Wednesday, February 27, 2013

NINJA BOOK CLUB: Chapter 2 - THE SCAR

First Paragraph: Harry lay flat on his back, breathing hard as though he had been running. He had awoken from a vivid dream with his hands pressed over his face. The old scar on his forehead, which was shaped like a bolt of lightning, was burning beneath his fingers as though someone had just pressed a white-hot wire to his skin.

Welcome back to the Ninja Book Club, Esteemed Reader. Once again we are discussing one and only one chapter from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. If you have thoughts on chapter three, come back next week, but today we're looking at the very boring Chapter 2 The Scar.

This chapter is by far my least chapter in the book and if I were reading Harry Potter again just for fun, I'd skim it as fast as I could and move on to the far more interesting rest of the book. But as we're painstakingly discussing Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire chapter by chapter, I guess I'd better do some Ninja-ing:

You'll notice that for these posts I'm listing both the first and last paragraph from the chapter. I'd never do this for the Book of the Week reviews as including the last paragraph from each week's book would inevitably spoil the story. But for chapters I dig it because by reading the first and last paragraph of each chapter, we can get a sense of what happened during the chapter and how the story value changed for positive or negative.

If that sounds to you like the Ninja is channeling the great teacher, Robert McKee, you are correct. If you want to be a writer of anything (and you're here, so I'm guessing you might), you need to read Story by Robert McKee.  McKee is emphatic in his belief that every scene or series of scenes must change the value of the story. If it's a love story, every scene should bring the couple closer together or farther apart. This is a concept I have no doubt we'll be revisiting throughout these posts. 

At the beginning of Chapter 2, Harry wakes up. At the end of the chapter, he goes downstairs for breakfast. In between, he does a lot of sitting and thinking. Writers, please note, in order to pull off a chapter this boring, you really need to be J.K. Rowling and writing Book 4 of the most popular children's book series in the world. 

Chapter 2 is filled with riveting passages like this one:

Harry leapt up from the bed, hurried across the room, and sat down at his desk; he pulled a piece of parchment toward him, loaded his eagle-feather quill with ink, wrote Dear Sirius, then paused, wondering how best to phrase his problem, still marveling at the fact that he hadn’t thought of Sirius straight away. But then, perhaps it wasn’t so surprising — after all, he had only found out that Sirius was his godfather two months ago. 

There was a simple reason for Sirius’s complete absence from Harry’s life until then — Sirius had been in Azkaban, the terrifying wizard jail guarded by creatures called dementors, sightless, soul-sucking fiends who had come to search for Sirius at Hogwarts when he had escaped. Yet Sirius had been innocent — the murders for which he had been convicted had been committed by Wormtail, Voldemort’s supporter, whom nearly everybody now believed dead. Harry, Ron, and Hermione knew otherwise, however; they had come face-to-face with Wormtail only the previous year, though only Professor Dumbledore had believed their story. 

For one glorious hour, Harry had believed that he was leaving the Dursleys at last, because Sirius had offered him a home once his name had been cleared. But the chance had been snatched away from him — Wormtail had escaped before they could take him to the Ministry of Magic, and Sirius had had to flee for his life. Harry had helped him escape on the back of a hippogriff called Buckbeak, and since then, Sirius had been on the run. The home Harry might have had if Wormtail had not escaped had been haunting him all summer. It had been doubly hard to return to the Dursleys knowing that he had so nearly escaped them forever.

What!?! Who!?! Hun? Oh ***smacks lips, bats eyes, yawns*** Sorry about that, Esteemed Reader. I must've drifted off. Did I miss anything interesting? No, I thought not.

You'll remember I promised early on I wasn't always going to be Mr. Nice Ninja. Talking only about the positive qualities of a writer's work is all good and well when we're discussing a full book, but if we're going to look at this novel under the microscope, I'm going to have a hard time controlling my snark. This chapter sucks, even if it is going to be more widely read than anything I've ever written or will ever write.

The whole chapter is riddled with long-winded passages summarizing the important events from the three previous books. To be fair, the Harry Potter world is it's own unique place with a lot of rules and history the reader will be better off knowing before the tale gets going, but an exposition dump is boring no matter how great its writer.

