Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Good news from some of my writing friends

I've mentioned before that I love being in a community of writers, because it helps to inspire my own writing. So much has happened recently (or will be happening) for friends of mine that I thought I should take the time to recognize them in one post.

Starting with...Ms. Joan Price who spoke in January at a meeting of my writer's club. She was named "Best and Mightiest Aphrodite" AKA "mature and wrinkly sex kitten" by the Bohemian newspaper. Hopefully it'll help bring more people to read her blog and buy her lively and engaging book, Better than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk About Sex After Sixty.

Ari Siletz, another guest who spoke at a meeting of our club, will be back in print soon. His wonderful book The Mullah with No Legs and Other Stories is being reprinted and should be available for purchase again soon. You should also check out his blog, he recently wrote a thoughtful review of the movie "300" and showed just how inaccurate it was from an historical perspective. I'll post again on this subject once the book is available.

My friend John Granger will be a featured presenter at a conference in June in Lancaster, California. I am hopeful that I will be able to attend, and be able to finally meet someone that I've corresponded with by email for the last four years. I recently received an autographed copy of his latest book which is Unlocking Harry Potter: Keys for the Serious Reader. I haven't had the chance to read it from cover to cover yet, but as always it is thought provoking because John provides insights regarding literary alchemy of which I am unfamiliar. Please check it out along with his other recent book, Who Killed Albus Dumbledore which is a collection of essays analyzing clues from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. If nothing else, please stop by his blog, Hogwarts Professor and check out some of his entries which allow for reader interaction with your thoughts and theories about the series.

Erika Mailman has a novel that has launched named A Woman of Ill Fame. It is through the eyes of a prostitute in San Francisco during the Gold Rush. She talks about the difficulties of researching and writing historical fiction in this posting on her blog. She has one more reading scheduled for her book which is next Wednesday, April 4th at Black Oak Books in Berkeley. After that, I think she'll be just waiting for her latest addition: a baby!

Then next September Erika has another book coming out in September titled The Witch's Trinity by Crown/Random House. It is about a medieval German woman accused of witchcraft. Another historical novel about a strong woman. Huzzah!

Now I'd like to share a funny story about both my friend Erika and another friend Lee Lofland. Erika and I first met at a writers conference in 2000 when we shared a room, and had asked the conference organizers to find us a roommate. We got along wonderfully. So much so that in 2004 we decided to room again together at the East of Eden Writers Conference. We hadn't seen each other in a long time, and were enjoying our chat trying to catch up with each other. I had wanted to go to a "night owls" session on Friday night because one sounded interesting. It was a police procedural question and answers session given by a retired homicide detective. Neither Erika nor I wrote mysteries, but you never know when a piece of information gleaned might come in handy.

Erika and I arrived late to the session because of our gabfest. I thought we could just sneak into the back of the room and not disturb anyone. WRONG. The room was set up so that the door was at the front. We walked in and saw a crowded room with no chairs and everyone facing us.

We slunk onto the floor at the front and tried not to be too embarrassed for arriving late and disrupting the proceedings. There were many questions Lee fielded with aplomb and then he was asked what he thought of "reality shows" such as "Cops." Lee grew disgusted and said that it was all fake, a pack of lies, etc. I was feeling a bit facetious, raised my hand and tried to sound as innocent as possible and asked:

"What about Reno 911?" (For those unfamiliar with the show, it's a comedy that spoofs shows like "Cops.")

Lee looked me directly in the eye and said, "That one's true. It's just like my old squad back in Virginia."

Then he laughed and began regaling tales about some of their personalities.

The next night I ran into Lee again, we chatted and laughed, exchanged cards and have corresponded ever since.

Lee's first book Police Procedure and Investigation: A Guide for Writers is due out in July from Writers Digest Books.

Another writer friend, and former guest speaker to my club is Jordan Rosenfeld also has a forthcoming book from Writers Digest. It is Make a Scene: Creating a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time, due out in November.

