• “The smartest historical sci-fi adventure-romance story ever written by a science Ph.D. with a background in scripting 'Scrooge McDuck' comics.”—Salon.com
  • A time-hopping, continent-spanning salmagundi of genres.”
  • “These books have to be word-of-mouth books because they're too weird to describe to anybody.”
    —Jackie Cantor, Diana's first editor

A Brief Lesson…

A Brief Lesson in Content, Courtesy and Not Jumping to Conclusions…

There was a certain amount of comment prior to Episode 8 (from Season Two of the Starz Outlander TV series) about my having referred to a script element as "jumping the shark" and a lot of speculation as to where and what that was. I didn’t want to go into this prior to the episode’s airing, because I didn’t want anyone to be distracted from the virtues of the episode, which was very enjoyable in itself.

But I thought I’d take a moment now to explain just how all that speculation came about. It might be enlightening to some of you with less experience in the Ways of The Internet.

Now, I love to explain things to people (you may have noticed) and share experiences and perceptions. Working with and on the show has been a fascinating experience, and one I know many fans are deeply interested in. Ergo, I’m always willing to explain or discuss things about the show that aren’t confidential or spoilers.

I first came online in 1985, long before the internet as we now know it existed. I was doing a software review for Byte magazine, who provided me with a trial membership to something called Compuserve, so I could include mention of the software’s "online Support Forum" (this being the coolest, sexiest thing anyone ever thought of at the time….). I wrote the review, and while poking around Compuserve, stumbled into a group called the Literary Forum—basically, a 24-hour cocktail party of people discussing books (and for someone with two full-time jobs and three children under six, the ideal social life).

I signed up with Compuserve and have basically regarded the Forum (in its various iterations) as my electronic hangout ever since. For quite a long time, Compuserve was a members-only place; you had to subscribe to get in (it didn’t cost anything, but you did need to be a real person with a real name—not an avatar, a handle or anything of that sort). This meant that it was also a pretty private place, with a relatively small population.

Well, the Internet evolved, and so did Compuserve. It’s open to the web now, like everything else, and has grown somewhat in size. At the same time, the forum (now called the Books and Writers Community) has kept its character as a place where well-organized discussions and conversations take place. We actually have rules of civil discourse, and while discussions are honest and occasionally heated, we rarely have trolls and when they appear, they don’t last long.

So, naturally when the show became a reality three years ago (that’s when the contracts for it were signed), people in my folder on Books and Writers started asking questions about it, which I’ve answered and discussed as I could, ever since.

Since I was writing an episode for this season—my first foray into scriptwriting—naturally people were interested in that; the nuts and bolts of the scripting process, my own feelings about it, the how and why of the show’s content, and so on. So, I explained how the Writers Room works, and the collective/collaborative nature of the material that ends up in scripts, what happens to them then, and so on.

Someone asked if I always agreed with things that were done on the show (because they sure didn’t!), and I explained (not for the first time) about adaptation, how I regard the process, why I’m fine for the most part with changes made for television, why you can’t do some things that the books do, and you can do some things the books can’t, and so on. I said that of course there were some things I didn’t agree with, but that when they occurred, I’d mention them to Ron and Maril and the scriptwriters, we’d discuss them and usually something could be worked out.

Someone asked, did some things not work out, did they ever do stuff I really didn’t like? I said—quite casually—sure, that’s bound to happen and it’s not a big deal. But I added (since it was fresh in my mind) that they had insisted on doing one thing that I’d told them I thought was "jumping the shark"— adding that they’d laughed when I said that. (I was actually in the Writers Room at the time.)

Now, a brief digression—I don’t actually watch television. (I love TV; it’s just too addictive for me to watch anything on a regular basis and still get enough work done. And I do watch the show’s daily footage, which takes up any time I might spend on regular TV.)

