Still Going Strong

A friend and I went to the first annual Harry Potter Festival in Aurora, Illinois. I know what you want to know: Why is this the first one when the last book debuted a decade ago? Picture me shrugging.

   

Anyhoo, we braved the crowd of around five thousand people. The Harry Potter fandom is still going strong here. The crowd would have been six times that amount had the tickets not sold out within a matter of hours weeks ago. The event planners tried to keep the crowd small (ha) since this was the inaugural event.

Here’s the festival layout.

   

A tiny Hogwarts Express

The river nearby

We headed to a Care of Magical Creatures event, sponsored by SOAR (see the yellow sign in the photo below to learn what the letters stand for), which mostly involved rescued owls. But no snowy owls. They don’t migrate this far.

   

Dickens, the great horned owl depicted on a movie poster for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Yes, this owl is old. You can read more about her here.

Directors from SOAR with tiny owls rescued by SOAR. I soooo want one. But owls make horrible pets, we were told.

Then we had to have butterbeer. It was delicious! And no, that is not my hand in the photo below.

In Diagon Alley, we checked out the wares of the many vendors hawking wands, essential oils (the potions aspect of Harry Potter), jewelry, hats, and, inexplicably, soap.

We wanted to take in a Quidditch event at the Quidditch Pitch. But everyone had to register for that before the festival. Plus, the downtown area of Aurora is pretty big. Even the library is three times larger than any other library in my area. Some of the events were several blocks away from each other and had long waiting lines. There was no way we could get to all of the events in the amount of time designated for the festival (five hours).

But of course we went to the sorting event, which was held at the Aurora Regional Fire Museum. And of course, there was a huge line for that one. Unfortunately, though I’m usually sorted into Gryffindor, this time I was sorted into Slytherin House.

Not. Happy.

A little boy burst into tears upon being sorted into Slytherin. The sorting hat was forced to choose again for him. Yep. Gryffindor.   

What I loved about this festival is the fact that so many people still love the books and love showing up to participate in activities geared toward them. I can’t think of another festival dedicated to a book series that draws thousands of people willing to walk around in the burning hot sun, some wearing hot robes.

Have you attended a Harry Potter Festival? Would you go to one if you could?

P. S. Happy birthday, Harry Potter and J. K. Rowling!

Photos by L. Marie. Movie poster from impawards.com

Lift Ev’ry Cup of (Butter)beer

The night was warm and the beer was butter.

It was the return of The Party That Shall Not Be Named. I went with a friend to meet up with more friends in downtown Naperville, Illinois, where sixty businesses teamed up with the ring master—Anderson Bookshop—to throw the biggest party of the year around these parts. All to celebrate the release of this book:

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My copy. Wheee!!!

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The Party That Shall Not Be Named was a regular occurrence during the series’ heyday. On Saturday, there were Harry Potter-themed contests, plays, crafts, merchandise, and a ton of butterbeer. Check out this article in the Chicago Tribune or click here for more details about the festivities.

Several streets had been roped off and traffic diverted for this event. Thankfully, I only had to wait five minutes for a parking space!

To say there were thousands of people in attendance is an understatement. If you read the Tribune article, you know how many people were expected. By the way, that article provided old information about the number of books sold. By the end of Saturday, employees at Anderson had taken orders for well over 2,000 copies of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I know, because a friend of mine had number 2073. I bought my copy at Barnes and Noble and was number 678 in line.

Actors stood in the windows of Anderson Bookshop and simulated the wizard cards you get in the Chocolate Frogs boxes. (Sorry about the quality of many of the photos in this post. I had to snap each photo quickly. We were on the move a lot. And there were so many people dashing in and out of the shots. Sometimes, I couldn’t move closer due to the size of the crowd.)

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After walking around a bit, we headed to the candy shop near Anderson, which had been turned into Honeydukes Sweet Shop (naturally).

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The line to get in was a block long, but we were willing to wait. This is where we purchased our butterbeer, which was part ice cream, part cream soda, and butterscotch flavoring. But I totally avoided Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, having ingested some pretty disgusting ones in the past (like the vomit one).