Jordan had created a radio show on KRCB our local public radio station entitled "Word by Word"where she interviewed authors. She moved away and there has not been a new show in quite a while. However, there will be a new host starting in April, and he is a member of my writers club the Redwood Writers Branch. As soon as more details are available to the general public, I will share them.

Shelley Singer, who will be our guest speaker in April, has a new novel Black Jack due out in June under the pseudonym of Lee Singer.

And last, but certainly not least, I stumbled across this the other day as I was surfing the internet. Donna Woolfolk Cross's novel Pope Joan had been selected as the Book of the Month for discussion by the Historical Fiction forums. I'll have to join that website, if for no other reason than to post my thoughts on her engaging and provocative historical novel.

I had the good fortune to meet Donna back in 1998 when she offered to do a reading and book signing. Due to her own tenacity for marketing her novel, her book is now in its seventeenth printing. Utterly amazing. I talked about the method she used in my first ever blog post which can be read here.

Once again, congrats to all my friends!


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Problems I had with the Harry Potter Series, Take Two

Today I’d like to deal with leaps or lapses in logic. I'm only dealing with Order of the Phoenix (OotP) in this posting, but I do bring in examples from the first four books as well.

Magic outside of school by under age wizards

Jo has spun this incredible universe of a Wizarding world that lives parallel and sometimes overlaps with the Muggle world. Trying to understand the rules that she has set up for these worlds is complex, and we've only seen a portion of what her incredible imagination has created.

However, it doesn't always seem to work smoothly.

Case in point: Harry being charged with performing magic outside of Hogwarts.

How does the Ministry of Magic determine when magic is being performed, and who performs it? We had testimony that Fred and George were exploding things at the Burrow over the summer trying to invent things. Did the Ministry cite them as well?

Hermione's character introduction in Philosopher/Sorcerer's Stone suggested that she had done "simple spells" at home. Did she not get any warning that she shouldn't try this at home?

Petunia also gave testimony in the first book that Lily came home from school and turned teacups into rats.

So we saw Dobby do a Hover charm in the Dursley's home and then an owl came almost immediately from the Ministry. As if they had operators standing by to generate letters of reprimand and owls at the ready to start flying.

It seemed to me that this intelligence to the Ministry was done by a site specific magic detector, that couldn't tell the difference between elfin magic and wizard magic.

But in OotP, Harry is cited for a repeat violation for using magic outside of school, but he is in a Little Whinging neighborhood outside of the Dursley household.

So how did the Ministry of Magic know that Harry performed "the Patronus Charm at twenty-three minutes past nine this evening in a Muggle-inhabited area in the presence of a Muggle" ? What was the mechanism for detecting the exact spell, the caster of the spell and the location? It doesn't seem like it's a site-specific monitor, therefore how does it work and why didn't it work in other cases?

Because well, you'd think that if they had that kind of technology to perform that kind of detailed surveillance that they'd have known back in Year Two that the Hover charm was not cast by a wand, nor by Harry. The Ministry might also have known that say, Harry cast the Expelliarmus spell in a cemetery in Little Hangleton, also technically off the grounds from Hogwarts.

Or that Voldemort cast other spells in Little Hangleton, such as Avada Kedavra which could then prove that Harry was telling the truth.

But then...prior to Harry's hearing on performing magic outside of school, we have the Order of the Phoenix stop by the Dursley household and rescue him. Nymphadora Tonks uses magic to help Harry pack.


Why didn't that use of magic set off alarm bells with the Ministry and have them add to the list of complaints against Harry?

Somehow adults who cast magic spells are not under the Ministry's surveillance, but minors are? :Scratches head.: It doesn't make sense to me. Especially since the adults are more likely than children to use dangerous spells such as the Unforgivables.

It bugs me that I can't follow Jo's logic on how her universe is set up.

When I wrote my fifth year fic, I came up with this elaborate idea about out-of-date magical detectors on the roof top of the Dursley home that could only detect that magic was performed but not by the person.

That explanation worked for me, but that's not what Jo chose.

