LevGrossman

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

The Post About the Time I Met J.K. Rowling (Part 2)

This isn’t going where you think it is. It’s not like I turned up at J.K. Rowling’s house drunk and made a pass at her. Or broke down crying in the middle of our interview. Though the second one crossed my mind.

I did do a fair amount of drinking. Edinburgh: not a city to dry out in. And here’s a fine period detail: you could smoke in bars. I found a punk bar near my hotel and sat in it, wallowing in self-pity and Harry Potter, reading book after book and drinking pint after pint and burning cigarette after cigarette. I missed my daughter. I missed myself — the version of myself that had any idea what was going on.

And then the day came. Two high-ranking Scholastic executives came to my hotel in a limo, scraped me up off the curb, and drove me to Rowling’s house. It wasn’t even a very far drive. The block was nice but not insane. The house was big. It had an electric gate that slid open. We went inside.

I didn’t go up to the house. Instead I was led to a bungalow a few yards away. In the bungalow was a conference room with a big blonde wooden table. At the table was J.K. Rowling.

You know what she looks like. Rowling looks like she looks in pictures. Blonde, long face, warm smile. I particularly remember her shoes — the heels were at least four inches, and shiny. Chrome. We shook hands. We sat down. The Scholastic executives sat down too.

Like I said: this isn’t going where you think it is. Nothing dramatic happened. I didn’t do anything crazy. We chatted. Mercifully I’ve lost the audio, but I do have the transcript. Looking at it now the only thing that surprises me about it is what a great interview it is. We talked about her daughter, who was six months old at that point. We talked about the books. We talked about how she writes, and what she’s proud of, what she regrets, and how her writing has changed from book to book. We talked about smoking, and the press, and religion, and C.S. Lewis, and goblins, and politics, and sex.

It’s an amazing performance on her part. Think about it: a woman in her position, the principal asset of a billion-dollar industry, talking to a nervous, strung-out stranger — who was not only a reporter but a fan — for two hours, warmly and frankly, without a single leak or gaffe or wrong note of any kind. It was the performance not just of a brilliant and self-possessed person, but also of a just plain good person, who knew who she was and what she was doing. Actually I don’t think it was a performance at all. It was just her.

And me? I’d just spent a week pub-crawling through the British isles by myself, smoking and drinking and hating my life and hating myself. I felt loathsome. I felt like the worst buy zithromax overnight delivery person in the world. I hadn’t a sober conversation with anyone who was not a service professional gastrointestinal pills online in a solid week.

And then this warm, beautiful woman spent two hours talking Harry Potter with me, as if I were a friend and an equal. And this was not just a woman, this was Joanne Rowling. I’m crossing all kinds of lines here, but let me for a moment ask you to imagine how that felt. There are no jokes to make here. Suddenly I felt human again. I felt redeemable. The clouds parted for a minute. It felt like I had hit bottom, and when I did there was an angel was waiting for me there to fly me back up. If joy can break your heart, mine broke a little bit.

And then it was over. We stood up. She asked me my daughter’s name, and I told her it was Lily, and she signed a copy of Order of the Phoenix for her — I’d told her it was my favorite. (Trust me when I say that it is in a bank vault inside a bank vault.) We said goodbye. I think I ran after her to shake her hand. Then she disappeared into the house, and I was taken back to my hotel.

And then I went back to fucking up again. I guess that’s the thing about a state of grace: you can’t stay in it forever. Or maybe a stronger person could, but I couldn’t. At any rate I didn’t.

I went back to my hotel, and I got drunk again. I had, I think, two days to turn the interview into a profile, so I started typing and transcribing. (I didn’t write drunk, by the way. I’m dumb, but I’m not stupid.) And as I typed and transcribed I got nervous. I lost my cool. I tried to be clever. I tried to be ironical. I forgot everything I’d learned in that room. I blew it. I wrote a pile of crap.

I’m not going to link to it. I’ve written things about Harry that I’m proud of — I think I did a good job with my Deathly Hallows review (which I filed 17 hours after it hit bookstores, thank you very much) — but that’s not one of them. It’s the biggest regret of my career. I hope I never have a bigger one. I don’t see how I could.

The usual things happened that happen when you fuck up both publicly and privately on an epic scale. Terry Pratchett called me an idiot. Neil Gaiman said the piece was crap. And so it was.

To add insult to injury, Time promptly syndicated the piece to a European paper, destroying a huge exclusivity agreement Scholastic had arranged. If I were them I would have sued us.

Also, three weeks after I got back from Edinburgh, I moved out of my house. I never moved back in.