We then watched some live performances of scenes from the first seven books. Then after grabbing a snack at Jimmy John’s, we watched the judging of the costume contest for adults (the kids’ portion of the contest having been judged earlier in the day).

Jimmy John’s contribution to the cause:

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Some photos from the contest are below. Wish they were better! I failed to get a good photo of the winner: a woman in a Mad-Eye Moody costume. The crowd favorites (Moaning Myrtle [the person at the far right in the second photo below], Hagrid, and Voldemort) did not win, so the result was a bit controversial. Another crowd favorite was a couple who called themselves Expecto patronum (first photo, the people at the far right). The guy dressed as Harry Potter, while a woman dressed as Harry’s patronus had a white, filmy cord attached to her that led to “Harry’s” wand. If you know about the Patronus Charm from the Harry Potter books (particularly Prisoner of Azkaban), you’ll see immediately how clever that costume was. Most of the crowd expected them to win. But they came in second.

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I know there have been some awful things in the news lately. That’s why I loved seeing so many people rallied around something fun. Everywhere, people smiled and talked to one another, instead of gazing at their phones. While I stood in line in various places, I talked to a number of people, some with kids in tow. Kids and adults were in costume, making wands, answering trivia questions, drinking butterbeer, and cheerfully waiting till the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

I especially love that everything centered around a book everyone was eager to read. How wonderful for an author. But how wonderful for us too. We had a great time on a perfect summer night, a night for making memories. Now to avoid internet spoilers until I can finish the book!

Party flyer from visitnaperville.com.

Do You Speak Geek?

Recently I had tea with some friends who live in Chiang Mai, Thailand, but are in the States on a visit.

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As is usually the case with the people I know, the conversation turned to Marvel movies. Pretty soon we were off on a discussion of various subjects: Comic-Con; Joss Whedon; Firefly; Harry Potter (books and movies); Lord of the Rings (books and movies); The Hobbit (book/movies); Hunger Games (books and movies); X-Men movies; Doctor Who (and the various actors who have played the Doctor); Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea series; anime in general; Wujiang (where one of the friends and I taught English years ago); Studio Ghibli and Miyazaki films—you name it. All in the space of 75 minutes.

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A guy sitting at a nearby table stared, then shook his head in an amused way as he listened to our conversation. Perhaps it sounded weird to him. Or, perhaps he could relate to it.

That same day, I had dinner with another group of friends. We talked about linear algebra (don’t worry—I didn’t have much to say on that subject), physics, Half-price Bookstore, videogames, the gathering and dissemination of information; middle grade and young adult books; graphic novels; writing science fiction and fantasy; grad school programs; indie publishing; and other subjects.

Geek Speak

By now, you might be thinking, So what. Why are you telling me this? Well, let me take you back to my high school years, where bullying took place inside and outside the school walls. Just the mention of any of the above subjects would have earned me the label of geek—not exactly a plus back then. You see, being called a geek was the first step to being bullied. So like other people who tried to fit in and avoid being bullied, I learned to downplay “geek speak” and bring up subjects that the cool people spoke about. Yet trying to blend in could not exempt me from being bullied.

In college, to fit in, my geek speak turned to Greek speak. The cool people pledged fraternities and sororities. Once again, to fit in—to gain those three Greek letters—I pledged a sorority. But I was miserable. I had yet to realize that the advice my parents gave me—“Be yourself”—was actually good advice.

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These days, I celebrate conversations like those mentioned above as the gifts they are. I can do that because I lived through that experience and was able to move on. But some who have been bullied in high school aren’t alive to celebrate their freedom to be who they are. It grieves me to think of the countless teens who dread each day thanks to those who make life miserable for them. They live under the weight of labels and other hurtful words. Some don’t see any way to escape the pain other than to end their lives. I wish they knew the truth the bullies would deny them: that they are precious.

So yeah. I speak geek. And I’m glad to do so.

Today, what, if anything, can you celebrate about yourself? What would you say to someone who is afraid to be who he/she is because of the harsh opinions of others?

Bee Content

I named this photo “Bee Content” to remind me of more good advice: be content to be myself.

Chiang Mai map from wildabouttravel.boardingarea.com. Sigma from prestochangodecor.com. Hello Kitty/Jordie photo and bee photo by L. Marie.

