Be forewarned: It's a lot of material! But it's kinda cool to see how my feelings on Harry Potter, writing, and fan fiction (especially fan fiction!) changed and developed in under two months!
[Author's Note: All entries have been added. They are here and in Volume II (the entry just below this one).]
"Coming Out of the Cupboard"
Monday, October 3, 2005, 6:51 pm
"J. K. Rowling Supports Fan Fiction!"
Monday, October 3, 2005, 8:03 pm
"Link to Red Hen's Fan Fiction Analysis"
Thursday, October 6, 2005, 6:20 pm
"Harry Potter Goes to Puerto Rico"
Tuesday, October 11, 2005, 11:58 pm
"Jazzing Up American English"
Saturday, October 15, 2005, 11:18 pm
"One Nation Controlled by the Media"
Sunday, October 16, 2005, 4:48 pm
Is it possible to have a crush on a book--or, rather, on a series of books? If crush is just another term for obsession (all my teenage crushes were rather obsessive, so I think this is probably a fair judgement, at least for me, personally), then I have the biggest crush on Harry Potter--not the character, but the series.
This crush has been so overwhelming in the past week that it has actually brought me back to my long-abandoned [name of other blog site] (which, I might add, was abandoned not out of disinterest, but out of lack of time, as being a full-time graduate student, half-time ESL teacher, and quarter-time graduate assistant--the latter of which I am the worst in the world, as I don't put nearly enough time into it as I should, simply because of the fact that a day has only 24 hours (damn you, fucking Earth, for not taking a little longer to go around the sun!)--has usurped most of my time and energy). I am BURSTING with this angsty creative energy, all because of this Harry Potter phenomenon, and I have to get it out somehow, so here I am.
I really think that crush is the best way to describe it. I remember back in the day of my hormonal teen and college years, I would fixate on a particular guy, and that fixation, that obsession, would rob me of so much of my attention and focus on anything else (which is likely one of the reasons that my grades and care for schoolwork were not particularly up to par). The upside to it is that it would endow me with this humongous creativity--perhaps immature, definitely angsty, but oddly and deeply fulfilling. I never feel so alive as when I am in this state of obsession. Although I am unfocused on EVERYTHING ELSE, I am intensely focused on channeling the fixation into writing. It just feels so good to turn this longing into something written--taking deep human emotions of attachment and obsession and making something of them. Indeed, one thing I often found is that if I ever did manage to snag the object of my affection, it was such a letdown. I mean, that was partially because the guys I chose to crush on were usually total losers , but it was also because the creative energy immediately disappeared once its source was no longer the kind of inspiration you get when you can't have what you want. Does that make any sense? Well, it makes sense to me.
Anyway, where does Harry Potter come into this? I was a late entrant into the world of Harry Potter (or the Potterverse, as it's known out on fan sites--and yes, I've been to the fan sites, so no, I'm not exaggerating my obsession--and laugh all you want; it won't bother me, because I always take full ownership, and even pride, in all elements of my dorkiness). When people were buzzing about the series back in the late 1990s, I was kind of like, whatever. I'm not much of a fantasy fan, I'm not hugely into children's literature (at that time, people didn't quite realize how the series is actually on a very sophisticated adult level, in many ways--indeed, I would compare it to books by authors such as Roald Dahl in terms of the appeal to dual levels of readership, one child and one adult), and, perhaps most importantly, if people are buzzing about something, I often want nothing to do with it; I dislike hype, especially on the level of "the masses." (I know, that's a really elitist comment, but so be it.) So I never got into it; in fact, I never even tried. My first encounter with Harry Potter was when I was at these people's house and they were like, "Oh, Harry Potter's on HBO now. You wanna watch?" I didn't really care either way, so I was like, Sure, why not. I watched movie #1, thought it was cute, and that was about the end of it. I wasn't about to deliberately seek out any further encounters with Harry Potter, but I definitely wasn't as chilly to it as I had been (not that I had been a hater, but just that I really didn't care much about it, and now at least I saw that it was at least decent).
I finally read the first book a few years ago because a friend had an extra copy and gave it to me (along with some other books; the friend was moving at the time and had some books she wanted to get rid of, and, as a rule, I NEVER turn down books, especially free ones). I definitely enjoyed the first book, but wasn't immediately logging onto Amazon to get whichever sequels were out at that time (probably #2 through #4). I figured that at some point, I'd read them, but until then I would not really think much about it.
Then movies #1 and #2 came on HBO a couple of years ago at a time when we actually were subscribed to it. (After getting crazy jacked-up cable bills for a few months, HBO was one of the first things to go!) I recorded them and watched them with [my husband, whom we shall call J-], and we both enjoyed them. I think the series started growing on me more at that point. But still, I wasn't obsessed. I did go ahead and add all of the books (#1 through #5 were out by that point) to my Amazon wish list, but I didn't actually buy them.
And then came Christmas last year, when J- bought me the series for Christmas. I was definitely like, "COOL!" when I opened the present. I started reading them in early January, when J- and I were at his parents' house and I had no work or school obligations for a couple of weeks (because of winter break). Come to think of it, I can't remember whether that was Christmas 2003 or Christmas 2004 that I received the books. I tend to think it was Christmas 2004, but it's possible that the books were actually sitting around my apartment for over a year before I got to them.
So during that week in January when we were with J-'s parents in [the place where they live], I devoured the books. I think I started with book #2, because I had already read book #1. (Actually, I initially started with book #3, but realized within a couple of pages that I had actually never read #2; I only saw the movie. So then I went back to #2. I'm a total stickler for doing things in the proper order.) So I read #2 and thought, Yeah, this is pretty cool. And then I read book #3, which totally blew me away. As my vacation week was only 3/4 over by this point, I decided to go back to #1 (I couldn't move on to #4 yet, because I hadn't brought it with me to [my in-laws'], as it's really huge, and I didn't want to put THAT much into my suitcase; I'm already a chronic overpacker). I finished #1, reread #2, and then reread #3. All of this was in the course of a week (but those books go by pretty quickly, so it's not that I'm a speedreader, and besides, I had a lot of free time and car-trip time during that week, as well as time spent sitting during two 6-hour plane trips). Then school started up again, and I couldn't go on to book #4.
