NOTE: I don't post to this blog super-duper often anymore, because I'm busy writing, well, books. (Read more about that here.) For more up-to-date, day-to-day ramblings, visit my Facebook page.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Review: BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE by Kate DiCamillo

Title: Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
Pub info: Candlewick, 2000; 182 pp (paperback edition)
Genre: MG contemporary











 
I always talk about Kate DiCamillo being one of my favorite authors, even though I haven't read everything she's written. I've set out to correct this terrible oversight, beginning with the marvelous Because of Winn-Dixie.

Goodreads summary:
The summer Opal and her father, the preacher, move to Naomi, Florida, Opal goes into the Winn-Dixie supermarket--and comes out with a dog. A big, ugly, suffering dog with a sterling sense of humor. A dog she dubs Winn-Dixie. Because of Winn-Dixie, the preacher tells Opal ten things about her absent mother, one for each year Opal has been alive. Winn-Dixie is better at making friends than anyone Opal has ever known, and together they meet the local librarian, Miss Franny Block, who once fought off a bear with a copy of War and Peace. They meet Gloria Dump, who is nearly blind but sees with her heart, and Otis, an ex-con who sets the animals in his pet shop loose after hours, then lulls them with his guitar.Opal spends all that sweet summer collecting stories about her new friends and thinking about her mother. But because of Winn-Dixie or perhaps because she has grown, Opal learns to let go, just a little, and that friendship—and forgiveness—can sneak up on you like a sudden summer storm.

My impressions:
The Goodreads summary above doesn't do this book justice. It's not just a sweet tale of how a scruffy dog helps a lonely little girl make friends and come to terms with loss--although it is that. The wonderful thing about DiCamillo's books is that they're so much more than they appear on the surface. Characters come so vividly to life that they feel like your best friends, from the half-blind Gloria to the bratty boys and stuck-up girl that Opal has to cope with. Not only is the story more than it appears, all of these characters are more than they appear. The story is about not judging people (and dogs) by their appearances or your first impressions, but learning to open yourself to taking a chance on them. All this is conveyed in Kate DiCamillo's spare and lovely prose--Opal's unique voice--and in under 200 pages to boot. Had I read Because of Winn-Dixie when it first came out, I would've been watching and reading whatever came next from DiCamillo's pen. As it is, I have plenty left to read.

About Kate DiCamillo:
Kate DiCamillo spent most of her childhood in the South, and moved to Minnesota when she was in her twenties. Because of Winn-Dixie, her first novel, was a Newbery Honor Book and has won more than twenty-five state awards. Kate has since written several other middle-grade novels and chapter books for younger readers. Her latest novel, Flora & Ulysses (Candlewick Press), won the 2013 Newbery Medal. Currently Kate is serving as the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, 2014-15 term. She lives in Minneapolis. 

Online: Visit Kate's website here, and follow her Facebook page here.



Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Writer Wednesday: Getting Started

It's the question every writer is asked, at almost every Q&A: Where do you get your ideas? In other words, how do you get started writing a story?

I ran across a video of writer Neil Gaiman (The Ocean at the End of the Lane, The Graveyard Book) answering that very question. You might want to watch it. It's bound to be more eloquent than my answer.

He said this, which resonated with me: Writers notice when they get ideas. They notice when their imaginations take a strange turn. Anyone can do it; you just have to practice and train yourself. Start by writing anything down, no matter how mundane or fantastic. It may not be the greatest or most original idea ever, but you'll wake up that part of your brain that wants to play with the world.

The What If? Question
We're all born doing this, asking that "What if?" question. In my presentations to schoolkids, I often show them the "What if" pattern of my first novel, The Key & the Flame:

  • WHAT IF 3 kids found their way to a fantastical kingdom?
  • WHAT IF that kingdom was full of magic?
  • WHAT IF the king of that land hated magic and killed anyone who practiced it?


That's just the beginning. The What If's carry on from there, but they could go in any direction. If you start at the beginning of the story--WHAT IF a girl was given a mysterious key and she found that it opened a door in an ancient oak tree--you could take that all over the place.

