of the Cherokee leaders into agreeing by promising them things and not keeping their bargain.”

He shrugged. “That’s how most governments behave,” he observed mildly. “Why are ye telling me this, lass? I will--thank God--be safely dead before any of it happens.”

He saw a flicker cross her face at mention of his death, and was sorry to have caused her distress by his levity. Before he could apologize, though, she squared her shoulders and went on.

“I’m telling you because I thought you should know,” she said. “Not all of the Cherokee went--some of them went farther up into the mountains and hid; the army didn’t find them."

(From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES by Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 41, "The Gun-Smith". Copyright© 2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Here is a brief history of the forced relocation of the Cherokee. The Cherokee phrase is "nu na hi du na tlo hi lu i", or "The Trail Where They Cried".

5) The photo above shows a pair of manatees (Trichechus manatus), like the ones Jamie and Claire saw in Jamaica.
"Come see,” he whispered.

There was a small herd of manatees in the lagoon, big gray bodies gliding under the dark crystal water, rising gleaming like smooth, wet rocks. Birds were beginning to call in the trees near the house; besides this, the only sound was the frequent whoosh of the manatees’ breath as they rose for air, and now and then an eerie sound like a hollow, distant wail, as they called to each other.

We watched them in silence, side by side. The lagoon began to turn green as the first rays of sun touched its surface. In that state of extreme fatigue where every sense is preternaturally heightened, I was as aware of Jamie as though I were touching him.

(From VOYAGER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 59, "In Which Much is Revealed". Copyright© 1994 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Here's a brief video showing manatees in Crystal River, Florida.

Did you know manatees are related to elephants?  Look here for more information about manatees.

I hope you enjoyed these Friday Fun Facts! Look here to see all of my Friday Fun Facts blog posts. And please stop by next week for more! 

Monday, November 26, 2012

"The Space Between" reactions

Here are a few of my reactions to Diana Gabaldon's latest story, "The Space Between", the novella about Young Ian's brother Michael, Marsali's sister Joan, and the Comte St. Germain, which was recently published in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand as part of a story collection called A TRAIL OF FIRE.

If you're looking for more information about A TRAIL OF FIRE, see the FAQ here.  "The Space Between" is currently only available in A TRAIL OF FIRE, but it will be published in the US on Feb. 19, 2013, as part of an anthology called THE MAD SCIENTIST'S GUIDE TO WORLD DOMINATION.

*** S P O I L E R  W A R N I N G ***

Don't read below if you haven't finished "The Space Between"!









- I found the Comte St. Germain's point of view completely fascinating. <g>  Everything we learned about him in this story raises more questions.  I love the way he can sense not only the blue aura that marks other time-travelers, but the internal workings of the body at a cellular level.  Wow.

- Rakoczy doesn't seem terribly frightened by the prospect of going through the stones.  I wonder why not?  And how many times has he done this??

- Why does he want to go forward in time?  Just for the novelty of it, to see if he can?  Or does he have some other motive?

- I really enjoyed the colors in this story.  The "blue vitriol" (known today as copper sulfate), the torches burning with green fire, etc.

- It was fun to see Master Raymond again.  I do wonder what "lost daughter" he's referring to.  Is it Claire, or someone else?  And I was just blown away by Raymond's ability to disappear like that.  How the heck did he DO that??  (There has to be a rational explanation, and I hope we find out what it is, some day. <g>)

- Joan is a very appealing character.  I liked her in ECHO, and I like her even more in this story.  I hope we see more of her at some point.  I love the way she thinks. <g> 

- Michael is also a very likeable character.  Like Jamie, he's a logical thinker (I liked the way he matched wits with Mother Hildegarde <g> ) who also feels very deeply.  I loved the little flashback where he and young Ian talk about their grief.  And I see parallels to ECHO here, in the way that Michael pulls himself out of that abyss of grief and loss by focusing on someone who still needs him (Joan), just as Claire talked herself out of suicide by thinking about Bree and the others.

- I thought the memorial keg of whisky in Ian's honor was a nice touch. <g>

This story leaves us with plenty to speculate about.  Just like Rakoczy, my mind "bubbled with questions" when I finished reading it, and I'm very interested in hearing what the rest of you think!

If you want to tell Diana Gabaldon what you thought of the story, or share your comments, questions, or speculations with other fans, please feel free to join the discussion about "The Space Between" on Compuserve here.  Diana always likes to hear from her readers, and she has been participating actively in that discussion.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

SCOTTISH PRISONER audiobook on sale through 11/26!

I just found out that the audiobook of Diana Gabaldon's novel THE SCOTTISH PRISONER (narrated by Jeff Woodman and Rick Holmes) is on sale at for $4.95.  But you have to act fast!  This offer is only good through midnight on November 26!  Thanks to Carol A. on Compuserve for the tip!

