Service and Sacrifice

Now and then my husband reflects on the military friends he’s lost. Most of them I knew only from stories he told me of things they did or said. He remembers everything, but what I remember most about his time in the U.S. Marine Corps was his deployment to the Persian Gulf in 1990 and the things that happened during Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

HMM-164 1990-1991, USS Okinawa, My husband in the fourth one back from the first man on the left.

There’s no equivalent to saying goodbye to someone who is leaving for a military deployment. It’s hard to explain what it feels like if you’ve never served or never loved someone who has. On the day Bruce left I felt pride mixed with fear, insecurity, and uncertainty, but mostly love and a fervent hope he’d come home safely.

Bruce and I have talked about his time in the military. He misses it because he had a mission, and it gave his life purpose. He served something greater than himself. His service gave me that also, but these days I don’t miss it, especially at Memorial Day. Because I know I’m one of the lucky ones. My husband came back. What I feel now is gratitude.

Left to right: Bruce, JT, Pinkie, Nozzle and

I still remember holding my baby son in May of 1990 and standing beside the helicopter carrier, , helicopters, to say goodbye to Bruce for what we thought would be a routine six month deployment. He left in May and was to be home by Christmas, my son’s first. Our son was five months old. Bruce didn’t return for ten months. His Amphibious Readiness Group (ARG) was the first to go to the Persian Gulf and the last to come home.

Bruce beside a CH-46, somewhere in the Philippines.

Back then we lived in California, far from my family, and I was alone with a five month old baby. That was a time of long-distance phone calls, film cameras, and daily newspapers. CNN was brand new, the first 24 hour news channel. The only source of communication between my husband and me were letters and packages sent across the miles. Sometimes they arrived in order, sometimes not. Sometimes they got dropped in the ocean.

The apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Our son, wearing a flight suit made by Gramma Josie, while Dad was deployed.

While Bruce was deployed, I became an active member of the HMM-164 “wives’ club.” We were all lonely, and as usual in times when people are tested by shared uncertainty and fear, (rather like now) we grew close. We protected each other when we could and shared each other’s grief when we couldn’t. We operated a phone tree and distributed whatever news needed to be spread the old fashioned way–by phone. When bad news came, we supported each other.

In early October, bad news came. I don’t remember what time I received the call, but I remember the words. “There’s been a mishap. Two helicopters are missing. They can’t find the crews.” I remember how I felt. Stunned there had been a crash, then grateful because I knew my husband was safe, then guilty and heartbroken because someone I knew had lost a loved one. They would receive a visit.

This is what happened. “At approximately 0415 on 8 October 1990, two UH-1N helicopters from HMM-164 launched from the USS Okinawa for an “at sea NVG [Night Vision Goggle] training operation” off the coast of Oman [North Arabian Sea].  At approximately 0513 the two helicopters disappeared from radar and failed to respond to radio calls.  Observers on the flight deck saw a ball of fire dropping into the sea.  Search efforts recovered very little wreckage and no sign of aircrew.  All were declared missing at sea.  The eight men aboard were considered the first casualties of Operation Desert Shield.
The eight aircrew were:
Capt W. Cronin
Capt G. Dillon
Capt K. Dolvin
Capt W. Hurley
Sgt K Keller
Sgt J Kilkus
Cpl T Romei
L/Cpl T. Adams”

I didn’t know until later that Captain William Hurley slept in the rack above my husband’s, that they knew each other, joked with each other, laughed together, shared pork rinds and packages from home. He was from the Chicago area like my husband, and according to a Chicago Tribune article, his sister said that he admired the marriage his parents had and that he “hoped one day he could be to someone what they`d been to each other all these years.”

Captain William Hurley, USMC

While the men were still deployed, a memorial was held on base for the families of these men. I’ve never attended anything that so affected me before or since.

I’ve been forever grateful for my husband’s survival all these years. Before we married, my pastor counseled me that my husband was the kind of man who, if he wasn’t flying helicopters for a living, would be racing cars or riding motorcycles or pursuing some other dangerous occupation. In fact, 10 of the 52 pilots in his squadron have since died from plane crashes, only two of them civilian crashes.

