a novel by JOHN GRABOWSKI

Posts tagged “Harry Potter

Guarding Emma Watson’s body

Emma Watson

Even Harry Potter can’t protect her.

Superstar Emma Watson never goes anywhere these days without a bodyguard nearby, even out for a jog or to eat with a friend.

The person tasked with guarding Emma, a retired NYPD cop named Denise Morrone, is paid $150,00 a year. This started after someone snuck onto a movie set where Watson was working in 2012. The person was caught but the incident shook Emma badly. Friends say she’s now constantly nervous in public. So she’s hired round-the-clock protection.

You do that when you’re worth nearly $40 million dollars and you’re 23 years old.

It’s the part of fame you can be sure stars will never talk about. What I can’t imagine is how one lives their life day-to-day with hardly any privacy. No one, no matter who they are, is the same with someone watching as they are alone. It’s just psychological. And now Emma Watson will have this imposing figure (to say the least…google pictures of the woman) near her at almost all times.

Recently Lindsay Lohan, in her Oprah-produced sideshow, said she feels like she’s a prisoner of her own life.

I find it hard to believe Watson can feel much different.

I don’t even like it when guests stay over my house too long. I find I want to inch them to the door after a few hours. But the deal she has made—that many have made these days—with the devil is that they will have lots of money and fame in exchange for a piece of their life, the private piece. You can live with amazing comfort and security, but you can’t live like you want. Not entirely. Don’t tell me they get used to it. They may not even realize how much they don’t.

Recently I wrote about the death of Mick Jagger’s girlfriend, L’Wren Scott, a woman who reinvented herself, starting with her name, moving to Paris right after high school and modeling, rubbing elbows with the jet set until she was one of them. Her sister reports that at their mother’s funeral Scott was surrounded by bodyguards. No one could get near her. At their mother’s funeral. The sister also claims Scott eventually did get enough private time with her to say she envied her sibling for her simpler life. vs. one she felt was no longer her own How much of this is true and how much is embellished I don’t know, but I’ll note one thing: Ms. Scott recently hung herself in her Manhattan luxury apartment.

I’m not saying that Emma Watson is that unhappy, or that L’Wren Scott killed herself because she could no longer go out for a latte without a beefy linebacker four steps behind. But how can having to live the way Ms. Scott and now Ms. Watson have to make your life any happier? It’s a side of fame we never think about, because all the awards shows and movie previews and celebrity interviews aren’t supposed to let us think about them. We never see them, even though they are just inches out of frame.

I remember seeing a behind-the-scenes video of Cameron Diaz on The Tonight Show and during the commercial break the camera pulled away to reveal bodyguards standing at the front of every aisle and around the edges of the stage. I read once that when Claire Danes was doing Pygmalion on Broadway, she was not left unaccompanied even when she went to the bathroom. (I met her after one performance and she was being watched by at least one bodyguard.) Have a friend trail you around everywhere, even in your house, for a week and see how it feels. Now hire a stranger and make it for the rest of your life. Used to it yet?

 

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Replay & Update: JK Rowling unmasked

jk-potter

The perpetrator has been revealed. JK did it.

The Harry Potter author has been unmasked as the real person who wrote a detective novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling, earlier this year.

The sad part is, while The Cuckoo’s Calling was critically-acclaimed, compared favorably to some of the best sleuthing books of the past, it sold, by one count, only 499 copies worldwide.

World-wide.

That is, until someone figured out Mrs. Harry Potter was the scribe. Now the printing presses are overheating.

Many critics were suspicious from the first. It was said to be penned by “Robert Galbraith,” a former plainclothes military police officer now employed in the private security industry. But some thought it was too polished to be a debut novel from an unknown. They were right.

JK Rowling coverMore interesting is the list of publishers that rejected The Cuckoo’s Calling, despite liking it a lot. They said there was no “obvious hook.” Ultimately it was accepted by the same house that released Rowling’s previous adult fiction book, The Casual Vacancy. They surely knew of the deception because the book had the same editor as her last opus.

Of course, now there’s an easy hook for marketing: it’s from J-Fucking-K-Fucking-Rowling! That hook is big enough to catch Moby-Dick, another book that had a tough start.