This is a good deal if you can take advantage of it.  The catch is that you have to log in with an id in order for the sale price to show up.  The link is here.  If that doesn't show the sale price of $4.95, try this and scroll down the page until you see THE SCOTTISH PRISONER.

I don't know if this offer is valid outside the US.

If you haven't yet listened to the SCOTTISH PRISONER audiobook, I would recommend it.  My detailed review is here.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

In honor of the holiday, here are some Thanksgiving-themed quotes from the OUTLANDER books.  This has become an annual tradition here on my blog, and I hope you enjoy them!

1) Roger and Brianna, hunting turkeys:
"What a thing," he said. He held it at arm's length to drain, admiring the vivid reds and blues of the bare, warty head and dangling wattle. "I don't think I've ever seen one, save roasted on a platter, with chestnut dressing and roast potatoes."

He looked from the turkey to her with great respect, and nodded at the gun.

"That's great shooting, Bree."

She felt her cheeks flush with pleasure, and restrained the urge to say, "Aw, shucks, it warn't nothin'," settling instead for a simple, "Thanks."

(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 20, "Shooting Lessons". Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
I love this scene, both for what it reveals about Brianna's childhood (did Frank really find evidence that she would travel to the 18th century some day?) and for Roger's reaction. He's a little taken aback by her shooting skills, but his ego doesn't seem to be threatened by the fact that she's better at hunting (providing food for the family) than he is.

2) Claire and Jamie receiving gifts from the local Native Americans, very much in the spirit of the Pilgrims' first Thanksgiving:
Once the official introductions were over, Nacognaweto motioned to Berthe, who obediently brought out the large bundle she had carried, and opened it at my feet, displaying a large basket of orange and green-striped squash, a string of dried fish, a smaller basket of yams, and a huge pile of Indian corn, shucked and dried on the cob.

“My God,” I murmured. “The return of Squanto!”

Everyone gave me a blank look, and I hastened to smile and make exclamations--thoroughly heartfelt--of joy and pleasure over the gifts. It might not get us through the whole winter, but it was enough to augment our diet for a good two months.

(From DRUMS OF AUTUMN by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 20, "The White Raven". Copyright© 1997 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

3) Jocasta and Duncan's wedding feast:
"Can ye not decide where to begin, Sassenach?" He reached down and took the empty wineglass from her hand, taking advantage of the movement to come close against her back, feeling the warmth of her through his clothes.

She laughed, and swayed back against him, leaning on his arm. She smelled faintly of rice powder and warm skin, with the scent of rose hips in her hair.

"I'm not even terribly hungry. I was just counting the jellies and preserves. There are thirty-seven different ones--unless I've missed my count."

He spared a glance for the table, which did indeed hold a bewildering array of silver dishes, porcelain bowls, and wooden platters, groaning with more food than would feed a Highland village for a month.

(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 46, "Quicksilver". Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Most major holiday dinners give me this same feeling, although I can't say I've ever seen thirty-seven different varieties of *anything* at one meal before. <g>

4) The "hearth blessing" on Fraser's Ridge:
We blessed the hearth two days later, standing in the wall-less cabin. Myers had removed his hat, from respect, and Ian had washed his face. Rollo was present, too, as was the small white pig, who was required to attend as the personification of our "flocks," despite her objections; the pig saw no point in being removed from her meal of acorns to participate in a ritual so notably lacking in food.

(From DRUMS OF AUTUMN by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 19, "Hearth Blessing". Copyright© 1997 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Considering how successful that little homestead on the Ridge would prove to be, I think there must have been something extra-powerful in that blessing. <g> And I love the mention of the little white piglet, who will grow up to become the infamous White Sow. If this blessing was intended to ensure fertility on the part of that sow, it succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

5) The Selkirk Grace:
[Hamish] glared round the table to insure that everyone was in a properly reverential attitude before bowing his own head. Satisfied, he intoned,

"Some hae meat that canna eat,
And some could eat that want it.
We hae meat, and we can eat,
And so may God be thankit.

(From OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 6, "Colum's Hall". Copyright© 1991 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Happy Thanksgiving! (And to those of you outside the U.S., best wishes for the holiday season.)  If you're looking for OUTLANDER-related food ideas, check out this OUTLANDER Thanksgiving Feast posted by Theresa of Outlander Kitchen!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Confessions of an OUTLANDER Audiobook Addict

Here's an update of one of my very first blog posts, originally published in September, 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 April 2007.  (Yes, that's five and a half years!)  The photo above shows my collection of unabridged OUTLANDER and Lord John audiobooks on CD, from OUTLANDER through THE SCOTTISH PRISONER.

