Interview with ‘Summer’s Winter’ Author Robin Johns Grant

I was delighted to learn earlier this month that novelist Robin Johns Grant is a HogwartsProfessor.com reader. Before she could say, ‘Nope’ or ‘No, thank you, I’m really busy’ I sent her ten questions about her novel Summer’s Winter which, for reasons you’ll pick up, will be a challenge and delight for serious readers of Harry Potter, especially those All-Pros who think about literature and spirituality and the nature of film and books.

Which is saying too much! On to the interview —

(1) Thank you so much for agreeing to our HogwartsProfessor 10 questions interview! Here’s an ice-breaker t-ball question for openers: How did you meet Harry Potter?

I worked in a college library as the books came out, so of course everyone around me was reading them. I tried to avoid the books because the idea of children going off to school to learn witchcraft disturbed me—but Harry was like a persistent suitor that you just can’t refuse. It was the publication of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows that finally pulled me in. First, I saw the fans around me (including fellow librarians and students) excitedly discussing what was going to happen in the seventh book, and I wished I could be a part of that. I love being a part of a shared community built around some book or movie I love—I’ve always been a part of some fandom—and I felt lonely and left out. Particularly because that period of my writing life felt dreary and uninspired. I was trying so hard to publish a novel and make it fit into some genre niche that I was losing the joy of story. It had become more of a dry process—look at the writers’ guidelines, choose a character, give her a goal, three obstacles to the goal, etc., etc.

Then I went to a Christian writers’ conference right after Deathly Hallows was released, and I was amazed to hear the attendees discussing the Christian themes in it. So I gave myself permission to read—and I was hooked. And I was so grateful for the books, because Harry Potter reminded me why I was writing—the pure joy of imagination, and connecting with other people through a fantastic world.

(2) Did anyone in your family or people in your church community think the books were a “gateway to the occult”?


You can tell from my answer to question 1 that I thought that myself. And there was a lot of misinformation floating around about what the books contained—occult activity and such. I was surprised to read them for myself and see what was not in the books. No one has been upset with me since I became a Harry Potter fan. And when I was trying to decide whether the books really were appropriate for a Christian woman to read and love, it was your books that helped assure me, Professor!

(3) Please give us a synopsis of Summer’s Winter without spoilers.

At age ten, preacher’s daughter Jeanine fell in love with young movie star Jamie Newkirk and the character he played—Danny Summer. Jeanine believed God Himself promised Jamie would be part of her life—that he would rescue her from boring rural Georgia. A talented writer and musician herself, she was destined to be a part of Jamie’s world.

For the next eleven years, Jeanine was obsessed—with Jamie Newkirk; with Danny Summer, the character he played; and with the entire Summer series of books and movies that were released throughout her childhood. When the author, Hannah Raney, died in a mysterious fire without finishing the series, Jeanine grieved along with the rest of fandom. But she believed Jamie was still promised to her. However, eleven years later, she’s graduating college and about to settle into the dreary nine-to-five life with no word from Jamie or God.

And then Jamie bursts into her life in an amazing way. Incredible things start to happen. There are plans to resurrect the Summer series, and Jeanine is right in the middle of it all. Jamie seems to be falling for her, just as she’d dreamed. And yet…she never dreamed of all the dark undercurrents. Jamie is hiding out in Georgia following the suspicious death of his former girlfriend, Paula. And who knew there would be so many sinister characters involved in Jamie’s life, and in the Summer series? Jamie is obviously guarding deep secrets—about his family, about the deaths of his mother and Paula. Jeanine longs to prove his innocence. Unless she can, Jamie’s dark secrets may shatter her dreams, her faith—and her life.

(4) I read — and loved — the book, mostly because of what you didn’t mention in your synopsis, namely, that the Jamie character is a transparency in many ways for Daniel Radcliffe (and his sidekick Charlie for Rupert Grint). No Harry Potter fan is going to miss that correspondence. Is Summer’s Winter in large part a piece of very creative fan fiction? It doesn’t have Harry Potter characters or settings, but it turns on Harry Potter fandom’s obsession with the Warner-Brothers movies.

