Monday, July 30, 2012

My Blog, It Is a'Changing

I'm a slow learner.  Sometimes painfully slow.

You may have noticed that in recent months, I've been slower than I used to be to blog, respond to comments, and Tweet.  To be honest, I'd gotten a bit tired of always talking about good ol' Harry.

Not that I don't love Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling's incredible writing... I do!  But I love so much more than that.  My interests are wide-ranging.  And yet, because I believed a blog would work better with a decided focus, and with my past experience I'd carved out my niche here as Harry Potter for Writers, I didn't want to muddy the bloggy waters.

So, inevitably, I got a bit bored, and was thus slow to get on line and share with all my friends here.

Here comes the slow-is-me part.  I recently realized, it doesn't have to be that way!  No, I don't have to give up writing about craft techniques I've discovered in the fabulous Rowling writings, but I don't have to limit myself to that either.  I can write about new discoveries in anthropology, interesting secrets from old mystery cults, what's happening in the world of publishing today, reviews from some of my favorite books, even how to make kefir.

I'll be honest, I haven't just been AWOL because I was bored.  I was also writing, quite a bit, and editing as well.  And the result of all that work is that I have some news that I hope to tell you about soon...perhaps later this week.

So, it's time to change.  Starting now, Harry Potter for Writers is now Myth, Magic, and Mystery.  I'll still write Harry Potter posts, but in between those will come more frequent, and shorter, posts on anything that interests me which I hope you'll find entertaining or enlightening as well.

For example, did you know that cave-age parents not only let their children draw on the walls, they encouraged it?  New research on cave art in western France shows that many of the wavy designs are actually finger flutings done by children, one as young as three.  One area of the cave seems to have been so filled with child flutings that it may have been set aside especially for them.

Can't you just picture a group of mothers, trapped inside the cave on a cold and rainy day with restless kids, giving them some mud and charcoal and having an impromptu art lesson?  Or perhaps a shaman would show the children, one at a time, how to make a mark on their world while helping them explore their creativity.

That's part of what I love about writing -- getting so deeply into someone else's POV, that I feel a connection with a person totally outside my own social network, culture, even century.

My drawings on the wall of this blog-cave are changing, but I'm still here, still the same, just widening the scope of what I share.  I hope you'll enjoy it and share back with me! :-)

What's been going on with you lately?  Anyone have good news to share that I may have missed out on?

Monday, July 16, 2012

A Muggle-Studies Professor's Report from Ascendio, a Fan-Writer Conference

A couple of days ago, I returned from Orlando where I attended the fabulously well-run Harry Potter fan conference, Ascendio2012.  I'd been invited months ago to present my Writer's Guide to Harry Potter workshop as part of their Quill Track, a mini-conference within the fan/scholar symposium specifically geared to writers.

Fan conferences like Ascendio are usually a very different animal than writer conferences like RWA or SCBWI.  To be perfectly honest, I usually feel more at home at the writer conference.  While I'm definitely a fan of Rowling's work and love to hunt out every hidden clue or mythical reference in her brilliant subtext, I admit to being a bit of the odd-woman-out in fan culture where most everyone dresses in wizard robes, will stand in lines for hours to see the YouTube stars of StarKid, and get into heated arguments over whether their favorite ship should have sailed instead of the ones Rowling set afloat.

I say none of this with any disrespect whatsoever.  Quite the opposite.  I find the people at fan conferences incredibly energizing and quite enlightening.  I've learned so much about what readers care passionately about...which can be quite different than the query guidelines and craft techniques which you'll learn in workshop after panel at a writer conference like RWA.  And yet, to get published, you must master things like POV and the dreaded synopsis in order to have readers who may debate minute aspects of your worldbuilding as if it were real or craft their own stories based on your characters.

Which is why Ascendio, the latest conference sponsored by the HP Education Fanon was so exciting for me.  While many of the other fan conferences I'd attended included workshops, like mine, geared to writers, Ascendio had planned a whole writer's track, The Quill Track, complete with booksignings by famous authors and pitch sessions to coveted agents.