After a major book or other project is finished, I’ll take a few weeks and binge-watch a show, a couple of episodes a night. But I don’t watch television the way most people do, and frankly, while I did know the term "jumping the shark" and what it referred to (the incident with Fonzie and Happy Days), I’d always taken it in the sense of "something exaggerated and/or strikingly unlikely in context"; something that goes too far or is inappropriate.”

One of my more culturally-informed offspring, hearing about the subsequent controversy, told me kindly that I should really have referred to what the writers had in mind as "screwing the pooch," as "jumping the shark" had to do with some outre move introduced to get eyeballs for a failing show—which was clearly not the case here (Outlander’s overall ratings have put it at #1 on the Neilson Twitter list more than once, and it’s Starz’s lead show). I have no idea whether that’s right, either, but I really don’t use that kind of language…

Still, that’s what I said, and no harm done, though a few of the people I was talking to naturally wanted to know what this striking element might be. I said that I wasn’t going to say more about it, because—spoilers aside (and I don’t give away things ahead of time) people being as variable in their tastes and responses as they are—probably not everyone would see the element in the same light I did, and I didn’t want to influence anyone’s response ahead of their actually seeing the episode in question.

So… imagine my surprise, a couple of weeks later, to find that a Scottish newspaper (with a website and Twitter feed) had published an article in which "Outlander Author Denounces ‘Shark Jumping’ in Show"— or something similar. This headline was followed by an article in which I reportedly "announced," "insisted," "iasserted," (and other silly verbs) my objections to this unspecified shark-jumping.

Now—having been online since 1985, I understand very well how the internet works. It’s All About Content, because that’s all there is. Consequently, bloggers and news outlets are in a constant competition to grab (or make up) anything that looks faintly like "content."

I’ve pretty much been "content" for the last ten years or so, and this perception of my online value kind of sky-rocketed with the advent of the TV show. This is all well and good; the content business works (generally) to the benefit of both sides. The media gets the content that makes people look at their ad-clogged sites, and the actual creator of said content gets free exposure for whatever their product or association is.

I’m accustomed to having anything I say in public online picked up and repeated in all kinds of quarters. Usually this is fine; sometimes it leads to careless (or silly, or unscrupulous) misquotings and misunderstandings, but I have a website, a Twitter account, and a Facebook page, and can always post a clarification—which is what this is.

Quoting something I’ve said is fine. Deliberately misrepresenting something I’ve said (as in making it appear that I "went public" with my thoughts on shark-jumping, and went so far as to give this publication an interview in order to say so)… not so much.

God knows, I don’t expect them to ask my permission to use anything—but for something this noticeable, I think it’s a trifle discourteous to neither inform me that they were using it, or ask me for my own comments.

I was mulling over what I might say to the news outlet in question (you’ll notice that I don’t name them)— I wanted to make it clear that I didn’t like what they’d done, but acknowledge that it’s good for both sides if we maintain a good working relationship, and suggest ways in which this might be improved—when I got an email from an editor at this publication, with whom I’m familiar:

Hi Diana

Hope you are well. I have been alerted to the chat thread about your ‘jump the shark’ comments and the story [news outlet] carried yesterday which has gathered some interest.

The original version of this story actually came from [unscrupulous blogger whose name I won’t mention because damned if I’ll give them any exposure] who contacted us and asked us to carry our own version with links back to their original story— which we did (see below for the source they sent us).

We don’t monitor the many Outlander chat forums (and also don’t want you to think we are stalking you!!) however we are always grateful when a fan group alert us to a potential story.

Although it does look like this one has backfired if your comments have been used out of context.

Should I explain myself on the AOL forum?

Hope it hasn’t caused you too much upset.

Many thanks

This was very thoughtful of the editor, and I’ll chat with them and get things on a better footing for future stories that might emerge (as in, "if you get a good story, ask me if I actually said it, and chances are good you’ll get a better one").

