Casual Encounters - Meeting JK Rowling

Permanent Linkby Rich on January 5th, 2013, 6:34 pm

Casual Encounters

A personal account of my experience at, leading up to, and after the “JK Rowling in Conversation with Ann Patchett” Event at the David Koch Theater in New York on October 16, 2012.

Ticket Impossible
This summer I learned that JK Rowling would be travelling from Edinburgh, Scotland to New York City to promote her new adult novel: The Casual Vacancy. As a fan of the Harry Potter series, I knew I would Rowling’s latest work, regardless of its topic. Like John Irving and Stephen King have created an audience following, JK Rowling has secured my purchase of any piece of writing she publishes.

I was never aware that tickets went on sale for the event. It wasn't until October 7, 2012 that I realized that not only were tickets completely sold out for the event, but they had sold out in less than an hour. This seemingly was the end of my chance to travel to New York. I came across Stubhub, a website that allows fans to sell tickets to events. It operates similarly to eBay, except the buyer has to pay a fee to Stubhub when making a purchase, which is opposite to the process on eBay. I constantly checked the website to see if ticket prices would drop. The prices were determined by the seller, and all of the tickets were priced well above face value. I had expected that if I wanted to go to this event I was not going to pay the average $88 for two tickets. The prices dropped and rose all week and I found myself watching decent seats slip out from under me. I knew the prices would drop the closer I approached the day of the actual event. It seemed that other people had the same idea, but took any opportunity they could to get their hands on the coveted tickets.

I glanced through eBay's listings and found that tickets for sale were also well above face value. I messaged one seller and offered a price which the seller refused. You can imagine that by this point, I was discouraged. The majority of the tickets on Stubhub was gone and most were well over the price I felt comfortable paying. eBay was my only hope. I sent a message to another seller, who I later learned was named Elizabeth, questioning the sale price. Details aside, after conversation with her, she offered me the tickets. I paid well over the face value for them; however, I think I made the best deal. Any tickets I would have bought from Stubhub would have cost more (after factoring in shipping and fees) and I would have been stuck with less than desirable seats. I was fortunate enough to escape shipping fees by agreeing to meet the seller on the night of the event. I'll share a little more on Elizabeth a little later.

Inconvenient Travels
The most convenient way to travel to New York was by the train station, which is thirty-five minutes from where I live. My Mom traveled with me and attended the event because everyone else I know who would have liked to go was either working or lived far away. I almost missed my train because I stopped to get gas on the way to the station and my GPS took me through back-roads with a lot of traffic and traffic lights. I managed to arrive to the station, park, walk in, purchase tickets, and get on the train within minutes of its departure. Despite the commute almost causing me to miss the train, nothing catastrophic had occurred by this point. That was until the train broke down en route to New York. Luckily, the train was reset and started moving again within minutes and arrived at Grand Central Station as scheduled.

Casual Encounter #1
I think it's worth mentioning the wonderful couple I met while traveling. My Mom and I met a married couple from Chicago who were in town for medical testing and to visit a relative. The husband was originally from Germany and had a great sense of humor. The wife was ill, and was participating in medical research. She was being studied to see if doctors and researchers could find a specific link between neurotransmitters and the prevalence of Parkinson's disease. They were trying to figure out which train station to get off at, and my Mom and I did our best to help them. Prior to leaving, the wife said "Thank you for helping us, it really means a lot." It was one of the most genuine statements I think I've ever heard. They were great people and it was a great feeling knowing I had helped them.
Unreliable Navigation

I've been to Grand Central Station before, but it had been over a year since my last visit and my recollection of the Station wasn't too great. With all the criticism Apple has received regarding its new Maps application, I was terrified to use it to navigate the streets of New York. Regardless, I'm happy to report that the application successfully navigated me to and from the theater. My faith in Apple is as high as ever. As I walked through the streets, I continually thought about how I could never live in the city. The constant sound of car horns, people standing literally in the middle of the street waiting to cross, vendors, and shady people screaming at each other really isn't my definition of a pleasant place to live. That's not to say I don't like to city--I definitely do, and I love living close enough to it to visit whenever I feel like it.

