gaming with a gamer

As many of you know, I got married a few weeks ago! My husband, Jordan, and I decided to postpone our Hilton Head honeymoon until later in the year, but we still found ways to make the week after our wedding special, despite the fact that I had a lot of grading to do: we had a movie night, took lots of walks, and even went on a DATE (i.e. we picked up coffee and drank it in the car while waiting curbside for tacos, which we brought home and ate).

As you know if you read my interview with Jordan, he is a massive board game geek and owns more games than anyone I’ve ever met, which is not a judgment but merely an observation. (I have no room to judge; my books take up way more space than his games.) He/we had received several new games over the past few months that, for understandable reasons, we had not had time to play, so one of the special things we did during our honeymoon week was a game night…which turned into a game week-and-a-half. That’s because the game we decided to play that night–Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle, a Cooperative Deck-Building Game–is actually seven games, one for each year at Hogwarts, and while we breezed through the first several, it took us multiple tries to beat the higher levels.

This was my first experience playing a cooperative game and only my second playing a deck-building game. I should add that, while I’ve enjoyed board games ever since I was a small child who made my parents read the Candyland backstory to me every time we played, I tend toward games that play to my strengths (vocabulary, trivia, yelling) and not my weaknesses (strategy, backstabbing, learning complex rules). My idea of a complicated game, until I met Jordan, would have been something like The Game of Life (though my favorite part of that one has always been naming my little peg children) or Monopoly, a game that Jordan finds so embarrassing that he hides it in his closet instead of displaying it on his nerd game shelves. I say all that to say that I’m probably going to show my ignorance of games in this post, and I’m okay with that.

So if you’re like me or even less of a gamer, let me explain what a cooperative deck-building game is. Deck-building means that you start out with a few dinky cards (in this game, you start with mostly Alohomora! spells worth one coin each) and gradually use these to acquire increasingly powerful cards that eventually help you win the game. Cooperative means that instead of trying to beat each other, Jordan and I worked together to beat increasingly powerful villains, from Crabbe and Goyle (mildly annoying) to Fenrir Greyback (will bleed you dry in several different senses) to, ultimately, Lord Voldemort (when you beat him, you’ve won the game). This sounds like a good way to start off a marriage, right? I thought so too.

And I was right. ūüôā (You thought I was going to say that I was wrong, didn’t you?) The week and a half during which we played this game almost every night taught me a number of things about myself, my new husband, and how we work together. We were very predictable and played as Ron (Jordan) and Hermione (me), but in this case, Jordan was actually the highly logical one who was able to look at a complex situation and immediately understand it. I was the one who yelled, “Bloody hell!” a few times. I generally think of myself as a pretty smart, quick-thinking person, but games are Jordan’s domain, and my quick wit looks pretty slow next to his in a gaming situation. And in a cooperative gaming situation, that works to my advantage!

We had to be a team. I had to swallow my pride and let him explain things or gently correct me sometimes. He probably had to swallow his impatience when my turn took forever or his amusement (or fear?) when I got mad and threatened to throw the cards. (I never actually did.) And in the end, all of this deference and kindness helped us to defeat the forces of evil and save the wizarding world (not to be too dramatic or anything).

I highly recommend this game to anyone who loves¬†Harry Potter¬†or games, but especially to anyone about to get married. Go, put it on your registry now! You’ll thank me.

long stories

I’ve been listening lately to Ann Bogel’s podcast¬†What Should I Read Next?. I have to admit that this show is not at the top of my to-listen list, and that’s because it stresses me out a little, for the simple reason that the question that Bogel says “plagues every reader”–what should I read next?–does not plague me. Setting aside my purely aspirational Want to Read list on Goodreads, I have a list of books that I already own and haven’t read yet, and it’s still quite long despite the fact that I’ve been systematically attacking it since fall 2018 (when I realized it was a problem). So the podcast just gives me a bunch of titles of books that I’ll probably never read. Nevertheless, I get some pleasure out of hearing people chat about books, even ones that I’ll never read, so I keep this podcast in my rotation. If you’ve listened to the show, you know that Bogel asks each guest to name three books they love, one book that didn’t work for them, and a book they’ve been reading recently. So naturally, I’ve been thinking about which books I would name if I were a guest. The first two of the three books I love are easy: Charles Dickens’¬†David Copperfield¬†and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series (if she forced me to choose one, I’d go with¬†Prisoner of Azkaban, the one that really made me fall in love with the series). I’m still mulling over what I’d choose for my third book (it feels like a high-stakes decision), but in the meantime, I’ve been thinking about what makes me love a book.

I thought about this last night after I got out of the bathtub, where I had spent a relaxing half-hour reading one of my Christmas gifts from my sweet book-loving fiance:¬†The Well of Ascension, the second book in Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy. I am now about halfway through the book, which means I’m about halfway through the series, and it just struck me last night how much I am enjoying these books (though I don’t know if I’d use the word “love” yet. For the books, I mean. I love my fiance.). I realized that I am looking forward to long periods of time when I can sit down and read¬†The Well of Ascension, that I can picture the setting vividly even when I’m not reading, and that I really care what happens to the characters. I know part of the reason why I’m just now getting into the story is that there were too many blow-by-blow (literally) action sequences in the first book–and I understand why this might be necessary for the first book of a fantasy series that involves a specific, unique type of magic. But I really don’t care who punched whom and when. This second book is much more about relationships, political intrigue, and human psychology. But I think another reason why I’m so into this book is that it’s long.

Well, not just long. Quantity does not supersede quality for me. But I’ve realized that I love books (and movies and TV series) that have extensive world-building, deep character development, and layered plots–and on top of all this, a sense that the story-world has been lived in, not just made up on the fly. And in order for all that to work, a writer needs space–hence, length. Most of my favorite stories–stories you’ve seen me write about on this blog–have these qualities:¬†Downton Abbey¬†(with its hour-long, commercial-free episodes), the Godfather films (a major time commitment I embark on only about once every other year), the novels of Charles Dickens (it’s no accident that one of Dickens’ shortest novels,¬†Hard Times, is probably my least favorite). [I have written on this blog about Dickens’ “teeming world,” crowded with memorable people.] One of the greatest compliments I can give a story is that I’ve spent so much time inside it that I feel like the characters are my family. That’s why I cried so much when Sibyl died in season three of¬†Downton Abbey, why the birthday party scene at the end of¬†The Godfather Part 2¬†blows my mind every time I watch it, and why I’ve written fan fiction about the Weasleys going about their mundane lives after the defeat of Voldemort. However flawed they are, I want to be part of those families. I don’t know if Sanderson’s ad hoc family of thieves and kings will make it into my top tier of favorites, but their admission to that circle currently looks promising.

a chat with our Hogwarts prefect on leadership styles

Today, our favorite Hufflepuff prefect, Patrick Weasley (read about him here), is taking some time away from studying for his N.E.W.T. exams to chat with me about leadership styles.