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 on my first reading of the OUTLANDER series in 2006, 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])  It took me a while to realize that Diana Gabaldon's books just can't be read that way, because you miss too much.

This is where the audiobooks help tremendously.  Because the 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.

Here's a fascinating two-part interview with Davina Porter and her husband Gus, recorded in 2009.  I think it's really interesting to hear her describe how she works.

Part 1:

Part 2 (you may want to skip the first bit; the part relating to her work starts around 2:20)

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. Diana Gabaldon has said that Jeff Woodman's Lord John sounds very much like what she hears in her head.  Here's an interview with Jeff Woodman from 2010 in which he describes his work.

3) You can listen anywhere, any time.

I frequently listen 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 in 2007, 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.  And you might also want to use caution when listening to the audiobooks in front of people who are not fans, for the same reason.

One day in 2010, I was on my way out to lunch with a couple of male co-workers, and I forgot I'd had DRAGONFLY IN AMBER on my iPod coming through the car stereo.  I got in the car, turned on the ignition, and heard Davina Porter (in Jamie's voice) saying "pustulent @rseholes...." <g>  (I think the context of the phrase was something to do with Claire's work at L'Hopital des Anges, but it doesn't matter; the point is, these were the first and only words my coworkers heard.)

I shut the stereo off fast, blushing furiously.

My startled coworkers stared first at the radio, then at me.  "What on earth was THAT?!"

"Oh, um....nothing."

I just couldn't think of any way to explain.  The truth would have required a lot more explanation than I was prepared to give, just at that moment.  (These being coworkers who had no idea of my OUTLANDER-addiction.)  I think they went away thinking I had very odd tastes in radio programs, or something.

I suppose I should count myself lucky that I hadn't been listening to one of the sex scenes! <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.  (Davina Porter admits, in the video above, that she got his accent wrong.)

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, particularly in BROTHERHOOD OF THE BLADE.  Jamie sounds half-dead in most of the scenes where he appears in BOTB, 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 to check them out.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Friday Fun Facts - 11/16/2012

Here are this week's Friday Fun Facts about Diana Gabaldon's books.

1) The photo above shows a large cat of the species Puma concolor, also known as a cougar, catamount, panther, or mountain lion. (Click on the photo for a bigger view.)  Why so many different names for one animal? According to Wikipedia, "Puma concolor holds the Guinness record for the animal with the highest number of names, presumably due to its wide distribution across North and South America. It has over 40 names in English alone."

I think it would be pretty scary to come face-to-face with one of these predators, as Claire did in DRUMS:
It was no more than six feet away from me, half visible behind a bush. The sound of its lapping was lost in the noise of the stream. Then the broad head lifted, and a tufted ear swiveled toward me, though I had made no noise. Could it hear me breathing?

The sun had reached it, lit it into tawny life, glowed in gold eyes that stared into mine with a preternatural calm. The breeze had shifted; I could smell it now; a faint acrid cat-tang, and the stronger scent of blood. Ignoring me, it lifted a dark-blotched paw and licked fastidiously, eyes slitted in hygienic preoccupation.

It rubbed the paw several times over its ear, then stretched luxuriously in the patch of new sun--my God, it must be six feet long!--and sauntered off, full belly swaying.

(From DRUMS OF AUTUMN by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 19, "Hearth Blessing". Copyright© 1997 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Here's an Animal Planet video about mountain lions.  I'm not able to embed it here, but I hope you'll take the time to watch it.  It's less than 4 minutes long, but very interesting!

Ben Nevis

2) "Munro bagging" has been a popular pastime among Scottish hikers for decades, as Roger explained to Bree:
"If you come back to Scotland ever, I’ll take ye Munro bagging.”

“You’ll take me what?”

He laughed, and she had a sudden memory of him, brushing back the thick black hair that he didn’t cut often enough, moss-green eyes creased half-shut by his smile. She found she was rubbing the tip of her thumb slowly across her lower lip, and stopped herself. He’d kissed her when they parted.

“A Munro is any Scottish peak more than three thousand feet. There are so many of them, it’s a sport to see how many you can climb. Folk collect them, like stamps, or matchbooks."

(From DRUMS OF AUTUMN by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 3, "The Minister's Cat". Copyright© 1997 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
The photo above shows Ben Nevis, Scotland's tallest mountain. (Photo credit: valley taff on Flickr.)  The one below is An Gearanach, "The Complainer". (Photo credit: Joe Finlay on Flickr.)  Click on the photos to enlarge them.

An Gearanach

I have always suspected that the character of Hugh Munro -- Jamie's beggar friend in OUTLANDER, who gave Claire the bit of amber with a dragonfly inside it -- was named after Sir Hugh Munro (1856–1919), the Scottish mountaineer who first compiled a list of nearly 300 Scottish peaks. (You can see a modern version of the list here.)