Worse, because Rowling did it and met with success, would-be authors are sending fantasy manuscripts off to editors and agents clogged with this sort of garbage. If that's you, stop it! I may not have read your work, Esteemed Reader, but I'm going to guess you're not as good as J.K. Rowling and not even she can pull this crap without allowing her reader to lapse into a coma.

Not to be entirely negative, I will concede that Chapter 2 is a well-written exposition dump. In some ways I prefer to have it all at once and out of the way so the necessary plot summary doesn't infect later chapters. And it works because Rowling is summarizing events about stories beloved by readers and remembering them does bring a smile to one's face. So most readers will probably give Rowling a pass, but I'll bet they skim or skip Chapter 2 if it's not their first reading.

They'll probably also look the other way when Rowling does the hack's signature move and describes Harry's appearance to us by having him look in a mirror:

Harry ran his fingers over the scar again. It was still painful. He turned on the lamp beside him, scrambled out of bed, crossed the room, opened his wardrobe, and peered into the mirror on the inside of the door. A skinny boy of fourteen looked back at him, his bright green eyes puzzled under his untidy black hair. He examined the lightning-bolt scar of his reflection more closely. It looked normal, but it was still stinging.

Why, Lord? Why does this woman have a theme park devoted to her books when so many writers are unpublished?

I know why. I once stood in line at midnight with everyone else to get my book. But still...

Chapter 2 grounds us once again in Rowling's wizarding world and does its job competently, but it's by far the weakest, least interesting chapter in the book. It's telling that this chapter is not the book's first. Last week, you'll remember, Rowling dumped plenty of exposition in chapter one, but she at least had Voldemort kill a guy to hook the reader. 

Meet me here next week when we'll be discussing chapter 3 in which something actually happens and yours truly will be in a much better mood.

Last Paragraph:Yes, thought Harry, that looked all right. There was no point putting in the dream; he didn't want it to look as though he was too worried. He folded up the parchment and laid it aside on his desk, ready for when Hedwig returned. Then he got to his feet, stretched, and opened his wardrobe once more. Without glancing at his reflection, he started to get dressed before going down to breakfast.

Monday, February 25, 2013

NINJA STUFF: Does Anybody Really Care About the Oscars?

Hello there, Esteemed Reader. Are you worn out from watching the Oscars broadcast last night? Not me. I haven't watched the Academy Awards since they snubbed The Dark Knight. That was the year I decided it didn't really matter what movie won Best Picture. I still haven't seen The Artist and I'm getting by just fine. I have seen Bait, an important 3d depiction of what might happen if a group of brave tsunami survivors were trapped in a grocery store with great white sharks. In my heart, I know I've made the right viewing choice:)

When I was a kid the Oscars were a magical night. I looked forward to seeing the stars shine and I used to practice my own Best Screenplay speech in the shower. But as an adult I'm aware of two things: 1. I'm probably not destined to win an Oscar (I'm pretty sure you have to make a movie of some kind to win) and 2. I don't care about a bunch of overpaid, over-pampered celebrities handing each other gold statues and congratulating each other on being masters of the universe. 

Perhaps the Ninja has grown old and cynical, but I no longer believe just anyone can grow up to be President--you have to be vetted and approved by our corporate overlords and agree to do their bidding, or else get taken out by the man on the grassy knoll. I'm more interested in regular people than celebrities. When 1% of the population controls over 40% of the wealth and one in four Americans are below the poverty line, maybe it's time to stop celebrating the rich and famous as though they're the only ones that matter.

How about a big time awards show for best teacher? Or maybe best fire fighter or best soldier? Yes, Ben Affleck has overcome some terrible acting gigs and become a fine director, but I bet a ton of money and support from powerful friends helped out in that regard. Is his accomplishment really worth the amount of hoopla bestowed upon it in light of the accomplishments of non-famous Americans? 

Argo is a fine flick, Django Unchained is a better one, and at the end of the day does it really matter which one is "best?" Gandhi won best picture in 1982, but how many people honestly believe it's a better movie than E.T. The Extra Terrestrial? Not even director Richard Attenborough believed that and he made it clear, or he might not have landed the role of John Hammond in Spielberg's Jurassic Park. I say watch whatever you like and pick your own best.

The Academy Awards are an advertisement for Hollywood, and that's all good and well, but I have better things to do than watch an infomercial designed to sell me movies I probably wouldn't care to watch and the importance of people who aren't really that important. Mel Gibson is an academy award winner. How's that working out for him?