Keep Your Promise

Ever have a dream where you’re being chased by a serial killer? You’re racing along, certain to be caught, your breath ragged with fear. But suddenly, you launch yourself into the sky. You have the power of flight! Woo hoo! Yeah, baby!

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Psychotherapists have many interpretations of this sort of dream. But this post isn’t about those. The flying dream came to mind as I thought about the way paranormal aspects are introduced in a novel.

I usually get into a snit when I’ve read several chapters of what seems to be a realistic novel only to discover a sudden turn toward the paranormal. Don’t get me wrong. I love fantasy stories. I also love realistic stories. But if several chapters where everything is normal go by before even one fantastical element is introduced, my bait-and-switch meter starts ticking. My irritation doubles if the book jacket mentions paranormal, but the first 50 pages of the book fail to show anything that could be construed as fantastical.

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You can thank author Jen White for helping me understand why I feel irked. She wrote a great post at Through The Tollbooth that I highly recommend: “Survival Strategies of the Best First Chapters.” You can read that post by clicking on the post title. White talked about a promise made between an author and a reader. Here’s a quote from that post:

As an author you promise to stay in character and to stay in genre. You promise to keep story threads alive and fruitful. The first chapter says: This book is about…(and then stay true to that statement).

You promise . . . to stay in genre. . . . When a novel pivots toward a different genre than the one the first chapter sets up, the author has broken his or her promise to the reader.

In a dream, think of a sudden ability to fly as the introduction of a paranormal element into a story. The compressed time frame of a dream makes for a swift integration of the fantastical element. Our minds readily accept it. An author has to work harder in a book to get a reader to suspend disbelief. Though an author has more time to lay out a plot in a book, he/she has to help a reader see the integration of the fantastical elements and the realistic elements early on, especially if the book is set in our world. Otherwise, acceptance of the elements won’t come as readily.

DarkestPartoftheForest_coverHere’s the first paragraph of Holly Black’s young adult novel, The Darkest Part of the Forest:

Down a path worn into the woods, past a stream and a hollowed-out log full of pill bugs and termites, was a glass coffin. It rested right on the ground, and in it slept a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives.” (Black 1)

With a beginning like this, a reader would know that this world is not exactly like our own. And Black follows through on the promise inherent in this paragraph: that the reader will be taken on a fantastical journey. But does this mean every author has to introduce fantasy elements in the first paragraph? Nope. Instead, foreshadowing is a great tool an author can use. It’s like a promise an author makes to a reader early on that a story eventually will pivot toward the fantastic. For example, in the first chapter of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis, when the Pevensie kids arrive at their wartime home, we’re told

It was the sort of house that you never seem to come to the end of, and it was full of unexpected places. (Lewis 4)

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Unexpected places. With those two words and the introduction of the wardrobe in the same paragraph, Lewis sets up the promise of a fantastical adventure, one that he keeps in the first chapter. If that’s not enough evidence for you, look at the foreshadowing in the first paragraph of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone. I won’t print it here, since I’ve quoted quite a bit in this post. Chances are, you have a copy of this book handy and can see for yourself. 🙂

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Both of these books have delighted people of all ages for many years. Our books can do the same if we keep our promises.

Works Cited
Black, Holly. The Darkest Part of the Forest. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2015. Print.
Lewis, C. S. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. New York: HarperTrophy, 1950. Print.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New York: Arthur Levine/Scholastic, 1997. Print.
White, Jen. “Survival Strategies of the Best First Chapters.” Through The Tollbooth. N.p., 09 July 2015. Web. 09 July 2015.

Book covers from Goodreads. Flying man from azokey.blogspot.com. Bait and switch image from theamericangenius.com.

Children’s Book Week: Spread the Joy of Reading

Hope the Fourth was with you and you had a pleasant Cinco de Mayo! This week is special in still another way. May 4–10 was officially designated Children’s Book Week by the Children’s Book Council. You can read more about this literacy effort here.