What might lie on the other side of such a door?

  • a fanastical kingdom
  • a house containing long-lost things
  • a girl holding a sword
  • a ship at sea
  • outer space
  • a library
  • the world in miniature
  • an African savannah
  • a path through the sky
  • someone who grabbed your hand and yelled, "Where have you been? Let's go!"

Gettting started is noticing when a strange thought passes through your mind. You might note it down for later reference in a notebook you keep in your purse or pocket. Sometimes I do that, but often I just have my mobile phone with me and I jot it in the Evernote app under a file called "Writing Ideas."

The Why? Question
Get used to asking not only "What if?" but also "Why?" You're sitting in an ice-cream shop and you notice a haggard man in a rumpled suit sitting alone, eating an enormous banana split. Ask yourself Why? Why is he eating such a celebratory dessert all alone? Why does he look so disheveled? Is that a tear rolling down his cheek? Why is he so sad? His suit is wrinkled but his shoes are polished to a high sheen; why is that? Did he drive to the shop or take a cab or a train? Did he stop on sudden impulse or was this a planned outing? Doesn't he have a job he should be at? Has he just lost it? Was he on a date that failed miserably? Why isn't he married?

Eavesdropping
One of the reasons I like eating lunch alone on a barstool or in a restaurant is that I listen to conversations around me. These snapshots of people's lives can be very interesting. Or they can be very dull, and my brain spins them into something more interesting.
"So I told him, 'Forget it. I'm not covering for you anymore.'"
"No way!"
"I'm tired of his garbage. Why should I have to take the heat for what he did?"
Oooh oooh ooh ... what did he do?
"He must've totally lost it."
"Oh, he was mad, all right."
Did he pick up a vase and throw it at you? Maybe he drew a gun ... You'll pay for this one, Madeleine ....
"So you turned him in?"
Hurry, Maddie, hit the alarm button! Why are you just standing there? He's going to kill you.
"I almost didn't. I mean, we were friends once."
An old lover. I knew it. He still has feelings for you, but now those feelings have turned to hate. Maddie ... the alarm button ... Maddie!
"That should count for something, I guess."
Why don't you ever carry your own weapon? You know what he's like.
"Well, not anymore. I'd had it."
So then ... I can't watch ...
"So then I said, 'You can't switch time cards with me anymore, Frank. If you're late, you're late, and you'll just have to deal with it.'"
Oh. 
If You Live in a Boring Place
Nothing magical ever happens where you work? I don't buy it. Look around. Listen. Observe. Be Sherlock Holmes. Ask questions, always, always, in your head. Fill yourself up with wonder: Go to movies. Read books. Read different books, stories outside your comfort zone. Wander through art galleries. Take a day trip. Visit antique stores. Walk through the open-air market. Do these things alone, and really look at the objects. Listen to the people. Let your brain play.

That's where ideas come from.


image from Wikimedia Commons, by Mehdinom (own work). Reproduced by permission under GFDL  and this Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

TBR 2014: Book No. 4


Next up in my TBR quest is an intriguing collection of short stories called The Chronicles of Harris Burdick: Fourteen Amazing Authors Tell the Tales, edited by Chris Van Allsburg (HMH Books for  Young Readers, 2011). The collection is based on a series of illustrations Van Allsburg created for a book entitled The Mysteries of Harris Burdick back in 1984. Van Allsburg drew the illustrations, added intriguing titles and captions, and packaged them as a challenge or inspiration to young writers. In the 2011 Chronicles, 14 fantastic writers take up the challenge and write stories to accompany the original illustrations. I'm excited to read short fiction from some of my favorite authors--Kate DiCamillo, Stephen King, Lois Lowry, and a host of others.

The stories embrace a range of styles and subjects, but, like their enigmatic and mysterious inspirations, each touches on the strange, the odd, and the fantastic.   —The Horn Book Magazine

While the stories are distinct—by turns funny, sinister, and touching—they have much in common, sharing an arch tone, a curious metaphysicality, and some familiar folk-tale tropes, and the authors’ commitment to the original conceit gives the volume additional cohesion.   —Booklist

Intrigued? Want to come along on this wild and crazy trip? I'll let you know what I think of it when I'm finished with the book.

