Notes from “A Year in the Life of JK Rowling”

I watched a documentary on JK Rowling and the year she spent finishing the final book in the Harry Potter series and experiencing the release of the fastest selling book in history. Nothing earth-shattering, but it was still interesting to hear some of her insights. After all, she’s one of the most successful and beloved authors ever and yet she still expressed many of the same concerns as my very own author buddies.

I took notes and, while I won’t take time gathering them into any sort of thought-out essay right now, I did want to share what I wrote down. Hope you find these helpful:

-When asked what quality defined her Rowling said that, above all, she’s a “trier.”

-Jo was drafting the final book. She was typing and periodically checking her notes. She got to a part and she looked up and started giggling. She explained that she wrote in the margin, “This will take serious planning.” She cursed and said she had no idea what she meant but that she was certainly right!

-To finish the final chapters Jo locked herself in a hotel room. When she finished editing those chapters there was an awkward pause like she didn’t know what to do next. She just said it was done and shrugged. It was quite unceremonious.

-Right after she completed the series she told the interviewer candidly: “Some people will loathe it. That’s as it should be. For some people to love it, others must loathe it…so much expectation from the hardcore fans.” Despite this, she said that she was really, really happy with it. She liked it and admitted that she doesn’t always feel that way about her writing.

-The narrator of the documentary began commenting on the manuscript’s journey after completion. He remarked, “The process all seems so normal,” then proceeds to explain how the manuscript is printed out, taken in person to Jo’s agent Christopher Little in London. There was then a handover at Heathrow airport in a locked suitcase…ummm…what does this narrator thinks normally happens with books??

-Jo says she wished more than anything to be published and more than anything to be a writer. But it never occurred to her in a million years people would search her trash or try to interview her oldest friends or her scrutinize her children.

-At the film premiere of Order of the Phoenix she talks about how she’s expected to be like a film star but she’s a writer. Some of it’s fun and some of it’s horrible. Fun to talk to people who have read the books. Difficult to do the stagey stuff. She’s not very good at it and that doesn’t make her a better person because she’s not good at that. It’s just that people expect her to be visibly enjoying herself and sometimes she comes off as looking miserable.

-When she gets stressed, she detaches and only trusts one person, herself. Everyone else gets locked out and she has to do everything herself. I wonder if she has crit partners, etc. Probably just her agent at this point, right?

-She has trouble dealing with the level of expectation but ultimately decided it’s the best she could do and that’s how she planned it to end all along, so it was going to have to be good enough.

-At the book’s release party: “Doesn’t really matter if I get a bit drunk and disorderly; I finished the book.”

-She chose the ending because to her, personally, the most courageous thing a person could do was to climb back to normality. It’s just harder to rebuild, she says, than to destroy. ***SPOILER*** Would have been a neater ending to kill him, but it would have been a betrayal. He was her hero and had to do the most heroic thing in her eyes, rebuilding post-tragedy–both on a macro- and micro-level.

-Writers always have to know more than they put in.

-As the documentary wrapped up, Jo drew a family tree for the survivors of the series. She said writing the series was like running a race, she was going too fast and couldn’t stop. That’s why she had to keep thinking about who would make up the next generation. She wants her version of who ended up with whom, etc. to be the official version because it’s her world. And even though she doesn’t want to write anymore Harry Potter, she still thinks she should have the final say on that.

-Now Hollywood comes to her. When execs came to discuss the creation of a Harry Potter theme park she said that when she is sitting in a roomful of people trying to impress her, that is when she feels the most fraudulent.

-At the time she started writing the series she had made such a mess of her life. It was stripped down. It was freeing. She wanted to write a book, so she did. What was the worst that could happen? She got rejected? Ok.

-She visited the apartment where she began Book 1. A new family lives there and in her old room she sees her published books on the shelves. She admits its a big yawn to hear because hers is such a well-worn story by this point, but it’s her life and she didn’t expect that there would be a fairytale resolution.

-She’s now writing a story she describes as a political fairytale for older children. She’s not in a hurry to publish since she’s lived 10 years with deadlines. Now no one is expecting it or knows anything about it. It’s just like writing Sorcerer’s Stone. She can just relax.

-When asked if she feels lucky she says that having the idea was lucky. She implies the rest was work.

-She feels like less of a fraud as she gets older. She’s a born trier. Still writes because she loves it and needs it. Wants to be remembered as someone that did the best she could with the talent she had.

Saturday/Sunday Six

Started writing this on Saturday, finished on Sunday….

