H Is For Karen Henry

How in the world did this happen?

For most people, it’s often asked when a bookshelf comes tumbling down after you cram that one final book onto an already sagging shelf or a child comes in completely covered in royal blue paint and looking like a Smurf.

It’s a question Karen Henry asks herself often and small wonder. It’s been a remarkable journey for someone who admits she is very shy in public.

If you’re familiar with Diana Gabaldon or her Outlander series, you probably know who Karen Henry is. She is, as Diana has tagged her, the Bumblebee Herder for all things Outlander.

Some of you may remember the EDS commercial herding cats, that’s about the way it is. Karen not only maintains an active Facebook account with 14,000 followers where she updates the latest information on Diana and Outlander-related news, but also pens a popular blog called Outlandish Observations, and is a section leader at TheLitforum.com where she heads up the Diana Gabaldon section. That’s a lot of work for someone who also worked full-time until about eighteen months ago and does volunteer work.

Outlandish Observations

But who is the woman behind all this word-wrangling?

Karen Henry The Beginnings

Karen was born in Urbana, Illinois, but her physicist father (He was much, much more than that, but more later.) moved the family to New Jersey when she was three months old. Though she tries not to focus on this aspect of her life, she was born with cerebral palsy that affects her legs. Her parents were always supportive of everything she wanted to do. She was encouraged to get involved and be active. She excelled in school and was involved in the school paper and chorale in high school.

From an early age, Karen’s mother encouraged her to read and fostered a love of history. “When I was little, we’d go to the library or bookstores, and I picked out books that were eye level. Mom pulled books above and below me that were hard for me to reach so I wasn’t limited in what I read. She wanted me to have full access to read whatever I wanted to.”

Mothers who give their children wings are also angels.

It was probably her mother who fostered her love of libraries and reading. When she was seven, Karen wrote in a school paper she wanted to be a librarian when she grew up and work 24 hours a day then go home and rest. Karen’s dedication was admirable, even if her understanding of time was a bit off.

A person might suspect Karen would stay close to home to go to college where she already had a strong support system. “I wanted to go someplace warm, so I started looking at colleges in the south,” said Karen. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill caught her eye. It was raining the day she went to visit, but it captured her heart fully. “I knew as soon as I got there, I was home. It felt right, like I was supposed to be there.”

Karen graduated and then went on to get a master’s in computer science at Indiana University. She returned to New Jersey, but it wasn’t long before she got a call from IBM in 1989. “How would you like to come back to North Carolina and work for us?” It didn’t take her long to pack. She’s been there ever since.

Karen led a full life with work, volunteer work, reading (her favorite hobby), and staying in touch with her family. Her father came down to modify her home when she bought it and built an eight-foot ramp for her mobility scooter. The family has remained close even though her sister now lives in Israel and her brother in Maryland. She does weekly Zoom calls with them to catch up on the latest news. Her parents joined her in Raleigh when they retired in 2005.

It Has A Blue Cover

In 2006, Karen went to Barnes and Noble looking for a new book. She didn’t have anything in particular in mind, but she liked big fat historical books and time travel. At one end cap was a book with a striking blue cover. She didn’t buy it immediately, but it did intrigue her enough that it stayed in her mind. Her mother gave her a gift card for her birthday a few months later and the rest, as they say, is history. The full story, and it’s an interesting one, is here.   

Outlander had been originally published in 1991. Karen inhaled it. Dragonfly in Amber was published in 1992, Voyager in 1993, Drums of Autumn in 1996, The Fiery Cross in 2001, and A Breath of Snow and Ashes in 2005. Karen had some catching up to do, but she didn’t mind.

She’d have a conversation with her mother and Karen invariably brought up something about one of the books. Her mother rolled her eyes, “Oh, that again?” Her mother was a reader, but it took her a while to understand her daughter’s obsession. Even so, in 2009, her mother emailed her to let her know there was a full-page newspaper ad for An Echo in Bone. As always, she supported her daughter in her new love.

The Forum Family

Karen was fascinated by the rich world the author had created and set out to find other Outlander fans online. In March 2007, she found The Compuserve Books and Writers Community which is now TheLitforum.com. It was there Karen found a home. She loved the lively discussions of the books, the characters, and the opportunity to get answers to her questions directly from the author. Once again, as she had with Raleigh, North Carolina, Karen found a place that felt like home. She couldn’t stop talking about it. The atmosphere and intellectual stimulation of the various discussions were exactly what she was looking for.

