Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Pointing at Harry Potter

This month away from writing has given me time to let my mind float a bit. Instead of me thinking about writing and editing and marketing in a purposeful way, my thoughts have just sort of flitted over to those things now and then between scrubbing baseboards and cleaning windows.

I received a few new reviews during this past month, for both Finding Angel and Seeking Unseen, and during those flitting moments I've given thought to some of the common concepts in them. The main one being the fact that several readers looked at the premise of Finding Angel and assumed it would be just another Harry Potter rip-off. But they all agree that my story does stand on its own.

I will admit, I was worried when I was writing it. I did NOT want Finding Angel to feel like Harry Potter in any way. (And it drove me NUTS that I would tell people I was writing YA fantasy and their response always seemed to be, "The next J.K. Rowling, eh?") But the HP books have all the elements I already loved in fantasy, which is why I fell for them so hard. It's not like J.K. Rowling was the first person to think up all those things--she was just the first to put them into a story the exact way she did so and make it into a blockbuster. (And to do so with killer writing skills).

Finding out I had magic or came from some amazing secret place was a common fantasy of mine as a kid. My back yard was an "enchanted forest" and there was a "secret passage" in my closet... I watched all kinds of shows with magic, like Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie, and wanted so badly to find out I was like little Tabitha, with my mom just waiting to see if I developed powers. And anyone remember H.R. Pufnstuf? Magic flutes and talking dragons on an enchanted island! Not to mention books like A Wrinkle in Time, or The Phantom Tollbooth.

The point is, while I certainly am not saying "I thought of it first," there is nothing that says "young teen finds out he/she's magic" or "main character discovers secret magical world" are original ideas owned exclusively by J.K. Rowling. It's just a cultural thing, a result of her being the big name in that arena, that makes anything along those lines point to her work.

And while Finding Angel has been assumed to follow suit with the HP novels, it's actually been compared to many others, such as A Wrinkle in Time, Fablehaven, and The Spiderwick Chronicles--all three of which are favorites of mine. The fact is, writers draw from what they read, whether it's intentional or not. The stories that capture our hearts make a home there, and they influence us. We just have to make sure that influence stays at a reasonable level, and find our own voice. Which, judging by reviews, I've managed to do.

(And, just as an update--there is one day left in my month off from writing. And I have one more room to super-clean. Funny how that just worked out, eh? Here's to diving back into writing with a clean house around me!)


Kessie said...

Yeah, my family's always saying "You'll be the next J.K. Rowling!" too. I think HP is just the biggest fantasy touchstone of our time, so that's what everybody thinks of.

I've read books that tried very hard to be the Next Harry Potter, complete with magic school and powers (coughPercyJacksoncough). The Angel series is completely different.

Kat Heckenbach said...

I like that term--fantasy touchstone. That's exactly it.

And thank you! I'm glad you saw mine as different from HP :).

Sparks of Ember said...

I agree. It drives me batty when people assume an author owns the market on certain aspects of story-telling. If it's original enough & stands on it's own, that's what's important. Influence should be a positive thing, not a negative.

Kat Heckenbach said...

Don't get me wrong. I give all credit due Rowling. She is amazing and talented and brilliant and I am a Harry Potter fan to. the. bone. But there is a difference between influence and copy-cat. And I do see why some would be on guard about it all, because there are a lot of copy-catters out there.

Sparks of Ember said...

It's a fine line, that's for sure. Detecting copy-catness can ruin a book/author for me. But influence is different and certain concepts cannot be owned. Just look at the whole "savior" archetype in Harry Potter. Hardly a Rowling invention, that's for sure.

Way back in college when I took creative writing, the class course was divided into sections - first poetry, then one-act plays and lastly a short story. Poetry was the most difficult part for me and one of my poems was religious in nature. So I wrote it in lower-case with only the references to God in capitals. My professor said it was too much like E.E.Cummings and wouldn't accept it until I added capitals. At the time, I had never even heard of E.E.Cummings and it made me mad that my professor seemed to think he owned the market on using lower-case and no one else could ever do so without being a copy-cat.

Kat Heckenbach said...

That's a great story!

I, personally, wouldn't make it through a poetry class. The only poetry form I've managed to master is the limerick. (I've actually had two published! :P)

Sparks of Ember said...

I found my folder from junior high the other day. Some interesting limericks and poems I wrote when I was 11/12. One about the couch's hurt feelings for being used and abused and unappreciated. Another about a foolish mouse visiting a cat. And a limerick about a sculpting fish. lol

Yes, I was glad the class only briefly covered each subject since poetry was so difficult. (Plus all I was interested in was the fiction-writing portion.)

The professor really respected how deeply personal it is, too. She'd have us turn it in & then she'd make copies without the names attached. So we could do group critiques anonymously.