The ramblings of a freelance writer, novelist and avid reader.

Monday, August 31, 2009

HP Monday - The Chamber is Open

It’s time to start talking about Harry’s second year at Hogwarts!

What are your thoughts on the first few chapters of book #2? Back at the Dursley’s in the real world – do you take this as a beginning place – before the rabbit hole, wardrobe or tollbooth so to speak…I guess this would make platform 9 ¾ the portal into the wizarding world? It’s kind of a twist on the proverbial door into another place (sorry, I have a small obsession with liminal “in between” places) – both worlds co-exist; some people just choose not to notice.

Book 2 definitely has a message. I feel that if JK Rowling wrote this book further along in the series, many critics would call it self indulgent…sometimes I don’t really like critics. Book 2 is very much a book of classes and racism – muggles, pure blood wizards, “mud-bloods”, rich wizards, poor wizards, “squibs”, famous wizards, smart wizards, red wizards, blue wizards – oops I got carried away there at the end. Let’s not forget house elves as servants and the perceived – or real – differences between the school houses (and their founders)…oh, this class difference has been going on for a very long time in the magic world. Of course, there is the always present good vs. evil wizardry and magic.

I’ve got to be honest, book 2 is not my favorite (that’s book 3 actually), but re-reading it this time with my blog-eye perspective I think I’ve just been disgruntled. I mean shouldn’t wizards be smarter than us muggles? Their world is as messed up as ours! Yes, Ms. Rowling I get it; your books aren’t just an escape away from life, huh.

A little more on theme: The friendship thread is still prevalent. Harry seems to think his friends aren’t behind him at the beginning, but they Ron and the twins come to rescue him from the mundane muggle world – in a flying blue car. I do remember my friends rescuing me from groundings by pretending we were going to the library to study – but instead we went to a movie or out with more friends – pretty sure my mom always knew these were breakouts, but she let it happen anyway. There was never a flying car though, that would have been something.

After his breakout, Harry ends up at the Burrow – which is just about one of my favorite places in Rowling’s world! It’s a real home, no matter how small or pieced together it is. This has a lot to do with how much the Weasley’s embody good and true wizardry – yep, another theme: family togetherness. Wow, there’s a lot to talk about in this book.

I’d like to also touch on all of the misjudging or prejudging going on here – gosh there’s plenty of it – and it’s coming from every which way possible. For instance, right from the beginning the Ministry of Magic thinks the magic happening at the Dursley’s is caused by Harry – shouldn’t they know better? And just how powerful is Dobby’s magic? Why ARE the house elves servants to wizards? I see more foreshadowing here. If there are all of these different classes for wizards – imagine how they treat other magical creatures and beings that AREN’T wizards…

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Taking Time for Tea

I spent a quarter studying in London as an undergrad. It was a literature and theatre program, and like all study-abroad experiences it changed my life: I fell in love with the art of afternoon tea. Well a lot of other stuff happened too, but for this blog post we’ll stick with the tea.

I had my first afternoon tea with two girls on that trip – Megan and Tera at Harrods (paid for by friends at home – shout out to 415 peeps! – who wanted me to enjoy the experience). Looking back now, it’s hard for me to imagine what I was like before I lived in London – this is why I love travelling, you set out to discover another place, another culture and you end up revealing a little bit more of your own soul.

So, tea is still a pretty big part of who I am and I still enjoy it with my friends Megan and Tera: Apparently unlike Vegas, things you do in London don’t stay in London. Wow, how do you all take me seriously? Yeah, so tea; good stuff in many different forms! You should try it if you haven’t – herbal, black, green, white, rooibos, chai or oolong, there are so many different kinds out there to treat yourself to.

I received a wedding shower gift last year in the form of a tea of the month subscription. Every month I get two boxes of tea in the mail. I decided this would be a great gift for my tea friends, but turned it into tea-and-treats-every-time-we-get-together. Last week I baked some Amish Friendship Bread and packed it up with some summer type teas like White Peony and Pomegranate Oolong.

There’s something about baking or cooking for friends. Finding the right combinations of tea and tea snack goodies is really a lot of fun (even if some of their husbands eat all of the goodies before anyone else can…it just means it was really good bread, right?!). I think the bread came out well – if you’ve never tried the friendship bread, it has a cinnamony coffee cake flavor…but so much better. The starters are out there – and if you don’t have a starter, or you let yours go, there’s plenty of websites with recipes on them. You can also put different stuff in, try different versions and even make muffins instead of bread. I’ve tweaked my recipe a little, but it’s mostly the original recipe I received. Plus, wow does it smell good.

