J.K. Rowling

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

Dear Ms. Rowling,

Mr. and Mrs. Cassier of 103 Burbank Drive were proud to say that their daughter was a book-dragon, thank you very much. She was never one to be found without a book or two, because she just didn’t hold with their absence.

Okay, enough with the silliness. Firstly, it’s very difficult to sustain; secondly, it’s hard to joke when talking about the importance of Harry Potter in my life. I chose that quote from Deathly Hallows at the top for a big reason: I think it perfectly summarizes what I try to tell people when I attempt to talk about how much your positively radiant Harry Potter series means to me. Ever since Harry & co. walked into my life one evening — I actually was home sick with strep the night I first opened Sorcerer’s Stone and can recall that first reading experience with vivid clarity — it was like being possessed and entranced and in love and in pain all at once. Ecstasy is the word that springs to mind, though I didn’t know it back then. I, like so many people of my generation, quite literally grew up with Harry, Ron, and Hermione. We battled our own demons while they battled the Dark Lord.

I don’t make it much of a secret, but I suffer from bad bouts of depressive episodes, and they were particularly bad during some years of high school. And back then, when I was a teenager and feeling like the real world had lost its colour and its vibrance, that I was wholly alone…I would crawl back into the pages of Harry Potter and wrap myself up in them like a security blanket. Re-reading those books became a way of coping and trying to understand what was happening — to try to bring myself out of any “low” that I was in. Of course I understood that, reading these books, it was all happening inside my head — it was my imagination running wild in order to bring life to your words…

But, to me, it not only was, but still is real.

Harry, Hermione, and Ron are people with whom I empathised or with whom I agreed and disagreed — they weren’t just words on a page or scratches of ink. They, and all the others of the Wizarding world, were people. And what was best for that teenage me, was that in the world of Hogwarts and beyond, no matter how dark or wild it could get…it was still kind of real to me.

And it remains real to this very day.

It all being inside my head didn’t make any of the emotions I felt meaningless. And, so, your series has a very special place in my heart and in my life because it not only shaped my childhood, my adolescence, my young adulthood, and has been in my life longer than it hasn’t…but because it was the one place I could turn to when I felt there was nothing else, whether or not that was true. It’s part of why I make a point to reread and re-listen to the series every single year, usually more than once.

Because Hogwarts is always going to be there to welcome me home.

Forever grateful,
Madeleine

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Baroness Orczy

There are books stacked left, books stacked right
Their covers gleaming in the light
I scan through their pages, trying to tell
Which book report will be less like Hell

I find a book with the French Revolution
A mysterious figure at its core
Who’d spoil every gruesome execution
Sold! Do tell me more…

To the Estimable Baronness Orczy,

I was going to try and just keep going with that bit of silliness, playing upon the delightful poem you gave to Sir Percy Blakeney in your classic adventure novel. But it does set the stage: I was in eighth grade and had been assigned my first ever book report project. My English teacher had said it would take up the entirety of our final quarter of the school year and that we would work in groups although, if we wanted, we could opt to work alone at her approval. The kicker of it all was that she had a selection of books already laid out upon a table, so we were not only limited to her selection, but she was going to limit how many people could work on each book. I suspect this is because the majority of my class wanted to read Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury.

I, on the other hand, made a point to pick up each book and flip through the first few pages. It’s like going on a first date with the book: you’re getting to know the writing style, pacing, and tonal gist of the whole thing. Near the end of the line I picked up a book with a cover I already knew I liked: A man, half-hidden in shadows, with a piece of paper bearing a seal that looked like some kind of red flower. He was clearly in France, given the decor of the soldiers who also graced the cover, and it was clearly sometime in the late 1700’s, one of my favourite eras of history. But then I quickly scan the back and it mentions something about a rogue character, known only as The Scarlet Pimpernel, snatching aristos from the fate of the guillotine.

Well colour me intrigued.

