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

Thursday, October 29, 2009

HP THURSDAY – What Dementors Mean to Me

This week I made a library run for some reference material to use during November (National Novel Writing Month – aka: NaNoWriMo). I’m branching out this year, from my usual YA urban fantasy routine and adding in a bit of the Mystery genre. One of the books I checked out is by Gillian Roberts. In the book, Roberts lists her 15 Commandments for writers who want to get published (she states, “Writing commandments on a computer is much easier than carving them in stone, so I’ve listed half again as many”). All 15 are amazing, and I just may start putting one in each blog I post, but number 15 gave me an AH-HAH! moment that sent chills down my spine in regards to JK Rowling and specifically book #3.

Here’s the commandment in full:
XV. Thou shalt not believe in writer’s block.
Under all the words and mystique spun around it, writer’s block is old-fashioned fear: fear of yourself, of others’ opinions, of not being good enough or new enough or clever enough. Fear of the critical voice of parents, lovers, teachers or the neighbor who thinks you should spend your free time mowing the lawn. Fear of exposing your secret self and finding it unworthy. Fear, as the man said, of fear itself.
What’s to be done about it? See commandment XIII, on writing as an act of courage. Acknowledge that writing makes you vulnerable. No matter that your firsthand experience of murder is nil; that you in no way resemble your protagonist, villain or victim; and that you’ve never lived in Ancient Crete, where your mystery is set. Even so, your values, which are your real self, are going public via your work, and self-exposure is daring and frightening.
But if you can free yourself to understand that you are complexly human—and so are your readers—and if you put that honest revelation on paper, you’ll have a heady, liberating and exhilarating adventure.
That said, you’re ready for the trip—ready to apply your rear to a chair, stare down your devils and make words happen until you have a mystery. And ready to enjoy yourself in the process!
- Gillian Roberts’ You Can Write a Mystery

And she’s right – I hate writer’s block – AND writing is scary stuff. Opening yourself up to the critique of others is one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done. Yet, I do it every week in this blog; and every time I hit the send button to publish my post I get a heavy sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, followed quickly by a thrilling heart-rising-into-my-throat exhilaration. Who knew writing was a mad-cap roller coaster ride!

But, back to my epiphany: Alas, it is more about Rowling and the writer’s POV than the book; although that in itself pertains to the book. Yes, I’ve confused myself too. Anyway, when I read that first part about writer’s block being fear of fear itself and knowing – from first hand experience – just how soul-sucking writer’s block can be. And, if you let writer’s block get to you enough and you loose your ability to write, finish the chapter, finish the book, whatever; as a writer you’ve lost your soul completely and life becomes an empty shell of existence. Hey, is this ringing any bells yet?! Yep, I really think Rowling took that fear and created the dementors. They ARE writer’s block. Harry’s fear of the dementors is Rowling’s fear of not completing her novel, or her series. Not seeing these characters meet their end.

Well that’s my take and I’m sticking with it.

What do the dementors mean to you? Agree to disagree if you’d like – because the beautiful thing about writing is the critique and interpretation from readers. Seriously, I know I just told you I was afraid of it, but the roller-coaster ride part of writing, means I crave it as well. I (as many writers do) need to know what the reader is getting out of my story. And sometimes we miss something that we put in there. I remember learning about all of the subplots and code in a good story in school – everything means something and we all started seeing JC characters in every single little thing we read. And at some point I remember thinking – it’s just a story about an old guy and a fish [insert Old Man and the Sea OR Moby Dick here]; why can’t it be just about and old guy and a fish? Now I realize a writer – whether they are willing to admit it or not – brings their own baggage to everything they write; whether they realize it or not. Guess what: Readers do too! So yes, I think whether Rowling realized it or not – she’s writing about writer’s block on some level. And I – as a reader who also writes – sees this and am afraid. I fear…well fear, like Harry and want to see him overcome it. Heck, I want to overcome it myself.

And that ladies and gentlemen is why I love this book so much. Every read brings me closer to these characters, this author and myself. Wow, how is that for an epiphany?

And now, before we plunge ahead into book 4, HP Mondays is taking a hiatus in November. I promise to blog weekly on my NaNoWriMo trials and tribulations and give everyone and updated word count; but I know I won’t have the extra time to give book 4 (or this blog) my full attention next month. Feel free to keep replying to the posts on book 3 – I think there is a lot of discussion that hasn’t been done. I will read and comment as I see fit.