Me: Patrick, you’ve said before that you don’t feel like your leadership style is very active. What do you mean by that?

Patrick: Well, other than when we do the Hufflepuff History lectures, I’m really not up in front of people that often. I’m not really into organizing group events or dropping in for visits when people are studying or trying to get ready for bed. That’s just not my style; I feel like I’m bothering people if I do that kind of stuff. But it’s amazing how often the younger students, especially, will come find me when I’m doing my own homework or relaxing. I kind of have “office hours” out in the common room–I don’t advertise them, but a lot of times I’ll be writing an essay or whatever, and a first-year will come tell me he’s homesick or somebody in one of his classes is being mean to him. Or her. Or they might just want help with homework. And we talk for a little while, or we go to the kitchens and see if the house-elves have a piece of cake we can take.

Me: So the answer to all problems is cake?

Patrick: Well, kind of. [laughs] I mean, there’s a reason why there’s that saying about tea and sympathy. Drinking tea, or eating cake, by yourself is okay, but it’s even better when you share it with someone who has the patience to just sit there and listen to you for a little while. Or a long while, if necessary. And I’m not saying I’m the world’s greatest at this…

Me: You’re pretty good, from what I hear.

Patrick: It’s not that hard, though. [embarrassed laughter]

Me: It is hard, though! Listening can be exhausting. I know this from personal experience. But what about those times when being available and willing to listen doesn’t really address the problem–when you have to confront someone?

Patrick: I haaaaate it. I think this is the real reason why I’m in Hufflepuff! I never understood why Gryffindors and Slytherins seem to enjoy conflict. Conflict makes me want to hide under a rock.

Me: And eat cake?

Patrick: Yeah, for sure! But as much as I hate conflict, I’ve seen what happens when people avoid confronting each other about stuff. Roommates get bitter and quit talking to each other; people carry around all this worry about how so-and-so probably hates them…

Me: I’ve seen that too. It’s ugly. But I just realized something: You’ve conflated the word “confrontation” with the word “conflict.” I do it too; that’s why I didn’t even notice until now. Confrontation–facing misunderstandings head-on–doesn’t always lead to conflict, does it?

Patrick: You’re right; it doesn’t. Sometimes it leads to really great conversations. I’ve even seen it lead to friendships. But getting past that initial awkwardness and fear–that’s really hard. I don’t think it’ll ever be easy for me. I just have to trust that the other person is a human being who’s as willing to listen and understand as I am. Most of the time I’m right; if I’m wrong, and the person is a jerk–

Me: That does happen sometimes!

Patrick: Or if we just can’t see eye-to-eye…at least we tried. And it’s helped me to be braver, or whatever. And maybe it’s helped the other person in some way that I can’t see yet.

Me: Patrick Weasley, you’re a very wise young man. I should let you get back to your studying.

Patrick: It was nice to have a break. Before you go, we should go check the kitchens and see if there’s any cake.

Me: Definitely.

Stay tuned for more leadership discussions with Patrick, as well as his aunt Becky, Hogwarts professor and Hufflepuff alum!

Becky and Patrick, our Hufflepuff correspondants

When I first pitched the idea of a Hufflepuff leadership blog to you, I mentioned that I would sometimes refer to two characters I had created: Becky Weasley, a Hufflepuff alum, and her nephew Patrick Weasley, a seventh-year student and Hufflepuff prefect. I haven’t ended up using this device much, but I have given these characters a great deal of thought, so today I’m going to tell you more about them. I would love your feedback about these characters and whether you think they would be useful and likable guides on your leadership journey.

Rebecca, or Becky, Weasley was Rebecca Durbyfield before she married Charlie. (“Rebecca Durbyfield” is sort of a pun on my own name: Rebecca is my middle name, and Durbyfield is the last name of Tess in Thomas Hardy’s novel.) She has one American parent and lived in the United States until she was old enough to go to Hogwarts, where she had always dreamed of attending. On her American side, she is the granddaughter of Queenie and Jacob from¬†Fantastic Beasts, and the fact that her grandfather was a very famous baker gives her a lot of cred with her mother-in-law, Molly Weasley. At Hogwarts, Becky was in Hufflepuff but was best friends with Penelope Clearwater; they were part of a glorified study group called the Tri-House Transfiguration League that also included people you may have heard of such as Cedric Diggory, Oliver Wood (before he got kicked out of the club because he focused too much on Quidditch–not Becky’s idea), and Percy Weasley, another good friend of Becky’s. Becky always had a crush on Percy’s older brother Bill; she barely thought of the sporty second brother Charlie until years later when she met him at a wedding, realized he was a really great guy, and eventually married him. Now Charlie is the Hogwarts gamekeeper and Care of Magical Creatures professor, and Becky teaches Muggle Studies, which she knows a lot about from her grandpa Jacob. The Professor Weasleys’ cottage is a welcoming place for students who want to get away from the noise and drama of the castle and have a nice homecooked meal.

