Sonorus 2007: Simply the Best

I have had the pleasure of being a Featured Speaker at three Harry Potter conferences. Two of these, Nimbus 2003 and Lumos 2006, were multi-day affairs with close to or more than a hundred lectures and panels to attend in addition to games, movies, luncheons, and podCasting. They were, in brief, a delightful overload for Harry Potter readers like you and me.

I met Ann-Laurel Nickel and her dad Ken at a Nimbus 2003 luncheon. Ann-Laurel is as well read on the Harry Potter books as you’d expect at an HPEF Fanon but she was also delightfully enthusiastic and cheerful. We wrote on occasion after Nimbus (she sends the greatest Harry-themed Christmas cards) and met up again at Lumos in Las Vegas, where she hit it off with my wife Mary as well. What’s not to like about the lady in the Lion Hat with radish earrings? This serious reader was a lot of fun and took her fun seriously!

I was not very surprised, consequently, when Ann-Laurel wrote to say she was organizing a Harry Potter conference where she lives, the Antelope Valley in the desert above Los Angeles. It was going to be a one-evening “wow,” she explained, with just two featured speakers talking back-to-back in a Great Hall like at Hogwarts. She wanted me and Steve Vander Ark to be the speakers. She called her idea Sonorus 2007.

It was scheduled for the weekend after the school year ended and Ann-Laurel said I could bring Mary. Of course I was going. Time with Steve and Ann-Laurel and my wife? Sign me up.

Looking back on this wild weekend in the high desert, I wonder what my expectations were. I had such a great time that it seems I must have been anticipating the event itself would be a nightmare or “nothing much.” Instead, it was more fun than should be legal.

On Friday night, the Sonorus gang and their families took the presenters out to dinner at a Mexican restaurant. There I got to meet Heather, Betina (and daughters), and Lani and Keith Revell, as well as catch-up with Ken, Ann-Laurel’s dad. Keith is an old Leatherneck (Marine) and his son is an active duty Marine in Afghanistan. My time with the Revells this weekend was probably the single highlight of my Sonorus experience. How often do I get to mix Harry Potter predictions and thinking and talking with boot camp stories? And, when I got nervous before my talk Saturday night, Keith had my back and the Kind Word I needed. Semper Fi, Keith!

Saturday morning I had to re-organize my talk (“Five Keys and Seven Predictions”) because Ann-Laurel told me she thought it best if I spoke for just under an hour — or less. When I’d given a similar talk in Hershey, PA, the weekend before, I’d gone two and a half hours. Time for slash and burn on the planned talk….

Just before lunch, I went to the local Barnes and Noble store where Ann-Laurel leads the huge Harry Potter Reading Group for a book signing. Janet Batchler was there, too, signing What Will Harry Do?. We may have signed (and sold) five or six books in the two or three hours we sat there but the conversations with Harry Potter readers and with each other were wonderful. Janet and I agree on almost nothing, from “Harry-as-Horcrux” to the postmodern themes of the books, but I cannot think of anyone I enjoy disagreeing with more than Janet. I always get the story teller’s perspective from her which is, of course, one of my larger blind spots.

Linda McCabe and Mary then took me out to lunch. Linda, whose “Musings of a L.O.O.N.” weBlog I link to here fairly often, is a retired ‘shipping maven who has saved me from quite a few public embarrassments, loaded me down with ideas I probably never would have thought of myself (beheading imagery comes immediately to mind), and defended me when I have been attacked in several Fandom forums. We had a lot of fun at lunch simultaneously catching up and learning about each other while discussing what became the 23 June post “On Criticism” at her weBlog. Meeting and talking with Linda, who drove no little distance to get there, was worth the flight to California in itself.

Sonorus 2007 the event hadn’t even really started and Mary and I already thought it had been more than a successful weekend.

I do remember thinking as we drove up to the Hellenic Center where Sonorus 2007 was held that this was going to be a much bigger deal than I thought. The very large parking lot was full more than an hour before the Feast and Presentations were supposed to start.

The “Great Hall” was a hoot. I heard one participant sniff that it was “neo-Classical” rather than medieval (it’s a Hellenic center, right? C’mon, people) but the four broad and long tables before the faculty table certainly had a Hogwarts feel. Each was made up in Hogwarts House colors and the table settings were gorgeous. Ann-Laurel’s nephew Tim (with husband David’s help) made a Wizard Bank, too, that was a jaw dropper.

But when we arrived most people were in the vendor area. Stan Goldin of Whimsic Alley was there and Barnes & Noble had a big pile of Potter-barnacle books for sale, too. The great surprise was seeing Gary Hall of WhirlWood Wands there with his beautiful pieces. We were roommates at Nimbus 2003 in Orlando. It was great to see him even if we didn’t get to talk as much as I would have liked. My daughter Hannah, off to VMI this weekend, still hasn’t decided which of her brothers and sisters will keep her WhirlWood Wand while she is at school.

Then the Feast began! I don’t eat before I talk (especially when I’m still trying to configure my talk so it’s the right length as I was here) but the food was spectacular. Ann-Laurel told me she wanted to set a very high bar of British authenticity for other Harry Potter Fan Conventions. Inch thick slabs of roast beef on platter after platter I think achieved this objective! The vegan plate I was given after my talk was easily the best I have had that was not hot from Mary’s kitchen.