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Children’s Book Week poster illustrated by the awesome Grace Lee

I love the idea of a week dedicated to promoting books for kids. After all, A Wrinkle in Time, a book written for kids by Madeleine L’Engle, is what started me on the path to becoming a writer. I was eight years old when I read it, because of the significant adults in my life. My parents were, and still are, readers. They read to fairy tales to me at night and provided books by Dr. Seuss and P. D. Eastman to encourage my brothers and me as we learned to read.

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Caring librarians also were stalwart champions of books. My elementary school librarian introduced me to Madeleine L’Engle’s books and many others. Also, the children’s librarians at the branch library I frequented in Chicago helped me come home with armloads of books (like Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White).

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As I think of such an abundance of books, I can’t help thinking of a scene in the 1996 movie adaptation of Matilda by Roald Dahl (I read the book too), when Matilda discovered the joy of checking books out of the library. She brought home wagonloads. I didn’t have a wagon, but I usually brought home quite a few books each week.

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Mara Wilson as Matilda

I love recommending books to kids and teens. So I can’t help feeling sad when kids tell me they don’t read books at all. Some are so swamped at school, they have little downtime at home. Others are nonreaders by choice now, though an occasional book series like the Harry Potter (J. K. Rowling), the Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins), or Divergent (Veronica Roth) captured their attention for a little while. Still, I remain an advocate of books in their lives, even if they are content to avoid them.

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Book cover by the equally awesome Kazu Kibuishi, who has a wonderful graphic novel series—Amulet. See cover at the end of this post.

This week—or any week—you can be a children’s book champion. Even if you don’t have an opportunity to recommend a book to a kid, you can pick one up for yourself. Connect with a book that makes your inner child sing.

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Even supervillains read.

Great books to introduce to a kid:

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What was your favorite book when you were a kid? What book, if any, would you consider to have been very influential in your life? Why?

Children’s Book Week from usatoday.com. Mara Wilson as Matilda from hellogiggles.com. Most book covers from Goodreads. Harry Potter cover from unademagiaporfavor.blogspot.com. Stacks of books from blogs.hpedsb.on.ca.

Testing . . . 1, 2, 3

Call me silly, but I sometimes take quizzes or watch videos like this that tell me what my car color, sleep habits, or choice of donut allegedly says about me. (I’ll bet you thought I was kidding about the donut. Look here.) Do you look at quizzes or videos like these? I didn’t learn as much about myself as the above video promised I would learn. If you don’t care to watch the video or can’t for some reason, it’s all about sleep positions. In case you’re wondering, I start off on my side, but somehow wind up on my back when I wake up in the morning. I’m not sure what that says about me. That I have commitment issues?

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This is my donut of choice: a chocolate cake donut.

Side sleeping is what the majority of people do (54%). At last I’m part of the in crowd. According to the doctor on the video, you can train yourself to sleep in a particular position. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like too much work. Yet I can see the benefits to it, especially if snoring is involved.

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I’ve also seen videos and blog posts where experts state that you can train yourself to dream a certain way. My natural bent toward laziness rebels against that.

gryffindor_crest_print-r92608dde23aa4bca82f74baab045c6a5_geub_8byvr_512And then there are quizzes that tell you which fictional character you’re like or which fictional environment or faction best suits you. Like this or this. (No training is involved.) I don’t know about you, but I don’t always tell the complete truth when I take a quiz like this. If I know the desired person, environment, or group (Dauntless; Batman; Wolverine; Black Widow; Gryffindor; Aragorn; Rivendell; Harry Potter), I’ll tailor my answers to fit that person or group. Hey, I don’t want to end up in Slytherin. And I’m too selfish for Abnegation. But for some reason, no matter how many answers I fake, every time I take the superhero quiz, I wind up as Superman.

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That’s me for both. (The fiery symbol is the symbol for Dauntless.) I’d better get used to the color yellow.

One test I’m tempted to lie on but don’t is the Mary Sue Litmus Test for fictional characters. You can find it here. Unsure what a Mary Sue or a Gary Stu is? Go here. The test is to help you gauge whether or not your character is too idealized. It also provides tips to help you develop stronger characters.

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A Mary Sue. But if your characters are fairies or angels, don’t let this stop you. Just keep on truckin’.

