Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Harry Potter and Enchanted, Inc.

I was such a slug yesterday, but I think I deserved the break. I've finished re-reading book 5 and am now re-reading Half-Blood Prince. It's almost like reading a brand-new book because I've only read this one once, and there's a lot I didn't remember. Even though I've already read the book, I ended up staying up later last night than I planned because a chapter ended on a kind of cliffhanger, and I truly didn't remember a thing about what happened next, so I had to keep reading. I'm going to try to slow down, since I have three days to read it, and try to absorb more this time around. That first time, I was plowing greedily through the book and I think I missed a lot.

One thing I did accomplish was getting something put together for Harry Potter night. If you're going to one of those midnight bookstore parties where you'll be trapped in a bookstore for several hours with hundreds of people you already know are into fun, quirky contemporary fantasy stories, and you want to tell them about this other series you know of they might like, in case they want something new to read after it's all over (sniff!), then this may come in handy. Of course, you can always lead them over to the general fiction section and show them the books, but if the bookstore doesn't have them in stock, I've created some things you can give them so they'll remember. There are some business-card-sized handouts that go on business-card stock, some larger postcard sized cards and some flyers. The cards are probably less obtrusive for handing out to people. The flyers are more for people who work at bookstores and have the authority to hand out or display something like that. Please don't be too obnoxious or do something the bookstore asks you not to do. They're all in Word documents, but I can convert to PDF if someone needs it that way, and I have the Avery standard for the cards listed (or you could probably print on plain paper and cut them apart). You can get to them all here on my web site. If you have more graphic design ability than I have (which is probably about 99 percent of the population), you are welcome to create your own. I feel like this is a huge opportunity to go after a big target market prone to liking these books and maybe keep our chances for book five alive.

It's probably no huge surprise that the Harry Potter series was part of the inspiration behind my books. I came to the party rather late. The first I recall even having heard of the Harry Potter books was when Goblet of Fire came out. I was on a business trip to Boston, and since I was getting USA Today at the hotel, there was a lot of coverage about the series, something I don't recall having seen in my local newspaper. There was a Borders store at the end of the block my hotel was on, and when I came back to my hotel late that Friday evening, I was surprised to see a lot of activity in an area I'd noticed was pretty much dead at night (I was staying at the Parker House downtown). There were all these kids dressed in wizard robes lined up outside the store. But I didn't go into the store or look into the books at the time.

In October of that same year, I took a vacation to England. The whole trip was fairly magical for me, but one day in particular stood out. I was staying in Oxford and took a train out to the Cotswolds for a day of hiking. The walking trail led across the countryside and through little villages straight out of a storybook. I saw all kinds of things I'd never have seen from the road or even from a train because the path led me right past secluded manor houses and through farms. It was all so perfect and wonderful that I wanted to laugh and sing out loud, and did so every so often (I think I scared some sheep). My walk ended in a town called Bourton-on-the-Water (sounds like a Harry Potter village name, huh?), and the path entered the town along the back of a row of houses. Some schoolboys sitting on the back garden wall decided for whatever reason that I was Queen Elizabeth I, and they then escorted me into town. Since they were 10-11-year-old boys, I doubt they meant it to be flattering, but I decided to go with it, and I enjoyed being led into town by a trio of boys shouting "Make way for Her Majesty!" and making trumpet calls. I had my first cream tea at a little tea shop in the town, and then I had some time to kill before the bus came that would bring me back to the train station in another town. That was when I found the bookstore. It was a perfect little book shop in one of those old honey-colored Cotswolds buildings, and they were having a sale, where you got a certain amount off if you bought a certain number of books. I loaded up on the chick lit books you couldn't get in the US at the time, but I needed one more book to get the biggest discount. I got the idea of buying the first Harry Potter book, since it had a different title in England and I thought that would make it a fun souvenir. (For photos of that day, see my LiveJournal Scrapbook, and you'll need to click on at least the second photo because that one's vertical and it doesn't all show up in that preview window.)

