Dear Mr. Potter: Stories of Love, Loss, and Magic edited by Lily Zalon (part 1)

It’s here… the day Harry Potter fans have been waiting for, and dreading, for the last decade or so. Tonight, thousands of us will gather to watch the final, breath-taking showdown between Harry and Voldemort. It marks an end to a media franchise that has made, and broken, records in both the literary and movie worlds. However, there are many of us who are feeling it in an entirely different way.

We have Wizard Rock, we have Leaky Con, we have Finding Hogwarts, we have Harry, A History, we have The Harry Potter Alliance, and we have Dear Mr. Potter. We have these things, and so many others like them, because Harry Potter brought together readers, and turned them into friends. I was in my early 20’s when I started reading Harry Potter. It was a fun, quick read for the first few books. Great characters, interesting adventures, and a world that I would have loved to be a part of. The books, as Harry got older, got progressively more intense, and more meaningful. They were still filled with amazing characters, and their adventures were still fascinating, but there was also a “bigger than the story on the page” feeling about them. Even though the books were all about wizards and magic in the traditional sense, there were basic “muggle” aspects to the story. Things like true, unwavering friendships and doing what’s right, even when it’s not easy. Things like helping those who aren’t in a position to help themselves and valuing the amazing things that make us all different and unique. There is a community of incredible people who’ve grown up with Harry. Whether you started reading when you were 11, or 20 something (like me), the fandom welcomes you in, turns up The Remus Lupins, passes you a butterbeer, and it feels like home.

Dear Mr. Potter is a collection of letters, anecdotes and pictures from people who’ve shared the journey with Harry and his friends. It’s funny, and touching, and heartbreaking, and heartwarming. It’s a goodbye to some parts of the phenomenon, and a renewed pledge to the things that will live on long after the big screen is finished with the story. It’s a thank you to those who, whether they began as words on a page, or were responsible for bringing those words to life, changed us for the better. (Click the cover picture below for a very cool sneak peek into the book.)

I have to say, honestly, that I haven’t finished reading the whole book. I’ve skimmed through a lot of it, read some amazing letters, and laughed at some fantastic pictures. I’ve cried and cried, and loved every minute of it. But I’ve only got so many boxes of tissues in my house, and I can’t buy more until I get paid tomorrow. The submissions for the book came from the Dear Mr. Potter blogsite, asking for letters from fans about their experiences. Editor Lily Zalon and her staff of volunteers selected and compiled posts and created a book. 100% of the proceeds from the sale of Dear Mr. Potter will be donated to The Harry Potter Alliance, a non-profit organization involved in using the themes found in the Harry Potter books to do good works in the “muggle” world. Almost 3,000 copies of the book were pre-ordered before it’s July 1st release. J K Rowland and many members of the film cast have received copies (including Dan, Rupert, Evanna, and others). Jo and Rupert even signed copies to be used in giveaways and raffles at events.

Most of the letters included are from average readers like you and me, saying things like…

“To me, the real magic is the way you’ve opened my mind.” – Lauren C.

“When Harry got his letter from Hogwarts, I wondered what it’d be like to get a letter of my own someday. When Harry had his first kiss, it wasn’t long until I had mine. When Harry was learning to apparate, I was learning to drive. As I followed Harry on his journey, I was living my own.” – Ashley A.

“These aren’t characters to me, they’re friends. The scenes and settings are the places I see when I close my eyes. The stories are my daydreams. And the author is my hero.” – Rebekah P.

“The last two years have revolved around my health. I was diagnosed with kidney failure shortly before Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince came out. … The Harry Potter books have given me a goal. They have given me a reason to fight for something when all else seemed hopeless, and something to look forward to when recovery seemed slow, but successful. Thank you, Mr. Potter. I don’t think I can properly express how grateful I am that I had you to turn to during the dark times, as well as the good.” – J.D.S.

but here are a few sentiments from names you might recognize…

“You’ve given me gifts, Mr. Potter, so real and lasting that I can’t even really think of you as a fictional character anymore. Like so many other fans, I will carry you with me throughout my life — thinking of you not as a made-up character, but as an uncommonly generous friend.” – John Green (author)

“[To Luna,] Meeting them [other actors on set] ultimately lowered all the barriers I’d built between me and my dreams and made me realise that, with hard work and dedication, I could be just as capable of accomplishing things my heroes have done, and similarly, Harry potter fans are easily capable of doing what I’ve done. … At the end of this, all I really want to say is: Thank you for bringing me to this place where I finally feel I can fit in for standing out.” – Evanna Lynch (actress)

Back in May, when I first heard about Dear Mr. Potter, I asked editor Lily Zalon a few questions about the creation of the book.

Obviously you’re a fan of the Harry Potter series, but what specifically prompted you to start this project?