Ms. Rowling said she found writing under a pseudonym—and a man’s one at that—to be “liberating.” She was hoping the deception could go on longer. Alas, the The Sunday Times, those sleuths, figured it out.

So entrenched we’ve become in franchises (euphoria over the new Disney-Star Wars deal without really knowing anything about it and even though the recent movies felt tired) and familiarity over evaluation and talent (Stephen King has also submitted a manuscript under another name only to see it roundly rejected) that even the author of the most popular franchise in history (unless you consider the Bible a franchise) felt the need to write under another name—and found when she did that no one was interested.

How sad.

It reminds me of a family member, whom I’ll not name, who is constantly concerned with the status of things rather than the quality. If we go to a restaurant they’ll surely evaluate it by how big it is: “They’re the largest in sales; they must be good.” They’ll praise colleagues, companies and media by how much money they earn. Someone “knows what they’re doing” if their business grossed the most money last year. I’m fairly sure they don’t taste the food when dining out. They’re counting the number of customers.

Of course marketers know this sort of thing exists, and waste little time invading all sorts of media, social and otherwise, trying so hard to get you to see things their way, with phony reviews, fake people praising products effusively, paid promotion disguised as editorial, and outright jiggering of numbers to get certain brands to aways leap miraculously to the top of any screen in almost any search.

They do this because, despite what they’ll say about caring for quality, they know it’s hype that sells. The proof is in the Cuckoo—all 499 copies of it. Sort of like the way a pair of jeans is just a pair of jeans, until Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian (or Welsey Shaw) puts them on.

Ms. Rowling said, “It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation and pure pleasure to get feedback under a different name.”

Amen to that.

So here’s the takeaway I want you to get from this: next time you’re unhappy with the stuff that’s “out there”—all the bad summer movies, the formulaic books, the stale TV shows—seek out, and buy, something brand new from an unknown quantity, something that looks a little different from what you’ve seen before. It doesn’t have to be Entertaining Welsey Shaw, when it comes out, though that’d be nice. It can be anything. You may be the very first person to uncover the next great discovery—consider that.

In the meantime, I’ve figured out a great way to ensure that Entertaining Welsey Shaw becomes a best-seller when it’s released:

jkwelsey

Can’t miss, right?

UPDATE: Since writing this four months ago, The Cuckoo’s Calling has nearly 5,000 user reviews on Amazon alone! This is the novel that, as I said, had sales of exactly 499 before its author’s identity was revealed. While I don’t begrudge Rowling’s success, I think it’s sad people go with the herd and trust familiar names rather than their own ability to seek out works of value so very often, whether in movies, books, music or restaurants. My impulse is usually to seek out the new and try what’s different or unknown, not what I think will give me a pre-determined experience, which, whether it actually does or not, is the reason people by the million have sought out The Cuckoo’s Calling once they discovered who wrote it. It brings to mind a famous quote from Oscar Wilde: Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.

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JK Rowling is like Welsey Shaw

Welsey/JKJK Rowling is a lot like my heroine, Welsey Anne Shaw.

Welsey, who has been famous her whole adult life, wants to go out into the ordinary world and test herself. How would people treat her if she were an ordinary person?

JK, who has been famous for one thing, the Harry Potter novels, seems to want to know how life would be for her as an “ordinary novelist”? How would editors and readers receive her and her work when they didn’t know a famous person did it?

Pretty brave, I say. How many other famous people do this sort of thing? Wonder about it? Care about it? (Well, Welsey does, of course; that’s why she’s the heroine of the book.) JK Rowling, richer than the Queen of England, wants to know how she’d do as “Robert Galbraith,” a former military plain clothes detective now taken to writing crime novels.

Not very well seemed to be the verdict. Before someone at a British newspaper figured out who she was, The Cuckoo’s Calling, sold a measly 499 copies.

Now that we know it’s JK, the pages are flying off the presses. But Ms. Rowling learned something that Welsey worries about: things are very different for you when people know you’re a famous person.