My line of logic would allow for Arthur Weasley's use of magic defending himself against flying porcelain in Goblet of Fire, to just go back to the office and explain what happened while having the Dursleys' fireplace taken off the Floo Network.

I wanted consistency in how these rules of the Potterverse were supposed to work. I don't care if the Ministry plays favorites and turns blind eyes to certain things, but I'd like to know that is the case and not just a lapse in logic.

Harry incriminating himself, Hermione, Sirius and Dumbledore in committing crimes.

What you say? When did Harry incriminate himself, his best friend, his godfather and his headmaster?

Well, we never read Rita Skeeter's cover story in The Quibbler, so we're not really sure what he said versus what she wrote. We do have however this quote from Percy Weasley when Harry was facing down the Minister of Magic, Umbridge, and others in Dumbledore's office.

"Or is there the usual simple explanation involving a reversal of time, a dead man coming back to life, and couple of invisible dementors?"

Let's break that down into three parts:

1. a reversal of time
2. a dead man coming back to life
3. a couple of invisible dementors

Now, I'll dispatch things in reverse order. Harry's hearing before the school year started in OotP dealt with his claims of dementors being in Little Whinging and trying to attack himself and his cousin. Fudge and Percy didn't believe Harry, but they were overruled by the majority in the Wizengamot.

The dead man coming back to life was the testimony of Sirius Black and both Harry and Hermione in Prisoner of Azkaban (PoA) prior to the time when Hermione was given the instruction by Dumbledore to try to change the course of events by messing with time.

Fudge thought the children were Confunded and left the infirmary.

Then Hermione broke her word to the Ministry and used the magical object for something other than she had agreed. I believe that would be a crime and that it should be classified as a Misuse of a Magical Object.

In telling the story of Voldemort's return to Rita, Harry would not have to divulge that he was instrumental in breaking a notorious prisoner out of confinement in Hogwarts, and that he did this with Hermione as his accomplice and with the knowledge and approval of his headmaster.

The further criminal implications is that he has aided and abetted a fugitive of justice.

Just that one line makes me go crazy.

If I were Fudge and there was such a publicly made confession by Harry Potter, you bet I'd start an investigation. Especially if it could lead to the ouster of Dumbledore, which is what he was trying to do all year long.


Did anyone else notice these things? Or am I just insane from looking too closely at the minutiae?

Stay tuned. Next time I'll tell you my problems with character development. Now, that's a whole different topic.


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Seeking poems for the Iraqi People

My friend Batja Cates forwarded a message to me encouraging people to write poems for the Iraqi people.

Cynthia Bryant the poet laureate for Pleasanton, California is soliciting poems for Gift of Words-Poems for the Iraqi People project.

The Challenge: Write a poem for the Iraqi People, something that you want to express to their citizens. Who: Anyone, any age can write a poem and submit it to be included into The Gift of Words; Poetry for the Iraqi People

She has received poems from all over the country as well as the world including New Zealand, England, Scotland and Africa.

The deadline has been extended to May 2007.

You may send contributions by snail mail to Pleasanton Poet Laureate, P. O. Box 520, Pleasanton, CA 94566. or by email at PoetsLane@comcast.net.

She asks that you include your full name, area code and phone number along with your e-mail if you have one.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Memorial Service for Michael Shurtleff

I saw this mention in the Los Angeles Times .

There will be a memorial service held at 3 p.m. March 11 at the Skylight Theater, 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles.

More information is available by phone at (323) 469-8745 or through e-mail to cleobaby@sbcglobal.net.

I won't be able to attend, but thought for all my ranting in my last post regarding a lack of a memorial service for a fictional character that I certainly should mention one for a person who passed away.

I never met Mr. Shurtleff, but his words and ideas inspire me. I shall remember his wisdom for years to come.


P.S. Edited to add, for those who are scratching their head and going, "Who's he?" I wrote two other posts about my veneration of Michael Shurtleff. You can find those posts here and here.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

In Defense of L.O.O.N.ish-ness and problems I have with the Harry Potter books

In trying to think of a good title for my blog that was different from others, I harkened to the term League Of Obsessive Nitpickers from the Harry Potter for Grown Ups (HPfGU’s) list serv.