What’s so great about afternoon tea you ask? Well, it takes a good hour and a half to two hours if you do it right. There’s lots of tea, some fun and tiny sandwiches, yummy desserts and scones. Most importantly there is lots of talking and sharing with friends…the best part of afternoon tea by far. Taking time for tea every once in a while is actually like slowing down time to look around and enjoy what life has to offer. It’s both energizing and reflective at the same time.

Like everything else I’ve been reevaluating lately, my extensive knowledge of tea, little tea shops (for some reason I want to say shoppes in reference to tea) and tea sellers makes me think this is something else I can be – and should be – writing about. There’s my next goal/new idea – putting together a tea book. Since this means trying out lots of recipes, as well as different gathering/tea themes – you may be getting a lot of tea related blogs in the near future. Alas, you can’t all try the baked goods to tell me which ones are best, but your input will be greatly appreciated.

Oh, book club themed teas…I might have to start with that!

Monday, August 24, 2009

HP Monday - Themes and Characters

Well I read ahead and am now about 100 pages into book #2, but I still want to give everyone a month for each book, so I’m trying to figure out how to approach this post. I think I’m going to be a little scholarly here and briefly touch on themes and motifs in Harry Potter. Yep, if you’re in high school or college you have to start thinking about this stuff again; summer is almost over.

OK, now that I’ve just alienated a large chunk of my audience (I’m really just trying to pressure you into commenting so we can talk about whatever you all want to talk about…hint…hint) I’m returning briefly to some major themes I see developing. Love is a huge one, and I love that it is the multi-faceted love that includes family, friends, school work, wizardry, sports, magical creatures, evil AND romantic love – it’s all in there right from the beginning. Although the first book delves into each of these a little, I really like what they say about the love of a mother for her child. There’s Harry’s mom who pretty much gave her life to save her son AND left that mark of love on him as a super-strong protection which foreshadows nicely for the last book (both Mrs. Malfoy and Mrs. Weasly are mothers after all) and it’s not something Voldermort (Do I have to type in here he-who-must-not-be-named? That’s really long) can’t see coming, doesn’t comprehend and will never learn from (again foreshadowing for future books).

Why is Harry’s mother’s love a good thing for Harry but Mrs. Dursley’s love for Dudley is extreme enough to make him a fat, bully and quite literally a pig (well, at least the tail)?

Does anyone else find themselves wondering what kind of school Rowling went to? Hogwarts is so very well thought out; as a writer I wonder if this is because she had a good experience in school or a really bad one. You know, one where she needed to use her imagination to make it better, more magical to survive. The school and learning is a theme, but since this series at its base is a tale about a boy’s journey from childhood to manhood, that’s not really a surprise – but the details are impressive. Hogwarts is definitely a character all its own – which is impressive since it has no lines or thoughts of its own.

Other themes that would be fun to discuss: friendship (we’ve touched on this in previous posts and comments a little), Quidditch, fate, mythology, prophesy, free will, faith and of course the line between good and evil. Or, feel free to bring up your own (plants or the color yellow possibly?!) or talk about anything else. If you know me, you may also know that my undergrad thesis was on the Hero Quest – so be warned that subject may come up in a post later on.

As we move into book #2 we can continue to think about these themes and move on to other fun stuff like house-elves and flying cars; Floo powder and the opposite of Diagon Alley – Knockturn Alley.

Questions for all: Did you like the first book? Do you think it is all overrated? Are there any other movie thoughts?

My last thoughts on book 1: All of the ideas floating around in a writer’s head like stars in an inky black sky, swirling around till they form images, shadows and then concrete structures, breathing characters and a million different textures. Writing a book is a magical process – writing seven while developing your own world with laws and games and words all its own must be one of the most amazing experiences…well, on to book two everyone!

Monday, August 17, 2009

HP Monday – Where’s Neville?

I had a very Harry Potter weekend myself. I went to the Harry Potter exhibition at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago on Friday. I highly recommend it to any one who likes the books, movies, or just likes seeing movie props in real life. I was also finishing up book number one in and around Chicago and watched the first movie last night to cap off the weekend.

I was surprised at how similar the book and movie are – I don’t remember that at all. I remember thinking they were really, really different actually. Of course, we could get into how they are different, and list off all of the details missing from the movie (and if that’s what you want to post about, feel free) but that’s the problem with every book to movie translation. I even found one thing in the movie that’s not in the book – and I really always thought it was. The scene where Hermione finds Harry and Ron on the train and Ron performs his turning-scabbers-yellow spell and then Hermione tells them all spells are easy and fixes Harry’s broken glasses – not in the book; she doesn’t perform a spell at all, just says the ones she’s tried have all worked.