It’s not often that the privileged, the extraordinary, the ones living a fantasy life, desire to step outside and expose themselves to the elements. The fact that Rowling did says a lot about her and her integrity. She could free-ride off Harry Potter for the rest of her life. Certainly plenty of other artistic people continue to churn out more of what  initially made them rich and famous—and loved.

But Rowling clearly wants to challenge herself. First she wrote a non-Harry Potter novel under her own name, The Casual Vacancy. It did not do spectacularly. Now it turns out she’s also written and released this detective novel, under a fake name. And it did even worse.

I don’t know about you, but this makes me respect her tremendously. I almost want to go read Harry Potter now, something I’ve avoided, not because of any snobbery, but because children’s literature has never really interested me. (Even when I was a kid I was peeking into my parents’ bookshelves to check out titles like The Outline of History by H.G. Wells and Richard Halliburton’s Book of Marvels. With a few exceptions, fantasy has never been a big draw for me.)

Her recent actions have shown me that JK is not just someone content with getting fat from Potterbucks. She wants to test her writer’s mettle in the real literary waters, and she wants to do it on the basis of the words alone and not the celebrity of the writer.

Awesome. Welsey would certainly be impressed.

She says she wishes the secret could have been kept up a little longer. She wanted to be free of her reputation.

Welsey shaw can relate. She’d like to be free of who she is too. In fact, that’s largely what the whole story is about.

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J.K. Rowling is insecure!

Really, who would have thought it?

Preparing us for the launch of her first “adult” book (in the non-50 Shades of Grey sense of the word), JK “Richer Than God” (or at least the Queen) Rowling has lowered expectations, saying it may not be all that good and that she considered publishing it under a false name.

And I don’t think she’s acting phony-modest here. She supposedly has a reputation for being distant, some say even a bit haughty. I doubt she’d say anything self-deprecating if she didn’t feel it might in fact be true.

She’s as insecure as a first-time author. In part because, as far as writing for grownups goes, she is a first-time author. But partly because, I think, everyone is a first-time author every time they write.

Back when Entertaining Welsey Shaw was just a glimmer of an idea, a should-I-or-shouldn’t-I, I also considered going the nom de plume route. I mean, you’re going to give your first shot at a very grown-up thing, writing a serious novel, something you can’t really get instruction on how to do (you can follow all the “rules” and still come up with muck; you can break them and have a masterpiece), something you just have to put out there, and it will be attached to your name forever.

So of course I wanted to hide behind a pen name too. Maybe I should have. Maybe this blog was a stupid mistake. We’ll see.

It’s kind of like Welsey’s dilemma in a way, and the dilemma of anyone in the “performing arts.” You have a bad day at the office, you can’t hide. Artists make their mistakes in public.

Rowling, who has been guaranteed immortality because of the Harry Potter books, says of her opus The Casual Vacany, “The worst that can happen is that everyone says, ‘Well, that was dreadful, she should have stuck to writing for kids’ and I can take that. So, yeah, I’ll put it out there, and if everyone says, ‘Well, that’s shockingly bad – back to wizards with you,’ then obviously I won’t be throwing a party. But I will live. I will live.”

Behind the bravery of that statement lies, I can assure you, sweaty palms and a churning stomach.

It hasn’t been all smooth sailing for Rowling, despite what seems like a flawless life. Some reviews of the Potter franchise have been unflattering, calling her work flat, her prose clunky, her stories repetitious. The San Francisco Chronicle was perhaps the most unkind, at least about the fifth book, Order of the Phoenix: “There hasn’t been this much bad faith in the air since ‘Star Wars: Episode I‘ opened…For most of the book’s nearly 900 pages, a pervasive sense of stale familiarity hangs over the entire affair…Two books in a row have now centered on which of Harry’s friends might die, and whether Harry will discover sex. This is the work of a maturing novelist?” It’s the Star Wars Episode I comment that cuts deepest to me. Say what you want about Harry Potter, at least Rowlings didn’t invent Jar-Jar.