When I finished my classes in mid-May, I decided that my first priority would be to finish the series, especially with book #6 coming out in July. Within a week, I tore through #4 and then #5...and decided to go back to #1 again and read the whole series over! Anyone who's read the series may not think this is particularly obsessive behavior yet (and I would agree with that), because in the earlier books, there are so many red herrings and interesting clues and allusions to things that become so important in later books, and it's neat to go back, put the storyline together more fully, and try to pick up the small things that become pivotal later. I made it through books #1-3 and part of the way through book #4 when I got too sick to go on.
Anyway, back to Harry Potter. So I got too sick to move on with book #4. Further, being that sick makes you take an interest in pretty much NOTHING. When I was in the hospital, I spent most of the day watching crappy daytime TV (and then, during stay #2, movies on my mom's portable DVD player--thanks, Mom and [best friend from high school]!), and I wouldn't have had it any other way. I just didn't have the energy to do more besides stare at junk on TV. Even when I felt well, my brain just didn't have the reserves to be creative or do deep thinking. I guess the extent to which I pushed my brain was doing crosswords and logic puzzles (dork dork dork!), but even that got tiresome after a little while; I had just needed a break from TV, especially during the afternoon hours, when the only crap to watch wasn't even good crap (like Maury); instead, it was pure and utter junk without real entertainment value, like Home Delivery (don't even bother with it; it's pure cheeseball junk with a do-gooder exploitative edge, which, in my opinion, is far worse than the bad exploitation such as the endless paternity tests on Maury).
Then book #6 came out a few days before my release from hospital stay #2. I figured I'd get it at some point, but wasn't rushing out to do so (in part because I wanted to finish rereading the rest of the series first). I was very interested, but not fixated. I ended up reading it between around July 23 and July 25 (I was released from the hospital on the 24th) because my brother had bought a copy when it first came out, read it in one night, and then passed it along to me. (His initial intention was to return it--a practice I'm not very fond of: buying something, fully using it, and then returning it, something which has often been J-'s modus operandi!--but when my mom found out that he had a copy, she asked if he'd be willing to give it to me, and he was.) Of course, I couldn't resist the temptation of book #6 sitting right there, so I went ahead and read it. (That made the end of the hospital stay go by so much more quickly than the earlier part, although I suppose it helped that I had finally started feeling human again, thanks to my good friends Cyclosporine and Prednisone.)
Book #6 definitely took the story to another level. I really loved it. But the obsesson still didn't hit me. It's kind of like how you enjoy someone's company, but then months later, when you're completely crushing on them, you're like, "How could I not have been this fixated before? How could I have been so nonchalant at that time?" So right now, I totally don't understand why I hadn't been fully committed back then. After reading book #6, I definitely was praising the series to the high heavens, but it hadn't consumed me yet.
So when was the turning point? Well, I'm getting to it. Again, as a devoted subject of the kingdom of order and linearity, I must proceed chronologically. When I got back to [the city where I live] at the beginning of September, I immediately started school and work. However, I found spare bits of time here and there to Google Harry Potter to see what was out there. Actually, I may have done a little bit of Googling back in May, after finishing book #5, but all I looked at was J. K. Rowling's Web site. She has really interesting FAQs about some of the characters and situations, and I think I had read all that back in May. So I went and Googled again, went back through her Web site, and felt myself curious as to what else was out there. A few weeks ago, I found a couple of Web sites--in particular, MuggleNet--and started perusing the available content. What I found was astonishing: analytical essays about Harry Potter and the series's greater themes and mysteries. It was almost academic. [Even more astounding is that many of the essays, some of which are quite good and have influenced my interpretation of certain of the plot points, are written by teenagers. Now I see why everyone is extolling Harry Potter for having turned so many young people onto reading. I've always been an avid reader, but had these books been around when I was in high school, I might have been seriously tempted to study literature in college--for if at least part of those studies entails analyzing books you love (yes, I know, there's a potentially boring theory component, too, but still...), then sign me up, for nothing could be more enjoyable. Seriously, it would be an absolute pleasure to have to write a 25-page analysis of, say, the theme of flawed heros, human reactions to death, or the realization that parents aren't perfect in the Potterverse.]
So I'm reading all these essays, and the books suddenly become far deeper than they already were for me. I started to really think hard about the themes and mysteries, and I became extremely intrigued. After all, this is what literature is supposed to do. If I could have one wish before I die, I think it would be to write something that sticks with people, that haunts them as they try to sleep, that influences the way they react to things like death and friendship in their personal life. This is great power--but I think it's not the actual power that I crave, but the idea of positively enriching someone's life in such a powerful way.
Let me give a couple of examples. One of the first times I was struck this deeply was when I saw the "Max and Liz come from the future to tell Liz that she must fall out of love with Max" episode of one of my all-time favorite TV series, Roswell. Although this may sound like a really superficial example and some people may choose to argue that I'm just a big ol' overly sentimental and romantic TV junkie, my retort is that these are MY feelings, and they were deep, and to me, that's what matters. Further, I think that sentimentality can actually be a good thing. I mean, I strongly believe that in order to REALLY live, to have the human experience, you must feel deeply--and not just happy feelings, but also melancholy feelings. Deep emotions are the greatest element of humanity, and things that are sentimental, that hit us right in the heart, speak to our most fundamental human desires. To me, that's beautiful. So after I watched that episode of Roswell, in which present-day Liz realizes that she has to sacrifice a true love --and worse, she must do so by breaking his heart and, further, not telling him why she was taking those actions--in order to save that person's life (as well as the lives of his closest relations) in the future--I couldn't sleep. I was haunted by Liz's dilemma. I mean, could you imagine abandoning the person who means the most in the world to you, especially when the only way you could convince that person not to persist in trying to re-establish the relationship is to hurt them in the worst kind of way (for Liz, it was by faking a tryst with an old flame)--and further, not even being able to say, "I really do care; I really don't want to hurt you...but I MUST, in order to save your life"? How tough would it be to hurt your life partner in order to secretly save him or her? This episode resonated in my soul for a long time. THAT'S true art. That's what I want to do.