If you're wondering as I often do if there's any hope for regular Americans in a world controlled by the powerful elite, Americans who kinda, sorta still believe they're living in a democratic republic rather than a plutocracy, the answer is I don't know. But I do know if we're ever going to change things in our society, we're going to have to change our values.

So long as we pour our money and time and efforts into celebrating movie stars and athletes rather than scientists and philosophers, so long as we focus our attention on the fluff rather than the substance, bankers will continue to rob our grandchildren of their birthright with impunity and our civil liberties will continue to be stripped away in the name of fighting terrorism until we wake up in a police state. 

Or maybe I just need to lighten up and accept that not everyone feels Batman deserves an Oscar:)

It's going to be a short week, Esteemed Reader. I'm up against the wall on a revision deadline and I have two critiques to deliver by the end of the week, so I haven't had time to write a Book of the Week review. We'll still be discussing chapter two from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire on Wednesday and we'll have a surprise literary agent on Saturday, but I'm going to have to take the rest of the week off to get caught up. My apologies to the authors waiting patiently for me to post their interviews


Speaking of the rich being the only ones who matter, I couldn't help but notice the Academy overlooked this gem:




It makes me cry tears of laughter. How was this book ever taken seriously by anyone?


Saturday, February 23, 2013

7 Questions For: Literary Agent Linda Pratt

Linda Pratt received a BBA in finance from the University of Texas in Austin. After briefly exploring a career on a bond trading desk, she began working at Sheldon Fogelman Agency in 1987.  In working at the agency, Linda finally found “her people” in the world of children’s publishing, and has never looked back.   Initially working primarily on the operations side of the business, doing everything from royalty analysis to annual accountings for literary estates, Linda was promoted to agent in 1995.  This opportunity allowed her to combine her business acumen with her love of the artistic side of creating books, including working with clients editorially. Among the clients she brought into the agency, and with whom she continues to work at Wernick and Pratt, are Sharon G. Flake, Denise Brunkus, LeUyen Pham, Robert Neubecker, Kathryn Erskine, and Eric Luper, among others.  Linda also takes special satisfaction in introducing new talent, and has placed debuts for clients Jane Kelley, Augusta Scattergood, W.H. Beck, Angela Dominguez (as both author and illustrator), Lisa Luedeke and Judy Hoffman.  She is accepting new clients in all genres for children.

Linda Pratt is an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, (SCBWI) speaking often at conferences around the country (see Agent News for upcoming engagements). She is also a member of the Association of Author’s Representatives, Inc. (AAR)


For more information, check out my friends Natalie Aguirre and Casey McCormick's wonderful blog, Literary Rambles.


And now Linda Pratt faces the 7 Questions:



Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?


-To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. It has all of the elements I love in a book: authentic voice in all characters, - adults & children alike; high stakes that work so effectively without overshadowing the smaller nuances in the emotional arcs at play.  

-Daddy Long-Legs by Jean Webster.  My dad bought me a used copy of this from the 1920’s when I was 13; complete with stills from the silent film version starring Mary Pickford!  It has traveled in my book collection through many moves over 30 years.  We’re old friends. 

-Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton.  It’s such a perfect guide to life in so many ways, and definitely speaks to ability to change with the weather that I mention with regard to being flexible in Question #3 below.        

            
Question Six: What are your top three favorite movies and television shows?

- Harvey – Wouldn’t you want to know Elwood P. Dowd?  I would. “In this world…. you can be oh so smart.  Well, for years I was smart…… I recommend pleasant.  You can quote me.”  

-Out of Africa – Gorgeously filmed, a strong independent woman, and an achingly poignant love story.  What more can a girl ask? 

-Freaks and Geeks – I watched faithfully when it first aired, and it still holds up just as strongly. So reminiscent of  my high school on Long Island. 


Question Five: What are the qualities of your ideal client?

The three things that make me feel that I might be the right agent fit for a  client are (i) I respond strongly to their talent and how they express it (ii) it seems like we’ll personally get along because our agency’s philosophy is that we want to invest for the long term, and over time there is inevitably going to be a rough spot at some point.  If you don’t like one another, it’s difficult to make it through those successfully (iii)  I feel I can help them move forward in their career.  I can envision a plan. 