Walking around the exhibit in Chicago with all the movie props you can’t help but be impressed by the world that’s been created. If my books ever make it this far, I’ll be so impressed – someone took my words and then created this whole thing with all of these tiny details. Rowling must admire things like the posting board for Gryffindor house with notes and names and a million little things she didn’t have time to think of while writing her story. Or, she may have thought them up but then she had to delete them from her manuscript or she would have never been able to sell it. Imagine if one of your deleted thoughts, ideas – or just random small thing that you never wrote down but always imagined while writing – actually shows up on screen, because a director, or cinematographer or set designer read your words and thought it up too. There was a Great Hall room in the exhibit, and I was totally impressed by this chocolate hat with chocolate bunnies coming out of it – as a reader I’ve thought of things like that…I’m going to have to try and recreate that one!

I get why there is no Peeves in the movie – it’s an extra plot-line that could be eliminated; and Peeves is kind of obnoxious. I even get why they play down the two oldest Weasleys (Charlie and Bill) even though I like both characters a good deal. But I don’t get the mixing up which characters are in which scenes? Why is Neville not with Hermione, Ron and Harry when they meet Fluffy for the first time? Why is Neville not part of the detention in the forest with Hermione, Harry and Malfoy (and why is Ron there)? Neville’s actions at the end of the book and movie seem much more heroic when you know he’s been suffering along with Hermione and Harry in the wrath of all other Gryffindors for loosing all of those house points. I can’t figure this one out at all. The scenes play out mostly the same; I just keep wondering where Neville is.

I like the obstacle course in the book better. The gauntlet the trio has to run at the end is really entertaining in the book – I miss the potion (if for the logic puzzle alone) and troll sections. I liked knowing that each professor put their own twist on the trials to get to the stone, and that all three children needed to be there to get through it. Although, I really do like Ron’s speech in the movie as he sits on his horse and waits for the queen to knock him down.

So, what do you think? Movie thoughts, book thoughts, book and movie thoughts? After reading and watching, do you feel the movie took any liberties? Does it assume you’ve read the book or does it stand alone? If you’ve already seen the movie and this is the first time you’re reading the book, do you get more out of the movie now?

Oh, and if that girl who reminded me so much of Hermione from the HP exhibit who lost her bag of souvenirs and tried to take mine at the train station is somehow reading this; I apologize. It really was my bag and not yours, but my husband tells me I was mean to you and I should have just opened up my bag and showed you what was inside instead of saying you could look inside if you wanted to (which apparently I did in an accusing tone). I really hope you found your souvenirs, wherever you are.

Next week we will wrap up book one and look ahead to book two – that pesky chamber and all those spiders. Watch the movie if you haven’t yet and post your comments!

Monday, August 10, 2009

HP Monday – A Stone by Any Other Name…

So, right off the bat I have to apologize. This is the first time I’ve re-read the first Harry Potter book since completing a rough draft of my own novel – my perspective is totally different now. I remember enjoying book 1, I remember liking the arc of the story as well as the storyteller qualities; but I’ve kind of always thought JK Rowling grew into her writing; like it wasn’t really that good to begin with. And (I can’t believe I’m admitting this in a post that will soon be right out there in cyberspace for anyone to read) I always felt like if I had come up with the idea of the first book I might have done a better job. Wow, I am SO wrong! JK Rowling has got it going on right from the beginning. I can’t believe her foreshadowing skills – and her plot braiding is ridiculous…

I’d really like to know what everyone is thinking. Are you enjoying the re-read? Is this your first time reading it? I’m ecstatic about the first week if only to see someone pick up this book for the first time – and hopefully she will get her children (Seriously Demolition Duncan: Do you know who your parents are? How can you NOT be into this stuff?) to read them too.

I’d like to point out that reading the Philosopher’s Stone version has me asking my British husband lots of questions. Evenings go much like this now:
“What’s a cine-camera?” I ask as I read about Dudley’s mound of birthday presents.
“It’s a movie camera. An 8mm hand held predecessor of the camcorder.” My husband replies.
“Huh, so what does the US version call it then – a video camera or something?” I wonder out loud.
My husband is very patient with me sometimes, and at this point he actually pauses the Wii, gets up from the living room chair and goes into his office to find his copy hiding on an upper shelf somewhere. I just keep reading.
“Yes, video camera is correct.” He answers from the doorway of his office. Then I can hear him half climbing up the shelf to replace the book.
“Huh, so when Mrs. Dursley says Dudley’s first word is shan’t, is that actually his first word in the US version?” I ask a second later.
My husband has just made it back to the living room where I hear a little sigh as he turns around to go fetch the book again. I really should look up and acknowledge his acrobatic acts of book discovery; especially when I hear one hit the floor and an exasperated, inaudible comment follows. But I just keep reading, engrossed in the letters flooding into the Dursley house and the madcap drive to the shack on the rock.
“His first word is won’t.” He replies from the doorway again.
“Thanks.” I mutter and then turn back to my book.
You will all be happy to know that both versions are now sitting on the table for easy reference.