Those men were good people. People who join the military are the best kind of people–they are heroes who run toward trouble to keep the rest of us safe. They didn’t want to die. But they also knew every single day that dying was a possibility.

Welcome home parade in Orange County

My husband thinks of those men, especially Bill, his roommate on the ship, every year. Rarely does he say anything. That’s not his way. But occasionally he’ll remember something about his days aboard the Okinawa, and he’ll share snippets with me. I know he thinks of them and others who’ve passed away and left their families behind.

Inspired by History

To research the setting for my historical novel, my husband and I took a long weekend trip to Charleston, South Carolina several years ago. Since I’m from the South, I was anticipating uncomfortably hot, humid weather and lots of snakes as we traipsed around historic plantations in July, but amazingly, we arrived during a spell of comfortable temperatures and low humidity. I took it as a sign that my research would go well.

Fleet Landing, Charleston

While in Charleston, we enjoyed drinks at Fleet Landing, a place my husband still waxes poetic about when I mention the place, and had lunch on the patio at 82 Queen. Sometimes I still dream of the she crab soup I ate there. I do miss the seafood down south!

Camellia japonica “Reine des Fleurs”

We also visited the spectacular Middleton Place. The original main house and the north flanker were burned by Union troops in 1865, but the gardens are magnificent! In 1786, the French botanist and explorer, André Michaux gave the Middletons a house gift of camellias, the first to be grown in an American garden. One of the cultivars he gave them, Camellia japonica “Reine des Fleurs” is pictured above. In my book, there is also a camellia garden.

Drayton Hall the way it looked in 1869

The place where my imagination took flight and the experience of walking the land and entering the house made a lasting impression on me, however, was Drayton Hall, once a plantation on the Ashley River but which is now owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It was built during colonial times on the Ashley River and has stood through the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. In fact, it was the only plantation house on the Ashley River not destroyed by Union troops. It has even survived hurricanes and earthquakes. Yes, Charleston has earthquakes.

Until the 1970s Drayton Hall was owned by the Drayton family, the same people who built the plantation and lived and worked at Drayton Hall, but another family, the Bowens, lived and worked there even longer than the Draytons. Their history parallels that of the Draytons. They came to the U.S. from Barbados and lived and worked at Drayton Hall. Mr. Richmond Bowen was the last of them. He worked as the gatekeeper and unofficial historian. Through his legacy, the work of enslaved people and their sacrifices were recognized in the African American cemetery and history at Drayton Hall.

The beautiful Drayton Hall

Drayton Hall so captured my imagination that I decided to loosely base the location in my novel on it. I use elements from other places and earlier times, including putting a spring house and chapel on the grounds, similar to the one at Middleton Place. In short, I weave history into my story and blur the lines of what’s real and imagined as many writers do.

Middleton Place spring house( below) and chapel (above)

Despite River Oaks being inspired by Drayton Hall, the events in my book are products of my imagination. They are rooted in history and inspired by the research I’ve done on phosphate mining on the Ashley and Cooper Rivers, the grounds of Drayton Hall and Middleton Place, and Charleston during Reconstruction. I also fudge the years things happen to suit my story.

Phosphate mining at Drayton Hall

I often feel overwhelmed when I think of trying to capture the essence of this area, the time, and the people who might have lived and loved there, but when I do, I remember why history, especially Southern history, fascinates me.

People like the Draytons and the Bowens have weathered wars, poverty, hunger, disease, and other tragedies, but somehow have survived to remain rooted in the South for over two hundred years. Why is that? Why not move on to better places? That is what I contemplate as I write this book. Why does this place, any place, mean so much?

Southerners are the only people who’ve lost a war on American soil, and Southerners, black and white, had to rebuild their lives and reconcile their losses. I’m awed at their survival and determination to make a life when their way of life was gone. I think more than anything, that is what drives the story I’m writing. I hope my book will in a small way do their struggle justice.