My natural writing bent is toward the convenient, so making the effort to go beyond a Mary Sue has been challenging. It mainly involves letting my characters suffer instead of protecting them like a Mother Hen. That’s not pleasant. But I know that in the end, my novel will benefit from the effort I put into making my characters strong. Now if I can only figure out their sleep positions/Divergent factions/Hogwarts houses, my work would be complete.

Donut from Wikipedia. Woman asleep from theaustintimes.com. Gryffindor crest from zazzle.com.Dauntless symbol from first-jumperr.tumblr.com. Christian Bale as Batman from comicvine.com. Superman logo from thehummusoffensive.blogspot.com. Mary Sue image from lydiakang.blogspot.com.

Check This Out: The Compass Key

Hello, and welcome to one of my favorite pastimes on the blog: author interviews. Today on the blog is the always awesome Charles Yallowitz, the author of the Legends of Windemere fantasy series. Welcome, Charles!

You undoubtedly know Charles from his blog. But do you know his series? Five books have been published, the latest of which is The Compass Key. (Read the synopsis here.) Take a look at the groovy covers with art by Jason Pedersen.

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Later, I’ll tell you about a giveaway I’m hosting. If you’ve read an interview on this blog before, you already know what I’m giving away. Let’s talk to Charles, and you can see if you’re right.

El Space: Now that you’ve published the fifth book of your series, what have you learned about yourself as an author?
Charles: I learned that I’m still learning how to improve my style. Through writing full-time, I’ve made friends with other authors and some editors who have given me pointers. So I’m using this knowledge to improve my writing as I continue. My core style remains the same, but it’s more the mechanics and how to make things neater that I’m improving on.

Honestly, the fifth book didn’t really change anything for me. I expected a lot to happen, but it seems to be business as usual as far as sales and social media activity. In fact, I was kind of disappointed since so many people said “things change” when the fifth book of a series is released. So I’m starting to think that I should focus more of my attention on editing and writing the other books than hunting for trends. In that respect, I’m falling back into the role of carefree writer than number-obsessed author, which is what I was for a little while.

El Space: What pleases you most about your characters’ evolution? Is there anyone whose growth surprised you? If so who? Why?
Charles: I like how I never know exactly how the characters will evolve. I get the basic ideas of where I want them to go, but they routinely take detours, fall a few steps back, or go in opposite directions. It feels very organic and natural since I’m not forcing them to step out of their established personalities just because I want them to be a certain hero. I think it makes the characters more relatable since everyone has had moments where they fall back in their personal “evolution.”

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Luke and Nyx

It’s hard to pick a character who stands out since so many of them went differently than what I planned. Baron Kernaghan, the main villain, came out a lot more benevolent and kind than I expected. I enjoy writing his scenes because I actually like the guy even when he’s doing something evil. Every piece of his past that appears makes him more human and oddly sympathetic. On the other hand, another villain was supposed to start off mildly evil and rise into sadistic menace. Then I started writing him and his first big scene is him torturing one of the female heroes. I’m not sure where this character can go from there and I really look forward to the book where I get to kill him off because he’s so vile.

El Space: What did you find the hardest about writing The Compass Key? The easiest? Nonspoilery, of course. 🙂
Charles: The hardest part about The Compass Key is that it closed up a lot of old plotlines and introduced several new ones. It was a rough transition and I was always wondering if I was doing justice to the things I was retiring and introducing. This was made more of a challenge with the book having more action scenes than the previous volumes. I believe I counted 36 separate fights throughout the book, which is why I had the characters showing signs of mental and emotional exhaustion near the end. Don’t get me wrong though. Writing the action scenes was a lot of fun and it helped me see how the heroes interacted with each other, but it felt strange to have so much action after being more focused on dialogues and character interactions. Nothing I could do though, because everything was necessary. Oh and there’s a scene near the end that was truly gut-wrenching to write.

The easiest part about The Compass Key was that I had been planning it for so long. It’s a turning point book in the series, so I’ve had to foreshadow toward it. So it meant that there was more of a foundation than the books that had their own relatively contained story like Allure of the Gypsies and Family of the Tri-Rune. Those had planning, but they were so character driven that things kept changing as I wrote. That wasn’t the case with this one because it was very much about jumping from the old stories to the new.

