So, you may have noticed that I like Harry Potter. It follows me everywhere, or I guess I bring it with me everywhere, a bit like a security blanket. Like a security blanket, it can be a bit embarrassing sometimes, like when people find out or remember that I did a fan podcast for a fan podcast about Harry Potter when I was in high school(we were just really meta before it was cool, ok?). But there are other parts of it that, like a security blanket, make me feel warm and safe, like the fact that I have good friends literally all over the country. Like I can walk into a nerdy or Harry Potter themed event in New York City, and chances are I will probably know someone. It’s kind of comforting, that network of people that I can count on if I have to, for anything from a pick me up Facebook message to a place to stay for a month (both of which happened.).
But then there’s the place where the security blanket metaphor ends, the place where my connection to Harry Potter is more than just warm, comforting, and occasionally embarrassing. There’s the times I volunteered to organize and staff a conference for Harry Potter fans, seeing the community there, knowing that I am a part of that, and knowing that we have done wonderful things together. I mean, we sent five planes of supplies to Haiti named Harry, Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore, and DFTBA. How many clubs or communities can say that? There’s the satisfaction of the joy on the little kids’ faces when my friends and I organized a Harry Potter day at a local castle; knowing that whatever else, we made 300 people’s days a little brighter by dressing up and being silly and promoting reading. And then, there’s standing in front of JK Rowling, who smiles at me and looks me in the eye while I tell her she is the reason I want to publish children’s books, and there’s having her reaffirm my dream. There’s definitely that.
So, a little over a month ago, my friends sent me a link to buy JK Rowling tickets the night before they went on sale. I had already come to terms about the fact that I wasn’t going to be able to go; I had to work, and I wasn’t making enough to justify the expense, and there was no way I’d be able to get a ticket. But then, the opportunity just fell into my lap, and I had to. I mean, there are many reasons I am sitting here in Brooklyn right now trying to go into publishing, but in my pie chart of reasons, JK Rowling is probably the biggest factor. Her books showed me the power books can have, and the people I knew through Harry Potter gave me my first taste of the publishing world, and most importantly, my experiences with her books made me want to help do that for someone else. So when you get a link to tickets to see the person who has influenced your life so much, you can’t not buy them. You honestly can’t.
So that’s how I found myself on October 16, dressed in my business casual finest, with about 100 other Harry Potter fans in Central Park. A friend was organizing a big thank you for Jo: We were going to spell “JK Rowling in NYC” out of people. I was the bottom half of the “C,” it was pretty great. And then, I found myself in the David H. Koch theater with 2,000 other fans, watching JK Rowling speak. And here’s the best part. She and Ann Patchett didn’t do the usual TV news interview promo of The Casual Vacancy. They actually geeked out about it, about the writing, about the technical pieces of it, the challenges, the way it all worked together. It was like a seminar from my publishing course, only staring my favorite author.
And I lied, that wasn’t the best part, although it was pretty good. The best part was JK Rowling herself. Getting to meet her. Row by row, they shepherded us out into a line where we got a copy of A Casual Vacancy to get signed. I was in the second row of the first ring/balcony of the theater, and it took like an hour, hour and a half to clear the mezzanine. Then it was our turn. I couldn’t believe how nervous I was. I was actually shaking a little bit, the butterflies in my stomach, glad I hadn’t eaten dinner kind of nervous. I’d been thinking about what I was going to say for weeks, I’d been excited, but I couldn’t believe I was so nervous. So we filed through the lines, sort of hushed and expectant, we were handed our books, and then suddenly, there she was, sitting at a table, feet from me.
They say you should never meet your heroes. You’ll be disappointed, they won’t live up to your expectations. But whoever “they” are, their hero is clearly not JK Rowling, because she was the most amazing person I’ve ever met. I’ve been to a lot of author signings. They sort of glance up and smile now and then, but it’s mostly a quick, forgettable interaction. A quick file past to pay your respects and you’re out the door. And this was the same set up, no posed pictures, no dedications, but it was Jo herself that was different. She looked up and smiled at every single person who went past. She thanked them for being there, for reading her books. And then, when I stood there and I stammered out, “Ms. Rowling, I just wanted to tell you your books are the reason I’m going into publishing. I want to help do for others what your books did for me.” She smiled and looked me in the eye (Is it creepy to say she has amazing eyes? This was the consensus as we all met in the lobby: she has the most piercing blue Dumbledore eyes ever) and say “That is wonderful, I’m so happy to hear it. We always need more publishers.”
Can I put that on my resume? “JK ROWLING THINKS IT’S WONDERFUL I WANT TO WORK IN PUBLISHING, SO YOU SHOULD HIRE ME.” That’s my personal statement. My mantra. I mean, of course I know she was only being nice, but it is still really impressive that she listened and responded to 2000 people and made them feel special.
The rest of the night was a blur of bumping into people I knew (it was almost all my worlds colliding, people from the publishing institute, people from Leaky, friends from my early Harry Potter days, miscellaneous friends I know in New York City), showing off our signed books, and exchanging stories. It took me over a week to even figure out how I was going to write about it. It was one of those nights that you know you’re going to tell people about, that your grand kids are going to roll their eyes at when you start telling it again. It was perfect.