No Small Thing To Be

I missed blogging about last week’s episode, “The False Bride,” because of the busyness of Thanksgiving week. But I’d like to start out this week’s post with a quote from that episode. Jamie and Claire are in the woods, talking about their plans for the future, and Jamie says,

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“A man should be settled at my age, no? … I was an outlaw when first we met, and an outlaw when you returned. If it was only me, I would live as one again, and when I was old, I would lie under a tree and let the wolves gnaw at my bones. But it’s not just me. It’s you. And Ian … Fergus … Marsali. You understand? I would lay the world at your feet, Claire. But I have nothing to give you.”

When I first heard that speech, I was a bit taken aback. It sounded to me as if Jamie was saying that he would actually prefer to live the life of an outlaw. But on subsequent viewings, I’ve heard him differently. Let’s review a bit before I come to my thoughts about episode 404.

The Jamie of season 1 is a very young man, still discovering what he will be. He has gathered all the tools necessary for becoming almost anything: from his father, he learned how to be a landowner and a laird; from the university in Paris, he learned how to be a man of the world; from his time at Leoch, he learned how to be a warrior. There are times in season 1 when he is as happy as we’ve ever seen him…until Jack Randall takes that away.

In season 2, he should be at his most content: he’s living a life of ease in Paris, safe from harm, with a wife he loves with his whole being. But Paris is miserable because it’s against Jamie’s nature to live a lie. Although the second half of the season is one of hardship, Jamie is able to be himself—the warrior aspect of his self, at any rate—and he seems, ironically, to be at peace…until he loses Claire.

The first half of season 3 is one of despair (and a tour de force for Sam Heughan), when Jamie believes that he will never see Claire again. His life has no purpose throughout those years, until Willie arrives, and even that bit of purpose is something that Jamie has to sacrifice. Then Claire returns—but almost immediately, he’s plunged into a series of circumstances beyond his control. He’s not in control for most of the rest of season 3, which is perhaps why those are the episodes I’ve least enjoyed.

Which takes us to the speech I quoted above. I believe Jamie is saying that Claire (and Ian, Fergus, and Marsali) and their new circumstances have given him a purpose again—have saved him from a life of outlawry. Jamie has seen the potential of this new world, both in what he can make of it and what it can make of him. He can finally be all the things he’s so qualified to be: the laird, the man of the world, and yes, the warrior.

That’s why I was so happy with episode 404. I just felt the world settling into place again: Jamie Fraser is back, and in control of his own life. This is not to say that things aren’t happening to him (Steven Bonnet, the incident with Rufus) in his new world, but that he is increasingly able to take control of circumstances and to turn them to his advantage. In “Common Ground,” we see Jamie the landowner/laird as he begins to build his homestead on Fraser’s Ridge and to arrange for the settlement of his land there.

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We see Jamie the man of the world in his conversation with Governor Tryon. Both men are carrying on two conversations: the words they are saying, and the words they are not saying—and each of them is well aware of both conversations.

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We see Jamie the warrior in his fierce protection of Claire and Ian from threats both real and perceived.

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I don’t often compare the Starz series to the Outlander books—that way lies madness. But there’s a great quote from The Fiery Cross, where Brianna and Claire are talking about finding one’s purpose in life.

“What about Da?” [said Brianna]

“What about him?”

“Does he—is he one who knows what he is, do you think?”

Claire’s hands stilled, the clanking pestle falling silent.

“Oh, yes,” she said. “He knows.”

“A laird? Is that what you’d call it?”

Her mother hesitated, thinking.

“No,” she said at last. She took up the pestle and began to grind again. The fragrance of dried marjoram filled the room like incense. “He’s a man,” she said, “and that’s no small thing to be.”

***

Jan Ackerson is a retired teacher, a writer and editor, and an absolute cuckoo about all things Outlander. You can find her on a much-neglected Twitter account (she’s mostly there to follow the Outlander gang) @janackerson1, or on Facebook (Jan Worgul Ackerson). Her book of micro-fiction, Stolen Postcards, is available at Amazon or https://bofapress.com/collections/all.

Comments or Questions? Send your comments to contact@adramofoutlander.com or call the voicemail line at 719-425-9444.