 

One. I finished finals! It’s not pretty, but I made it through. I’m pretty sure that people are not meant to be stationary 24 hours a day. I spent the last three weeks watching myself getting increasingly pale and seeing my muscles visibly atrophy. Lovely. I’m extremely excited to work out and photosynthesize now that I’m done!

 

Two. I made a commitment to take a writing hiatus the second half of this semester. School-wise I think it paid off, but I was happy to find that I really missed writing. In fact, today I was eager to start right in a revision and got 600 new words out. I know that’s not a ton, but after vowing that I wouldn’t let the computer melt my eyeballs for at least another week, I took this as a sign that writing is something I truly love and want to do. I’m happy to be back! 

 

Three. Something else that comes with finishing finals is…Reading!!! I got to start Melissa Marr’s Fragile Eternity this morning. My signed copy has been staring me in the face for about a week now. I think I caught a tiny sort of spoiler earlier today on one of my message boards, so that was frustrating. But, I’m still excited to finish. Still looking for suggestions for my summer reading list, though. Feel free to suggest. I’m already planning on Rachel Vincent’s Shifter series. Other than that, though, I’m wide open. My To Be Read List just got so out-of-control that I lost track of where books were on the list. So oh well. Starting a new list.

 

Four. I’ve had a brainwave. I ran it by my agent and am very excited to be adding a solid mythological basis to my WIP. I have never been one for serious amounts of research, but I have to tell you, I might be a convert! I love researching Native American lore and I think it is adding a more textured justification for my paranormal beings. I’m proud that I was able to keep an open mind and figure out what would make my fictional universe more cohesive. Hopefully I can pull it off! 

 

Five. The Harry Potter movie is quickly approaching and I have serious ants in my pants. Book People in Austin is hosting a Harry Potter Explosion event in June where the Whomping Willows and the Remus Lupins are playing. I can’t go because I’ll be working in Dallas. But if y’all can go, I’ll be jealous/happy for you.


Six. In the next week I’ll be posting reviews on Illegal by Paul Levine and Fragile Eternity amongst others I’m sure. I’ll be continuing what I learned at Agent/Editor Day. I also have a few other fun things planned. So, I’m looking forward to it. Have a great Sunday.

An Open Letter To the Significant Others of Writers On Sub

April 8, 2009

Dear Significant Others of Writers on Submission,

We know you are always trying to say the right thing, to be supportive, and to deal with our writerly nuttiness. Thank you. We appreciate your awesomeness. We really do. But sometimes we can’t help but think you need a little help in the what-not-to-say department. So since writers on sub can be a bit, well, testy–hey, you try checking your email 3,542 x per day–I’d love to help you not get your eyes clawed out or, at the very least, avoid sticking your foot in your mouth. S0und good? Great. 

First rule is that we need to be able to talk about the publishing world almost 24/7. Most girls follow celebrities on Twitter. We follow editors. And we scrutinize the publishing rumor mill more than Perez Hilton does the dysfunctional relationship that is Speidi. We know you want to change the subject because, despite what our internet communities tell us, we guess that the whole world is not fascinated by how books are made. We know this. But we can’t stop our mouths from talking about it. So, please, just let us run ourselves out of new information. Pretty please?

Second, there is this thing called Publishers Marketplace. And on it, we see all the new deals that are made each day. If you’re a Significant Other, I guess you already know this. But anyway, there is probably going to be a day when we see a new deal posted whose premise sounds suspiciously close to ours. This revelation will be followed closely by a meltdown. So, when we come to you and tell you that all is lost because so-and-so book just sold and it sounds exactly like ours don’t–I repeat–Do. Not. Say, “That does sound a lot like yours!” Or any variation thereof. Books aren’t patents, ok? Remind us that there is Twilight and Vampire Academy and House of Night and all of them, at the exact same time, do just fine. Repeat after me: “It’s all in the execution.” 

As a short interlude, I’d like to arm you with a few key phrases that will serve you well throughout this difficult time: “Your agent loved it, someone else will, too;” “It only takes one;” “I’ve read it and it’s fabulous;” “Even Harry Potter was rejected a couple times!”  Pair those with, “Here, honey, have a glass of wine” or the almost equally powerful, “Here, honey, have some chocolate” and you will be well prepared.

Now, that we have created an essential toolbox of sorts, let’s move onto something you absolutely must not say. Please do not “helpfully” remind us that it takes some authors years and years to get published. In our little heads, though we won’t say it aloud, we secretly hope that our book will sell overnight. We certainly are not thinking that after coming this far it will take years. We categorize that as a “cross that bridge when we come to it” type conversation. ‘Nuff said.

