• "Oh, if I could only put things into words as I see them! Mr. Carpenter says, 'Strive, strive -- keep on. Words are your medium -- make them your slaves -- until they will say for you what you want them to say.' That is true, and I do try, but it seems to me there is something beyond words -- any words -- all words -- something that always escapes you when you try to grasp it -- yet leaves something in your hand which you wouldn't have had if you hadn't reached for it. ... I have written myself out for tonight, and am going to bed."
    - Lucy Maud Montgomery, Emily Climbs

    This is my place to "write myself out" -- sharing both my day-by-day thoughts and my artistic output. Thank you for visiting! - Carmen Pauls Orthner
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Filed under Christmas • Written by Carmen @ December 18, 2010

After a bit of wheedling on my part, Bryan took Sara with him to go grocery shopping, enabling me to concentrate on some writing. So, here is my response to Shimelle’s Dec. 17 prompt, regarding the “perfect gift”. :) (ETA: I may make this the Dec. 19 entry, as I see that tomorrow’s is “letters to Santa” and I did that on Dec. 17.)

Truthfully, by the time most of my family members are prepared to start thinking about what they want for Christmas, I’ve usually got their gifts either planned, picked out and/or purchased. To some extent, that’s because we live in such a remote area that I have to start thinking about buying presents several months in advance, but mainly it’s because I don’t like my shopping to be a rush job.

What I’ve chosen isn’t often ON those lists of theirs, once I receive them, but I like anticipating the pleasure they will experience over receiving an unexpected gift. It doesn’t always work – I’ve had a few gifts that I thought were “perfect” be received with an, “Oh. (pause) That’s nice. Thanks,” and the gift disappears into a stack, never to be seen or used again. But sometimes I manage to truly surprise AND delight with a gift I’ve chosen for them.

One of my biggest successes was in 2007, the year that both Bryan and I became obsessed with Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series – a peculiarly fascinating merger of Scottish history, torrid romance, time travel and cracking good storytelling. We had both read all of the books in the main series, but that year, Gabaldon released two books in a complementary series about Lord John Grey, a character whose life repeatedly intersects with the lives of her main characters, Claire and Jamie Fraser, but about whom there is much “untold” in the Outlander books.

That summer, I had joined a Yahoo Groups listserv for Gabaldon fans, and one day I posed a question: was there any way to get a book autographed, if you could not attend one of the author’s in-person visits? Lo and behold, on Sept. 3, I got this reply from “Susan H.E.”, Diana’s personal assistant (the “H.” stands for “Herself”, as fans call Gabaldon – a reference to how characters in her books respectfully call Jamie Fraser “Himself”):

Carmen, the fastest way to get a “custom” signed book would be to order it directly from The Poisoned Pen here in Arizona. They are the local indi-bookstore that launches all of Diana’s books, they accept credit cards (yea!!), are set up to ship books internationally (doing a great job) AND it’s only a few miles from Diana’s house so she pops in there when she has a moment to sign books for stock AND for custom signing requests such as yours. Go to their website and you can either e-mail, fax or call your order in — make sure you send the request to “Patrick” as he’s the one who handles the book-shipping and special requests for signatures or personalized books.

So, after numerous exchanges of e-mail correspondence, credit card numbers for the book and shipping fees, etc., less than two months later a box arrived from Arizona, containing a hardcover copy of Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade, with the much-desired inscription. I also picked up the next book in the series, and packed both books up in a mandarin orange box (a reference to Jamie’s Chinese manservant, Mr. Willoughby, I believe), with a bottle of Saskatchewan Roughriders’ “Green Zone” hot sauce, a fortune cookie, a card about the “wise men from the east”, and a newspaper clipping on the front with the headline “The Untold Story”.

And on Christmas Eve, I gleefully presented the box, and took photos of every step of the opening, and enjoyed the look of total shock on Bryan’s face when he opened the flyleaf and found the book inscribed, “For Carmen’s ‘Black Brian’. Slainte! – Diana Gabaldon”. (‘Black Brian’ was Jamie’s father’s nickname, because of his black hair, and it’s the reason Jamie is also known as “Seamus Mac Dubh,” or, “James, Son of the Black’. And “Slainte” is a Gaelic toast to good health.) I handed off the camera and got a picture taken of my cat-who-ate-the-canary look as well. :) Score!!


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