One additional key ingredient in the best and most successful relationships that isn’t always apparent initially is flexibility.  No career, industry or person stays exactly the same, and the ability to adapt (on both sides) is important for longevity in the agent/client relationship, as well as, in careers in general. 


Question Four: What sort of project(s) would you most like to receive a query for?

 
I love middle grade because it feels like there’s a more open canvas for an author than there currently is in older fiction, which so often seems to require certain elements like a romantic or outsider thread line.  There’s almost a sense of conformity in YA fiction, and the targeted audience is at their heart bucking convention more than any other time of life, That has always struck me as kind of strange. So in addition to middle grade,  I’d love to see more YA that doesn't hinge on these kind of tried and true themes, but ventures in more unfamiliar or less explored territory of  teendom.  Hannah Barnaby’s Wonder Show did this for me.  It had elements of “Series of Unfortunate Events” and Water for Elephants, only within a freak show rather than the circus itself.  Truly interesting and unexpected. 

At the end of the day, I’m always looking for a story that makes me feel deeply in a way that sneaks up on me as a reader and lingers long after the last page. It could be in the form of  historical fiction, fantasy, contemporary realistic fiction, magical realism or a picture book.  Most often this happens when an author takes me to place I haven’t visited before and creates such an authentic and vivid world in which I can immerse myself completely, but there’s also always an emotional recognition evoked, no matter the world or the time period. 

I also seem to lean toward more literary writing than commercial writing, although Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games straddled both beautifully. 


Question Three: What is your favorite thing about being an agent? What is your least favorite thing?

 
There are few things more rewarding than seeing the plan for someone’s goals and dreams fall into place.  I love playing my small part in making that happen, particularly in terms of working editorially with clients. 
My least favorite part of being an agent is having to be the deliverer of bad news, especially in situations where you know that your client has put everything into something, but unfortunately,  it comes with the terrain.


Question Two: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)

Never share an idea too quickly. There is no greater killer of  creativity than sharing the vulnerable kernel for a potential project too soon.  Inevitably the voices of doubt creep in and make you feel that your idea is silly.  So if you find yourself saying to someone, “I’m not sure if I should share this with you yet,” no matter how excited you may feel in the moment, don’t.  Keep it close a little longer if you have a smidgen of  hesitation in sharing.  The idea or piece is almost always still too fragile. 


Also remember that the only thing that you have total control over in this endeavor to write or illustrate for publication is your ability to create.  So when you've finished something that is out to agents, with your current agent or editor, or waiting to make its way to publication, move on to your next project as quickly as possible.  


Question One: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?


James Marshall.  I knew Jim slightly when I first started out in publishing, but would have loved the chance to spend a few uninterrupted hours with him, especially at this stage of my life and career.  He was fabulously witty, had so many varied interests, loved the finest food so you can bet our lunch would be a gourmand’s delight ....and, in addition to being a loyal friend, he could not resist gossip.  You can bet there would be more to dish than just plates on the table! 





Thursday, February 21, 2013

7 Questions For: Author Jacqueline West

Jacqueline West is the author of the award-winning middle grade series The Books of Elsewhere. The Books of Elsewhere, Volume One: The Shadows (2010) garnered starred reviews, several state award nominations, and a spot on the New York Times Bestsellers List. The series is published by Dial Books for Young Readers (a division of Penguin Random House) in the USA and will also be published in Italy, Spain, Greece, Turkey, Indonesia, Sweden, Norway, France, Germany, and Catalan. 

Jacqueline's short fiction for adults and children has appeared in a variety of publications, and her poetry has received many honors, including two Pushcart nominations, a Rhysling Award nomination, and a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg prize. Cherma, her series of poems about Wisconsin's Bohemian immigrants, was published in March 2010 by the University of Wisconsin's Parallel Press chapbook series.


And now Jacqueline West faces the 7 Questions: 


Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

I’m just going to pretend I missed the words ‘top three,’ because I don’t think I could narrow my favorites down to that number without pulling out most of my hair.  
 
What are my favorite books, you ask?  Well, I love everything by Kurt Vonnegut (The Sirens of Titan is my personal favorite), Margaret Atwood (especially The Robber Bride), Ray Bradbury (Dandelion Wine!), J.D. Salinger (Franny and Zooey gets me every time), T.S. Eliot, Sylvia Plath, Roald Dahl, Annie Dillard, and the Bronte sisters.  I also love To Kill a Mockingbird and Calvin and Hobbes.  And I think Hamlet is probably the single best thing that has ever been written. 