That's right: I've committed to reading all the books on my TBR Shelf this year--and blogging them! Click here to read the reviews I've posted so far.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Fun with the Grizzlies


I was pretty zonked by the time I finished all the presentations and then drove 4 hours back to the Kansas City area on Wednesday, so I think I can be forgiven for taking a day to breathe before blogging about my fantastic visit to Vandergriff Elementary School in Fayetteville, Arkansas. As I mentioned the other day, I stayed in a marvelous old inn, where I retired to watch Downton Abbey and old reruns of Sherlock after hanging with the Vandergriff Grizzlies.

But the highlight of the trip really was visiting the school. In five presentations to almost 400 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders, we talked about why stories are important to us and why some stories are more interesting than others. The kids also did some brainstorming of their own, using some idea worksheets I provided on creating their own characters and settings. And of course, we had a Q&A session with each group. That's by far my favorite part of any presentation, because kids ask the best questions. Some memorable ones:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for this book?
A: I love to hike and walk in forests, and one day I was doing just that and I realized how old some of the trees are. Some trees can actually stand in one place for hundreds of years. That got me thinking about how trees witness a lot of history, and that makes them natural portals. What if you could pass through a tree and visit it when it was younger? It would be the same tree, but everything around the tree would be different.

Q: What made you want to become a writer?
A: I've always loved stories, both reading them and having them read to me. I was probably six years old when my mom or dad told me that someone was responsible for writing those stories, and that person got paid to do that. I couldn't think of a better job than that!

Q: What was the hardest part about writing your book?
A: Probably the middle. The beginning is exciting, because the story can turn into anything, and near the end you just race along, but in the middle sometimes you've created problems in the story that are hard to solve.

Q: Do you ever get stuck when writing a book?
A: Yes. All the time. I can't figure out how to get characters out of the mess I've put them in, or I just don't know what words to put down next. Usually if I get stuck I go for a walk or do something else totally different. I need to get away from my computer and my office and let my mind wander.

Q: Who drew the illustrations and cover?
A: His name is Karl Kwasny. The publisher hired him, and he did a fantastic job. First he drew the cover in pencil, and the editor and I looked at it and made different suggestions, like I said the girl in the picture has to wear glasses, and the younger boy has to have his hair sticking up. So then he revised the cover and added color to it, and we looked at it again, and they added it to the book.
Karl Kwasny's early sketch of the cover




















Karl's final, gorgeous cover art




















Q: What other books have you written?
A: This is the first book of mine that has gotten published. I've written other books that didn't get published. I've also written the sequel to this book, which is called The Wand & the Sea. It isn't in the bookstore yet; the publisher is still doing work on it, and it should come out next spring.

Q: How old are you?
A: I'm 48.

Q: What's this book about again?
A: It's about three kids who find themselves trapped in a fantastical kingdom where magic is outlawed, and they have to use magic to find their way home.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Review: MADE FOR EACH OTHER by Meg Daley Olmert




















Title: Made for Each Other: The Biology of the Human-Animal Bond
Author: Meg Daley Olmert
Pub info: Da Capo Press, 2009; 312 pp
Genre:  adult nonfiction / biology & animal behavior

The third book in my ambitious 2014 reading project is the first nonfiction book of the year, Made for Each Other: The Biology of the Human-Animal Bond by Meg Daley Olmert. Just to clarify, this is a book meant for adults, not kids, but I think kids ages 14+ would have no trouble with it.

Goodreads summary:
Nothing turns a baby’s head more quickly than the sight or sound of an animal. This fascination is driven by the ancient chemical forces that first drew humans and animals together. It is also the same biology that transformed wolves into dogs and skittish horses into valiant comrades that would carry us into battle.

Made for Each Other is the first book to explain how this chemistry of attraction and attachment flows through—and between—all mammals to create the profound emotional bonds humans and animals still feel today.