The Outlander book series is written by Diana Gabaldon. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook

Picture attribution –  Sony/Starz

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One is Compassionate; One is Fierce (hint: it’s both of them)

For all of season 4, I intend to leave the recaps to other bloggers and reviewers and to focus pretty narrowly on something in each episode that captures my attention: a character, a line or two of dialogue, a brief scene. Today I’m examining two tiny moments in episode 402 (“Do No Harm”) that I’m calling signature moves.

In the Outlander books, Diana Gabaldon has given Claire—and to a greater extent, Jamie—some mannerisms that occasionally reveal their state of mind. Claire’s aren’t as obvious as Jamie’s, probably because when Claire’s on the page, we’re usually in her 1st person point of view, and she’s simply not observing her own features at that point. But it’s obvious that her facial expressions are doing something to convey her emotions; more than once she is told that her countenance is readable to anyone who looks.

Jamie’s mannerisms—in the books—are more obvious: he shrugs his shoulders as if his shirt is too tight when he’s uncomfortable, he taps the fingers of his right hand when he’s nervous or antsy, he performs a very articulate Scottish noise.

These personal mannerisms aren’t quite as obvious in the Starz series, although both characters have a few gestures that they return to from episode to episode. Claire is a face cradler—there are many shots like the one below throughout the series, most of them when she’s comforting or reassuring Jamie (or during a moment of intimacy).

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Jamie’s series gesture is similar to his book gesture—he’s a finger twitcher.

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But episode 402 featured moments from both of our main characters that were bigger than mere gestures—signature moves that reveal something even deeper about their personalities.

Claire’s moment comes very near the end of the episode after she has given the injured slave Rufus a fatal dose of aconite to save him from a horrific death. She takes his hand and asks him to tell her about his sister—a moving act of compassion that immediately reminded me of a similar scene in season 1. In that scene, a man has been fatally gored by a wild boar, and she holds his hand and asks him about his home.

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This reveals, I think, a side of Claire that we don’t see very often on the series. Television Claire is a total badass, unafraid to take on psychopathic redcoats, Highland chieftains, and murdering witches. We don’t often see her gentle side, but this tenderness toward the dying—this desire to assure that another’s death is both physically and emotionally painless—shows us that she is as fierce in compassion as she is in bravery.

Jamie’s moment comes a bit earlier in the episode when they are called to deal with the violence between Rufus and a cruel overseer. As Claire goes to help the injured slave, several of the white overseers close in on Jamie, ordering him to back off. He pulls two pistols from his belt, using their threat to hold off the incipient mob. This is very reminiscent of the season 1 scene in which he draws a sword and a dagger at Claire’s witch trial to hold off a similar crowd of angry men.

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In both cases, Jamie is alone at Claire’s defense. If they’d tried, the others could eventually have overtaken him. Such is the force of his personality (and the ferociousness of this expression) that no one even tries.

I’ve read some criticism of Starz’ depiction of Jamie—some people think he’s too weak, too deferential, unrealistically progressive. But Jamie’s signature move shows us that the fearsome Highlander is alive and well and that he is as fierce in bravery as he is in compassion.

I appreciate the writers and producers for giving us the moments of connection from the books to the series and across seasons. These are firmly rooted in an understanding of Gabaldon’s books, and in these moments, we can sigh and think That’s the [Jamie, Claire] I’ve come to love, right here in my living room.

***

Jan Ackerson is a retired teacher, a writer and editor, and an absolute cuckoo about all things Outlander. You can find her on a much-neglected Twitter account (she’s mostly there to follow the Outlander gang) @janackerson1, or on Facebook (Jan Worgul Ackerson). Her book of micro-fiction, Stolen Postcards, is available at Amazon or https://bofapress.com/collections/all.

Comments or Questions? Send your comments to contact@adramofoutlander.com or call the voicemail line at 719-425-9444.

The Outlander book series is written by Diana Gabaldon. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook

Picture attribution –  Sony/Starz

Join the A Dram of Outlander Community

Please share posts, join the discussions, and follow this website and social media sites listed below!

