J.K. Rowling is a literary phenom.
The three books of her Harry Potter children s novel series are currently Nos. 1, 2 and 3 on both the Wall Street Journal and New York Times fiction best-seller lists, where the first book, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," has spent 42 weeks. The previous record-holder for children s novels, E.B. White s 1952 classic, "Charlotte's Web," made best-seller lists for only three weeks.
The Harry Potter series tell the story of an 11-year-old who was orphaned as an infant and grows to discover that he is a wizard born of wizard parents.
Earlier this week, the British author visited the Montclair Kimberley Academy in Montclair, where she gave a reading, signed books and answered questions prepared by pupils from various grades. It was the only school stop on Rowling s current North America book-signing tour.
Some of the questions and Rowling s answers were as follows:
Q. Rebeccah McCarthy asked: "How did you come up with the names of the characters?"
A. Rowling (pronounced "Rolling") said about two-thirds of the names are invented, "like Quidditch and Hagrid." The others are names that she collects. "Often they turn up in my books," she said, noting that Dursley the last name of Harry's aunt and uncle is the name of an actual town in England. "Just say the word to yourself. Doesn't it sound dull and forbidding?" Rowling gave the name to the phlegmatic and boorish aunt and uncle who take Harry Potter in after his wizard parents are killed by the evil Voldemort.
Q. Marshall Paulson asked: "Were you inspired by a particular author when you were a child?"
A. Rowling said she loved the books of E. Nesbit and wondered if anybody in the crowded audience knew of her work. Nobody did. (Edith Nesbit, who died in 1924, wrote "Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare," "The Story of the Treasure Seekers," and "The Wouldbegoods," among other titles. Some of her books are available online via "The Gutenberg Project" at http://promo.net/pg/_authors/i-_nesbit_e_edith_.html) Rowling said she was also inspired by the books of C.S. Lewis and Paul Gallico.
Q. Julia Moore asked, "Are any of the stories based on personal memories or people you know?"
A. Rowling said, "Hermione is an exaggerated version of me when I was 11. But I was never that clever or annoying." She also reported that Professor Snake [sic] is based on a chemistry teacher who hated her and made her life miserable. "The great thing about being a writer is that you have a chance to get back at those people who wronged you," she said.
Q. Stephen Hughes asked, "Did you do any research on wizard customs?"
A. Rowling said she had always been interested in reading about folklore and legends of supernatural beings and experiences. "Although I don't believe in it myself, we shouldn't be too arrogant. Some of the stuff we believe in today will be considered rubbish in years to come, and things we think of as rubbish now will be considered true." After she began writing the Harry Potters books, Rowling researched wizardry more thoroughly, she said.
Q. Tom Houseman asked, "Do you think that anyone in real life is truly wholly evil like Draco Malfoy and Voldemort?"
A. Rowling said, "My instinct is to say that probably not, but I can t answer that question without ruining the series for you." Rowling said that in future books she will attempt to show "why Voldemort is who he is."
Q. Danielle Rode asked, "How many times did you revise the Harry Potter books? What kinds of revisions did you make?"
A.: Rowling replied, "I rewrite a lot." Openings give her the most trouble. "For "Sorcerer's Stone I wrote 10 different opening chapters," she said. "I've got them in a big box somewhere, I think."
Q. Hal Garrity asked, "When did you decide that writing would be your main career?"
A. Rowling replied, "Writing was always my ambition. Here's the recipe for life find what you do best and figure out a way to make it pay for you." Rowling added that she s happiest when she's writing nine hours a day.
Rowling also revealed that, when she decided to quit her teaching job and write full time, she announced her departure to her students, who were mainly from working-class backgrounds. She said one student asked her, "Miss, are you going on the dole?" "No," she replied, "I've got another career." There was a pause, and then another student asked, "Miss are you going to be a stripper?" Rather than give the boy detention on her last day there, she thanked him for the compliment.