My talk? I’ll write up the high spots here in a few days. The audience was very kind and applauded with enthusiasm. I got to sign a few books, too, and to meet people I have written and others who will write soon, before Steve got up to talk.

Steve and I had never heard the other talk. Because of scheduling at Nimbus and Lumos, that is just the way it worked out. Listening to Steve at Sonorus I can understand now why he is invited to every Harry Potter conference (hint: it isn’t the piano playing). His lecture was funny, of course, and I’d expected that; Steve has a great sense of humor and his timing is better than many professional comics. What impressed me most, though, at Sonorus was the quality of the insights Steve shared about the magical world in between the jokes and sight gags of his PowerPoint presentation. His thoughts on the points of division in the books are things I’m still thinking about. Lexicon Steve is a whole lot more than a “funny man.”

Sonorus 2007, the official all-comers program, ended with a raffle drawing for an amazing array of goodies, some of which were worth several hundred dollars. I signed some more books and looked forward to having a glass of wine with Mary back at the hotel.

But, wait, there was one more thing! The Intimate Chat with Steve, John, and special guest Janet Batchler….

And this part of the show that I’d pretty much forgotten turned out to be the best part.

Janet, Steve, and I went into a much smaller room than the Great Hall with about forty other people, all of whom wanted to ask us questions about our talks and books. Steve suggested that we three sit in the center of a circle and take questions from the people sitting against the walls facing inward.

Stroke of genius.

For the next two hours, we answered questions as best as we could, disagreeing with each other, laughing, asking other questions, and enjoying the best public discussion of the books I have been part of. Every one of the questions was a “wow,” from the Four Words of Dumbledore’s Philosopher’s Stone Sorting Feast speech to the difficulties of Dumbledore in the Cave being simultaneously a Christ figure and Snape on Polyjuice. If the interrogators on the periphery enjoyed this discussion in the round half as much as I did, they had a great time. We talked until the folks at the Hellenic Center told us to get out — and for another half hour (or two) after “last call.”

We slept in the next day, of course, it being a day of rest. I found a Used Book Store near the hotel where I bought a copy of Lewis’ Till We Have Faces, Louis Bayard’s Mr. Timothy, and Matthew Pearl’s The Dante Club for next to nothing. I cannot tell you which book I have enjoyed more, which is only saying I have been enjoying my Sonorus 2007 reading ever since. (Do get a copy of Mr. Timothy if you haven’t read it already. Duffous that I am, I’d never even heard of it.)

And then we all had dinner at the Landreth’s house. Heather Landreth, with Lani and Ann-Laurel, was the heart of this whole event. The barbecue at her house was the best way to celebrate what they had pulled off the night before and for the Grangers and Vander Arks to get to know the crew and their families. We got to meet Mark and Trudy Welsh, Ann-Laurel’s mom Kathy, Jim’s parents in addition to the three titans and their kids.

The neatest thing — and Mary thought this, too, so it isn’t just a stupid guy thing — was the way the husbands of this trio supported their wives in their Potter Mania. Keith Revell hasn’t even read the books but he helped put the show together (and enjoyed it enough that he told me he would finally give in to read them). David, Ann-Laurel’s husband, was everywhere helping out in addition to helping Tim with the Wizard Bank. And Heather’s husband grilled the best salmon I have had since leaving the Olympic Peninsula in addition to opening his home for the Sonorus Send-Off. None of these guys are into Harry half as much as their wives, but they love their wives enough to really enjoy and support what they did. You gotta love that. Three happy families having a blast with Harry Potter and sharing the fun with a larger community.

Okay, that’s almost certainly more than you folks who didn’t go to Sonorus wanted to know about our time there even if it really isn’t enough of a description of what took place. Thank you, Ann-Laurel and Sonorus Gang, for thinking of me when you invited the presenters and for the wonderful weekend in the Antelope Valley! Mary and I have nothing but fond memories of the Sonorus 2007 weekend.


  1. John,

    It was wonderful getting the chance to finally meet you and Mary in person.

    Ann-Laurel’s Lion Head costume was realllly cool. I don’t know that I would ever want to wear it myself, as I’m afraid it would cause serious neck aches the following day though.

    In retrospect, I wish I had made the suggestion that you spend a little more time in your speech discussing examples of literary alchemy images that people would be able to recognize from the series. You had set out the promo / book marks with the cover of your latest book, but did not make specific reference to it.

    I wound up telling some of the skeptical people around me to examine that image and see if they recognized anything. They didn’t, and then when I pointed out that the double headed man was standing on a Golden Snitch – you should have seen the look on their faces change.

    I also mentioned Hans Andrea’s website where there is an illustration from an alchemical test of a skull with a snake coming out of it.

    I think those things alone help to convince people that there is more to these stories than simply a good story. There are layers of meaning that add a richness to the text.

    I look forward to seeing the interview on A&E, hopefully what is shown will be better than what will inevitably end up on the cutting room floor.


  2. jensenly says

    Hi John –

    I attended the “intimate chat” session and had a great time. I, too, agree that it was the best part of the evening. It was the perfect way to usher in the last few weeks of HP speculation, as the clock ticks towards the end!

    All of you were terrific and I am pleased to know you had such a nice time in Antelope Valley.

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