Epilogue: And V for Vendetta sucked, too.


21 comments on “The Post About the Time I Met J.K. Rowling (Part 2)

  1. Tonya says:

    Very nice..
    Nice to see a bit of your heart.

  2. M says:

    if we dont have regrets
    we dont have anything to blog about

    and what’s more
    it sounded more human than anything i’ve read about in a while

  3. Rita says:

    Aww, I love me a good JayKay story. That little anecdote had a slight Sedaris ring to it. Perhaps a memoir after the next Magicians?

  4. Nathan says:

    I wouldn’t say the piece was ‘crap’. Was it your best piece? Absolutely not. I would say that it was fair, I think you gave a good impression of Rowlings real side.

    But with that said, wonderful blog post. We all make mistakes, so don’t let it bring you down.

  5. Sara H. says:

    Bravo for sharing this. Also, Terry Pratchett called you an idiot? Well, bears.

    I think you’re both brilliant and it can be understandable that life can sometimes get in the way of work.

  6. Wow. But what happened next in your life?

  7. Interesting story, and thank you for it. I’m wondering: If you still have the transcript, why not write the interview article today the way you should have written it? It’s still a valid piece, and probably much better for what you’ve learned in the interim.

    And Terry Pratchett might take you off his idiot list.

  8. Ada says:

    What a moving essay. The internet offers redemption. I just tried to find the article, and “time jk rowling grossman” turned up this blog post instead.

  9. I interviewed Hayao Miyazaki on the morning of September 12, 2001. I’d stayed up all night watching the towers fall over and over again on Japanese TV. Before the interview I’d watched every single one of his films, but that morning my questions were garbage. He told me that and walked out. Then he had a smoke and came back. (Lesson: cigarettes save the day!)

    I think the likelihood of fucking up a story increases proportionately with its importance to you. But you got what really counts: an autographed collectible that’ll pay Lily’s college tuition.

  10. Nicholas D. says:

    Mr. Grossman,

    Ms. Rowling still has words on the subject of failure…

    http://www.ted.com/talks/jk_rowling_the_fringe_benefits_of_failure.html

    Very best wishes,

    Nicholas

  11. Nate says:

    Part 1 piqued my interest so I read (what I think was) the profile. Not as bad as you make it out to be.

  12. Alison says:

    My favorite books when I was a child were ” A Wrinkle in Time” and ” A Swiftly Tilting Planet”; by Madeleine L’Engle. I loved those books the way you seem to love these — but the thing is, it was the seventies, and there were only two, and you didn’t get to have any more of them. They were precious, secret, and rare, and what I would do is read them over and over again, metabolizing the words, closing my eyes and putting them in some headspace so I could visit them the next day on the schoolbus. Nobody else knew about A Wrinkle in Time and I wasn’t telling, that shit was for *me*. This ten book deal thing, with the midnight parties and the singalongs and the grand release once a year with a zillion kids and their parents clawing for copies as if they’re crusts of bread — cheapens the whole experience. First it’s obviously a cash mill and the frenzy carefully stoked to a crescendo at the book’s first release. Second it brings in an element of competition. You can be the *first one in your class* to get the book, you can *know more than anybody else about Harry Potter*; have the best costume, attend the most parties, and so on. it’s all so manicured for pitch perfect optimum sales that you start to think, look, these books are not *that* good. I’m not going to fight you over who’s proven their dominion of these things and frankly I don’t know if i want ten more.

    I’ll bet you ten years from now the kids who got dragged out to all this Harry Potter stuff so their moms could put on scary contact lenses and long skirts are going to remember it all as the reason they’re so screwed up now.

  13. Maya says:

    Can we have the full transcript of the interview please ?

  14. Leverus says:

    I’ve often thought of posting it. I need to figure out who owns it: me, Time magazine, or JK Rowling.

  15. Leverus says:

    yeah, that’s the one

  16. Maya says:

    What a great interview it was ! I’m so jealous you met JK Rowling … she seems rather nice.

  17. Well, I think that clears up a couple of issues for me personally. How about anyone else?

  18. […] Time I Met J.K. Rowling, Part I and Part II Parental warnings: booze, divorce, depression, really bad […]

  19. Dawn says:

    I know I’m two years late to this discussion, but I fail to see how that article is so bad. Maybe I’m just easy to please, but I found it to be perfectly fine, a typical magazine article. If this is your idea of a monumental failure, I’d say you’re in very good shape (but of course we already knew that!).

  20. […] 4:00 pm: DragonCon panel where I talk about the gory details of my 2005 interview with J.K. Rowling. (Location: International North – […]

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