El Space: If a videogame were to be made using characters from your series, what would you envision as a quest? What characters would be involved in the game?
Charles: Somewhere in my room is a notebook with information on a Legends of Windemere videogame and I believe I got as far as designing Timoran Wrath. Given the epic quest and character-driven stories of the series, I’d go with an RPG along the lines of classic Final Fantasy, though I’d like more active combat where you can switch between the characters on the field. Again, I have the naïve setup somewhere and I think I had it as squads depending on how many characters were involved in the scene. Since you need all of the heroes in the story, it would be set up that you could take control of whichever one you wanted.

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I do remember there was a side quest where you gathered magical instruments, sheet music, and other bard-based items so that the six champions can perform in a tavern. It doesn’t come up that often in the books, but each hero knows how to play an instrument or sing.

El Space: Recently I read an article at this website on the future of science fiction and fantasy. How would you answer the question posed there: “What is the future of Science Fiction and Fantasy?”
Charles: The future is ahead of us and possibly behind us. The genres are kind of weird because it really depends on what an audience jacks into. I can only speak for fantasy, but currently it’s all about dark, gritty stories with political intrigue and anti-heroes. This is probably due to the popularity of Game of Thrones. Before that, you saw more quest-based stories like Lord of the Rings and there were the series revolving around a chosen hero like Harry Potter. So there are cycles that happen within fantasy and you never know when it’s going to come around.

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If people are wondering if these genres will vanish then the answer is no. Fantasy will always be around because it’s pure escapism and I think that will always have an audience. There does seem to be a rise in people reading to find plot holes or show how science disproves magic, but that could just be a vocal minority. In the end, fantasy will survive and continue drawing people out of reality either by quests, gritty dark fantasy, or whatever else the genre will evolve into as new authors appear to put their own twists on things.

El Space: What are you working on now?
Charles: Right now I’m finishing up this interview. After that, I’m going back to editing Family of the Tri-Rune in my project to read through all of my books and use my new knowledge to clean them up a bit more. This is nothing more than cosmetic changes and I’m double-checking my continuity. I already have the first 8 books written, so I want to make sure everything is in its proper place before I tackle Book 9. That’s another big transition book, especially for two of the heroes. As far as publishing goes, Curse of the Dark Wind is still being edited and I’m waiting on cover art. I’m not able to say when it will be released, but I’m hoping for December to take advantage of Christmas. It really depends on how chaotic things are for me and everyone else involved.

Thanks, Charles, for taking time out of your busy schedule to stop by!

You can find Charles at his blog, Facebook, Goodreads, Wattpad, and Twitter. The Legends of Windemere series can be found at Amazon. One of you will win all five books of this series. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced on Tuesday, October 21.

Cover art for the Legends of Windemere by Jason Pedersen. Character art by Kayla Matt. Final Fantasy image from arts-wallpapers.com.

Do You Believe in Magic?

I wasn’t going to post today, but the thoughts were fresh in my mind, thanks to a conversation with a friend, and couldn’t be ignored. I’m in a rather soapboxy mood, so feel free to tune in or tune out.

Remember in the movie version of The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion discovered the “wizard” hiding behind the curtain? This “wizard” tried to play it off by his warning to them to “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”

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Too late. He’d already been exposed as a complete sham—a humbug, according to the Scarecrow. He didn’t have a drop of magic within him, and couldn’t really give them what they desired—a brain for the Scarecrow, a heart for the Tin Man, courage for the Cowardly Lion, and a trip home for Dorothy—except through nonmagical means. But there was magic in Oz. The witches proved that. Later, even the humbug wizard gained magic. You have to read Baum’s Oz books to learn how. Yet the man-behind-the-curtain notion is still pervasive in our day and age.

We live in a cynical age. We’re used to reality TV and news reports that take us “behind the curtain” by debunking magic acts or exposing as frauds politicians and authors who claim they’re telling a “true” story while making up key facts. We’re tired of the lies, aren’t we? If there’s a man behind the curtain, we want to know!

