November 12th, 2005

Writing with Quill

I myself am a Potterhead

I am officially out of the cupboard. My name is Miss Sophia, and I am a Potterhead...and SO MUCH the better for it.

When I think back on my childhood, it makes all the sense in the world. When I was just a wee lass, I loved books. I would take out dozens at a time from the public library and zip through them with record speed. In those days, I was a morning person (how times change!), and I remember waking up in the early hours on weekends, turning on my bedside lamp, and reading until the rest of my family was up and it was time for breakfast. If my little brother also woke early, he would come knocking on my door, wanting to play, and I would shoo him away; even though I knew we'd have fun playing He-Man meets Barbie or Superfriends meets Star Wars (we had a lot of action figures--gotta love the '80s!), I preferred to read.

I'm not sure what happened to me when I started growing up. I never gave up my love for books, but they somehow began to fade into the backdrop of my increasingly complex life. Perhaps it was going to a math/science/computer science magnet high school that finally relegated literature to my academic back burner. (Uh-oh, now I'm sounding like a math nerd. Trust me, I sooooo am not a math nerd!) Or maybe it was boys, boys, all type of boys, black, white, Puerto Rican, Chinese boys that finally stormed into my mind and pushed books back to the far corners. (I told you I was no math nerd!) Whatever it was, I never lost my love for reading, but I never developed the passion that might otherwise have existed.

And then Harry came into my life. Hah! Sophia has a lover...

Potterly speaking, I was a late bloomer. When everyone else was reading the first couple of books, I was paying them no heed. I mean, why would I be interested in children's literature, right? (Of course, I had completely forgotten how much I had enjoyed Roald Dahl, Lewis Carroll, and other poorly labeled "kiddie writers.") And the hype...the hype...I'm really not one for hype. If the masses loved these books, then I probably wouldn't. (Of course, I had completely forgotten that, just like me, everyone and her mother loved The Joy Luck Club, Memoirs of a Geisha, and other so-called popular literature.)

My first foray into the wizarding world occurred when I was spending the night at somebody's house in late 2002 or early 2003. My hostess noted that Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was coming on HBO and suggested that we watch it. Although I hadn't exactly been queuing up at Blockbuster to get the first DVD copy, I had nothing against the movie, so I agreed...and thought it was cute and quite good...but that was about it.

Not too long thereafter, a friend was moving and had all these extra books she wanted to give away (mainly because between her and her boyfriend, they had two copies of a number of titles), and I happened to be there when her generosity kicked in full swing. Never one to say no to free literature, I packed a box full of her unwanted reading material, including Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (as well as a wonderful book on the writing process called Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott). Harry Potter seemed like a quick and easy read, so at one point I decided to tackle it...and found it strangely enjoyable. Hmmm...Maybe I had been too quick to judge this strange phenomenon that seemed to be taking over the world.

Then, during the several months that I had the luxury of HBO feeding into my digital cable (before I wised up and realized how much it was costing me!), I managed to catch the first two movies and record them on my Replay TV. I mean, why not? I no longer had an aversion to the series, so I may as well record the movies if they're free. On New Year's 2004 [according to my Xanga blog (different user ID than here on LiveJournal)], my husband and I sat down to watch the first one, and if memory serves me correctly, we watched the second one the next day. They were definitely starting to grow on me...but the flame of obsession had yet to be lit. However, at some point later that year (probably early fall), I added the series (books 1-5 were out at the time) to my Amazon wish list, which I keep mainly as a reminder to myself of the things (mainly books and DVDs) I want to get eventually, not as a huge list of hints for my friends and family.

My husband purchased them for me for Christmas 2004, a decision he probably regrets every time our conversations go something like this:

Him: Job money food stuff-normal-people-talk-about.

Me: Potter Potter Potter Potter Potter!

Him: Eating-out buying-a-house paying-bills.

Me: Potter?

I read Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban over the January portion of my semester break from grad school, and that's when I fell in love. I very clearly recall hitting the end of Prisoner of Azkaban and going, "Wow. WOW WOW WOW." It was amazing. It blew my mind. The characterization, the surprise plot twist and double ending, the dialogue, the humor, the darkness, the hope amidst darkest misery....It was beautiful.

