My next interview in the “Outlander – the fans who make it” series is with the inimitable Karen Henry (@karenh3a on Twitter), administrator of Diana’s Compuserve forum and owner of the website and Facebook page “Outlandish Observations”. Karen is the one who keeps us informed about new releases of Diana’s books, about special dates for Outlander anniversaries, and wonderful quotes from Diana’s books for various occasions.
If you don’t follow her on Social media yet, I suggest you do so quickly.
• Please tell us about yourself.
My name is Karen Henry. I’m 53 years old, and I live in Raleigh, NC. I’m a data analyst for a small non-profit company that provides credit counseling and debt management services for consumers. I grew up in New Jersey, but I have spent my whole adult life in North Carolina, a few hours’ drive from the area where Fraser’s Ridge is supposed to be located.
● How long have you known Diana and the Outlander books series? Please tell us about your relationship with Diana.
I found OUTLANDER completely by accident, browsing in a Barnes & Noble bookstore in 2006. I knew nothing at all about the books in advance, and knew no one else who had read them. I picked up OUTLANDER because I’m a lifelong reader of both time-travel stories and Big Fat Historical Novels. I quickly fell in love with the story, the characters, and Diana’s wonderful writing, and became thoroughly addicted in a very short period of time.
I first met Diana Gabaldon through the CompuServe Books and Writers Community (now TheLitForum.com) in 2007. I really value my relationship with Diana, and I’m honored to say that she considers me a friend. Her most recent book, SEVEN STONES TO STAND OR FALL, is dedicated to me and several other forum members, and the character of Keren-happuch (a Welsh kitchen-maid) in THE SCOTTISH PRISONER is named after me. 🙂 My relationship with Diana is based mostly on interactions on the forum, and occasionally via email. We’ve met in person four times, most recently in September, 2017.
• What made you decide to set up your website “Outlandish Observations”, and to administrate Diana’s CompuServe lit forum? Have you done this for other series as well?
When I started Outlandish Observations in August, 2008, I had two goals in mind. The first was simply to learn about blogging. The second was to create a central repository for news and information for OUTLANDER fans, a place where people could go to find answers to commonly asked questions, links to other OUTLANDER-related sites, and the latest information on Diana Gabaldon’s new and upcoming releases. To say that this blog has succeeded far beyond my wildest imaginings is a severe understatement! Outlandish Observations now has well over 10,000 followers on Facebook.
I discovered the CompuServe Books and Writers Community (see Note below) in March, 2007, about four months after I found the OUTLANDER series. I had been looking for a place to discuss the books online with other fans, and I was impressed by the fact that Diana Gabaldon took the time to answer questions and participate in the discussions on a daily basis. I quickly became addicted to the forum, and in September, 2008, I was asked by one of the admins to join the forum staff as Section Leader (aka moderator) of Diana Gabaldon’s section of the forum. I’ve been in that role ever since.
Diana refers to what I do on the forum as “herding the bumblebees”. 🙂 I welcome new members, help answer questions, and try to keep the discussions organized and on-topic, insofar as that’s possible. Managing a large and constantly shifting group of forum members can be quite a challenge at times, especially during the TV season and when Diana has a new book out, but I enjoy it very much.
Note: The CompuServe Books and Writers Community shut down in December, 2017, but our community has relocated to a new online home. Like the CompuServe forum and its predecessors, TheLitForum.com is a community of readers, writers, and book-lovers, and we have some of the most in-depth discussions of Diana Gabaldon’s books available anywhere online. I would encourage anyone who’s interested to come and check it out! You have to register in order to read or post on TheLitForum.com, but it’s free.
● How much time do you spend every day on Outlander?
I typically spend 1-2 hours a day, keeping up with the discussions in Diana’s section of TheLitForum.com. Much more than that when there’s a “thread explosion” going on (while the TV season is in progress, for example). In addition to that, I try to post something new on my blog at least once a week.
● What do you like most about the Outlander books and show?
About the books:
Unforgettable characters, portrayed so realistically that many readers think of Jamie and Claire as real people. The characters in these books are very human; they change as they grow older, they make mistakes and learn from them, and we care deeply about what happens to them. The major characters in these books never give up, even after suffering through traumatic, life-altering events such as Jamie’s experience in Wentworth Prison. Eventually, with time, with the help of their loved ones, they pick themselves up and get on with their lives, and I find much to admire in that.
