Reading Harry Potter to the Kiddos; or, I Love J.K. Rowling

This Saturday, I’ll be joining a group of talented and beautiful actors at the Pikes Peak Library District’s Briargate Branch for an all-day reading of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. In preparation for my parts (I’ll be reading Uncle Vernon, the Gringott goblins, and Draco Malfoy, just to name a few — and, yes, I do wonder: “What about me screams: Male Jerk?” But that’s neither here nor there) I’ve been reading through Sorcerer’s Stone again. That makes about the thirtieth time I’ve read it. Give or take.

And, I will state, yet again, that J.K. Rowling is my hero.

As I go through the lines, I’m just caught by the evil attitudes of the Dursleys (to whom I’m paying very close attention), the fairy tale-ish melody of the language, and just the wit that weaves throughout. It’s thrilling to read this stuff out loud. Even in my somewhat Winston Churchill-ish Mr. Dursley voice.

Plus, I’m so excited about the reading format. I’ve been to endless readings where the author stands there, behind a podium, with his/her face half hidden by a microphone, and reads. Some authors are quite good. Others…well…less so? Shall we say? It can get kind of boring. So to hear local actors interpret these words will be very exciting. At least for me. I hope for the kiddos too.

Having finished a rough draft of a middle grade novel, I’m personally interested in seeing the kids’ faces as we read. Are they all readers? Have they only seen the movies? What does this audience like?  Funny accents? Enthusiastic movement? I’m dying to see what works and what doesn’t while reading/performing for that toughest of audiences: the children. I’ll keep you posted.

And, if you happen to be in Colorado Springs, here’s the info if you want to come see Harry Potter and Sorcerer’s Stone read live:

Date: 10/26/2013
Start Time: 11:00 a.m.

 Come help raise money for the library while enjoying Harry Potter! Harry Potter enthusiasts are invited to collect pledges for pages or minutes read and either read quietly in the library or listen to the first book read aloud by a local theatre group. Participants are encouraged to bring a sleeping bag, pillow, and some snacks to stay cozy during this all day event.

Library: Briargate Branch – 9475 Briar Village Point
Location: Briargate Community Events
Contact: Michelle Archambault
Contact Number: 260-6882 

The Hedgehog and Feast for Crows – Incomplete Series Troubles?

I am of the general belief that revisions can wait until the book is done. Finish the rough draft, take a break, come back and rework the story accordingly. My reasoning for this is pretty straightforward: you don’t know what you’ve got until you’ve finished it. Though, yes, you can certainly revise as you go and make a more polished work – you’re still (probably) gonna have to revise big chunks based on where you went with the story. Holes and lost threads are kind of par for the course in this writing gig.

As my friend Deb puts it (and I’m paraphrasing here): That hedgehog you had on page five? Who knew how important that hedgehog would be? The hedgehog saves the story! The hedgehog is the linchpin! He holds everything together.

But when you wrote the hedgehog on page five, you didn’t know that. And! It could go the opposite way: you thought the hedgehog was going to be SuperImportant…but it turns out the hedgehog was just a hedgehog after all.

Which brings me to the book that most George R.R. Martin fans flung across the room. (My husband included.) This is book four in the series: A Feast for Crows.

The reason a lot of fans took issue – and in some cases still take issue – with this middle novel was because the main characters faded into the background. Martin made a very concious decision to focus on a set of characters in a certain geographical section of his world. Information had to be disseminated and, as the author, he felt this the best way to get it out there.

Now, I trust that Martin has a clear vision of his world. I trust that he has more of an idea where he wants to go with the story than his readers/editors/publishers because it’s his story. That being said, however, I can’t help but wonder – or worry? – that since the series isn’t actually finished it’s more like a rough draft than a completed work.

When you’re writing one book it’s difficult enough to know where the hell you’re going until you’re there. Now stretch that difficulty along the length of seven books. Sure, Martin has finished five of the seven books, and he seems back on track with book five: A Dance with Dragons. But there are two loose books out there.

How does he know what the hedgehog will do? Is A Feast for Crows going to turn out to be really unecessary? Or will it be the linchpin, the cornerstone, and the readers just can’t see it yet?

For example, looking back on another awesomely famous series: Harry Potter. Let’s examine Book 4, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I love Rowling. I love Harry. However. The only part of that entire book we, as readers, needed was the fact that Voldemort came back to a body. That’s it. The adventure was interesting – though convaluted. (I mean, what a pain-in-the-ass plan to get Harry to touch a portkey, right? Made me question the deviousness of the bad guys…can’t they keep it simple?) If there’s any unecessary hedgehog in that series, it’s in Goblet of Fire.

Some of this comes – I’m sure – from the writer not knowing what’s really necessary until the end. Threads get lost in the smallest books. A huge series with thousands of pages has millions of threads and, therefore, way more opportunity for meandering/getting lost.