3) This photo shows what gooseberries look like.
"Have I never told ye that story? How my mother had put on a pot of brose to cook, and then her pains came on so fast she’d no time to think of it, and no one else remembered either until they smelled the burning, and it ruined the supper and the pot as well? There was nothing else in the house to eat save a great gooseberry pie. So they all ate that, but there was a new kitchenmaid and the gooseberries were green, and all of them--except my mother and me, of course--spent the night writhing wi’ the indigestion.”

He shook his head, still smiling. “My father said it was months before he could look at me without feeling his bowels cramp."

(From DRUMS OF AUTUMN by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 15, "Noble Savages". Copyright© 1997 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
According to Wikipedia,
The climate of the British Isles seems peculiarly adapted to bring the gooseberry to perfection, and it may be grown successfully even in the most northern parts of Scotland where it is commonly known as a "grozet"; indeed, the flavour of the fruit is said to improve with increasing latitude.
I've never seen gooseberries, let alone tasted them.  Have any of you tried them?

4) This is what Penicillium spores look like under a microscope.
There they were. Dark stalks, topped with clublike spores, dense against the pale bright ground of the microscope’s field of view. Confirmation.

“Got them.” I straightened up, slowly rubbing the small of my back as I looked over my preparations.

A series of slides lay in a neat fan beside the microscope, each bearing a dark smear in the middle, a code written on the end of each slide with a bit of wax from a candle stub. Samples of mold, taken from damp corn bread, from spoiled biscuit, and a bit of discarded pastry crust from the Hogmanay venison pie. The crust had yielded the best growth by far; no doubt it was the goose grease.

Of the various test substrates I had tried, those were the three resultant batches of mold that had contained the highest proportion of Penicillium--or what I could be fairly sure was Penicillium. There were a dismaying number of molds that would grow on damp bread, in addition to several dozen different strains of Penicillium, but the samples I had chosen contained the best matches for the textbook pictures of Penicillium sporophytes that I had committed to memory, years ago, in another life.

(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 36, "Worlds Unseen". Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

The photo above shows Penicillium mold growing on an orange. (Yes, I know it looks disgusting, but just remember that similar moldy bits of rotting food produced the penicillin that saved Jamie's life after the snakebite in FIERY CROSS.)

Here's an explanation of how to grow your own penicillin.

5) In the 18th century, a pocket was a separate, removable item of ladies' clothing, tied about the waist.  (The pair of pockets shown above are from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.)

Ladies' skirts and petticoats had slits on the sides to allow access to the pockets underneath, as shown in this diagram of an 18th-century petticoat:

Here's a scene in which Claire demonstrates the usefulness of the removable pocket:
Roger paused to wipe his face with the large handkerchief Brianna had provided for the purpose, and under cover of this, saw Claire reach into the slit of her skirt and draw out a large calico pocket.

She appeared to be arguing with Jamie in a whisper; he was shaking his head, looking like the Spartan with the fox at his vitals.

Then the snake’s head appeared suddenly under Jamie’s chin, tongue flicking, and Jamie’s eyes went wide. Claire stood instantly on tiptoe, seized it by the neck, and whipping the astonished reptile out of her husband’s shirt like a length of rope, crammed the writhing ball headfirst into her pocket and jerked shut the drawstring.

"Praise the Lord!” Roger blurted, to which the congregation obligingly chorused “Amen!” though looking a little puzzled at the interjection.

(From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 58, "Love One Another". Copyright© 2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Here's a site that explains how to make your own 18th-century-style pocket. For more about 18th-century pockets, look here.

I hope you enjoyed these Friday Fun Facts! Look here to see all of my Friday Fun Facts blog posts.

PLEASE NOTE:  I will be taking a break from the FFF next week.  Between the Thanksgiving holiday and my birthday on Nov. 23rd, I just won't have time to put a new list together.  But you can look for the Friday Fun Facts to resume on November 30th!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thank you, Diana!

My autographed copy of Diana Gabaldon's new book, A TRAIL OF FIRE, arrived yesterday from the Poisoned Pen bookstore.

I was delighted by the inscription, which reads, "To Karen, Thanks for 4 years of bumblebee-herding!"  I'd requested this particular inscription as a reference to my role "herding the bumblebees" (as Diana put it) on the Compuserve Books and Writers Community, where I've been Section Leader of the Diana Gabaldon folder since September, 2008.

And I love the latest title Diana has bestowed on me, in the Acknowledgements to A TRAIL OF FIRE.  "Nitpicker-in-Chief" refers to the fact that I sent Diana detailed (and sometimes very nitpicky) comments on each of the four stories in A TRAIL OF FIRE, at various points in the last couple of years.  I'm really glad she found my comments helpful!