One such student is their nephew, Patrick, who is the only child of Percy and Penelope. (Of COURSE they ended up together, though I also have a whole story about their ugly seventh-year breakup and post-Hogwarts estrangement.) Patrick was a shy child who was overwhelmed by all his cousins and confused by his parents, who tried very hard to be good parents but couldn’t help being a little overbearing. When he got sorted into Hufflepuff, everyone was surprised (since he was the first Weasley in that house) but agreed it was for the best, since Percy and Penelope would never have stopped arguing if he’d been sorted into either Gryffindor or Ravenclaw. His own experiences during his first few years at school with homesickness and bullying made him want to help younger students, and his academic achievements helped him become confident, so he was happy to take on the role of prefect in his fifth year. Today, he is one of the most popular prefects in recent Hogwarts history, due no doubt to his empathetic approach. One tradition that Patrick and his prefectural partners have initiated is the weekly “Hufflepuff History” discussions, in which students learn about notable people from their house and begin to see themselves as part of this legacy. (Patrick’s Aunt Becky has helped to lead some of these discussions.) Patrick also likes to cook and is particularly good at making piecrusts, but his career goal is to work in the education department of the Ministry of Magic, with the platform of making school a safer and friendlier place for students.

Hufflepuff Leadership: a bit more explanation

Based on the copious positive feedback I received on last week’s post, I plan to move forward with the Hufflepuff Leadership project, but as you can see, I haven’t taken any steps yet toward changing the look of the blog.¬† I did receive an offer of free design work that I’m definitely going to take up, and I have an idea about the cover illustration.¬† I thought it would be fun to find a picture of a badger (the Hufflepuff mascot) in a business suit, and of course, this made me think about Badger from¬†The Wind in the Willows.¬† I’ll probably need to check copyright/fair use issues if I’m going to use the picture as part of my brand, but just for this post, I think it’s probably okay to show you this example that I found on someone’s Pinterest:¬†Wind in the WillowsOkay, it’s not exactly a business suit he’s wearing, but Mr. Badger definitely appears to be in a leadership role in this picture, wouldn’t you say?

As I mentioned last week, I’m thinking of writing from the perspective of a Hufflepuff prefect.¬† It just so happens (I’m about to get weirdly confessional here) that I have invented what amounts to a Mary Sue character (a character in fan fiction who is essentially the author inserting him/herself into the story) named Rebecca (my middle name), or Becky, Weasley (she’s married to Charlie!), who is a Hufflepuff alum and former prefect.¬† I also made up a Weasley nephew named Patrick who is a¬†current Hufflepuff prefect.¬† I don’t know if I’ll use these characters extensively because I’m a little embarrassed about disclosing the extent to which my unwritten fan fiction has gone, but now that I’ve introduced them to the world, I guess they’ll at least have to make occasional appearances.

I’ll probably kick off the new project with a series of posts about the basic principles of Hufflepuff leadership.¬† I’ve already thought of clever aphorisms to express a couple of these, such as “A soft heart does not equal a soft head.”¬† I’ll illustrate these principles with my own experience, research on emotional intelligence and other concepts from various fields, conversations with colleagues, and of course, Hufflepuff students and graduates from the¬†Harry Potter¬†canon.¬† Also, based on responses from last week, it sounds like I have a good team of writers who can give us the Griffyndor, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin perspectives on these issues as well.

I also mentioned last week that not all posts from here on out will necessarily be directly focused on the theme.¬† For example, this past weekend, I attended the Southeastern Writing Center Association conference, and I deliberately chose sessions on concepts that I could see myself writing about on this blog: vulnerability, burnout, mentoring–topics from the non-cognitive side of tutoring.¬† From time to time, I will report on events like these (as well as books I’m reading, movies I’ve seen, etc.) and may not necessarily use the language of Hufflepuff leadership, but I won’t stray far away from topics my regular readers will be interested in.

As always, let me know what you think!

 

middle brother syndrome in British fantasy literature

Every once in a while on this blog, I like to write about Edmund Pevensie (here is an example) because he is one of my favorite fictional characters, even though he spends most of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a selfish brat.¬† (Selfish brats are easy to identify with, at least for me.)¬† In one post, I paired him with Percy Weasley because they both suffer from the same condition: both are middle children who feel they’ll never live up to their older siblings’ perfection and who need to assert their superiority to their younger siblings, so they end up betraying their family (in Edmund’s case) or at least betraying their values (in Percy’s case).¬† And both are, prodigal son-like, restored to their families, but not before suffering humiliation and loss.

Just the other day, I realized there’s another character in British fantasy literature who fits in with these two.¬† I’m teaching Peter Pan in children’s lit this week, so I’ve been immersing myself in the story and its context for the past few days: watching the Disney cartoon and Finding Neverland, reading a biography of J. M. Barrie and the Llewellyn Davies boys called The Real Peter Pan, and even bringing my flying Peter Funko Pop to my office, where he’s currently about to take off from a stack of books (including a volume of Barrie’s representative plays) on my desk.¬† And now I have just one question for you: Can we give a little love to poor overlooked John Darling?

John is, unlike Edmund and Percy, an exact middle child, the second of three.¬† And though he seems, unlike them, to have a good relationship with his siblings, I always sense a subtle bitterness toward Wendy for her obsession with Peter Pan (John’s natural rival in age and leadership ability—notice how annoyed John gets when Wendy won’t let him sit in Peter’s chair) and a bit of jealousy of Michael for being everybody’s cute little favorite.¬† And there is that moment where John comes perilously close to signing up for a life of crime with Captain Hook; it’s only when he finds out he’d have to forswear loyalty to the King that he refuses.¬† Note that he doesn’t seem, in that moment,¬†to care about abandoning his family—just about being a bad British citizen.¬† Doesn’t that sound like Percy?¬† John has that same self-importance—and, related to that, desperation to be seen as grown up—that we see in our other two examples.¬† The detail Barrie includes of John “seizing his Sunday hat” before flying out the nursery window is brilliant—it confirms our impression of him as a stolid, middle-aged, middle-class banker in a ten-year-old’s body.¬† (The Disney movie really plays this up, giving John a fussy little umbrella and a prodigious vocabulary.)¬† And that’s why my heart melts when I’m reminded that he is still a boy, a tired and homesick boy who is ultimately very glad to go home.