My other example is, of course, from Harry Potter. I'm not going to give away the specifics, as I don't want to spoil the series for anyone who hasn't read it yet. But suffice it to say that the death in book #5 hit me REALLY REALLY hard. I actually cried over it and had trouble sleeping the night after I read it. I FELT Harry's anger towards the end of the book. I had grown to love the dead character in the same way he had. The sign of a truly good book is when you feel that the characters and places are REAL. They may not be right here right now; you can't get on a plane and go visit them. But in your mind, you're convinced that they exist somewhere. And when this character died, I felt like I had just lost my closest friend.
The way I felt after the Roswell episode and the death in book #5--that's how I want to make others feel through my own writing, for at those moments, although my heart was aching, I felt so alive and so human. Basically, I FELT. There's nothing better than that, at least for a nerd like me.
And, to be honest (and perhaps even more dorky), I think these feelings can be comforting to real-life dilemmas. For example, we had to put one of our other dogs to sleep about five weeks ago. Cinnamon was very old--at least 14 or 15--so it wasn't shocking in the way that Cori's death was. But still, I was there when they gave her the shot to put her down. And I knew it was the right thing; her body was just shutting down on her, and she was so sick, and after having been so ill myself earlier that summer, I knew that a nice peaceful death surrounded by your loved ones is the absolute best thing one can hope for for the end of one's life and that suffering from illness is one of the most horrible things ever, worse than death. So there were many comforting factors despite the sadness. But it was still sad. Yet one comfort that I found was when I thought about how Harry went through a really tough death, too (the aforementioned death of book #5). Yes, it was really comforting to me to think of how Harry had to accept what happened (if Harry dealt with it, so can I) and how death doesn't mean that the person is completely gone. I am agnostic about life after death--I truly don't know what happens and don't believe in assuming something to be true when I can't PROVE that it is (that is, I cannot take that leap of faith)--but I do believe in the importance of people (and animals) living on in one's memories and influencing our lives through our interpretations of those memories. I remembered how deeply I felt for Harry, and I derived comfort in our shared grief. This kind of influence is the mark of truly monumental literature, in my opinion. If literature helps you get through life's most difficult times and provides you with strength when you most need it, then it has lived up to the highest standard.
There are so many deep themes and layers in the Harry Potter series. Compassion, love, sacrifice, destiny, choice, friendship, immortality, trust, loyalty, anger, racism, slavery, legacies, history: These abstract concepts are given a corpus in the series. They are exemplified and defined through those examples. In addition, there are incredible moments of humor and humanity. And, of course, the story is extremely well told and highly imaginative. I love details, and Harry Potter has lots of them.
So where is my obsession leading me? Well, right now, Harry Potter is on my mind 24/7. It's really freakin' hard to concentrate on school and work when your mind keeps going to the characters and their situations, thinking about their backstory, etc. It's truly like having a crush, like when you're in class and your mind is drifting to the boy of the moment. For me, the boy, so to speak, is Harry Potter...or actually, Sirius Black.
This is the final detail of my obsession: I am completely intrigued by the character of Sirius Black, particularly with regard to the description of his younger days in the chapter entitled "Snape's Worst Memory" (in book #5). I'm even wondering if I have a crush on the character himself, which is OH SO FREAKIN' PATHETIC. It's not a crush in the sense that I want to find Sirius and be his girlfriend (I haven't reached that level of utter geekiness...yet), but more in the sense that, as I said, I'm really intrigued by him and my thoughts keep wandering toward him and what he's all about.
Here's the final nail in the coffin of any shred of coolness that I was hoping to hold onto: So in the last few days, I actually went and read some of the fan fiction on the previously cited Web site (the first time I've read fan fiction for ANYTHING ever--I never even read Roswell fan fic). A lot of it is pretty retarded. I mean, there are people writing about homosexual relationships between Harry and Ron, Harry and Malfoy, Hermione and Ginny, and various combinations of Remus Lupin, James Potter, and Sirius Black (OK, I must admit that there's a minor intrigue to this; as a good red-blooded heterosexual girl, I do get a slight kick out of it; after all, if guys are turned on by lesbian affairs (although some have basically argued that it's not so much the lesbian aspect as that two vaginas are better than one ), then why can't women get something out of two men being together?); love affairs between Hermione and Professor Snape; and lots of other dumb crap. But some of the fan fic imagines side- or backstories that J. K. Rowling hasn't addressed (at least to this point). And some of it is actually not so bad. It's somewhat soothing to find extra material on the characters you've come to love, so that you never have to stop reading more.
And so the extension of this last nerdy detail is that I'm actually inspired to write some fan fic myself. This is my obsession!!! I'm particularly interested in the backstory of the previous generation (the Marauders, Harry's parents, Snape, and the Malfoys; I won't say much more, as I really don't want to ruin the series for anyone who happens to read this--all two of my "regular readers," who probably have disappeared on me in the past year anyway) and have some ideas of my own about how their past might have led to the current situation and what their schooldays were like. It feels so soothing to think about these characters and become more intimate with them by breathing life into these elements of the Potterverse myself. And, on a more practical level, I still haven't given up my dream of writing, even though I'm in grad school for other stuff (stuff that I do enjoy and love, too) right now. I'm pretty sure I have my own material, my own novels, lurking inside of me. I haven't fully become acquainted with my own characters and my own stories yet, but a great way to practice developing characters and storylines is by using characters that you have grown to love and whom you know well already. I don't think I'm just rationalizing away my utter dorkiness in wanting to write some fan fic; I do see a practical aspect in it for my own development as a writer.
What's truly killing me now is that I just don't have the time to write right now. That's why I'm writing this: It takes much less time to do a blog entry (even one as long as this) than to do this fan fic project I have in mind (although I did manage to make an outline of some of the questions I want the fiction to answer last night). I need to get SOME of this out, because I can't keep it all bottled up in me, so this blog is at least a band-aid of sorts.
If I had free time right now, I would read through the whole series (except, of course, book #7, which won't be out for a couple of years) several times, noting down descriptions of some of the characters I want to develop and elements of the timeline that I want to include in my fiction. After all, I strongly believe in staying true to J. K. Rowling's storyline and spirit; nothing I write will violate that AT ALL. I don't believe in creating alternative Harry Potter scenarios and universes. Instead, I want to imagine what could be--in areas that Rowling herself hasn't laid out explicitly. That's why I'm not writing about Harry himself, or about any of his friends in the current time. That's Rowling's story, and she's still telling it to us. But, at least as of now, she hasn't given us much of what happened in the past for the particular characters I named, and I want to conjure that up. So I want to make sure that I understand all the details that she has laid out and stay true to them. I also want to read Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, which is an amazing book about the writing process and how one can endure and develop one's writing. (I think I mentioned it WAAAAAY long ago in a blog entry.) I had started that book a couple of years ago and found it incredibly encouraging as well as practical, but never got around to finishing it. I want to read it now so that it can help me in the process of developing this writing.