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401: The Beginning and the End (No Middle)

If you watched The Leftovers (an excellent HBO series), you may have been puzzled, as I was, by the prologue to the first episode of season 2. I won’t summarize it here, but it featured prehistoric people, and I remember scratching my head and thinking, “What?”adoo2

On my first viewing of Outlander episode 401, I had the same response, along with the wish that–given the immense amount of material from Drums of Autumn to be condensed—they’d chosen an opening featuring the people we knew. However, on subsequent viewings, I’ve come to appreciate the opening (maybe not to love it, as I did the rest of the episode).

First of all, a brief educational moment: I’ve seen people referring to these circle-builders as cavemen. The date is 2000 B.C.—at that time, Europe was entering the bronze age, the Great Pyramid at Giza had been built, and city-states had been established in Mesopotamia. In the Americas, societies like the one shown in the episode were hunter-gatherers with established social structures—not cavemen, who would have pre-dated these dancers by many centuries.

That lesson aside—what did this prologue bring to the show? I believe its greatest value is in continuity and foreshadowing.

In season 1, we met the dancers at Craig Na Dun. At the end of season 2, we revisited that site to see Gillian Edgars disappear into the past. In season 3, we saw a group of slaves dancing in a circle near Abandawe. In 401, a variation of the ‘stones’ theme was played, and the fires and the dancers’ costumes called back to elements of previously-seen circles. This all combines to say to the viewers: Don’t forget—the Outlander universe is one of mystery. Although it has one foot now firmly in the 18th century, the other foot could be…well…anywhen.

I also believe that we’ll see this circle again. That’s enough about that, in the interest of staying (mostly) spoiler-free.

Then a whole episode happens. I’ll leave that recap to others—there are dozens of them to be Googled. It was a darn good episode, I think.

And now for the five minutes at the end of the show that have polarized the Outlander fandom. Jamie, Claire, Ian, and Lesley are on a rivercraft, on their way to River Run. That night, Steven Bonnet, encountered earlier in the episode, waylays the travelers with his gang of thugs, robs them of their valuables, and kills Lesley. Except for the first few seconds of this attack, the viewers hear nothing of the screams, blows, and shouts. Instead, the music of the great Ray Charles is heard, singing “America the Beautiful.”adoo3

Those who dislike this sequence have several reasons: they find the camera work jarring and the playing of the beloved song at contrast with the violence happening onscreen. Some find it heavy-handed; when taken together with some characters’ earlier statements about the wrongs done to slaves and Native Americans, it feels to them to be overly critical of America.

I found it a masterful piece of television. A fight scene might be seen on almost any drama, and the Outlander writers might have done the easy thing and let us hear every footfall, grunt, and smack. By taking these sounds away from us, we’re forced to fill them in on our own and to concentrate more closely on the faces of the actors and the chaotic action.

The rapid camerawork, too, captures that sense of total loss of control. The viewer wants to say, “wait…stop…slow down,” but can no more stop the action than Jamie could, when held down by several masked men.

More controversial than the camerawork, though, is the use of “America the Beautiful.” It doesn’t escape me that Ray Charles was the son of sharecroppers, and that he lived through pre-Civil Rights era America. He might well have had his own difficulties with this song, and there are certainly other versions that the producers or directors could have chosen. But this version says:

America IS beautiful, despite its past, despite its present woes. Look at the lawlessness on your screen…but America is beautiful. We have come a long way, and there is much to accomplish still…but America is beautiful. We must learn from our history…but America is beautiful.

The first visceral reaction is to think that the irony of that song, juxtaposed with the violence onscreen, points to a criticism of America—and there is certainly an undercurrent of open-eyed criticism there. But I believe without that song, we’d be left with an imprint of both visual and auditory horrors. With it, we’re left with the hope of eventual “brotherhood—from sea to shining sea.”

***

I leave you with this picture from early in the episode which has nothing to do with the rest of the post, just because I think Sam Heughan has more acting ability in his eyes than most actors possess with every tool in the actors’ toolbox.adoo4

For the rest of season 4, I hope to focus pretty narrowly on something I find worth exploring in each episode, and to leave the recapping to others. You may disagree with my take on things—I’d love to read why. Comments are like candy to bloggers, and I look forward to hearing from you.