One reason I love all these characters is that everyone else seems to either forget about them or hate them.¬† I’ve never been a middle child or anyone’s brother, but I know what it’s like to wish to be taken seriously, so I feel for these boys, selfish and self-important as they may be.¬† Can you think of anyone else who might fit into this category?

two good guys and a real woman

There’s apparently something about April that makes me want to write short stories. ¬†(Check out last April’s creations, another brother story and a cousin story.) ¬†This one is a best friend story, but it also has male protagonists. ¬†For some reason I find it easier to write about men, but sometimes I need actual men to let me know if my characters are acting like men. ¬†So feel free to critique. ¬†I’m also aware that the non-male of my three main characters, Ramona, isn’t as compelling as the other two. ¬†Since they clearly think she’s something special, I need to do a better job of showing why. ¬†And I do know that the legal stuff the characters discuss about copyright and fan fiction is a bit murky. ¬†I need to do more research on that, although this ultimately isn’t a very important part of the story.¬†

Please enjoy this as-yet untitled piece.  Warning: It is fairly long.

Back in college, they used to get pizza wasted. ¬†This doesn’t mean that they ordered pizza while wasted. ¬†This means that they ate so much pizza, they got stupid. ¬†There was one three-week period when they watched¬†Psycho every night, at least that’s how they remembered it later. ¬†Every night they quoted the same lines. ¬†“You’re going to put me in the fruit cellar. ¬†Think I’m fruity, do you?” ¬†After destroying three large stuffed crust Pizza Hut pizzas, they could barely breathe, far less think. ¬†Adrian was skinny in college, even more than now. ¬†Sam was, as now, bless-his-heart fat. ¬†This made little difference. ¬†They both demolished about a pizza and a half each.

Adrian was not exactly wishing, just now, that he was pizza wasted. ¬†But he was thinking, with a twinge of nostalgia, about what a different setting he and Sam were in on this particular evening. ¬†Instead of a B.O.-funky dorm room, they were in a vast hall with crystal chandeliers, which hurt Adrian’s eyes, and thick, somnolent carpets. ¬†Sam was sitting at the front table, wearing a suit and looking flushed and sweaty but radiantly happy. ¬†Adrian was sitting at one of the indistinguishable round tables with Ramona, who was falling asleep. ¬†He saw that she had her phone in her lap and knew it was set to vibrate, so he texted her, “Wake up!” ¬†Her eyes flew open, and she looked at Adrian sheepishly. ¬†He texted again, “My little flower. ¬†You wilt when there’s no natural light. :)” ¬†She texted back, “Shut up and pay attention!,” but she was smiling.

Adrian looked up at the podium and tried to pay attention. ¬†A middle-aged woman, who clearly didn’t read¬†Sigyn: Intra-Yggdrasil Negotiator, was talking about Sam. ¬†Sam wrote and illustrated comic books for a living. ¬†He routinely referred to this as “the ultimate loser job,” but Adrian called it what it really was: living the dream. ¬†Sam had pulled Sigyn out of a footnote in Norse mythology and turned her into the heroine of his hugely cult-popular series. ¬†A national feminist organization had noticed that Sigyn was a “real” woman and now was honoring Sam for his work to advance realistic and positive portrayals of women in the comic book genre. ¬†As far as Adrian, Sam, and Ramona had been able to tell, “real” meant that Sigyn didn’t take crap from people, and it also had something to do with the size of her hips.

Sam had been floored by this honor. ¬†“I wasn’t trying to¬†say¬†anything,” he’d said last night while freaking out over his acceptance speech. ¬†“I mean, she’s just a great character, and I think she’s hot.” ¬†“I don’t think you should mention that last part,” Adrian had warned him. ¬†“No, I don’t think the feminists would like that,” Ramona had agreed. ¬†“Even if it is true.” ¬†The laugh in her voice when she said this had made Adrian stare at her for a few moments, trying to see if he could find some hidden message. ¬†Adrian had long suspected that Sam was modeling Sigyn’s appearance, and some of her mannerisms, after Ramona’s. ¬†It was just little things, like her hair color and her fondness for wearing green. ¬†Since Sam was clearly infatuated with his fictional creation, the possible connection between Sigyn and Ramona was one that Adrian was afraid to pursue. ¬†He hoped he was just being paranoid.

Adrian snapped out of his reverie and realized that he was staring at Ramona, who was looking at Sam, who was now at the podium speaking. ¬†Sam pushed a damp clump of hair off his forehead and took a sip of water. ¬†“I’m so grateful for the love you’ve all shown Sigyn. ¬†I was just trying to create a character who was smart and strong and happy and . . . you know . . . healthy, mentally and emotionally and . . . physically.”

Adrian and Ramona exchanged a glance. ¬†So far Sam hadn’t said anything to get the feminists indignant. ¬†Sam continued, “I think Sigyn’s greatest quality is that she brings peace with her wherever she goes. ¬†She’s able to get these crazy, selfish, combative kings and demigods to stop fighting, and she can do that because she’s . . . like I said, smart, and emp–empathetic.” ¬†He took a bigger swallow of water. ¬†“So, I’m glad you love her too, and thanks for this . . . honor.” ¬†Sam gave a tentative little wave and started to go back to his chair but stopped at a signal from the middle-aged woman who didn’t read¬†Sigyn. ¬†“Oh!” he exclaimed, sounding out of breath. ¬†“Um, questions?”

A younger woman sitting in the press section raised her hand. ¬†“There’s a lot of speculation on the message boards that Sigyn is having an affair with Balder. ¬†What would you say in response?”

“STUPID QUESTION,” Ramona texted Adrian.

“Oh, that’s ridiculous,” Sam said, the hesitation gone from his voice. ¬†“Balder’s not that kind of guy; he’s just a good guy, you know?”

Adrian texted back, “Seriously, what does she think this is, Inside Edition?”

“And besides,” Sam continued, “as weird as it sounds, the whole series is based on the premise that Sigyn actually loves Loki. ¬†And in his limited, narcissistic way, he loves her too.”

The fact that Sigyn, true to the original mythology, was married to Loki was one of the reasons Adrian suspected that she was modeled from Ramona. ¬†Unlike most normal women, Ramona wasn’t particularly attracted to Thor; it was the pale, dark troublemaker who caught her fancy, and for some reason this made Adrian extra jealous. ¬†“Do you have to have a picture of Tom Hiddleston on your desktop?” he’d asked the other day, knowing he sounded petulant and ridiculous. ¬†“Do you have to drool every time a preview with Jessica Chastain comes on TV?” she had rejoined, with a smile that said she didn’t take this nearly as seriously as he did.