Half of me keeps saying, "Fan fic? Come on. That's the realm of teenagers. That's a sign of an utter lack of creativity. I mean, if you can't invent your own characters and situations, then maybe you're not cut out for writing." But the other half of me really sees value in starting in familiar territory, especially when it's territory that resides so deeply in your heart--territory that you know and love. For example, you're less apt to get writer's block when you're starting with the familiar. I have ideas, and to put them into words, even if it's just for myself, would be useful in developing my writing and storytelling skills. (I'm still debating whether I would want to post to a fan fic site (or perhaps on this blog???); jury's still out on the fan fic site in particular. On one hand, the reviews of serious people could actually be helpful and possibly encouraging, but there's the danger of having to deal with crap like "hi I hAte SnAPe ROFLMAO, u should mAke him meaner cuz that wud b fUnNy.") And it's not like I don't have ideas of my own. I actually have one novel that I already outlined a few years ago, for example. One reason I haven't written it yet is, obviously, lack of time. In particular, because I tend to be obsessive about whatever endeavors I throw myself into, I know that I can't start it until I have plenty of free time, especially on weekends (read: when I have no school and a job that I don't have to bring home with me at times). I can't just do a little bit here and there; it's physically impossible for me. The other reason I haven't written it is, oddly enough, severe self-doubt. Like, most of the time, I think it's a good story, but other times, I'm haunted by the prospect that what I've imagined is complete crap. I think this is something most every writer deals with. That's why Bird by Bird will be extremely helpful; it addresses these kinds of problems and helps you figure out how to get through them. I know that whatever I produce WILL be of good quality by the time I feel ready to pronounce it done, but I'm still plagued by the possibility that the story was utterly stupid from the get-go. I *think* it's pretty brilliant, but what if I'm wrong or too deeply connected with it to see the forest through the trees, to view it objectively for what it really is?
So that returns me to the idea of fan fic, which is unpublishable (except on Web sites) anyway, making it a good area for practice. It's OK for fan fic to suck (dare I say that most fan fic, almost by definition, sucks?), and, if anything, I can be assured that the premise--the entire foundation of the story--won't suck, because...well, because the series is brilliant.
But over the past couple of days since I got the idea for the fan fic, I've felt horrifically stifled, because I just don't have the time to get the story out of my head. Once I start researching and writing, I won't be able to stop. So, practically speaking, I won't be able to do this until winter break, and because that won't be enough time to do all of it, I really won't be able to enter into the endeavor full force until at least next summer. To have these ideas bottled up is seriously killing me. (I'm hoping that's the mark of a true writer--someone who can't physically and mentally deal with keeping ideas inside when they're bursting to get out. It's probably also the mark of a true Harry Potter dork.)
My final question right now gets back to the idea of this being a crush. If I've learned anything from my lengthy history of crushes, it's that crushes are short lived. You are consumed by them for a couple of weeks (although I did have long-term crushes, too), and then suddenly the feeling isn't there anymore. In a way, it's nice, because you're at peace with yourself once more. But you also feel like you've lost some of your mojo; your creative energy has died. You no longer feel such extreme emotions.
So will this crush die out next week? Will I find myself thinking, "Yeah, I do really love Harry Potter, but it's not consuming me anymore. I can live without ever writing my fiction, without passing downtime on the subway by imagining the characters in new situations and replaying their already written adventures in my head"? Will I fall asleep without running new episodes over in my mind or imagining what will come to pass in book #7, how this epic tale will be further embellished, and ultimately finished?
Half of me would like that. It's really hard to concentrate while the flame of this obsession is burning bright. But half of me doesn't want to see it go. After all, it's not like a *real* crush, which would obviously be a danger to my marriage. It's a crush that gives me vitality and inspiration. And if I can manage to balance it out somewhat so that it doesn't harm my schooling and my job, then why not retain this incredible energy and creativity with which it has endowed me? I don't want to lose this mindset.
So this is where I leave things right now. If I didn't manage to purge at least part of this situation via the blog, I might have drowned in my own obsession. After all, as Hagrid said to Ron in movie (and maybe even book) #2, "Better out than in" (although Hagrid's comment was in regard to a slug-vomiting incident--quite a different situation than mine). I'm putting a lot of stock in the possibility that this urgent desire truly is the mark of a real writer. And I post all of this information at the risk of any readers thinking that I'm a ridiculous, sentimental fool. But I cannot do anything else but lay it all out there. This is who I am, and whether it's silly, immature, or whatever, I fully own it.
Oh, and as a postscript, yes, I truly am currently reading book #4 in the little tiny bits of spare time I have (e.g., on the subway on Fridays, when I can afford to carry a big ol' thick book because I don't need to bring my laptop with me). After all, the movie is coming out on November 18, and my pathetic obsessed self wants to reread the book before seeing the movie.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Harry Potter, Book 4)
By J.K. Rowling
I actually feel a lot better now that I got all of that out (see previous entry from earlier today). Still bursting with energy and ideas, but somewhat less anxious.
Oh, and Jo Rowling agrees with me on some points (always a good thing!):
From this Web site:
JK Rowling is one of the best-selling authors ever, having broken records for sales around the world.
Her Harry Potter books have spellbound kids and adults everywhere.
Q: What was your favourite book when you were a child?
Rowling: It changed weekly, because I read at least a book a week!
Q: How old were you when you knew you wanted to be a writer?
Rowling: I usually date the ambition from the age of six, at which I wrote my first complete 'book' (about a rabbit called Rabbit), but I know that I wanted to be an author before then. In fact, I couldn't really understand why anybody would want to do anything different.
Q: Any tips for kids who want to get started as an aspiring author?
Rowling: The best way to learn about style, characterisation and plot construction is to read as much as you possibly can.