***

Jan Ackerson is a retired teacher, a writer and editor, and an absolute cuckoo about all things Outlander. You can find her on a much-neglected Twitter account (she’s mostly there to follow the Outlander gang) @janackerson1, or on Facebook (Jan Worgul Ackerson). Her book of micro-fiction, Stolen Postcards, is available at Amazon or https://bofapress.com/collections/all.

Comments or Questions? Send your comments to contact@adramofoutlander.com or call the voicemail line at 719-425-9444.

The Outlander book series is written by Diana Gabaldon. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook

Picture attribution –  Sony/Starz

Join the A Dram of Outlander Community

Please share posts, join the discussions, and follow this website and social media sites listed below!

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To financially support the podcast, go to my Patreon page.

Call 719-425-9444 listener/reader line to leave your comment or question.

 

Mammoth Bones and Toilet Paper

Although Outlander will always be Jamie’s and Claire’s story, the series is so richly populated that occasionally DG lets someone else take center stage for a while. One of my favorite non-Jamie/Claire moments comes in chs. 69 – 70 of ABOSAA, and it features Brianna and Young Ian, with flashbacks to Frank Randall and Ian’s Indian family—his wife Emily, in particular. These two chapters are among my favorites in the series.

A brief summary, to remind you if you haven’t read this bit in a while (better still, go re-read those chapters, then skip this summary):

Ian takes Brianna with him on what she believes is a hunting trip. As they walk farther, she realizes that hunting is not their objective, but when she questions her cousin, he indicates that he’ll reveal what’s going on when they get there. He talks a little bit on the way, touching on both Scots and Indian spirituality, and readers are given a brief flashback to Ian’s life among the Mohawk during the happy times of his marriage to Emily. There’s even more conversation on the second day of their trek, giving us this humorous exchange:

toilet_paper_by_superawesomevectors-d847omx“…I dream about toilet paper all the time,” [Brianna said]. “That’s a thin, soft kind of paper that you use to wipe your, er, behind with,” she explained, seeing his incomprehension.

            “Ye wipe your arse with paper?” He stared at her, jaw dropped in horror. “Jesus God, Brianna!”

Ian tells Brianna more about his Mohawk life, including his rivalry with Sun Elk and his and Emily’s inability to have a child. Finally, they reach their destination: a gorge in which reside the ancient bones of a mammoth. Ian has questions about these bones which he hopes Brianna can answer; it’s all tied to his crisis of faith and his grief over the end of his marriage to Emily.

mammoth

At the end of the scene, Ian has reached a tentative truce with the Mohawk and Scots beliefs battling within him, and he and Brianna have a new closeness. It’s a truly beautiful few chapters, and I’d like to examine a few reasons why I appreciate them so much.

Characterization

At this point in the series, both Brianna and Young Ian need a bit of reader attention. Ian spent most of the previous book off-page, living with the Mohawk. He returned at the end of TFC, but when we last saw him before that, he was just barely a man—only 17 years old. He’s twenty when he returns, and the mammoth incident takes place two years later, but it’s the longest bit of Ian-centered writing that we’ve had in a good long time—certainly since he’s reached full manhood. We learn, through this incident, some of the events that transpired when he was a Mohawk, and how being a Mohawk and a husband has changed him.

Brianna is a character who often presents with prickly edges. Even DG has acknowledged that Brianna is difficult to write and difficult to like. But in this interlude with her cousin, we get to know Brianna more deeply, and we see more of her tender side. To comfort Ian in his grief over his dead daughter, she calls out to the spirit of Frank Randall, asking him to find Ian’s little girl in heaven and make sure that she’s safe. This is tricky, given that Frank technically isn’t born yet, but it’s exactly the right thing for her to say. She weeps with Ian, then spends a few peaceful moments with her memories of her daddy and with the trees and water all around. Just for these few chapters, we see that Brianna can be soft and vulnerable and nurturing, and it’s quite lovely.

Long-Range Plot Considerations

Toward the end of this scene, Ian asks for Brianna’s advice: should he go back to Emily? He still loves her, and he feels that she probably loves him—it was their infertility that forced him to leave the Mohawk, not a lack of marital affection.