“I started joining in the conversations on the forums. Then I realized I knew a lot of answers to the questions and answered them. I had the books in e-book form as well as audio and hardcover. I’d listen to audiobooks when I was doing something or driving. I was good at looking things up if I didn’t know exact quotes and passages and so forth off the top of my head.

“I had only been on the forum for a year and a half when they asked me if I’d like to be a section leader in Diana’s section of the forum in September 2008. I couldn’t believe it. I was stunned really that they would put that much faith in me. I had to ask what would be involved. I was to moderate conversations and sort of keep them on track. If they wander off into another subject, we divide it into a new thread to keep things focused. With few exceptions, we don’t moderate what people talk about.” In other words, the moderators and members work hard to keep it a safe and welcoming community for writers, people interested in writing, readers, and, of course, all things Outlander.

Karen had never moderated an online forum before, but she took a deep breath and agreed. Little did she know what a challenge it would be.

Indescribable. Indestructible. Nothing Can Stop It. The Blog (Apologies to fans of The Blob.)

“No one at the forum knew for nearly two years that I had a blog. I started it just to see if I could blog.”

That story might sound familiar. Diana Gabaldon didn’t set out to write a bestselling novel. She started writing at night while her family was asleep to see if she could write a book. Who should she write about? She’d seen an episode of Doctor Who with a Scottish Highlander from the 1700’s. Why not write about him? He needed a love interest. Unfortunately, this opinionated character refused to be put in a box and kept acting like a modern woman. What was she going to do with her? Well, we all know what she did with her.

So it started with Karen. “Can I write a blog? What do I want to write about? It has to be something that interests me and what interested me most at the time was Outlander. Besides computers, that was my area of expertise. I had just a few followers at first, but then word-of-mouth spread, and it started growing. When I started, my goal was to centralize information about Outlander. I never thought I’d have over a few dozen followers. Today I have 14,000 followers on Facebook.”

Karen has racked up more than 1,800 posts in fourteen and a half years. Not bad for someone who only wanted to see if she could write a blog. She tries to post something new every week.

She writes about important news to do with Diana, the books, and now the television series. All things Outlander. There is a “calendar” on the website called “Important Dates This Month” where she notes things that have happened in the various books during that month. “At the beginning of each month, I scan through the books again to see if I want to add a new event to the calendar, but much of it is recycled from one year to the next. I keep a file with these for reference and then add events to freshen it from year to year.”

In 2012 she started a feature called Friday Fun Facts. She enjoys trivia as do the readers. It’s a real treat and not confined to Outlander trivia. Fair warning though, only venture in if you have a few days to fall down a deep rabbit hole. The Outlander television series was birthed in August of 2014, and she started writing episode recaps. Then Written in My Heart’s Own Blood, fondly known as MOBY, came out that same year and things got even more hectic. Her life became more crowded, and she spent more time on the Litforum herding bumblebees. She simply had to cut something. Friday Fun Facts fell by the wayside.

“One of the writing exercises on the forum was doing an ABC list of traits for characters. I don’t get involved with the writing section so much. I have no ambitions to be a fiction writer, but I love watching what the writers do on the forum and how they create. I thought this was an interesting exercise, so I posted character ‘ABC’s’ for Jamie, Claire, and other Outlander characters.”

“I reference birthdays of characters and special events in their lives, and I like to do collections of quotes about different themes: favorite romantic quotes, favorite gifts from books, etc. I also like to remember Mother’s Day and other holidays with excerpts from the books.

“People don’t always catch the latest news about what’s happening with Diana’s works, so I keep an eye on her publisher to see if they release any news about Diana or her latest releases. That’s how I found out recently there’s going to be a new coloring book and announced that.

“I don’t force the blog. If I don’t feel like writing or don’t have something to share, I don’t try to rack my brain to come up with something. Plus, I’ve analyzed where most of my traffic comes from and it’s from Facebook. So, if I post something on Facebook, which is my main venue now, I don’t usually post the same thing on the blog. Sometimes I just need a break.

“Diana does a lot of interviews, so there’s already much information out there, but I like to get answers to questions that haven’t been asked before. If I can’t find the answer, which I usually can, I can usually go to the source unless she’s traveling or in the final frenzy of finishing a book. Diana is very generous with her time when it comes to her fans.”

Karen did an interview with Diana in August of 2018 and posted it in two parts on the blog. Since she was familiar with all of Diana’s interviews and podcasts, she tried to come up with questions that were fresh for her readers.

