Where Magic Comes From
Walking down the main hall of AOL Creative Center One, I heard two familiar voices emanating from the mazes of decorated cubicles and friendly offices. I liked coming in, and I liked the two people who belonged to those voices. They were my first real bosses.
I was always way too hyper after school. Today was no different: I tossed my bag on my desk, and skipped over to say hello.
Sandra: What’s going on?
Dave: I just got out of a meeting with Jacobson and I’m now in charge of the Harry Potter push on the service.
Jessica: That’s awesome!
They both jumped: I had apparated out of nowhere.
Dave: Are you doing anything with the cast?
Jessica: I think I’m working with Emma, Rupert and the director at some point on something live. I don’t know; AOL LIVE hasn’t confirmed yet, but it’s Warner so I’m sure it will book fine—Anyway, just think of all the stuff you can do—Trivia, oh and you can have homepage contests and maybe send a fan to do the red carpet at the premiere via a video contest to find the winning fan and photo galleries of all the exclusive stills you could get! No one here has really been on top of that at all. The only existing page that is any good is the Kids Only one. Plus, HarryPotter dot com has all that content up and I think they’re adding more Howlers and stuff.
Dave: They’ve saddled me with it because they suddenly see it as a Kids and Teens property, but I don’t know anything about it. I have to go buy the books today and watch—
Jessica: One sec!
I ran away…
And returned with a paperback copy, my spare copy, of Harry Potter (I had been re-reading the first four in reverse order) and handed it over to Dave. Clearly they had been talking about something while I was gone, and now Dave was looking at the book in my extended hand, and back at Sandra—
Jessica: It was in my school bag. I’m supposed to be reading The Turn of the Screw, but I’ve read that once, so whatever—
Dave: How would you like to be my right hand man, the person in charge of creative and promotion and programming, on the Harry Potter project?
Jessica: For the Teens Channel?
Dave: No, for the entire service.
That was and still is a fucking huge, recognizable project, and it made me pause. For a long time.
Dave: Do you have time with school?
Jessica: I’m in.
Sandra gave me a you’ll-be-great wink and headed back to her pod. Dave motioned for me to follow him into his office. I did. As if it were old hat.
Dave: Here’s what I was thinking for the new main screen...
He uncapped a dry erase marker and sketched on the board that spanned the entire wall.
Dave: We just got the style guide.
He tossed me a box with CDs and books. The Harry Potter branding glinted in the light...
This was something special.
Dave: The guy in charge of HP dot com for Warner is named Eli. You’ll be coordinating with him and I’ll find out who your studio contact is.
I grabbed a marker for myself.
Jessica: What if we embed the trailer here in the main movie screen and make everything else sub categories on the left nav, like video games, books… We are working with the property as a whole, right? Then rotate the specialty content here, in this community block, whenever the channels have their own feature or something. I mean the screen already looks a little different from anything else we have, so why not just have them build a totally new template that can be used for all big movie properties?
I took his idea and made it a little more extreme. He laughed.
Dave: This is going to be great, J.Sto.
And so it was that I got paid as a contractor to handle the creative for the Harry Potter initiative on the AOL service.
Yes, a lot of people would kill for that job. They technically should have hired someone more experienced to handle the project, but it wasn’t a year round gig, so they couldn’t justify that. The Specials team was already too overworked and underpaid and didn’t know anything about Potter. At that point, AOL Movies and Moviefone still hadn’t realized that Potter isn't merely a story for kids and teens; it is cross-generational. So Movies should have handled the project, but didn't want to deal with the scope and story expertise needed. There were internal employees who would have liked that job, were it more of an actual staff position like it should have been. Like it is now.
Thus, an important project had slipped through the cracks of the AOL Matrix.
And had fallen to me; a mere kid of a girl.
Dave took me seriously and gave me the authority to do the job, so everyone else did, too. Even me. And, it only seemed natural. No one gave it a second thought. I never did, until today.
I worked with Warner on a production calendar for promoting their content and securing assets, I worked with the design studio on the art and layout, I went to Welcome Screen meetings to secure the most valuable real estate on the Internet for Harry Potter, I wrote every word on the Potter pages, I recruited a programmer from Specials to do the things I couldn’t handle timewise so that she was coordinating through me, someone ten years her junior. If you saw a Harry Potter screen, watched a trailer, took a poll, did trivia or anything on AOL, then you saw something that I coordinated or created or published. Netscape and other subsidiaries copied my work, so you may have seen it there, too. Or maybe you used one of the AIM/AOL icons that I secured. Or maybe it was something else.
Dave: Part of me knows that this trivia needs to be checked beyond the line editor, but I seriously doubt you’ve made any mistakes.
Like I said, he trusted me.