But I did want to point out to all and sundry that if you ever see a headline or article stating vehemently that I "revealed" something (especially in the U.K. press, whose style this frequently is)… I probably didn’t say it, and/or I sure didn’t say it to them. (Especially if the article is posted with a particularly unflattering photo. <g>)

[I do want to add that there are many excellent, conscientious online-media outlets—mentioning specifically vulture.com, access.hollywood, ewonline, and threeifbyspace—who not only ask for legitimate interviews, but who also check quotes, and come and ask for followup comments, if needed.]

This blog content was first posted on my official Facebook page on Saturday, June 4, 2016.

13 Responses »

  1. I really appreciate this. I saw the news story and the internet fury it caused and the negativity that resulted about the show runners, ratings, etc. etc. It was discouraging to see about an author, books and show that I love. Everyone connected w/ the show has been doing a fabulous job on SM dealing with the negativity but I am at a point now where I don’t want to read any more fan comments. There are some excellent Outlander blogs like Outlandish Observations, Outlander TV news and others that are less active, like the Outlander Plant Guide, that I will stick to.

  2. Oh, CompuServe did cost something. $6/hr for 300 baud access and $12/hr for faster speeds, for about the first decade of its existence. I joined in 1983. Only had two small children, but we were trying to live on only one income so even $6/hr was an Expense To Be Discussed.

    It doesn’t cost anything now, of course, and you don’t have to be a real person or use a real name. :)

  3. Hi Diana,

    I’m writing this to you as I feel you, of all people, know how I feel. I have been an avid reader of your books since Outlander was first published. I have read and reread each and every novel plus some of the novelettes. I am certainly not an expert but am a true fan of Outlander.
    I’ve gotten so discouraged with the comments on Social Media. I recognize that Ron and staff are adapting your books to television. There has to be changes made to ensure that the flow of the story line makes sense to those non-book readers who are watching. Some key scenes, from a book reader point of view, have had to be left out due to time constraints, cost and the sheer ability to film it. It totally makes sense but why do some book readers not understand this?
    Yes, the first few episodes in Season 1 threw me off as I would question it; why didn’t they show this or why are they showing things that way? Season 2 was more of a stretch in the way it open with Claire going back to Frank but I understood what was happening. I love Outlander the TV series as, a somewhat different entity, than Outlander the book series. YES, they come from the same source, BUT, they are dealing with two different dynamics.
    I truly enjoy the television adaptation and listen to Ron’s podcasts as to why they have filmed as they have. I find watching each episode twice gives me a much better understanding of what is happening. There is so much they are trying to fit into a scheduled time slot that it must be a nightmare for editing. I really feel that non-book readers get more from the episodes than book readers. Those who have read the book are constantly watching for scenes that they “expect to see” and when not shown, are too upset to enjoy what is being portrayed on screen. They really need to take a step back and watch what is on screen.
    Reading such negative comments devalues the pure enjoyment of Outlander. These books are your babies and as a mother, you are very protective of them and who you allow access to them. Yes, you recognize that you may not always agree with what happens to them, you will express your own opinions on what you want, but, you also acknowledge that you’ve given them over to someone else’s safe keeping to portray them.
    I thank you so much for the enjoyment you have brought to so many readers and now television watchers. You have changed the lives of so many…..when I think of Ron, Maril, Sam, Cait, Tobias and all the writers, directors and cast/crew……..Outlander is now part of their souls as well.
    Bottom line is that there will always be negative comments. No matter what is said or done, there are those who will find the negative. That’s their loss. For those of us who love the books and believe in the television series, THANK YOU, you’ve done us proud!

    Thank you Diana for allowing me to be part of this wonderful Outlander journey

  4. so what was it that you thought the TV production “jumped the shark” on? I am quite curious? was it Claire’s WW2 PTSD…I thought that was an interesting adaptation, considering that you gave her PTSD in the later books after her incident by the malting shed, I think it was in A breath of snow in ashes “the incident ” the PTSD was in Echo I may be messing that up but the stories all fuse together in my head. :)

  5. I would like to know, why Jamie’s Fraser’s red plaid was not used in the series? All items in the Outlander Store are in that drab brown. For the wedding he did not change to Fraser red, as he did in the book. Why was that left out? Sincerely Judy Curtis.

