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On the Trail of History: A Journey through Diana Gabaldon’s North Carolina Part II

May 15, 2019

Guest post by Lisa Margulies

On a recent North Carolina trek, I followed the historically noted footprints of my favorite author, Diana Gabaldon. The Fiery Cross, “big” Book 5 in the Outlander series, traces the earliest beginnings of unrest prior to the American Revolution in the continuing saga of the Fraser family. The North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources planned several events with the author across the state during the last April weekend to promote and raise funds for their historical sites. This second day of my journey brought me to New Bern on the South Lawn of Tryon Palace, a reproduction of the original Governor’s mansion. It was a beautiful day to share Outlander love under a tent with one hundred-plus DG fans all gathered to listen to Herself speak.

William McCrea, Executive Director of Tryon Palace, began the program’s introduction of Diana by way of his familial connection to the author in the early days of her writing. His mother was also in the CompuServe Forum! Their “antiquated” digital friendship began from there and lead to Diana‘s acknowledging McCrea’s family in the Drums of Autumn novel! Susi Hamilton, North Carolina Deputy Secretary of Natural and Cultural Resources and avid DG fan, formally introduce Diana to the crowd. The Deputy Secretary’s job is to tell the story of North Carolina to the general population. This is the gift Diana Gabaldon has given her as she sees it: A STEM education study applied to North Carolina history!

Diana rose to the warm welcome and accolades, immediately telling us of the Jacobean history and rich Scottish connection in North Carolina. This land felt familiar and akin to the homeland many had fled or been forced to leave following the war of cultural eradication. The Battle of Culloden greatly contributed to the Scottish emigration to America. Although many here today could trace their roots back to Scotland, Diana cannot. And with that, the author shared her own ancestry, (which is not it all Scottish), with us! So why Scotland in her books? Basically for the kilts, truth be told!

Diana Gabaldon knew she wanted to be a writer since she was eight years old but as there was no money in this profession, she was encouraged to pursue a different path – science. At 35, she still knew she was supposed to be a novelist, but was writing for scientific publications. She recounted being paid $125 for an instructional piece on how to clean a cow skull. The clean skull still resides in her home today and, as she did such a good job of writing the how-to, other scientific texts and some comic book writing followed. These were her only writing experiences. Her husband, Doug Watkins, had just begun his own entrepreneurial venture so she needed to keep her day job(s), but Diana Gabaldon had to answer her calling and, without telling anyone, began to write that first novel, just for practice. Did I mention they had three small children and she was doing this in the middle of the night?!? History was her starting point, Doctor Who’s man-in-a-kilt character her inspiration, and the rest became her creation and her history, so to speak.