For the record, I’ve never read anything from the series, so I have no idea if I agree with these swipes or not. I was never one for children’s books, particularly fantasy books. The Wizard of Oz, Winnie the Pooh, whatever else children are supposed to grow up on, I didn’t grow up on. I read the non-fiction on my parents’ bookshelves and at the local library (astronomy books, Richard Halliburton’s Book of Marvels, The Outline of History), or as much of them as I could understand, and enjoyed but one children’s book, Sam The Firehouse Cat. Hardly a classic, I liked it mostly for the jokes my father would make while reading it to me (which were rather off-color, considering my moist, pink ears).

So I have no idea if Rowling’s modesty and insecurity are warranted or not. But it’s nice to know that, even after all her fame and wealth and success, the lady still get knots in her stomach and cares what we think.

Here’s an interview she gave yesterday. This is probably not something she enjoys doing. She’s very guarded and a bit uneasy, not at all braggadocious, similar to another blonde celebrity I know of…

Frankly, I think this is great. It’s a big relief for me. JK Rowling is nervous about a book! Isn’t that like Heidi Klum finding a pimple or something?

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Alexis de Tocqueville, the marketplace and what we read

It never fails.  I’m reading in public.  Another person wants to know what I’ve got. (It can be hard to tell as I take the dust covers off my hardback books so that they don’t get mangled.)  I show them.  Comes the inevitable response, “Are you reading that for school/an assignment/homework?”

It never seems to occur to so many people that I may be reading de Tocqueville, Yates, Montaigne,  Thoreau, Frederic, or even Fitzgerald for pleasure.  “Oh, I get it, but you also read fun stuff, right?”  Fun stuff means Harry Potter and the Twilight books.  Well, um, no, I don’t.  Honestly, because they just don’t interest me, but the stuff that made them possible does (Tolkien, Frankenstein, Dracula).  Neither does James Fenimore Cooper or Margaret Mitchell interest me.  Or whoever wrote Beowulf.   (Well, I’m a lot older; maybe I should grit my teeth and give Beowulf, like brussels sprouts, another try.)

If I’m going to spend hours with a book, it had better deliver.  Not just empty-headed entertainment.  It had better change the way I look at the world in some small way.  Some big way is nice too.  This is not optional.  It’s why I read, why I watch movies, why I listen to music.  “But don’t you like to just have fun?” I get asked.  That is fun.  Watching or reading about space battles, warlords, journeys to retrieve the magic whatever from the infernal king whoever…just doesn’t interest me, unless the text somewhat subverts the expectations of the genre and teaches us something because of it, almost in spite of it.  Someone, and I forget who, said the greatness of art can be gauged by how it presses up against and stresses out accepted convention; the resulting friction is the art.  So I’m looking for a lot of friction.

I’ve long wondered why Americans don’t have a taste for this sort of thing as much as Europeans.  And they don’t.  Despite the popularity of American pop culture in Continental Europe, it is still largely that, pop culture.  Sure they have their versions of American Idol, but they don’t quite take it as seriously as we do.  It’s a guilty pleasure, not their cultural glue.  In the large urban areas, at least, Beethoven, Bach, Goethe, Kant and pals still command a tremendous amount of respect and attention, to a degree an American who has never traveled abroad (85 percent, incidentally) would find hard to understand, though the old school admittedly is fighting for dominance more and more.  Still, I suspect it’ll long be around after posterity has forgotten Madonna, Simon Cowell and Puff Diddy, or whatever his name is this month.

In Democracy In America, which I consider the greatest book ever written about the U.S.A. (by a visiting Frenchman in the 1830s!), Alexis de Tocqueville says people in a country of a workaday economy do not want subtlety or depth in their art and literature–in their thinking.  Party this is because of a very good thing: the decision-makers in a democracy, the movers and shakers, are the ordinary, pragmatic folk, not the fancy-pants elites.  In America, the “common” people are in control of their destinies, and they’re in control of their leisure as well.  That’s part of it.  But there’s also a less egalitarian and idealistic reason for this lowering of the common denominator: forced to toil away for sustenance, members of a democracy, ie, a non-monarchical society, do not have time to form rarefied tastes and expertise in any thing except one: how to make the next dollar.  (Hold your vitriol.  Tocqueville said it; I’m just the messenger.)  Instead for their precious free time they want fantasy, shock, abrupt stimulation, always new, always changing, always promising, like some drug dealer, that the greatest, most satisfying “hit” is just around the corner.  This is exactly what we see today in everything from mass market fiction to mass market music to mass market movies.  What’s so impressive is that Tocqueville observed this, and predicted its effects on American intellectual development and national character, back in 1835, in a nation still in its infancy, and it holds up.

