To say that I’m a fan of the Harry Potter series would be a gross understatement.  I love the books, have read them all multiple times, and can give long-winded speeches on the stories from any angle.  I even enjoy the movies, an easy thing to do when you consider them as their own artistic medium instead of worrying about how faithfully they follow the books.

I’ve written other posts on Harry Potter, including this one which seems to attract a lot of span comments.  In addition, however, I’ve done some other Potter writing that I talked about way back in the beginning of this blog–a couple of fan fiction pieces that I thoroughly enjoyed working on, even if I knew they were, for the purposes of someone looking to be published, a futile effort.  One of these pieces was “Bare Bottomed Longbottom”–a short story that takes place during Harry’s fourth year at Hogwarts and centers on poor, mistreated Neville Longbottom.  In the story, Neville is invited by the Weasley brothers to participate in an “age-old Hogwarts tradition” in the form of a nude race through the castle in the middle of the night.  It was a fun little story and, to my surprise, it won the 2009 QuickSilver Quill Award for Best Humor Story from Mugglenet.  Behold:

Now, in addition to my short story, I also wanted to write a longer work.  In keeping with J.K. Rowling’s formula of each book taking up a year of Harry’s life, I asked myself what would happen in the year following the events of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  How would the characters cope with the aftermath of the war with Voldemort?  How would they pick up the pieces of their lives and move on with celebrating their victory while grieving for the enormous cost. (Note:  If you have neither read the last book or seen the final movie, there may be spoilery information to follow.  Not that I care, because if you haven’t read the books, you’re dead to me anyway.)

And so, Harry Potter and the Golden Sepulcher was born.  It would be posted a chapter at a time, per Mugglenet’s policy, and would describe the year following the Battle of Hogwarts.  I would try to keep as close to Rowling’s style as possible while still making it my own story.  Finally, I would do all the work knowing there was not even the remotest possibility that I would ever make any money off of it–it would be a tribute to Rowling’s masterwork, nothing more and nothing less.

Now, as we come to the end of an era, the culmination of more than a decade where there was always something to look forward to on the Harry Potter horizon, I’m going to serialize my incomplete manuscript of HPGS on here.  It is incomplete because, despite how much fun it was to write, I felt I needed to focus on other work in my limited amount of free time, work that stood a chance of getting published.  Still, I have twelve chapters done and, if the mood strikes me, I may add more at some later date.

(Disclaimer:  This story is fan fiction.  I do not claim any rights to the characters or other elements of J.K. Rowling’s works.  This story is a humble tribute to what she created and I am forever in her debt for creating such a rich, fertile world of the imagination.)

Harry Potter and the Golden Sepulcher

Chapter One–The Malfoys

Draco Malfoy sat in the drawing room of his family’s manor and stared at the roaring fire.  The orange flames provided the only light in the room, the heavy curtains blocking the late-afternoon light, and shadows danced about the room.  The elegant furniture had replaced the long table and numerous chairs that had occupied the room up until a week ago.  Up until the Dark Lord had been defeated.

The face gazing at the fire was not that of a young man just graduated from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  No youthful innocence or eager ambition showed in the fair skin and tightly pressed lips.  Instead, worry and sorrow marked the pointed features, aging it far beyond others of his age.  The furrowed brow and haunted eyes, motionless before the flames, spoke of profound lessons learned at a terrible price.  His white hands, folding in his lap, clutched each other as though afraid, the skin beneath the long, thin fingers paler even than that around it.  To a casual observer, Draco Malfoy might have been a statue, a waxwork tableau erected in tribute to the lost cause for which he and his family had fought so many years.

A single chime sounded in the house, clear and resonant.  It reached every corner of the massive structure and, at its signal, Draco moved for the first time in hours.  Standing, he strode across the drawing room and entered the long entrance hall.  Lamps lit themselves as he entered the room.  His father and mother, both dressed in sumptuous robes of dark green, reached the front door at the same time as their son and they all looked at each other as though questioning who would answer the tolling bell.  After a moment, Draco stepped forward to a large mirror hanging near the door.

“Show me,” Draco said, his voice low and weary.  Behind him, he could feel the tension in both his parents as they watched over his shoulder.

In the week since the fall of Voldemort at the Battle of Hogwarts, as it was now being called in the papers, the Malfoys had lived in absolute fear.  Any moment, they reasoned, the Ministry of Magic might send a group of Aurors to take them into custody, possibly whisking them all to die ignominious deaths in the wizarding prison, Azkaban.  They had, everyone knew, been supporters of Voldemort and had even harbored the Dark Lord in their home as he spread his reign of terror over Britain.