Adrian wondered if he was becoming unreasonable, or worse, pathetic. ¬†It wasn’t that he didn’t trust Ramona. ¬†It was just that he sometimes, increasingly often, had the self-esteem of a 14-year-old girl. ¬†There was no other reason for him to feel threatened by mythical gods and unattainable British actors, and by–well, by Sam, who now, it seemed, was finished answering questions. ¬†The middle-aged woman was now making closing-type remarks while Sam stood at a deferential distance from the podium, his cheeks bright pink and his blonde hair turning dark at the ends from perspiration.

“Sam looks miserable,” Ramona texted.

“He’s fine,” Adrian typed at first, but backspaced this and wrote instead, “Those lights up there look really bright.” ¬†What he wanted to write was, “Hey, I’m feeling kind of miserable myself over here, you notice?” ¬†But that would really be pathetic.


Later, in the cab, Sam was happy again now that he’d taken off his jacket and tie and unbuttoned his collar. ¬†“Man, I haven’t worn a suit since you two got married.”

“Yeah, but that time it was a tuxedo. ¬†So this isn’t that bad,” Adrian pointed out. ¬†Sam had been a groomsman in their wedding–not the best man, a distinction that had belonged to Adrian’s brother. ¬†Sam didn’t have any siblings, nor did he have any other close friends, and his parents didn’t like to travel, which was why Adrian and Ramona had been his guests for the banquet. ¬†(Of course, there was also the distinct possibility that Ramona was the inspiration for the character whom all the fuss was about, but nobody talked about that.) ¬†After a brief, awkward spat, Adrian and Ramona had agreed to let Sam pay for their plane tickets and hotel room. ¬†“I’m still shocked that I’ve made any money from writing comics,” Sam had said. ¬†“And what better way to spend my money than to spend it on my best friends?” ¬†Sam had a way of saying embarrassingly sincere things like that.

Now, in the cab back to the hotel, Sam punched Adrian in the arm. ¬†Adrian cringed, which he knew was stupid, because it didn’t hurt and he normally didn’t mind being punched in the arm. ¬†“Hey,” said Sam. ¬†“Have you thought about it? ¬†Are you gonna be Percy?” ¬†Sam wanted to start a new series called¬†Percy Weasley and the Ministry Aides, and he’d asked for Adrian’s permission to let him model the title character’s appearance after his own, which corresponded superficially to J. K. Rowling’s description of Percy. ¬†Adrian found this annoying. ¬†There was nothing particularly special about having red hair and horn-rimmed glasses. ¬†Besides, all this was clearly just a formality, since Sam hadn’t asked for permission to model his other title character after Ramona. ¬†Unless he had, and nobody had ever told Adrian. ¬†But this was too enormous to be considered.

“Can’t you rest on your laurels for a while before starting your next project?” Adrian asked.

“But this one is going to be awesome!” Sam said. ¬†“I’ve got it all planned out. ¬†I think Percy is going to be kind of a hipster.”

“Why?” Adrian asked with an edge to his voice. ¬†He¬†certainly wasn’t hip enough to be a hipster.

“I don’t know; that’s just how I picture him. ¬†I think it’s the glasses. ¬†I’m thinking Cornelius Fudge can send Percy down to the local pub to get him a beer, and Percy comes back with this obscure craft brew called, like, Goblin Hoard.”

Ramona laughed. ¬†She was the biggest¬†Harry Potter¬†fan of them all. ¬†“Is Percy going to get reconnected with Penelope Clearwater?”

“Of course!” Sam exclaimed. ¬†“I haven’t quite figured out how, though. ¬†I think she’s working for the¬†Daily Prophet. ¬†Oh! ¬†And I’ve already got the Christmas issue planned out. ¬†Percy is going to get a card from his mom that just says, ‘Come home.’ ¬†And he isn’t going to come home, because this is before all the Battle of Hogwarts stuff, but he’s going to have this whole Christmas meltdown thing. ¬†Great stuff. ¬†I can’t wait.”

“Percy has always broken my heart,” Ramona said.

“J. K. Rowling is probably going to sue you,” Adrian said, even though Ramona had sounded like she was going to say more. ¬†He was looking straight out the windshield; Sam and Ramona were leaning across him to talk to each other. ¬†He felt a little sick.

“No, she isn’t,” Sam said. ¬†“Has Marvel ever tried to sue me for using Loki and Thor and Odin? ¬†I’m not famous enough to be a threat.”

“Yeah, but you might have to be more careful now that you’re a noted feminist artist,” Ramona said in a wink-wink voice.

Sam chuckled, always a fan of Ramona’s humor. ¬†“Naah, this is the 21st century. ¬†The whole concept of copyright is changing. ¬†And I’m basically just writing fan fiction. ¬†I’ve done my research; I won’t get in trouble for the stuff I do.”

“Please don’t go to jail, Sam!” said Ramona in an exaggeratedly worried tone and a proper British accent. ¬†Ramona enjoyed doing British accents, especially when the context didn’t call for it.

“We’re at the hotel,” Adrian said, before the cab had even reached the breezeway. ¬†He was angry at everyone in the backseat, especially himself, and he wanted to go to bed.

After Sam paid the driver, he hustled to catch up with Adrian and Ramona, who were already in the lobby. ¬†“Hey,” he said. ¬†“It’s probably just me, but–are you guys still hungry?”

“Actually, yeah,” said Ramona. ¬†“I thought it was just me.”

“Kind of,” Adrian conceded. ¬†“The food at that banquet was . . .”

“Not great,” Sam said apologetically, as if he felt bad for taking his friends to a lousy banquet. ¬†“And there wasn’t much of it. ¬†And I was so nervous, I couldn’t eat.” ¬†He paused for a beat. ¬†“Just kidding!”

Adrian never knew how to respond when Sam made fat jokes about himself, which this seemed to be. ¬†“Earlier I saw a pizza place at the end of this block,” Adrian said. ¬†“I’ll go get some pizzas.”

“We could just get delivery,” Ramona suggested.

“No, I want to walk,” said Adrian.

“I’ll go with you. ¬†You’ll have a lot to carry. ¬†And I want to pay,” said Sam.

“But you have your jacket and tie . . .”

“I’ll take them upstairs,” said Ramona. ¬†“I have some grading to do, so I’ll wait up there for you guys.”