A variety of things. First, of course, I had the idea. Nothing really prompted it but it came to me and I ran with it. It evolved a lot between then and now, I really never expected it to get this big. A lot of the reason I decided to actually do it had to do with personal stuff; I’ve always been a massive Harry Potter fan but I’ve never been really involved in the fandom, and I felt like I really needed that community last year when I started it. I’m glad I did, it’s incredible group of people to be part of.

How did you end up partnered with the Harry Potter Alliance? Or was that something you wanted to do from the beginning?

There were a lot of mostly unsuccessful communication attempts between me and the HPA, we actually only got really involved together when I e-mailed Andrew Slack himself. I always wanted to work with them. They’ve been incredible, I’m so amazed by what they do and I’m really glad to be able to work with them so closely. It’s hugely beneficial to the project to have a relationship with them rather than just give them the book’s proceeds — it’s because of Andrew we got Evanna Lynch, Melissa Anelli, and John Green to contribute.

I understand that Dear Mr. Potter isn’t affiliated with J K Rowling, or WB, but does Jo at least know about the project? Has she commented at all that you know of?

No, we haven’t gotten any comments from Jo, although we have sent the manuscript to her agency so there’s a small chance she’s heard about it in passing. We have every intention of sending her a finished copy of the book, I would absolutely die if she said anything about it. **Since this, we’ve confirmed that she does INDEED know about the book, and signed a few copies to use as prizes at LeakyCon, a Harry Potter convention being held in Orlando this week.**

What did you hope to accomplish with the creation of this book? Was it something personal for you, or did you have a bigger picture in mind for it?

These things rarely start out with a bigger picture, that has to evolve. It was never personal, exactly, it was just a cool idea I had that meant a lot to me and that I hoped could mean a lot to other people. I have people telling me all the time now that Dear Mr. Potter has really inspired or helped them, and I had no way of knowing that’d happen, but it’s the best feeling ever.

What was the submission process like? How did you decide what letters to include? I noticed that there’s a tumblr page for additional letters, is there any chance for a volume 2?

I actually started the project as a Tumblr blog. We posted everything and my staff (about twenty people) and I went through for weeks and picked the best stuff. The letters in the book were the ones that truly stood out to us, that we thought would evoke emotion from our readers. All the letters we got were incredible but some were laugh-out-loud funny, or heartbreaking, or inspiring above most of the others. Those are the ones that ended up in the book. And I’m not saying no to a volume 2, but I really wouldn’t count on it — I’m exhausted.

People have the chance to donate and help cover the cost of printing the book. How is that coming along? How close are you to having production costs covered?

Our printing costs are offset at 1,400 copies sold and our graphic designer at another 400. Unfortunately we didn’t raise much with donations, but we’re at around 1,000 copies now and have yet to do our big PR push. It was a concern for a while, the idea that we might not manage to offset the costs, but we’re very close and aren’t worried anymore. **As I said above, the presale orders were close to 3000 by the release date. So costs were covered, and the donation amount to The HPA is growing!**

How many books do you anticipate printing? Is there a chance that you’ll sell out, or will it be a continuous process?

We’re printing 5,000 books, and come July, there’s a definite possibility that we’ll sell out. We’ve sold 1,000 copies with barely any PR, we’re still going strong, and to be honest, people aren’t sad about the “end of the era” yet. As soon as people start mourning the end of Potter, Dear Mr. Potter will look a lot more appealing. So yes, there’s definitely a chance we’ll sell out. Whether or not we’ll reprint after that depends entirely on the demand.

Dear Mr. Potter is essentially a goodbye to the story and the characters. Do you have plans to stay active in the Harry Potter fandom? Are you involved in any other projects for this, or any other fandom?

I really hope to! It’s been incredible to be involved with the fandom. I work very closely with the Wizarding Life networks (WL mag, WrockBox, Magic is Might, PotterCon) and I’m sure I’ll continue to do so. I’m actually hoping the HPA will hire me once Dear Mr. Potter wraps. I really want to keep working with them.

Next week, I’ll post part 2 of this feature, including my interview with HPA founder, Andrew Slack. I’ll also be posting my own Dear Mr. Potter letter and my thoughts on the final movie. And for the record… although I’m sure you all could guess… my rating of Dear Mr. Potter…

So… what would YOU say to Harry Potter? Or Ron, or Hermione, or Luna, or Neville, or Hagrid, or Dumbledore, or Jo? If you’d like to win a copy of Dear Mr. Potter: Stories of Love, Loss, and Magic, share YOUR Dear Mr. Potter letter in the comments below. It can be as long or as short as you feel is appropriate. I’ll randomly choose a winner on August 14th. If you’d like a second entry to win, submit your letter on the Dear Mr. Potter site, then post the link in the comments as confirmation. Please include your first name and email address on each comment so I can reach you if you win.

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