I wouldn’t so much call it fan fiction as fandom fiction. Yes, it will probably seem familiar territory for Harry Potter fans, but this story actually comes out of my own childhood, a LONG time ago, long before J.K. Rowling dreamed up Harry Potter. I’ve always had that same tendency that Jeanine has in the book, to get totally caught up in some make-believe world and to want so badly to be able to enter that world and be part of it. And more than once, there would be an actor who brought that story to life that became the focus of my fascination. Even when I was pretty young, I would sort of step back and examine my feelings and wonder about them. How could I feel so strongly about someone I never met? Wasn’t it strange to feel that I knew some person (actor), that they had become such a huge part of my life, but if I met them they wouldn’t know me at all? And was I really such a fan of the actor—or of the character?

When I was about 13, I was totally obsessed with a TV western called Alias Smith and Jones, particularly the character played by an actor named Pete Duel. The show was in its third season and was pretty popular, when Pete Duel committed suicide. I was devastated—and it was such a weird feeling, such grief over someone that I felt I knew, but really didn’t. But then again, was it just the character I loved? The show wasn’t canceled immediately. They found another actor to play the part, and the same writers produced the same storyline and dialogue, but it was never the same, so it couldn’t have just been the actor. It was the combination of the story and the character and the charisma and creative energy of the actor bringing it all to life that gave it power for me.

That experience and others helped me start writing Summer’s Winter, but I wrote a new version after becoming a Harry Potter fan, with a couple of changes. I added the idea of the parallel book series and movie series. I added the sidekick Charlie because I found the idea of actors like Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson growing up together while playing the same characters so intriguing. My childhood trauma from the Alias Smith and Jones loss spilled over into this book, too—there’s a tragedy in the book that brings the Summer series to a halt before it’s finished.

(5) You mention Twilight near the end of the book in an aside but I thought of it throughout my straight through reading. Stephenie Meyer’s work, as I’ve explained in Spotlight, is a Latter-day Saint’s wish fulfillment fantasy on several levels, in addition to being a spectacular turn on formulaic romance fiction. Summer’s Winter is also Cinderella romance fiction, and, though not Mormon but Evangelical Christian in framing, it can be read as the dream sequence of every Harry/Daniel fan girl in the world. No?

Of course! But not just of Harry/Dan—I think it’s a satisfying fantasy for fans, in general. Although I’m not sure I would have written it the same way if I had just come up with this story recently, after I had gotten older and more cynical. But as I said, this story comes out of my childhood, when I really believed anything could happen and was more of a romantic.

(6) You open the book with a spooky playground sequence in which the good preacher’s daughter is accused of being a witch — and it seems a credible charge. Later Jeanine explains to Jamie what his life as an actor means and it turns out to be a projection of her experience as a writer/story teller. You’re after some big game here in terms of imagination and spirituality, I think. What can you tell us about that without spoiling the story?

I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but it’s a connection I believe in and want to know more about, so yes, it’s a prominent theme in the story. One book that’s made me think is The Slumber of Christianity, by novelist Ted Dekker. He talks about the importance of imagination and story, even going so far as to say things like, “Humans have an actual dependence on various forms of fiction to understand truth. This is how God made us. Our minds explore all truth using the imagination first and foremost.”