Brianna answers quickly, giving him several compelling reasons why he should stay. He accepts her advice, and this opens the door to developments in books 7 and 8 that could not happen if he were to return. These developments are significant, centering largely around Rachel Hunter, but touching on many other characters and events as well. Young Ian is at the top of nearly everyone’s list of favorite Outlander characters, and it was necessary to keep him in the forefront, not back among the Mohawk.

Just Darn Good Writing

Ian knows about the time travelers, but he’s unclear how time travel works, and his understanding of it is tied strongly to Highland stories of the Old Folk. So when Brianna tells him that she’s seen similar mammoth bones in a museum, in her own time, we get this exchange:

“A museum? So it’s not a thing ye’ve got where—when”—he stumbled a bit—“where ye come from? Not alive then, I mean?” He seemed rather disappointed.

            She wanted to laugh at the picture of mammoths roaming Boston Common…

Another bit, as fine a description of love as I’ve seen, in just a dozen words:

“My soul didna wander while I slept—when I slept wi’ her.”

And this, just one of the thousands of examples of exquisite writing that perfectly captures a moment:

Brianna felt sleep come, the waves of it gentle, lifting her toward peace, and did not resist. The last thing she recalled was Ian’s face, cheek heavy on her shoulder, his eyes still open, watching the fire.

These interludes away from Jamie and Claire help us to realize that the characters in the world DG has given us are all interconnected. A few moments away from our main characters gives us a little thrill when we turn the page and there they are again. The Outlander universe is very wide, but scenes like this reveal its depth as well.

[Got any ideas for future blog posts? I prefer to write about the books: themes, characters, events. I welcome your input!]

***

Jan Ackerson is a retired teacher, a writer and editor, and an absolute cuckoo about all things Outlander. You can find her on a much-neglected Twitter account (she’s mostly there to follow the Outlander gang) @janackerson1, or on Facebook (Jan Worgul Ackerson). Her book of micro-fiction, Stolen Postcards, is available at Amazon or https://bofapress.com/collections/all.

Comments or Questions? Send your comments to contact@adramofoutlander.com or call the voicemail line at 719-425-9444.

The Outlander book series is written by Diana Gabaldon. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook

Picture attribution –  Creative Commons

Join the A Dram of Outlander Community

Please share posts, join the discussions, and follow this website and social media sites listed below!

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Call 719-425-9444 listener/reader line to leave your comment or question.

 

 

The Flip Side of Forgiveness

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In my last post about forgiveness in Outlander, I mentioned this snippet of dialog—Jamie to Claire on the subject of forgiving her rapist:

“And if ye could forgive him, he needn’t die, ye’re saying? That’s like a judge lettin’ a murderer go free, because his victim’s family forgave him.”

I had a feeling as I was writing that this dichotomy between forgiveness and justice would have to be revisited. Sure enough, as soon as I posted the blog, I got some thoughtful “But what about ______ ?” comments. So today, we’re getting the flip side of forgiveness, and an attempt to answer the questions:

In the Outlander universe, when is forgiveness not necessary or possible? What situations call for vengeance?

I’m going to stick with Jamie’s character in my response. Because Jamie.

While I don’t suppose that Jamie ever sat down and formulated a Personal Code of Justice, he was a Highlander and the son of a good and moral man. He wasn’t always rose4cconsistent about who got roses and who got thorns, but I believe that in the instances below, Jamie was motivated by honor, tradition…and selflessness.

Yep, selflessness. Here we go.

In Outlander, when Jamie thinks that Claire is probably incapable of bearing a child, he says to her:

“I can bear pain myself, but I couldna bear yours. That would take more strength than I have.”

That’s nothing to do with vengeance—just illustrative of Jamie’s essential selflessness. He’s only in his early 20s there, but he’s already developed the virtue of putting others above himself. We see this in DIA on a greater scale, when he attempts (twice!) to save the Lallybroch men from slaughter, and later in Voyager, as Mac Dubh caring for the men in Ardsmuir. So keep that characteristic of selflessness in mind as we consider some of the people who suffer from Jamie’s vengeance. (I’m not considering deaths in war or battle, self-defense, or heat of passion killings—just those that can legitimately be considered acts of revenge because of a previous wrongdoing.)

  • Black Jack Randall – In ch. 31 of OL, Jamie says to Claire:

 

“I’ll tell ye this, mo duinne. One day Jack Randall will die at my hands. And when he is Picture1dead, I shall send back that book to the mother of Alex MacGregor, with word that her son is avenged.”

