Tag Archives: harry potter

Slytherins Unite! The good and the bad of the “dark side” of Harry Potter

By Claire W. Staley

Hello all you Gryffindors, Hufflepuffs, Ravenclaws, and Slytherins, and welcome to the Slytherin common room, or as I like to call it, this blog post. I am a proud Slytherin, though it has taken me some time to learn to love it.

I struggled to accept the fact that I am a Slytherin, because I wanted to be a Hufflepuff, but I couldn’t deny all the tests I took and retook on Pottermore. I am a full-blooded Slytherin. My heart broke when I learned this; my soul died a little, and I didn’t know what to make of it.

And then I started researching. I reread the Harry Potter series, noticing more about the Slytherin house and who inhabited it, and I became more intrigued. The house with the worst reputation, with the most evil students, and with the most haters, was my house. How could I ever be proud of that?

I detest most Slytherins in the books. I really do. Many of them are vile and horrible, but they are also the ones most visible. They are the ones we’re familiar with, and we don’t really get to know many nice ones. We know who Draco Malfoy is and we know who Pansy Parkinson is because Harry hated them with almost every fiber of his being.

But there are plenty of Slytherins in the background that are not evil. To start off with, there is Severus Snape: though despicable in nature and rather unpleasant, he is not evil. There are plenty that are intelligent, stubborn, kind, and compassionate. Because if there weren’t, Draco would never have had the kind of power he does. Someone with a blacker heart would have stepped up to compete. But to be honest, no one wants to be Draco Malfoy, not even Draco Malfoy.

I find solace in the fact that the kind Slytherins help keep everyone in check. They have to, because they have to balance out the not-so-good ones. All Slytherins are expected to go dark from the very beginning, even by adults, making it much easier for them to go dark. They are surrounded by people telling them they’ll be evil. People judging and hating them because of the house they are a part of, and this comes from fellow students and adults. Imagine what it would take to combat that and fight to be good?

So to those kind and compassionate Slytherins, you fight a hard battle. You fight to be good when no one gives you the chance.

I think the Slytherins can be pretty amazing.

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Why I believe in magic and fairytales at age 21

By Claire W. Staley

When one turns 21, as I did recently, one is expected to indulge in the “adult” practices of alcohol, practicality, and business meetings. After all, I am no longer a teenager (which brought on a brief existential crisis at 20), and I am far beyond the time when I believed fairies existed under each flower petal and mermaids swam in the oceans (although I’m still not prepared to give up the latter). I am a fully functioning college student beginning to understand financial aid, cooking, and her own bedtime…sort of. The fact is, Santa Claus isn’t real, my pet dragon is actually imaginary, and true love’s kiss won’t break any spell.

What confuses me most is that I barely noticed these changes as birthdays passed. I can’t pinpoint the moment when my dolls became plastic instead of people, when I stopped looking for faerie circles in the woods, and when creating my own elven language lost it’s thrill. They just faded away, and I miss the sense of adventure they brought to my life. I miss the way it made anything exciting and created a world that only I could see. Something I could understand.

And now I have term papers and tests and loud dorm mates that make me question my belief in not killing people. My willpower against the latter prevails.

However, as I was rereading Harry Potter for the umpteenth time, I realized something. Perhaps my way to find magic had just changed. There was certainly magic in these books, because the magic was happening inside my head and I was living it. And that is real. It is a tangible thing to be captivated by a book, to be so entrenched in the story and the characters that you cry and laugh and mourn them, to feel the real and powerful sadness that comes with a certain character dying, to love Isabella in The Pirate of Panther Bay like a sister, and to feel as in love with Augustus Waters as Hazel Grace is (in The Fault in Our Stars).

Perhaps, as an adult, magic has just changed. And who knows, really, if there are fairies underneath flower petals. They wouldn’t let us see them anyway, so does it matter? Perhaps I should just remember that not everything in the world needs or wants an answer. And perhaps I am quite happy with filling that space with this particular kind of magic.

It’s way more fun for the world to have magic in it anyway. So who cares if there is or there isn’t any. I’m happy just believing that I can be flown on a dragon to a pirate ship in another world.

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The case for modern teen & YA fiction in school classrooms

by Claire W. Staley

Some people tell me that they wish they read as much as I do, but they either don’t have the time, or they don’t enjoy it. The way teenagers or college students see reading confounds me, especially when their faces are like most children’s when they are told to eat vegetables. Most students look at reading as a requirement for class, and most don’t even read those books. And yet, they want to read.

My friends believe they should read, and even have a desire to do so, but they haven’t had an experience with reading that makes them act upon this.