Still, the Ministry of Magic was not who the Malfoys most feared.  They, particularly Narcissa Malfoy, had played a role in the defeat of the Dark Lord at Hogwarts.  Draco’s mother, now quivering in fear behind her son, had lied to Voldemort, saying that Harry Potter, once again subjected to the killing curse that had failed to slay the”Chosen One” the last time Voldemort had cast it upon the boy, was finally vanquished.  Concerned only for the safety of her son, she made it possible for Harry to defeat the Dark Lord, thus betraying the Death Eaters that considered the Malfoys some of his most ardent supporters.  The remaining Death Eaters, those few still at large, would likely seek revenge on the Malfoys as soon as the Aurors grew weary of hunting them.  The sacrifice Narcissa had made to save her son would be his death sentence should Voldemort’s supporters return to Malfoy Manor.

Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy looked, if anything, worse than their son.  They shared the same haunted look as Draco, their eyes looking out from deep hollows in their sharp faces, but the lines around their eyes, barely visible only a few weeks ago, seemed to have eroded until they looked like great gorges in their nearly transparent skin.  Both had lost weight from their constant state of anxiety and Draco’s mother, already thin, looked as though she might blow away in the winds of change now sweeping through the wizarding world.

The image of the three Malfoys in the mirror lasted for a second, then dissolved into gray mist.  The mist swirled, gathered, and reformed into another image.  Now, the mirror showed not the entrance hall of the manor, but the country lane that led by the high hedge separating it from the grounds of the estate.  A line of wild brambles could be seen on the opposite side of the lane.  Lit by brilliant daylight, the image in the mirror cast a warm glow on the blanched faces of the three people observing, faces that grew whiter still when several figures appeared in the lane.

Draco Malfoy heard his mother give a small moan of despair behind him, but said nothing, keeping his eyes fixed on the figures now standing before their front gates.

A dozen wizards stood outside the Malfoy estate, but the most prominent was the one in the center of the group.  Tall and black, he issued a few silent orders to those around him and the Malfoys saw several heads nod as the figures moved to either side of the front gate.  The leader, sunlight reflecting off the dark skin of his bald pate, raised his wand and tapped the metal front gate.

Another chime rang through the house, this one higher pitched and louder.

Draco turned and looked at his father.  His mother, shivering with fright, was pressed against her husband, her wide eyes glazed with tears.  Lucius looked back at Draco and nodded.

Raising his trembling white hand, Draco touched the mirror and spoke.

“Who is it?”

They watched in the mirror as the tall, black figured answered.  “Mr. Malfoy, it’s Kingsley Shacklebolt, Minister of Magic, here to see you and your parents.”

Draco turned again to his father, who nodded again.  When he turned back, he raised his hand again, this time using his finger to wipe vertically down the glass surface of the mirror.  When his hand returned once again to his side, they saw the figures on the lane move back as the iron gates swung inward, allowing them entrance.  He waved his hand in front of the glass and the mirror grew misty again, swirling and reassuming the image of the three frightened Malfoys in the entrance hall.

Before any of them could say anything, a knock came at the front door.  The sound boomed through the large house as the warning chime had, but carrying a much more ominous tone.  It spoke of finality, as though it would be the last time they would hear such a sound in their own house.

(more…)

(Yes, I know I’m posting this early on Wednesday, but as I worked late and haven’t been to bed yet, it’s still Tuesday to me.  Get over it.)

Last weekend, I made my sojourn to Frankfort, Kentucky, for the annual meeting of the Statewide Selection Committee for the Kentucky Governor’s Scholars Program.  As usual, I had a great time seeing old friends and making new ones, despite my car biting the dust when I got to the hotel.

The committee is made up of volunteers—mostly people who, unlike me, work in education in some capacity–from all over who have insanely agreed to put off every other event in their lives for a couple of weeks in order to score nearly 2000 applications from students hoping to attend the program.  Some of us attend every year, mostly for the excellent lunch provided by the staff, and some do not attend at all for various reasons.  I try to make it every year, and not only for the lunch, but for the conversation.  It’s nice to learn what is new with the program, what changes are being made, and how the many hours I spend scoring applications benefit students from across the state of Kentucky.

