The Muggles took Manhattan and I stayed home.

Last Tuesday, Oct. 16th, J.K. Rowling made her only public appearance in the US,  and I missed it.

Ms. Rowling was interviewed by writer Anne Patchett at Lincoln Center in NYC, and then spoke, read, and signed her new book,  A Casual Vacancy. Somehow, I had missed the initial announcement in September when tickets went on sale, so I didn’t find out about Ms. Rowling’s appearance until October 8th while reading Dan Blank’s blog. Dan was running a contest to give away 2 tickets to writers who have been inspired by Rowling’s work.(Who hasn’t?)  I felt a few seconds of excitement at the prospect of winning the tickets.

Did I even enter? No.

Reason? Door to door it would take me about 6 hours to get there by train. (I certainly didn’t want to drive by myself from Boston to NYC.) That would mean missing work Tuesday morning.  Then, I’d have to stay overnight. Where would I stay? A hotel would be way too expensive.Then I’d miss work Wednesday morning, I might not get back in time for Audrey’s dance rehearsal…. You get the picture.

My pragmatism overshadowed the chance for a once-in-a-life opportunity.

This wasn’t the first time I had missed an opportunity to meet J.K. Rowling. In 1999, when my oldest daughter was 8, a friend of mine called saying, “The author of that Harry Potter book your daughter liked so much is at the Barnes and Nobles right now signing books!”

This was way before J.K. Rowling’s mega-author status.  Emily was jumping up and down.  “Can we go, Mom?”

I called the book store to check and was told, yes, indeed, Ms. Rowling was signing. There was a line out the door! They estimated the wait at one hour.  I told Emily that by the time we got there, the wait might be two hours, and her little sister wouldn’t be able to wait in line, and who knows, we might not get in anyway.

So we didn’t go, and I attended to whatever other pressing matter I had at the time.

My daughter didn’t get her book  signed or have a photo taken her new favorit author, who would go on to write 6 more HP books.

And if you think my daughter has forgotten, think again. She still has her tattered , unsigned copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  Emily (a.k.a. Leah E. Caras) and I amusingly refer to this incident as an example of short-term thinking. Not seeing ‘the forest through the trees’.

And, Mom’s lack of spontaneity.

Once upon a time, I was a heck of a lot more adventurous. That was BC–before children, when being a risk-taker seemed more suitable. But spontaneity?   I don’t like unpredictable situations. Ditto for big changes. I like order.  I am never late. I have always been a thoughtful decision- maker and a planner.

Had I been given adequate prior notice for both these J.K. Rowling events, I would have made the necessary arrangements to attend. Hey, with my strategic planning skills, I’d have been first in line!

When I heard the coverage of the latest event on NPR, I felt like the kid left out of the big party.  Over 2000 adults showed up for Rowling’s book debut.  One woman traveled from Paris!  Others came from Florida, Ohio, Arkansas. And I was sweating the a 4-5 hour train ride?  I thought about how excited my kids–all huge HP fans– would have been for me. ( Not to mention my students and blog readers.)

I consoled myself by saying I probably wouldn’t have won the tickets, anyway…

But this incident got me thinking about other opportunities I have passed up due to lack of spontaneity–example: a free trip to Israel (bad-timing).  Most of them, I can honestly say, I regret not taking. In retrospect, I can see how I might have been able to make the nitty-gritty details work.

I also remember a few times, when pushed, I jumped. Case in point: appearing on the Lifetime TV show, The Balance Act.  My daughter, 19 at the time, landed an interview about her publishing business, Yaldah Media, Inc.  The producer wanted me to join her. I can’t even remember what reasons I gave EmilyLeah for not wanting to do it. (Finding coverage for my CEO Mom job?  Flying to Florida by myself?)

“Are you crazy, Mom? she said over the phone. “You are going to pass up a chance to promote your book on national TV?”

The experience turned out to be a fun mother/daughter trip. I learned about television production and sold a lot of books!

Perk: I got to meet fitness guru Denise Austin while we were having our make-up done. And, since my sister and parents live in Florida, I got a quick visit with them.

So my friends, I am publicly announcing that, from here on, I will strive to seize the moment and grab an opportunity when it comes my way. I may need a little coaching to get there, but, as they say in recovery, the first step is admitting you have a problem.  I hope to report on my progress in future blogs.

Addendum:  I am happy to tell you that I actually did get a chance to see J.K. Rowling in person. In 2008, Ms. Rowling was the Harvard University commencement speaker. Being an alumna, I received much advanced notice of the event, as well as two complimentary tickets. I’ll never forget my ten-year-old daughter’s face as her beloved author took the podium and the crowd cheered.

It was pure magic.

Are you a spontaneous person?  How do you know whether to say ‘yes‘ when an opportunity presents itself?  

Supporting Young Writers

The NY Times featured an article today about children and teen writers whose parents have helped them self-publish their writing. One boy sold 700 copies of his book so far. These are ambitious kids who love to write and are taking advantage of today’s easy publishing technology like Iuniverse and Lulu. It’s hard to imagine anyone getting too bent out of shape about this kind of creative endeavor. Still, the adult naysayers couldn’t keep quiet.

“What’s next?” asked the novelist Tom Robbins. “Kiddie architects, juvenile dentists, 11-year-old rocket scientists? Any parent who thinks that the crafting of engrossing, meaningful, publishable fiction requires less talent and experience than designing a house, extracting a wisdom tooth, or supervising a lunar probe is, frankly, delusional.”

“There are no prodigies in literature,” Mr. Robbins said. “Literature requires experience, in a way that mathematics and music do not.”

Perhaps it is true that there are “no prodigies in literature”, as Mr. Robbins asserts, but does that mean young writers have nothing meaningful to say or imagine? Is it not possible for a teen to craft an engaging fantasy novel?

Yes, young writers should study craft, revise, and work with an editor before presenting their work to the world, but need we put an age limit on publishing opportunities?   With educators today lamenting that kids can’t write and don’t read, shouldn’t we celebrate those who can and do by encouraging them to reach for their dreams?

Last week, I addressed a room full of award-winning authors–all under the age of eighteen.  These kids were top winners in the Young Authors of Maryland Annual Writing Contest.  The award reception was held during the State of Maryland International Reading Conference.  I told the students that when I was a seventh-grader I won my first short story contest in the Detroit News Scholastic Writing Competition.

“That little taste of recognition sparked the fire of possibility in a shy and insecure adolescent. I had a story to tell, and someone thought it was good!”

Kudos to those young Maryland authors, their proud parents and teachers. You don’t need to be a literary prodigy to publish your writing. Keep reading, writing, revising, living, loving, and learning. The words will follow.