I opened your book and by the very first sentence I was completely hooked — I remember that sentence even now because the dark, mellifluous cadence of the words rings in my head like music:

“A surging, seething, mumuring crowd of beings that are human only in name, for to the eye and ear they seem naught but savage creatures, animated by vile passions and by the lust of vengeance and of hate.”

The effect those words had upon me was instantaneous: chills, inexplicable glee, and a physical need to know more. I took that book home and read it in one sitting which, while not wholly unusual for me, had never really happened a “school book” before. But your story transported me, and that was something I desperately needed in that moment. Thirteen wasn’t a great year for me: I had a bully, I was lonely and angry and had developed bad behaviours as coping mechanism (hello, Dad’s liquor cabinet)…and I was thirteen, full of all those hormonal changes, physical developments, and general state of confusion that comes with being thirteen. Yeah, it just wasn’t a great year.

But it was also the year I discovered your book; it was the year I first met Sir Percy and Lady Marguerite Blakeney. The first year that I got swept away on a swashbuckling, high-stakes adventure of cat-and-mouse, with people’s necks quite literally hanging in the balance. I laughed, I cried, I held my breath, I fell in love, I shook my fist at Chauvelin, and when all was said and done, I started it all over again. Your book gave me my own private adventure, and also made me first think the thought “I’d love to make a movie version of this,” which, in retrospect, is a pretty big deal.

To some people it may seem funny that I say a classic adventure novel is one of the best books I’ve ever read in my life, and that I make a point to re-read it every year without fail — especially when, if you really look at the novel, it’s not some milestone in literature. It’s considered a classic and it’s an adventure, but nobody hailed you as the successor to, oh I don’t know, Dickens or something. But I don’t think you get enough credit for the characters and story that you created. I don’t think enough people have had the chance to enjoy the ride you wrote down in The Scarlet Pimpernel.

But I did. And it’s one of those books that shines bright in my memory as a literary milestone: a place where I can mark my life as “before this book” and “after this book.”

So thank you, Baroness Orczy. Thank you.


Nota bene: The poem at this letter’s start was a pastiche of the musical number “They Seek Him Here” from the 1997 musical adaptation of Baroness Orczy’s novel, The Scarlet Pimpernel. The song itself is adapted from the poem included in the novel. Please forgive the author of this letter for her general silliness.

Reading as a Writer

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Rebecca Kordesh, Director
Twitter | Blog

While I was reading a spoiler laden discussion thread about the ending of The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater the other day I found myself wanting to respond to a complaint about the direction of the story by saying, “OK, but I am a writer and I know when I write sometimes I do the same thing.” This is a comment I’ve made on many discussion threads in the past, and it got me thinking about myself as a reader and how that’s shaped by the fact that I am a writer.

When I call myself a writer, I’d like to clarify that I am not referring to a profession but rather to an identity. Since I was a kid I’ve been obsessively writing stories, to the extent that I now have nine novels completed (and two more getting their finishing touches) and hundreds of projects begun and in various stages of writing. I will maybe one day work on publishing or self-publishing my writing, but I don’t write because I want to publish. I write because I can’t help it. Writing is fundamental to who I am and is the one thing that has remained a constant for me for as long as I can remember.

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On Most Anticipated Novels

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Rebecca Kordesh, Director
Twitter | Blog

 

 

In Backroom Whispering Production’s inaugural book review podcast about Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes, a major complaint lodged by several participants in the discussion was that the book had been so hyped that it was especially disappointing when it fell short of expectations.

Our very own showrunner, Dorothy McQuaid, also wrote a post about the effect hyping can have on reading a book. Dorothy focused on friend hype — hearing people you care about tell you that you absolutely need to read a book and it’s “the best ever” — and how she’s found that, generally, she has been disappointed by these books. The question arose about whether hearing about someone else’s excitement might actually hurt your book experience overall, because when you are not as excited as your friends, it makes the book feel even more disappointing than it might have otherwise.

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