You will probably find that you start to imitate your favourite authors, but this is a good learning process and your own style will come eventually. Always plan your work; writing aimlessly sometimes throws up a good idea or two, but it is no way to produce a whole story.
Write what you know: your own interests, feelings, beliefs, friends, family and even pets will be your raw materials when you start writing. Develop a fondness for solitude if you can, because writing is one of the loneliest professions in the world!
And finally: perseverance is absolutely essential, not just to produce all those words, but to survive rejection and criticism. However, the utter joy of seeing a book you wrote sitting in a bookshelf is a prize worth striving for!
Q: What makes books so special?
Rowling: The power of the printed word unites the author's and the reader's imaginations to create a unique vision. Entire worlds can be carried around inside these small, cheap, paper objects that don't need plugs, modems or speakers. Books have survived for centuries; cinema is an upstart by comparison!
Q: How do you get your inspiration for your writing?
Rowling: The ideas just come; I don't really need much external inspiration. Just give me a quietish half hour, and perhaps a nice cup of tea, and I'll probably be able to dash off a paragraph or two.
Also, on this MuggleNet page, she says the following: "Also I think people will continue to theorize about the characters even at the end of book seven because some people are very interested in certain characters whose past lives are not germane to the plot, they’re not central to the story, so there is big leeway there still for fanfiction...."
I'm taking any validation I can get, yo!
This Web page contains a really fascinating analysis of fan fiction. Overall, the essays of the "Commentary/Potterverse" section of this Web site (find them here, where the links to the various essays are lined up along the left side of the page) are incredibly well written, highly intuitive, and really fascinating. I recommend this site to anyone with more than a passing interest in Harry Potter.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Exhibit A:
J- and I went to Puerto Rico this past weekend (my reward for having such a shitty summer--and yes, "shitty" should be taken quite literally here), and yes, I truly did read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (book #4) on the beach! [I must admit, however, that this picture was staged, in the sense that I told J- to take it for the express purposes of (1) posting it here and (2) documenting my utter hopelessness and ever-increasing obsession. Yes, dorky-ass me actually thinks it's kinda cool.] I was quite happy to have finished the book on the last day of the trip, which means that I'm all ready to see the movie when it comes out November 18! More than that, though, it was really great to make it all the way through the book for the second time, especially with everything I know after having finished book #6.
In other Harry Potter news (I promise I will not turn this blog [referring to the non-LJ blog I am transferring this from...although this promise was pretty much a broken one anyway, as just about all I've droned on about on that site since this entry was none other than Harry Potter...and it wasn't the last promise I made there that I later broke!] into a Harry-Potter-only site, but please bear with me during what may or may not be the most intense phase of my obsession), I actually started writing my fan fic on the plane ride home. I hadn't really intended to start it for a long time; as I have already detailed, I have a lot of research and reading I want to do first. (Yes, I am taking this fan fic very seriously. To me, it is a REAL literary exercise, not just "i LUV HaRrY PoTtEr" type of stuff.) Perhaps I'll post the list of my research tasks later; I find them quite interesting. But anyway, there I was on the plane, knowing exactly what I wanted to write for the first sentence (I had been rolling it around in my head throughout the three-day vacation), and it just had to come out, because I really liked it...so it did. I ended up writing 7 pages in longhand (3 pages front and back and 1 page front only), which translates to two single-spaced typed pages.
And here's the thing: There are two approaches to writing, as I see them (and as I *think* may be described in Bird By Bird--I'm not sure). First, you can thoroughly research everything, put together a detailed plan, and know close to exactly how the plot will proceed, blow by blow. As I understand it, this is J. K. Rowling's modus operandus, which makes sense, because her story is highly complicated and detailed, and if she didn't plan it out, she would at some point start contradicting facts she had laid out in previous stories and be unable to drop red herrings about events in book #6 all the way back in book #1. The second approach is a lot more ad hoc: You just start writing and see where it takes you.
I've always thought I'm the first type of writer. It's funny, because my academic research papers (the ones I write for school) are NEVER planned out--in part due to lack of time (tendency toward procrastination + very busy schedule = last-minute paper writing) and in part because of habit (I've simply never been a drafter, probably stemming from years of procrastination, a desire to write my papers perfectly the first time around, and a pretty decent knack for writing, if I do say so myself). But when I think about writing fiction, I always envision myself planning out my story to the last detail, so that I know where each part is leading--so that I know the tale, and all I have to do is tell it. Of course, this is where I start getting stymied, too, because except for the one novel I actually did plan out (a tragic tale of gender discrimination and unconventional love in pre-modern China), no full, or even semiformed, plots actually come to mind. But if I don't know the story myself, how can I tell it, right? It sucks, because I KNOW I can tell a story up there with the best of them, I really can--I just don't have a story to tell. So I've always thought that I'd need to sit down and really plan out exactly what would go down in my writing, even if it meant racking my brains out for days to finally come up with a viable plot.
But in my little fan fic pre-writing exercise on the plane, I actually may have discovered that I'm the second type of writer. (I say "may have" because I can't be sure yet; a couple of hours of writing isn't enough to say for sure one way or the other.) I mean, all I did was write down the opening line, and then, much to my surprise, the story just took off. As I wrote each sentence, the writing took a clear direction; I was suddenly struck by ideas for each successive part (stranger yet, without debating whether this was truly the best direction in which to take the tale), and my opening chapter basically shaped itself.
I mean, look, writing's scary because you basically have this blank canvas in front of you, right? And while in your heart you know that there's no right or wrong way to paint the picture, your mind keeps
questioning each decision you make. Is red REALLY the best color to put over there? Should there be hills in the background or not? (Sorry this analogy sucks so much; as bold as I am to state that I gots mad writing skillz [/gangsta], I am quick to clarify that I have nary a drop of talent in the visual arts, so I know not of what I speak.) The point is that each sentence you write, each plot turn you shape, you question yourself as to whether, out of the hundreds of directions you could take the story in (and the thousands more that you don't even realize are out there because you're not thinking THAT far outside the box), this was the best one. If it's not, it means that you've led your story down a dead end.
