I admit it. I get a little thrill of happiness whenever an author I admire talks to me. For instance, I chatted with Elizabeth Wein on Twitter about Code Name Verity while I was reading the book in England. And that time when I talked to Miranda Kenneally and Gail Carriger about random stuff. And when I bonded with Tiffany Reisz over horses. You can keep your actors and singers; authors are the ones I love to meet. Which is why I pretty much flipped out when a Twitter friend, Amanda Pedulla, told me she’d noticed Diana Gabaldon had thanked me in her acknowledgments in her latest book, Written in My Own Heart’s Blood.
A little background is in order here. Diana Gabaldon is my favorite writer. Hands down. If you don’t know already, she writes the immensely fabulous Outlander series, which is about Claire Randall, a woman from the 1940s, who falls through standing stones while on her honeymoon in Scotland and lands in the 1800s. She’s taken captive by a band of Scottish highlanders, and while she’s trying to work out what’s going on, she meets a young injured highlander named Jamie Fraser. Because she was a nurse during WWII, she’s able to fix his dislocated shoulder and then later his stab wounds. The two become friends and then…well, you’ll have to read them. These books…these wonderful books… I adore them. Diana is a fabulous storyteller and she does not hold back. She has a flare for weaving history in the narrative and bringing each character to life, even the smallest walk-ons. I’ve long admired these traits in her writing and I work hard to do the same in my own. Diana’s writing also made me fall in love with the British Isles, and it was partly because of the Outlander series that I headed to England and ended up meeting my husband.
I had the enormous pleasure of meeting Diana in 2000. I went to a Highland festival in San Diego and I had no idea that she’d be there signing her books. And there she was, manning the booth all by herself, and we got to chat for a little bit. I told her I wrote magazine articles and I working on fiction in my free time. She signed a book for me thusly:
So from time to time I talked to her through her blog and on her writing forum and found her to be a very kind person, generous with her knowledge, and funny, to boot. I knew I wanted to be that kind of writer, too. When Random House and Penguin merged, my first thought wasn’t how that merger would affect me as a writer, but how happy I was that Diana and I were in the same publishing house now.
Those of you who know me know that I write for farm magazines, and I’ve written a chicken breed profile magabook. A couple of years ago, I happened to mention a chicken breed called the Scots Dumpy on Diana’s blog. She responded saying she was really enchanted with the breed. I thought it would end there, but then one Saturday night this June while I was working on my latest work in progress, I got the aforementioned tweet from Amanda. I fast forwarded through my Written in my Own Heart’s Blood copy on my Kindle and found it:
Thrilled? Yes, I was. In fact I was fangirl flailing to the point of hyperventilating. I also loved how she incorporated the Scots Dumpy into her story.
I want to thank you, Diana Gabaldon, for entertaining me and inspiring me for many years. I’m glad I could give something back to you, even if it was something as small as a chicken. I hope one day I can thank you in person. And by the way, your latest book is so, so, so good. I loved each and every page.
For those of you wondering what in the heck is so special about a chicken that it caught Diana Gabaldon’s attention, here is the information about the Scots Dumpy from my book Guide to Chicken Breeds.
People recognize the cheerful, biddable Scots Dumpy by its very short legs, which have earned the breed several unflattering nicknames, including “Crawlers” and “Creepers.” The breed’s legs result from what has been called a “creeper gene” that can cause chicks to die in the shell before hatching if combined with other certain genes. The Scots Dumpy offers a quiet, placid breed that enjoys free ranging; handlers should monitor its diet, however, as this slow-moving bird gains weight quickly. Chicks need special feeders and water drinkers to account for their short stature. The breed is better suited to warm, dry climates; close proximity to cold, wet ground can lead to sickness. The hen is a great layer of white eggs and can be used to rear the chicks of other flow. Because of its large size, the Scots Dumpy does not fly.
One of only two breeds developed in Scotland, the ancient Scots Dumpy warned Scots and Picts of incoming Roman attacks during the early medieval period. Fanciers began exhibiting the breed in 1852. The Scots Dumpy nearly reached extinction during the mid-19th century; fortunately, a pure line was discovered in Kenya in 1973. Lady Violet Carnegie had brought the flock to Kenya in 1902 and it was reimported to the United Kingdom to boost decreasing numbers. A bantam variety of the breed was developed in 1912, just after the Scots Dumpy Club was formed.
Some breeders describe the Scots Dumpy body type as “boatlike.” The breed’s carriage should appear “heavy with a waddling gait,” according to the Scots Dumpy Club. The rooster has long, flowing tail feathers. The most commonly seen plumage types include Cuckoo and Black varieties; however Blue, Splash and a very rare white also exist. The shanks of the Black variety look slate to black; they appear white in the remaining varieties. The breed’s medium, upright, single comb, wattles and earlobes are red. The Scots Dumpy rooster weights up to 7 pounds; the hen weights 6 pounds. Bantams weight 1½ to 1¾ pounds.