Drawing on recent discoveries from neuroscience, evolutionary biology, behavioral psychology, archeology, as well as her own investigations, Meg Daley Olmert explains why the brain chemistry humans and animals trigger in each other also has a profound effect on our mental and physical well being.

This lively and original investigation asks what happens when the bond is severed. If thousands of years of caring for animals infused us with a biology that shaped our hearts and minds, do we dare turn our back on it? Daley Olmert makes a compelling and scientific case for what our hearts have always known, that we were, and always will be, made for each other.
Status: Finished 2/9/14

My impressions:
 I've had pets all my life: cats, mice, hamsters, turtles, dogs, and birds of various types, including large parrots. I've never thought much about why, but the fact is that I'm irresistibly drawn to all animals, and especially those in the wild. I've always longed to have that magic touch that allows a human to approach a deer in the forest. (Perhaps that's why I'm a sucker for the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs film.) Meg Daley Olmert's book illuminates that urge to bond with the animals.

This may sound shallow, but I really appreciate a scientific book that's broken up into bite-size chunks. Made for Each Other is easy to read partly due to the author's breezy, layperson's style, but also because the sections are short. Right off the bat, this is an easy book to pick up and get into.
 
As to the meat of the book, I enjoyed learning the history and science behind the attraction humans have for animals. Our prehistoric ancestors shared it, as we can see from the meticulous paintings they left behind on cave walls. Eventually they managed to tame some of these wild creatures, and (for the most part) the bond was beneficial on both sides. Olmert discusses the role of oxytocin, a hormone that bonds mother to child and makes humans more cooperative and loving to each other, in a fascinating new way. Her examples are clear and interesting, her research solid, and the findings exciting. 

I got bogged down and found the book dragged a bit in the middle, but I suspect that was more my issue than the author's. I found the domestication of wolves much more interesting than that of cattle, partly because I don't know how helpful it was to the cattle to be domesticated. 

This is a lightweight science read--no cumbersome footnotes (though plenty of end notes), no tightly spaced, lumbering paragraphs full of tech talk. I'm afraid I've become a lazier reader than I once was and don't read as much nonfiction as I'd like. But this book makes reading about science easy. I highly recommend Made for Each Other to all who seek to better understand our fellow species and how we connect to each other.

About Meg Daley Olmert:
Meg Daley Olmert has created and produced documentaries for National Geographic, The Discovery Channel, and PBS. She blogs regularly for Psychology Today, and is currently the director of research and development for Warrior Canine Connection, Inc., a canine therapy program designed to reduce the symptoms of combat PTSD.

Online: Read Meg's interview at Salon.com here, and watch her TEDx Talk on this topic here.


To follow my progress as I bulldoze my way through a stack of 51 to-be-reads this year, search for the tag 2014 TBR Shelf. Read all the reviews here.

  

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Passing Time at the Johnson Mill

Hello from Fayetteville! I'm looking forward to visiting with the Vandergriff Elementary Grizzlies tomorrow! And I'm excited to visit a state I've never seen before--Arkansas. Not only is Fayetteville lovely, but its citizens are some of the nicest folks in the U.S.

I can't say enough about the gorgeous place I'm staying at, the Inn at the Mill, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Photos of Inn at the Mill, Johnson
This photo of Inn at the Mill is courtesy of TripAdvisor

This beautiful mill, now an inn, was actually restored after the original was destroyed during the Civil War. The historical plaque reads:
Both soldiers and civilians used gristmills to grind wheat and corn into flour and meal. Confederate troops destroyed mills to keep Union armies from using them. Union troops destroyed them to keep C.S. guerrillas from using them as gathering points. This caused much suffering for civilians. Many starved, became refugees, or settled in farm colonies, protected by Union forces. Sutton's Mill, which once stood here, was lost in the war. Former U.S. soldiers Jacob Johnson and William Mayes bought the site in 1865 and built the mill that stands here today.
The rooms are fantastic, and the staff serves up wonderful food as well. Thanks go to Marci Tate, Vandergriff's librarian, for finding me this little piece of history to enjoy.

More tomorrow on my visit to Vandergriff!