Also, if you are participating in NaNoWriMo you are more than welcome to be my writing buddy – my user name on the site is Miranda. If you don’t know what in the heck I’m talking about then go to for further details. Also, feel free to read upcoming blogs here.

I promise to resume HP Mondays the first week in December with book #4.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

HP Monday – Why Ask Why? Just Enjoy It?

So my friend Joe (Hi Joe) writes a lot when he’s sick. He posts a lot of blogs too. I discovered last week that when I’m sick I like to curl up in bed and watch/read mindless things…and absolutely can’t stand writing a single word.

That being said, I took a break from all things in the Potterverse last week – didn’t watch or read a thing. I’m back on track now, watching the third movie this afternoon. Wow! I love this movie almost as much as I love this book. I’m beginning to wonder if I’m just a mindless fanatic and can’t use my critical analytical skills at all when it comes to HP. If true, it just won’t be as fun for this blog.

So yep, I agree with all of you: Don’t know why book 3 and movie 3 are so great, but why ask why every time. I’m just going to say there are some things that you’re just going to enjoy for no other reason than entertainment. I’m sick of trying to answer the why I like it question, so I officially give up.

I had you going there, didn’t I?! Why ask why? Well because I want to know why – hello! I’m not the type to give up on something, even if it is trying to figure out why my crazy brain works the way it does. This doesn’t mean I’m going to think about it so much I’ll miss out on the enjoyment; that would be ridiculous. But that analytical part of me just keeps niggling away at my enjoyment.

I’m breaking it down this week. And I’d like to start by saying: Until this point I really have thought of book 1 and book 2 as separate entities to movie 1 and movie 2; but not so with book and movie 3. Movie 3 seems to be an extension of book 3. As I’ve stated before, this is the first movie I felt myself getting right into the wizarding world – stretching my legs and walking around for a while picturing a grander scope than just Harry’s perspective. Now this is strange to me because I’ve already talked about this book being a Harry, Ron and Hermione love fest – I still think it’s about these three and their friendship. They’ve blocked out a lot of other characters and are really only thinking about themselves for most of it; yet the movie has more depth, more vibrancy. (Even in its muted color themes of browns, tans and oranges – Danny, movie guy, feel free to extrapolate on Cuaron’s use of surroundings, colors, and sweeping camera shots here…and that big, beautiful clock that no other director got rid of.) I can’t think of these two separately anymore – I really think I like the book so much BECAUSE of the movie and vice versa; the two compliment each other almost perfectly.

Time is a big theme in this book and movie (again with the big, beautiful clock AND the tiny Time-Turner) and although it may have been done before, I still like seeing the same three hours replay themselves from a different viewpoint in the book and the way time cannot be the same twice…or how messing with time will have effects and the unbelievable happens – i.e. Harry knows he can produce an extremely powerful patronus because he’d already done it before. Or, in the movie – Hermione sees the shells and rocks and knows she has to throw them to get herself, Ron and Harry out of Hagrid’s cottage. Don’t get me wrong, time is always a theme – as are numbers – in the realm of Harry Potter. Each book is a school year in the life and moves from birthday to end of term, Harry continues to notice in book 4 how time sometimes runs quickly and sometimes moves as slowly as a snail, time ages, time will tell, all of those adages apply; but book 3 is the only one that has extreme time manipulation. Does Hermione even use the Time-Turner after this book? So why does time have such an impact this year? And, that’s another reason I love this book and movie. As a writer I’ve always been fascinated with the way time runs – is it really linear? Does it have a beginning and an end? Can my characters manipulate it? From that writer perspective it’s a little bit like playing God – for me more than even developing characters and choosing what they say and do, when they fall in love and when they die – trying to grasp the concept of hours, minutes and days and change it around is truly mesmerizing. The fact the Rowling chooses to play with the same questions and manipulations makes me appreciate this text even more.

The one thing I didn’t like in the movie – that made more sense to my sensibilities about the internal character of Harry (and Ron, Hermione and Snape for that matter) was the scene in the Shrieking Shack when Snape walks in on the little tableau of discovering misunderstandings while creating more. In the book, Ron, Hermione and Harry all pretty sure Sirius is a good guy at this point – they’ve heard the evidence, they think Scabbers may be Pettigrew – at the least there is a seed of extreme doubt in each of their minds. So they band together and all three strike Snape with the disarming charm, knocking him out cold. In the movie, it is just Harry, and there is no reason for his trust yet, Lupin and Sirius haven’t gotten around to explaining anything. The knockout is just as strong as in the book though, but just Harry performs it…and is then chastised by Hermione for disarming a teacher.