Intricate plots, with enough twists and turns to keep readers guessing. Diana deliberately leaves some things ambiguous or unresolved, so there’s room for a great deal of speculation. (For example: what is the significance of the blue forget-me-not flowers Claire found at Craigh na Dun just before she went through the stones the first time? We don’t know yet.) The immense amount of detail in these books means that they stand up very well to re-reading. I have read or listened to the OUTLANDER books many, many times, and I still pick up new little details every time I re-read them.
About the show:
The acting, of course! We were incredibly lucky with the casting, and Sam and Caitriona do a fantastic job. I couldn’t imagine the show without either of them. I was thrilled to see Frances de la Tour as Mother Hildegarde, because I’d thought for a long time (since 2009, when I mentioned her in a post on CompuServe) that she would be perfect for the role.
I love the costumes, especially in the Paris section of Season 2. I also liked the “bat-suit” Claire wore in Season 3. The cinematography on the show is excellent. I really enjoyed the gorgeous views of the Scottish Highlands in Season 1.
I have always appreciated the fact that many of the key people involved in the production, like Matt Roberts, Maril Davis, and Terry Dresbach, are longtime fans of the books. I love seeing my favorite scenes brought to life on TV, and I am delighted that the show has been renewed through Season 6.
● Which character in Outlander is your favourite?
Tough question! I think I would have to say Claire. I love Jamie, of course (who wouldn’t?), but I can relate much more easily to Claire. I like her sense of humor, her adaptability, and the fact that she never, ever gives up, even in the face of seemingly impossible odds.
● How has Outlander affected your life and/or lifestyle?
OUTLANDER has changed my life in many ways, giving me opportunities to do things I never could have imagined. I’m a fairly shy person in real life, but my Outlandish Observations blog and my role on the forum have given me a certain amount of visibility in the fan community, which is very gratifying, but sometimes comes as a bit of a shock. Total strangers sometimes recognize me at fan gatherings. One time at a book-signing, an OUTLANDER fan actually came up to me and asked for my autograph!
I had an unforgettable experience at Diana Gabaldon’s appearance in Annandale, Virginia, in 2013, a couple of months before the TV series was announced. I was sitting near the front of an auditorium with about 1200 people. At the point in her talk where she always mentions CompuServe (because it’s an important part of the story of how she came to write OUTLANDER), Diana looked straight at me, smiled, and said, “The fabulous Karen Henry manages my folder on CompuServe. She’s the bumblebee-herder.” And I stood up and waved to the audience. What a thrill that was for me! Five years later, and I still can’t quite believe that actually happened, but I have plenty of witnesses.
[Note: I’m attaching a photo of myself at that event with Carol and Tracey from My Outlander Purgatory.]
In the summer of 2012, I visited Scotland on Judy Lowstuter’s Celtic Journeys OUTLANDER Tour with my mom and my sister, and we had a fabulous time! It was the trip of a lifetime for me, and I certainly would never have done that if it hadn’t been for OUTLANDER.
[Photo of myself at the Fraser clan stone at Culloden]
As for my lifestyle, well, there’s hardly been a day in the past ten years when I haven’t spent time online discussing and thinking about All Things OUTLANDER. It’s become an integral part of my life.
● Is this the first fandom you are a member of? What made you decide to join this fandom, rather than any other one? What do you like and dislike about this fandom?
I was a diehard fan of the original STAR TREK for many years, but I have never been actively involved in any other fandom. I think the best part of the OUTLANDER fan community is its diversity. It truly is a worldwide community, with fans of all ages, from all sorts of different backgrounds. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been reading the OUTLANDER series for 20+ years, or you’ve just discovered the books recently as a result of the TV show, or you fall somewhere in between. We’re all brought together by our love for these books and characters and this amazing story Diana Gabaldon has created, that is now being brought to life on TV.
I enjoy hearing everyone’s thoughts, opinions, and speculations on any aspect of the books or the TV series, and I learn a lot from talking to people with different experiences and viewpoints than my own. For example, it’s interesting to talk to people who found the books as a result of the TV series.
● Have you met any of the actors of Outlander? If so, which actor did you enjoy meeting the most? If not, who would you like to meet the most?
I haven’t met any of the actors. Traveling is difficult for me, so it’s unlikely that I will ever get to meet Sam, Caitriona, or the other cast members in person.