To enjoy reading, teenagers think they must enjoy all types of books, or, even worse, that they must enjoy the classic literature they are force fed from eighth grade onward. If students are not getting good books at home, the only experience with literature comes from school. I’m sorry to say that A Christmas Carol—or any other book by Charles Dickens for that matter—has done nothing to inspire me to pick up books and read them. And it has not inspired anyone else I know, either. If teachers honestly expect students to be avid readers after reading Shakespeare I think they are quite mistaken. I am not saying to this cut Shakespeare (or Dickens) out of the curriculum (I, for one, adore Shakespeare), but perhaps infusing it with modern YA books would create a new generation of readers.

Harry Potter got me started on books in fourth grade. The books taught me about the values of kindness, courage, intelligence, wit, reflection, loss, love, fortitude, standing up for my beliefs, and the power of a single individual. This is only a fraction of what I could say about Harry Potter, but there are a multitude of books that students love and are usable in the classroom. Divergent, Eragon, Artemis Foul, anything by Tamora Pierce, The Hunger Games, and countless others have created powerful role models that changed my life. When I have a problem I look to them. I look to Hermione, I look to Tris, I look to Peeta, I look to Percy Jackson, and I look to Hazel Grace. They always provide me with answers and support. They have never let me down, and I wonder why these characters aren’t a part of my education experience at school.

To pretend that John Green (The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns) is just teen fiction and has no basis in a classroom because his books are not “old” or about certain subjects is to deny every student and what they love. It reinforces the idea that there are good books to read and bad books to read, and that only one kind has value. Once teenagers find books with relevance to their lives and are well written, then they will read.

My next blog post will explore this concept even more as I discuss different books that I recommend for classrooms.

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The long, hard road to overnight success

As writers, we are always hoping for literary and commercial success. And we dream of becoming an “overnight success.” Few of us realize how long and hard that road really is.

I was listening to a brief audio presentation sponsored by my publisher, Wheatmark, that featured social marketing guru Bernie Borges. Borges is CEO of Find and Convert and has written Marketing 2.0, which is basically a book designed to sharpen marketing strategies in the world increasingly dominated by social networking. At one point during the interview, the host asked him if he had any “shortcuts” to making the use of facebook, LinkedIn, blogs, and other interactive internet tools effective. The answer? An emphatic “no.” It took eights years, he observed, before one of the most influential bloggers today had his first 100 subscribers.

The analogy reminded of Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers where he profiled some of the most successful people in the world. One of the concepts he discusses is a general rule of thumb where a person needs to investment 10,000 hours in an activity or pursuit before they get to the point they can excel. (Among the examples he notes are the Beatles and Bill Gates.)

In short, rarely is there a true “overnight success.” Most successful people, including authors, toil away for years, honing their craft, before they achieve notable success.

In children’s writing, many could easily think J.K. Rowling is the counterfactual: She “shot” to superstardam with her first book: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (or “Philosopher’s Stone” in the U.K.). But this is more myth than reality.

We tend to forget that Ms. Rowling labored long and hard over her story and manuscript, even spending time as a single mother on welfare, before she could even shop it around. She conceived the story in 1990 and didn’t get representation by an agent until 1995. The book appeared in the U.K. in 1996, and it wasn’t until 1997 that she earned $100,000 form an auction for the U.S. publishing rights.  The first book was rejected by 12 publishers before a small English press (Bloomsbury) to the risk and published it giving Ms. Rowling an advance equal to about $3,000. Their first print run was just 1,000 copies.

But the journey to overnight success wasn’t complete until her book took the U.S. by storm after the first book appeared in October 1998. Perhaps even more importantly, each of her subsequent volumes in the series has improved in writing and style. I have no doubt that the 10,000 hour rule applies to Rowling’s overnight success.

On the more earthly level of excellent writers who finally are (justifiably) earning an independent living as authors, Katrina Kittle’s experience provides both insight and encouragement. Her debut novel Traveling Light (first appearing in 2000) remains one of my all time favorite books, and it was commercially successful. Her second novel, Two Truths and a Lie, was published in 2001. Great start…but only a start.

Despite critical acclaim and modest commercial success, Katrina’s writing career really didn’t begin to take a financially sustainable turn until her third book, the penetrating and important The Kindness of Strangers found both critical and commercial success in 2007. The paperback printing allowed her to give up her “day job” and concentrate on her fourth wonderful novel, The Blessings of the Animals (2010), which appears to have given her the kind of platform we all want to continue our writing as a full time endeavor. Years from Katrina’s first book to the one that gave her a financially sustainable writing career? Nine. And that’s a pretty quick overnight success.

So, as A Warrior’s Soul, my second teen novel, is readied to be unleashed upon the reading public, I need to bridle my enthusiasm for my own work and realize that this is really just the beginning of my fiction writing journey. The best is yet to come as each book gives me critical experience in writing stories and characters and my marketing slowly builds my author’s platform.  I have faith that, after 20 years of hard work, diligence and perseverance, I will indeed become an overnight success.

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