Remember those old Choose Your Own Adventure books? (Side note: At my work, there is a gay--as in, homosexual--version, something like Escape to Fire Island, hanging out innocuously amongst the ESL textbooks, for some reason. I still have no idea what it's doing in our little ol' immigrant-issues nonprofit!) If, back on page 4, when the story was just getting started, you chose to skip ahead to page 68 and take the lower path to the caves instead of going with the upper path to the sea on page 42, you might have damned yourself to a crappy ending (crushed by a freak landslide! defeated by hidden aliens!) no matter which choice you made further on down the line--all because you chose to go to the caves instead of the ocean. That's what the freedom of writing is like. As you make each plot decision, major or minor, you think, "What if I'm choosing the caves?" It would be a nightmare to get a good ways into a story only to discover that you've been going down the wrong path ever since the second paragraph. So this fear--it paralyzes you. You think, "I MUST plan out the entire story, so that I not only choose the path to the ocean, but also understand the next 25 decisions that come after it."
But the reality is that there isn't necessarily a right answer. There's no right way to write a book. And this is scary. It's this HUGE amount of freedom, and you don't know what to do with it. Instead, all you do is doubt yourself. This is why I was quite shocked to find that my story simply began to shape itself.
I mean, I have a general idea of what I'm writing about, and that DEFINITELY helps. My canvas isn't entirely blank. I have a few strokes painted on it. I know that my story is about the Marauders and their adventures at Hogwarts, providing backstory for the events that take place in JKR's books. I know that I intend to stay 100% true to all the details that JKR has given in the books, movies, and outside interviews (and hence the need to research, cross-reference dates, and examine timelines, such as the one on the Harry Potter Lexicon). After having given the idea some thought, I have settled on telling the story from James Potter's (third-person, NOT first-person) point of view (a tough decision, considering that I don't want simply to take Harry's story and place it in his dad's days--a risk I run by using his dad as the protagonist in the way that Harry is; further, my interest in Sirius Black almost compels me to tell the tale from his POV, the counter-argument to which is that I will lose the ability to describe and observe Sirius if he is the character through whose vantage point the story is related). And I want to start the story from the beginning--from James's entry into Hogwarts--so that I can describe how all of the relationships of his generation began and developed. I have some ideas for how I want to answer certain questions such as "How did the various Marauders meet, and how did their relationships develop and change?", "What roles did characters such as Snape, Bellatrix (Black) LeStrange, and Lucius Malfoy play in the Marauders' school days?", and "What was the relationship between Lily (Evans) Potter and Remus Lupin?" (The lattermost question is based more on an interesting comment from movie #3 than on information from the books, I believe. JKR obviously let this comment go in the movie, so I thought it would be interesting to develop it further in my story.) I have a few vague scene outlines in the back of my head. So yes, my canvas has SOMETHING on it. But it's really not a lot, and that's why I was truly shocked to see my story taking shape--with DETAILS in all their whimsical glory--at the same pace that I wrote it.
Also, I was very pleased with the overall quality of the writing. It is extremely imitative of JKR's style, but that's kind of exactly the point right now. Actually, to be honest, I don't think my natural writing style, whatever that may be, for this type of endeavor deviates a whole lot from JKR's. (The style used in this blog is not the same as the style I would use to write a story, although I will admit to a lingering tendency to overuse parentheses in both types of writing.) But JKR herself said (see my next-to-previous blog entry) that aspiring writers are almost expected to start by imitating someone else's style. It's only later that they distinguish their own voice, their own individuality. So I'm fine with my somewhat copycat style; after all, I'm telling part of her story (as I see it, at least), and I want to maintain continuity. After reading it over several times, I was really pleased with my transitions, descriptions, humor, and dialogue. Overall, it was an excellent start, and I actually think I will continue to add to it despite the incomplete state of my research. It definitely bolstered my confidence.
I mean, I read about writers all the time in Entertainment Weekly magazine, and I often think, I can do that, too. I think it's finally become time to prove myself--to myself, if to nobody else. And since a lot of writing is about confidence, I'm starting in an arena in which I'm more confident than usual. It's almost like (bear with me--another bad art analogy) starting a painting career by using a paint-by-numbers set rather than attempting to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel from the get-go. Now, I don't mean to say that my writing will be so glued to JKR that it's as routine as painting by numbers. But I do have some outlines and an initial color palette, and that will develop my skills until I'm ready to invent new colors and strike out on a canvas entirely my own.
As for the actual writing itself, I'm still debating what I want to do with it in terms of letting others see it. Half of me feels a bit private and protective of it (the same way I feel about my singing--which is why I sing only at organized events such as those with my a cappella group rather than belting it out with my favorite song on the radio when other people are around--although I have many more doubts about my singing abilities than I do about my writing abilities), and half of me wants the feedback (and, admittedly, a little flattery) I would get from posting it somewhere. Also, the product is NOWHERE NEAR finished right now (I'm really envisioning this project as being quite sizeable; I'm REALLY going to tell the stories, not just gloss over them), and I don't really like the idea of posting something that's so deeply in progress. Again, the fan fic sites could prove helpful in terms of SERIOUS writers posting feedback, but (a) a lot of not-so-serious teenyboppers would clutter up my reviews and (b) it seems that when people post chapter by chapter, there's a lot of pressure to post the next chapter ASAP--and I have no intention of writing this piece under this kind of duress. I want it to be a labor of love, not a labor. I could post it here, but I'm not really sure what the point of that would be; so few people read this anyway, and most of them (at least to the best of my knowledge) are old friends who want to catch up on my life (boy, this Harry Potter thing must REALLY be annoying the shit out of them right now!), not critique my writing. And at this point, I'm not sure I'm ready for critique--just flattery . Remember, a lot of this is confidence building. So maybe, for now, I'll just keep plugging away on my own, and when the story's more developed, I'll revisit the idea of making some of it public, for whatever purposes that might serve me. (And hey, if someone else really enjoys reading it--particulary a fellow HP fan--the way I've enjoyed reading a select few of the fan fic epics out there, then all the better.) I really do get such dorky pleasure out of the writing that it doesn't really matter if there's anyone out there telling me that yes, it really is good. What matters is that I've enjoyed writing it.