Adrian sighed. ¬†He wanted to be alone, but at least this way Sam and Ramona wouldn’t be alone in adjoining hotel rooms. ¬†“Okay, come on, Sam.”

It was a balmy night. ¬†In spite of himself, Adrian was starting to feel calmer. ¬†Sam seemed a little high from the evening’s events. ¬†“Adrian,” he said. ¬†“I want to tell you something. ¬†I think you already know, but I want to say it out loud.”

“Don’t say anything you’ll regret,” Adrian said dryly, looking down at a pebble he was kicking along the sidewalk.

“Well, like I said, I think you know, but . . . I really . . . I mean I’ve always . . . I love your wife.”

Adrian nearly tripped mid-kick. ¬†“What?” ¬†He stopped and turned to look at Sam, whose face was redder than it had been all evening. ¬†“Why would you tell me that?”

Most people would’ve had the decency to look away, Adrian thought, but Sam just looked at him with those big blue eyes that made him seem desperate even at the best of times. ¬†“Come on, Adrian, I’ve loved Ramona pretty much ever since you two started dating–”

“Stop saying love!” Adrian shouted. ¬†He was shouting, on a street that wasn’t entirely deserted, but he didn’t care. ¬†“You don’t even know what that is!”

Now Sam turned away. ¬†Adrian immediately realized what he’d said. ¬†“I’m sorry, that was . . .” It was cruel, but that word sounded overly dramatic. ¬†“Does she know? ¬†Have you said anything to Ramona?”

Sam shook his head emphatically, still not looking at Adrian. ¬†“Of course not. ¬†You know me. ¬†I would never act on this.”

“Because you’re a good guy,” said Adrian, in a dull voice now. ¬†“And you know that as weird as it sounds, Ramona loves me, and I love her, in my limited, narcissistic way.”

Sam looked at Adrian now. ¬†“What? ¬†Did you think I was saying that about you? ¬†That was just some literary crap that sounded good when I was on the spot. ¬†It was about Loki, and you’re definitely not him.”

“Believe me, I know that!” Adrian turned and started walking briskly toward the pizza parlor. ¬†Sam was shorter and practically had to jog to keep up with Adrian’s stride. ¬†Adrian turned to speak again, as if Sam had kept the conversation going. ¬†“Listen, I know this makes me sound like a douche bag, but it’s true. ¬†You don’t know¬†what it’s like to be married to a woman who’s whole leagues better than you, and to always be baffled about what she sees in you, and to constantly be paranoid about pretty much all the other men in the world, even if they’re fictional characters or . . . or really good guys.”

Sam stopped walking, forcing Adrian to stop too, and indicated his whole person in a sweeping gesture. ¬†“Have you seen me, Adrian? ¬†I’m a fat nerd.”

Adrian flung his arms out too, which he normally only did when he was teaching and making a very important point. ¬†“Sam, did you sleepwalk through that banquet tonight? ¬†Did you hear what those people were saying about you? ¬†You’re like the Stan Lee of our generation.” ¬†Sam snorted. ¬†“Okay, maybe not yet, but you will be! ¬†You spend all day, every day writing incredible stories that people all over the world love. ¬†So don’t tell me–”

“I’m lonely, Adrian,” Sam cut in, not loudly. ¬†It took Adrian a moment to realize what he’d said. ¬†“I’m so lonely. ¬†It’s worse than ever. ¬†If I’d had to go to this thing by myself, I don’t think I could’ve gone.” ¬†He paused to take a breath. ¬†“Do you forget what that’s like?”

Adrian ran his fingers through his hair and straightened his jacket and his glasses, as if he’d been physically hit. ¬†“Geez, Sam.”

They were at the pizza place. ¬†Sam held the door open. ¬†“How much pizza do you think we should get?”

Adrian shook his head. ¬†“I don’t know. ¬†Whatever. ¬†All of it.” ¬†He felt sick again. ¬†“You decide. ¬†I need to sit down.” ¬†He went over to a far corner booth, sat down, took off his Percy glasses, and sat there with his face in his hands, while Sam placed what sounded like a very long pizza order.

Sam came over and slid into the opposite seat. ¬†He let out a long sigh. ¬†“It’s supposed to be ready in 15 minutes.”

Adrian put his glasses back on. ¬†“You know what I was thinking about tonight? ¬†Remember in college, how we used to get pizza wasted?”

Sam briefly chuckled. ¬†“Oh, man. ¬†Remember when we watched Psycho¬†like 21 nights in a row?”

Adrian nodded. ¬†“That’s exactly what I was thinking about.” ¬†He paused, a moment of silence for their former selves. ¬†“How did we pay for all that pizza?”

Sam shrugged. ¬†“Student loans, I guess.”

“But . . . why did we do it?”

“I don’t know.” Sam shook his head. ¬†“Actually, that’s not entirely true. ¬†I know why¬†I¬†did it. ¬†I was especially miserable that year, and I was trying to numb it, I guess. ¬†Kind of the story of my life.”

Adrian cringed again. ¬†“Geez, Sam.”

“Sorry.”

“No, don’t be sorry.” ¬†There was a long, comfortable silence, the kind men can generally pull of much better than women.

Finally, Adrian said, “Look. ¬†I know I suck as a friend.”

“No, you don’t,” Sam insisted, with an are-you-crazy face.

“Yes, I do. ¬†I’ve said some awful things to you tonight. ¬†And just so you know, I was totally zoned out during at least half of the speaking part of the banquet.”

“So was I,” Sam laughed.

“Dude, the whole banquet was for you.” ¬†Now Adrian had the are-you-crazy face.

Sam shrugged. ¬†“I know.”

“Well, then we both suck as human beings. ¬†But listen. ¬†I’ll be Percy if you answer me one question.”

“What’s that?” Sam asked slowly, probably thinking that he’d spilled enough guts for one evening.

Adrian took a deep breath. ¬†He thought he already knew the answer, but he was scared to hear it aloud. ¬†“Is Ramona–when you draw Sigyn, are you really drawing Ramona?”

“Yes.”

Adrian let out the breath. ¬†“I knew it.”