On that note, Diana invited questions from the audience (paraphrased questions and answers):
Q: How will religion and Celtic Christianity play into the story going forward?
A: Pagan rituals continued in spiritual beliefs especially in Highland Catholics. Spells or incantations are very much like prayers. We will see a lot of this with the mix of people on the Ridge in NC. Diana also hopes to have more Gaelic speaking in the upcoming television season for this reason. She is pushing for it in season five.
Q: Do the first person accounts Diana uses in her historical writing come from a secret vault somewhere?
A: The Battle of Kings Mountain will be in the next book (Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone). Diana detailed an historical journal she had used to help write this 15-minute battle into her story. In it, the Militia (Patrick Ferguson) and the Over Mountain Men gave her the material needed to get inside the fighting event and the men involved. Newspaper accounts are available but not always accurate. In the 800+ interviews she has given over the years, only two have been 100% correct! (Suddenly I’m having pangs of nightmares where I’m taking a college final but have never attended the class!)
Q: Are the magic and myth of the stones from documented sources?
A: No, they are her invention. And Diana has it pretty well mapped out at this point. She didn’t even go to Scotland and see standing stones until after her first book was published. This opened up research avenues and the “Gabaldon Theory of Time Travel” evolved. (At this point in the Q & A, a man in full kilt regalia came to the microphone and distracted Diana. A few moments and a glass of water were needed to recover! Seeing Herself in a swoon and flustered sure has a way of making her feel real and endears Diana to her fandom even more. What a great moment!)
On the subject of time travel/science fiction… The first publisher of Outlander needed to label the book and it was decided that romance was the better-selling category. It took three Outlander books on the New York Times best-selling list to move them to general fiction. Even then, Barnes & Noble still had the series in the romance section; and, at eight years out, Diana had to write a very directive letter to the CEO to get them moved!
Q: Any other stories in Diana’s mind?
A: Oh yes, Master Raymond will be a whole other collection for us someday. (Yay, personal fave!)
Q: Why the death of one particular “small” character? (a reference to Written in My Own Heart’s Blood story line)
A: That death was not planned and was shocking to her too. But the story had unfolded that way to Diana and had to be written as such. It was very difficult for her to write that tragedy.
Q: Will Young Ian ever be happy?
A: Yes! That is, until the Mohawk appear to tell him something that knocks your socks off–BEES spoiler!
Q: How does Diana feel about script writing?
A: Well, it’s like being God versus not. Her first script came back with notes all over it. She needed to throttle back on being funny. Too much of a “Diana tone” that didn’t match the rest of the series, she was told. (I think we all picked up on and appreciated that vibe at the time. Can you imagine what the first draft must have been like?)
Also, she wrote a chase scene involving Dougal/Graham McTavish and left it to the stunt team as to how it would be implemented. Graham had to do a lot of his own riding for close-ups, however. His comment to Diana afterwards: “I’ve just been having a conversation with my balls. I’d rather not do that again.“ (We love these stories, don’t we?)
Q: When in North Carolina, it’s vinegar or tomato. Which barbecue taste does Diana prefer?
A: Vinegar
Q: Was the character Black Jack Randall just born bad?
A: People are always asking how the author can possibly write such a despicable character. Well, she tells them to their great surprise, that BJR is part her! Diana retold the shock of this revelation through the story of her yearly Arizona tea where she enlightened those attending with this information. The ladies were all aghast!
Q: Has the show affected DG’s visualization of the story/characters?
A: No, they are two separate entities. Her story has been with her for far, far longer. She thinks the actors are great, though.
Q: Does Diana listen to any musical influences while writing?
A: No. She occasionally listens to Scottish folk music to get a sense of the cadence but not while writing. Words/lyrics interfere with her own mind’s process. During the writing of Voyager, Diana did listen to Carmina Burana. Some music she will listen to for two or three days just for tonal influences.
Q: How will Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan being co-producers influence the show?
A: They will have more time off! No, maybe less (with more responsibility). Diana noticed in the first two weeks of dailies that they had one or two days off each week. However, there are more leading characters and stories to cover this season. She is sure that their new involvement will be a positive for all.
Q: Did DG know that Into the Wilderness author, Rosina Lippi, was going to use the characters of Jamie and Claire in her novel?
A: Yes, in this case Diana gave her permission for the characters to be used in the story because Lippi was not writing the story of Jamie and Claire. She was including them in the same historical space and time, enabling the reference.
Q: A North Carolinian shared that her husband’s ancestor fought in the Battle of Kings Mountain. Does Diana know of him?
A: Yes! The questioner’s husband should be pleased to hear that Colonel Cleveland plays an important role in the upcoming BEES battle. (Well that is exciting for her! Makes me want to do some ancestry searches looking for journals and personal accounts of my long ago family members that I can send off to Diana ASAP!)

So many fans with so many questions–a line formed down the center of the tent at this point.
I’ll give a brief recap of general answers as follows:
~Cross Stitch was the working title for Outlander. Publishers in the UK went with that.
~No thoughts of a “Pottermore”-type website. Diana has “The Methadone List.” Be careful when Googling that! It is Diana’s recommended booklist, NOT something else!
~Characters are all her, not based on family members.
~Davina Porter, audiobook narrator, was a happy accident and will read Diana‘s books up until she (Davina) turns 75. (Oh please be done writing by then!)
~Simon the Fox Fraser had lots of illegitimate children. This was a great find in Diana’s research for her character development.
~Diana is usually not disappointed by scenes left out of the TV series adaptations. It’s mostly stuff added in that can be upsetting!
~As to why her Marine Biology interest knowing she was terrified of the deep water? Diana was drawn to deep sea creatures from her childhood years and the family collection of “All About…” books. It wasn’t until she was serious with a fellow French horn player that she knew she would just have to live in Arizona! To continue to be with now-husband Doug, the scholar Diana changed to the study of Land Biology.
~Diana compared her science background and experience to writing and the creative process. She described it like the conscious versus the subconscious. People often ask how she overcomes writer’s block. Diana has always worked on three or four projects at one time. She vacillates among them; learning to write more than one thing at a time allowed her to overcome “being stuck.“ Thus, she is very productive and prolific!

This speaking of her writing operations led to Diana’s sharing what her husband Doug describes as “the people who open doors have names“ process. The author took us inside her mind’s eye to elaborate. I’ll do my best to relay the incredible mechanization of her mind by paraphrasing here:
Diana works in the front of her mind on craftsmanship and balance, moving words and clauses to and fro. It’s very mechanical work and all the while the back of her mind is murmuring questions. This is all going on together, all of the time. On a cold day with no ideas, she goes to her stacks of historical material looking for a good “kernel.” The kernel gets her into the page but it’s not necessarily having to do with the scene. She picks up a catalog of 18 century Scottish
silver and crystal. Her mind’s eye picks up a beautiful goblet incised with thistles on the side:

“The crystal goblet is made of glass…well everybody knows that, crystal is made of glass. The crystal goblet…light from the side…passing through…how is the light passing through? The light is coming in low and the color is blue…why is the color blue? The color is blue because it’s snowy outside and it’s a late winter afternoon…so the cold blue light of the late winter afternoon fell through the crystal glass…no, no, no goblet. How did it fall through? Did it go splat? There’s something in it refracting light. The cold blue light of the late afternoon fell through the crystal goblet casting a pool of glowing amber…why is it amber? Because there’s something in the glass casting amber light on the polished wood of the table top—now I know where I am. I’m in Jocasta Cameron’s parlor because she’s the only one that would have a glass window, a crystal goblet full of whisky and that’s why the light is amber.”