Toward the end of the campaign, some of the higher-ups were invited to the premiere in thanks for the heavy promotion and success of the project. A little make-nice from Warner Bros. Films. Most of them hadn't done anything on the project. Of course I wasn’t invited. I went to premieres off and on when I was in LA shooting, so it wasn’t a deal.
Except it was in London. And it was Harry Potter.
Anyway, Dave was going. I was in his office when he got his invite. He knew I knew what it was.
Dave: I’ll call WB about getting you some swag—
Jessica: That’s OK, I mean I don’t really want anything. I collect movie posters, the two-sided sort, but I have a friend who works at a theater and he already snagged me all the Harry Potter ones…
Dave was gone for a week. I came in one afternoon, knowing that he would be back and wanting to hear all about the trip. His office was locked though, and the lights were off; he must have left early. In fact, it was Friday and the entire Creative Center was dead, except the newsroom guys, who could never leave early. I went to my desk to see if the studio had confirmed the booking for my next shoot—
Something strange was there—A black, leather book. I knew what it was. I had seen it at a bookstore:
The expensive special edition Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
I flipped open to the first page. There was handwriting there, a scrawl that I had come to learn to decipher from various notes on mock-ups or messages left on my dry erase board.
Thank you for all of your effort in making the Harry Potter feature on AOL a huge success. I couldn’t have done it without a right-hand person as reliable and creative as you. Keep doing your magic. Good things will happen for you. (I saw the future while flying on my broomstick to the London premiere – and the future is all good.)
All the best,
I closed Harry Potter, leaned my elbows on my desk and rested my chin in my hands.
Staring at the book, a great work of original fantasy fiction and a reward for using a small portion of my ability, I realized that I didn’t really care about the booking.
As soon as the end of summer comes, I’m moving to LA. And then I’m quitting the show.
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The full rollout for the Aidmheil page has begun.
Also, I spent several late hours in studio yesterday.
You should know that I love that sort of thing.
So what were we up to? Recording a bit of promotional VO from the story Greyfeather, a chapter of Aidmheil. You can listen now at the book page.
Related: One Pic | Two Pic | Dark Pic | New Pic
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All Around the 'Sphere
The following was said in a previous entry:
Next time you sit down to compose one of your notorious “Inbox” entries think about this instead: Have you ever considered allowing a reader to send you interview questions and then posting them on JSDC? A lot of the commenters here are intelligent. I would enjoy reading something like that and they might ask the questions that we all are wondering about. –Gabe
Too late, Gabe. The deed is done. And are you saying that people don’t want to know about my shampoo talk? Because, actually, that is the number one asked question here on JSDC. Regardless, I will stop after one more question and open to try your way. So, if a regular reader, someone who actually knows JSDC, would like to do that, then I would be up for answering those questions. Whoever sends the first quality interview will get answers.
Peter has stepped to the challenge. He actually asked me earlier, but I was busier with book and screenplay stuff and a play, so it had to wait until today.
And, I have one: What's a good song for me to listen to right now?
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AIDMHEIL has been signed, shipped and will come to the domestics early this week. (International takes a little longer.)
Friends were at the Mancha last night to buy their copies. It was weird in that I didn’t think it was weird until one of my friends got her copy and said, “Holy shit--This is a real book!”
So then it was weird for a moment because I thought it should feel weird that people I know are buying something I wrote...
But it didn't and still doesn't: It feels like a normal bit of the journey.
Speaking of weird, some of you listed interesting directions in the autograph instructions space on your preorders form. Things were all motion and excitement when I was signing the book, and the presence of C.Sto heightened the crazy, so you may have gotten something… unexpected written in yours. But, hey, you asked for it. Or maybe you were after the person who asked for it, and it overflowed to you.
Or maybe I wrote you something sweet and kind.
Or maybe I made fun of your mom.
Anyway, you'll be Aidmheil-ed soon enough and there's plenty of room in the comments and in my inbox for you to tell me what you think.
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And I went to IHOP for breakfast with C.Sto, The Viking and Stover-friend Navy. The latter came to stay with us despite the fact that in the next 48 hours he must decide whether or not he will end his career with the Navy, or go back to Iraq, back to war, with a SEAL platoon.
Navy’s the sort of guy who, in addition to being a Navy SEAL officer, has a master's degree in English, has studied at Cambridge and is all around skilled, knowledgeable and interesting, which is handy if I want to know about sharks or the people in Jordan or anything, really. He can also drink a lot of Guinness.
Anyway, the breakfast was good; it was like we were on an adventure-driven, snowy road trip and had stopped off at a diner for too much pancakes. Except IHOP's only a five-minute drive away,
And can one ever have too many pancakes?
(The answer is yes.)
It would have been perfect if we weren’t missing The Professor, who couldn’t make it down from New England. But in the face of missing perfection we did all right for ourselves. (As you must.)
Also, today, (and all week,) I’ve received comments, e-mails and links to web entries regarding Aidmheil.
