Barnes & Noble chat transcript, Barnes&, September 8, 1999

On Wednesday, September 8th, welcomed J. K. Rowling to discuss HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN and her other bestselling Harry Potter books.

Good afternoon, J. K. Rowling! (Well, I suppose it's late evening for you in England.) Welcome to I can't tell you how excited we are to have you in our Auditorium. How are you?

I'm very well and very excited to be here.

Where does your insight into young boys come from?

From inside myself. I've been writing about Harry for six months before I stopped and asked myself why he was a boy and not a girl, because I'm obviously a female, but it was too late -- Harry was too real for me to change. And I liked him too much by that time.

How long did it take you to write the books?

THE SORCERER'S STONE took five years to finish, but during that time I was working full-time as a teacher, and I was also planning the whole series of Harry books. CHAMBER OF SECRETS took two years, and AZKABAN took one year. They're getting faster to write because of a kind of snowball effect. I know the characters very well by now. And the plots are fully worked out.

Jo, I want to say a big thank you for making me feel 12 again and bringing me so much joy when I read your books. I have a few questions: (1) How do you keep track of all the strange names in the world of Harry Potter that you created from scratch? Do you compile a list of characters as you go along, or did you already have a clear idea from Book 1? (2) Did you do any substantial research on wizardry and witchcraft when you were writing these books? You've quite convinced a lot of us that Hogwarts and the world of wizards and muggles do exist! Thanks again. Michelle, age 23.

It is wonderful to hear that I've knocked 11 years off someone's age. I had nearly all of the characters worked out, including names, for all seven books by the time I finished Book 1, but I do change names sometimes. I like to play around with names, and I collect unusual ones from all sorts of sources, like maps, books of Saints, war memorials, and some names I just invent myself. And, yes, I have done research on witchcraft and wizardry, but I tend only to use things when they fit my plot, and most of the magic in the books is invented by me.

This is probably a very American question, but how do you pronounce "Hermoine"?

It's pronounced: Her-my-oh-nee.

I have seen some amazing fan work by kids online, like drawings and paintings of Harry and fan fiction. Do you ever go online to see the web pages created for Harry?

Yes, I do. And I have been staggered by the response. I only recently found the web pages devoted to Harry, and it was like Christmas --Christmas in August.

You've said in interviews that there will be casualties in the Harry Potter series. Now, everyone at a web site I visit says someone (probably Hagrid) will die in Book 4. Will someone die or is this a terrible rumor? I love Hagrid!

It is true that there will be deaths in Book 4 for the first time. It is likely that the reader will only care about one of the deaths. I can't say who it is, but I have certainly never told anyone that it's Hagrid -- hint, hint.

Ms. Rowling: Are you helping out on the movie at all? Do you have an idea when cast auditions may be? (Sorry, I know that has nothing to do with PRISONER OF AZKABAN, but no one will give me straight answers!) Thank you very very much!

Yes, I have script approval on the movie. And no, unfortunately, I have no influence on casting.

In PRISONER OF AZKABAN, Professor Dumbledore mentions Professor Trelawney's "second true prediction." What was Professor Trelawney's first true prediction?

I love a perceptive reader! Professor Trelawney's first prediction was a very important one. And you will find out in due course what it was, but I'm not going to reveal it at this stage. Sorry.

Is Harry Potter based on anyone you know? What will you do or write after the seventh book?

No, Harry came completely out of my own head, so I suppose he must have a lot of me in him. Although Hermoine is a more faithful portrait of me when I was younger. After I finish the seventh book I will cry because it will feel as though someone died. I will have been writing about Harry for 13 years when I finish Book 7. And then I will write something different.

What is Harry's middle name?

James, after his father.

Hello! Will Sirius ever be proven innocent? Or have you not decided yet? Thank you very much!!

I have decided, but if I answer it gives away something quite important in the plot, so I'd rather not...however, Sirius will be back in future books.

Without giving away any plot details, can you tell us if we might expect to hear any more from Crookshanks in future Harry Potter books? He seems to be a very smart cat!

You're right. He is a very smart cat, and you will be hearing more from him.

I know that the third installment is just out, but when will the next one be out? My children and I thoroughly enjoy reading about Harry and his adventures every evening.

There is nothing I like to hear more than that. And I hope that Book 4 will be available next summer.

What is your favorite book?

One of my favorite children's books is a book called THE LITTLE WHITE HORSE, by Elizabeth Goudge. The last great book I read was THE VIRGIN SUICIDES by Jeffrey Eugenides.

Do you have characters for other books running around in your head, or are you completely consumed by Harry and Hogwarts?

Other characters do live in my head, but because the cast of the Harry Potter books is already enormous and will become larger, they take most of my attention at the moment

What are your plans for allowing movies and toys to be made of the books? I am so very happy with the way your books have set people to reading again and have sparked the imagination. These will surely be literature classics. It just seems a shame to cheapen them with toys -- so counter to the imagination --and movies. Kids won't have to read to be in on the fun. What are your thoughts on this?