THANK YOU, Diana!!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Diana's knee surgery, round 2

Diana Gabaldon mentioned on Compuserve over the weekend that she will be having knee surgery on Tuesday, similar to the partial knee replacement she had in 2010, but involving the other knee this time.

For those of you who weren't around in 2010, here's Diana's blog post about her first surgery.  I suspect that the device she's having implanted on Tuesday will be similar.

If you want to offer good-luck or get-well wishes, prayers, or advice, there's a thread on Compuserve here.

Those of you who are addicted to the #DailyLines on Facebook and Twitter will just have to be patient for a few days, until Diana recovers sufficiently from the surgery to resume something close to her usual writing routine.

By the way, in case you're wondering, Diana has said that Claire's wonky knee in ECHO (chapter 35, "Ticonderoga") and Jerry's in "A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows" were both inspired by her own real-life knee troubles. <g>

I'm sure you'll all join me in wishing Diana a successful surgery and a quick and complete recovery!

UPDATE 11/15/2012 6:14 PM:  Diana is home from the hospital.  The surgery went well, and she is recuperating, but it may be a few days before she's back to something resembling her usual routine.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Friday Fun Facts - 11/9/2012

Here are this week's Friday Fun Facts about Diana Gabaldon's books.

1) Here are a couple of photos of Percheron horses. This is the same breed that Jamie and Claire went to see in DRAGONFLY IN AMBER:
Percherons are very large horses. A big one stands over five feet at the shoulder, and the rump of a well-fed mare is almost a yard across, a pale, dappled gray or shining black, adorned with a waterfall of black hair, thick as my arm at the root of it.

The stallion burst from his stall toward the tethered mare with a suddenness that made everyone fall back from the fence. Puffs of dust flew up in clouds as the huge hooves struck the packed dirt of the pen, and drops of saliva flew from his open mouth. The groom who had opened his stall door jumped aside, tiny and insignificant next to the magnicent fury let loose in the pen.

The mare curvetted and squealed in alarm, but then he was on her, and his teeth closed on the sturdy arch of her neck, forcing her head down into submission. The great swathe of her tail swept high, leaving her naked, exposed to his lust.

"Jésus," whispered Monsieur Prudhomme.

(From DRAGONFLY IN AMBER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 22, "The Royal Stud". Copyright© 1992 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
For more about Percherons, visit the Percheron Horse Association of America website, or look here for some photos from a family-run farm in Hampshire, England, that specializes in breeding Percherons.

2) Claire is apparently very familiar with the story of Mowgli and the Red Flower, from THE JUNGLE BOOK by Rudyard Kipling.
"I have it!" said Bagheera, leaping up. “Go thou down quickly to the men’s huts in the valley, and take some of the Red Flower which they grow there, so that when the time comes thou mayest have even a stronger friend than I or Baloo or those of the Pack that love thee. Get the Red Flower.”

By Red Flower Bagheera meant fire, only no creature in the  jungle will call fire by its proper name. Every beast lives in deadly fear of it, and invents a hundred ways of describing it.

“The Red Flower?” said Mowgli. “That grows outside their huts in the twilight. I will get some.”

“There speaks the man’s cub,” said Bagheera proudly. “Remember that it grows in little pots. Get one swiftly, and keep it by thee for time of need.”
The illustration above shows Mowgli attacking Shere Khan with a blazing torch.  Seeing Jamie struggling with the bear, Claire remembered the Kipling story, but lacking a suitable branch to use as a torch, her response was somewhat different:
With vague thoughts of Mowgli and the Red Flower, I scrabbled madly over the damp earth in the clearing, finding nothing but small pieces of charred stick and glowing embers that blistered my fingers but were too small to grip.

I had always thought that bears roared when annoyed. This one was making a lot of noise, but it sounded more like a very large pig, with piercing squeals and blatting noises interspersed with hair-raising growls. Jamie was making a lot of noise, too, which was reassuring under the circumstances.

My hand fell on something cold and clammy; the fish, tossed aside at the edge of the fire clearing.

“To hell with the Red Flower,” I muttered. I seized one of the trout by the tail, ran forward, and belted the bear across the nose with it as hard as I could.

(From DRUMS OF AUTUMN by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 15, "Noble Savages". Copyright© 1997 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

3) The photo above shows what a nannyberry bush (Viburnum lentago) looks like in the autumn, around the time of year that the Gathering in THE FIERY CROSS took place.
"Is there a difficulty, Mr. Wemyss?”

Mr. Wemyss was delayed in answering, having become inextricably entangled with the nannyberry bush, and I was obliged to go and help release him. A onetime bookkeeper who had been obliged to sell himself as an indentured servant, Mr. Wemyss was highly unsuited to life in the wilderness.