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Saga of Colin & Mike

Here I sit in the coffee shop of my local junior college, as I do most Friday mornings. I feel hip, like a college student. I listen to the jazz on the loudspeakers; I sit opposite an abstract painting entitled Impending Doom. I am a regular now.

Last semester I had occasion to spend a few hours here most weekdays, for reasons I won't go into now, and I got to know the other regulars. Oh, not know as in, "Hi, Jack, how's it going? Ace that chemistry test?" Just know them as in, There's that deliriously happy couple who always hold hands over their steaming lattes. There's the heavyset guy who holds one-on-one Bible readings. That kind of thing.

Three seats away from me is the Talker. I discovered him one day last semester when he came in with two or three other people and proceeded to hold a very loud monologue on all sorts of subjects, most of them related to pop culture. He was at one end of the coffee shop; I moved to the other end, and I could still hear him, loud and clear. I'd forgotten to bring my earbuds, so I couldn't drown him out with music or white noise, and there weren't any other seats to be had in the student center. I was trapped with him and quickly developed a raging headache.

Today, the Talker is alone--but not entirely silent. He's working on some kind of math problems. I know this because he just now boomed out: "Bingo! I knew I was on the right track! So that's blah blah to the blah blah power ... yes! Wait ... Oh no! Oh, yeah ... duh."

Over in his customary corner sits Colin*, a slightly built young fellow who wears a stocking cap. I can't help feeling a bit lonely for him. Last semester he hung out every day with Mike, who wore heavy black-rimmed square glasses and a cool black Fedora. Every day they sat together for a couple of hours and chatted about their lives. Tired of living at home, they were planning on getting an apartment together; Mike wondered how to approach a girl he liked; Colin talked about how he wanted to have a daughter someday. (I found this endearing; how many young college men are even thinking about such a thing, let alone talking to their buddies about it?)

But this semester, Mike has disappeared. I haven't seen him once. Colin sits at the same table in his stocking cap, his head slumped onto his hand, listlessly staring at his laptop screen. Does he miss Mike? Did the apartment thing fall through? What happened to the car Colin was going to buy? The story has been cut off midplot, and I'm left to finish it. Did they have a fight? Did one of them confess to a gay crush and the other snubbed him? Did Mike drop out to play sax in a smoky nightclub?

I know that probably Colin is listless because we're all listless and tired of this endless winter of snow and cold and wind. Mike's spring semester schedule probably doesn't allow him time to hang out in the coffee shop (and when does Colin go to class, I'd like to know?). But my writer's mind spins out alternate scenarios. Maybe Mike's endless chatter and hipster attitude broke Colin at last. Maybe Colin has actually murdered Mike and hidden him in their new walk-in closet! Does he regret it now? Well, shouldn't he?

The Talker has finished his work with a triumphant bellow: "I hate math! Math is evil! At least it's done." Colin has given up and closed up the laptop for the day. The cute couple have gone to lunch. So now it's just me.

And the writing.


*I've heard these guys use their real names, but these are fake names. Just in case they're reading. As if.


image by Rüdiger Wölk (photo taken by Rüdiger Wölk) [CC-BY-SA-2.0-de], via Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

TBR 2014: Book No 3


There's no question that fiction far outweighs nonfiction on my TBR shelf. My nonfiction titles usually center on linguistics, travel, biography, and science--especially animals and physics (which I'm rubbish at, but I keep trying anyway). I'm very excited to finally read Meg Daley Olmert's Made for Each Other: The Biology of the Human-Animal Bond (Da Capo, 2009), which has been sitting on my TBR shelf for at least a couple of years now.  I don't know why it's taken me so long to get around to a book that examines the connection between us and the other animals. Sounds fascinating!
In one of those delectably synergistic books that tie together threads of science, history, and everyday life, Olmert explains the evolutionary processes behind what E. O. Wilson calls biophilia, our love and need for animals.... More proof of the astonishing intricacy of life’s interconnectivity.
--Booklist
Who's with me? Besides Sawyer the dog (pictured above), I mean.