I didn't read the book until January, though. I think I had a feeling it would be a special book, the kind I'd end up reading in just about one sitting, so I'd need a free day, preferably a cold, rainy day perfect for curling up with a good book. I was telecommuting at the time and had a flexible schedule, so when I had a slow day in January and the weather was perfect, I plunged into the book and was totally enchanted. But I didn't rush out to get the rest of the books yet. I guess that first one stands alone more, and it didn't yet have the complex interrelationships and all the other elements that make you want to know what happens next to these people, NOW, the way the later books do. I got the next two books the following October on another trip to England. I was in Cambridge with a friend, and we stopped at the Borders so she could buy a map. They were having a buy two, get one free sale, and again I loaded up on chick lit books, but needed two more books to maximize the freebie offer, so I grabbed the "adult" editions of the next two Harry Potter books (the content is the same, but the covers are black-and-white photography instead of cartoony illustrations). I didn't read those right away, either. The first movie came out around Thanksgiving, and I saw it with my mom, and then around Christmas a friend who'd borrowed the first book returned it to me. In that slow week between Christmas and the New Year, I re-read the first book, then moved on to the next two over the next week or so.

That was when I got hooked. The fourth book still wasn't out in paperback, and I had plans to get back to England to get the British edition, so I got on the waiting list at the library. That was also when the first glimmer for the idea that became Enchanted, Inc. hit me. I was really hating my job around that time, even though I was telecommuting. My immediate boss, who really "got" me, had left, replaced by someone who seemed insecure and paranoid, and who actually shut the door on me to keep me out of crucial meetings. Then the head of our office, who was the best boss I've ever had, left, and I found out they were hiring someone I'd worked with before -- who was the one person in my professional career I'd ever had a hallway screaming match with. I had a sinking feeling my days were numbered. One morning as I was climbing the stairs to my office, I caught myself thinking about how cool it would be if I checked my e-mail and got an offer for a fabulous new job. And then because I'd been reading Harry Potter, I thought it would be fun if the job offer was for a magical company. And then I got the "this is it!" shiver down my spine. I'd been reading all those chick lit books, where I could relate to the job and relationship stuff, but then I loved the magic take on the school years from the Harry Potter books. Wouldn't it be cool to combine the two? What would adulthood -- with its job and relationship issues -- be like with magic in the mix?

I finally got Goblet of Fire from the library and had big plans to spend the next weekend reading. Then on that Thursday morning, I got laid off (it turned out that the meeting where I got the door closed in my face resulted in us losing a huge client, and I later learned from that client that my absence from that meeting was a factor). I was in shock, but the shock and anger were dimmed somewhat by the fact that it meant I got to read the book sooner. The book was a wonderful catharsis for all the emotions going on in me. I laughed out loud, and then I cried a lot. I think part of the reason that book hit me so hard was that I could really identify with the isolation Harry felt. During this time, my parents were in New Zealand, and I had no way of reaching them. I was in a state where I kind of needed my mommy, and I couldn't talk to her, so I could sort of understand the way Harry felt when he kept wishing he had a parent. I totally bawled when Mrs. Weasley and Bill showed up in the place of Harry's parents. I also really identified with everything happening with Hermione in that book, but that's a subject for another post. At any rate, that made me even more intrigued by the idea of writing something similar but that was more about the things I could identify with where my life was at the time.

I think a lot of the success of the Harry Potter books is that mix of the fantastic and the relatable. So much of the story is things just about anyone can identify with, no matter where you went to school -- the way teachers treat you, feeling like an outsider, the odd ways friendships form, all the social dynamics, the hopes, fears and dreams. And then there's such a wonderful, whimsical dose of the fantastic mixed in. I also really enjoy watching the kids grow up, from being children in the first book to teens verging on adulthood in the later books, and the ways their relationships grow and change along the way. Even with all the evil wizards, flying broomsticks, monsters, magic, and the like, there's something very real about these people. I hope in my books I've managed to even scratch the surface of giving that kind of feeling.

In case you're wondering, I'll do my archetype post on Thursday because I want to finish re-reading book 6 first. I'm trying to figure out some of the adult characters and I need a refresher, since they get more play as "real people" from Harry's point of view in the later books (he sees some of them differently once he gets to know them as almost peers than he did as their student, such as with Lupin) and we also learn more about the previous generation in their school years, which helps with the analysis.

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