“I make use of a lot of quotes on the blog posts, on Facebook, and on the forums when people ask about a certain phrase or quote or have a question. The first secret to finding those is knowing how to use Kindle search. The second secret is repetition. Over the years, I’ve listened to the books more than twenty times, so I pretty much know where to start looking for a quote to begin with. Also, I’ll often look back through the blog and do a search because there are so many quotes there. That gives me a lot of material to work with, so I don’t have to search hard for something to write about.”

The television series started airing in August 2014. Speculation had been building for years about the possibility of a movie or television series, but Diana never found someone with the right vision of Outlander until she met Ron Moore. He got it. When it was finally greenlighted, Facebook, Twitter, the forums, and all manner of other social media blew up with thoughts on casting, shooting, and everything that could be pondered was pondered to the nth degree. A lesser person might have lost their mind and their hair trying to maintain some semblance of order. It was the running of the squirrels. (No, I don’t own stock in EDS.)

Karen added a new feature to the website, Episode Recaps. As if she didn’t have enough to do. The recaps weren’t small blurbs like you would see in TV Guide. These were full-blown reviews with a summary at the end. It was a blog post plus in itself each weekend in addition to managing the weekly “thread explosions” on the forum, with everyone discussing the new episodes in great detail.

Karen may not notice it at the time, but other people recognize how hard she’s working.

“The great thread explosion of 2015” as she calls it was one of those times. Not one but three great thread explosions erupted in Diana’s section. Written in My Heart’s Own Blood released, and a new release always causes a flurry of activity. Then the television series came out in August 2014.

By the time season six ended in May 2022, Karen was thoroughly exhausted and was ready for Droughtlander as they call the off-season of no television shows. She posted a thank you to everyone on the forums and got a heartfelt response from Diana.

Dear Karen,

Never was good rest more well earned! <g> THANK YOU (again, and many times) for all the work you do here! It’s so much appreciated–by me and everyone who joins the discussion and polls (a great idea!)

–Diana

The secret of success is making your vocation your vacation.—Mark Twain

A few weeks ago, I was talking to my webmistress Deleyna at Deleyna’s Dynamic Designs. I’m trying to get back into the habit of blogging regularly and we were going over some edit that needed to be done on the blog. I’m completely tech illiterate. We discussed things that work on a successful blog/website and things that don’t and the conversation turned to people who have perfected their niche. That’s when Karen Henry’s name came up as someone who excels at what she does. After that, I started wondering how she got started and what is the secret to her success. That’s when I asked her if she would let me interview her. Little did I know what a rabbit hole that would turn into, but what a journey it’s been.

Karen really is a master of social media, so I had to ask what advice she had for people who were just starting out with a blog.

She laughed. “That’s easy. Find something you love. Pick out a topic that interests you and you think other people might like to know about. It’s not really work when you enjoy what you’re doing.

“Don’t expect overnight results. It took me years to get a following. The key is to be consistent. You can’t build a following if they keep coming back and you’re not posting. You have to give them a reason to return.

“Link in different places, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pintarest. Wherever you can get the word out, do it. Find people who are interested in your topic and let them know who you are and what you do.”

Even though Karen was working to grow her social media presence, she kept it apart from the Litforum at first. “I didn’t tell people on the forum about the blog at first because I wasn’t sure how it would be received and if it would even succeed.”

It did.

Freedom!

Most people, including myself, might wonder where she gets all this energy. It’s even more amazing when you consider her disability.

Her first taste of freedom came when she was five years old. She got a Krazy Kar and fell in love with it. She was walking with braces and crutches, but the car gave her complete freedom. With the little hand pedals, she could zoom and spin and go anywhere she wanted when she wanted as fast as she wanted. Admittedly, her racetrack was mostly up and down the driveway, but she was zooming.

“I choose how to present myself online,” she said. “When you’re in a crowd in person the thing people remember is the redhead on the mobility scooter. Regardless of what I do after that, that will always be what they remember. Online, my first impression may be a joke or a quotation, or that I helped them with something, or my knowledge of Outlander or computers. They see me, not just my disability. It’s tremendously freeing. People treat me like anyone else. In-person, I have to work really hard to get people to look past the disability. That’s one thing I love about Diana. I adore the way she treats disabled characters. She sees them as people.

“Diana saw a picture of me at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games and asked if she could post it on her website. I worried people would only see my disability. Diana said, “No, what they are going to see is a lovely person who’s a fan.”

