ORIGINALLY POSTED: August 11, 2010
When I first read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, it was way back when the second book had only been in stores a few months and most of the world hadn’t yet been bitten by the HP bug. It took a few chapters, but when we got to Diagon Alley I knew I’d stumbled upon something special. I remember feeling like I witnessed history in the making, feeling assured that once the books caught on, we’d have another Narnia Chronicles on our hands. The most vivid emotion though was that this book was the first time I’d read something as an adult that made me feel like books used to when I was a kid. I realize that is a terrible sentence, but hopefully you know what I mean. In short, I was mesmerized.
I quickly devoured the book, then the second, then waited impatiently for the third (which totally blew me away) and about this time word started spreading and the world was about to catch HP fever. It was the first time I remember ever dreaming about characters from a book and it happened more than once. The characters, the world was so real to me that when I was intrenched in one of the books I was completely surrounded. I remember catching myself before telling a friend that the next time I went to England I wanted to make a special trip to Hogwarts.
This last month, that silly fantasy of mine came true. Or as true as it can within our Muggle world. While in Orlando for the RWA conference, me and Emily and my mom made a side trip to Universal Studios to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. We got up super early, we hired a car to take us to the park and we walked the long way to the entrance of the park. But we’d been smart and we’d pre-purchased our tickets so we were able to just walk right in. We made a beeline to the HP area (mostly we followed the crowd because that’s where everyone else was going too!)
And then we rounded a corner and there it was, across the way, but Hogwarts rose up from a hill just like I’d seen in my mind so many times. I’ll admit it, I got a little misty and giddy and started snapping pictures. We kept our trek through the park, passing by some really cool looking other areas, but we were on a mission.
Suddenly we were there, right up to Hogwarts door. There’s a ride in the castle, but I had read enough stuff on-line before hand to know that my motion sickness would probably cause trouble, so mom and I headed into the tour line where we were able to just walk through the castle while Emily went on to the ride. (she’ll have to tell you about it when she returns from her family vacation) Inside the castle we saw the hall of portraits where some of the pictures moved and talked. Then we saw Dumbledore’s office and the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, and the entryway to the Gryffindor common room with the Fat Lady’s picture. It really was totally magical and my only complaint was that I wanted it to be longer. I wanted to see the Great Hall with the floating candles and I wanted to see the actual common room and the floating staircases.
But never fear once we were out of the castle (dumped conveniently into Filch’s Emporium, a gift shop where I purchased my own copy of the Maurader’s Map) we walked strait into Hogsmeade. Now technically this was a mixture of Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, but it was just fantastic. We bought wands and we had butterbeer (so tasty!) and we saw the Hogwart’s Express (another misty moment for me!) and we bought chocolate frogs in Honeydukes and went into the Owl Post. And I have to take a moment to personally thank all of the English families that were there that day, their lovely British accents really added to the experience for me. Then in the bathroom (which they called “public conveniences”) you could hear Moaning Myrtle whine and cry.
So how about you, what fictionalized world would you like to see come to life? If you could step into any book you’ve ever read, which one would it be? One lucky commenter will win a collection of books I brought back from the conference.
Tonight I happened to be talking to someone The Geek works with about my job as a writer. “It must be great to be able to write like that. To have that gift,” he said. I stammered a bit and didn’t quite know what to say.
Partly, because I’m two weeks out on a deadline on a book unlike anything I’ve ever written. This is my favorite part of the writing process. It’s when the book starts to really take shape and feel like a book. But it’s also the time when I’m putting in extra long writing days and it feels like the book is just kicking my butt. So at the moment I got the complement, it didn’t feel like I have a gift.
But the other reason the complement made me uncomfortable is that I generally don’t think of myself as having a gift. No, I’m not fishing for complements. I’m not being coy. I just don’t see it that way. I know a lot of truly gifted writers. People who write gorgeous poetic sentences and will make you want to weep. I’m not one those people. My friend Skylar White is like that. Omg, her writing is so beautifully lyrical, sometimes all I can do is shake my head. My friend Tracy Wolff/Tessa Adams/Tracy Deebs is like that too–oh, and she’s prolific too, if you can’t tell from the grocery list of pseudonyms. Sherry Thomas is another writer I know who’s like that. Just gorgeous prose! And she’s not even a native speaker of English.
All of these people can sentences so pretty they make you cry. Metaphors that make your heart sing. Me? Not so much. Me crafting a metaphor is a bit like those apes at the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s awkward and uncomfortable and everyone just wants it to end so we can get on with the story.
That’s what I mean when I say I’m not a gifted writer. I don’t do that pretty prose thing.
What I am, is a determined writer. I have wanted to tell stories since I was a kid. Telling stories is the thing I was meant to do. It’s woven into my brain and my blood like nothing else. My entire adult life has been about learning to tell stories well. Not so much because I wanted to be published (but, yeah, that too), but because I want to do justice to the stories and characters in my head. I want them to be as vivid and real to other people as they are to me. It’s that determination that brings me to the keyboard everyday.
Sometimes, I wish like hell that I was a gifted writer, but I’m learning to make do with my determination. Determination probably will never earn me literary accolades, but it’s won me friends and fans. And I’m damn proud of that. My journey as a writer has taken some interesting twists and turns this year, partly because I’ve stretched and grown and tried new things. Partly because I’ve wrestled with issue of writerly gifts. There’s something to be said for making peace with your limitations. For embracing them even. I hope that doing so will make shore up the bedrock of my strengths.
Are there any gifts you wish you had?
**I’m posting this for Emily because she has a sick computer, so for today the roll of Emily McKay will be played by Robyn DeHart**
Today, I feel like I’m living in a Mary Balogh novel.
No, a handsome but aloof Duke has not come to sweep me off my feet, but rather that this morning I woke up in a winter wonderland. Right after breakfast, the entire family poured out into the yard to play in the snow. We threw snow balls and went sliding down the hills at the end of the road. We made snow angels and licked snow off our gloves. (Okay, my kids did that. I was too aware of the deer footprints in the yard to actually eat the snow.)
Since I live in central Texas, most of experience with snow has been vicarious, lived through the heroines of al the Mary Balogh Christmas novels I’ve read. Inevitably, in those novellas, there’s an unexpected Christmas snow. Tromping out into the snow, the emotional barriers between the hero and heroine melt away. Their frosty tension between falls away and the couple begins to fall in love.
Playing in the snow with my kids and husband, I knew why she’s written so many scenes like that. There is something wondrous and special about the snow. It makes you feel like a child again. It’s so beautiful, it’s hard to believe it’s real. And even harder to believe that it’s supposed to be seventy in two days. But when that gorgeous, spring like weather hits, my Mary Balogh winter wonderland will fade away. I’ll have to pretend I’m in another novel. Maybe Susan Elizabeth Phillips. I heard her speak recently at a booksigning. When asked why she sets so many books in Texas she said, “Readers will believe anything if it happens in Texas.”
Even three inches of snow?