THE END Is Near

I’m near the end of my manuscript…again. Several years ago, I completed the original manuscript, work-shopped it at a conference, revised it with two other writers, and started the query process to find an agent. So this is the second time I’ve approached THE END, and I can’t tell you how ready I am to finish this book and send it out into the world for the second time.

The idea for this book, which I call FAITH CAN MOVE MOUNTAINS, came to me years ago during a class I took called How to Teach Creative Writing. That was back when I was taking classes to renew my teaching license. Each of us each took turns coming up with lessons for the class. When it was my friend Elizabeth’s turn to teach , she handed us cards from the 1970s board game Masterpiece.

The card she handed me, Paris Street, Rainy Day by the French Impressionist, Gustave Caillebotte, sparked my original idea, but since then, the story has evolved–as stories do–so that almost nothing remains of that original idea. When I queried agents, I had requests for partials and a few requests for full manuscripts, but no one fell in love with my book the way I’d hoped. Before I sent the full manuscript to an agent I thought would be a perfect fit for FAITH, I sent it to an editor for a critique.

To make a long, painful story short, the editor absolutely hated my story and advised me to completely rewrite it and change everything. Devastated, I put the book away for about a year. When I could look at her critique without feeling hopeless and angry, I examined her advice and found nuggets I could use. I’ve spent the last year or so re-imagining plot, character, and point of view. Now, FAITH is almost ready to go out into the world with a more thoughtful and well-organized plot, deeper characterization, and dual points of view.

After attending a webinar with Abigail Perry through Women’s Fiction Writers Association I’ve been studying the Story Grid universe as a tool for revision and scene analysis. Once I understand Value shift so I can complete the Story Grid foolscap for my manuscript, I’ll have a blue print to stick to as I write the 15,000 more words until THE END. I’m almost there. Stay tuned…

Down a Delicious Writing Research Rabbit Hole

A couple of days ago, I was working on my book, which is historical women’s fiction set in 1868 Charleston, South Carolina. It’s a tough era to write about because not much detail about the way people lived during that time is readily available. To find what I’m looking for, I’ve discovered I have to go at it obliquely because so much of what I find out is buried in within other history.

That’s what happened when I was looking for a map of Charleston in 1868. What I ran across was this map of White Point Gardens in 1874. My two characters were strolling along the flagstones of the Battery, a seaside promenade, and I wondered what they would see where the Ashley and Cooper Rivers meet. So I started searching and found something I hadn’t known about. At the time I’m writing about, there was a two-story bath house connected to the peninsula via a footbridge. How cool is that!

View of the bath house before it was destroyed by a hurricane in 1874. Picture from the Preservation Society of Charleston

The public bathhouse had two floors, the first was the bath house, and on the upper floor was a cake and ice cream shop! Interesting for sure, but that information only made me curious to know what sort of cakes that shop might have served–just in case my characters decided to have dessert there.

I found some interesting cakes, one of which I plan to make. It’s called demon cake, a dense cake made with molasses, ginger, apples, brandy, and lots of spices. It’s just the sort of thing I love in fall. Here’s a picture of it from Food 52, one of my favorite cooking blogs. If you click the link, you’ll go to the recipe.

Demon Cake from Food 52

I also found out that Linzer torte is said to be the oldest cake in the world and is named after the city of Linz in Austria. Although the cake shop might have served Linzer torte, I believe it would have served more Southern fare, like pound cake and something called muster cake, which is now known by its more modern name of Election Cake and has the distinction of being the first American food associated with politics. Don’t know if that’s good or bad! You can read the fascinating history of that cake in the link above.

Election Cake (muster cake) photo from Food 52 and taken by James Ransom

The day I did this research I had a hard time not dropping everything to make one of thee cakes. I love baking. It has always been a huge stress reliever for me, and right now with covid19 still such a disruption, I really had to exercise self-control and keep my butt in the chair to make my writing goal for the day.

I wish I could say I do all my research BEFORE I start writing, but something always crops up that I need to know. I could put in a marker as some people recommend and do the research after I’ve written the scene, but that’s not how I roll. My curiosity gets the better of me and the details can sometimes change how the scene I’m writing unfolds, so I often research as I write. When I find out fascinating information like the above, I struggle to go back to my book!