“I do apologize for troubling ye, sir,” he said, rather red in the face. He picked nervously at a spiny twig that had caught in his fair, flyaway hair.

(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 12, "Virtue". Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Every article I could find about the Viburnum lentago mentions the suckers that form at its base.  Evidently those are what trapped poor Mr. Wemyss. <g>

4) Here is a short two-part video by Australian Keith H. Burgess, showing how to make lead musket balls using a bullet mold, exactly as Jamie did in ABOSAA.  (If you have trouble viewing the videos, you can see them on YouTube: Part 1 and Part 2.)  The close-up view of the bullet mold and ladle starts at about 2:40 into the first video.
The militant smell of hot lead began to permeate the room, competing with the Major’s pipe smoke, and quite overpowering the pleasantly domestic atmosphere of rising bread, cooking, dried herbs, scouring rushes, and lye soap that normally filled the kitchen.

Lead melts suddenly; one instant, a deformed bullet or a bent button sits in the ladle, whole and distinct; the next, it’s gone, a tiny puddle of metal shimmering dully in its place. Jamie poured the molten lead carefully into the mold, averting his face from the fumes. 

(From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 5, "The Shadows Which Fire Throws". Copyright© 2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

The photo above shows a bullet mold and several lead balls that belonged to Robert Burns, circa 1790.

5) The photo above, from Wikipedia, shows a plant called Aconitum variegatum.  Aconitum is "the queen of poisons", known by a variety of names such as aconite, monkshood, wolf's bane, leopard's bane, women's bane, and Devil's helmet.  Claire used aconite poison to end the life of the slave impaled on the hook in DRUMS OF AUTUMN:
Numbness. Tingling. A sensation of the skin crawling, as though affected by insects. Nausea, epigastric pain. Labored breathing, skin cold and clammy, features bloodless. Pulse feeble and irregular, yet the mind remains clear.

None of the visible symptoms were discernible from those he already showed. Epigastric pain, forsooth.

One-fiftieth grain will kill a sparrow in a few seconds. One-tenth grain, a rabbit in five minutes. Aconite was said to be the poison in the cup Medea prepared for Theseus.

I tried to hear nothing, feel nothing, know nothing but the jerky beat beneath my fingers. I tried with all my might to shut out the voices overhead, the murmur nearby, the heat and dust and stink of blood, to forget where I was, and what I was doing.

(From DRUMS OF AUTUMN by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 11, "The Law of Bloodshed". Copyright© 1997 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Here's more information about aconite.  According to WebMD,
Despite serious concerns about safety, some people take aconite by mouth for facial paralysis, joint pain, gout, finger numbness, cold hands and feet, inflammation, painful breathing and fluid in the space surrounding the lungs (pleurisy), certain heart problems (pericarditis sicca), fever, skin diseases, and hair loss. Aconite is also used as a disinfectant, to treat wounds, and to promote sweating.
It sounds like something that should be used only with extreme caution by people who know what they are doing!

I hope you enjoyed these Friday Fun Facts! Look here to see all of my Friday Fun Facts blog posts. And please stop by next week for more! 

Thursday, November 8, 2012


Diana Gabaldon's new story collection, A TRAIL OF FIRE, was released in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand today.  Congratulations, Diana!  (No, it's not available in the US and Canada -- see the explanation here -- but you can order it from Amazon UK or the Poisoned Pen.)

I haven't yet seen the actual book -- my copy was shipped from the Poisoned Pen bookstore yesterday, so I'll have it in a few days -- but Diana was kind enough to let me read an advance copy of the new story, "The Space Between", and I think you're all going to enjoy it!  I won't say more about it here, except that this story gives us a LOT to speculate about. <g>

If you want to discuss any of the stories in A TRAIL OF FIRE, feel free to come and post your reactions, comments, questions, and/or speculations in Diana Gabaldon's section of the Compuserve Books and Writers Community.  (For those of you who don't know, I'm Section Leader of the Diana Gabaldon folder on Compuserve, which is the online community where Diana hangs out.)  We have separate discussions for each of the four stories in A TRAIL OF FIRE:
If you have questions about A TRAIL OF FIRE, please see the FAQ page. And if your question isn't answered there, let me know, and maybe I can help.

I'm told, by the way, that my name is in the Acknowledgements to A TRAIL OF FIRE!  Naturally I'm really pleased to hear that, but I don't know any more details.  Please don't tell me what Diana said about me!  I want to be surprised.  Thanks.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Update on the possible OUTLANDER TV series!

Exciting news today about the possible OUTLANDER TV series!

"Starz [the cable TV channel] has closed a deal to develop Outlander, a drama series based on Diana Gabaldon’s bestselling fantasy/romance/adventure series of books."