 

At this point, Randall has viciously whipped Jamie, but the events at Wentworth have not yet occurred. Still, Jamie’s anger is more on behalf of the hapless Alex MacGregor and on behalf of Jenny and Lallybroch. Later, at their near-fatal encounter in France (the duel), Jamie attempts to kill Randall not for the torture and rape he suffered in Wentworth, but for Randall’s abuse of Fergus. Jamie eventually (probably) kills Randall at Culloden, but since we book readers don’t know yet exactly how that transpired, we’ll have to leave it on the table as to whether that was revenge for his own torture or simply a battlefield killing. Yes, I know what they showed on Starz. Doesn’t count.

  • Danton, the Duke of Sandringham’s servant – Jamie kills him (again, book, not TV show) in revenge for the rape of Mary Hawkins and the attack on Claire.
  • Murchison, the guard at Ardsmuir prison – Jamie, perhaps with the help of one or two other prisoners, drowns Murchison because of his constant cruelty. It’s my opinion that this was an incident of opportunity, and that Jamie did this in his role as de facto chief for his men at Ardsmuir. Would he have done this if Murchison’s cruelty was reserved for Jamie alone? Hard to say. Jamie does occasionally occupy some morally ambiguous territory.
  • Richard Brown’s gang – In ABOSAA, Jamie utters perhaps the three most chilling words in all the Outlander books: “Kill them all.” The raiders—except for a few who we’ll visit in a moment—die because of their offenses against Claire.
  • Claire’s nameless rapist – This is the feckless fellow that Claire sees at the end of MOBY, three years after her abduction. She realizes not only that he escaped the killings (see above), but that he is the one man who actually succeeded in raping her. Jamie cheerfully toddles off to take care of him, and though it happens off-page, it was certainly the epitome of revenge killing—because of wrongs done to Claire.

Similarly, when Wendigo Donner is discovered to have also survived the kill them all raid, his life was forfeit—but when Jamie kills him, it’s in defense of his home and all who are present there.

  • Stephen Bonnet – Of course, it isn’t Jamie who kills Bonnet, although he has the chance to do so on Okracoke, at the end of Echo. Instead of killing him on Brianna’s behalf (which would have been consistent with the poor dudes above), he offers that honor to Brianna, whose sufferings at Bonnet’s hands were even greater than Jamie’s. What’s the difference? In the other cases, the wronged ones were not capable of carrying out their own vengeance. Too young, too frightened, not present, too dead, bound by an oath not to kill. But Brianna is more than capable; the choice is hers. She chooses mercy—of a sort.

So. Some excerpts from the Highlander’s Big Book of Justice:

Honor your oaths.

Forgive when you can. It might take a while, but it’ll keep your soul pure.

Keep forgiving. Sometimes it wears out.

Forgiveness doesn’t erase justice. If an opportunity for justice presents itself, take it.

If you are responsible for people who can’t avenge their own wrongs, you must do it for them.

Defend those who need defending. Be prepared to defend with your life.

Surround yourself with those who will stay by your side in the cause of justice. Family, clan, true friends. Defend them, too.

[Got any ideas for future blog posts? I prefer to write about the books: themes, characters, events. I welcome your input!]

***

Jan Ackerson is a retired teacher, a writer and editor, and an absolute cuckoo about all things Outlander. You can find her on a much-neglected Twitter account (she’s mostly there to follow the Outlander gang) @janackerson1, or on Facebook (Jan Worgul Ackerson). Her book of micro-fiction, Stolen Postcards, is available at Amazon or https://bofapress.com/collections/all.

Comments or Questions? Send your comments to contact@adramofoutlander.com or call the voicemail line at 719-425-9444.

The Outlander book series is written by Diana Gabaldon. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook

Picture attribution – ChurchArtPro and Creative Commons

Join the A Dram of Outlander Community

Please share posts, join the discussions, and follow this website and social media sites listed below!

Facebook PageFacebook Group,  InstagramTwitterTumblrGoogle+

To financially support the podcast, go to my Patreon page.

Call 719-425-9444 listener/reader line to leave your comment or question.