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

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

HP Monday – Flashbacks and Other Stuff Found in the Middle

Meanwhile, back on Privet Drive Harry is inflating his Aunt and hitching a ride on the Knight Bus. Harry is such a thirteen-year-old, it’s really rather brilliant. After re-reading this one I find myself trying to qualify WHY it’s my favorite. Because it still is; I found a lot of things I didn’t like about it – one I’m basing this post on – but I still really enjoy it! Why is that? Does anyone else feel the same; or have an idea about why I like it so much?

This post is going to be a little bit everywhere. I’m trying to throw out a bunch of different thoughts to pick up some comments and get a discussion going…bare with me.

One thing I like about most of Rowling’s writing – her ease at showing the reader her own made up world. I can really picture it all. I’ve found – in doing a lot of YA and mid-grade reading in the fantasy and sci-fi genres – there are many authors who don’t explain their worlds well (I’m citing Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series here) and it can just be confusing. Flashbacks are difficult in any writing, they work much better in movies, but not impossible. There are 101…thousand books out there with telling instead of showing; flashbacks in straight forward writing. Alas, after such a brilliant flashback in the second book (Tom Riddle SHOWING Harry his false memory of Hagrid as the Heir of Slytherin) Rowling does an awful lot of telling flashbacks here.

I know she knows better than that – the penseive in upcoming books is a brilliant way to show flashbacks; I wish I’d thought of it! So why can’t there be more showing here?! Yes, there’s lots of good stuff and showing too – the Dementors and the entire Time-Turner scenes show flashback in an intriguing and entertaining way.

This book is very much a middle of the series sort of book. Although there are a lot of things happening: back story, foreshadowing, escapades, court trials, divination and lots of Quidditch; the story we really see belongs to Harry, Ron and Hermione. The focus seems to be on each and their relationships with each other; everyone else sort of falls by the wayside.

That's very junior high too, isn't it? I had two best-friends at that age. We kept a notebook journal that we passed back and forth between each other; and now, when I look back and read what we wrote I find we were all very ego-centric. It was all about us - who we had a crush on, which teachers we liked, which we hated, and so on. I wonder what else was going on in the big wide world during those years?

Anyone else out there have an opinion? How is book 3 going? Do you like more or less than #2? My husband would also love if you comment on the picture for this post as well; he had a little too much fun with this one.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

HP Monday – Ginny, the Phoenix and Other Fiery Things

Sorry, I had technical difficulties with the blog this week…or my computer, probably both. Whatever, as long as it all works now!

I have a few comments about book 2 before we move onto three. I think of book two as a book of discovery. Some of those discoveries aren’t great – like the fact that giant spiders really exist AND they want to eat you – and some are kind of awesome: Friendship, loyalty and love really do exist AND it isn’t that hard to belong. Also, socks are really important – which only sucks if you loose yours to the washing machine or dryer gods as frequently as I do.

There are some really nice speeches in book 2 – which leads me to voice. At the end of the story, Dumbledore gives a grand speech on the choices we (or Harry, but he’s us, isn’t he?) make determining who we are. Good or Dark wizard, it all depends on each individual – not their family, race, or school house. Because the speech is coming from Dumbledore we are more likely to believe it. Much like Hermione’s writing (not words, since she’s been petrified) pipes makes the reader mark it as the truth. I hadn’t realized just how much Rowling chooses which characters say what until reading this book. Don’t get me wrong, I realize how important voice is to a book – or movie for that matter. If a character says something that doesn’t ring true to their identity, we as the reader or watcher tend to discredit the book or movie. If two characters seem to be saying the same sorts of things, a good writer might get rid of one and put all the words into one voice (although, speaking from experience, that is hard to do – it’s like killing part of you – but maybe that second character can be used in a different story further down the road). But Rowling uses her characters traits and voices to create emotions and moods inside the reader; it’s manipulative and amazing because it works! If Lockhart had given this speech, you’d think it was far-fetched or somehow egotistical, but not believable. Snape would have put a sarcastic twist on it, sounding more like Harry had made the wrong choice by wanting to be in Gryffindor, but the actual words could have been the same – or very similar.

I keep going back to the whole “Life isn’t fair” adage. I think I learned this at the age of twelve, or somewhere around there. Aragog – although a monster – can be wrongly accused, and Hagrid can go to Azkaban even though no one really thinks he belongs there. Mrytle can die because she was crying in a bathroom and the real Heir of Slytherin can earn honors because he accused someone else. Teachers can be idiots or biased and parents can be evil incarnate, people with good intentions can harm you and your son’s stupid choices can put your job on the line. Yep, life isn’t fair at all, valuable lesson to be learned so definitively at this age. So, back to choices: What are you going to do about it? Save the girl AND the school all while staying true to yourself and loyal to your friends. Yes Harry, it looks like you’ve made all the right choices…for now.