What bothers me most about this scene in the movie is the disservice it does to Hermione’s growing and changing character. To me the essence of her character development is seeing things in a not so black and white / good and bad perception. Hermione is definitely seeing shades of grey by this point in the books and until you read the final book, I think you (at least I did) wonder just how far she can push those shades of grey before she walks on the dark side of the path. She IS a powerful and talented witch and a bit scary as Ron has pointed out, but here she comes off a goody, goody who would never think about stepping a toe out of bounds. And yes, perhaps I’ve put too much on just the one scene – both in book and movie – but it stood out both when I read the scene, and then later when I watched it.

It’s time to hear your thoughts on book and movie – or my ramblings this week. So, what do you think?

Still discussing book 3 next week – and I may take a break from HP Mondays (or whatever day I get them posted, seriously) in November so I can work on my new novel (November IS National Novel Writing Month after all) and we can pick up in December with book and movie 4.

Jibber-jabber and chat on!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

HP Monday – Firebolt vs. Marauder’s Map

Wow, it’s a little difficult to come up with things to write about this week. Not because there isn’t a lot to discuss, but because I’m trying to be as non-biased as possible. I’m really not sure what it is about book 3 – it’s not THAT good, but I’m having issues being objective.

Alright, so Mara posted last week about feminism – which is a great big, huge, gigantic, enormous can of worms to open, but I have a can opener if we want to proceed. If only Ms. Rowling were a follower or reader of this blog; I’m guessing she could shed some light on her underwriting of the female role (still don’t know if I agree with that comment, but I see your point Mara).

Can we also discuss a little bit about the really cool magical items in book 3 – i.e. totally working Pocket Sneakoscope, a kick ass (fanny, sorry) Firebolt broomstick and the best (alas, also a little dangerous) map I’ve ever heard of. Yes, even my iPod Touch is a little jealous. And the Time-Turner too…

Well, now that you all know I at least read the chapter titles of book 3 – quick question for other writers out there (readers too who have an opinion: Yes or no to chapter titles? Do you find this more of a mid-grade thing, but once you move into YA, or other fiction genres they become obsolete? Or do you like them no matter what you are writing or reading? Sorry, I digressed a little. What’s your favorite magical object and why?

I really have to go with the Marauder’s Map, for a couple of reasons:

  1. It’s ingenious – and not just for causing mischief.

  2. Look at how much magic had to go into making it. You really get a feel for just how powerful of a wizard Harry’s dad had to be (Lupin, Sirius and even Pettigrew too).

  3. The pure fun of it!

  4. The way it brings Snape down to un-professor levels. I get a feeling Harry’s eyes about popped out of his head when he read the messages Moony, Prongs, Wormtail and Padfoot wrote back.

  5. The fact that it is my favorite magical thing, even though it is dangerous and in many ways similar to Riddle’s diary in book 2 (PS – as I digress again, that is some EXCELLENT foreshadowing that was not mentioned before in our posts!)

  6. I feel it draws another parallel between Harry and Voldemort, although I’m not sure why.

  7. The Weasleys. There are so many of them and we (maybe just me here, but play along) tend to always think of them as the sidekick characters. Even when Ginny becomes was the maiden in book 2 (and again with the foreshadowing) she’s still more of a sidekick at the end of the book (yeah, feel free to argue that if you want too). But they really are quite a powerful wizarding family. A couple of headboys, even more prefects, Quidditch players/athletes, smart, funny and all of them true to their friends and house. The map, like Riddle’s diary, came to Harry through a Weasley (Fred and George are like 1 Weasley, right? OK, not even I believe that – calm down). A Weasley who unlocked the very powerful magic in the object before it reached Harry. Wow, there is so much more to this family than sidekicks.

So any other thoughts out there about anything I’ve said or you’ve read? Favorite magical item? How do you feel about the Knightbus (which I didn’t mention as one of those fun magical items before)?

We can absolutely go down the feminist path next time, if that is where your mind is headed (if we do, I’d like to again ponder where Ginny is in this book and why Cho is only in a very small scene. Although Ms. Mara, she is a female Seeker on her house's Quidditch team, which we just don’t get that much, AND she’s good at it. I feel like I’ve provoked you to tell me all about how she’s such a flat character and NOT at all helping a feminist read of this series…and you’re right, but feel free to be provoked anyway).

Next week there may be some movie discussion and I’d really like to talk about Magical Creatures now that the creepy Dementors have been introduced onto the scene. What is their role in the Harry Potter universe?

Babble. Jabber. Write.