I didn't make it to Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix until the spring semester finished, but once I did manage to start them, I tore through them. Goblet was good (I think I actually appreciated it more after reading it a second time last month, in preparation for the movie--one week, baby!!!); Order was better. I know a lot of people would disagree with me on that. Personally, Prisoner of Azkaban is my favorite, followed closely by Order of the Phoenix. I mean, OotP introduced so much of the fascinating Marauders backstory. How could you not love "Snape's Worst Memory," even as it tore you up inside? And Sirius...what a rich, complex, deliciously flawed (and devastatingly sexy) character...and we got to see so much of him in OotP. Yes, I cried and couldn't sleep after the ending. But that's what good literature does.

OK, so now I was loving me some Harry, but I still wasn't obsessed. Half-Blood Prince came out that summer, but I wasn't queuing up for it. Well, it didn't help that I was in the hospital at the time...damn intestinal disease...but still...I just figured I'd get to it at some point, maybe when it was out in paperback. I do recall watching JKR and some of the actors from the movie on the Today Show when I was eating my breakfast (the best meal of the day in the hospital). I even recall hearing a brief reading from the guy who does the voices for the audiobooks. So I was interested--yes, I was very interested. But I wasn't clamoring. I wasn't craving.

But Half-Blood Prince managed to find me. On the next-to-the-last day (or maybe the next-to-the-next-to-the-last day) I was in the hospital, my mom came by with the book. Apparently, my brother had bought it the day it came out (something that actually surprised me; he had never been much of a fiction reader, and I had no idea he liked the series), read it in one night, and then decided to return it, simply because now that he had read it, he saw no point in keeping it. But my mom knew I liked the series, so she asked if she could just give it to me, and he agreed. (As a side note, I would never return a piece of literature, or even a CD. I mean, I've still got my Vanilla Ice and Gerardo CDs and think I'm lovably dorky for it! The only CD I've ever returned was the Outhere Brothers CD, just because it was way too raunchy, even for me--and I'm quite the pottymouth and not easily scandalized!)

Half-Blood Prince made those last couple of days in the hospital fly by. It's far better than daytime TV. (It's definitely crossed my mind recently that I wish I had had my Potter obsession during those four weeks I was in the hospital, because it would have been much more fun to read and write fan fic, read theory and analysis Web sites, re-read canon, etc., than to watch crappy daytime TV like Home Delivery and Judge Mathis. However, I'm not sure that things would have been much different, simply because my disease completely robbed me of my energy, and much of the time, even though I was awake and alert, I didn't feel up to doing much more than staring at crappy shows for hours on end.)

And yet...the obsession still hadn't come into bloom.

It was the analytical essays that I read on MuggleNet and Red Hen that finally did it for me, early this fall...less than two months ago. I'm not even sure what brought me there; I guess it was Googling "Harry Potter" and seeing what was out there, because while I wasn't obsessed, I definitely was interested. And I ran across all of these essays on so many different aspects of the series: R.A.B.'s identity; reasons Snape is or is not evil, what the Horcruxes are and how they might be destroyed, how Snape might have purposely set Harry up to view his worst memory (which may not really have been his worst memory after all), and much much more. There were so many intricate plot points, so many fascinating characters, and people around the world were talking talking talking about them. It really was a phenomenon, and I was fascinated.

And then I started thinking more about the Marauders, especially Sirius. I was so intrigued by these characters and the incredible stories they must have to tell...and that I knew JKR probably would not tell, because her epic is Harry's story, not theirs. And I started to have my own ideas about what might have happened during their lives.

I had already realized that people were writing their own Harry Potter tales, and it suddenly occurred to me that I wanted to be one of those people. I wanted to describe and characterize. I wanted my writing--an indelible mark that could remain in this world long after I am gone--to affect others' lives in the same way that JKR's telling of Harry's story has affected mine--has made me think about relationships, trust, loyalty, judgement, choice, and other great themes that make up the minute and the profound in our everyday existences.

But writing had always been scary for me. I was good at academic writing in the social sciences, but fiction? All I had to my name were some really melodramatic, underdeveloped pieces from a creative writing class I took in high school, as well as numerous sappy poems written when I was in the throes of angst over some unrequited crush. Yet I felt empowered by the Potterverse, because right in front of me I had a beautiful, intricate world filled with quirky, imperfect characters. I could start right there. I could continue to live in wizarding Britain even when I wasn't reading canon. It would be a true labor of love to these characters' stories--the Marauders in particular. JKR will likely not do it; she has only one book left, and I doubt she's going to have time to give us as much detail and storyline as I can dream up.