Casual Encounter #2
The theater was only two miles from Grand Central, which turned out to be lengthier walk than I had anticipated. I did my best to look like I was a native and not a tourist. I arrived at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center around 7:20pm. The doors opened at 7:30pm and the event started at 8pm. This is when I met Elizabeth from eBay. To my surprise, Elizabeth and her boyfriend was a very nice, young, attractive couple. I'll admit I expected an awkward, untidy character to greet me. I did see plenty unconventional people there, but Elizabeth and her boyfriend were not among that clientele. We talked for a few minutes and shared our excitement for the event and the book. Overall, it was a great experience and they were great people.

Doors Open
At 7:30pm, the doors opened and the attendees began to file into the theater. People broke into two groups--those sitting on the left and those on the right. We took our seats and I'm happy to say they were pretty good. They were dead center, and the theater was set up in a way that even people in the upper rings had a fairly decent view. The stage consisted of two red velvet chairs and in between the chairs, upon a giant canvas sat a poster sized image of the book jacket. I would say that the theater was dominated by women, though there were a significant amount of men in attendance, including myself. Some were obviously dragged—probably like Elizabeth’s boyfriend—and others were there by their own will, as I was. As expected, the theater was filled with excitement, which I determined by eavesdropping on various conversations and by observing the looks on the faces of the people around me. Who wouldn’t be excited to be there?

Conversation Begins
At 8:00pm sharp, the presentation began. Representatives from the publisher, Little Brown and Company walked on the stage to give a brief introduction. The mere mention of JK Rowling’s name resulted in the crowd bursting into applause and cheers. It was too loud for the presenter to continue, and the audience decided it was best to quiet down so that Rowling could actually come out on stage. After Ann Patchett was introduced and came on stage, JK finally came on stage and was received by a standing ovation and screams of exhilaration.

The conversation lasted an hour and primarily consisted of Patchett asking questions which Rowling answered. By listening to her responses, I learned that Rowling is a honest, selfless, genuine, witty and what I’ll call “conscious” person. She appears to be aware of the conflicts we as people often face and uses these conflicts as themes and plots in her stories.

Rowling mentioned some of the following, which I have paraphrased from various news articles that were written about the event:
• “The right 14 or 15-year-old” could read Casual Vacancy, Rowling says. But should a 7-year-old? “Well, that would be inappropriate.”
• Her biggest challenge in moving from young readers to adults wasn't "about writing in a contemporary world, in a real world," but getting "the structure" right of a novel without a central character.
• Rowling said she felt a special connection to adolescents because of their "vulnerability" and how they come to comprehend there is "evil in the world."
• Rowling discussed how attached she becomes to her characters. She spoke up for traditional publishers and the editorial support they offer as she explained why she didn't simply self-publish "The Casual Vacancy."
• "I did feel the exact same powerful need to write the book, and need is the right word," Rowling said. "I think that I have had a very odd life and that I've moved through, economically speaking, I've been through virtually every variation you can have."
• Rowling avoided the question but admitted that she has kept some boxes filled with old papers, including one that has "very precious materials" written on the top and which contains a piece of literary history: the two tiny notebooks in which she wrote the first notes about Harry Potter.
• Rowling said she thought her next project would be a story for children slightly younger than the audience for Harry Potter.
• “This is going to sound like a product placement, but I’ll say it anyway — the MacBook Air changed my life.”

In retrospect, the hour passed very quickly, but I enjoyed all sixty minutes of the presentation. I benefited from attending because I learned more about a person I admire and I also had the opportunity to hear a few comments from Rowling that aren’t necessarily accessible unless one hears them directly from her. Among my favorite was the following: "I do still walk in and out of Hogwarts," Will she write another Potter novel? Who knows? I don’t think even she knows. It’s nice to know that Harry is still fresh in her mind.

At the conclusion of the conversation, a representative from the publishing company appeared onstage and reminded the audience of the signing guidelines: one book per ticket, no material signed by Rowling other than the book given to you, no dedications, and no posed pictures. After that, two rows at a time were called to the signing area which was outside the theater and up a nearby flight of stairs. Up the stairs, there was a line where one would receive a copy of his/her book and have it signed by Rowling who was sitting at a table surrounded by staff. I waited about an hour until my row was called and stood in the line upstairs fifteen minutes at most.