We will get right into book number 3 on Monday (Really! Keep your fingers crossed and hopefully my computer won’t blow up). One thing wrangling me a little about book 3 – where’s Ginny? For having so much face time in book 2, she’s all but disappeared in the next one.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

HP Monday – Movie Notes

I’m going to start out by stating my like for the HP movies. They’ve got a lot of material to work with and I really do realize you just can’t get everything in there. I also realize some things need to be re-worked for staging and acting purposes. Dobby can’t be cheap either in all of his CG glory. Maybe John Cleese wanted a lot of money so there could be no Death Day party, who knows? But yes, I really do enjoy the movies, I promise.

And here it comes…

I just don’t get the Knockturn Alley scene in this movie?! What’s the point? There’s no Malfoy exchange, no ministry raids discussion and back door dealings. Nope, in the movie Harry speaks unclearly when using floo powder, ends up at Borgin and Burkes, almost gets mugged by an old hag and Hagrid swoops in and gets him back to Diagon Alley and the Weasleys. It is pretty much a done deal scene with lots of exposition and not a lot of content.

But in the book, this is a pivotal scene. This is Harry’s first real look (that’s arguable, feel free to jump in here) at both sides of the wizarding world post-Voldermort. Sure, he’s seen/heard what the wizarding world was like while Voldermort was in power; and probably even knows there are still those who wish Voldermort and the death eaters were running things. But to actually see the places and people in Knockturn Alley…to actually see the kid you don’t like at school’s dad act far worse than the kid?! These are lessons Harry learns in Knockturn Alley – and then those lessons are echoed again in Flourish and Blotts – someplace Harry is familiar with and feels safe at. Alas, none of this comes across in the movie (unless you watch the deleted scenes, then you can see a longer Borgin and Burkes scene complete with Lucius and Draco Malfoy – as well as the hand of glory) and I miss them.

I DO like Hermione fixing Harry’s glasses again, tying in the first movie (in the book it is Mr. Weasley) and the comment about the butterflies is just brilliant. The giant spiders are scary and not just silly when shown on the screen; although the scene in the book gives me chills. Moaning Myrtle and Gilderoy Lockhart are really well played while the polyjuice potion and slug eating are as disgusting as my imagination made them out to be. In all I think the second movie does a decent job portraying the themes and issues Rowling deals with in the second book – albeit with some lighter fare, but it still confronts the issues.

Flying Car or Amusement Park Ride?

The flying car, which we’ve already discussed as a pretty good metaphor for teenage rebellion works in the movie, but I do feel they went a little overboard – it’s not a roller coaster ride – that’s a different metaphor entirely!

So what are your opinions on the movie? Did you like it? Does it work for you? Who do you like better in the movie because of how their character is portrayed? Vice versa? Next week we will finish up with book 2 and move on to Prisoner of Azkaban. I’d like to discuss Ginny and character voice in book 2 next week so feel free to leave your thoughts on those topics as well.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

HP Monday…Er, Wednesday: What’s in a Name?

Everyone’s comments made me think so much this week; I needed extra days to gather my thoughts. Wow, thanks for your responses and I’m glad everyone seems to be enjoying this blog book club forum. I promise to go back to Monday next week…really!

Harry Potter as compared to Moby Dick – or Rowling vs. Melville, that’s not something I’d thought of before, but the argument is well thought out and has merit. I need to think through that one more (you can’t make me go back and re-read Melville – Moby Dick or Bartleby) but yes, I see what you’re saying about a farce-like allegory. I agree with you whole-heartedly on archetypes – Ginevra too – it’s the Italian form of Guinevere so Rowling’s found a way to tie her too her name even more.

Names too, I love Rowling’s names. She obviously is well-read and uses names to signify meaning – or really as a tool to suggest foreshadowing and character traits (i.e. Professor Sprout, Lupin (Remus for that matter), Sirius & Regulus, Malfoy). I’ve thought about Tom Marvolo Riddle too – my husband laughs every time at the “I am” part of Voldermort’s name, but what better way to clue young readers into an anagram than by calling out ‘riddle’. It’s brilliant in its simplicity.

Who’s enjoying Gilderoy Lockhart on this read? I’m raising my hand (you just can’t tell). I’m wondering if Rowling has strong opinions about Sue Grafton? Working your way through the alphabet of murders must be like working your way through the alphabet of defense against the dark arts…I’d like to peruse Magical Me if only I could get my hands on a copy. He’s narcissistic to such an extreme – kind of the opposite of Harry, who’s still trying to be discreet about his fame.