This combination is a spark of brilliance and pairs beautifully because fan culture is filled with creatives.  So, at Ascendio, not only do you find a subset of people going wild over the Pygmy Puffs at the Craft Faire, but you'll also encounter a subset hyped up by a screening of fanfilms, or live theater written and produced by fans, and still others dancing the night away to the awesome Wizard Wrock.  With the new QuillTrack, a home was provided for writers of original and fanfiction alike to get together to study and improve their craft and learn how to get it before readers to develop their own fans.

And here is where the key difference can be seen between a conference like Ascendio to RWA -- while the average attendee at RWA is well into her adult years and may be approaching middle-age, the average attendee at a fan conference is an older teen or in her early twenties.  Yes, there are plenty of adults as well, especially at Ascendio, but the youth  energy drives this conference.  An energy that packs a room to hear the fabulous LogosPilgrim present a mystical reading on the spiritual insight gained through understanding Snape, but then empties before a presentation by a publishing professional that would be standing-room-only at RWA.  It's actually quite refreshing to see lines of fans clamoring to get into a screening of StarKids' A Very Potter Musical, a fan-based YouTube sensation that launched Darren Criss's Glee career, but open slots left in pitch sessions to wonderful agents like Joanna Volpe and Carlie Webber - something that would never happen at RWA.

Standing outside the agent pitch session, I found myself talking to a young Hufflepuff, around 16-17, calmly waiting her turn to pitch her completed YA novel to one of the agents.  I asked her to tell me about her story, and her eyes lit up and her hands waved into action as she got all enthused.  The details she shared spoke of a creativity I envied.  Her story envisioned a teen space odyssey that I thought might be quite marketable.  Then I asked how long was her novel.  9,000 words.

And this is the real reason why I love to speak at conferences like Ascendio, even if I find myself sitting alone there more frequently than I would at RWA.  In exchange for the energy I absorb and the fresh understanding I draw of what the reader desires most, I feel I have something valuable to offer in return.  These young writers, while deeply in touch with what appeals to them in regard to characterization and plotting, can be a bit fuzzy regarding the specific craft techniques that make a story readable and the arcane business practices (called publishing) one needs to navigate to get that work out there.  Some have fallen prey to those on the more unscrupulous side of the business.

If you're a YA writer, let me encourage you to attend a fan conference geared to a YA audience.  No, it probably will not give you the breadth of workshops and contacts that RWA or SCBWI can offer, but you'll meet and absorb something quite distinct and incredibly empowering -- the real, raw energy of the YA consumer.  It can take your breath away.

Unfortunately, Ascendio is the last conference HPEF has planned.  Some fandoms can continue conferences for years and years.  The Star Wars Celebration in Orlando still boasts 25,000 - 35,000 attendees annually.  But the Star Wars franchise has continued with new releases to fuel the fans' frenzy.

As the last Harry Potter book was published in 2007 and the last movie released a year ago, the divination waters for upcoming HP releases from Rowling are quite murky.  With the release of The Casual Vacancy in September, Rowling seems to be steering her career in a firmly different direction than the fantasy-driven youth culture of Harry Potter.  But she's not yet bolted the gates to Hogwarts.  Hope remains alive in the breast of the Harry Potter fan that we may yet, in a few years from now, see a new saga following Albus Severus, Rose, Teddy, Victoria... the next generation.

Perhaps it will be out in time for the children of the Potter generation to read it to their own kids...and then dress them in costume and wrock away at Ascendio part 2!

See you there!

Have you ever attended a fan conference?  What was your experience?

PS - To celebrate Ascendio and as a special offering to those attending my workshop, I listed The Boy Who Lived Comes to Die, my analysis of the ending of Deathly Hallows, for free on Kindle.  That offering runs through the end of today and anyone can download it for free.  If you don't have a Kindle, you can use the free Kindle for PC app.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling Cover Reveal

So, there it is. The long-awaited cover.

What do you think?  There's really not much to comment on, is there?  I guess "X" marks the spot!

Also, they corrected Barry's name to Barry Fairbrother rather than the previously released Fairweather.  Release date is September 27, 2012 for English language.

