O'Donnell, Rosie. Interview, The Rosie O'Donnell Show, 21 June 1999
Transcription courtesy of Laurel Carmer from the Sugarquill Transcription Project. [This show was actually taped at the beginning of June, and broadcast on the 21st]
Rosie: My next guest is the author of a book I simply could not put down. Actually, two books now. As you're about to find out, her own life story is as inspirational as the books are fascinating. Please welcome best selling author of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, buy them both, read them in order -- please welcome JK Rowling.
Rosie: How are you, JK?
Jo: I'm okay.
Rosie: (about the audience) Aren't they nice?
Jo: Yeah, they're friendly people.
Rosie: First of all, I want to thank you for flying in all the way from Scotland just for this.
Jo: Not at all. Yeah, I came in yesterday.
Rosie: How was the flight?
Jo: It was great. And I met a friendly person at passport control for a change.
Rosie: Really? A friendly person?
Jo: Yeah, 'cause normally you don't like people coming into this country very much, do you?
Rosie: I'm not sure, do we give you a lot of hassle?
Jo: Last time I was here -- "Why are you here? Why?" Like I was a terrorist. But this time I said I was doing your show and she said, "Oh, that's huge!"
Rosie: Really? And they let you right through? That's good. Anyone, if you're listening, if you'd like to get in the country illegally, just say you're booked on this show. Boom, you're right in. (Jo and the audience laugh)
Rosie: Well, I'm glad you did it, it's a long trip but I actually begged to have you come do this.
Jo: I'm so grateful.
Rosie: You should not be grateful -- this was the best book that I have read --Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.
Jo: I don't even have to plug it, you're doing it all for me, this is great.
Rosie: You know what, if I could, I'd give it away every day, because it brought me so much joy.
Jo: Thank you very much.
Rosie: How did you come up with this? I've heard and read the stories, oh, she was homeless, she wrote it on napkins, what's the real story?
Jo: I wasn't quite that sad, but nearly, nearly that bad. Mainly, I wrote the first book while I was a single parent, living on public assistance, as you call it. And I could only write basically when my daughter was asleep, so I just used to walk her around town waiting for her to take a nap and write for a couple hours, and then write when I put her to bed at night.
Rosie: And you would stop in coffee shops and stuff?
Jo: Yeah, I used to go to cafes a lot, but I found out once they'd let me sit there for hours with one coffee, you know, I didn't have a lot of money to play with.
Rosie: Right. And was this the first book you ever wrote?
Jo: I've actually wrote other ones which I never tried to get published, for the really good reason that they were rubbish.
Jo: I could tell.
Rosie: Good thing you waited.
Jo: Yeah, I think so.
Rosie: And how did this concept -- because, the magical world that you create, the details within that world are so totally captivating. How did you come up with, first the boy, Harry Potter?
Jo: It was really weird, I was on a train, a delayed train -- trains are often delayed in Britain, this is a very common feature of life -- and so I was stuck there and it was as if the idea just fell into my head. I didn't have to work for it at all -- Harry just walked into my head and I was so excited, it was the idea of my life, and I knew it then, and I didn't have a working pen, and I was, like, too uptight and British to ask anyone for one.
Jo: Yeah, in case they thought I was trying to pick them up or something. British people are like that.
Rosie: Right, that was so proper of you. In New York, if you were a New Yorker, you would say, (Bronx ? accent) "Hey you, give me da pen!" You know what I mean?
Jo: I could have done with a bit of that.
Rosie: So you went home and you just sat down...
Jo: The moment I got home, after four hours, and thinking about it, and I just started writing it.
Rosie: Did you write it by hand or did you type it?
Jo: I wrote the whole book longhand. I still write longhand, it's a really deeply ingrained habit now, I can't really write any other way.
Rosie: Can't really write on a computer?
Jo: Well, I edit onto a computer, but the first draft's always longhand.
Rosie: Now who did you send this to, the first copy, just a random publisher, you just sent it --
Jo: Yeah, I just started working off a list.
Rosie: Did you know published authors who would lead you to --
Jo: No, no, I didn't know anyone, I knew no one, no one at all, no, I went to a directory called "The Writers and Artists Yearbook", a long list of publishers and agents, and just started sending it out. And I just had -- I could only afford to photo copy two sets of chapters to send out to them, so I bought these two plastic folders to keep them clean, because I knew they were going to keep coming back, because I didn't really, to be honest with you, expect to be published, but I had to try. And the first agent I sent it to, she wrote back saying, "Sorry, my client list is full, ps the folder you sent will not fit back in the envelope". (Rosie gasps) I was furious, I wanted to write and say, "You owe me five pounds".