The Blizzard of April 2018 (Part 1)

By mid-April in the South, temperatures routinely reach the 70s and 80s. Dogwoods, red buds, and azaleas bloom, grass turns green, and leaves green up the spectral branches of trees. To get my fill of warm weather that is still to come in Wisconsin, I usually watch the season in its glory as I watch the Master’s on TV. Living in the Midwest, I miss that slow unfolding of the spring every year, and here in Wisconsin I wear wool sweaters and pour over seed catalogs dreaming of warmer days.

red bud and bees
Bumblebee on a Red Bud tree blossom

Even after 20 years in the Midwest, I remain an eternal optimist that spring will reach Wisconsin before May, but that’s rare. This year, like last year, we had an April snowstorm, though not nearly as bad in Wisconsin as it was in the plains. The threat of a snowstorm this year brought back vivid flashbacks of last year’s blizzard. You’ll see why when I share the pictures. Today is the one year anniversary of that epic storm.

Beginning at night on Friday, April 13, 2018 (how appropriate) and ending on April 15, a blizzard vanquished our spring in one weekend. Mother Nature showed off by dropping every kind of precipitation on us, beginning with rain and ending with a blizzard. Snow on snow on snow. So much snow fell for so long it felt apocalyptic.

Sno on Snow
What I saw after the blizzard when I opened my front door.

On Sunday evening after the snow had stopped, the weather in Green Bay recorded 33 inches of snow on the ground. At my house six foot drifts covered everything. I’ve never seen so much snow. It piled up so high I couldn’t leave my house. And except for my Stella, my loyal Labrador, I was alone. My husband was in South Korea for the entire month on his last deployment there. Before he left at the end of March, we had a six inch snowfall, and while he was clearing that away, our snow blower broke. He parked it in the garage and said, “You won’t need that while I’m gone.” Right.

Where's the driveway
Hubby’s car is under here somewhere!

The world was white and cold, the snow too deep to walk through. I tried and sank to my thighs in the backyard. I shoveled the back patio so Stella could go out and use the bathroom. She sank to her chest where there were no drifts.

Stella and drifts
Stella exploring the drifts.

I tried to shovel the path out my front door, but the snow was too heavy. I ended up paying a neighbor kid fifty dollars to shovel my front porch and a path from my back door to the garage entrance. I waited for help. Before my husband left, he’d talked to our neighbors and asked them to help me if I needed it while he was gone. They called and let me know they help as soon as they dug themselves out. Then my closest neighbor’s snowblower broke. Keith, our further away neighbor, tried to use his machine, but it wouldn’t even make a dent in the huge amounts of snow in his driveway. We were all stuck.

car under snow

Finally, when I thought I might be stuck there until it melted, one of the neighbors from further away show up with a skid steer.

Skid steer to the rescue
Skid steer to the rescue!

It took awhile but I finally could see the driveway. I could finally get out of the house and walk around the neighborhood. But I had no idea what I would find a couple of days later.

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Love at First Sight

How love begins fascinates me, probably because of the way I fell in love. Sometimes people know each other for only a short time before they find they can’t live without each other. Sometimes they know each other for most of their lives and slip into life together seamlessly. Sometimes people meet and know almost immediately that they were meant to be together. That’s what happened to me. I fell in love with my husband the first time I saw him. I have no idea why, but something about him resonated with me, long before I ever spoke to him. He was my fairy tale, my Prince Charming, my knight in shining armor.

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I remember the moment I saw him like it was yesterday. I was in summer school, my last quarter of college, finishing the last two classes I needed for graduation. My friend Laura wanted me to go to O’Malley’s bar with her, but I didn’t want to go out that night. Laura could be very persuasive, and I went. I’m awfully glad I did. (Thanks again, Laura!)