Karen had taken a sign proclaiming she was an Outlander fan. She and her sign were a big hit.

Karen with her famous sign.

I’m Going On An Adventure!

Her mother might have been rolling her eyes at Karen’s constant conversations about Outlander, but she was also supporting her as she always had. She was spending the Fourth of July with her parents when her mother asked, “Did you see they’re going to have a Grandfather Mountain Highlander games July 8-11? Do you want to go?”

Naturally, she jumped at the opportunity.

That was where her sign made its first appearance.

Karen and her mother were usually the ones going on adventures, but in September of 2010, her mother had another commitment, and her father knew she wanted to go to the Bookmarks Book Festival book signing in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Karen had first met Diana in person a year before at a book signing in Columbia, Maryland. The book signings were some of her favorite outings and her father knew how much she enjoyed them, so off they went even though he wasn’t much of a reader.

Karen and Diana at book signing in April 2019.

Lest you think every excursion was Outlander related, oh no. There were family trips to Maryland for holidays and events with her brother’s family. She does online Road Scholar adventures and did an in-person one in May 2022 at Montreat, North Carolina 225 miles from Raleigh. It was her first trip without a family member. She’s planning another Road Scholar trip in April to Chincoteague.

There was the trip to Israel to visit her sister that prompted Karen to write a special post about what a joy it is to fly with a mobility scooter. These guys feel your pain, Karen.

Karen especially enjoyed visiting the area around Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown, Virginia and has been there several times. She doesn’t travel often, but she enjoys occasional outings to local museums, parks, and bird parks, It’s no wonder she has this license on her mobility scooter.

Speedy Scooter. Vroom Vroom

The grand outing was to Scotland with her mother and sister in 2012. Rather than attempt to recap this grand adventure, I’ll link to the blog. “The best advice I got prior to going to Scotland? ‘Keep a journal of what you did each day, otherwise, you’ll forget the details.'”

Karen at Clava Cairns.

Her favorite stop was at the Culloden Battlefield. Karen’s family and friends went above and beyond so Karen could see things that might have otherwise been denied to her. It was truly a blessing that they all got to spend this time together.

Karen asked Diana later how she felt about people visiting the battlefields. The clan stones remind people where the clans fought and fell. For Karen, it was the trip of a lifetime, and she was filled with excitement, bathed in history, but the reality was sobering.

“When I mentioned this on Compuserve, Diana said, ‘It’s my impression that the dead are glad to be visited.’ Which made me feel better.”

Karen, sister, and mother on Scotland trip.

Tragedy  

Sadly, a few months after the trip to Scotland in 2016, Karen’s father, her rock, passed away. I read the obituary a few times and couldn’t help but think what a truly extraordinary man Charles Henry was. He was a physicist and inventor with several patents to his name, an innovator. Though I am completely tech illiterate, I would have liked to have known him. Not only was his professional life extraordinary, but he made time for his family. He allowed Karen to become the woman she is today.

A short three years later, she lost her other anchor when her mother, Helene Henry, passed away after a short illness on November 30, 2019. While she wasn’t an engineer, scientist, and inventor like her husband, she was no less remarkable. Helene graduated from the University of Chicago in 1958 with a degree in Russian history.

Helene taught for a few years and then went back to school to become a lawyer. She graduated from Rutgers and worked as a Deputy Attorney General for New Jersey for fifteen years.

Karen was of the opinion her mother had the luck of the Irish though she was fully Jewish. She constantly won raffles and contests.

“You can’t win if you don’t enter,” her mother replied.

Helene Henry with another prize.

That’s a good mantra, you can’t succeed if you don’t start.

Karen posted this quote in her homage to her mother and it’s a perfect tribute to her amazing parents.

“Ye dinna stop loving someone just because they’re deid,” [Jenny] said reprovingly. “I canna suppose they stop lovin’ you, either.” (From GO TELL THE BEES THAT I AM GONE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 57, “Ready for Anything”)

Karen came from good stock. Karen and her mother were very close and the loss hit her hard.

The Invasion

Sometime after midnight on September 15, 2022, Karen’s house was broken into. It would take every bit of fortitude her parents had instilled in her to get through the next few weeks.

“I woke up later that morning and couldn’t find my phone,” Karen said. “I thought I must have left it in the car, so I looked out into the garage. My car was gone!” She was astounded. This couldn’t be real. Was she dreaming? No, her car was gone.

