Date: 1 August 2006.
Location: Radio City Music Hall, New York, NY.
Source: fan recordings.
Participants: Stephen King, John Irving and J.K. Rowling; questions from various audience members.
Context: benefit reading to raise money for Doctors Without Borders and the Haven Foundation.
Transcription credits: This transcript is put together from several sources, including transcripts by The Leaky Cauldron and Mugglenet (staffers Lei, Becky and Natalie), with corrections and notes by Lisa Bunker.
Introduction: I’m Dick Robinson of Scholastic, the lucky U.S. publisher of Harry Potter—the best known, best-loved character on planet Earth—and of J.K. Rowling, Harry’s brilliant creator. From the moment I met Jo, then unknown eight years ago, I was touched by her graceful confidence, born I think now of her sure [inaudible] knowledge that Harry Potter would be one of literature’s great characters. I was also struck by her [inaudible] gift of magic’s consecration, the mind [inaudible] that at all times absorbed in the consistency of the whole seven-book story that she had imagined from the beginning. And not only was her commitment to the developing story [inaudible], but it was accompanied by a parallel of readers. Her story and its readers have been linked in her mind from the beginning, even as the readers grow older, and the story artfully unfolds over the years. Our company [inaudible] teachers, parents, and children [inaudible] a place to find good stories and great books to help you read and learn. Something we have done in eighty-six years [inaudible], Harry Potter opening millions of minds to a great story and making reading the best way to learn about yourself. For all of this, thank you Jo Rowling. (applause)
Audience member question (paraphrased): Are there any surprises about book seven?
J.K. Rowling: Surprises about book seven? Um… (deep sigh—crowd laughs) Anything I feel like sharing? I'm well into it, I'm well into the writing of it now [smiles]. There's so much I could say. To an extent, the pressure's off, I suppose, because it's the last book, so I feel quite liberated. I can just resolve the story now, and it's fun. It's fun in a way that it hasn't been before, because finally I'm doing my resolution. I think some people will loathe it, some will love it, but that's the way it should be.
Audience member question (paraphrased): Can you speak about the charities these events will benefit?
Stephen King: I think we're going to be able to raise at least $250,000 for this charity, which for three people who write books is a lot of money. When we set out to do this we decided we would do two nights, one to benefit the charity of my choice, which is the Haven Foundation, which raises money for freelance artists who find themselves after catastrophic accidents and diseases with no resources for themselves. And Jo designated Doctors Without Borders, and she can talk very cogently about that. So, one night Doctors Without Borders, one night, Haven Foundation.
All of this came out of the fact that last year, I read for John's charity, which was Maple Street School [in Vermont], and he said he would read for me. And so while I read for a small school in Vermont, I dragged him to Radio City Music Hall, [laughter] and he came along.
Audience member question (paraphrased): What
would your advice be for kids who want to be authors?
Rowling: Advice for kids who want to be authors? Read. The first thing you should do is read, and the most important thing you should do is read. Initially, I think you’ll imitate the writers you enjoy most, and I think that’s a most important learning process. And by reading, you’ll not only increase your vocabulary, but you’ll learn what works and what doesn’t work, what you like, what kind of writing you’ll like, and you’ll learn to analyze it, so I think that’s the most important thing to do. And the other thing is to accept that you’ll waste a lot of trees, I’m telling you. Finally, come up with something that you enjoy.
Audience member question (paraphrased): What will [Jo] miss most about the Harry Potter series?
Rowling: Everything. I've loved writing it, and I will miss it hugely. But I always planned seven books, and I planned this particular ending, and if I get through it and do what I meant to do when I first committed to this story, then I'll be proud. I'll probably go through a mourning period and then have to think of something else to write.
Audience member question (paraphrased): Have any of your children exhibited magical qualities?
Rowling: Young witches and wizards in my book are very destructive in their early phase, and they've certainly got that. But otherwise, I would say probably not. My eldest daughter is very scientific, very logical, which I think is great.
Audience member question (paraphrased): Can you speak about killing your characters?
Rowling: John's killed off more than I have so I think he should go first.
John Irving: Because I never begin writing a novel until I know the major emotional things that happen in it, especially what happens at the end, I have a kind of casualty list of which characters make it and which characters don't, before I write the first word. So that process of deliberation that sometimes precedes the writing of a novel by as much as a year or 18 months means that by the time I get to writing those death scenes themselves, I've lived through the lives and deaths of those characters for many months, sometimes several years. Therefore I'm not truly emotionally affected when it comes to writing those scenes. It's as if they've already happened and I'm just remembering them. But I think that's a direct result of my need to know the ending of a story before I go about imagining where it might begin.
Audience member question: Jo, Stephen, do you want to add to that?
Rowling: (laughs) I think that there's ... I understand why an author would kill a character from a point of view of not allowing others to continue writing after the original author is dead. I don't always enjoy killing my characters. I didn't enjoy killing the character who died at the end of book six (I'm being discreet just in case any on hasn't finished the book). I really didn't enjoy doing that, but I had been planning that for years. As John [Irving] says it wasn't quite as poignant as you might imagine. I'd already done my grieving when it actually came to writing it.