Anyway, so it is off to bed with me. In order to be able to add to my story, I must have time, and in order to have time, I must try to stay abreast of my schoolwork, work work, and grad assistant work. This is a huge struggle in itself, and the only thing keeping me at it (aside from my general nerdiness--really truly, I'm a Hermione Granger, frizzy hair and all) is the promise I made to myself that if I can structure my time so as to get done what I need to get done, I can take a couple of hours here and there to add to and research my story. If I spend too much time doing other things, then I do not get my reward. The point is that I need to go study for my Contemporary Public Relations midterm tomorrow instead of writing more on here (which sucks, because I have a couple of other minor points to write about). Reminders to me for later: revisiting Western culture; the happy life; words to bring back.
[Author's Note: This posting isn't directly related to Harry Potter (except for a reference to the possible existence of Harry Potter band-aids!), but it does explore some fun elements of the English language and how the language differs between Great Britain, the United States, and Australia, so I am including it anyway, silly though the whole entry may be.]
I have come to the conclusion that the majority of these itchy itchy bites [I received in Puerto Rico] are actually sand flea bites, not mosquito bites. They're still really itchy, and while they're not as excruciating as regular flea bites (they don't keep me up at night, for example, although I did wake up a little bit last night to scratch), they're pretty damn annoying. Mosquito bites would have disappeared by now--it's been almost a week. And I have a few bites on my midsection, which was covered by my dress during our anniversary dinner, but which was uncovered when I wore my bikini on the beach. So J- (who also has some bites--about 10 compared to my estimated 30+(!!!)) and I have concluded that they are sand flea bites.
When I was shaving my legs yesterday, I accidentally removed the top layer of skin from a bite near my ankle, so that was really fun to deal with. At least it gave me an excuse to sport one of my Hello Kitty band-aids. (Hmmm, do they sell Harry Potter band-aids?...I kid, I kid...or do I? )
I need to go do some graduate assistantship work right now (so that I don't die of a self-inflicted guilt trip), but I do want to touch upon one of the topics I hadn't gotten to in a previous entry. The topic is "words that I want to popularize in common American English."
There are three words I want to bring (or bring back) into popular American speech. The first word is "loo." And yes, although it's a Brit/Commonwealth word, my interest in "loo" was not inspired by Harry Potter. (I don't even know if it appears in the American versions of the HP books at all. On a side note, I'd love to take a look at the Brit versions some day, as I do kind of resent the "dumbing down" of vocabulary the publishers did in order to make the books supposedly more accessible to the American audience.) In fact, I had been supporting the comeback (was it ever popular here?) of this word into American English for some time now, probably inspired mainly by my lurking on an Australian-run board for people with ostomies (I don't have one, but it's always a possibility, temporary or permanent, in my future). There are a lot of Brits and Aussies on this board who use "loo" (and, due to the nature of the board's topic, discussions of loos/bathrooms come up quite frequently), and I really grew to like this word. It's cute, or at least as cute as a word representing a room containing a repository for human exrement can be! I mean, don't you far prefer "I'll be right back, I have to go to the loo" to "See ya in a moment; I'll be in the shitter" (or the less vulgar "I've got to go to the bathroom")? There's a certain je ne sais quoi about "loo." Perhaps it recalls stereotypical British formality, and that's why it sounds more polite and classy.
I don't know if this is a common American viewpoint or not, but I tend to see a hierarchy or scale of some sort when I think about American vs. British vs. Aussie speech. I see British speech at the top--not necessarily better, as this is not a scale of inherent goodness, but rather of...well, I'm not sure what, actually. Formality, to some degree, but it's more than that. Maybe it's kind of a pizzazz factor. I mean, many of the words the Brits use are so much more colorful than American words. (Perhaps it's the novelty--and, by extension, exoticness--of these words that attracts me?) For example, calling someone a "wanker" seems so much more clever than using the term "asshole" or "jerkoff" instead. The Brits are well known for their witticisms and sharp tongues (to make a quick Harry Potter reference, a sharp, classily sarcastic tongue is what makes Snape such a fascinating character), and I think this reputation is deserved.
Aussies, on the other hand, are like your popular best friend whose natural, inherent coolness you could never live up to (sorry, but to make another HP analogy, they're Sirius Black to James Potters's American). They're not classy, but they are straight-up cool, and this extends to their language. They're vulgar, but in a less uncouth way than Amercans are vulgar, if that makes sense. Or maybe it's that their insults are SO vulgar that they become a caricature and thereby very funny. I can't think of any off the top of my head, not being that familiar with Aussie speech patterns, but that's the overall impression I've gotten.
So if you look at the spectrum of Brit-American-Aussie speech, I would say that Brits are the most sophisticated. That's the term I'm looking for. When they insult someone, to go back to that example, they do so with a sort of cultured wit, a humor that you must be learned in order to understand, and if you're not learned enough, then all the more worse for you, because you've been insulted without even realizing it. The terms they use sound innocuous at first, but if you're educated or cultured enough to pick up on it, you realize that the punch they pack is far more powerful (and spicy) than would be the case if they used a simple, dirty term.
[Before I go further, I must clarify that yes, I realize that I'm dealing with complete stereotype here, as well as a fairly shallow overall interpretation. I'm sure there are numerous Brits who go for the more common, vulgar terms first, for example. But I can only talk about my own, admittedly extremely shallow (e.g., I've traveled to neither Great Britain nor Australia) impressions.]
Then you have the Americans, who are kind of ordinary. (Perhaps this is my impression simply because the American world is my world, and so it's rather commonplace and boring to me.) We're just the everyman, average Joe. We're not particularly sophisticated, nor are we so raunchy that it's funny. We don't have a wink hiding behind our words. We're not happy-go-lucky, like the Aussies. We're candid, yet guarded. We don't take the time to formulate our language cleverly, like the Brits, nor do we relax enough to carefreely spout off what's on our mind, like the Aussies. We say what we think, but also worry what other people are thinking about what we said. (Or maybe this is just a grossly overgeneralized description of myself???) As a result, our language is straightforward, but ordinary.
Back to the main point, though, which is simply that I adore the word "loo" and think it needs to be introduced (reintroduced?) into American speech.