That's ALL I know right now.  If you have questions, take the time to read the FAQ on Diana Gabaldon's website here.

And now I'm going to watch the election coverage.  :-)

Friday, November 2, 2012

Friday Fun Facts - 11/2/2012

Here are this week's Friday Fun Facts about Diana Gabaldon's books.

Louis XV

1) The portraist above shows King Louis XV of France, as he looked in 1748, only four years after Jamie and Claire met him.  Louis XV inherited the throne at the age of five, in 1715, upon the death of his great-grandfather, the "Sun-King", Louis XIV.

King Louis had a mistress by the name of Marie-Anne de Mailly-Nesle de la Tournelle, duchesse de Châteauroux.  The portrait above is from 1740.  (Click on the image for a bigger view.)  It's not difficult at all to imagine them at the ball at Versailles where Claire met them:
I had forgotten the red dress; His Majesty halted directly in front of me and bowed extravagantly, hand over his waist.

"Chère Madame!" he said. "We are enchanted!"

I heard a deep intake of breath from Jamie, and then he stepped forward and bowed to the King.

"May I present my wife, Your Majesty--my lady Broch Tuarach." He rose and stepped back. Attracted by a quick flutter of Jamie's fingers, I stared at him for a moment of incomprehension, before suddenly realizing that he was signaling me to curtsy.

I dipped automatically, struggling to keep my eyes on the floor and wondering where I would look when I bobbed up again. Madame Nesle de la Tourelle was standing just behind Louis, watching the introduction with a slightly bored look on her face. Gossip said that "Nesle" was Louis's current favorite. She was, in current vogue, wearing a gown cut below both breasts, with a bit of supercedent gauze which was clearly meant for the sake of fashion, as it couldn't possibly function for either warmth or concealment.

(From DRAGONFLY IN AMBER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 9, "The Splendors of Versailles". Copyright ©1992 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
The spelling of the real Madame Nesle's name is slightly different, but she does appear to be the same person mentioned in DRAGONFLY.

2) As an officer in the British Army, William carried a spontoon in battle.
"Sir, sir!” He looked down to see a short private soldier, perhaps no older than William himself, plump-cheeked and anxious.


“Your spontoon, sir. And your horse has come,” the private added, gesturing at the rangy light bay gelding whose reins he held. “Captain Griswold’s compliments, sir.”

William took the spontoon, seven feet long, its burnished steel head gleaming dully even under the clouded sky, and felt the weight of it thrill through his arm.

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 6, "Long Island". Copyright© 2009 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
The photo above shows a hand-painted miniature depicting an officer in the British 5th Regiment of Foot, at the time of the American Revolution.  I've included it here because it gives you some idea of the size of the spontoon.  Look here for some close-up photos of an actual 18th-century English spontoon.

3) Jamie's dirk had a moonstone in the hilt:
He held the dirk by the blade, upright so that the rising sun caught the moonstone in the hilt and made it glow. Holding the dagger like a crucifix, he recited something in Gaelic. I recognized it from the oath-taking ceremony in Colum's hall, but he followed it with the English translation for my benefit:

"I swear on the cross of my lord Jesus, and by the holy iron which I hold, that I give ye my fealty and pledge ye my loyalty. If ever my hand is raised against you in rebellion or in anger, then I ask that this holy iron may pierce my heart."

(From OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 22, "Reckonings". Copyright © 1991 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
According to this article about moonstones,
The moonstone symbolises our being in its entirety. With its soft shimmer, it strengthens our emotional and subconscious aspects. The associations connected with that make it a "lovers' stone", evoking tender feelings and safeguarding the true joys of love. It is also said that wearing a moonstone strengthens our intuition and our capacity to understand.
Very appropriate for Jamie, don't you think?

4) Jocasta's husband, Hector Cameron, died of the "morbid sore throat", as we learned in DRUMS:
Once arrived in the New World, Hector had purchased a large tract of land, cleared the forest, built a house and a sawmill, bought slaves to work the place, planted his land in tobacco and indigo, and--no doubt worn out by so much industry--succumbed to the morbid sore throat at the ripe old age of seventy-three.

(From DRUMS OF AUTUMN by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 8, "Man of Worth". Copyright© 1997 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Diana Gabaldon has said that the "morbid sore throat" was the 18th-century term for the disease we now call diphtheria.  Diphtheria is caused by a bacterium called Corynebacterium diphtheriae (pictured above).