Writers are trained to ask “what if…” by trade. What if this happened to this character? What if that happened next? So, yeah, there is a fair bit of, What if I ended up at this publishing house? What if The Call comes today? Don’t remind us that we are getting ahead of ourselves. Let us plan how we will celebrate and look at where our book would fit on the shelf. That’s what has kept us writing up to this point!

Finally, please, oh, please do not make us part with our cellphones! We’re going to sit with it out everywhere we go and turning it to silent and keeping it under the table on dates is really, really hard, so try to appreciate that. You ask what would happen if we didn’t find out the good–or bad–news at the exact moment it was available–Ok, you have a point there. I’m not sure what exactly would happen. But it would be bad, we just know it. So, while we have not exactly thought out what would happen if our agent or editor called while we were on the potty, we’d figure it out. Trust us. 

Thank you for listening, friends, and may your writer have a quick sale! 

Yours Truly, 

Us

Favorite Fiction FanArt

 

Just had to share possibly the coolest version of fan art I have yet to see. Here is the link to see some of his other work or to learn more about the artist and his museum: Matchstick Marvels.

 

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizadry…

hogwartsmatchsticks

 

Tolkein’s Minas Tirith from Lord of the Rings…

 

tolkeinmatchsticks

 

 

Then I got to thinking about other sorts of fan art our favorite fiction might inspire and I thought, I wonder how many people love certain books so much that they get *ahem* more permanent versions…

 

Dumbledore…

dumbledore_tatt

 

Harry Potter…

 

harrypottertat

Snape…

snape

 

Twilight: 

 

normal_twilight_tattoo-02                     real-twilight-tattoo-twilight-series-4802713-480-6401

 

And Finally, Elf Ears, inspired by Lord of the Rings…

 

elfears

Review in Questions: I’d Tell You I Love You But Then I’d Have to Kill You

The Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women is a fairly typical all-girls schools–that is, it would be if every school taught advanced martial arts in PE and the latest in chemical warfare in science, and students received extra credit for breaking CIA codes in computer class. The Gallagher Academy might claim to be a school for geniuses, but it’s really a school for spies.

 

ityily


Cammie Morgan is a second-generation Gallagher Girl, and by her sophomore year she’s already fluent in fourteen languages and capable of killing a man in seven different ways (one of which involves a piece of uncooked spaghetti). But the one thing the Gallagher Academy hasn’t prepared her for is what to do when she falls for a boy who think’s she’s an ordinary girl.

 

Favorite thing about the book?

The voice is great. Not annoying, but still very teenager. Cammie is clever and likable. However, my favorite part was definitely the format of the book. We talked last week about first person POV and, one of my favorite things to see in a first person narrative is a creative format, a creative reason why the narrator is telling his or her story. 

In this book, the narrative is couched in a Covert Operations Report, which Cammie has been encouraged to write in order to detail her involvement in the events of the semester before. 

Obligatory least favorite thing about the book?

Not sure what happened with one of the main characters. She didn’t really play a part in the end, which was really too bad. Although, I assume she’ll play a major role in the later books. 

What was most surprising about the book?

The last page–sorry, no spoilers here. There’s a quick little sentence, though, that surprised me. 

Favorite Character?

Macey McHenry

Underlying themes?

Girl Power. I think the reader gets hammered on the head with this one. 

After this book you felt…?

Amused and happy. 

Who would you recommend this book to?

Folks that like the teenagery YA voice, but with less angst. 

Fans of Harry Potter or House of Night that are craving the boarding school-set series. 

Readers who enjoy the girl power messages of E. Lockhart. 

Finally, how long did it take you to read?

This is sort of embarrassing, but I started reading this in July of ’08! Honestly, this has nothing to do with the quality of the book. Nate read it in a day. But, I would describe it not so much as a can’t-put-it-down type book, but a happy read. I kept picking up this book when I wanted a laugh or feel amused. It’s a nice book for the nightstand and always put me in a good mood. It’s just so darn cute. 

Actually, though, my timing is good because Gallagher Girls #3 comes out soon, so y’all are just in time to read the first two if you so desire and then pick up Don’t Judge a Girl by Her Cover

 

Fenceposts for Your First Person Narrative

This week I’m going to be talking about writing in first person. I know that I struggled with the idea of writing in first person. I don’t find it the most natural mode of storytelling and always feel a bit of “Why is the character telling me this?” 

