Harry Potter and the Fate He Made Himself

The first time I read the Harry Potter books, I did it standing in the library of an old women’s college turned high school in Yonezawa, Japan, turning pages furtively like an addict. I wasn’t going to school there, the English language section was for students to practice with–but I was starving for books in my own language.

I devoured the ones they had and paid 4000 yen for an imported Goblet of Fire in Nariita Airport. I stayed up most of the night reading it on the night bus I was taking home, and got up the next morning only to open it up again.

The guilt of sneaking a read (both not my property and my family being part of the sub-culture that frowned on Harry Potter’s form of magic) somewhat muted my appreciation for the series, since I didn’t enter into fan culture about it.

Now that some of the fervor’s died down, though, I find that my love of Harry Potter hasn’t really waned. As a writer, on a reread some years ago, I was captivated by the use of sounds for worldbuilding–I think what really set Harry Potter apart to be a long-term beloved story.

Right now I’m listening to it in the car, and hearing it makes some other facets of the writing leap out.

Harry of the Dursleys

One of the things that made me start thinking was Harry’s interactions with the Dursleys. First, it seemed way longer than I remembered before Hagrid arrives to pick Harry up. Why is that? Why would Rowling spend so long with the Dursleys, after just teasing us with Dumbledore and McGonnagal?

It’s important to establish the world outside the wizard world is as we know it–and that Harry doesn’t belong there. He NEEDS the Wizarding World to exist, because as a wizard he’s being systematically oppressed.

I was first noting how Harry is openly hostile and rude to the Dursleys, particularly Dudley. That’s not very hero-type. I realized this is actually how he has been raised. While the Dursley parents often threaten him violently (and he uses violent language about their reactions, i.e. “They’re going to kill me!”) but they do not do physical violence to him. They know, ultimately, that striking him is going too far. They have their own logic by which their psychological abuse is rationalized.

They award their own son for being demanding and rude (unless pretense is needed for social climbing) and they never reward Harry for being polite, either. Of course he’s going to be rude. And because he’s punished every time he is “wizard” like, but he has no idea what it is he’s done wrong, since they withhold information from him.

Harry of Hogwarts

The rest of the story unfolds from this basis. Harry goes into a world where he has to figure out how it works from hearsay from other children and hard lessons when he gets it wrong.

While it seems odd to older readers that Harry and his friends never seem to go to teachers, Harry’s mode of survival makes a lot of sense–adults don’t understand where you’re coming from, in his experience. His surprised relief when McGonnagal is reasonable about mishaps is that of someone primed to expect abuse for mistakes.

Dumbledore isn’t strict in appearance the way the Griffindor House Professor is, but he is largely absent. This is true when he is called away by circumstance–it is also true when he emotionally withdraws because he fears Harry being compromised by his close connection to Voldemort.

And while he finally finds a role model he can relate to in Sirius Black, his godfather is also a child of an emotionally abusive family, where he was punished for irrational “wrongdoing”. He can’t provide support for Harry, since he’s never had any of his own.

Harry of course is going to forge on trying to make things work alone, because he’s never had any experience with people being there for him–in fact, his lucking into Ron and Hermione’s friendship is really what saves him.

And they get drawn into his dependence in a way that may actually have done them harm more than it did him good, but such is the nature of friendship.

There is one exclusion from this rule…

Harry of the Burrow

From the moment we meet Mrs. Weasley, before we even learn her name, she is mothering Harry. She is there to see him onto the train, when he’s dumped to figure it out by relatives who suspect a cruel joke is being played on him. (And *relish* it.)

Mrs. Weasley has mothered her own children well enough that they form a de facto family for Harry that functions as his only support. Fred and George may not be exemplary, but they have a careless affection for Harry (and Ron, and Hermione) that makes them safe at the school in at least emotional ways, if not physical.

But the story would have gone very differently if Harry could have just been adopted into the Weasley family. He is endangered by the deliberate ignorance of the Dursleys–and while Rowling eventually made it organic to the storyline, she had to ride a fine balance between the welcoming nature of the Weasley family, and Harry having to go back to his awful family over the summer.


The relief of returning to his proper world had to set up each story, even as the closure of having a secret world to withhold from them ends each book.

Harry of the Wizarding World

In retrospect, I love the idea that Harry didn’t have to be The Chosen One. That someone else could have fulfilled the prophecy. In fact, if Neville had been the one marked instead of Harry there would have been no reason for Harry to have an interesting story at all. However, this is the story of a boy who not only found a home where he belonged, that he could CHOOSE, but the story of someone who determines to make himself a hero.