(Whew! Play that in your mind at the speed of light and you might imagine Diana’s incredible intellect at work just as we all experienced it! Applause, applause!) Read more about Diana’s writing process here.

All mouths were agape after listening to her re-counting, but Diana still took time to answer a couple more questions. She shared again that it is impossible for her to have a research assistant. I think we get an idea of why from the previous detailing. One last interesting question was about the prologue in Drums of Autumn. Who is the voice? It is Brianna’s voice based on Diana‘s personal experience. Mhmm, fascinating.

The author closed the “Tryon Palace Tent Q & A” by reading a passage from Go Tell the Bees… Just listening to Diana Gabaldon voice her own words is such a delight. The passage she shared is about the reading of a modern children’s book. The selection seemed apropos with all the Fraser family of characters gathered under such a calculated mastery of storytelling. Our experience soaking Diana Gabaldon all in on this fine morning under a grand tent on the majestic South Lawn of this historical North Carolina location did, indeed, feel like home.

Many thanks go again to author Diana Gabaldon for her gracious gifting of self and time, the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, Tryon Palace, all the representatives of these organizations, and the many residents of New Bern and fans of Outlander that made my weekend experience so memorable! Look for my last stop on The Fiery Cross/North Carolina Tour on the Alamance Battlefield coming to a blog post soon!

Thanks once again, Lisa, for a wonderful recap of your weekend with Diana Gabaldon in North Carolina!

A Breath of Snow And Ashes Cooking Drums Of Autumn Fraser's Ridge Outlander North Carolina Uncategorized

“If you can read, you can cook” – Julia Child

April 17, 2019
guest post by Harmony Lea Tersanchi

Apart from the more obvious reading of a recipe, cooking and reading arenʼt necessarily two things that youʼd normally think to put in the same category. However, I believe there arenʼt many things more closely aligned than these two activities. What has the power to transport you to another time or place without ever leaving the comforts of your own home, a good book and a good meal. What can bring people of different ages, nationalities, and religions together, a good book and a good meal. What can simultaneously invoke the feeling of love and also despair, coming to the last page of a great book, and realizing that youʼve taken the last bite of a great meal.

When your childhood best friend is Puerto Rican, there are a few things that you learn pretty early on in life, the love of food, music, and that nobodyʼs cooking holds a candle to Momʼs cooking! I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my love of cooking stems from those endless nights sitting on the stools at the bar of my best friend’s house, chatting away & watching while “Mom” was throwing down in the kitchen. As an adult now myself, I can say that there are few other things in life that bring me more joy than cooking and feeding those whom I love.

As most of you can probably relate, I may have a slight Outlander obsession. Whatʼs not to love, a handsome, drool worthy 18th century Scottish warrior, men in kilts, time travel, passion, romance, history, and did I mention men in kilts! Needless to say, I was shamelessly hooked at the first sight of James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser. I came to the books through the show and almost instantly became enthralled with the love story between Jamie & Claire. One other thing that stuck out to me, beyond the obvious, was how much of the story was centered around food. The gatherings, the family reunions, the celebrations, the banquets, Mrs. Fitz and her bannocks, the wine, whisky, and Rhenish. Food and drink were consistently present throughout the entire story. As I stated above, food has a way of bringing people together, a fact that wasnʼt lost on these 17th century characters.

Theresa is currently working on Outlander Kitchen 2!

Luckily for me, a woman by the name of Theresa Carle-Sanders decided to come out with a cookbook called Outlander Kitchen Cookbook: The Official Outlander Companion Cookbook. Any opportunity I get to bring my love of cooking and reading together, you better believe Iʼm taking!

So thatʼs what brought me here–well, more like a slightly crazy obsession with a fictional character, then a realization that Iʼm not alone in my craziness, followed by a Facebook page and blog run by the wonderful Beth Pittman actually brought me here, but yʼall get where Iʼm going with this. So here I am fellow Sassenachs, with my “Outlander Companion Cookbook”, a glass of red wine, and a spatula, getting ready to throw down an Outlander-inspired meal from start to finish, and Iʼm bringing yʼall along for the ride.

