"Hey, how would you like to see Jo tonight?"
That's the text message I received on Tuesday morning from my friend. Jo? Jo who? But then it dawned on me. I had just talked to said friend yesterday, squealing over how she had gotten tickets to a discussion on The Casual Vacancy, J.K. Rowling's new adult mystery novel, released Sept. 27 by Little, Brown & Company. Oh. My. Goodness. Jo. As in, Joanne "Jo" Rowling, as in the brains behind one of the best-selling book series of all time.
It turned out that my friend's friend couldn't make it, so she had an extra ticket. I could go completely free of charge under one condition: I had to agree to give my signed copy of The Casual Vacancy to the friend that couldn't make it. Fair enough. I was going to be in the same room as J.K. Rowling, which was already more than I could hope for.
Sadly, I was already on the subway sans any sort of Harry Potter paraphernalia when I saw my friend's text message. Drat. I would look like some mature corporate woman in a sea of witches and wizards. This was unfortunate since I was going to be surrounded by some of the biggest J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter fans in the country.
J.K. Rowling had originally been scheduled to discuss The Casual Vacancy in Jazz at Lincoln's Center's smaller, more "intimate" Frederick P. Rose Hall, but perhaps thanks to, ahem, some magical mischief, a link to purchase tickets surfaced 12 hours before tickets were actually suppose to go on sale. The result? About double the amount of tickets were sold. Luckily, all tickets were honored and the event had to be moved to Lincoln Center's David H. Koch Theater.
I arrived in front of the theater to groups of people milling around, chattering excitedly.
"Did you read the book?"
"Are they letting people take pictures with her?"
"Will she sign my Harry Potter books?"
"Maybe they'll give us a free cup of butterbeer..."
The event was supposed to start at 8:00pm, but doors opened at 7:30pm. My seat ended up being in the very top section, the fourth ring. The opening remarks started promptly at 8:00pm, and shortly afterward, Ann Patchett, bestselling author of Bel Canto and J.K. Rowling's interviewer stepped on stage. Finally, J.K. Rowling was introduced and she stepped out to a thunderous round of applause and cheering. Both women settled into their plush red armchairs, a posterboard of The Casual Vacancy sitting at the table with them. Ann Pratchett started off by asking questions she had, and later she asked questions that people had sent in.
The discussion was very insightful and covered a range of topics, from the age appropriateness of The Casual Vacancy (definitely NOT for children), to an analysis of the social and political aspects of some of characters, to the importance of traditional publishing houses. At one point, J.K. Rowling was asked whether she has plans to write more books and she said yes, much to the delight of the audience. She finished up with a reading from The Casual Vacancy.
After the discussion and the reading, each section was called to line up in the lobby and get their autographed copy of The Casual Vacancy. I whipped out my phone to Tweet about the event, plus update my Facebook status, Tumblr, and heck, even message a few people (yes, be jealous of me and my fabulous life).
Literally two and a half hours later, my section is finally called down to line up. It's nearly midnight and I feel like I've been studying for a final exam, even though all I did was sit in my seat, playing games on my phone.
Despite being surrounded by several people (bodyguards? Friends?), J.K. Rowling took the time to sign each book and give a small smile to each and every person in line. When I arrived at the table, I handed my book over, expecting J.K. Rowling to scribble her name then take the next book. Instead, she looked up at me and stared into my eyes. Unlike Harry's eyes, which were a bright green, J.K. Rowling had amazingly blue eyes. I was rendered speechless and could only manage a small "Thank you." Then I was whisked off and realizing where I was, I scrambled for my camera, turned around, and took a quick, rather blurry picture.
My friend and I convened by the fountain outside of the David H. Koch, buzzing with excitement. As promised, I handed over my copy of The Casual Vacancy, albeit with some hesitation.
"How did you like it?"
"It was absolutely amazing!" I gushed, and I really did mean it, even though I had to give away the autographed book. I thought again to how J.K. Rowling had held my gaze for a full two seconds.
I think it was Shakespeare who said "The eyes are the window to your soul," and maybe it's just me, but after catching a glimpse of J.K. Rowling's blue eyes, I swear I saw some sort of magic and I felt like I could accomplish anything, with or without a wand.
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