Magic, Mystery, a little Whisky, and a Cat


One week is not enough time to explore the awesomeness of Scotch.  Sorchia has declared the entire month of December as Whisky Month.  Go to for updates.

Early in the life of Just Like Gravity, I started researching. It’s a dirty job, but a necessary one and I want you to know just how seriously I take it. Since the book is set in Scotland, I obviously needed to know as much about the culture as possible and, well, whisky is kind of important there. As we speak, massive quantities of the stuff are being aged in vaults–guarded by bearded, kilted, pale Scotsmen who have never seen the sun. Nearly 100 distilleries dot the countryside—and Scotland is a small country—not quite as big as South Carolina. I learned a lot about whisky in those first few months of work on the book, though my adventures with liquor started much earlier.

When I was a dear sweet tiny girl living in the deepest darkest parts of Shannon County in southern Missouri, my sainted father cured my coughs, colds, fevers, and nearly all other maladies with a stiff hot toddy. We made our hot toddies with Jack Daniels, nutmeg, a little sugar, and hot water. Needless to say, after one or two doses, all signs of disease vanished and I felt as fresh and lively as a barefoot Ozarks kid ought to—maybe even a little more. I found that if I developed a cough early in the morning and worked it with increasing volume and intensity through the afternoon, by bedtime Dad would be waiting for me as I got ready for bed with a steaming cup. Ah, those were the days.

I learned to savor it, breathing the vapors, sipping slowly and letting the warmth spread from my tongue down the back of my throat to my stomach and outward. Soon my toes would be warm and my mind filled with happy visions. This all ended one day when someone–may that person be forever cursed to a life of sobriety–gave Dad a book about the virtues of vinegar. This is another story—a sad story of desire and betrayal that I will tell on another day.

Somewhere during puberty, I lost the magic (and a good many other things) and forgot how to really enjoy a good glass of whiskey. As teenagers are wont to do, I drank for effect and for the hell of it rather than as a true connoisseur. Then I got married and had children and I drank desperately for escape, becoming even more divorced from the rapture that is whisky. And I drank bourbon.

As I was working on this novel, I began to yearn for those happier days when I had been more connected with cosmic forces –-i.e. Scotch–so I bought a bottle of Johnny Walker Black. I settled back in my chair beside a nice fire with a healthy portion and took a sip.

Now, maybe my palate has matured or maybe Jack Daniels cauterized my taste buds for a time because I never knew such bliss existed. I’d always assumed that bourbon and Scotch were on the same plane. Such are the limitations of public education. When the smoky essence of that first drink made its way through my sinuses, I knew I was on the right track. I don’t think I actually said “WooHoo” or “Yowee” or “Eureka”, but only because that would have delayed the next drink.

Later, I tried Glen Livet, satiny smooth and fruity, but it lacks the smoke. Between Glen Livet and Johnny Walker Black, the Scotch sections of all the stores near my home were exhausted. The trouble is that as good as Black John is, I craved even more smoke.

My son again validated all the time and care it took to get him raised, by sharing his considerable knowledge and as a result I went on a search for Islay single malts, specifically Laphroig, which Kris assures me has plenty of smoke. And there’s the rub—I live in a secluded part of the world where most people drink Bud Light and Jim Beam—not that there is anything wrong with either of those, but come on—you got to grow up some day.

I started a quest for LaPhroaig and called all the liquor stores within easy driving distance. Most of my conversations went something like this:

“Hi, I’m looking for a particular kind of Scotch and wondered if you had it.”

“Whut kind are ya lookin’ fer?”


“La Whut?”

“Laphroaige. L..a..p..h..r. . . Never mind.“

At last, I found an amiable chap who said he would be happy to order me whatever I wanted so I could give it a try. We looked in his Big, Black Book of Booze and, sure enough, there was LaPhroaig in several versions. Though I have J.K. Rowlings dreams, I am still a humble romance novelist so I could only afford the 10-year old stuff. We ordered it.

Now I am not a highly religious person though I do like to call myself spiritual. I believe in a higher power and I believe in the interconnectedness of all life. I don’t know if reincarnation is real, but with the first sniff of the peaty, iodine-rich amber juice, I felt a distinct jolt of déjà vu. Somewhere, somehow, in some form I’ve tasted it before—or is it just the collective memory kicking in?

Whoever first called whisky the “breath of life” or the “water of life”– uisge-beatha, in Gaelic—must have been talking about something like LaPhroaig.

In Just Like Gravity, the main character, Anna, is introduced to LaPhroaig by a wandering and completely inebriated Scotsman she finds on a rain-soaked hillside. Needless to say, her opinion of him improves considerably after a wee dram, and soon the two of them find they are connected by more than just their love of LaPhroaig. Through all the travails they encounter—Glaswegian gangsters, malevolent relatives, ghosts, past life terrors, and disapproving children (and I’m not sure which of these is the scariest)– they find that a little bit of LaPhroaig keeps them grounded.

This is why research is a good thing!

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