“But not on purpose, at least not from the beginning.” Sam closed his eyes for a second, the way people do when they’re trying to look into the past. ¬†“I was just drawing a woman who was all those things I said in the speech earlier, strong, and–you know . . .”

“Smart, and happy, and healthy, and all that.”

“Yeah. ¬†And then one day I was like, ‘Sigyn looks really familiar,’ and it wasn’t just because I’d gotten to know my character, although that was true; it was because I was drawing Ramona.”

Adrian look at Sam and realized he didn’t feel angry. ¬†He then looked down at the table and realized he’d been tearing a straw wrapper to bits. ¬†He brushed the pieces into a little pile. ¬†“Well. ¬†I think you should tell Ramona that she’s Sigyn.”

“What, really?” ¬†Sam had been looking out the window, but he snapped back to look at Adrian when he heard this. ¬†“But if I tell her, won’t she know–”

“Ramona is smarter than the two of us put together,” Adrian interrupted. ¬†“She’s probably known about all this stuff–I mean all of it–for, like, ever. ¬†And besides,” he added, “people like to hear nice things about themselves.” ¬†For once in his life, Adrian wasn’t fishing for a compliment when he said this. ¬†Which was good, because Sam didn’t give him one.

Instead, Sam just said, “Wow, okay.” ¬†And then, after a pause, “Oh, hey. ¬†Do you still like pizza without any tomato sauce? ¬†Because I got you a whole one like that.”

“Sam,” said Adrian. ¬†“I should start calling you Samwise, because you are, without a doubt, the world’s greatest friend.” ¬†After a second of introspection, Adrian was pleased to find that he was perfectly sincere.


The Weasley fanfic, part 2

Another result of going to LeakyCon is that I temporarily lost my inhibitions about writing fan fiction.¬† I wrote the following story on the plane ride home.¬† It’s loosely a sequel to a very sad story I wrote last year.¬† But unlike its predecessor, this story has dialogue.¬† So I’m looking for feedback about the three characters as manifested through their voices: Can you tell them apart?¬† Do they sound like men (something I always worry about)?¬† Do they interact like brothers?¬† And–this is very important to me–do you like them?

That fall, the Weasley men, including Harry, spent a weekend at Shell Cottage.¬† Everyone kept finding reasons to propose toasts to Fred and tell each other what he would have been doing if he were there.¬† Fred’s absence wasn’t the only thing that made the old easy camaraderie impossible to recreate.¬† Charlie had just moved back to England and was out of step with the family in little ways–nothing significant, but he would forget things, like the fact that Bill didn’t like pumpkin juice.¬† Ron sometimes retreated inside his head or had long whispered conversations with Harry.¬† Percy was very quiet and unnecessarily deferential.

But there were plenty of happy moments that weekend, and one of the best was on the last night when they built a bonfire on the beach and ate supper out there, telling embarrassing stories from when they were kids.  When it started getting dark, Arthur, Bill, Ron, and Harry went inside to talk to their wives and girlfriends by Floo network.  The wind had begun picking up when the sun began to set, and there was a definite chill in the air as George walked across the sand toward the fire, where Percy was still sitting.

“I brought you your pretty little jumper,” George said and threw a grey pullover at his brother’s head.

“Too kind of you,” said Percy with a wry face.

“Where’s Charlie?” George asked.

“He’s down there trying to skip rocks in the ocean.¬† Which I’m pretty certain is impossible.”

In the twilight George could just make out Charlie’s stocky figure.¬† “Well, let’s go tell the poor lad he’s getting himself all worked up for nothing.”¬† He started walking down toward the shoreline, and Percy followed, pulling on his sweater.

Charlie was, indeed, hurling bits of shingle into the choppy water.¬† “Oy!” George called.¬† “What are you doing that for?”

Charlie turned and wiped his wet hands on the back of his jeans.¬† “I dunno.¬† Something to do.”

“Well, come along with us.¬† I need to talk to you two gentlemen.”¬† George started walking backward along the edge of the water, facing his brothers.

“Is this about how strange Ron has been acting?” Percy asked.

“No, this is about how strange you two have been acting.”¬† Charlie and Percy looked at each other.¬† George turned around and fell into step with his brothers.¬† “Listen, I need some advice.¬† I have this brother who’s just moved back to the country, supposedly because he wants to be with his family, but we all really know it’s because he’s after Rubeus Hagrid’s job.”

Charlie snorted.¬† “Your brother sounds like a real git.”

George nodded emphatically.¬† “That he is.¬† Anyway, Hagrid won’t retire until he’s dead, and that isn’t going to happen anytime soon.¬† So my brother needs some gainful employment for the meantime, and he hates working in an office.¬† That’s problem number one.”

“Well, maybe I can help you with that,” said Charlie.¬† “But can we walk up to the fire?¬† I’m freezing.”

“That’s because your trousers are all wet,” Percy said.

“Yes, Mum,” said Charlie.

“Stop fighting, kiddies,” George said, angling back toward the bonfire.¬† “Let me tell you about my second problem.¬† I’ve got this other brother who hates his job.¬† He’s working at the Ministry, in the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office.¬† But that’s really not his kind of work, and besides, that whole big dark ugly building has given him lots of bad memories.¬† But he doesn’t want to quit because he feels like that’s his only option, and he doesn’t want to hurt Dad’s feelings.”

Percy had stopped walking.¬† “I never told you any of that,” he said.

George shrugged.¬† “You didn’t need to.¬† You’re an open book, mate.”

Percy shook his head and walked faster to catch up with his brothers.  They had nearly reached the bonfire.

“Now, here’s the third and most important piece of my little story,” said George.¬† He didn’t add anything until they had all sat down by the fire.¬† “All right.”¬† He ran his fingers through his hair, which meant that there was something he didn’t know how to say.¬† This rarely happened.¬† “Listen, I know it’s stupid to say things like ‘I know Fred would have wanted this,’ because how can we really know.”

Charlie mumbled an agreement; Percy nodded.¬† “But I spent nine months in the womb with him,” George went on, “so if anyone has a right to say stuff like that, I guess it’s me.¬† And”–he ran his fingers through his hair again–“I think Fred would want me to open the shop back up.”

“I think that sounds great–” Charlie began to say something awkwardly affirmative, but George kept going.