Sometimes we take this mindset to the books we read. As adults we learn to “put away childish things” like believing there are fairies in our backyard or that dogs can talk in order to embrace reality. That’s why we categorize fairy tales and other such stories as stories of childhood, rather than for adults. If we happen to pick up a fantasy book, the use of magic is severely scrutinized, slapped with a deus ex machina label, or written off as “convenient” if it doesn’t seem “realistic” enough to suit our adult sensibilities.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of AzkabanYou know what? I for one have had quite enough of the search for the man behind the curtain. This doesn’t mean I plan to bury my head in the sand and totally ignore reality or reality-based fiction. It means I’m going to continue to unabashedly cherish those stories that take me to magical places or to ordinary places that seem magical, and then try my best to offer that kind of journey through my own writing. The stories I loved as a child I still love as an adult. Grimm’s Fairy Tales has a prominent place on my shelf, not hidden underneath the bookcase out of fear that someone will check my bookshelves and ask about what I’m reading. I’m a firm believer in story magic. I love miraculous escapes and magical derring-do. And many of you do too. I wasn’t the only adult reading Harry Potter’s adventures.

I love the fact that authors like J. K. Rowling, Neil Gaiman, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Holly Black, Juliet Marillier, Jaclyn Moriarty, Charles Yallowitz, Caroline Carlson, K. L. Schwengel and many others are unapologetic in the use of magic in their stories. If you haven’t already, you might check out Moriarty’s Colors of Madeleine series; Yallowitz’s Legends of Windemere series; Carlson’s The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates series; or K. L. Schwengel’s Darkness & Light series.

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Or consider stories like Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien, Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage, The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo, The September books by Catherynne Valente, The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and other books that remind you of the magic (and sometimes sadness) of childhood. Be willing to suspend your disbelief and leave your cynicism at the door as you take a journey through these pages.

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Do you believe in magic? I do. I still believe in the power of stories to transform us and transport us to unforgettable places. Do you?

Oz photo from takaiguchi.com. Book covers from Goodreads.

Harry and Hermione, Sittin’ in a Tree?

When I first heard that J. K. Rowling had second thoughts in regard to the Ron/Hermione relationship (every time I opened my ISP, a link to the story was provided), I felt the burn of frustration. And just before Valentine’s Day, too! I refused to read any article on the subject at first. You see, I had wanted Harry and Hermione to wind up together when I read the series. (I have nothing against Ginny Weasley or Ron.) But I got over my thoughts of Harry and Hermione K-I-S-S-I-N-G. And now that the series is a done deal, to learn of what could have been frustrates me.

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I’m sure I don’t have to tell you who they are, but I’ll do it anyway. From left to right, Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), and Emma Watson (Hermione Granger)

Yes, I realize that as the author of her series, J. K. Rowling has every right to do what she wants with her characters—even regret that she did what she did. But this incident reminded me too much of a guy I liked during my senior year in high school who ignored me the whole year (though I tried to get him to notice me when he passed in the halls each day) until the day we cleaned out our lockers. He sidled up to me after saying hi and stood there in expectation that I would throw myself at him now that he was finally declaring himself available. I don’t know what led him to finally take notice, but I was frustrated by that point. “You pay attention to me now?” I wanted to say. “Where were you the whole year?” Too little, too late. At least he signed my yearbook.

Back to Harry, Ron, and Hermione, 479px-J._K._Rowling_2010I finally broke down and read an E! Online article which has this quote:

“I wrote the Hermione/Ron relationship as a form of wish fulfillment. That’s how it was conceived, really,” Rowling, 48, told [Emma] Watson, 23. “For reasons that have very little to do with literature and far more to do with me clinging to the plot as I first imagined it, Hermione ended up with Ron.”

Wish fulfillment. I can relate. As far as the romances in the two novels that I’ve worked on in the last couple of years are concerned, I too had second thoughts. I had developed two characters I thought were cool, and therefore worthy of my heroines. Wish fulfillment? Probably. But two of my graduate advisors saw potential in other characters, characters I hadn’t planned to develop beyond the chapter each was in initially. Yeah, I can admit that now. Following their advice called for a paradigm shift.