However, Rowling pulled it off with a minimum of hedgehogs and I’m certain that Martin will too. How so? Well, I’m not in their heads, but I’m pretty sure that there are some techniques that control the potential chaos.

1. Knowing the end.
Rowling knew down to the last word the ending of Harry Potter. Sure, that word changed. But she had her vision and stuck to it. Thus, less hedgehogs. And Martin, I’m pretty darn sure, knows where he’s going. For all the Starks that die and shift and adjust – they’re still gonna be the big dogs at the end. (Ha! Dogs.)

***Oh! And because I like making predictions, and because I’ve only read the first two books so I feel cocky enough to predict the end based on the beginning…Jenny’s predictions for the end of the series!:
1.) Bran will ride one of the dragons = war hero. And, if both Jon and Danerys bite it…he’s gonna be the big leader.
2.) Jon and Danerys are gonna be the big leaders – one or the other might die and one or the other might rule…or (this is my real bet) they fall in love and rule jointly. Either way they’re not only going to be the big leaders, but they’re going to care deeply for each other.
3.) Tyrion’s probably gonna die. Sorry. But it will be one of the more affecting deaths because it’ll be near the end in a glorious victory that he created. Bittersweet.
4.) Sansa…well, I don’t know about her. She seems like someone who will grow into the manipulative Cersei, but for good instead of evil. Wouldn’t surprise me if she’s some kind of bard-like character who tells the story. She is fascinated by fairy tales and legends, after all.
5.) Arya – she could go one of a million different ways. Struggling with her a bit. Though it wouldn’t surprise me if she was the one who took out Tyrion somehow….***

2. Tracking
Ali keeps her Book Bible. I’m 99.99999% certain that Martin does too. Perhaps it’s a shoebox full of ideas and scraps – like Rowling – or perhaps it’s a three ring binder that contains maps and character sketches and scene orders. But I’m willing to bet money I don’t have that he’s got something, somewhere that works as an outline/guideline. Because if he’s keeping all this world information in his head – I want his brain.

What other techniques can writers use to track their work? How do you control the chaos that results from rough drafts/lengthy series details?  

Books We Love Blogfest: Saturday Pages

This is the first Blogfest I’ve ever participated in – thanks to Rebecca Kiel for putting it together. And in Honor of Valentine’s Day, this blogfest is all about books we love…therefore your Saturday Page assignment is to tell us what books you love in the comments section. How easy-peasy is that?

Jenny’s Favorite Books and Why – In No Particular Order: (I feel like I’m writing a high school essay)

1. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.
Like Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, this was Margaret Mitchell’s sole contribution to the world of literature and what a contribution! This book is sweeping. It’ll take you more than one day to read (and somehow I like that about my books). One of the greatest literary creations, Scarlett O’Hara, is found within its pages. And there’s so many issues that come with it: race relations, gender relations, war, poverty, and the loss/rebuilding of a whole society. Even if you hate this book, it is a conversation starter every time.

When you add in the movie, there’s the addition of Vivien Leigh (I kind of worship her), Clark Gable, Olivia deHavilland (who I also kind of worship), Leslie Howard, Hattie McDaniel (first African American to win an Oscar), and Butterfly McQueen.

2. The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
While you can read any of these books in one day, you can’t read the whole series in one day.

Again, this is a sweeping story – a bildingsroman if you wanna get all technical – about the growth and development of Harry. I also love the epic themes of courage, friendship, good vs. evil, and self sacrifice (which is what all the big epics are really about, right? Even Gone With the Wind is about whether or not Scarlett will ever be self-sacrificial…and one could actually argue one way or another about that).

3. The Stand by Stephen King
I know what you’re thinking: ‘Jenny, you really like the blockbuster bestsellers. Everyone likes these books.’

To that I say, ‘Well, yeah, but these are blockbusters for very similar reasons.’

Once more, The Stand is a sweeping novel. Again, it’s about the fight between good and evil, the stakes are the entire world. This book doesn’t have the strength of the characters of Scarlett, Rhett, Harry, Hermione, or Ron – you can tell because if I say Stu, Larry, and Fran at random it doesn’t have the same impact as any of the Mitchell/Rowling names. But King does Darkness really really really well. And the heart of the book, again, is self-sacrifice and friendship.

Books like these don’t come along too often. 1930s for GWTW, 1970’s for The Stand, late 1990s for Harry Potter. (One could certainly make a convincing argument for Lord of the Rings to slot into the 1950s section…but I find the histories of that series more monotonous than these three books.) I think that makes them more special.

Well, that’s my list – what’s yours?

Mentor of the Month: Justin Cronin: The Twelve, and worries on a lengthy series

The excitement continues for Justin Cronin fans. The Twelve is the next book in The Passage trilogy – and the release date is October 16, 2012!!! See the cover and up-to-date info at EW.

I am as big a fan of never leaving a world I enjoy as much as the next dude/dudette. After all, I was thrilled that the Harry Potter series stretched on for seven lengthy volumes. But I feel I must address my concerns over this particular trilogy.