O'Malley's

O’Malley’s on the Oconee 

Located on the Oconee River, O’Malley’s was a bar with a split personality. Inside a dance bar throbbed with music and crowds of people. Outside, young men and women enjoyed fine summer weather on the deck overhanging the Oconee. The first time I saw my husband, I was walking out to the deck from inside. I looked across the wooden expanse of deck filled with people and saw a man in a sky blue polo shirt sitting on the top rail talking to his friend. He had a beautiful smile and an honest face. When I saw him, I nudged Laura and said, “You see that guy over there in the blue shirt? That’s my husband.”

I can’t tell you why I knew that, but I did, as surely as I knew my own name. Only a few times in my life have I been struck with absolute certainty of the outcome of events, but each time I’ve had that feeling, what I’ve foreseen has come true. I was certain about him.

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Engagement photo: We were so young!

During the course of the night, I literally ran smack into him inside the crowded bar area. He said hi, and I said hi. Then he said he was going to get a drink, and I thought my chance was over. Later that night, the man I thought I liked asked me why the guys I was talking to were all guys he knew, which really meant I shouldn’t hit on his friends, I suppose. (I wasn’t.) I saw my future hubby sitting close by, and worked up some courage. I walked over to him, and the first thing he said was, “There you are,” like he had been looking for me. I was smitten.

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Six Flags AstroWorld in Houston

We talked the rest of the night. I found out he was only in Athens for three weeks. (the horror!) He was there for a class at the Navy Supply Corps School. Thank goodness I met him the second night he was there! He asked me for my phone number, and I gave it to him. But with drunken helpfulness, I tried to help him memorize it. Three days later, my friend and I were “laying out” by the pool at my apartment complex, and I wondered out loud why he hadn’t called. “He was so sincere, ” I said. “He just didn’t seem like the kind of guy who would ask for my number and not call.” Then I recalled our conversation and my “helpfulness.”

Once again, I worked up some courage, but this time no alcohol was involved. I called the Navy school and asked for him. The person who answered took my message. It was simply my name and the correct phone number. He called about 20 minutes later to ask me out for a date. That was in July. I proceeded to skip two weeks of summer school to spend time with him. I even missed an exam. When i went to plead my case to the professor, I told him the truth. I said I had met the man I was going to marry and had spent all my time with him. He allowed me to make up the exam. We became engaged the following January and married the following October.

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Marine Corps Ball 1986

Today, October 3rd, we have been married for 30 years, but it feels like we’ve known each other forever. He’s my best friend, the love of my life, and the man I will always follow wherever life takes us. We are living our happily ever after!

sword arch kiss

Happily Ever After!

 

Farewell, My Son

Trav and Mom
Our nest is empty. That reality seems so very final. I knew I would face this moment at some point, but it happened “slowly and then all at once,” as John Green says. After living with us for about a year after college, my youngest son has taken a job in the big city and moved out of our house. I miss him. I feel at once bereft and relieved, worried and proud, worn out and hopeful. You see, he’s my baby, my last baby, and I was reluctant to let him go. He was always the child who held on tight. When his brother dropped my hand and ran into the room full of kids for his first day of preschool, my youngest used to tell his dad and me he wanted to live with us forever.

I see a parallel in his time here and my oldest son’s time at home after college. I wrote of his time with me in The Gift of Time. I had each of them for about a year after college until they decided on a course of action for their lives. I’m not sad my youngest boy has started his own life; I just wish there were a way to see him more often, both of them actually. Giving up mothering has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Even though I know I’m not giving it up entirely and that they still need me, they need me differently now.

Travis and the packed car

My youngest son is not really much different from the boy he was growing up. He is still sweet, sensitive, and cautious, but he is also smart, tenacious, and determined. He goes after what he wants and rarely lets anyone or anything interfere with his goals. Over the years I saw evidence of his tenacity and determination when he played soccer. He never reached the level of play he wanted to when he was in high school, but I think that leftover hunger to reach his goals has served him well in teaching him to persevere, even in the face of obstacles.
I also see much of the same loyal and caring little boy his dad and I raised in his friendships, many of which he formed when we first moved from Florida to Wisconsin. He still is friends with the same group of boys he grew up with, but he also made some new friends in Minneapolis where he lives now, both in college and at places where he worked. Friends have always meant the world to him, even when he was three years old. Despite his affection for his friends, he is still an introvert, who needs quiet and time alone to recharge his batteries. And sleep. He needs sleep. Even when he was a little guy, he would go to his room to “have a rest.” That was code for some “me time” and, despite his assurances to the contrary back then, nap time.