Harry isn’t very heroic, in a lot of ways. He spends half his adolescence trying to live down the rumors and speculation. However, because he chose to go for the adventure, because he ran into it, trusting only himself (and sometimes his chosen family of friends) in the end it didn’t matter if he was meant to be a hero or not.

He actually brings the Dark Lord’s attention to himself over and over again. He becomes the boy of prophecy because he understands from the beginning that he’s been chosen for a world he didn’t expect, and he may have to pay a price for it.

Man, I love this story.

on the fun blog: A Werewolf Boy

I stay in touch with my inner Asian teen (no seriously; I was a teen in Asia) way more than I stay in touch with American media. Outside of the world of the Avengers, that is.

Not everything I have in my diet is worth trying to lure in new recruits, but sometimes I come across something that seems like it would translate well to my SF/F friends, if only I could lure them over the language barrier…

The Werewolf Boy is a movie I feel this way about.

Follow for a write-up on the paranormal through a Korean cinematic lens!

A Werewolf Boy – Korean Rural Gothic

The movie is available to watch with subtitles on SoompiTV


About thirteen years ago, I got several books for Christmas. For some people this may have been anticlimactic. At the time I was a little cautious, myself, though I was a thorough bookworm and would soon bless this pile of books.

I was living in countryside Japan, and all the English books I had access to in the world were in our house.

I was cautious about some of the books because my mom had not read them yet, and the covers were a little…hmmm.

I have all sorts of ways to name it now, but I won’t. Because of course, now this is the only true cover–it’s been with me ever since.

I  had already met Robin McKinley through Beauty. In fact, our week in the hotel after our international move I read it aloud to my brother, as an aggressive comfort tactic. This book was revelatory to me–it showed how a fairy tale could be a skeleton for a deeper novel, how fantasy could be built out of older stories.

The Blue Sword, though, was a story that I resonated with very personally.

In it, our heroine Harry has moved from her homeland to a colonial outpost. She’s always felt like an outsider (from a slight lack of pedigree and fortune: much worse, being tall and not pretty). In this nucleus of outsiders in a strange land she makes friends in a deeper way quite quickly.

Soon after the start of the book, she’s taken hostage–or rather, taken away to become a warrior. Her own untapped magic blooms in the strange culture she’s immersed in–and even helps her learn language more rapidly than could be expected.

Harry was living out a fantasy story–as bi-cultural. Though older than the technical definition of the Third Culture Kid, she very much was living out that experience of being an ex-pat and submersed in a culture that begins to color the very person you are.

Robin McKinley was a military brat, even stopping in Japan (where she read Lord of the Rings for the first time), so she was writing from an experience I resonated with, in this story. Man, did I know how amazing it would be to just subconsciously start picking up Japanese–though after a while, it felt a little like that, to be absorbing it from all around me. A uniquely cross-cultural wish fulfillment element!

But it wasn’t an escapist story, all wish-fulfillment with magic.

In one of the passages, Harry first feels comforted by the very insider-ness of the group she sits with–their strong bonds. But just moments later it isolates her:

The feeling she had had earlier, before she had tasted the Water of Seeing, that the closeness among the king and his men in some way supported her, was gone; she felt lost and miserably alone, and she decided that when there were eighteen people pretending you didn’t exist in a small enclosed area, it was worse than two people pretending you didn’t exist outside under the sky.

How well I understood (and still understand) that feeling! And even as she earns her status as belonging with them, as having a destiny there, because of being born and raised elsewhere she’ll never BE them.

I’m missing what I don’t have, she thought late one night, squirming on her cushions. It’s nothing to do with what I should be homesick for–Jack would understand, the oldest colonel still active, looking across the desert at the Hills. It’s that I don’t belong here. It doesn’t matter that I’m getting burned as dark as they are, that I can sit a horse all day and not complain. It doesn’t matter that their Water of Sight works in me as i does in only a few of their own. It is only astonishing that it would work in one not of the Hills; it does not make that one any more of the Hills than she was before.


There was a certain bitter humor to lying awake wishing for something one cannot have, after lying awake not so long ago wishing for the opposite thing that one had just lost. Not a very useful sort of adaptability, this, she thought. But, her though added despairingly, what kind of adaptability–or genius–would be useful to me? …There was, too, a reality to her new life that her old life had lacked, and she realized with a shock that she had never truly loved or hated, for she had never seen the world she had been used to living in closely enough for it to evoke passion in her. This world was already more vivid to her, exhilaratingly, terrifyingly more vivid, than the sweet green country, affectionately but indistinctly recalled, of her former life.