Question Six: How much time do you spend each week writing? Reading?

I have a hard time calculating this, because I do both, sporadically, all day long.  When I’m drafting something new, I try to write at least a thousand words a day.  Sometimes this takes just an hour or two; sometimes it takes all day, with lots of time wasted between sentences.  (I’m embarrassingly good at Plants vs. Zombies.)  

As for reading: I always read multiple books at once, and I’ve got a different in-progress novel in almost every room in the house.  I seem to finish two or three per week.


Question Five: What was the path that led you to publication?

It was the shyest, simplest, most old-fashioned path.  I’m not the type of writer who could (or would) pitch a concept in an elevator at a busy book convention.  Just imagining it terrifies me.  

I spent years developing my writing, experimenting with styles and forms, getting poetry and short stories published here and there.  I finished the book that would eventually become The Shadows, which took several additional years.  I did my research.  I found out what agencies were looking at books like mine.  I wrote a query letter, revised it about thirty times, and sent it off to agents.  Then I sat back and waited, telling myself that it was never going to happen so I might as well not get my hopes up.

But I got lucky. Chris Richman, who was just starting his career as a junior agent at a now-disbanded agency, pulled my letter and my sample pages out of the slush pile.  Within just a few months, Chris had multiple publishers interested in my book, and we got to pick the one that felt like the perfect fit.   


Question Four: Do you believe writers are born, taught or both? Which was true for you?

I think it’s something in between, really.  I didn’t study writing in college or earn an MFA, and while I know those programs can provide valuable things, I don’t think someone can enter such a program NOT a writer and emerge as one.  

I’m primarily “self-taught,” I suppose.  But being a self-taught writer doesn’t mean that I haven’t studied intensely, and practiced, and researched, and learned.  Becoming a writer requires years of devoted reading, followed by years (and years) of writing.  The love of stories may be innate, but the skill it takes to build them comes with time, attention, and effort.


Question Three: What is your favorite thing about writing? What is your least favorite thing?

I love the times when the writing is going well, and it feels like I’m actually traveling into another world, getting to watch and listen as my characters move through their lives.  I love the moments when the right set of words comes together, and there’s a sudden spark of energy, like electricity running through a wire.  And I love picking up something I wrote a long time ago, reading it objectively, and realizing that I actually like it. 
My least favorite things are the opposite of these:  When I can’t get into the magic world, when the right words refuse to come together, and when I realize that something I wrote and thought was promising is actually an utter mess. 


Question Two: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)

Read like crazy.  Write like crazy.  Repeat. 


Question One: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why? 

Truman Capote.  His gossip is art.  


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

NINJA BOOK CLUB: Chapter 1 - THE RIDDLE HOUSE

First Paragraph: The villagers of Little Hangleton still called it “the Riddle House,” even though it had been many years since the Riddle family had lived there. It stood on a hill overlooking the village, some of its windows boarded, tiles missing from its roof, and ivy spreading unchecked over its face. Once a fine-looking manor, and easily the largest and grandest building for miles around, the Riddle House was now damp, derelict, and unoccupied.

Welcome, Esteemed Reader, to the first ever edition of the Ninja Book Club! As promised, we will be discussing one chapter per week from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire for the next 37 weeks. If you want to play along, comment below and we'll chat it over. You don't even have to read the week's chapter if you know the story well enough:)

What I love about the first paragraph above is that it's a very specific hook for a very specific reader. If you're that one reader who doesn't know the story of Harry Potter, than Rowling will still hook you before the end of the chapter. But Rowling's intended reader will have read the previous three Harry Potter books when she comes to the first chapter of this one. She will know that Tom Riddle is the real name of Lord Voldemort, murderer of Harry's parents and scourge of the wizard world. The prospect of learning more about one of literature's best villains will sustain her through an entire chapter not set at Hogwarts or staring Harry Potter, who is not even mentioned until several pages in.

I had a literature professor who used to go on and on about how the house was usually a metaphor for the mind in fiction. There are many examples of this and it is true that setting plays a huge role in defining a character, but it is not true that every house ever described is the metaphoric mind of the character (sometimes a cigar is just a cigar). 