That's right: I've committed to reading all the books on my TBR Shelf this year--and blogging them! Click here to read the reviews I've posted so far.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Introducing LANDRY PARK

 Landry Park by Bethany Hagen
Dial, 2014
YA dystopia/sci-fi
374 pp














For those of you who don't know, I'm a member of a group called The Lucky 13s. We're authors who were lucky enough to have our debut kidlit novels published in 2013. It's a fantastic community of writers who share wisdom, tears, and occasionally taxicabs and barstools.

Only one other Lucky 13 lives in my hometown--Bethany Hagen, author of the brand-new YA sci-fi novel Landry Park. Bethany's pub date was nudged along in 2013 until finally it fell over into 2014. (Yeah, it happens. Quite a bit, in fact.) But she's still a Lucky 13 in my eyes, and last night I attended her fabulous launch party at the Johnson County Central Resource Library.


There Bethany answered a host of questions posed to her by one of the library staff, including a personality quiz (Which Disney Character Are You Most Like?) that revealed Bethany's main character to be most similar to Belle from Disney's Beauty & the Beast. We also learned that Bethany loves the Myers-Briggs Personality Test and that with her dreamy, intuitive nature, she's lucky to be married to someone who remembers to feed the children.

About the Book
Bethany says she was inspired to write Landry Park while working at the Johnson County Museum, where she saw exhibits from the Edwardian era juxtaposed with those from the nuclear age. Her vision of a future with the technology of the nuclear age meshed with the strictures of Downton Abbey society makes for a fascinating tale of romance and rebellion.

The Goodreads summary:
In a fragmented future United States ruled by the lavish gentry, seventeen-year-old Madeline Landry dreams of going to the university. Unfortunately, gentry decorum and her domineering father won't allow that. Madeline must marry, like a good Landry woman, and run the family estate. But her world is turned upside down when she discovers the devastating consequences her lifestyle is having on those less fortunate. As Madeline begins to question everything she has ever learned, she finds herself increasingly drawn to handsome, beguiling David Dana. Soon, rumors of war and rebellion start to spread, and Madeline finds herself and David at the center of it all. Ultimately, she must make a choice between duty--her family and the estate she loves dearly--and desire.

"An exciting YA debut with an intricately built dystopian world inhabited by a set of highly opposed characters which are complex and well-drawn."      --Challenging Reads blog

You can get your very own copy of Landry Park at chain and indie bookshops everywhere as well as these online outlets:

Amazon
Barnes & Noble

Connect with Bethany online at her website and on Twitter.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

CLAIRE, the CLAIRE Blog


Just a mini-rant. I promise.*

Let me state up front that I like LEGOs. I'm in favor of LEGOs. When my daughter was three years old, an astute grandma gave her a big set of LEGO blocks. They didn't have a theme or a movie tie-in; they were just random blocks with a couple of random LEGO people thrown in. They also came in a cool box with a sliding lid that doubled as a LEGO platform, with the little raised circles that LEGOs can bond to.

Genius. My kid played with that toy from age three till about age 13. No joke. Because there was no theme, no model to build, she used her imagination to create whatever she wanted. At age three, she made kitties (kind of weird-looking ones, to be honest). At 13, she was making whole scenes of stories from inside her head.

Later, we did get a couple of the Harry Potter-themed LEGO sets because she was wild about Harry and LEGOs, too. Those didn't have the long-term play value of the original set, but that was okay. I still approve of the idea.

What I don't get is how LEGO Harry Potter figures came to star in their own games. We have the original HP computer games. They're fun. The characters in the games look like Harry and Ron and Hermione. You can be Harry and learn spells and follow the stories. The wizards have more than two expressions on their faces. Fun.

And with the building sets, you can play with LEGO Harry and make your own scenes and stories. Fun.

