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Kim Tomsic

Thursday, November 11, 2010

J.K. Rowling and Lucky Number Thirteen

J.K. Rowling is known as America’s first billionaire author. In a less fruitful period of her life, she was informed by her agent she’d never make any money writing for children; furthermore, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was rejected by twelve publishers—they said the story wasn’t commercial enough. But Bloomsbury, the thirteenth publisher she approached, was willing to ride the Harry Potter train.

The author of the seven book phenomenon is so well known today, her name is included in Microsoft’s spell check. But J.K. Rowling is not the writer’s real name; it’s just Joanne Rowling, no middle initial. The K comes from the name of her favorite grandmother, Kathleen. She chose to go by the penname J.K. because her publisher advised that her boy readers may not want to read a work by a female author. Unprecedented sales prove that nobody is bothered by her gender.

Ms. Rowling said she finally knew she was successful when she arrived in America for a book signing tour promoting her second book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. She rode in a car in downtown New York City and noticed an enormous line trailing down the street and wrapping around the block. She turned to her publisher and said something like, “What’s going on? Is there a big sale?” But the car pulled in front of Barnes & Noble and she realized the line was for her.

The idea to write the Philosopher's Stone (which happened to be the original title of her first book), came to Ms. Rowling when she was a broke twenty-five-years-old, freshly divorced from a thirteen-month marriage, and the mother of a tiny baby. She was penless (and penniless), riding a train from Manchester to London, and the ideas swirled in her head: I can write about a boy wizard, and this will be how the school will look, and there will be four houses, and these will be the classes he can take.
Ms. Rowling wrote her first book by hand in noisy cafes while baby Jessica slept in a carriage by her side. She completed her seventh and final book (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows), writing it in the peaceful quiet offered at The Balmoral, a beautiful hotel in Edinburgh, Scotland. She says when she completed the seventh book, she was initially elated, but in an interview with Oprah she said, “it was a bereavement.” Harry Potter was her escape and when she was done, she cried in a way that she had only cried one other time in her life—the time when she lost her mother.

She says that if her mother had not died, there would probably not be a Harry Potter. She says her experience with knowing death appears on every other page in what Harry has to deal with. Other life events, such as her experience with clinical depression, have inspired characters such as the Dementors. Although Mrs. Rowling said she could write an eighth, ninth, or tenth Harry Potter book, she probably won’t. She doesn’t commit either way, but she feels number seven was it.

Ms. Rolwing says she will go on to write other things and she gives herself permission to not feel compelled to replicate the phenomena that occurred with the Harry Potter series. The last words in her final Harry Potter book are, “all is well” and it seems for Ms. Rowling, all is well too.

Personal Note: My two brushes with Harry Potter fame:

1. I had breakfast with Arthur Levine (American publisher of the Harry Potter series Arthur A. Levine Books). Okay, we were at separate tables, but we were inches apart!

2. At the lake in front of my house, I bumped into actor Devon Murray, the star who plays Seamus Finnigan. When I saw him, I said hello because I knew that I knew him…I thought he was perhaps a waiter at one of the restaurants I frequent. But when we spoke, I quickly figured out who he is (with his thick accent, it didn’t take much of a detective to do the math. F.Y.I.-- Ms. Rowling says that Arthur Levine is one of her two best friends

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