While I didn’t discover I was born with magic or anything, this transformation Harry goes through mirrors the new awareness of being surrounded by a new world. My memory became much less episodic after our first big move when I was 9. Moving to Japan shook up even more of my ability to take things for granted–from mundane things like packaging to flora on your doorstep.

I have been thinking lately about the books that have the narratives of bi-culturals and TCK (Third Culture Kids), inspired by the notes of that in The Goblin Emperor. I’ll be reviewing that element of that book next!


GUYLINER FOR MILES – a bored writer’s intro to k-pop

Okay. It has been brought to my attention that all my ill-gotten K-Pop knowledge might be turned for good, into a gift for the nations. That is, I could compose a list of jams and MVs to brighten some non-initiate’s day.

Ask, and receive!  I have organized them loosely into attributes, if not moods. This is a sampling drawn from the things I like, obviously, but some were chosen for being classic k-pop, some were chosen because I am biased, and some are just perfect for the list.


[ETA: I found reason to create playlists right on YouTube. While labelling them here was fun, ultimately, I went with mood for the playlists, rather than wit. BEHOLD:

BOUNCY - A K-Pop Mood Playlist

GLIDEY - K-Pop Mood Playlist

EPIC-Y - K-Pop Mood Playlist]

But I will not be removing this adorable post of k-pop by theme:

Masters of Synchronized Dance!

SHINee – SHERLOCK: Clue + Note

INFINITE – The Chaser

EXO – Growl

Super Junior – SORRY SORRY

B.A.P – Warrior

Girls Generation – Run Devil Run


Paranormal Decadance

TVXQ – Mirotic

SHINee – Lucifer

BIGBANG – Monster




BEAST – Fiction

2NE1 – Come Back Home

Sunmi – Full Moon

VIXX – hyde


Threat Level: CUTEST

Girls Generation – Gee

Teen Top – Miss Right

Teen Top – No More Perfume

Orange Caramel – Catallena

Crayon Pop – Bar Bar Bar

Girl’s Day – Oh! My God

B1A4 – Beautiful Target

Wonder Boyz – Tarzan


Fashion is the Enemy

G-DRAGON – Heartbreaker

2NE1 – Follow Me

Kan Mi-Young – Paparazzi

SPICA – Painkiller

 T-ara – Lovey-Dovey (Zombie ver.)


Bizarre Done Better

Wings – Hair Short

Lee Hi – Rose

BIGBANG – Fantastic Baby

Block B – Nallili Mambo

Sunny Hill – The Grasshopper Song

G-Dragon – Coup D’Etat

Sirens 2014 – Hauntings

When I decided to go to Sirens, I had both info about what it was like…and a tentative picture of what I hoped that meant.

A con where regular attendees could create programming? AW YISS

Probably a lot of people don’t care about creative input to conference or convention programming, but it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. So after combing through the info on how to submit an idea, and the types of programming accepted, I sent in an idea for a “roundtable”–in which I posed questions that anyone who attended could participate in answering.

I was so thrilled to have my submission accepted. (“The Ghostly Hands – Mothers, Maids, and Mistresses in Literature” is what I went with–something I’d immediately thought about when considering ghosts in literature. I do metaphorical more than literal ghosts…)

This answered one question anyway–was it pretty doable to submit programming? Absolutely. And it felt just like getting an acceptance from a magazine.

While the vibe of a very conversational, small conference really appealed to me, I try not to hold too many expectations of something completely new. I couldn’t help but hope that it would be more relaxed. And about literary discussion of genre fiction–something a lot of convention programming tries for, but lacks because of how general conversation needs to be.

I am determined to go back next year, because it was *exactly* that.

You could (and were encouraged by the format to) sit down with new groups of people and just geek out about stuff. The theme of hauntings ran through the discussions as something to deliberate as a metaphor for women in writing, too. And early October in the Pacific Northwest is a *perfect* time for ghost-stories.

I was new, with only one specific friend to join up with, but everyone I came across was happy to say hello, to strike up conversation. More than I could have hoped, the intimate numbers and common areas meant that it was easy to join other people. The fact that everyone was eager to welcome someone they didn’t know yet–that is a tribute to the organizers and the atmosphere they’ve created.

The Breakfast with Books idea of grabbing your breakfast and then choosing a table for a book-discussion is brilliant. (And now I know why the recommended reading list is actually a Thing You Want to Do.) Having a hike-with-GOH part of the programming is great–having a flexible enough program that when it’s rainy you can all decide for cocoa by the fire instead is even better.

In fact, the schedule was so flexible that there were programming spots open for spontaneous scheduling. I decided I wanted an anime/manga hour–others made sure there was a Legend of Korra watching party.

This is the kind of conference I want to support. So next year I’m not only planning to go, and recruit friends, I’m also going to bring money to spend at their auction, which is rife with tantalizing goods for a cause.

