She came, she saw, she signed.
J.K. (Joanne Kathleen) Rowling, the 34-year-old writer whose fabulously successful Harry Potter books occupy the top three spots on the New York Times bestseller list, got a royal reception this week.
The British author was mobbed at every book signing she attended during her three days in the Washington area. At yesterday's appearance at the staid National Press Club, reporters and their children unceremoniously pushed more than 400 copies of the $19.95 hardback "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" toward Miss Rowling for her trademark, loopy signature.
"I swear I'm writing as fast as I can," she said as she jokingly collapsed after initialing the books. Her 375 listeners provided one of the largest turnouts ever for a National Press Club author.
By now her story is legendary: how she began writing in near poverty in 1990, how her first book, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," only came out three years ago and how its story about an apprentice boy wizard has grabbed the hearts of children worldwide.
Her little fans went to unusual lengths to reward her yesterday. One boy presented her with a black broomstick - a "Firebolt broom" in Harry Potter parlance.
Anna Hulkower, 9, of Reston, gave her a bundle of goodies: Swiss chocolates, a sachet, a Calvin and Hobbes book, a note, a handkerchief sporting a map of California and some herbal spray for aching hands that sign hundreds of books per hour.
The packet, Anna admitted, was her mother's idea, "but I thought of the letter."
With 8 million books in print in this country and another 2.2 million in print in other English-speaking countries, Miss Rowling is on her way to being one of Britain's richest women. A film version of "Sorcerer's Stone" is scheduled to be released in 2001.
Not all readers are fans. A week ago, a group of parents petitioned the South Carolina state Board of Education to review the books for too much violence.
"They don't have to read the book," said the author, rolling her eyes in irritation. "I've a problem with them getting other peoples' children not to read the book."
She told adoring fans how they, too, can write best-sellers when they grow up.
"Read as much as you can," she said at the lunch. "That's the best way you know good writing and recognize the bad. Be resigned to writing lots of rubbish and persevere. It's a career with lots of drawbacks. It's not for the easily discouraged.
"And," she told parents, "don't tell your kids they're being unrealistic."
Miss Rowling's greatest feat, according to an informal poll of parents waiting outside the Baileys Crossroads Borders bookstore Tuesday night, is getting their Internet-soaked kids to read books.
"Mary's a fanatic," said Bob O'Brien of Fairfax, referring to one of his 8-year-old twin daughters. "She spent her birthday money getting Harry Potter books. This is the hottest book now for kids."
His children were near the last in a line of 1,200 persons who waited for hours outside in the drizzle to see the popular author. Borders employees closed the store to all other customers, called in personnel from other stores to help out and petitioned police to help direct traffic.
Trahern Wells, 11, of Springfield, was number 80. He waited four hours.
"I like the books," he said brightly, "so I thought it would be neat to get them autographed."
David Rodriguez, 12, of Herndon, admitted he usually does not like reading.
"But this is my favorite book," he said. "If I get it signed, it will be worth a lot more to me."