I balked at the idea at first. With these two would-be love interests, I would have to work extra hard to make the romance plausible, since I barely knew these characters. Hard work—perish the thought!  Like Rowling said, my reasons for choosing these guys had “little to do with literature and far more to do with me clinging to the plot as I first imagined it.” So, I was tempted to ignore my advisors’ advice. I even wrote scenes between the guys I picked and my heroines. And you know what? There was no chemistry. In fact, there was downright hostility every time these characters encountered each other.

“Whoa, whoa whoa!” you’re probably muttering at me through the screen. “Aren’t you using your imagination? You can make these characters have chemistry.” That’s true in theory. However, once I knew what my characters were like, I realized a relationship between the guys I chose at first and my heroines would never have worked. I needed to get my wish fulfillment out of the way (especially since it dated back to guys like those at my high school—the ones that got away) and pay attention to my characters’ desires. I can’t live out my failed romances through them. They have their own lives to live.

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So, I set off in a different direction—that in which my advisors pointed out. First, I needed to convince myself that each suggested relationship would work. Second, I needed to convince a reader. The jury’s still out on whether or not I’ve succeeded.

Are you a plot clinger? Or, as your story evolves, do you toss aside the plot in favor of allowing what you know about the character to decide the outcome?

Rupert Grint, Daniel Radcliffe, and Emma Watson photo from hdwallpapers.in. J. K. Rowling photo from Wikipedia. Heart image from absolute3d.net.

How Do You Know You Have a Jewel?

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I’ve talked about diamonds; now I’m moving on to geodes. But I assure you, this is not part of a planned series on precious minerals. It just happened that way.

220px-Geode_inside_outsideEver see a geode? We talked about them in fifth grade science. But more recently I was reminded of them when I watched Hayao Miyazaki’s 1995 animated movie, Whisper of the Heart (directed by Yoshifumi Kondō). The main character, Shizuku, was handed a geode. Geodes contain fragments of different types of crystals—quartz, amethyst, jasper, agate, and others. But the thing is, you don’t know what’s inside until you crack it open.

220px-J__K__Rowling_2010I watched Whisper of the Heart a month ago. But today, after watching the movie version of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (directed by Alfonso Cuarón—one of my favorites of the series; the book as well), and watching an interview with Jo Rowling and Daniel Radcliffe the other day, the subject of geodes returned to mind. (You can watch the interview at Ellar Out Loud.)

250px-Marauder'sMapObviously, I’m not the only one fascinated by the world Jo Rowling created, especially since Harry Potter is an international sensation now in its fifteenth year. But I still get giddy over elements of it. For example, one of my favorite aspects of Prisoner of Azkaban is the marauder’s map. So brilliant! I also love the time turner. There are so many great details embedded in the world. It’s like cracking open a geode and finding it chock full of diamonds. I love a series like that.

Based on the interviews I’ve seen, when the first book was released, Rowling had no idea of the impact her series would have on the world. Of course she was passionate about her world and excited to see it introduced to readers. But holding that geode in her hands, she didn’t really know what the fans would see inside of it—jewels or junk.

What are the characteristics of a world worth exploring? I can think of these:
1. Fullness of scope—The author embraces a 360-degree view of the world and doesn’t skimp on the details, even within multiple environments. Also, the magic system is well defined and compelling. There are real costs. In this whimsical world your sense of wonder goes on overload.
Buckbeak2. Characters—You know you have a great series when you can take any character—even a minor animal character like Buckbeak—and envision him and her as the star of a book.
3. Inventive challenges—All seven books had compelling obstacles that moved us deeper and deeper into the world. By the time the series was over, we were so ingrained, we had culture shock stepping out of the world.

And there are others of course. But I can’t help thinking about the above three as I craft my own world and series. What do I have in this geode? Are there priceless jewels inside (or at least semiprecious stones)? (I can only hope.)

In your own work, do you have a sense of how special it is? Is there anything within you telling you, “I’ve got amethysts in here”? What series have you read recently that made you think, This author has a winner here?

Shizuku looking into the geode image from Screened.com. Geode from Wikipedia. Marauder’s Map and Buckbeak from harrypotter.wikia.com.