BNF Notes: WSJ, A&E, Sectus Reversus!, & Book Expo America

If you understand what all the abbreviations and Fandom lingo in the title above mean, you are way ahead of where I was a month ago. Here is a hurried catch-up of my May and June when HogPro was lost in CyberSpace, from BNF and A&E to BEA and BNU.

BNF: I first read the term BNF in a Howler published on-line about me by a Fan-Fiction goddess calling herself “the Psychic Serpent.” Her contribution to online discussion was that I was a hopeless idiot who, incredibly, was making a fortune publishing and talking about a series of books I didn’t understand. She came to this conclusion from a single post I had made about what Linda McCabe calls “the Interview from Hell,” the Spatz/Annelli talk with Ms. Rowling in 2005. When she was confronted by Ms. McCabe and another friend (both of whom thought it was ironic for a Harry Potter reader to condemn a writer’s books without having read them), the Serpent responded that, as a BNF, I was a public figure who could be criticized, essentially, for fun and without a second thought.

The sad thing was, I didn’t know what BNF meant. I learned that it stands for “Big Name Fandomer,” which in Harry Potter Fandom means the person has written a book, been a featured speaker at an HPEF convention, or has an LJ or fan-fiction audience that is bigger than a “group of friends” or even your average “throng of readers.” It is not a complimentary term. As an acronym of derision, it’s only little less acrid than “SOB” and a little higher on the pigheaded and self-important scale than “JAP.” The fun-loving gang at Sonorus 2007 made name tags for Steve Vander Ark and myself that had our names over the letters BNF.

Ouch. I winced when they gave me mine. They laughed and gave me the “real” one with the word “Presenter” replacing BNF. Whew.

I start this list of what I’ve done this May and June with a discussion of a name I was called by a BNF wannabe because probably the most interesting thing about the last six weeks was my coming to terms with that weirdest of phenomena, “niche celebrity.” As “John Granger, military school Latin and English teacher,” I am anonymous and valency-free except to my family and cadets (many of whom, as High School students, share the Psychic Serpent’s opinion of me, albeit as a teacher and study hall monitor rather than as a writer). As “John Granger, Harry Potter maven,” however, I have a Walter Mitty-like second-life or doppelganger in which role people who take Harry seriously seek out my opinion as an expert or deride what I think and write as ignorance.

This bi-polar living is easy to handle when I’m working 60 hours a week at school. Other than meeting with a group of cadets in a “Harry Potter Fan Club” twice a month, there is very little overlap. I answer email at night or early in the morning and post at HogPro on occasional weekends.

As the school year winds down, though, especially in this summer at the end of the Interlibrum with a new movie and the last book coming out almost simultaneously (think like a geologist…), the “bleed” of my two lives picked way up. Which brings us to the first event, an interview and article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).

WSJ: On 1 May, Bob Trexler at Zossima Press got a phone call from the Book Beat editor at the Wall Street Journal, Jeffrey Trachtenberg. He was researching an article about the many Harry Potter ancillary titles, aka “Potter Parasites,” and he came across the Zossima site while doing a google search. Mr. Trachtenberg called me the next day at lunch and we talked for more than forty minutes. He followed up with an email and more questions which I answered immediately and at some length. The several quotations he used in the article, Last Hurrah for Harry Off-Shoots?, published on Thursday, May 10th, were all from the email exchanges.

As you’d expect, Mr. Trachtenberg called my school to verify that I worked there which check alerted the school that I was going to be in the Wall Street Journal. I received nice email the morning it came out from the mother of one of my best students who works on Wall Street (the WSJ as your hometown paper?) and from the President of the school. The article ran just before “Parents Weekend” and I posted it outside my classroom. Sales of Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader picked up and I wondered if I was only imagining that people at school were being nicer to me. A great (and very funny) history teacher made a point of lowering his head each time I saw him and whispering, “I am not worthy….”

HogPro Down!: On May 6th, disappeared. Erick, the man who designed the site, called the host who explained on May 8th that their “upstream server” from whom they rented bandwidth (?) had gotten belly-up unexpectedly. They expected our data to be delivered that week and that we would be back up before the weekend. As it turned out, the data was almost lost and the site did not come back up for nearly a month.

Except for Erick’s pressing the issue, I doubt we would have anything here except what I’m writing now and we wouldn’t be online. God willing and Erick’s schedule allowing, someday we may return with the several bells and whistles of the original HogPro. The length of time we were down, however, means I am writing this overly long post on where I’ve been and what I’ve experienced and learned in the month I was gone.