Rosie: 'Cause you didn't have enough money to go get the xeroxes.
Jo: No, I was really, I was very broke.
Rosie: So how many people did you have to write to before you got a deal?
Jo: Well, I was, in fact, really lucky, because agent #2 took the book. Best letter of my life.
Rosie: And did he then make a deal for more, or since the success of the book?
Jo: Well, I'd always planned it as seven books, you know, that was always in my head, so I was PRAYing when I met my publisher for the first time they'd say "We want the rest" because I had boxloads, literally boxes of stuff on Harry -- thank goodness they wanted them.
Rosie: I can't even try to adequately explain how brilliant the book is, I mean I really can't. I have to tell you that I read the book, and usually at night my son says to tell him a Batman story.
Jo: Oh, my daughter loves Batman.
Jo: She's obsessed, yeah.
Rosie: All he wants to talk about is Batman and Poison Ivy, and make sure that Mr. Freeze is there, the whole thing. So I finish this book and I said, "I got a different story to tell you" and I told him the whole book.
Jo: I bet he didn't want to hear it at first, though, because it didn't have Batman in it.
Rosie: No, he did.
Jo: Oh, okay, good.
Rosie: I said, "There's a special boy and he had a lightning bolt scar on his forehead, and his name was Harry Potter". I told him what happened. Well, now the kid is captivated.
Jo: Oh, that's wonderful.
Rosie: He knows everything -- if I skip something because I'm tired --
Jo: Oh, yeah, I do that.
Rosie: He says, "Mama, don't forget when they play Quidditch on the broom and they have to catch a Golden Finch" (sic). He knows every part of the book.
Jo is laughing: Okay.
Rosie: I got an advanced copy of the second book, and it is just as enchanting as the first book. I hope that you are now financially very sound as a result of these because --
Jo: A lot sounder than I was, believe me.
Rosie: I bet you are. Did you get a good seven book deal?
Jo: I've sold the first five so far -- If my agent survives, I have a great agent.
Rosie: How about the movie? I hear it's gonna be a movie.
Jo: Warner Brothers bought the rights -- (audience goes crazy)
Rosie: I gotta tell ya -- you're the author, I don't know how much pull you have, but I have to be in the movie.
Jo completely cracks up laughing: Okay.
Rosie: Here's the part I want -- I want Mrs. Weasley.
Jo: For sure.
Rosie: I want that -- that's the mother of three boys -- two boys and a girl, and they don't have any money --
Jo: Cool, you would be perfect.
Rosie: And she's very kind to Harry, and she knits him a sweater and, it's so, and the thing about the Howler. Owls carry messages and this message comes, and all the kids back up and I'm thinking what's a Howler? And you drop the letter and it opens, and the mother's voice starts yelling at the kid -- "What did you do? You never do that!!" -- and all the kids go, "Oh, you got a Howler" and then the owl picks it up and flies away.
Jo: Wouldn't that just be the worse thing ever?
Rosie: It would. It is really, really ingenious. It is. I wanted to get you something. I didn't know what to get you because I am so, so thankful that you wrote these, not just for me, for the world, I love it, and I heard you were looking for a copy of "The Little White Horse".
Jo gasps: No way, oh, my goodness.
Rosie: And this is a book in the 40s.
Jo: My favorite childhood book.
Rosie: Your favorite childhood book, that was out of print, we found it.
Jo: Oh, thank you, oh my --
Rosie: I didn't want to stop there, I wanted to get you some stuff for your daughter (pulls out a huge basket with stuffed animals and such) here's some stuff for your daughter and even though you told me that you don't write on a computer, I had read the research that said you wrote the whole thing longhand, and that your typewriter broke, so we got you an iMac and an Apple Power Book G3 as well. (A guy wheels it onto the stage) Right there so you can take it and write more books and more books and more books.
Jo: Okay. (Through all this Jo has her hands over her face, and she's laughing, and just looking astonished)
Rosie: I thank you very much for being here. I hope you don't have a problem getting through customs on the way home. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, BUY THEM TODAY. We will be right back.