So several people have asked me today if I was planning to write anything for #WorldOutlanderDay. I wasn’t really planning to, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I do have a story to tell. I may even admit to my darkest, most shameful Outlander secret.
In the beginning…
From reading many reminiscences today, I’ve realized that many, if not most, Outlander fans can point to the exact month and year they first read Outlander. I’m not like that. I’m pretty sure I picked up my first copies of Outlander and Dragonfly in Amber at a Barnes and Noble somewhere in the mid 90s but I couldn’t say when. And although I know how strongly Diana objected to them being there, I likely would not have ever found the books in a bookstore if they had not been in the Romance section. Anyway, I bought them and took them home. And they sat on my shelf for days, months, dare I say, years. I know I tried to start Outlander several times, but I never seemed to make it past the magic first 100 pages. Finally, in the midst of a paperback book-reducing frenzy, I did something I can’t believe I’m admitting in public: much less in an Outlander-related post, I traded Outlander and Dragonfly in at a used book store.
I know, I know. I can hear the gasps and screams of outrage already. I have no real excuse. Looking back, I can only come up with a couple of reasons why I think Outlander didn’t “click” for me back then. First, I was pretty young. I was only 23 or 24 and was still pretty much living in the bosom of my family and I think I just had a hard time relating to Claire. Second, although I’ve always been a huge fan of historically based fiction, neither WWII nor the Jacobite period had ever numbered among my favorite historical time periods. Somehow both these factors, plus never making it past the first 100 pages, doomed me into making a tragic mistake. Most of you will be quite relieved to note however that now, when I recommend Outlander to others, I make them sign a blood oath not to stop reading before magic page 100.
Seeing the light–
Luckily, unlike so many other things in life, I was offered a second chance. I was attending a music festival in Wilkesboro, NC, ( not too far from the fictional location of Fraser’s Ridge) when I started chatting with a weaver who was exhibiting her wares in the arts and crafts tent. As we were talking about different historically set books we had read, she asked me if I had read Outlander. I readily admitted that I had purchased the book at one time but had never ‘got into it.’ Looking back, I think I’m really lucky she decided to have anything more to do with me. However, as I listened to this lady extol the virtues of the series, I resolved to give Outlander another go, and boy is that a decision that has impacted my life.
On my second attempt at the Outlander series, I was in a different place in my life. I had recently finished graduate school and picked up and moved to Charlotte, NC to make a new start in a city and state where I knew no one. This time, as I began the series, I could relate more to Claire as she was thrust into the alien environment of 18th century Scotland — not that a move from Georgia to North Caroline could really compare. Also contributing was the fact that I had already fallen in love with the language and culture of the Scottish Highlands, mostly through musicians performing at the aforementioned music festival and my own research.
So this time, primed so to speak, I fell hard for Outlander. I not only made it past the first 100 pages, I devoured Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber, Voyager and Drums of Autumn in the space of about a month. It might have been less, I’m not really sure. In the pages of these books, I found comfort, love and catharsis in such measures I was astonished. Even after finishing the series, while eagerly awaiting the release of the next chapters in the lives of these characters , I would find myself returning to the pages again and again. I admit to being a compulsive, serial re-reader but, even for me, this was unusual.
Somehow though, as enthralled by these books as I was, and even though I was reintroduced to the series by another fan, it never occurred to me to look for other fans of the series. Outlander was something I hugged to myself and treasured. Even though I made a half-hearted attempt to get my mother to read the series before our trip to Scotland in 2006, I wasn’t really that disappointed that she didn’t become as in love with the books as I am. (That has since been remedied.) As long as she didn’t mind me dragging her to Fort William, Inverness, or any other location I could think of that was referenced in the books, I was fine.
Finding a new family
Then came July of last year. Living under my own Outlander rock, as it were, I was not even aware that a TV series was being planned until I happened upon the news on Diana’s Facebook page sometime last spring/early summer. I checked back occasionally to see what progress was being made but nothing had prepared me for the frenzy that hit with the casting of Sam Heughan. Suddenly I had a face to go with the Jamie I had loved in my mind for so long. Unlike many others, until that moment it had never even occurred to me to even try to put an actual face to Jamie Fraser, but once I had one in Sam, I couldn’t seem to stop thinking about it. I, along with throngs of others, immediately followed Sam on Twitter and Instagram. (Oh the fond days when there were only 6,000 of us.) I waited with bated breath for each new announcement from Diana as cast members were selected. I suffered on my own through #ClaireWatch because it STILL hadn’t occurred to me to go looking for others in my same predicament.
And then it happened. I started to recognize names on Twitter and in comments on Facebook. Conversations sprang up with people miles away and with worlds of experiences different from my own. I finally went searching and found The Outlander Podcast and My Outlander Purgatory and spent days and hours devouring podcasts and videos. I discovered there were a LOT of people out there who were a lot like me. And they were the NICEST people. I shocked my family and friends by buying a plane ticket and going to LA for the sole purpose of attending an Outlander fan event. Me, who had never fangirled over anything in my life, was now a super fan. Looking back, I’m still shocked I did it.
Now, since the fan event in January, my life has only continued to be enriched by the people who I have had the privilege to meet through Outlander. I’ve started this blog and received such thrilling feedback. I’ve sent over 11,000 tweets. I’ve even been fortunate enough to interact with Diana herself through the CompuServe forum and Twitter. As more time passes, things just get better and better. I’m thrilled to be attending the Random House Outlander Retreat next weekend in Seattle. Finally, I will get to meet so many in person whom I’ve only known online. I know it’s going to be just like meeting old friends, because we already know so much about each other through this Outlander experience.
I’m so glad that World Outlander Day has given me this chance to sit, reflect, and say a heartfelt “thank you” to Diana for creating this world that serves as a foundation for so much more than lovers of a series of books. And thanks to all of you as well out there that read this blog, share the experiences and continue to grow the Outlander community. Happy World Outlander Day!
Mandy, I really enjoyed this. Our experiences of reading and finding Twitter folk sound very similar. I too am amazed by how nice people are and how encouraging. You all encouraged me to write and now I can’t stop!LOL have fun at retreat!
Oh dear Mandy — I relate to your story, so wonderfully told, on many levels! I LOVE historical fiction. Yet it took me two years to crack open the book. Couldn’t get past a handful of chapters. Put it away for another year. Then my Scottish heritage — and that of my husband’s — beckoned. My genealogy research and planning for our first visit to Scotland came together. And I KNEW that Outlander would figure in somehow. I fell in love with Diana…the wonderful story and characters she had drawn. I was compelled to keep reading and before I knew it — finished. All the books. I began to miss Jamie and Claire and the rest…so I began my first re-read (of 3). My husband delved into the books as well and is a fan (wouldn’t characterize him as super-fan😉). My husband and my hair colorist (who I only see a few times a year) were my only companions with whom to share the journey. I followed Diana on her website and FB mostly. Compuserv a bit. Then the news of the TV series hit. And well…you know the rest!
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