And, I think it would be nice if my unemployed brother and my unsatisfactorily employed brother would join me in business.”

“Oh,” said Percy after a brief pause, evidently dumbstruck.¬† “In your joke shop?”

Charlie laughed.¬† “I think you’ve just blown out little prefect’s mind.”

“Yes, in Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes,” said George, quite seriously.¬† “It’s always been a family business, you see.”

“But surely you don’t expect us to–invent joke products?” Percy asked.

“Heaven forbid,” George said, finally cracking a smile.¬† “No, I’ll do the inventing, and you two can do the boring things like running the till and making sure we don’t go bankrupt.”

“Oh.”¬† Percy’s expression relaxed.¬† “I can do those things.”

George grinned.¬† “Also, Charlie, I’m hoping you can use your international connection to help me get hold of some rare magical items.”

Charlie looked very impish all of a sudden.¬† “Do you mean like dragon stuff?”

“Among other things,” said George.¬† “Rumor has it that you and your Romanian colleagues have been known to engage in some serious mischief.”

“That may be true,” said Charlie with a lopsided smile.¬† “I confess nothing.”

There was a silence, and then George asked, “But will you tell me later?”¬† Charlie and George burst out laughing.

Percy finally allowed himself a small smile, though he still looked overwhelmed.¬† “So we’re going into business, then?”

“We are going into business, lads,” said George.¬† “And I think the sooner the better.”

“We should shake on it,” Charlie said.

Percy, thinking this was a good idea, leaned over to shake George’s hand.

“Or you could just give me a hug, you two jobless gits,” said George.

And that’s what they did.

Weasleys at work

This is the fifth and final post in our series on lessons for young professionals from recent movies.

Note: This blog is a bit schizophrenic–usually “I” means Tess Stockslager, but sometimes it means Penelope Clearwater, and this post falls into the latter category.

5. “Remember who you are” (Mufasa) and “hold on to what you believe” (Mumford and Sons).

I (Penelope) have often thought that my ex-boyfriend Percy Weasley would have saved himself and his family a lot of hurt if he had frequently repeated to himself the following truths: “I am a Weasley, and I am not a pure-blood supremacist.” To generalize these truths into a universal dictum, no job is more valuable than your family and your principles–even if the job makes you feel really important. Cornelius Fudge (fill in your boss’s name here) may flatter your dignity, but he doesn’t love you. And when your job requires you to help advance policies you know are morally reprehensible, it’s time to quit and go home to the people who do love you. This sounds simple, but it’s so easy to forget.

I’m not talking about physical proximity, by the way. Bill and Charlie Weasley managed to accomplish from Egypt and Romania, respectively, what Percy was unable to do from London–maintain a good relationship with their family. And this is closely related to the fact that their jobs didn’t require them to repudiate their family’s deeply-held beliefs.

And while we’re on the topic of Weasley careers, Fred and George’s joke shop is a good example of competent, customer-driven entrepreneurship. Not all of us will be able to start our own business inventing and selling items we enjoyed playing with as children, but if you have a particular skill and see a particular need in the consumer populace (e.g., “Fred reckons people needs a laugh these days”–Ron), go for it; don’t feel like you need to follow in your older siblings’ footsteps by entering more traditional industries, such as banking, politics, and . . . er, animal behavior.

Well, there you have it, young professionals. This concludes the series, but I (Tess) would love to hear your good and bad examples from movies and books–and even real life–of professionalism, workplace ethics, and other career-related issues.

A tasteful fanfic

So…you see how long this post is, and you’re probably thinking, she’s already broken the resolution she made just yesterday.¬† But this is an exception.¬† I’ve been intending to post this story since last Thursday, when I had a rare dispensation of writing inspiration.¬† That night, I wrote a short story about a guy who finds some of his lost confidence in a bakery (I’m looking for a more traditional distribution channel for that one), and I still had enough leftover writing high to dash off another quick story before I went to bed.¬† This second one is a Harry Potter fan fiction.¬† But put images of a Draco/Harry romance out of your mind; this one is in good taste, and nobody acts out of character.¬†¬†Be warned, though: you might cry.¬† A few readers already have.

Fred Weasley’s funeral was eventful, something no funeral should be.¬† They had it in the back yard of the Burrow, exactly where Bill’s wedding had been a year before.¬† Charlie walked in late because he had forgotten how to get to the house, which made his mother cry even harder than she was already crying.¬† Ron didn’t say a word all day; he just stared out into the middle distance with red-rimmed eyes.¬† George wouldn’t look in the casket, and people kept starting when they saw him, as if they’d seen a ghost.¬† He kept his head down during the funeral and completely disappeared during the part when everybody came up and greeted the family.

Percy disappeared in the middle of the funeral itself; his dad eventually found him sitting on the kitchen floor, sobbing about how he shouldn’t be there and nobody wanted him there, and how that explosion should have killed him instead of Fred.¬† Mr. Weasley didn’t know what to say, so he waited until Percy stopped crying and then led him bodily out to where the funeral was still going on.

Ginny, who seemed the most composed of the family, made a brief speech about how lucky she was to have so many brothers, and how she loved them all, but Fred had taught her how to play Quidditch, and how he’d always said to her, “Be safe and be good, little sister,” and she’d say, “You too,” and they’d said it not even an hour before he’d died.¬† Ginny had inserted oblique messages into her speech for certain brothers, but Percy wasn’t even there when she said the part about putting the past behind them, and Ron was completely checked out when she talked about trying to get along better with her¬†brothers and not argue so much.

Bill felt torn between Fleur, who felt like an outsider even though she had the proper surname, and his mother, who looked very alone when Arthur was off chasing down their missing sons.¬† The people who didn’t have the proper surname felt extraordinarily out of place.¬† Harry had wanted to sit with Ginny, but Hermione thought the front row should be family only, so the two of them hovered restlessly in the second row.¬† There were only a few others: some random extended family members; the awkward neighbors, the Lovegoods; Angelina Johnson, an old Quidditch teammate who had gone out with Fred once or twice.¬† All the others who would have come were busy with losses of their own, or reluctant to leave their loved ones.

At the end of the day, everyone was so tired they didn’t even want to eat.¬† Mrs. Weasley cooked anyway.