Also, here is the new, updated description that includes page count:

When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the town of Pagford is left in shock.

Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty fa├žade is a town at war.

Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils…Pagford is not what it first seems.

And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations?

A big novel about a small town, The Casual Vacancy is J.K. Rowling’s first novel for adults. It is the work of a storyteller like no other.

The Casual Vacancy
512 pages

Monday, July 2, 2012

Harry Potter's Roman Bulla, A Mokeskin Pouch of Protection

Look at these two pictures and tell me what you see in common:

Emperor Nero as a boy

Did you notice the pouch worn around the neck of both boys?  Look closely:

The boy (Nero) in the statue is wearing a Roman bulla.  Harry is wearing his mokeskin pouch.

A few days ago, I was researching an item for my WIP and came across images I'd saved of the Roman bulla.  I'd noticed its likeness to Harry's mokeskin pouch years ago, but at that time didn't have a blog to share it with.  Now I do!

A bulla was a protective locket given to Roman boys by their fathers to wear around their neck from the time they were 9 days old until they reached manhood and became a Roman citizen (usually at 16).  The bulla could be made of various materials depending on the wealth of the family -- gold for the rich, leather for the poor.  Inside the bulla were amulets that served to protect the boy from harmful spirits and turn back the evil eye.

Unlike a Roman bulla, Harry's pouch was given to him not as an infant, but on his 17th birthday, the day in magical law where he legally attained adulthood.  However, like the Roman bulla, his pouch contained magical items which would serve in the coming campaign to protect him from evil forces.

Harry filled Hagrid's mokeskin purse, not with gold, but with those items he most prized, apparently worthless though some of them were: the Marauder's Map, the shard of Sirius's enchanted mirror, and R.A.B.'s locket.  He pulled the strings tight and slipped the purse around his neck, then sat holding the old Snitch and watching its wings flutter. (p. 132, Deathly Hallows, Scholastic)

Later, the Snitch, the letter from Harry's mom to Sirius, and Harry's broken wand would join the contents of the pouch.  While Harry's pouch was not given to him by his father but rather by Hagrid, one of his last remaining father figures, inside the pouch Harry placed items from James (Marauder's map), godfather Sirius (two-way mirror shard, also used with James), mentor Dumbledore (Snitch w/ the Resurrection Stone), as well as his mother (the letter to Sirius).   Each amulet, each item of his pouch, given by a parent or mentor, served to either protect Harry against Voldemort or else teach a valuable lesson in his final journey to manhood:

  • The Marauder's Map helped Harry "see" Ginny at Hogwarts while he was wandering in the wilderness.
  • The shards of Sirius's mirror with the other piece in Aberforth's protection served as a means for Aberforth to know when Harry needed help and to send Dobby.
  • R.A.B's locket was, of course, a faux-Horcrux, but also an important lesson on human nature in the treatment of those considered beneath them.
  • The letter from Lily to Sirius prepared Harry both for some of Dumbledore's backstory with Grindelwald as well as Lily's connection to Snape.
  • The Resurrection Stone inside the Snitch brought Harry the comfort of his deceased loved ones in his greatest time of need.
  • And Harry's broken Phoenix wand, and its resurrection, served as a final example of power and Harry's command over it rather than being controlled by it.

Harry wore his pouch throughout his campaign to seek out and destroy Voldemort's Horcruxes.  He also wore it to meet his death in the dark forest, where he pulled out the Resurrection Stone to bring him the comfort of his mother, father, Sirius, and Lupin by his side, as well as into the final battle.  The last time we see the pouch is when Harry pulls his old wand out of it and uses the Elder Wand to resurrect his more beloved, and less powerful, Phoenix wand.

If deliberate, and I think it is, JK Rowling's use of Harry's mokeskin pouch as a modern wizard bulla, is a wonderful example of all the little Easter eggs she hid in subtext for her readers to find and delight in.  Knowing and understanding the Roman bulla is completely unnecessary to understanding the role of the mokeskin pouch in Deathly Hallows.  But finding the connection sharpens its role in the story and gives a little thrill to the Harry Potter fan.

Have you ever hidden any little Easter Eggs in a story?