It might just be the communities that I'm in online (hi, Romancelandia), but it seems like every other tweet I've seen between Saturday evening and Tuesday morning this August and September is about the Starz adaptation of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander. Of course, I'm just as guilty as my fellow watchers. In August, I jumped right in, watching the series, listening to The Scot & The Sassenach*, and rereading the first book. Every time I get together with other romance authors, the conversation inevitably makes its way over to Outlander. The internet basically exploded when Claire and Jamie got their first sex scene. I was worried that all of the squee might create a black hole that sucks everything into and ends life as we know it. This still may happen. What with streaming and everything, the verdict's still out.
As we get closer to the mid-season break, I've been thinking a lot about what a big deal book Outlander was for me in my teenage years. I remember the old cover clearly with its red plaid, flowers, and broken clock. I used to walk by it on my mother's bookshelves all the time. One day when I was about 16, she pulled it off the shelf and slid it over to me, suggesting that I might enjoy it. Mum is a very smart lady.
I fell in love with the time slip, 18th century Scotland, that hot Highlander in a kilt, everything. I ripped through the 800+ page book in a matter of days, reading so late into the night that the next morning my eyes were gritty from lack of sleep. I even have clear memories of sneaking it under my desk in AP US History class so that I could keep reading.** I'm pretty sure I walked around school with it in front of my face, blushing something fierce because oh my goodness, people. There was sex and lots of it.
When people ask about the series, I like to tell them that Outlander was the book that made me a woman (my sister finds this mortifying). What I really mean is that this was first time that I read a book with graphic sex in it^ where the sex wasn't meant to stand as a metaphor for growing up or as way to shame its characters.^^
Outlander is a book about a sexually self-possessed woman who knows how to ask for what she wants and the man who wants to give that to her. In fact, the show goes one step further. In the first episode, the creators wrote a scene in where Claire's husband Frank moves to kiss her. Instead, she pushes him down on his knees and he lifts her skirt to perform oral sex. The message is clear. Claire is a sexual person and not the least bit afraid of expressing it. Add Jamie in a kilt to the mix and you have serious sparks.
Outlander isn't perfect. I reread my beaten-up copy of the book while watching the show this summer, and there are some scenes that border on uncomfortable for me. I won't spoil them here, but dedicated readers of the series can probably guess what I'm talking about. However, the book does portray a lot of positive aspects of Claire and Jamie's relationship, and I'll always think of it fondly as my gateway into the world of historical romance.
If you had told me that I would be writing historical romance (or really any romance at all) before those days of reading Outlander under my desk in History class, I probably would have called you crazy. But afterwards? Well, it's all I ever really wanted to write.
*An excellent podcast that I highly recommend for not only recapping Outlander but also breaking down what works in both the show and the book from a narrative standpoint. Seriously, go check it out. It's delightful, and there's a real live Scotsman on it.
**Sorry, Mr. Hall. I did go on to get a degree in History so hopefully that makes up for it...
^Upon rereading, the sex seems so tame, but at 16 all I was reading were Kensington Zebra sweet romances where the characters held hands and had one chaste kiss on the last page. THE LAST PAGE?! I felt so cheated each and every time, and yet I read these books for three years. I had no idea that there were sexy books out there I could buy with my babysitting money.
^^I'm looking at you, Go Ask Alice. If you haven't read it, this is a book where the heroine loses her virginity while on LSD or something and then I'm pretty sure winds up addicted to hard drugs and maybe getting raped or prostituting herself or both. She might also die at the end (sorry, 40something year-old spoilers). Clearly, that was not what teenage Julia was looking for.