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Kim Tomsic

Thursday, November 11, 2010

J.K. Rowling, Rejection, and Lucky Number Thirteen

J.K. Rowling is known as the billionaire author of the Harry Potter series. But in a less fruitful period of

her life, her agent informed her that she’d never make any money writing for children. 

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was rejected by twelve publishers—they said the story wasn’t commercial enough. However, Bloomsbury, the thirteenth publisher that she queried with the story, took a chance and rode the Harry Potter train all the way to Gringotts.

The author of the seven-book phenomenon (or eight if you count the play) is so well known today that "J.K. Rowling" is included in Microsoft’s spellcheck. The writer’s real full name is  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.

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 Rowling when she was a broke twenty-five-year 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.

Rowling wrote her first book by hand in noisy cafes while baby Jessica slept in a carriage by her side. By the time Rowling completed her seventh and final book (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows), she sat 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.

However, there's an update since this blog post was written - 2016 saw the release of  Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne. According to Toyzk "Although it wasn’t part of the original 7-book series, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a widely popular addition to the Harry Potter series. It begins where the Deathly Hallows epilogue left off, with Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger-Weasley, and Draco Malfoy sending their children off to the magical Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry." 

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 seventh Harry Potter book say, “all is well” and it seems for Ms. Rowling, all is well,too.

My two brushes with Harry Potter fame:

1. I had breakfast with Arthur Levine (he was the American publisher of the Harry Potter series when he headed Arthur A. Levine Books). Okay, we were at separate tables, but we were inches apart. I could have reached over and borrowed his salt shaker. ☺ Ms. Rowling says that Arthur Levine is one of her two best friends.

2. At the lake in front of my house in Boulder, Colorado, I bumped into actor Devon Murray, the star who plays Seamus Finnigan. He was carrying a fishing pole as we passed one another on the path. When I saw him, I said hello while my brain tried to catch up. I knew that I knew him…but from where? I thought perhaps he was a waiter at one of the restaurants I frequented. But when we spoke, and I heard his thick accent, the cobwebs cleared from my mind. 

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