During this year’s meeting, two of the members were discussing how little imagination children seem to have compared to what we had growing up and, as a fellow committee member and a parent and a writer, I have a few thoughts on this topic.

I used to score a part of the GSP application we called “The Unique”.  We asked the students to write a short description of something that set them apart from their peers, something that would make us take notice and say, “Now, there’s a kid who should be a Governor’s Scholar.”  I have talked about the shortcomings from this part of the application before, so I won’t rehash them here.  For the five or so years I scored Uniques, they collectively got worse and worse until, last year, the program decided to scrap them in favor of a Leadership Project that the students would describe, in bullet point format, from conception to execution.  The project could be something they actually plan to do or purely theoretical, but the entire idea was to get the students to think about what they could do to help their communities and, from our perspective, to see how organized and pragmatic their thinking processes are.  So far, the feedback has been generally positive about the change within the program, but the people scoring them have complained about the same general idea that I and others did with the Uniques—lack of creativity and imagination.

Sadly, I see the same problem in my own children.  It seems that my children can’t be outside for more than a few minutes before they are whining about wanted to come inside because there’s nothing to do.  They don’t want to jump on the trampoline or play with all the toys we’ve bought for them or watch the movies lying tossed like frisbees around their bedrooms or read any of the books bulging from the shelves.  You simply cannot walk into either of their bedrooms without stepping on something that is now too boring for them to play with.

As a child, I was certainly not deprived, but I wasn’t overwhelmed with material goods the way other children I knew were.  I loved to be outside playing baseball, even if “playing baseball” meant throwing imaginary no-hitters against a brick wall at the church next door or slaying invisible dragons with the straightest stick I could find in the brush pile.  Everything I needed to entertain myself for hours was lying around my yard and inside own head.

Nowadays, every stimulus children have comes from outside.  They have video games and movies and internet and all the other assorted things that the generations before first imagined, then brought into being.  Studies have shown that young people read less than their older counterparts, and while a number of legitimate ideas have been offered as to why this is, I think one of the most important, yet least discussed, is that with stimulus thrust upon them, children have perhaps lost the ability to produce these things inside their own minds, to see the invisible dragons or the fierce batters ready to spoil that historic moment in sports history.  Why imagine a thing when you can put a disk into a little machine and experience it without all the effort?  Are we driving our kids to the point where they cannot appreciate the simple act of creation that can occur inside the imagination and will we miss out on what those imaginings can provide for us in the future?

I have other fears regarding the loss of imagination as it affects my writing.  Children who cannot focus enough on a story to see what is happening without having it on Blu-Ray will not, as a rule, be potential readers.  On a larger scale, what will happen to literature as more and more children lose the ability to imagine stories themselves, to create the future of what we will read?  Even as the publishing industry shifts to a modern, digitized format, I wonder if there will be much worth reading when my children’s generation are the movers and shakers in society.

There is hope, however.  J.K. Rowling, for example, has done as much as any single person to reverse this awful trend.  The Harry Potter series gave children (and adults, for that matter) such a rich world, with vibrant characters and brilliant settings, that an entire generation learned to imagine again, creating a ripple effect in the Young Adult market and making it probably the only bright spot in the book world right now.  Not only is the Harry Potter generation reading more, they are writing.  I see young people all the time who are writing novels or short stories with the ultimate goal of being published.  Now, if they could only spell and use proper grammar . . . but that’s a rant for another day.

Imagination is not an intangible thing.  Without it, there is no industry, no innovation, no progress.  It’s hard to look around and not see the advances in technology that started, in their embryonic stage, as an idea.  An imagining.  How will society progress as more and more of our ideas, our very thoughts, come from the television or the internet?  Who will rise up and have the original thought that changes the world?

Why not me?  Why not you?  Go out, find a child, and slay the invisible dragons.

If you are a writer or have some ambition of one day becoming one, check out Wired for Books.

Back in the 80’s and 90’s, Don Swaim of CBS radio interviewed some of the greatest writers of the age and now, on this site, those interviews are available in their full 30-45 minute glory for anyone to download and enjoy. Now, you can hear authors like Isaac Asimov, Ian McKewan, Kurt Vonnegut, Douglas Adams, Ray Bradbury, Joyce Carol Oates, Barbara Kingsolver and many others talk about their books and writing in general. I’ve been listening to them for several weeks now and have found the interviews to be a treasure trove of anecdotes and writing advice.

So, if you have written a book, plan to write a book, or have even read a book, go there. Now.