Last night I was talking on the phone with a local high school student whom I agreed to mentor in her senior writing project. In the course of our conversation, she brought up the subject of the Harry Potter series and asked if I was familiar with it. There was this awkward silence when I tried to figure out how to politely say, “yeah, in fact I’m in recovery from having overdosed in Harry Potter fandom politics.”

Yes, I will read the seventh book, but I’m not as excited as others to read the final installment. Because I’ve been greatly disappointed with the last two books. I admit that it is due to my own unreasonable expectations.

I haven’t spent anytime yet on this blog telling about my not so secret obsession with the Potterverse. Many of you who have stopped by and read my blog have come from my dear friend John Granger’s website where he does an amazing job of analyzing aspects of the HP books with a particular emphasis on alchemy and Christian symbolism.

First off, I want to stress that I adore the Harry Potter series. I do. I was floored when I first read the books to realize that the plot lines were intricately woven not only in each volume, but between the volumes. I had never read a series where things that were introduced in a previous book were clues laid for subsequent books.

I had initially read the books in November 2001 when the first movie came out. Having had experience in trying my hand at writing and adapting screenplays, I actually enjoy reading books and then seeing how a screenwriter condenses the plot, characters, etc. to fit the running time for a movie. I had read the first two books and was about halfway through Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban when I saw the movie.

I remember sitting in the movie theatre and watching as Hagrid fell out of the sky in the flying motorcycle and then feeling floored. I remembered then that he had said that the motorcycle belonged to young Sirius Black. A character briefly mentioned in the first chapter of the first book and then never again until book three where he was the titular character.

I went home and confirmed that indeed he was mentioned in the first chapter, in a throw off manner. As if it wasn’t really important. Just an amusing aside, except it wasn’t an aside at all. It was a clue for future plot points.

I was impressed.

I finished reading the third and fourth books (the series was only 4/7th completed at the time), then I began reading again from the beginning. I was so impressed that I began analyzing the plot structure. It was during my third or fourth read of the series and that I began dissecting things. I made lists of all the characters, all the potions, all the animals, etc. I didn’t realize that I was reinventing Steve Vander Ark’s wheel. I could have saved myself the trouble and merely looked at his website. However, it was good practice for me and honing my analytical skills.

After doing that, I started talking with others whom I knew had read the books. None seemed to share my intense interest in examining the evidence for clues of future plot points. I started to feel a little weird. Then I went online and discovered the global online HP fandom.

It was then I found my niche with the HPfGU list, which led to my writing online fan fiction at Fiction Alley, Portkey, Fanfiction.net and becoming a prominent ship debater. (Ship is slang for relation-ship and an immense amount of bandwidth was/is consumed with people arguing for various romantic pairings of fictional characters.) I spent a lot of time arguing why I felt the Harry/Hermione ship was the ultimate romantic pairing of the series. For those who are wondering, in the online community I am known as either Athena or Pallas Athena, and yes, I did represent the H/Hr ship at the Nimbus Symposium in Orlando in 2003.

My nerdy fandom creds are showing.

Back to L.O.O.N.s…I spent about eight solid months reading the HPfGU’s list and was fascinated by the level of discourse and intense scrutiny of the text (AKA canon.) People would ask a question and if they didn’t have a solid grasp of canon then others would chime in and cite from the books showing that their premise was wrong due to X,Y and Z in chapter 12 of the Chamber of Secrets (Cos). People were polishing their imaginary League Of Obsessive Nitpicker badges, and since I had taken the time to create my own schematic of the series I felt like I was one of their kindred spirits.

I wrote my own fifth year fic based on different theories I happened to favor that were spun on the HPfGU’s list, and one that was truly my original theory. Most have been totally eviscerated by new canon, but a few other minor points still might come true.

Thing is, I spent a lot of time considering where I thought canon was going to go in book 5. There are a few aspects that I didn’t know where Jo Rowling was going to go and so I consciously decided not to explore them. I expected that she would deal with it, but she didn’t and to me it is a gaping plot hole.