Sincere and heartfelt thanks to Erick and to those of you who kept checking the site during its long absence!

A&E: Four days after the WSJ article appeared, I got another call at lunchtime, this time from Richard Brehm at New Wave Entertainment(NWE). We talked for half an hour about Order of the Phoenix. Mr. Brehm, it turns out, was filming an Arts and Entertainment (A&E) channel television special for Warner Brothers to promote the release of the next Harry Potter movie the week of its premiere. The show would feature interviews with Daniel Radcliffe, the movie producer and director, and select Harry Potter experts. Incredible to me (and to readers like the Psychic Serpent, no doubt), I was first on NWE’s list of experts. Mr. Brehm had just finished Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader and he wanted to fly out to Philadelphia that week to film my interview at Valley Forge. I sent him a list of BNFs from which he chose “Lexicon Steve” Vander Ark and Janet Batchler, author of What Will Harry Do? and blogger at Quoth the

For reasons of speed and economy, NWE flew Steve and me out to California for the interviews that weekend in their Burbank studio (Mrs. Batchler lives in LA). It was more than a little heady for a High School Latin teacher, as you might imagine. Junior faculty at military academy are the lowest rungs on the totem pole; being picked up by Paris Hilton’s limo driver (?!) at the airport and taken to a swank hotel was at least as disorienting as the cross country flight and change in climate.

Janet Batchler and I have corresponded for more than three years, I think, but never met face to face. Steve and I met at Lumos 2003 after exchanging email and we met up again at Lumos 2006 last summer in Las Vegas. Seeing them, consequently, was a little bit like “old home week.” We exchanged notes on mutual friends, autographed books, and our summer Harry Potter plans when we met at NWE studios. Mr. Brehm interviewed each one of us for two hours in front of a green screen. After that, Steve and I had the rest of the day to hang out and spend the per diem money Steve had been given (I left mine on the floor of Mr. Brehm’s office).

Richard Brehm and his assistant Ilana Sparrow I should mention exploded the several preconceptions I had about Hollywood people making television programs. Talking with Ms. Sparrow on the way to the studio, for example, I learned that she was a Medievalist more than familiar with western alchemy and its uses in art and literature (there was a well-used copy of The Hermetic Museum, the Taschen edition, in Mr. Brehm’s office that I learned later was hers; alchemy geeks wil know what that means). But we talked more about horses and where my fourteen year old could best learn to ride dressage for cheap. I was so distracted and delighted, I didn’t have a chance to get nervous about the filming.

Mr. Brehm came out of his interview with Janet Batchler and gave me a wonderfully flattering greeting. I’d learned in my phone conversations with him that he had graduated from Princeton and I imagined him as a Nassau Hall preppie (alas, I grew up in New Jersey…). Nope. First, the man could be a stand-in for Hagrid: a robust 6’7″, gentle, and welcoming. My two hours with him in the studio were a delight. He’d not only read Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader, he had all five keys at his fingertips and asked great questions about Order of the Phoenix using each.

The most interesting thing to me was watching him put together questions about difficult subjects in such a way that I could answer without speculating or even mentioning Half-Blood Prince or the word “books.” It all had to be about the “movies,” “films” or “stories.” He was thinking about his television audience, the Warner Brothers folks who had thumbs-up-thumbs-down privileges on the project, and what he wanted to get on film to explain the darkness and depth of Order of the Phoenix. Not to mention the cues he wanted for scenes he hoped to get from the new movie to put in the special…

Frankly, this mental juggling act left me dizzy albeit dizzy with an appreciation of movie-television artistry I hadn’t had before. I have doubts I gave him anything he could use – I was enjoying the depth of the conversation so much I suspect I over-shot the targets he hoped I would hit – but the experience was a real eye-opener to me about the mental baggage I carry with respect to teevee and anyone working in that industry.

[Ms. Sparrow wrote me last week to say that I did make the final cut, that the show is scheduled to air July 8th on A&E, that NWE put an alchemy lab behind me as a set in place of the green screen, and that they will probably include the show in the DVD extras for the movie.]

