J. K. Rowling, in Person

It took an hour’s train ride, a leisurely hour’s walk down 8th Avenue, and more than two hours waiting afterwards to get it, but here it is: J. K. Rowling’s autograph on her newest book, The Casual Vacancy.

Autographed copy of Casual VacancyWhenever I look at this signature in the future, I’m going to remember the awesome moment I had. I had literally been wracking my brain ever since I bought my ticket a month before on what I was going to say to her. I knew I would have a total of five seconds to say something while she quickly signed my book, and I didn’t want to waste it the way I had with Neil Gaiman at the National Book Festival a few years ago. After hours of waiting in line, they only thing I could come up with was to comment upon the weather. [shakes head in eternal shame]

My friend Lauren was in the orchestra and I was up in the second ring, so she got the experience first. She reported back that the assistants were rushing people through, that J. K. Rowling was super nice, and that people were actually crying and hugging each other outside after meeting her. I might mention that there were an excessive amount of people dressed in Gryffindor garb too. It felt a little bit like a midnight release party.

Surrounding by all this excitement, I sat in my seat, still stumped. I finally settled on, “Thank you for making Harry’s birthday in July. It always made it feel like a birthday present just for me.”

With Harry’s birthday in July, like mine, the books always came out in the US in July. For years, I would traditionally anticipate the release of the newest Harry Potter book more than anything else. The fact that it was always in stores the week before or the week of my birthday (July 10th) always felt like a really special treat. The best birthday gift. It sounds really silly, I realize now, when the explanation is all written down, but J. K. Rowling gave me this Christmas in July feeling that was so special when I was younger. As I sped read through the first few pages of each book, each set soon before Harry’s birthday, I always got a little thrill. My birthday is in July too! I’d think. And because I read the books in July, too, it felt like the events were all happening, right then, if only I could get myself to King’s Crossing in London I could join in the adventures. It sounds silly when it’s all written down and explained, but it doesn’t feel silly. When I told J. K. Rowling, rushing the sentence as quickly as possible, what I had to say, she looked up at me, startled, her signing rhythm halted. And then she laughed, long and loud, smiling. Then she handed me my book, and it was over.  I got the satisfied feeling you get when you say exactly what you wanted to say, exactly the way you wanted to say it.

When I got outside, my brain nothing but cotton candy in my euphoria, Lauren–who had come down to earth from her own euphoria after hours of waiting for me–guided me safely to a nearby Starbucks.

I had a conversation the other day with someone who  was already an adult when the first Harry Potter came out. The books didn’t interest her that much, and she never got the fan craving for each new release. It wasn’t significant to her because she was beyond eleven years old; the experiences and adventures were hard to relate to; she was past the age of dreaming about that green-inked Hogwarts letter landing on her doorstep, which is why I think the books held so much magic for younger readers. It’s strange to think that a whole class of fifth grade children, across the world, lucked out on being eleven the same year Harry was eleven, enabling us to grow up with him. It’s like my Christmas in July feeling; it was a special feeling that lasted my entire childhood, until the last book came out the summer before I went away to college. It was a unique feeling that only a narrow spectrum of children ever will have. I can’t imagine not having that experience or not loving the books.

Since I obviously won’t be taking the book out of the house or throwing it casually in my overstuffed and mysteriously crumby purse, um, ever, it might take me a while to read the whole thing. So if you want a review, you’d best read this one instead of waiting for one of my own. But based upon J. K. Rowling’s short reading, I think I’m going to like it a lot. It’s got the same flippant humor in each sentence and description that I remember from the Harry Potter series, though I’m well aware the content is completely different. I might go with the word “spunky,” even. Have any of you read it yet? Thoughts?

Reading Material, Including a Little Known Harry Potter Short Story

Every once in a while I need to step away from my latest creative writing project and get some fresh perspective on the craft.

On Writing by Stephen King

I’m not a huge fan of Stephen King–I know, I know, this fact outrages a lot of people–or his writing style, this book included.  I was required to read it for Creative Writing seminar and didn’t learn much that impacted my writing quality.  However, I do appreciate the part of his book where he undermines the allegedly “practical” choice for writers of getting a teacher’s certificate.  He “enter[ed] College of Education at UMO and emerg[ed] four years later with a teacher’s certificate…sort of like a golden retriever emerging from a pond with a dead duck in its jaws.  It was dead, all right.  I couldn’t find a teaching job and so went to work at New Franklin Laundry for wages not much higher than those I had been making at Worumbo Mills and Weaving four years before.”  Pursuing teaching for the sake of practicality has been a mistake a lot of my friends made and a lot of adults tried pushing me into.  So if you like Stephen King and want to know his long and winding personal success story, or you don’t like him and just want to feel better about your own experience by learning how long he failed for before he got published, I recommend it.  Does anyone disagree with me and found some true value between the covers?

On the other end of the writing book spectrum (in my opinion) is Hooked by Les Edgerton.  I haven’t finished reading this, but the first half of the book alone has changed my life and drastically improved my writing.  I’ve already rearranged and rewrote my first three chapters and they’re definitely  A LOT more interesting.  The whole book is about how to write the best first sentence, the best first paragraph and the best first page physically possible to hook your readers (and potential literary agents).  According to Edgerton, this introduction is the hinge off of which the rest of your plot hangs.  The checklists and recommendations apply to both short stories and lengthier novels.  If you’re not won over by this summary, take this challenge:

Go read the first sentence of some of your favorite books and short stories.  Compare them to the first sentence of your current writing project.  See any shocking differences?  How each work?  Are they both engaging?

And for those of you who think writing textbooks are boring, inappropriate summer reading, then read J.K. Rowling’s short prequel she sold a couple years ago for charity (earning 25,000 pounds!) to give you your Harry Potter fix until tomorrow morning’s Pottermore announcement.  (Thanks for the links, Oliver!)  I’ll post the video in the morning so stay tuned :]