I’ve mentioned that, from an early age, I was fascinated by my fascinations—how a fictional world could invoke such longing in me, especially since my brain knew that if I could actually visit that world, it probably would seem just as mundane as or even more dangerous than my own. C.S. Lewis noticed the same thing about the intense longings that certain stories or music could produce in him, and identified this as our longing for God and the eternal: “The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing…they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.” (from The Weight of Glory)

(7) Back to the Cinderella wish-fulfillment aspect of the story, the heroine is all but anointed the inheritor of the book’s Harry Potter equivalent series throne as author and screen play writer. I guess that, too, has to be the daydream of most Harry Potter fans who write, especially as it seems we won’t be getting any new Potter stories soon (if I suspect Dumbledore will make guest appearances in the Newt Scamander flicks). Are you pining for more Harry-Ron-Hermione adventures or was this the necessary elevation/revelation that is such an important part of the Cinderella Harlequin formula?

Partly I wanted to show that there’s more going on than just a fan girl meeting the handsome movie star she has a crush on. Jeanine’s longing and desire wasn’t just for a handsome actor, it was to share her creative power with someone who understood. But yes, it’s also unadulterated wish fulfillment. I’m definitely pining for more stories, and I think that part of the Summer’s Winter fantasy—Jeanine being a part of bringing the Summer series back to life—is as appealing for the writers among us as her relationship with Jamie is for romance fans.

(8) There’s a murder mystery of sorts embedded in the Prince-Charming-meets-girl story that, because it is not the engine of the love story, is not especially mysterious or disconcerting. It does, however, drive home an important sub-theme of the work, namely, that film makers are dangerous people, however attractive or likable any may be. Summer at one point even delivers something of a Philippic to the big Hollywood producer at Jamie’s birthday party. Are these your thoughts or is it Jeanine’s piece you’re speaking here?

In that same quote from The Weight of Glory, Lewis says that if we mistake an earthly object for what our souls really desire, we can expect disappointment and heartbreak. That’s what Jeanine herself is in danger of doing—mistaking the earthly objects (Jamie, the Summer books) for what her soul really longs for, to the point of obsession. And to the point of allowing herself to flirt with people and situations that almost get her killed.

Jeanine, however, does realize the power of story and thinks that producers like Richard Newkirk sometimes don’t grasp the power that’s been entrusted to them. She sees them as playing with dynamite and not realizing what they’re doing. Going back to ideas from Ted Dekker and C.S. Lewis, Dekker says that imagination is “a potent creative power that flows from heaven itself. But we fallen creatures have a way of turning good gifts into devices that kill.”

(9) There’s only one slip I caught in which a non-Christian character uses Evangelical code-language (Jamie about “bondage” to alcohol late in the book) but the conversations about destiny, Providence, even the Lord’s Plan, are something of a back-drop to the story, especially in a key scene where Cinderella refuses the advances of Prince Charming. It works, especially as the lead character is the daughter of a winsome Christian pastor, but what will you say to non-believing readers who complain that the “message” was too much in the foreground for them?

I hope it’s not so much a message—not something tacked-on to the story but a true reflection of the characters and their culture. I thought the culture clash between country preacher’s daughter and cynical Hollywood folk would heighten the conflict and make a better story, and I hope everyone can enjoy it from that standpoint. Of course, I’m sure all writers write from their own worldview, and as someone who does believe in Providence and a divine plan—and of the connection between imagination and the eternal—I can’t help but reflect that.

(10) How can HogPro readers find your book — and get in touch with you to talk about it?

Summer’s Winter is available in print and as a Kindle ebook at Amazon.com. I would love to talk with fellow HogPro readers! They can contact me through http://robinjohnsgrant.com or https://facebook.com/robinjohnsgrantauthor .

Thank you again for joining us, Robin Johns Grant!

Comments

  1. Robin Johns Grant says:

    Thank you so much for hosting me, Professor! So excited to be a part of the discussion on your site.

  2. revgeorge says:

    Okay, she had me when she started quoting C.S. Lewis and especially from The Weight of Glory. I’ve added the book to my Kindle wish list. 🙂

  3. Robin Johns Grant says:

    Thank you, RevGeorge! 🙂

  4. Frankie Israel says:

    What an intriguing combination of elements this book seems to have. Awesome interview!!

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