Sectus (Reversus!): My time in Hollywood and the great kindness and regard that people with much more social standing and professional accomplishment than I have or expect to have rather shook me. My NWE revelations and conversations with Steve Vander Ark afterwards helped me realize what a BNF I really was becoming and how far down the road towards Git-dom I had traveled. I decided to contact the wonderful people at Sectus 2007 and pull out of the London conference this summer.

This represented a real change in direction for me. In April I had had to pursue an invitation to this conference with no little zeal. I really wanted to go to London for the book release and thought it was important for me to be there. They didn’t have the money to fly me over, though they wanted me to be one of their featured speakers, and I offered to pay my own way. A week after they accepted my offer, they told me they could fly me. I was thrilled and rationalized away the sheer egotism of this with arguments about how I needed to promote the book I had written and that Sectus 2007 will be an international media magnet.

Talking with Lexicon Steve in California helped me see I’d left my moorings. I’d been invited to speak at another convention, this one right down the road at Philadelphia’s UPenn, before Deathly Hallows but after the movie. Putting together my notes for that talk at Enlightening 2007, “A Family Camp for Exploring the World of Magic in Literature,” it was hard to miss that I had been invited to speak because I am a daddy, not because I am a Fandom VIP.

And I had cajoled and strained to get an invitation to be a Sectus 2007 Featured Speaker the week Deathly Hallows would be published? The weekend my youngest children had been looking forward to for two years because dad would be reading the last Harry Potter book as he had read all the others to them? Could I be farther away from them, literally and figuratively, by flying to London?


I wrote the wonderful ladies putting Sectus 2007 together and asked if I could be excused. They were nothing but gracious and supportive of my decision to stay at home. “No harm done.” Phew. I felt relieved and not just a little bit like what I imagined Eustace Scrubb must have felt like after losing his dragon skin(s) in Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

My friends at the Barnes and Noble online Book Club wrote me the next week and asked me to write a note for their “What Harry Means to Me” page. In light of my Sectus-Reversus and resolve to tone down my shadow-life as Harry Potter maven, I wrote this short piece:

The Harry Potter books have meant three things to me: (1) reading pleasure, (2) a celebrity of sorts, and, consequent to this celebrity, (3) the opportunity to speak and correspond with thousands of serious readers.

The thing we all have in common is the reading pleasure. Ms. Rowling’s books simultaneously delight and edify, and, as much as the experiences we have at Hogwarts in her subcreation bleed into our conscious lives, we are more human and better people for time spent in these stories. I don’t have any doubts that ultimately this is the reason we return to the Harry Potter books again and again. This reading pleasure is what unites everyone who enjoys the books — a number of readers that is now almost incomprehensible.

I have been singled out from the larger group of readers because of the controversy about the magic in the books and whether Harry is a “gateway to the occult,” “seducing the young into sorcery and magick.” I gave some talks at my local library on Harry Potter as literature and explained why the controversy was borderline nonsensical (there is no invocational magic in the stories). Those lectures became a book, which became invitations to Fan Conventions as a Featured Speaker, which became appearances on radio and television as a Harry expert, which became an interview for a Warner Brothers special.

This low-grade celebrity in turn made me something of a target for unhappy people in Fandom. Their unkind and uncharitable posts have helped me remember that being a Big Name Fandomer (“BNF” ) was never my desire or design — and, come August, my Warholian several minutes of fame should be over.

When the roller coaster ride of this Interlibrum is over, however, I will still have a few momentos to cheer my return from low-grade celebrity to relative obscurity, if not invisibility. I have made friends around the world through my HogwartsProfessor weBlog and through Barnes & Noble University; these friendships and contacts in California, London, Oslo, Naha, and Melbourne are the fruit and the second reason I will always be grateful to Ms. Rowling for the experience of reading her books and speaking publicly about her genius and artistry.

The first reason and greatest pleasure, though, from my first contact with a battered paperback copy of Sorcerer’s Stone to the present, has been reading the books out loud with my children. My plans for the 21st and 22nd of July are reading Deathly Hallows aloud to my youngest daughter and two youngest boys (the older children are buying their own copies to read in their rooms!). Yesterday I found pictures of them all going to the Goblet of Fire book release in costumes. As much as I look forward to reading the last book myself, I confess I’m as eager to see ‘Stasia, Timothy, and Zossima’s response and to talk with them about what it means to them.

Harry Potter is delightful, edifying reading and the beginning of a million wonderful conversations. Here’s hoping Ms. Rowling’s next set of books are even half as good!