The next word that I want to take from Brit (and maybe Aussie?) speech is "rubbish," and I must admit that this inspiration did come from my reading Harry Potter (as well as some other exposures to Brit stuff, like The Office, perhaps). I especially like it as a substitute for "crap." Now, don't get me wrong here; as an average ol' American, I throw "crap" around like there's no tomorrow. (I'm not even going to make the requisite ulcerative colitis joke here!!!) "That's crap," "What a bunch of crap," "Oh, crap!" I'm a big "crap" user. But there's something more subtle about "rubbish." It's slyer, and certainly less overused, at least in American society. Maybe that's part of the problem: To me, American words are simply played out, and as a result, their meanings pack less punch. Everything is crap, everything is shit, everything is junk. But rubbish? Now there's something you have to think about. So the second part of my language mission is to bring "rubbish" into more common usage (at the risk, of course, that it, too, will become played out--but I don't for a moment pretend that I, or even I and any friends I manage to convince to join me on this quest, have any significant influence that it will).
Finally, the third word I would like to bring into American speech comes from my own ancestral language: Hungarian. The word is "puszta" (pronounced POOS-duh), and the meaning I have ascribed to it for its English usage is actually not at all related to its Hungarian meaning, but rather to an experience I had eight years ago while running an international conference in Hungary. So, in essence, the whole thing is kind of a joke--and a rather inside one at that--but nevertheless, I have managed to get my best friend to use "puszta" in that context (in fact, I think she uses it more often than I do!), so perhaps I can win people over to its use yet!
The real puszta is an area in central/northeastern Hungary, a couple of hours' drive from Budapest. It's kind of a flat, arid plain known most (at least amongst tourists) for the Hungarian gypsy/cowboy shows that tourists can attend, where you can see people doing stunts like standing on galloping horses. After the horse show, you have a big feast, including palinka (a VERY STRONG Hungarian grain liquor that tastes like rubbing alcohol and will get you wasted in no time). So when I was running this conference, the professor we were liaisoning with at the host university, Gyuri (I think there should be an umlaut over the "u"; I'm not even sure I spelled it right, but at any rate, it's pronounced almost like "Judy," and it's basically a Hungarian form of "George"), suggested a trip to the puszta as part of the conference agenda. For some reason (it's hard to remember all the details that far back), we didn't think it was a good idea. I think it had something to do with the trip not fitting into the conference budget. Maybe Gyuri's side was initially going to pay for it, but they left us holding the bag, and as a result we had to charge an admission fee for conference attendees, which most of us were completely against, as many of them had paid a lot of money to attend the conference in the first place. Anyway, the upshot was this big fight/conflict between us and Gyuri, and a group of us staff members turned "puszta" into a verb, saying that Gyuri totally "pusztaed" us--i.e., screwed us over.
So this is the extended meaning of puszta, and I really like it. When I related the story to A- (my best friend), she latched onto it, too, which is so awesome (and just exhibits one of the many reasons she rocks--not that she follows what I command, mind you (I'm actually more of her sidekick than she is mine), but just that we can appreciate the same things, the same kind of humor). In fact, I was completely tickled when, several years ago, I saw her wearing an IBM company T-shirt she had modified, using permanent marker, to say something like "I got pusztaed by IBM" (because IBM had laid her husband off, so she holds a huge vendetta against it). Sadly, I think she has since thrown this shirt out (sucks, because I would have loved to hold onto it as a keepsake!), but I still thought it rocked that she used the word independently--and still does in her everyday speech.
It probably sounds like a huge inside joke to most people, but it still really resonates with me.
So those are my three import words: loo, rubbish, and puszta. My aim is to start using them more often, deliberately at first, but later more naturally. Who knows; maybe these trends will catch on!
Must go now...J- wants to go to dim sum, and I still have plenty of work to do!
By Jamie Cullum
For anyone who enjoys language, here's a fun page with British slang terms. I wanna look some up for the Aussies and the English-speaking communities elsewhere (e.g., Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Canada--yes, we can't forget our neighbors to the north!), but now's not the time. I love intercultural slang!
I definitely can appreciate some of those terms, although I must say, especially in light of my somewhat Anglophile (since when have I EVER been an Anglophile???) entry of yesterday, that I also have a great appreciation for certain American slang terms. In particular, I've always loved "moron," "schmuck" (granted, this is originally Yiddish), "screwed,"....Hmmm, maybe I'm just obsessed with RUDE language! I've always been quite the pottymouth....And perhaps I'm quite meanspirited, because I LOVE all forms of insults, and maybe that's why I'm enjoying this British sarcastic humor these days!
One thing that kinda sucks is that here in the United States, we don't get exposed to a whole lot of media from other countries. (I actually wrote a 10-page paper on this topic for my Communication Theory class last semester.) It sucks, because everyone gets to see our stuff, both bad and good, but we don't get all that much from other countries...which means we're not exposed to their ways of thinking, their culture, their slang....So I have decided to make a concerted effort to get ahold of a lot more foreign products, especially TV shows. Movies are nice, too, but I think TV shows are better, because a lot of them are about everyday situations, however exaggerated, so you can see a lot more of the day-to-day thinking and language (and politics). For example, I recall having watched most of (or maybe all of) the first season of the British (original) version of "Coupling." Not only was it HILARIOUS, but it was also educational in a sociocultural sense. Americans need more of this. Otherwise, how can we understand where the rest of the world's coming from? Meanwhile, people in many other countries know a lot more about us, simply because they view our TV shows, listen to our music, watch our news, etc. Perhaps I need to start watching BBC in addition to CNN (probably a good idea, as Soledad O'Brian is a total airhead, and the American Morning segment of CNN is getting utterly ridiculous).
God, speaking of that, don't even get me going on the news media in general. Rather than spend the time reporting on this mega-catastrophe in India and Pakistan (tens of thousands of times more damaging than Hurricane Katrina) this past Thursday, Soledad O'Brian (O'Brien?), Carol Costello, and Miles O'Brien (I'm hoping he's no relation to Soledad) bantered on about Katie Holmes being pregnant with Tom Cruise's child. Now don't get me wrong--I'm definitely a bit of an entertainment news junkie. And entertainment news isn't inherently bad, but it definitely poses a problem when it starts to subsume more important news items...and this approach makes its way into the American psyche, and now we all change the channel at any mention of serious news, but fixate on "The E! True Hollywood Story of Paris Hilton."
OK, I could go on and on about all of these topics. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, although if that's what you think, then why are you reading my blog???), I do not have the time. But enjoy the Brit slang, you prat!