I’m currently reading Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and it’s one of the best books I’ve read in a very long time. Telling the story of two Jewish cousins who develop popular comic books in pre-World War II New York, Chabon spins a tell that is both fantastic and grounded so well in history that it’s hard not to feel as though you’re living in that time.

The thing that strikes me most about Chabon’s writing, however, is how closely it matches the way I would like to write. In both style and content, Kavalier and Clay displays how I envision myself writing under the best possible circumstances. Chabon’s narration is sublime, his description is vivid, and his dialogue–one of my biggest pet peeves with most writers–is spot-on realistic. He pays attention to all the details as a writer that I pay attention to as a reader and to find such a match, like meeting a soul mate, is joy almost beyond imagination. For me, there is a comfort in reading Chabon that I rarely find because it feels like reading my own writing, only perfect. I want to write that way.

Another endearing quality about Chabon is his belief that the traditional lines between literary and genre fiction should be blurred, if not erased altogether. He is a major genre fiction apologist and a contributor to the notion that enriching literature can also contain elements beyond what we would consider realistic. Other writers such as Jonathan Lethem and Susanna Clarke, both critically acclaimed and gifted authors, provide further evidence for this view, that good reads and good fantasy can be one and the same. Chabon, Lethem, Clarke, and so many others are only a step away from the wave of up and coming urban fantasy authors that garner little more than upturned noses from those insistent on separating literature and modern fiction. Even with authors like Cormac McCarthy, whose Pulitzer-winning The Road tells of an undefined apocalypse with elements of horror and science fiction, there are more and more authors who blend a literary approach to language with a nod to the surreal situations found in genre writing.

The success of these authors is what inspires me. I, too, believe that tales of the fantastic, the supernatural, the futuristic, and the horrible can be told in elegant, beautiful, moving prose. The most difficult part of this belief, though, is having to describe my writing to someone else. My current work-on-submission, Dead and Dying, is a vampire novel, but to me, more importantly, it is a story about friendship and loss and the many things in life more terrible than death. I could say it’s a horror novel, but that would only be partly true. I could also say it’s literary or mainstream, with the added bonus of the undead, but that again does not tell the entire story. Classifying my book in query letters to agents has been a real challenge for me. I settled upon “literary horror” because, frankly, I didn’t know how else to describe it, but even this seems just off the mark. I just hope that the agents who read my queries can understand my categorization and find it moderately consistent with what I have written.

So, I’ll continue reading Kavalier and Clay with the pure pleasure that comes with enjoying a really good book. I’m not concerned with how to classify it, but that is the last thing I’m worried about. As far as I’m concerned, there are two types of novels–interesting ones and not-so-interesting ones–and genre, or lack thereof, makes no difference to me. All I want, whether reading or writing, is a good story.

Work on Project Superhero took off last night and I ended up with about 3200 words in barely under two hours of writing, a pretty damn good day for me. I’m past 40,000 now and very close to the end of part one where I jump ahead fifteen years in the story. Hopefully, I’ll finish the chapter tonight that I started last night. I have a good feeling about the rest of the book, so we’ll see if it goes the way I hope.

The prodigal blogger returns! I realize that I’ve been a naughty little blogger lately, this being my first post in a month, but since no one is actually reading it right now, I guess it doesn’t really matter. Should I draw an audience later on, maybe no one will notice.

To start off, I’ve seen a great deal of speculation on the internet about why Dan Brown has not been more forthcoming about the release of his next Robert Langdon novel, tentatively titled The Solomon Key. Following his unprecedented success with The Da Vinci Code, Brown has spent several years researching his follow-up work which, he says, will be set in the United States and center around conspiracies involving the Founding Fathers of our country. Many people, growing impatient for that next blockbuster, have criticized Brown for not getting on the ball and giving them the story they so desperately want, and my response to these critics is this:

Leave the man alone.

We as the reading public have become so spoiled by such prolific authors as Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Sue Grafton, Mary Higgins Clark, and others that we expect any successful author to put out a book a year or so. Forget that Brown’s work requires extensive research that these other authors don’t need. Forget that stories of such complexity and historical reference are a bitch to write and take a great deal of time to get right. Forget all of that and be thankful that the man is working on another book at all. It would be very easy for him to take his ball (read Robert Langdon) and go home. Thanks to the success of The DaVinci Code and the residual success of his other books, Dan Brown has more money than probably all the authors at your favorite con combined. He is not obligated to write another damn word for the reading public who so ooh’d and aah’d over his other works. He could very easily take the Harper Lee or J. D. Salinger route and hole up in his New England home, bathing in cash, and laughing at all the people waiting to see what happens next to Professor Langdon. We should be thankful that he is writing and, in my opinion, whenever he decides to finish the book and get it out to us is fine with me. I want to read it just as much as the next person, but I’m willing to wait. What choice do I have, really?