So things are good despite the sometimes missed and the fact that I am confused about the
Golden Globe Nominations. (I didn’t realize that Pride & Prejudice and Walk the Line are considered comedies or musicals.) Good people are around (just like when gentlepersons go to dinner in P&P and the like (no brandy involved, though. And I’m still pretty sure that that story is not a comedy or a musical). And, there’s weather here! (I mean, isn’t Walk the Line a bio pic/drama?)
Oh well. I guess the Foreign Press knows what they’re doing, so here are some kind bits about the book, which might actually be a musical but I just don’t know it:
Magazine Man: "If you dare, you can follow J.Sto into the valley of Death. You can eavesdrop while she acts as a receptionist at the payphone of the Jedi. Or you can read "Greyfeather" a more traditional fantasy story that I can only hope is a taste of the honking big banana split that is to come."
Paul Davidson: "The book is clever in its humor, snarky in its wit, beautiful in its poetic goodness and sweeping in its scale. "
Swing by the Aidmheil page for more review links.
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Thanks to everyone who came out to the book signing in Virginia this past weekend. (Especially to the families Johns and Parsons, who came out in full force and energy.)
Despite some moments of busy, we were successful in keeping the thing low-key and comfortable. Although, I hope that no one was overwhelmed: Perhaps I should have warned readers that they’d be rushed with a dose of Sto-friends past and present.
A few readers who had already bought the book showed so as to purchase additional books for friends and family who had seen their copy and wanted one of their own.
That, my friend, is the best feedback a writer can ask for.
It was really something to see faces both familiar and new and everyone so excited for me. You must know that I will think of that support on days when I have none and discover the energy to push onward.
And, more books were sold than I had expected, which rules hard...
Aidmheil! Aidmheil! AID-M-HEIL!
Sing it in your sleep.
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Aidmheil: The Trailer
Genre: Thriller, Drama, Action, Adventure
Plot outline: Set against the violent underworld of black-market book publishing and a society that despises all things literary, a rookie author strives to bring her prose to the masses by going back to her online roots.
Taglines: Read it before it reads you. / Matlock is wicked!
MPAA: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, cross-dressing, bad Russian accents and Batleth violence.
For reviews, audio previews, order information and more book awesomeness, visit the Aidmheil page.
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First of all, you were in a dream I had last night. I have no idea why. All I can remember from it is that you went out "into the hills" on some adventure, and came back in appropriate-roughshod shape (but in an "I kicked ass" way) to some people in your grandmother's kitchen. Except it was my grandmother's kitchen.
1) This kinda freaked me out, as we've never met. (No, I'm not obsessed, either)
2) Don't try to steal my grandmother.
3) I hope that getting in someone's head like that isn't a new JSDC feature.
I realized that probably neglected to write you about Aidmheil. I enjoyed it a lot, and I am surely looking forward to more. (Greyfeather rocks!) Yes, some of it I read before, but it seems better printed and bound. As much as I read the Internet, to me, books carry more weight (emotionally and mentally, in addition to obvious physicality). Your inscription makes me laugh every time I read it.
I've attached a picture showing my copy. I haven't been able to organize the shelves for about 5-6 months, so, honestly, its placement wasn't a definite decision. I'd say that, unconsciously, it was placed in good company: books containing adventure, "makes you think" and some laughs. I think it will stay where it's been when the shelf revisions come.
. . .
Dear S of The Shade,
I did indeed spend my time in the hills last night. It was dangerous, and nothing I’m ready to talk about. You should see the gash I have on my left bicep: It’s almost as big as my bicep, but not quite. (I mean, really, what is?) I returned from my journey at approximately 6:32 AM, and, as for your grandmother, she is rather good at baking. She made me breakfast when I returned roughshod and tired. I should note that she said she likes me better than you. (I assume that is what you mean by “stealing” her.)
FYI: “Getting into someone’s head” has always been a JSDC feature. I call it Lucid-ica Dreaming-ica. This feature will not go away when the next upgrade launches. Instead, its strength will be increased 1,000 fold so that I can reach people in China. Don't try to stop me or you'll find yourself disabled via my sweet ability to capture your imagination and then tell your grandma on you while she bakes me cookies for breakfast.
Glad you liked the book, especially Greyfeather. Per your photographic evidence, Aidmheil does indeed seem to be in good company while in your possession. This means that I won’t have to activate the automatic-return-home device embedded in the cover. There are only so many Aidmheils in the world, after all, and we don’t want them falling into the wrong hands. (I think you know why.)
*Sir Jessica M. Stover, Esq.
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The Local Mirror
The special thing about a short bit in your hometown newspaper is that they were your first.
Softball championships, deaths in the family, school accolades…
When no one else cared, they thought your life was important.
Those little snippits always mean more than full-coverage by a national outlet.
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