Memory seems to be a strong theme in this book. Lockhart is really on good at the memory charm and when it backfires on him, he’s lost his complete memory. The memory of Tom Riddle is essentially the bad guy in this book. Harry is plagued with memories of his sorting and thinks he may belong in Slytherin, Moaning Mrytle’s memories hold the key to the book’s solution and conclusion. In fact most of the resolution comes from memory – Aragog’s, Hagrid’s, Mrytle’s, Hermione’s on a piece of paper…and so on – great foreshadowing for the pensieve in upcoming books!

Finally, to touch a little on the feminism issue in last week’s comments – I get what you are saying, Hermione does get left out in the ‘action’; but the boys would never get anywhere without her. I mean really, can you imagine Ron and Harry without Hermione? It’s just not possible. And as for Bellatrix being the strongest witch…craziest yes, but strongest? I just don’t know. I think you’d have to say the strongest magic in the world; the most powerful, live saving magic is still Lily’s love for Harry. And I think you could argue that Harry’s good choices (and choice is SO a theme in this book as well as the series…I think you can make an argument that it is the only thing separating Harry and Voldermort) really boils down to all of the female persuasion in his life (and Dumbledore, yes I didn’t forget) but Hermione, Ginny, Molly, Tonks (he wants to be an Auror after meeting her), Luna, McGonagall and his mother (through memories again) all have a say in his decision making.

On Monday I will post on the movie as well, so we can talk about both before moving onto book 3. Thanks again for your comments and discussions!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Dancing with Mitzi

Sorry in advance for my lack of humor today. This is one of those venting posts where I mostly just need to write out my feelings before I go insane.

So, I’ve been fighting – well not really – with a magazine about an article. I say fighting because I originally received a positive response for a pitch, then went about ironing out the contract with the editor, only to have the editor get laid-off. Not surprisingly, the new editor was less than thrilled to take any articles the old editor had agreed on that hadn’t been signed to a contract yet.

I’ve pitched the article to a couple other places and offered to submit this article on spec. On spec – or speculation – means the magazine can do whatever they want with the article – publish it or not – and they don’t have to pay me if they don’t want to. Why would anyone do this you ask? Well, to get the darn thing published!! Why do I want this article published so badly? Well, it’s about this really wonderful woman who’s lived this amazing life and I’d love for her to see her story in print. To make matters worse, I found out today that she has been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, making this article all that more important.

I’m leaving my pitch here, and in a couple of weeks if I don’t hear back from those pitched magazines, I’m going to post the article here too. Your good thoughts, prayers, wishes, chi energy, whatever you have to spare would be greatly appreciated. Not just for the publishing of this article but more – and most – importantly the improvement in health of my friend and anyone else who’s struggling with a life threatening illness.

In 1942, President Roosevelt signed Public Law 689 – the Navy Women’s Reserve Act – enabling women to enlist in the reserve branches of the Navy. These women became known as WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Services).

At the age of 20, Mercedes ‘Mitzi’ Ward – with two letters of recommendation from outstanding members of her Minneapolis community and her parents’ consent – joined the ranks of the WAVES and was shipped to a Navy hospital in San Diego for the duration of WWII and six months.

I’m contacting you to pitch a profile of Mitzi, whom I met while working my first part-time job in high school – cashiering at a local grocery store where Mitzi still demos frozen pizzas and other food on the weekends. I still visit her frequently at the store to listen to her tales, and for the pure motivation she inspires in those who listen. This story will highlight just some of the most fascinating aspects of her life: her activities with the WAVES during WW II – focusing on Mitzi’s job rehabilitating amputee soldiers by teaching them to dance; visiting some of the big band dance halls/hotels of California; and dancing with a young G.I. named Gene Kelly. Although she’s now in her eighties, Mitzi still has a mischievous sparkle in her eyes and a young, sly smile. Her sense of humor is almost as strong as her no-nonsense demeanor. She is an Everywoman who still remains active in her Minnesota community. In her own words, Mitzi’s lived. She’s (literally) danced through life with an undying optimism that makes her story relevant to your target audience: smart, savvy women who enjoy empowering histories and profiles.

As an experienced copywriter, I’m skilled at self-editing my work. You can expect a well-researched and fact checked feature article for your Life section. Mitzi’s dance through life is a choreographed journey worth taking. Thank you for your consideration.

I’d like everyone reading this post to really think about talking to friends, relatives, teachers, anyone about their lives. Listen to your friend’s favorite life experience, and feel free to comment/post those stories here. There are a lot of good stories around that may be lost if we don’t start listening to each other.
I'll step down off of my soap box now, thanks for listening.