But, I’d say the vast majority of YA novels are written in first person and I’ve come to love it. First person adds voice and sympathy for the protagonist. There is no closer narrative form than that of first person. So embrace. I did.

The first work I switched over to first person landed me an agent. Of course, that’s not to say that everyone should write in first person. I love Melissa Marr’s works, written in alternating 3rd limited POV. 

Rather this series of posts is meant to help those interested in a foray into first person. And please, feel free to leave your tips and comments below. Thanks!

 

So today I’m talking about fashioning fenceposts. *So much alliteration, I can hardly handle it!* Anyway, fenceposts are something I use before I start writing. If you want to outline before this point that is more than fine. But, fenceposts are there to help you find your voice. 

I think I can explain this best through illustration. 

From I’d Tell You I Love You But Then I’d Have To Kill You by Ally Carter, narrated by Cammie:

“We waited two weeks. TWO WEEKS! Do you know how long that is in fifteen-year-old-girl time? A lot. A LOT, a lot. I was really starting to empathize with all htose women who talk about biological clocks.”

“Okay, so I didn’t know the Jacksons, much less how Granny way feeling, but Gradma Morgan had taught me that Chinese Water Torture is nothing compared to a grandmother who really wants to know something.”

 

From The Forest of Hands and Teeth (because it’s fresh in my mind) by Carrie Ryan, narrated by Mary:

“But there are times when I stand at the edge of the Forest of Hands and Teeth and look out at the wilderness that stretches on forever and wonder what it would be like if it were all water.”

“Inside it feels as though the stone walls drain the heat of the day and the hairs on my arms stand on end.”

 

Or from Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling [Not in 1st person, but definitely a fencepost for Hermione's voice]:

“Just because you’ve got the emotional range of a teaspoon doesn’t mean we all have.”

 

Ok, so of course, I don’t know what these authors did or how they started or anything like that. But what I do, prior to beginning, is talk in my characters voice. I get out a notebook and just think of random things that my narrating character would say. These become my posts. 

Naturally, the focus is not so much on what the character says, but how the character says it. 

I started with an opening line: “If the gnashing teeth ten feet behind didn’t kill me, my dad would. But that was a problem for Future Scout.” 

That was fencepost #1. 

One of my other earlier fenceposts was: “The fact that my eyes hadn’t burned crop circles in place of his nostrils felt like a small miracle. Of course God would be on his side.”

We’ll call that fencepost #2. 

 

After the creation of several more fenceposts, I’m left with a bunch of supporting structures jutting out vertically. That’s good. I’ve got them written down in no particular order, but I’m going to work with them. Because to build the actual fence, I need to constantly link back to the posts. 

Voice is about consistency. The character has to own the voice you give him or her. So these fenceposts you create are there to refer and link back to. Each sentence you write in first person has to be close enough to attach to one of the vertical posts. 

That’s the real danger with first person, I think. You want to go into some beautiful description about what the passage of time feels like, but Cammie Morgan is just going to say that it is A LOT of time in fifteen-year-old-girl time. Yanno?

Or you might want to describe the setting really eloquently. If you are writing from Mary’s perspective, you can get away with the pensive, lovely description. If you are Cammie Morgan, you can’t. Not ever ever. Never. Seriously.

So, start out by writing your fenceposts and in every sentence ask, Is that too far away from one of my fenceposts to link back to?

When I Grow Up…

 

I was thinking about what I’d like my writing career to look like. Or,  more specifically whose writing career I would like mine to resemble.  Here’s what I came up with:

 

Stephen King for his prolifity, his need to write, and they way, even though writing is his job, he’s found comfort and therapy in the process.

J.K. Rowling for her ability to improve her craft and storytelling with each of her books and her incredible knack for worldbuilding.

Melissa Marr for her gift of describing for all the senses and for her love of the creative process.

Carrie Ryan for her tenacity in pursuing and succeeding at a career in writing in the midst of braving law school and being a lawyer–very near and dear to my heart!

Jennifer Lynn Barnes for maintaining what appears to be a remarkably balanced life (pursuing a PhD, keeping up with friends, reading a zillion books a minute, and watching hours of TV–how does she do it?) and for working to recover the joy of writing.

Neil Gaiman for writing awesome comics and equally awesome novels and for his ability to expand his writing into virtually all possible mediums.

Laurie Halse Anderson for being able to write successfully two very different genres.

There are so many other fabulous authors out there who have influenced me and encouraged me and whose careers I would love to emulate. Thank you to all the awesome authors who pave the way ahead of us!

 

Status: Writing. Writing. Writing. American Idol. Lost. Real life work. Writing.