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He spent his early years as a superhero, a cowboy, a fireman, and an intrepid explorer,
believing all the while in his invincibility. When our children are little, we don’t always appreciate the time when they are young, when we are their whole world and can make everything good and peaceful for them. It’s exhausting and difficult and wonderful. Often we say things like, “I can’t wait until he’s older so I won’t have to __________(Insert whatever you like here).” But really, the time they are little passes so quickly, quicker than I ever imagined. That time of mothering my babies was  an awesome responsibility but one I miss.

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At times I’ve wanted to hold on to my baby, (like I have recently). From the moment he was able to smile, he did and has been bent on happiness ever since. I miss his impish charm and lightning smile, his eyes crinkled up by dimpled cheeks, but the days when his dad and I were his whole world are over, and that’s how it should be. His world is expanding exponentially. I think one of the ways parents can know they’ve done a good job raising their babies is that their babies are ready to fly. That’s what both my boys have done. They were ready and they have flown. My youngest has big plans for his life, and I wish him everything good and wonderful and beautiful. Although the mom in me misses my little boy, I’m so proud of the man he has become.

 

 

 

 

 

Shannon Anderson to be in Word of Art 2

I’m very excited to go to Illinois to read my short essay “A Place of Peace” about my special spot by the river here in Wisconsin! I can’t wait to see the art that Sarah McCashland created to go with my words!
I’m buying a book for my mom. Is there ever a time we don’t want our mothers to be proud of us? I’ll post news and pictures of the event here on my blog. Stay tuned!!!

In Print Writers

Congratulations to author Shannon Anderson! Her work has been selected to be in the Word of Art 2 exhibition and publication! Shannon is an aspiring novelist and teacher. She has written one novel and is at work on two others, as well as short stories and some poetry. She teaches English in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. When she’s not teaching, she is writing or gardening with Stella, her silver Labrador, by her side.

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Two Months

Please read this essay by my talented friend Karla, aka K. J. Klemme, author of Tourist Trapped.

View from my backyard

cemetery2Two months ago friends and family gathered to say goodbye. Choking back tears, they expressed their sympathies, offered their support.

Two months ago.

Time passed and coworkers moved onto the next happiness and sadness. They stopped asking you how you are with expressions filled with sorrow. They forgot you lost the person who made you whole.

I didn’t.

I know your struggle, I know your pain, but you don’t realize I know.

You go home every night to your boys, fulfilling role of father and mother. Consoling and supporting, showing strength gained through years of surgeries, chemotherapy and prayer.

You survived the worst, the moment you dreaded for years. She’s gone, leaving nothing behind except pictures, her personal items, and the memory of the warmth of her skin against yours. Sometimes you can’t bear the pain, and other times you’re relieved you no longer carry the burden of a sick…

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What Outlander Taught Me about Writing

Outlander!Three weeks ago I dove headlong into my newest book and read with abandon. I’ve done little else since then. I barely noticed what was going on around me because, once again, I was living in the 18th century with Jamie and Claire Fraser. I’m sure most of you have guessed that I’m reading Diana Gabaldon’s Written in My Own Heart’s Blood. Just as her other books, beginning with Outlander, captivated me, this one has plunged me happily into the past through the imaginary standing stones at Craigh na dun in Scotland and into the American Revolutionary War.

Diana’s books defy description and genre. They are a mix of history, romance, and fantasy, categorized as time-travel romance according to some people. Reading this latest installment has been a wonderful way to spend the last bit of my summer before school starts once again, and I have to turn my attention to work rather than my own reading and writing. Sigh. Mind you, I haven’t neglected my writing while I’ve been reading. I’ve actually learned a lot from reading these books, particularly this one, mainly because I’ve been paying attention!