In this case however, I think Rowling is describing Lord Voldemort as surely as she's describing the Riddle house. Just as the house has fallen into a dilapidated state of disrepair, a mockery of its former glory, so Lord Voldemort, weakened from his previous two encounters with Harry Potter, is a mockery of his former glory.

It's a curious place for Rowling to begin a middle grade novel and it's something she never would've gotten away with in Harry Potter and the Scorer's Stone. Yes, I know the first chapter of that book was about adults, but it was about adults with magic powers and the introduction to a new world. This chapter is about an old man; an old muggle man.

Imagine, if you will, an army of eager readers lined up at the door, excited to be reunited with Ron and Hermione and all the beloved characters of the series and Rowling says, "Ahh, ahh, ahh, not so fast. First I'm going to tell you about an old man and his struggles. You younger readers, the most impatient readers of all, I'm going to have you sit and wait while I tell you about an old man for a whole chapter before we get to Harry." I am in awe of Rowling's confidence.

To be fair, though the Potter books are a culmination of many genres, they are mysteries above all else. And this first chapter opens with a mystery and ends as a horror story. Just like the best thriller writers, Rowling draws us in with descriptions of violence and the promise of more violence. I like to think of this next passage as CSI: Hogwarts:

A team of doctors had examined the bodies and had concluded that none of the Riddles had been poisoned, stabbed, shot, strangled, suffocated, or (as far as they could tell) harmed at all. In fact (the report continued, in a tone of unmistakable bewilderment), the Riddles all appeared to be in perfect health — apart from the fact that they were all dead. The doctors did note (as though determined to find something wrong with the bodies) that each of the Riddles had a look of terror upon his or her face — but as the frustrated police said, whoever heard of three people being frightened to death? 

What a lovely story for children this is:) The whole point in starting the novel as Rowling does is largely for exposition. Our old man muggle, Frank, wonders out to the Riddle house and overhears Voldemort chatting with wormtail:

“It could be done without Harry Potter, my Lord.” 
Another pause, more protracted, and then — 
“Without Harry Potter?” breathed the second voice softly. “I see . . .” “My Lord, I do not say this out of concern for the boy!” said Wormtail, his voice rising squeakily. “The boy is nothing to me, nothing at all! It is merely that if we were to use another witch or wizard — any wizard — the thing could be done so much more quickly! If you allowed me to leave you for a short while — you know that I can disguise myself most effectively — I could be back here in as little as two days with a suitable person —” 
“I could use another wizard,” said the cold voice softly, “that is true. . . .” 
“My Lord, it makes sense,” said Wormtail, sounding thoroughly relieved now. “Laying hands on Harry Potter would be so difficult, he is so well protected —”

Frank overhears all of this important exposition (and much more) without ever getting a good look at Voldemort and then the dark lord kills him at the end of the chapter before he can describe Voldemort's appearance for the reader. This is the equivalent of keeping the shark below the water at the start of Jaws and the effect is the same: the reader knows a horrible monster is loose and our hero will have to deal with him. This is a horror story set up and it works quite well.  

The reader thusly hooked, we join Harry and catch up with our heroes. But that's next week's chapter:)

For this week, I have only two more thoughts. Number one: you should never write "he hissed" in place of "he said" as it is physically impossible for humans to hiss and speak at the same time. Even the weak "he said with a hiss" is better, and "he said while doing an action" is best. The one exception to this writer's rule is if your character speaks parseltongue: 

Then the second man spoke once more, in a whisper that was almost a hiss.

My second thought is really more of a question: Why did Rowling introduce Frank? She spends several pages telling us how he was falsely accused of murdering the Riddles to build our sympathy and just when we know something about him, he dies. Surely, it would be more expedient for her to start her very long book from Wormtail's perspective and shorten this chapter. Why is Frank included at all?

Sound off in the comments below for a book club discussion. Otherwise, meet me here next Wednesday when we'll chat about chapter two.

Last Paragraph(s): And then the chair was facing Frank, and he saw what was sitting in it. His walking stick fell to the floor with a clatter. He opened his mouth and let out a scream. He was screaming so loudly that he never heard the words the thing in the chair spoke as it raised a wand. There was a flash of green light, a rushing sound, and Frank Bryce crumpled. He was dead before he hit the floor.  
Two hundred miles away, the boy called Harry Potter woke with a start.