King: I don't enjoy it either, and I don't always know. I don't plan the books out very clearly. I've always thought of it as, you know, there are writers who plan and I think there are people who fire missiles the way that the United States fires missiles. I fire them the way Hezbollah fires missiles. I have a certain idea of where they're going to land but if they get within 12 miles one way or another I'm happy. I wrote a book about Cujo ... [rest of King's answer omitted by transcribers].
Audience member question (paraphrased): Do the other authors have advice for Jo at the end of her series?
Rowling: [looking at SK, whispers] Kill him! [laughter]
King: I want the story to be fair. It's what I always want. I want to read the book. I love that series. I want to read the book and I have total confidence because I've read the other books. And man, I'm just up for it, that's all.
[QQQ note: some banter omitted]
Irving: My fingers are crossed for Harry, that's all. I'm just hoping.
Audience member question (paraphrased): Why did JKR choose Doctors without Borders, and what was behind her 6-year absence from the U.S.?
Rowling: To answer the second part first, the person I wanted to nominate Doctors Without Borders, -- I used to work for Amnesty International, and that's when I first came across the organization. I noted that every time there was a situation, like the war in Lebanon, Doctors Without Borders were some of the first people on the ground. They were a very very effective organization, and also as the name clearly states, it doesn't matter what your religious affiliation is, it doesn't matter what your ethnic group is, it doesn't matter what your circumstance is. If you are physically in need they will help you or do everything they can to help you. So I've always, since having money and having made money, they've been an organization I've supported financially, and I thought that we were doing one great charity that deals with a specific group of people, and therefore I thought it would be great if we did a charity that deals literally with the world -- wherever there is need.
[Re: being absent from the U.S. for six years...]
Rowling: I absolutely love coming here, and I absolutely love coming to New York. It's one of my favorite cities, but during that six years, I've been pregnant twice and I've had small children and that's really why we weren't doing the long flights and the tours. They're old enough to travel now. So it's great to be back.
Audience member question (paraphrased): Why did Dumbledore have to die [asked by TIME for Kids representative]
Rowling: I did an interview last year in which I was asked this question. In the genre in which I'm writing, you usually find that the hero has to go on alone. There comes a point when his support falls away and to be truly heroic he has to act alone. Harry is not completely alone, he still has his two faithful sidekicks. This was summarized for me by the person who asked the question with, you mean the old wizard always gets it, and that fundamentally, that is what I was saying. I was as trying to dress it up a little better than that. So that's why. In these sort of epic sagas, the hero eventually has to fight alone.
Audience member question (paraphrased): Have there been any changes to what you initially planned out?
Rowling: It is different to an extent. The essential plot is what I always planned when working toward the end I've planned toward the beginning. But a couple of characters I expected to survive have died and one character got a reprieve, so there have been some fairly major changes I suppose.
Audience member question (paraphrased): Are the authors comfortable reading their own work?
Irving: My only discomfort with what I'm reading tonight is it 's from something relatively old, something I've not read or been in touch with for a number of years, but Steve and I have talked about what we were going to read and we recognize that we see ourselves as warm up dance for Jo, and we see, [JKR: Awww...] we imagine that there's going to be mostly her audience there, and I don't think that Stephen King and John Irving generally write material that's terribly suitable for younger people. So Steve and I had to go looking for those occasionally more innocent moments in our earlier work, so to speak. So, um, I would say in the case of this reading, I love the idea of reading with Steve and Jo and this wonderful space, but I'm a little intimidated by the age of the audience, it's not my usual audience.
Rowling: I feel like I've just been told the Beatles and the Stones are warming up for me. To tell you the truth I'm not that comfortable reading my own work, and that's why I'm going to be doing a shorter reading tonight and taking some questions. I do think that the people that have come tonight would rather ask questions than hear me doing a long reading. I would like to think so anyway because I’m not very comfortable doing it and I don’t think I’m particularly good at reading.
Audience member question (paraphrased): How does JKR feel when her readers call her a sadist, and how does she feel about wrapping up the series?
Rowling: When fans accuse me of sadism -- which doesn't happen that often -- I feel I'm toughening them up to go on and read [laughs] John and Stephen's books. They've got to be toughened up somehow. It's a cruel literary world out there, so I'm doing them a favor.
How do I feel about the series ending? On the one hand, I feel I am going to feel sad. Harry's been an enormous part of my life and it's been quite a turbulent phase of my life as well, and he was always the constant. So there will be a sense of bereavement, but there will also be a sense of liberation, because there are pressures involved in writing something this popular, and wonderful though it's been I think that there will also be a certain freedom in escaping that particular part of writing Harry Potter.
Audience member question (paraphrased): What's next for Jo?
Rowling: I have a shorter -- mercifully -- book for children that's kind of half written, so I think I'll probably go do that next.