For all the faults we Americans have been conditioned to seeing in an aristocratic society, we haven’t been conditioned to seeing any of  its virtues.  Such a society has a leisure class that America, even in this age of technology and convenience, has never known and likely will never know.  In the past that meant a class capable of appreciating, and of taking the time to appreciate, the refinement and aesthetics of a Beethoven quartet or a Mozart piano concerto. What that means to any American (or member of any other society in which free markets plays such a major part–that’s the one slight inaccuracy with Tocqueville: he blurs free markets with Democracy, a mistake for which he can hardly be blamed back then; recently China has shown us you can have a free market-driven culture without Democratic principles, and Scandinavia and others have shown us you can have Democratic principles without total adherence to the free market) is that he must aim low to thrive–shock and thrill, with the awareness that your shelf life is short and you are creating material for a culture that seeks fast-moving novelty and not enduring substance.  Sometimes one can be present inside the other, of course, but that’s a gift, not a regular feature.  Of course aristocracies have had and continue to have their fads too, but they are thusly relegated–those “European Idol” shows.  Contrary to what many of you will take away from this article, I am not suggesting that Europe has no lowbrow culture or that everything they do is deep, serious and game-changing.  But they *do* have a sense of perspective as to when they are dealing with something that is game-changing and when they are engaged in “mental karaoke.”  Independently of writing this essay, I decided the other night that Charles Ives was most probably America’s greatest composer, and don’t forget that he labored throughout his life as an insurance salesman and saw his music as mostly a personal creative outlet, and not a way to make money, reach his fellow American or be remembered.  And probably far fewer Americans have heard of Charles Ives–not even heard his music, just heard of–than have traveled abroad.

There are of course serious artists in America, yet the country has produced profoundly few, compared to the number of superstar athletes, pop icons, movie stars, businesspeople, technological innovators (though we’re losing ground there at an alarming rate) and other stand-outs.  This says something as to where America truly, when all the lip-flapping is done, values art.  I don’t mean “art” as a commody–expensive paintings and other status symbols–but art as a cultural artifact, whose job is to change the way you think.  Work-a-day laborers, which is what America consists of even if some of them (an ever-dwindling class)  are well-paid and able to live to some extent like their aristocratic counterparts of yore, don’t have the time to master languages of story-telling and don’t want their perspectives challenged and changed in a novel or movie.  If there is such content it had better be buried deep and sugar-coated, and even this has become in the last 30 years of up-and-doing marketplace Republicanism, a niche-market, so true “art-for-art’s-sake” art is a niche within a niche market, a pimple on a flea on the back of a careerist worker who spends even his scant leisure time reading books that will make him a more efficient capitalist and a more avid consumer.  And people question my definition of fun.

Of course “the marketplace” is nothing new–it goes back at least to ancient Athens, and probably then it was old–but this narrowness of its expression is.  This is the sentence, the reality, the fact of anyone trying to make art today in America and countries that model their social-economic engines on America.  Recently, for reasons I don’t fully understand, the French voted in a president, Nicolas Sarkozy, who had the same idea for his people.  Since then, many of his policies–based on making France more imitative of America–haven’t gone over well.  I wonder what the voters were expecting…

America enjoyed a sort of spiritual infusion during the 1930s and 40s, as refugees from Europe fled fascism and made their homes either in the U.S. or Western Europe and then the United States.  They brought much of Europe’s greatness with them–Marlene Dietrich and Bruno Walter and Josef von Sternberg and Igor Stravinsky and Wernher von Braun and Billy Wilder and Sergei Rachmaninoff and Albert Einstein and George Balanchine.   We “natives” have largely taken this Götterfunken for granted.  As the effects of these people wear off, we will see, in this new century, that much of what we took to be American exceptionalism came from elsewhere.