There was another book that enjoyed even more success than The DaVinci Code, a little book a few people have read called The Bible. It’s been nearly 2000 years since that one came out and no one is clamoring for a sequel to it, are they?

Trust that Dan Brown knows what he is doing and leave him alone.

As for my own writing, I have been mercilessly delayed in recent weeks by various factors, including a severe case of the flu that resulted in my first missed day of work in almost 8 years. Still, I have managed a little bit, including a new short story–“The Visible Man”–that is currently on submission to Spinetingler Magazine. I have also rewritten another short story–“The Hangin’ Tree”–that was lost in the Old Computer Tragedy of last year. This new version is about 1400 words shorter and, thanks in no small part to that compaction, much better. Work on the new novel continues, slowly, but steadily. My status stands thusly:

In addition, I started another novel that I hope to work on after I finish the current project. I wanted to get a bit down just to see how it felt and if I thought it would be worth pursuing. I think it is and, based on what I’m reading on the various industry blogs I follow, there should be a market for it if I can get it done and edited in time.

Finally, submission of The Dead and Dying continues at a snail’s pace. I am planning on submitting to another agent this weekend, but I want to make sure my query letter is exactly like I want it before I shoot it to her. Hopefully, I’ll at least get a partial request, something to validate what I’m doing. Hopefully.

I am ashamed that, as a self-proclaimed fantasy fiction fan, and a writer of the same, I came so late to The Wheel of Time series. I picked up The Eye of the World about three years ago, anxious to learn whatever I could about what made the series so successful and what had driven so many people to obsess over the world Robert Jordan had created. Perhaps, I thought in my simplistic scribbler’s mind, I can find some sort of magic bullet that will help me achieve a similar level of success.

What I found, however, was far more valuable than any shortcut. Beyond anything I learned as a writer from the adventures of Rand al’Thor and his friends, I was captivated by Jordan’s mastery of the genre, his striking detail and his brilliant characterization. Rather than taking notes on the structure of the story or his use of modern themes, I was swept away by the sheer force of Jordan’s storytelling. Instead of dissecting the tale to see how its parts fit together, I sat in wonder at the whole, too awestruck by the narrative machine to even consider how it worked.

I have read one book in each of the last three years and am still planning to pick up the fourth from my local library as soon as I’m ready to take it on. A great deal of fantasy fiction is like fast food–it satisfies for the short term, but leaves the consumer longing for something more, something substantial. In The Wheel of Time, each book is a feast of the imagination, a seven-course meal of unrivaled description and sublime dialogue that leaves the reader full and sated. Each turn of the wheel, like any exquisite culinary masterpiece, requires time for digestion, which explains why I have only read one per year. It is possible to be overwhelmed by Jordan’s prose and creativity, to almost be intimidated by the ferocity of his voice. Still, regardless of the time in between turns for the individual reader, the story’s resonance is such that at any point I could pick up the next volume and know exactly where I left off.

Ranking the most influential fantasy authors of all time would produce very few names, if any, before Robert Jordan. Along with Tolkien, Lewis, and, now to some degree, Rowling, he helped define, not the boundaries that ruled fantasy fiction, but the idea that no boundaries existed, that all was possible. Drawing from his life experiences and his expansive personal knowledge, Jordan created a world that the reader experiences with all the senses, a setting so real that reality itself disperses in its wake. One does not simply read Jordan’s work, one lives it.

The true tragedy of Robert Jordan’s passing comes not from the loss his devoted fans will feel, but from his being robbed of the opportunity to complete his life’s work, to bring the Wheel through its final turn. According to the sources I have seen in the media, the last book in the series, tentatively titled A Memory of Light, will be completed by his family and published. While this will bring grateful closure to the many fans of the series, the moment will be bittersweet as Mr. Jordan will not be here to experience it with us or to hear our praise.

The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. This passage began the series that so many of us have come to love. Again, the Wheel has turned and an Age has passed with the death of Robert Jordan. To fantasy fiction, to our hearts and minds, he is a legend, but now that legend has become memory.

Mr. Jordan, you are missed.