Sure, the first book was a knockout. There’s a lot of literary bents in there that slow the pacing down a bit, but all-in-all a fun read. I can even see where the second book would be fantastic. An epic sequel. At the end of the first one, Cronin hints at where he’s going.

But a third book?

Right now I’m not seeing it. That makes me nervous.

Partly because I like to be the know-it-all intuitive reader that can tell all my friends where an author is going before any of us read it. (They hate me for that–Harry Potter was a trial, particularly for my husband, until that seventh book came out.)

Partly because I’m scared of a long, drawn-out story with no foreseeable end. From the first sentence of the first book we understand that Amy lives to be 1,000 years old. An ungodly, or rather godly, long time. When you think of it that way, it’s a miracle that the series would be only three books long. The length makes me worry that the author doesn’t have an end in mind.

In my opinion, if the author does not end a piece strong, then the story–no matter how world-wallowingly-happy we are while we’re in it–didn’t work. There has to be some pay off. Something to tie it off.

So there’s my concern. However, because The Passage was so awesome, and because he’s ended his other two novels in a satisfying way (though the literary style may not work as well with The Passage) I’m definitely picking up the next book.

Aside from Harry Potter (which is, of course, a granted and may not be besmirched in my presence), what other lengthy series have had satisfying endings for you?

More toys, I’m getting spoiled; or the Wand Chooses the Wizard

My birthday present from Shane arrived a couple days ago. It’s a set of really great pens. Three fountain pens, three roller ball, and three ball point. It’s like the evolution of pens all in one box!

I tried out all of them, of course, with a little help from Owen and Bronwen. They all work wonderfully but I couldn’t help but start to pick favorites. And it reminded me of the scene in Harry Potter–which is all now fresh in mind since I finished reading them to prep for the new movie–where Ollivander describes how wands choose the wizard and, while you can use another wand, it won’t work as well for you as yours.

So here’s my wand/pen:
Fountain, five inches, silver, flowy.

What’s your wand/pen?

Working on New Stuff: Weirdness

It’s weird to be working on something outside my comfort zone.

Novels for adults=Fine. I can handle that. So far I’ve finished two first drafts. I could put in as many curse words, as much violence, as much sex as I wanted.

But it’s so weird writing something geared toward a younger crowd (my guesstimation puts it at around 8ish-12ish years old, the middle readers, before teen angst hits them really hard and all they want to read about is curse words, violence, and sex).

The story is good. I’m diggin the story. I like my characters and I really like the fact that more characters jumped out almost immediately–surprising me with their importance to the ‘simple’ story I thought I was telling.

My only real issue is shutting off the “Editor” brain. There’s a part of me saying “Ooooo, gotta watch it…kids are going to be reading this.” I have to remember that J.K. Rowling totally earned the word “bitch” and that was geared toward a younger crowd (argue at will…). And I was recently surprised by another word on the first page of The Higher Power of Lucky, this last year’s Newbery Award winner: scrotum. Who knew?

Has anyone jumped outside their ‘comfort zone’ before and found it really odd? Not bad, necessarily, just…weird?

Authors Who Have Humbled Me

Among writers there is a tendency to be like that old actor joke:
Q: How many actors does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A: One. And seven more to stand around and say “I could have done that better.” (now insert ‘writer’ for ‘actor’)

The truth is, that just ain’t so. We did not have thier original ideas. We did not have their life skills, their writing ability, or their je ne sais quoi. So, we really need to give some writers their due.

The following list is compiled of authors that made me sit up and go “I could never in a million years do that!” The list is nowhere near comprehensive….

1. Stephen King. The Stand. Just the scope of this monsterous book was humbling. You pick it up and it’s like weight lifting. Then there’s the story itself. Huge and gothic and religious in scope. Impressive.
2. Jhumpa Lahiri. Short story, “The Third and Final Continent.” Even the title gives me goosebumps. Then it was so quiet and subtle. I am subtle like a jackhammer. Quite frankly, if I ever wrote anything that remotely resembled this story…I’d die a happy writer.
3. Chuck Palahniuk. Haunted. Holy crap. It was disgusting. It was gross. It was hilarious. It was some weird car-wreck-train-wreck-with-bus-full-of-school-children-over-a-cliff-while-skydiving kind of ride. You couldn’t look away.
4. Anne Bronte. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. The magic of this story happens in the time period in which it was written. A woman taking her child and running from an abusive husband. Happens in a lot of movies nowadays, but in Victorian England? That took some guts. The style of writing reminded me of Jane Austen writing about something other than a safe marriage. Cool.
5. J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter. I may have wanted to finish the sucker, and I may have called just about every important point in that last book, but I could never have come up with the wizarding world. Just couldn’t have done it. Period.
6. Susanna Clarke. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. Nope, could never, ever, in a million-plus years have put something like this together. I’m not even done with it and know that.

That’s the beginning of my list. Anyone else?