But how does LEGO Harry branch off into his own animated world? And why does anyone care? I don't want to play a game in which Harry is reduced to a plastic block. And here's why this all came up: I don't get the LEGO movie, better known as The LEGO Movie. (Really? That's the title? Why yes, yes it is.) I love cool animation, whether traditional or computerized; I don't mind hearing Morgan Freeman's voice emerge from an animated figure. But an animated figure that's a representation of a toy figure ... I guess that's too far for my feeble brain to go. It's a layer of metareality I don't really understand, and frankly, I don't like it, either. We already dictate to kids how to play with their toys by making them more and more representational, and thus restrictive. A refrigerator box can be a rocket ship, a race car, a TARDIS, a clubhouse. But a race car is a race car. A LEGO Harry Potter is a LEGO Harry Potter. You can call him something else, but in your heart, you know what he is.

That said, I longed for representational toys when I was a kid. I wanted the "real" playhouse. My TV-fed brain would have eagerly lapped up toy versions of my favorite movie characters. But my imagination was better fed by the generic. And I'm glad now that it was.


And don't even get me started on the novelization of the film of the toys that don't represent anything real. And yeah, it's on the New York Times Best Seller List.

*SIGH*

*Yeah, I know. Promise broken. Sorry.


Friday, February 7, 2014

The Potter Blasphemy

Okay, so I know a lot of people were furious, teary-faced, and gnashing their teeth over J.K. Rowling's little reveal about the love life of Harry Potter last week. In case you've been living under a rock, or you've been lately hit with an Obliviate charm, here's what she said:
I wrote the Hermione/Ron relationship as a form of wish fulfillment. That's how it was conceived, really. 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 with Ron. [...] In some ways Hermione and Harry are a better fit and I'll tell you something very strange. When I wrote Hallows, I felt this quite strongly when I had Hermione and Harry together in the tent! I hadn't told [screenwriter Steve] Kloves that and when he wrote the script he felt exactly the same thing at exactly the same point.
It's amazing to me that seven years after the end of the series, this announcement made headline news all over the place, reported not only by Entertainment Weekly but CNN and The Sunday Times. And the shippers rose up, as Rowling feared, in "rage and fury."

But as much as I hate to say it, I can see her point.

The thing is, I love Ron. He may have always been the second banana, but he's a crucial character. Harry was the hero, Hermione was the brain, and Ron was along for the ride--except that without him, both of the other two take themselves a wee bit too seriously. So of course I wanted Ron to end up with the girl of his dreams. And let's face it, he chose a girl somewhat like his mother--a bossy know-it-all. There's little doubt who runs the Ron Weasley household.

But it always nagged at me: Why does Hermione choose him? I don't know if she'd be better off with Harry, necessarily, but apart from the fact that Ron makes her laugh, what does he bring to the relationship? He's a good chum and all, but it seems more plausible that Hermione would find someone a bit more bookish to be her husband. And she and Ron fought so much. He was always going to feel inferior to her, and she was always going to let him think that was true.

It's a relationship forged in fire. What happens when that fire goes out, just as they enter adulthood? How would that affect the life they build together from that point forward, as they settle into the humdrum world of kids and laundry and bill paying? (Lord. You can see why no one wants to read about that.) And who the heck does Hermione talk to about all the great stuff she reads? Not Ron. And not Harry, either. Let's hope she has a book club or something.



To soften the blow a bit, Rowling adds:
They'll probably be fine [with some counseling]. He needs to work on his self-esteem issues and she needs to work on being a little less critical.

And yet, and yet. Maybe their shared experiences helped them grow out of these archetypes a little--the brainiac and the clown. I wonder if Hermione wouldn't have softened quite a bit already. We do see a lot of the necessary transformation happen in the series itself. Hermione is still bookish--she's the researcher, much like Willow Rosenberg on Buffy the Vampire Slayer--and Ron is still the funny second banana. But Hermione has seen the value of other traits, and Ron has seized his own destiny and made his own heroic choices. They've come through this experience quite different people from when they began.

So, like JKR, I love Ron and Hermione together, perhaps mostly out of sentiment. But I think there's a case to be made that they could stay together. What about you? Should Ron and Hermione have walked off into the sunset? Should Harry and Hermione? What about Ginny? (That's another blog post altogether. I was never wild about the Harry-Ginny pairing.) Tell me your thoughts, blogfrogs!