Sirens 2015 is in Denver! If you want the early, early previous-guest price link, contact me for it–they say it’s fine to share.

PLIV: Plot Break!

Now for more on the DUMB STICK theory of plot-breaking…

When drafting or outlining a book, there’s this false idea that a) it’s all common sense or b) it’s purely intellectual.

The exercise of breaking plot, like Melinda Snodgrass described from her Star Trek screen-writing days, is a challenge to that. It also challenges the idea that the writer’s own ideas are sacred. But I’ll let you wrestle with that on your own…

Essentially, you start with the premise that Three-Act Structure is a working formula, and your book can use it for a little better focus.

In the breaks where we got together to play around with this, we kicked off by having the subject (willing subject, I might add) start telling us about their book. Being writers who also design worlds, create characters, think up twists, we would interrupt constantly with questions and commentary. Sometimes more one than the other.

As we tried to fit the story into a structure, sometimes problems became apparent–at least to those trying to “help”.

The main thing brought to this version of workshopping, though, was the willingness of disinterested parties to throw out stupid ideas. To claim the Stick of Dumb, and announce an idea that the actual writer might be horrified by…and then inspired, too.

Shaking loose inspiration can be hard. Having a room full of enthusiastic writers with no reason to fear YOUR failure to throw things out there can be really powerful.

PLIV Mentioned Resources

It is known, that any group of writers gathered together in the name of literature are going to end up shilling.

Not their own work, usually, but the books that have inspired them, taught them something about writing, or just are flat out good. Here’s my compilation of books mentioned during the Paradise Lost Workshop, with a couple of additions I didn’t get to mention.

Non-Fiction, on Writing:

  • Zen and the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury
  • On Writing, Steven King
  • Wired for Story
  • The Ten Percent Solution

Stephanie Leary adds:

My addition:

  • Everything You Need to Know About Men You Can Learn from Dogs (a women’s only resource to character development, as far as I’m concerned)

Excellent Books:

  • The Thin Man, Dashiell Hammett (screaming red herring)
  • The Nicolai Chronicles, Dorothy Dunnett (an arc for all 8 books together)
  • Strong Poison & the Lord Peter Whimsey books (character voice)
  • Have Space-Suit, Will Travel – The Star Beast, Robert A. Heinlein

Stephanie Leary was talking about the artist journey in:

  • Faking It by Jennifer Crusie (also see her writing posts at ArghInk for superb lessons in craft/plotting)

My additions:

  • The Thief, Megan Whalen Turner (and sequels) for a twisty road of masterful reveals. When you get to the end, go back and read it over; it was totally fair!
  • Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch for “fistfuls of trouble” and reversals by the pint.

Screenplays, for structure and craft:

  • Casablanca
  • The King’s Speech
  • Dallas Buyer’s Club
  • The English Patient
  • Love, Actually
  • Thor (viewed as “an abusive father ruins family, creating bitter sibling rivalry”)
  • Captain America (first half, anyway)
  • Spiderman II (with Tobey Maguire)

Separately we talked about The Princess Bride and Never-Ending Story as formative movies.

I am going to update this list as others chime in with things I missed! And probably add links, once I’ve got the time to do that fiddly-bit. What did I miss, guys?

PLIV – Paradise Lost Writer’s Workshop

This weekend I learned to wield the Dumb Stick.

I am back from a long weekend in San Antonio, for a second round at Paradise Lost. It’s a workshop and writing retreat limited to alums of Viable Paradise, Taos Toolbox, or members of the SF/F pro forum Codex.

Essentially, this means people who have made a step toward becoming pro in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy field. But because of the specific circles involved, there were lots of connects, via classes of students from the workshops or activity on the Codex Forum. It’s easier to get to know people with certain Venn diagram overlaps in experience…

I feel this photo successfully portrays everyone's personalities...

Themes of the weekend that developed out of the lectures and chats this time were: no one “arrives” and is set for life in publishing… but you can make your own luck by being ready. It may seem a bit mechanical to write to certain structures or even formulaic, but it’s how a professional creates a book that fundamentally works. A publishing career is a crapshoot, so let it be about the fact that you love to write.

And maybe, love to hang out with other writers and talk about the craft?

girl table selfieI hope to post a compilation of recommended books, and an overview of our exercises in “plot breaking”.

First, though, I wanted to post a little more good press for this small workshop. If you can get in, the structure is great with enough food for thought that socializing time is energized, there is free time to write…or better yet, break your book and remake it with other fantastic writer-people helping you out. This is where the Dumb Stick comes into play.

Let’s do this again next year!