Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Need For Speed

In honor of the recently DVD release of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire movie, I've been on an HP reread kick. In the past week, I've plowed through Books 4, 5, and 6. Nice thing about rereading is that I know which parts I can skim over and which I recall being most interesting to read, which significantly cuts down on the time it takes to get through 800 plus-page books.

But, just like it was the first time I finished Book 6 (HP and the Half-Blood Prince), I'm left very anxious to know what happens next. I simply cannot wait until Book 7 is released. Rumors that I've seen - and these are totally speculative, no bases in any reality rumors - is that Book 7 might hit bookstores on July 7, 2007, taking advantage of the 7/7/07 date. Such a happy coincidence can't be ignored by J.K. Rowling and her publishers since it is almost magical that such a perfect date comes in time for a possible release. Talk about your publicity wet dream.

Anyway, say that this rumor were to come true and the book will be out next July. That means I have over 15 months to wait. Yikes! I could develop an entire human being before I'll find out what happens to Harry and friends. Since I'm not a person who waits nicely - I hate lines with the intensity of 1,000 white hot suns - this is like to drive me crazy. And if the HP crew can't make it happen by next July, I'm looking at an even longer gap.

Not to mention that the movie of Book 5 is also not slated to be released until 2007. Knowing the movie industry like I do and taking into account the release schedules of the past HP movies, I have a hunch we're looking at sometime around Thanksgiving. I have to go through a full cycle of holidays - some of them twice! - before I'll get to see Harry confront his demons on screen.

So we're talking a huge gap before I can get any kind of HP fix.

That being said, I don't want J.K. to rush on my account. I would much rather wait the extra months (not years, please!) for her to get it right than have her force the story in order to meet a tidy deadline. I've been with this story for six books and some six years (I jumped in way after the bandwagon had left the barn), and I certainly would be disappointed to have the whole enterprise fall apart because we fans didn't give her enough time. Not that I have any true concern that J.K. would fall under pressure to get it done. I imagine she pretty much writes her own ticket.

Which segues me into why I think it is that so many people have had it up to here with series books. Màili posted an interesting rant the other day about the over-proliferation of series books, which got me to wondering why so many hate books with a shared universe. I personally love series books, assuming, that is, that I loved the book that brought me into the series in the first place. If I enjoyed the characters in Book A, I'm more than happy to get more of them or more like them or at least more of their world via Books B, C, D and onward. My love of the Brockmann Tall, Dark and Dangerous and Troubleshooters books are a perfect example. Her brotherhood of Navy SEALs is an interesting group of guys, and I'd love to hear all of their stories.

That being said, I do confess to liking her books less and less as the series has gone on. It's a classic case of the subplot characters becoming more interesting than the main characters (a la Jules Cassidy shining much more brightly than Cosmo Richter in Cosmo's book, Hot Target) and/or the secondary characters not living up to their potential when they finally get their own books (again, see Cosmo Richter in Hot Target).

Which is, I suppose, always a danger when you write series books. I know for a fact that I'm just about drooling over the prospect of reading Zsadist's story - Lover Awakened - based on the set up J.R. Ward has created in Dark Lover and Lover Eternal. Yet, I was slightly disappointed with Rhage's story in Lover Eternal as I felt the potential wasn't quite met. I'll specify in a later post, but as much as I loved the book, I was left slightly unsatisfied.

Anyway, I'm wondering if this phenomenon might not be a result of a writer feeling pressured by her publisher, agent, fans, whomever to write faster than the story demands. After all, it takes time to figure out an intricate plot that involves multiple characters over the span of many books. If a writer doesn't take the time - or isn't allowed to take the time - to think through the big picture, it could be that the set up never results in a payoff worthy of it. Characters who show much promise in early books simply aren't given the chance to shine because the writer had to gerry-rig a story for them as quickly as possible to feed the starving masses screaming for more.

Granted, J.K. Rowling isn't saddled with the challenge of taking secondary characters and giving them a story of their own. Her series follows the life and adventures of only a handful; three main characters and only one true star. And she's allowed the full expanse of seven books to develop characters and intertwine plots. If I were guaranteed a 7-book contract and given as much time as I needed to write them, I'd like to think I could come up with something pretty great. Not J.K./Harry Potter great, mind you, but pretty good. Well. Maybe not.

Which illustrates the genius of J.K. With every new book, a reread of the old books reveals how unbelievably complex the world she has created really is. Details that originally seemed placed simply for color take on a whole new significance, and you begin to see how far she must have thought through the entire story arc before writing even a single word. How else would she have been able to plant such subtle clues or to use such fine threads to so very firmly tie the stories together?

I know there are some out there who decry the quality of the Harry Potter books. But I challenge any one of them to do what J.K. has done. If they are able to write a series of 7 books released over a span of some 15 years - that's more than 2 years between books - and still have people sitting on the edge of their seats between each one, then they deserve the same kudos. I honestly don't know any other writers out there who have pulled off such a feat.

For myself, there isn't any other series out there that keeps me breathless this way.

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