At first, part of me was fighting against this urge to write, to create. I mean, what if I sucked? And fan fiction--isn't that the realm of uber-dorks and thirteen-year-olds? I may have gone to a magnet program, but I'm actually a fairly normal, dare I say cool person. Yet the urge was consuming me. I couldn't concentrate; I could barely breathe. Seriously.

Finally, on a plane ride home from a vacation in Puerto Rico (a gift to myself for having such a lousy summer), I couldn't keep it in any longer. The beginning line of my story had been rolling around in my head all weekend, and I had to get it out. And once it came out, the rest of the story (well, the beginning of the beginning--the story will cover James Potter's life from the day he received his Hogwarts letter until at least his last year at Hogwarts, and maybe even up till his death) just flowed out. I didn't even have time to worry about what would come next, because as I finished each description, each paragraph, I automatically knew. I wasn't fooling myself--I knew that at some point, it wouldn't be so easy. But I was shocked that at least part of it had been. Maybe I was cut out for this after all?

And I liked it. I really did. I liked my style and my humor. I even passed the story along to a curious friend, and her comment that it was like reading a long-lost chapter of JKR's put me over the moon. (And she's quite well steeped in literature and not the type to dish out flattery and fluff.) I could do this....And perhaps I could eventually get myself to the point where I could write my own stuff. In terms of original work, I knew I could handle the descriptions and the technical aspect of the writing, but I worried about plot and character development. Would everything I write be doomed to be as trite as my high school attempts? Or had I grown as a person and had enough life experiences to shape rich characters and riveting plotlines? I had actually written out the outline to a novel a couple of years earlier, but had shelved it temporarily out of fear that I wouldn't be able to handle it after all. Yet here I was, with a far less developed plot plan (albeit with made-to-order characters and places), just churning out a Harry Potter-genre fan fic. If I could do it with Potter, I could eventually get good enough to do it with my own material.

Then ideas for two more fictions hit me, both of which are much shorter-term projects than the James Potter epic (which requires a lot of research and thus must progress somewhat slowly until next summer, when I am done with grad school). And one of them was so strong that I had to start writing it. I immediately outlined it, sitting on the subway with my notebook, compulsively scribbling away. The idea was there, and it was bubbling over; it needed to be released. And once I started writing the actual story, it just flowed and flowed and flowed. It was impossible to stop it.

My superego started complaining, nagging me to focus on my grad school studies, but I was beyond help. The story was there, and it had to come out.

And when I wasn't writing, I was reading forums, essays, and fan fics by others--anything to stay in the Potter world. It wasn't a form of escapism. I love my own life, and I don't see myself living some fictional existence. [I recognize that one of my user pics on here (not the one displayed next to this entry, but I'll put it up at some point) suggests otherwise. No, I do not fantasize about being Hermione, nor do I engage in cosplay. It was a Halloween costume, that's all. But you must admit that I do have the Hermione hair thing going on!] But I saw all of this beauty and power in these books and this massive community they have given birth to. It was a phenomenon. There was a whole vocabulary and culture in this electronic world. There were incredible moments of humor (I discovered crack!fic) and heart-wrenching moments of sadness. There was shipping and slash, meta and parody. The possibilities were endless. Sirius and Remus made for surprisingly beautiful lovers [and some incredibly naughty porn--Harry Potter porn!!!--some (by no means most...but some) of it gorgeously written, much to my surprise]. Snape uttered some biting, sarcastic lines that made me laugh and cry at the same time. There was this hugely developed "imagined community" out there on the Internet, consisting of people from all over the world, that had brought literature to a new level. A person could spend the rest of his or her life reading about Harry Potter, for while he or she might finish canon, fanon would never end...and some of it was truly brilliant writing. So many people writing, so many people reading, so many people discussing the finer points of literature, the writing process, characterization, dialogue, and so on.

My childhood had finally caught up with me.

And so here I am, starting a LiveJournal. I already have a Xanga blog, so this is not for my personal ramblings. Instead, it is for the part of my life that has been devoted to the world created by J. K. Rowling. It is for my writing and my theories, my thoughts and my experiences...and my interactions with others who understand...who know....

I myself am a Potterhead.