After Karen’s comments on the Philosopher’s stone and her children, I asked my husband if there was some sort of English story to go along with kids being interested enough in the title to read this book. He wasn’t sure, but thought it sounded familiar enough for me to do a quick google search…So yep, it’s a world-mystery – not just English – relating to the study of Alchemy. Apparently the goal of Alchemy is this stone and it is used to perfect any substance or situation. Now – modern times – the Philosopher’s stone is a symbol of true, incorruptible wisdom: Using both the right and left sides of the brain with the intuitive knowing of the heart (

OK – so after that enlightenment – many more points going to JK Rowling! You don’t have to dumb-down your advanced learning to speak to children or young adults. Alas, I do wonder know why the US version changed the title at all? Especially as this was the only title they changed…

For those who’d like something to discuss this week: What are your first interpretations/impressions of Hogwarts? What does Harry see when his eyes are finally opened to the world of magic (I was blown away by the undercurrents in the Leaky Cauldron and Diagon Alley during Harry’s shopping trip with Hagrid)? What kind of wand would Mr. Ollivander have found for you? Or again, whatever you want to talk about/say. Comment away! If you’ve finished book 1 already, watch the movie this week. I may blog a little about the movie next week as well, so everyone has some time to comment about it before we move onto book 2. Feel free to read ahead too; I know book 5, 6 & 7 are twice as long as 1 & 2. The rest of us will catch up eventually.

Happy reading!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Acquired Reading: The Love of a Good Magazine

Today I’m tooling around the magazine shelves at Barnes & Noble looking for prospective short-term employers: Who wants to publish (and pay for) an article by me?! There are so many to choose from – shelves upon layered shelves of magazines on every subject; which one will I choose to solicit next? Each magazine is a bright, scrumptious fruit in the jungle of freelance anonymity – pick the right one and I could be famous…I’ll settle for just published!

I like Barnes & Noble for their variety. Want to read a magazine on Colombian coffee? There’s one at Barnes & Noble for you. Want to learn how to knit with only wool from a lamb named Baa-rty living on the side of Blaven in the Isle of Skye? Surprisingly, there’s a magazine at Barnes & Noble for you too. OK, I may have exaggerated on that last one, but you get the picture.

Back to topic: The most productive way to pitch an article is to find the publication that needs your words and ideas the most – if they need you as much as you need them, you are almost guaranteed a job. Once I’ve narrowed it down I get myself to the library and do some major research on a couple particular publications by looking at back issues to see if they’ve already done something similar to my idea. It’s not always bad if they have because you can work off that knowledge and pitch a continuation or more in depth piece; but sometimes it means no, they’ve been there and done that – move on to someone else.

As I’m searching through the jungle laid out in front of me, I can’t help but smile sardonically. Maybe you have to know a little bit about my love/hate relationship with magazines to fully understand the irony of my current situation. And maybe you have to understand me a little more than this blog will let you to understand how utterly fascinating – and truly enjoyable – that knowledge is…and why I wouldn’t trade my current situation at all, not even a little bit. Let’s stick with the magazines for today.

I used to see magazines as reading nuisances. They don’t have the same smell or flavor of books – even textbooks (gasp) are preferable. I can count on one hand the magazine subscriptions I’ve actually had in my life. There are a lot of things I don’t like about magazines. I don’t like the little postcard-sized subscription cards that pop out every time you turn a page. I don’t like the super-concentrated cologne samples that give you a headache and smear the words as you try to read while wiping your hands on the shiny cover in a vain attempt to get the stench off; because inevitably the sample always rips open, spraying you with a blast of something that may have smelled good originally, but is now mixed with paper, glue and other perfume samples into a cacophony of evil potpourri. I also really don’t like the amount of advertisements – from a marketing standpoint I get them, some of them may even work on me – but I don’t have to contend with these attention distracters while reading a book. Mostly, I don’t like the break-up in flow. If I’m into my article on the benefits of yoga and meditation, I don’t want to have to find page 125 in mid-sentence.