According to this site,
Diphtheria usually begins with a sore throat, slight fever, and swollen neck. Most commonly, bacteria multiply in the throat, where a grayish membrane forms. This membrane can choke the person. Sometimes, the membrane forms in the nose, on the skin, or other parts of the body. The bacteria can release a toxin that spreads through the bloodstream and may cause muscle paralysis, heart and kidney failure, and death. 
The disease is highly contagious, and can spread via airborne droplets, such as when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Today, children are routinely immunized against it (as part of the DTaP vaccine), but in the 18th century it was often fatal.

5) The legend of the Dunbonnet in VOYAGER is based on a real historical figure, a laird named James Fraser. <g>
James Fraser, 9th of Foyers, was on very friendly terms with Simon, 13th Lord Lovat, later to be executed for his part in the 1745 Rising, and on that account, Foyers joined Lovat in supporting Prince Charles during his short reign in Edinburgh as King James VIII.


Foyers was excluded from the Act of Parliament pardoning treasonable offences committed in the rebellion, and was forced to live in hiding for seven years after the rebellion. One of his favourite haunts was a cave, a mile to the west of the Falls of Foyers. One day, on looking out of the cave, the laird saw a Red Coat secretly following a girl bringing food for him and, as to avoid capture was a matter of life and death to him, the laird shot the soldier who was buried where he fell. So Foyers's whereabouts could be kept secret, the inhabitants used to speak of him by the nickname "Bonaid Odhair" (Dun Coloured Bonnet).
The photo above comes from Alastair Cunningham's Living with Clans and Castles blog. This is the view from the inside of a cave near Foyers that Cunningham visited in 2007. It seems to match the description of Jamie's cave pretty well.
It was barely eight feet long, but the far end was lost in shadow. She lifted her chin, seeing the soft black stains that coated the rock to one side by the entrance.

“That’s where my fire was—when I dared have one.” His voice sounded strange, small and muffled, and he cleared his throat.

“Where was your bed?”

“Just there by your left foot.”

“Did you sleep with your head at this end?” She tapped her foot on the graveled dirt of the floor.

“Aye. I could see the stars, if the night was clear. I turned the other way if it rained.” She heard the smile in his voice and put her hand along his thigh, squeezing.

“I hoped that,” she said, her own voice a little choked. “When we learned about the Dunbonnet, and the cave… I thought about you, alone here--and I hoped you could see the stars at night."

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 79, "The Cave". Copyright© 2009 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
I hope you enjoyed these Friday Fun Facts! Look here to see all of my Friday Fun Facts blog posts. And please stop by next week for more! 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Poll results

Here are the results of the October poll:

Are you planning to buy Diana Gabaldon's new book, A TRAIL OF FIRE?
  • 33.39% - Yes, I'm looking forward to it very much!
  • 18.10% - Not now. I'll wait until it's available in the US.
  • 14.06% - Yes, I've ordered A TRAIL OF FIRE or plan to do so soon.
  • 6.33% - No, I don't want to buy a whole book just for one new story.
  • 5.62% - Yes, I've ordered a signed copy from the Poisoned Pen.
  • 4.57% - No, I'm not interested in those stories. I'd rather read about Jamie and Claire.
  • 4.39% - No, I will get it from the library.
  • 3.51% - I'm not sure yet.
  • 2.81% - What is A TRAIL OF FIRE?
  • 1.41% - No, it's not available where I live.
  • 1.41% - I'm hoping to get it as a gift.
  • 0.53% - No, it's too expensive.
  • 3.87% - Other
Here are the responses for "Other":
  • will buy the individual ebooks for nook
  • I have already read these.
  • Ialready bought all the short story books - worse luck
  • I need it to be released in audio format since I'm visually impaired.
  • When I get to that book, just now finished Outlander.
  • Need it for my Nook!
  • Need it in audio!
  • I'll read it in a library (US) 1st, then get the soft-cover edition
  • I want more Mallard Fillmore - True observations
  • Am traveling to AZ, will visit poisoned Pen then.
  • I'm buying the stories as the stand-alone ebooks are released.
  • Zombies? SERIOUSLY? Is there no author left who won't sell out for zombie crap?
  • I'm buying it through Audible as soon as it comes out!
  • i hope there will be a german version as an e-book somewhen!
  • I'll wait for it in ebook format
  • Of course, I have to have it for my collection!!
  • I pre-ordered -- won't get it until April 2013
  • My dear friend in UK had preordered it for me, isn't that nice?
  • waiting for the digital single
  • I would like to read it eventually...after I am finished with a re-read.
  • Waiting for the stories on e-book format
  • 1, 2 (at this point) and 8
There were 569 responses to this poll. Thanks very much to everyone who participated!

I hope you'll take a moment to vote in the new poll for November, which is all about the children in Diana Gabaldon's books.  I personally love Diana's portrayals of the kids, and I'm curious to know if any of you have a particular favorite.  (If your choice is not listed, just vote "Other" and leave a brief comment.  Thanks!)