The truth is that I am both excited and nervous about the prospect of a Harry film. Excited because I would love the chance to see what I can see so vividly in my own head, especially Quidditch! However, I agree that no medium can replace reading, and my dearest hope would be that children would be led from the film to the books.

What is your favorite Harry book so far?

The first book will always have a special place in my heart, because it was the first book I ever published. However, I prefer the plot of CHAMBER OF SECRETS. And just to confuse the issue, I was looking forward to writing the third book from the start of the first because that's when Professor Lupin appears, and he is one of my favorite characters in all seven books.

You have such a phenomenal imagination! Is it a result of a very imaginative childhood?

First of all, I will be using your name in a future book. To answer your question, yes, I lived a lot in a fantasy world when I was younger and spent a lot of time daydreaming -- to my parents frustration.

Do you have any suggestions for young people who are interested in writing someday?

I think it's best to start with writing what you know. In other words, a good place to begin is your own emotions or a subject you know a lot about. But the most important thing to do is to read, because that will teach you what makes good writing, and it will also teach you to recognize bad writing.

Do you have an internet address where kids (and grown-ups) can send you email?

At the moment, I don't. But I can be contacted via Scholastic Books.

Dear Ms. Rowling, I'd like to ask if there would be a lot of romances between the characters in the upcoming books?

Good question. I'm having so much fun writing Book 4 because for the first time Harry, Ron, and Hermoine are starting to recognize boys and girls as boys and girls. Everyone is in love with the wrong people. Let no one say my books lack realism.

Did you attend a British public school?

No. I'm often asked that by British journalists. I attended what you call a public school in the United States.

My children and I love your books, and we care about Harry Potter. We are wondering if Harry will continue to live with the Dursley's every summer.

Well, you have to decide whether you want to give up the fun of seeing Harry getting the better of the Dursley's or whether you'd rather see Harry happy. I've made my choice, but I can't tell you what it is because it will ruin future plots.

Will Aragog appear in any later books?

Yes. But I'm not telling you anymore than that!

Tell us about your family! How have they influenced your books?

My mother passed way nine years ago, and her death greatly influenced a passage in Book 1. And I'm sure careful readers don't need to be told what passage that is. My father is still alive, and he really likes the books, and my sister, to whom the first book is dedicated in part, was the first person ever to hear the story. She didn't read it, but I told it to her.

How old is your daughter now? Does she read about Harry as enthusiastically as we do?

My daughter is six, and she really wants me to read the Harry books to her, but I told her she has to wait until she's seven because that will be the most important reading of my life, and I really want her to be able to appreciate them.

What do you like to do when you are not writing?

It's quite boring, and I wish I could say I went ab-sailing, but I don't. Nothing exciting and ludicrous, I'm afraid.

Have you considered creating a Harry Potter game, i.e., something that will stimulate young minds?

I haven't considered it. I suppose it could happen at some point, but I'm hoping the books stimulate minds.

Will we ever hear from Mr. Weasley's car again?

Yes, you will hear from Mr. Weasley's car again, but yet again, I'm not telling you how.

Is Hogwarts possibly located in Scotland? I am an American and have never been to the United Kingdom, but from reading the first book and going by the train station Harry leaves from and how long the trip takes, I am guessing it may be Scotland? Thank you.

You are absolutely right. If you travel north from King's Cross, you do indeed arrive in Scotland.

With the huge success of the first three books and your seemingly endless imagination, do you think that you might (please, oh please) consider continuing the story past the originally planned seven books? Maybe continuing with Harry as an adult or books about his children?

So you're convinced I'm not going to kill Harry??!! I try never to say never, because it seems that every time I do I end up by doing the thing I've forsworn. So, there is a remote possibility that there will another Harry book, but at the present time I am planning only seven.

With your recent success, you have traveled a great deal. Who is the most interesting (real!) person you've met and why?

When I was in Belfast, I was filmed speaking to a large group of children and sitting right in front of me, in the middle of the crowd, was Harry Potter. He had black hair, green eyes, and round glasses. I completely forgot what I was saying, pointed at him, and said, "Harry, what are you doing here?" He laughed, and all his friends laughed too because they all been saying it to him. So, if ever Warner Brothers asks me for the perfect Harry, I'll tell them to go to Belfast and find a boy named Nialls.

Before your success with the Harry Potter series, what was the worst job you ever had?

The worst job I ever had was working as a temporary secretary in a company that made surveillance equipment. Bugs, infrared binoculars...industrial espionage. I spent the whole time reading the catalogue. They were very creepy people. The products were very interesting, but the people were quite horrible.

Thank you so much for joining us this afternoon, J. K. Rowling. Before you go, do you have any closing remarks for your online fans?

I'm sorry to everyone who didn't have their questions answered, but if they keep reading, I bet most of their questions will be answered in the end.