Most people don’t even recognize that there are things missing that bother me intensely. It is only when I point them out do they realize their omissions. The things that bother me the most were sins of omission and not sins of commission.

In my talk last night with the high school senior, she said how much she like Half-Blood Prince (HBP) and I felt guilty to say that I didn’t like it. Then I told her a few of the reasons why and afterwards she felt like she should have noticed these things as well.

Okay, here’s a list of what bothered me:

Barty Crouch, Jr.’s soulless body.

What happened to it? Here we have prima facie evidence that something grossly wrong had occurred. This man had been declared dead and buried at Azkaban prison years ago, and yet his living body is found at Hogwarts after the death of a student in the TriWizard Tournament. What? No investigation? And where did this zombie-like thing go? Is it hooked up to feeding tubes in St. Mungo’s?

Lack of penalty for assaults on students.

At the end of Goblet of Fire (GoF) and Order of the Phoenix (OotP), Harry and his friends attacked Draco Malfoy and his gang of Slytherins. They were left on the floor of the Hogwarts Express with footprints on them, or they were stuffed into an overhead bin.

So, why wasn’t there any disciplinary action taken after these assaults? I tell you I if went to the train station to pick up my child after a year of being in a boarding school and he didn’t come off the train safe and sound, I would hold the school accountable. If I had to go onto the train and I found my child unconscious after being attacked, I’d be livid.

I’d want to see those responsible punished. Severely.

I actually worked that into my fifth year fic, and I was critical in my reviews of others fifth year fics for not including something which I felt would naturally follow in the continuing narrative.

Jo didn’t see it the way I did. She not only forgot to have that in the beginning of the school year in OotP, but again in HBP.

No punishment followed Harry and friend’s physical punishments of the bad boys. What kind of message does that send to children? If you are favored by the headmaster you can do anything you like?

As a parent, I don’t like that at all.

Lack of respect for Sirius Black.

Okay, I’ll admit that I adored the fictional character of Sirius Black. I was just a sucker for a handsome man who was wrongly accused and imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. I felt sorry for him having to live in Azkaban for 12 years, live in the Forbidden Forest for another year, and then subsist on rats and live in a cave for another.

I wanted so much more for his character. I wanted him to be safe, warm, well fed, have a romantic partner, and yes, I wanted him to be exonerated.

My fate for his character arc was so much different than Jo Rowling’s. She made him suffer, suffer, and suffer.

Then she killed him.

Then she really made me mad. Killing him was one thing, but her treatment of Sirius’s character after his death is what really infuriates me.

No funeral.

No memorial service.

No formal anything for Harry to grieve, or for anyone else to grieve the loss of Sirius Black.

Now, if there’s no body, it makes it hard to have a funeral, but you can gather people together to talk about that person’s life and what they meant to you.

She didn’t do that. Jo did have a funeral for Albus Dumbledore, which she needed to do.

Jo also had Hagrid blubber over the death of Aragog. Harry attended the service that his friend had for a monstrous man-eating spider.

Nice. Yet, no one could do the same thing for Harry’s godfather.

And what really bothers me the most about this is that I know that Jo knows better. She was asked after Goblet of Fire about bringing Cedric’s corpse back.

Saving Cedric's body reminded me of the Hector Patroclus Achilles triangle in the Iliad.

JKR: That's where it came from. That really, really, REALLY moved me when I read that when I was 19. The idea of the desecration of a body, a very ancient idea... I was thinking of that when Harry saved Cedric's body.


So Jo drew upon the classical poem the Iliad for Cedric, and yet she did nothing for Sirius after killing him off.

There is still a question in my mind as to whether or not Sirius was fully exonerated by the Ministry of Magic.

I Don’t Know The Answer. And it bugs me.

Okay, that’s all the time I have today to state the problems I had with the last two books. There are more, but that’s enough for people to chew on right now. If you’d like to share your thoughts with me, please feel free.