That’s when she noticed other things. “I kept knocking into my coffee table and moving it with my scooter, so I bought a very heavy one that was hard to move. It was shoved up against the couch at an angle. The thief had not only stolen my car, but they’d also been going through my house.

“My purse was in the car when I went to bed. He’d taken $100 cash out of my wallet, but left my ID, credit cards, ATM card. He took my keys, garage door opener, phone, and car, but he put my prescription sunglasses in my purse and left it by the door. What a polite thief.

“I was terrified. I was asleep with my bedroom door shut and I didn’t hear anything. I still shudder when I think of what might have happened had I opened that bedroom door and seen the thief. I’ve never believed in guardian angels before, but I think my parents were looking out for me that night and kept me asleep. And I think they would have been proud of the way I handled the aftermath, including the purchase of the new car and the security system.”

The police found no forced entry and have never recovered the car. Karen isn’t sure if she might have left her front door unlocked before she went to bed or what happened. A neighbor from across the street caught the thief driving away at 12:34 on their security camera, but it was too indistinct to help.

Karen immediately had her locks changed and replaced the garage door opener. She couldn’t afford to wait on the off chance her vehicle might be recovered and contacted her insurance company which covered much of the cost to replace it. The car was only a year old and prime. The chances of being recovered were very low.

Fortunately for her, she didn’t allow herself to be stymied by fear and threw herself into action quickly. She learned that the electric lift she needed to put her scooter in and out of the car would not fit the new 2023 model of this car, but she was very lucky to be able to get literally the very last 2022 model that came off the assembly line. It was essentially identical to the vehicle that had been stolen. Ten weeks later, Karen had a shiny new car with the hand controls and lift she needed, but how do you replace that lost sense of security that’s forever gone?

Karen’s new car.

How in the world did this happen?

Through it all, Karen stayed busy with the forum and other activities. She’d been laid off from her job in July of 2021 and decided to take early retirement, so at least she had some breathing room there. There’s never a shortage of things to do on the forum as well as her other activities.

“It means a tremendous amount to me that Diana appreciates what I do. Being in the acknowledgments and the little thoughtful things she does helps keep me going.”

Karen has been mentioned in the acknowledgments in every book since An Echo in the Bone was published in 2009.

Diana is always very gracious in book acknowledgments by recognizing people who have helped her with research or questions or in Karen’s case, with bumblebee herding.

(Writer’s note here, I think it would be wise to take notes of the people who help you as you write a manuscript so you can acknowledge them later. You will never remember who told you how that person will react to that wound three years later when you publish.)

“She also named a character named after me and who wouldn’t get a kick out of that? My name is thoroughly modern, so she made a Welsh version of it and turned me into a kitchen maid named Keren-happuch in The Scottish Prisoner.” Staunchly religious Keren-happuch is described as thin-lipped and dour, the polar opposite of Karen as anyone who knows her will attest.

The two have developed a special bond over the years. Diana always remembers to send Karen a special gift for Chanukah. The dates are from Sphinx Date Ranch in Scottsdale, Arizona where Diana lives. What a special treat and especially so because it’s a thoughtful, personal gift. (I love dates. I think I’m going to order some.)

Sphinx Ranch dates.

Karen is ever surprised at the direction her life has taken. Her voice is filled with wonder when she says, “How in the world did this happen?”

From noticing a book with a striking blue cover, to a leading expert on the world of Outlander is a long journey. No one plans to be a bumblebee herder, it’s rather a lost art. One doesn’t wake up one morning and decide to befriend a bestselling author. Well, maybe some people do, but we shan’t discuss them. That’s the stuff thrillers and mysteries are made of.

11 Comments

  1. What a wonderful interview! Since I follow Karen on Facebook, I knew a lot of this, but I also learned new things about her that I didn’t know. And it was so nice for me to see names of friends from the old days at Compuserve too.
    Wishing you much success on your blog–I think you’ve got a great start with this.

    1. Beth

      Thank you. Yes, I wanted to do Karen justice, but it was a bit time-consuming. Obviously, I won’t finish by the end of the month, but I am going to keep going with this. It was good to get me kickstarted on the blogging again. Next year I will be more prepared.

      Thank you for stopping by.

      Julie

    2. I laughed. Yes, she’s very interesting and to be honest, we trimmed some stuff so it wouldn’t go on forever. I’m glad you liked it.

      Happy New Year.

      Julie

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