  6. Diana you are the picture of diplomacy. Your restraint from tv watching is commendable as well. I enjoy your work, and look forward to the day I can spend time to watch Starz, but for now I’ll continue reading the books. Keep writing

  7. Thanks for the clarification! I tried not to read too much into those posts that pop up, but that particular one did have me scratching my head a little. I know now in the future to take those “click bait” blog posts with a grain of salt. :)

    On an unrelated note, I just finished MOBY with my friend (she finished a couple hours before I did and patiently waited for me) and immediately texted each other to express our joy and excitement at the ending. Very excited to see book 9 when it is all ready. 8 books in 4 months, it’s going to be hard not to reflexively reach for the next book on my shelf, but this journey has been amazing and I truly thank you.


  8. I love this.. but.. what exactly were you referring to in the show that you thought was Jumping the Shark? or (screwing the pooch)

    your long time Fan,
    Lisa Wiktorek

  9. Hi Diana,

    Oh boy, do I feel for you. I’ve had this happen to me recently and it’s an awful feeling. The internet blows out of proportion on a daily basis (read Jon Ronson’s fabulous “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed”) and it’s hard to get your voice heard through all the shouting. My publicist told me, after my own internet “thing” that we are all still learning how this works and we are all bound to get it wrong from time to time. Still, it makes me so angry that you have to watch every tiny thing you say! Even the most innocent remarks get blown out of proportion.
    A good amount of bloggers don’t understand the rules of writing a story, about fact checking, and that’s to everyone’s detriment.

    Forget those jerks. You are amazing.



    (Your source for all things Scots Dumpy!)

  10. Hello! I’m Isabela, a brazilian fan of yours,and absolutely in love with your books (and now your blog)! I love to read,since I was a kid,and your books are my favorite ones. I know you must be very busy,but I want a tattoo written “I have lived a thousand lives”,mostly to pay tribute to all your characters (and others).
    So if you could write it for me,it would be such a honor and mean the world! Thank you in advance (my email is isabelaufer@hotmail.com) ♡

    Please don’t publish this comment,if you can. Sorry for the bad english.

  11. Diane,
    You continue to be an inspiration and facination for me. I find in your online communication as well as in your books an amazingly balanced and insightful style and a deep appreciation for beauty, truth and profoundly amazing characters.
    Thank you.
    From my point of view, you are one of the finest writers in the english language today. Outlander one of the most significant series of my life time.
    Thanks to my ex-wife, I have read the complete Outlander series, many of the support series and although I suggest the TV series to people regularly as a quality show in its own right, I chose not to watch it. (For some similar addictive issues you acknowledge but more so… It just cant be the books.
    I LOVE to tell people about the books, brag about reading them when no one knew who you were, and rave about how many times I have re-read them, and lustened to them on tale and CD!!
    May Outlanders readership continue to expand thanks to the show, and may your words continue to improve life on earth.
    Thank you for finding your voice and sharing it.
    greg bryant

  12. Diana, any casual observer of your history of work: your degrees, parenting, online presence, and tome of writing knows you are very, very smart, capable, and worth learning from. That is certainly been my perception of you.

    I appreciate your diplomatic clarification. When I see the flurry around something like what you describe or what happened a few nights ago, etc. I know there’s much less to it than the hype. I think many of us who see who you are and your work for what it is are aware, too.

    Thanks for being accessible, fun and honest with your fans.

  13. As someone who was “misquoted” in the Wall Street Journal, I can empathize with your struggle to keep stories straight in the media! Glad you got this response but it would be nice if there was fair, accurate reporting to start with.

Leave a Response

Please note: comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.