Casual Encounter #3
From the moment I thought about buying tickets to the event, I thought to myself, What would I say? I never did figure out what I would say because, frankly, there were too many things I wanted to say. I thought that whatever would happen in the moment would be the most important expression I wanted to convey to her. As I neared her table, I become more excited. There is something odd about seeing a person on television and then seeing him or her in reality. I think it’s easy to forget that celebrities are the same as we are. They are flesh and bone, have lives, families, thoughts, feelings, opinions…they’re mortal. I have never liked the idea of paying money to see a celebrity or obsessing over another human being, especially because they are often viewed as being more significant than typical people. However, I decided that it’s okay to admire a person for his or her work as opposed to idolizing the experiences he or she has. As my Mom and I approached the table where Rowling was signing books, she looked up into my Mom’s eyes and uttered the most humble “Hello” I think I’ve ever heard. Immediately my Mom went into frenzy, saying whatever came to her mind at the time which was something like “Hi! I’m here with my son…I’m very excited…I’m going to read this…” The staff was moving the line as quickly as possible and before my eye blinked a second time it seemed like they were pulling my mom away from the table. As soon as my Mom had said “...my son,” JK Rowling immediately looked from my Mom and right into my eyes. After all the time thinking about what I would say to Rowling, I froze. I returned her gaze but didn’t know what to say. I did the first thing I would do if anybody had witnessed how my Mom behaved: I rolled my eyes and smiled. At this, Rowling busted out laughing and seemed to understand my feeling of mild embarrassment. As she signed my book, I thanked her and told her that I was excited to read it. Just like that, she smiled again, said “Thank you” and I was on my way.

Silent Emotion
It’s amazing the level at which emotion can be expressed without using words. Although the majority of my encounter with JKR was filled with my eye-rolling and her laughter, I felt three emotions: first that she had a deep understanding and appreciation for familial relationships, second, that she truly appreciated the fact that my Mom and I traveled together to see her, and third, that I felt that I had known her for years. I had never thought about it, but I guess I really do know her. One of the best ways to get to know a person is through his or her writing and I had spent over 10 years of my life reading her work. I was reading about something she created, but in anything an author creates, there is a sense of self present within the story. I felt that there was some sort of connection that existed on an emotional level. It really was the strangest feeling…it was like we were friends in another life.

Return Journey
This casual encounter with Rowling, albeit brief, was worth every investment I made to attend the event. I exited the theater and made by way back to Grand Central Station a little after 10:00pm. My Mom and I was approached by various vendors as we exited Lincoln Center, but continued to walk briskly back to the station. I was able to walk through Broadway and other recognizable landmarks which looked fantastic at night. After walking as quickly as possible and still attempting to look like natives, we arrived at the station mere minutes before the train’s departure. We boarded the train and it departed after a few moments. Before I knew it, I was in my bed replaying the casual encounters of the day in my head and considered the power of non-verbal emotions.

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I wrote this shortly after my trip in October and have not shared it until now. If you have stuck with it from beginning to end, thank you. I know it's long, but if you're like me and admire Rowling, I'm sure you will have enjoyed reading it. Before I leave you all until my next blog, here is a quick picture showing JK Rowling signing a copy of The Casual Vacancy right before she signed my Mom's copy and then mine. The other pictures show JKR's signature in my book, my tickets, and the cover of her book:

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Until next time,
-Rich :thumbsup:
Barbossa
Last edited by HaveAMagicalDay on June 15th, 2013, 10:41 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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Re: Casual Encounters - Meeting JK Rowling

Permanent Linkby HaveAMagicalDay on January 10th, 2013, 12:02 am

Lucky person you!

-feels jealous-

How was the book??
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Re: Casual Encounters - Meeting JK Rowling

Permanent Linkby Rich on January 12th, 2013, 9:43 pm

In my opinion, it was excellent. It's certainly not a book that will appeal to large audiences, contrary to the Harry Potter series. Plot aside, the structure itself is enough to discourage people from reading it--the point of view changes per paragraph/page/chapter and can be difficult to keep track of 20 characters. I found the book compelling because of its themes. I admire Rowling for not being afraid to bring to light uncomfortable issues that are real and often swept under the carpet. I have to say that I was afraid after going through the trouble of planning and going on this trip that I was going to read the book and be disappointed. To my relief, I felt quite the opposite and would recommend it to people 20+ who should be mature enough and educated enough to get the most value from the book. That's not to say that there aren't younger people with wisdom and maturity who can benefit from reading the book, but I personally wouldn't feel comfortable letting anyone younger than 17-18 reading it.
Last edited by Rich on January 12th, 2013, 9:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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