At this point you are wondering how I can possibly be a freelancer; right? Why I’ve chosen to make this my career? I can and I do because once you make it past all of the stuff I just talked about (and most people really don’t have a problem with that – just throw the postcards and samples away before you start reading – how lazy are you anyway?) some of the content in magazines far outweighs the content in the latest mystery or YA book I’ve read. It’s uplifting, it’s motivational; it is smaller, intense doses of good literature and it is geared toward a target audience who can’t stop seeking knowledge on the subject at hand: Magazines are pure dead brilliant! How lucky am I?

Monday, August 3, 2009

Book Club Blogging or Harry Potter Mondays

When I was thinking about starting this blog and what it would all be about, I realized a major part of who I am is an avid reader. Since I write mid-grade and YA fiction, I guess it only makes sense that I read quite a bit in these genres as well. And before you can say hocus pocus (not that anyone ever would…and I can’t believe I just did) the idea of designating one day a week in this space to a sort of book club type forum was born.

I’ve tried book clubs and really don’t like them. I have friends who love the idea and I really enjoyed The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler; it always ends up to be one of those things that must work better in theory. But blogging a book club seems intriguing – with the potential of oh-so-many discussions and followers…woo hoo!

As you’ve already guessed by the title of this blog, I’m starting with the Harry Potter Books – right at the beginning with book #1. Why? Well, like many other muggles, I keep meaning to re-read all 7 books in the series. I never quite get there though – I think I’ve now read books 1 – 3 about 4 times each, but I’ve only read 5 – 7 once. Also, with the mixed reviews from the recent movie (number 6 in the series) I think it’s a good time to re-watch all of those as well.

Brilliant plan #2: Read a book, watch the movie, blog about both and open your blog up for discussions. I’m so smart sometimes! Or just a really big nerd; the jury is still out.

So here we are.
For anyone who wants to join me, I’m starting book #1, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – or if you’re reading my copy purchased in London in 1998 Harry Potter and Philosopher’s Stone (Yep, that’s right. I was totally ahead of the curve on this one). One month for each book in the series should do it. I’ll try to write something every Monday to get the discussion ball rolling, and then the first Monday of every month will be designated movie discussion day. For those in the area who want to come over I might even have movie viewing nights at my house.

If you need to discuss something this week how about the difference in titles – maybe American kids wouldn’t pick up something with the word philosopher in the title? Character studies on the Dursleys would be interesting too. It’s a children’s book (debatable as well) but a lot of the first chapter is pretty much from an adult – and a muggle to boot – perspective; why is that? Or just about anything else anyone wants to discuss...

Ready. Set. Go.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

New Motto for a New Blog

I received a facebook message from a friend recently asking for a critique on her writing. She included a poem in her text for me to look at. The message came with a warning: “I’m insecure about my writing and tend to shut down when discussing it, but I trust your voice and value your opinion”.

Although I do think I was treading on thin ice when I responded with my critique – and I would like to state right here in my blog that it was an amazing poem that paints a moving picture – what struck me more than even her writing sample was that simple warning phrase, “I tend to shut down when discussing my writing”.

Amen sister! We all shut down to a point; bearing your soul is NEVER easy and I think it’s what stops many potential writers from following through. Heck, it still stops me in my tracks almost every day. A writer needs to get used to rejection – because it WILL happen – but I can’t think of a better way to start my blog. And again to that friend out there who may be reading this: Please, please, please keep on writing. Work through the pain and fear to find the exhilaration of painting that perfect word picture. It’s SO worth it!

I do feel like I’ve been forced to blog. I’m not complaining; it’s something I’ve thought about doing for awhile, but freelancers need to post musings so editors can check out their style. A pitch can only take you so far in today’s social networking society - and so here I am blogging. Soon I’ll be forced to tweet too; and then what will I do?! Those who know me know I refer to all things Twitter as “tweety-twatting” and I hate it. If you really want to know the minutia of my existence then this probably isn’t the blog for you. And may I suggest you get a life while you’re at it…seriously…right now. Stop reading this.

For everyone else, this is where you can find the ramblings of a freelance writer, novelist and avid reader. I learned a life lesson three months ago when I lost my day job; instead of taking the lackluster jobs my old company offered, I decided to turn to my passions to make a living. I will no longer use the office job as an excuse for my unfulfilled dreams and ambitions! I will no longer (or less seldom) shut down when someone rejects my writing – or gives it a scathing critique!

I’ve honestly never been happier and I’d like to share those lessons with anyone who will listen – or read – them. Write. Read. Live. It really is that simple.