Puff Pastry Boar Tusks

First up on this journey for the taste buds is “Murtaghʼs Gift to Ellen,” or Puff Pastry Boar Tusks. Asparagus and puff pastry and bacon…..oh my! The cookbook does have a recipe for a Blitz Puff Pastry, however I chose the easier route & visited the freezer section of the local grocery store for some Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry Sheets. Before you get all “Thatʼs not how they did it in the 18th century,” just know that the cookbook does offer that as an option in the recipe, and that was one modern adjustment I was definitely going to take! The construction of this adorable appetizer was quite simple & easy enough to do, yet looks as though great detail went into the prepping/cooking process. Would I make this again? With one minor adjustment, aye, I most definitely would. As for that adjustment I mentioned, Iʼd probably opt to coat the puff pastry part with a melted garlic herb butter once removed from the oven. That would take it from being a cute & tasty appetizer to a cute and delectable appetizer thatʼd impress anyone youʼd serve it to.

Brianna’s Matchstick French Fries

Letʼs talk sides. When youʼre slaving away over a meal of this magnitude, keeping it simple yet delicious is key, and boy did I unlock a couple of winners! I went for the “Broccoli Salad,” (p. 210), and the “Matchstick Cold-Oil Fries.” I have been making homemade fries for the past 10 years, and now I know that for the past 10 years, I have been doing them totally WRONG! Who wouldʼve thought that the trick to getting the most crispy and delicious homemade fries youʼve ever had, was to start off with cold oil? Certainly not me, but I can guarantee that I will never make fries using any other method again.  Iʼm here to tell you that the cost of this cookbook is well worth it for this recipe alone! My only regret is that I didnʼt make more!

Now, not to take any shine away from those seriously insane french fries, but the broccoli salad was pretty darn amazing in itself. Fresh, crunchy, tangy, with just a hint of sweetness, and did I mention bacon? Yes people, more bacon. Letʼs be honest, can you ever go wrong with a recipe that has crunchy bacon as an ingredient? The answer to that question, is absolutely not & this recipe was no exception. There isnʼt a single thing that I would change about this salad. So just to recap……yes, yes, and more yes when it comes to these two sides!

Sweet Tea-Brined Chicken

Moving right along, we come to the main entree, “Sweet Tea-Brined Fried Chicken,” (p.112). Now, I love a glass of sweet tea just as much as the next person, but I canʼt say that Iʼve ever imagined using it to brine chicken, or anything for that matter. Once I got beyond the initial “Huh?” phase, I was ready to jump right in. You start off by brining the chicken for a few hours in a homemade sweet tea concoction, filled with what else other than a ton of sugar. Yes, there are a few other ingredients, but youʼll have to buy the book to figure those out. Believe me when I tell you, I not only wanted to like this recipe, but I really wanted to love it, unfortunately that wasnʼt necessarily the case. Donʼt get me wrong, the chicken was outrageously juicy and tender, accompanied with a perfectly crisp outer coating, what lost me was the sweetness. Not overpowering, but enough to make the dish just “okay”. The crispness of the coating was spot on though, Iʼd only say it needed a little salt to make it fried chicken perfection. The recipe wasnʼt a total loss for me though, Iʼd definitely use that coating again, and like the idea of brining beforehand, however Iʼd personally stick with just a good ol’ salt water brine.

Last but certainly not least, I bring you the “Warm Almond Pastry with Father Anselm,” (p. 255) for dessert. Thereʼs really not much I can say about this dessert other than delicious! If you like a dessert that isnʼt overly sweet, then this is the dessert for you! Itʼs light and flaky, and would go perfect with a nice cup of hot coffee. I will for sure be making this again in the very near future.

Warm Almond Pastry

I hope youʼve enjoyed the ramblings of this food obsessed Sassenach. If you donʼt already own this cookbook, do yourselves a favor & go buy it ASAP. If the last thing you need is another cookbook lying around taking up space, then visit your local library, check it out and take pics of the recipes that interest you. You wonʼt regret it! This has been quite the tasty experience, but now itʼs time for me to summon my children and have them roll me into bed. Good night yʼall.

Harmony was born and raised in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, but found her forever home in the mountains of North Carolina in 2017. She is married to her “Jamie” and the mom of two boys whom she homeschools. Harmony discovered Outlander while Season 2 was showing on Starz, and instantly fell in love with Jamie and Claire’s love story. In her spare time, she enjoys being with her family and getting outside to explore their new home in the mountains. Harmony is a moderator for the Outlander North Carolina Facebook Group, and hosted “Happy Hour with Harmony” on Saturday evenings, using recipes from the Outlander Kitchen cookbook to make cocktails and mocktails. If you’d like to see the videos, join the Outlander North Carolina group on Facebook, and go to our Videos section–Harmony is a great hostess!

Do you have a copy of Outlander Kitchen, or have you been a follower of Outlander Kitchen website before there was a cookbook? What’s your favorite recipe?