This June will mark nineteen years since my mother and I first read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. We read the book on a trip to Disneyland for my fifth birthday. Nineteen years. It’s hard to believe. I was so young that I don’t remember much about life before the books and I don’t want to imagine my life without them. Harry Potter has become an indispensable part of me and J.K. Rowling is my hero.
On Sunday I watched a special about Rowling on Reelz Channel. Memories flooded me, memories of the books, the movies, the midnight releases. I rediscovered that which I already knew about my role model and gained a little more insight into her life. Most importantly–and the point of this article–the special reminded me of how much J.K. Rowling has influenced me.
A lot of people say that Harry Potter got them or their children interested in reading. Honestly, that’s not the case with me. Even at five years old I loved to read. My oldest brother and I both started reading at a very young age, and my mother read to me every night. I can’t say that Harry Potter ignited my interest in fantasy, either. My mother and I read C.S. Lewis books together before we got our hands on Sorcerer’s Stone and my mother is an avid fantasy fan, so my love of the genre was inevitable. No, what J.K. Rowling has done for me runs deeper.
She didn’t inspire me to become a writer. That honor belongs to my seventh grade Literature teacher, my mother, and my deceased grandfather. Rowling did, however, help me believe that I could be a writer.
I’ve discovered multiple parallels between Ms. Rowling and myself. As children we were both bookish and smart and we felt like outsiders even with friends. Our dream colleges rejected us. (I wanted to attend Stanford originally but it was for the better that I went to U.C. Davis.) The death of Rowling’s mother changed her writing drastically. Similarly, my grandfather’s death pushed me to pursue this career path more fervently. We both have anxiety and we’ve suffered from depression at some point in our lives.
To see someone so much like me succeed gives me hope. I’ve always lacked self-confidence and I continuously oscillate between thinking I can do anything and thinking I can do nothing. The story of Rowling’s life–her struggles, her failures, her successes–reminds me that I can’t approach my life and career that way. I may triumph, I may fail, but the possible rewards outweigh the costs. Every time I read Very Good Lives or her Twitter feed, she reminds me that it’s worse to do nothing at all. I’ll get there someday and it will all be worth the risk. I have to keep trying or else it’ll never happen.
Of course, Rowling has influenced my career in a much more direct way recently. Remember that contest for which my story was longlisted? Well, I wouldn’t have entered if it weren’t for her.
My mother saw Rowling’s tweet about the contest a few months ago and forwarded it to me. At first I didn’t think I should enter. The Crime Writer’s Association runs the contest and the criteria is based on a quote by a famous detective fiction writer. I’ve never written this genre before. Frankly, I’ve barely read it before. The closest I’ve gotten is one book and a short story, each starring Sherlock Holmes. So why did I enter? I figured that if Rowling, someone known for her fantasy books, could succeed as crime writer Robert Galbraith, I could give it a whirl as well. What would be the harm in trying?
That’s the best thing that any role model can give you: the courage to try even when you’re doubting yourself.
Some of you may think it’s an exaggeration to say that Rowling made me. After all, I’ve had several other influences: other writers, other books, family, friends, teachers, movies, actors, singers, etc. I admit that she and Harry Potter are not all that made me. However, they’ve done a lot for me. From a bonding agent with potential friends to a boost of courage, I owe this writer and her works a lot.
Which writer has influenced you? Who makes you jump in when you know the odds of making it are slim? Tell us all about them in the comments.