Book Expo America: HogPro was still down, though Erick had been promised several times that it would be up “by the week’s end for sure” several times. My friend, partner, and publisher at Zossima Press, Robert Trexler, had two media badges for Book Expo America courtesy of his work with the New York C. S. Lewis Society. We spent the weekend at the Javits Center in NYC pushing and promoting our Harry Potter titles and learning what we could from the big boys and micro presses with displays there.

It was my first Book Expo America (BEA) and I found it more than a little overwhelming. I signed a box of Looking for God in Harry Potter for Tyndale to hand out at their floor booth and spent the rest of the time picking up free books I was interested in and speaking with authors who autographed their titles and answered questions. With four stories, hundreds of exhibitors, more than 30,000 people on the convention floor at any given moment, and books everywhere, it was a great place to come if you wanted to regain some perspective or try on a little humility. I was in the right place for downsizing.

Three highlights besides time with Bob Trexler (always fun and edifying) were:

* Seeing and catching up with Connie Neal, author of What’s A Christian to do with Harry Potter? and other titles. She’ll be at Prophecy 2007 in August to talk about her new book and Deathly Hallows;

* Walking through the huge Scholastic display space with the thousands of other Potter-philes present looking to score the fantastic Deathly Hallows book bags they were giving out or to sight (perhaps even meet!) Arthur Levine — and being recognized by a Scholastic editor as a “Harry Potter expert.” How flattering! She hadn’t heard of the books I had written and had only recognized me because she’d been to Lumos and Nimbus, however. I guess there aren’t many BNFs that look like a house-elf and wear polka-dotted bow ties. I came back later and asked another lady if Arthur Levine was there; she told me I had mispronounced his name (it’s “leveeen” not “leaven”) and made it clear he was much too busy to be bothered by house-elves. Ouch. I did get those bags for my children, though!

*Sitting in on a Jane Austen panel discussion: six women authors discussing their Jane Austen books, ranging from literary biography and a book written about a postmodern women dropped into Pride and Prejudice to a “Write-Your-Own-Jane Austen-Novel” and a re-telling of Emma from another character’s perspective. There were close to a hundred people there and I was one of the six men (and one of them was there only because his wife was on the panel). I asked a question about the evident gender-gap in the room and another about Austen and Rowling. I enjoyed their answers almost as much as my daughter Sarah (Austen crazy) is enjoying the free books that the authors handed out after the talk.

Last word: If you’re a bibliophile, get to BEA 2008 in Los Angeles next June.

I’m washed out for the night! More tomorrow on Sonorus 2007, my first meeting with the Potterdelphians, and my posts this week on HogPro.


  1. John, it was great to catch up on where you’ve been, what you’ve been doing and thinking in the past month. I appreciate your honesty about all the perks and perils of BNF’dom 🙂 and loved hearing that you’re skipping a conference to read Deathly Hallows with your children. My daughter is only four, and I’m already getting excited about being able to share these books with her in just a few more years!

  2. I’m so glad that this site is back up–I did miss you and all the posters for the month it was down. And I’m glad to hear that you had such great experiences with most of what was going on in your busy life.

    I’m sure you’ll be missed in London, but any time spent with family is invaluable, and not something that can ever be recaptured if it’s missed. So, I agree with Beth, that sounds like the right decision for you and I applaud your choice.

    I’m kind of doing the same thing, though on a much smaller scale. The night of the book release, I should be sitting at day camp on the over-night–it actually is in my job description as co-site director. However, I let them know last March at our first meeting, that I would not be there, but will instead be at the book store, getting Deathly Hallows, along with my youngest daughter–I couldn’t miss that one. We started reading the books together when she was still in high school, and we’ve gone to every midnight book release and every midnight movie together. Even though she’s 25, it wasn’t something I was willing to miss. Sometimes our families just have to come first.

    Question about the private forum–is it lost forever, or is there some possibility of it coming back in some form, or since the end of the books is so near, are you just going to let that one go?

    Good to have you back, John.


  3. Arabella Figg says

    John, I’ve bee playing catch-up and just caught this post.

    Although it’s regretful you couldn’t be in London to share your expertise, I think you’ve got your head screwed on right in putting your family first. And I don’t believe you’ll ever regret it.

    Perhaps you could write a letter to be read at the London conference or printed as a flyer? Or someone could represent you?

    Anyway, good for you!

    Oops, the kitties are taking down the ficus tree…

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