1. Use interesting vocabulary. Here are just a few memorable ones from this book of the Outlander series.

  • hoik–to pick up of heave something.
  • gobsmacked–astonished, astounded
  • mizzle–misty drizzle
  • buckram–stiff cotton fabric used in book bindings
  • erstwhile–former, previous

Using interesting vocabulary might seem obvious, but we tend to use the same words repeatedly. Paying attention to our choices is important.

2. Make sure readers learn something as they read.

Gabaldon is a research professor, and her vast research shows ! Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser is the main character of the series. She is a nurse and then later a doctor.  We learn through Claire about what amputations are like, how surgeries conducted without anesthesia feel, how to set broken bones, treatment of burns, gathering of medicinal herbs and too many other tasks to count. We also learn a great deal about herbs and plants and their medicinal uses through Claire’s medical practice also. One such example of an interesting tidbit occurs when Claire is shot in this latest book. When her friend has to retrieve the bullet, Claire is awake but under the influence of laudanum. When she discovers that a French general of the Continental Army has sent her some Roquefort cheese to tempt her in her recovery, she has the surgeon pack her wound with Roquefort cheese because the compound the cheese contains is the same one penicillin is made from!

3. Appeal to the senses. I can’t possibly cite the whole book here, but I could. Here is just a sample of marvelous imagery from Written in My Own Heart’s Blood. “We slept that night in the public room of an ordinary in Langhorne. Bodies were sprawled on tables and benches, curled under tables, and laid in haphazard arrangements on pallets, folded cloaks, and saddlebags, as far away from the hearth as they could get. The fire was banked, but it still radiated considerable heat. The room was filled with the bitter scents of burning wood and boiling bodies.”

4. Trouble on every page! To start with, the book begins with Claire married to Lord John (Jamie Fraser’s and Claire’s friend) because she thinks Jamie is dead, drowned on the voyage to America. Lord John is gay, however, and only marries her to keep her from being arrested. Jamie isn’t dead and turns up at Lord John’s house in Philadelphia. While Jamie is at Lord John’s talking to Claire, his bastard son, William, whom Lord John raised as his own son, returns home, sees Jamie Fraser–he is the spitting image of him–and concludes rightly that Jamie is his father. He thought Lord John was his father. William proceeds to punch walls, knock down chandeliers, and break the front door in his anger at having been lied to. Jamie kidnaps Lord John…. Get the idea? 🙂

5. Give your characters jobs. Diana Gabaldon shows us Claire’s character through her profession as a physician. She responds to situations as a physician, often putting herself in danger to save others. Jamie is a warrior and farmer. Those two professions define who he is and what happens to him. Brianna, Jamie and Claire’s daughter, is an artist and an engineer. Roger McKenzie, Brianna’s husband is a musician and singer, then becomes a pastor. Fergus, Jamie’s adopted son, is a printer. The “jobs” the characters have are much more than just their activities; their jobs affect what happens to them and also what their reactions to trouble are, and trouble abounds in these novels!

6. Give your characters quirks. Claire uses a peculiar turn of phrase. When she is upset or surprised or taken aback she says “Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ.” Certainly not ordinary swearing. It’s memorable and endearing, not to mention odd. Jamie, on the other hand, has a couple of quirks. He rubs the bridge of his nose when he’s making a decision and he drums his fingers on the table or on his leg when he’s agitated. He also calls Claire Sassenach, the Gaelic word for an outlander or outsider.

These are only a few of the lessons I’ve learned from reading Diana’s books. There are many. If you’ve never heard of Diana Gabaldon, you should go right now to your local book shop or library and check out the first novel in the series, Outlander. These are hefty books. The one I’m currently reading contains 825 pages, so if you love a long book that transports you to a world with unforgettable characters, these books are for you! After reading, you should  watch the new series on TV! That’s right. The STARRZ network is producing Outlander, a show based on Diana’s books. I don’t get cable out here in the boonies where I live in Wisconsin, but I can get Netflix and will so I can watch this story come to life! Here is a trailer for you! Enjoy!