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> Harry Potter site gets author a golden ticket, site author from LaPorte IN
southsider2k5
post Jul 11, 2005 -> 01:58 PM
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QUOTE
Web site casts spell on `Potter' author
Indiana teenager's Mugglenet.com earns an audience with J.K. Rowling as book debuts


Published July 11, 2005


LaPORTE, IND. -- The cell phone rang at 9 a.m. on May 3.

"Hello, Emerson? This is Jo."

That's how Emerson Spartz, 19, of a small Indiana town 90 minutes east of Chicago, found out he will be flying to Scotland for an hourlong face-to-face meeting next weekend with author J.K. Rowling--Jo, to fans of her Harry Potter series.

"It was a great moment," he recalled in his home here. "I was, like, `Wow,' but after that ..."

After that, Spartz went back to work on Mugglenet.com, his dense and authoritative Web site about all things Potter that's so complete Rowling refers to it to keep her plot lines and characters' idiosyncrasies on track.

For Spartz knows something you don't. The Internet has changed the relationship between artist and audience, and Rowling's phone call proves it.

Rowling, whose imaginative depiction of good vs. evil in the wizarding world has made her an international celebrity, is one of the most potent forces in publishing. Her new release, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," goes on sale at 12:01 a.m. Saturday. It has been two years since book five in the series appeared, a volume that sold 5 million copies within 24 hours, earning it worldwide laurels as publishing's fastest-selling title.

Book six is poised to smash those records. Scholastic Inc., the Potter books' American publisher, reports shipping 10.8 million copies of "Half-Blood Prince," the largest release in history. And booksellers Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble have accepted pre-orders in the millions for the hardcover book and its audio version, performed by actor Jim Dale.

On her Web site, jkrowling.com, the author has honored a half-dozen fan sites with a little write-up and plaque in a mock trophy room. Among them: Mugglenet and The Leaky Cauldron, and on behalf of her Internet audience, Rowling invited founders Spartz and The-Leaky-Cauldron.org's Melissa Anelli to Scotland for a chat Saturday amid book release festivities.

Otherwise, Rowling's Edinburgh book launch is a press conference weekend for children.

After the stroke of midnight, aspiring reporters ages 8 to 16, representing select English-speaking media organizations, will meet the author, get an autographed copy of the book, spend the day reading and grill Rowling during a news conference Sunday.

Spartz and Anelli alone will be whisked away to a private interview to ask her anything they and their Internet constituencies want to know. Their message boards are ablaze in preparation.

As far as the working press goes, that's it: Though portions will be telecast, "Half-Blood Prince" weekend is for kids and fans.

But those kids and fans are operating in a realm that's a far cry from teen idol scrapbooks packed with Tiger Beat magazine clippings. In the old days, a scrapbook's most important treasure might have been an autographed photo from a star's PR firm or a personal letter from the president of a local fan club. Now, the Internet means you can build your own electronic shrine to anything or anyone and the whole world can see it--and your work might get unprecedented attention.

Like many other fans, Spartz scours the Internet for anything about the world surrounding Potter and Rowling. Unlike most other fans, Spartz puts his findings on a well-organized, thoroughly researched Web site, one that caught the eye of Warner Bros., the studio behind the Potter film series, and Rowling's U.K. publisher, Bloomsbury--not to mention the author herself.

And then there are the advertisers. Fan sites such as Mugglenet let diehards continue conversations about their favorite topics long after TV, magazines and newspapers have moved on to something else. A site with a significantly large following draws advertisers who want to get the word out to that specific audience. The audience for Mugglenet.com is the kind that helps Spartz make money, though he won't be specific. He said he could make more, but he turns away ads he thinks are too garish.

Because of Mugglenet, Warner Bros. has hosted Spartz on the movie set of "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire." Last year the studio gave him backstage passes to the New York and London premieres of "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" so he could be the eyes and ears of Mugglenet.

But for Spartz, being honored on JKRowling.com is one his proudest achievements. Rowling wrote on her site, "I love the [Mugglenet] design ... the pretty-much-exhaustive information on all books and films, the wonderful editorials (more insight there than in several companion volumes I shall not name), 101 Ways to Annoy Lord Voldemort (made me laugh aloud), the Wall of Shame (nearly as funny as some of the stuff I get) ... pretty much everything."

Spartz said he built Mugglenet six years ago from a boredom-inspired project into a site that caught even Rowling's eye "because I wanted it to be the best and I worked hard at it. Everything I do, I try to be successful."

Spartz is tall, lean and comfortable with himself. Home-schooled since he was 12, he will enroll as a freshman business major at the University of Notre Dame this fall. He plans to make his wealth developing alternative fuel sources.

"I don't know how I'm going to do it," he said, "but I know I'll be big and successful someday and will use my influence for good. Ultimately, I'd like to leave my mark as one of the world's most generous philanthropists."

Spartz never sounds like he's selling something when he talks about his future. He has an unhurried speaking style that changes only when the topic turns serious.

His voice rises slightly in pitch and volume, and he gestures with his hands for emphasis when he talks about the things that matter to him even more than Mugglenet: politics and religion.

Spartz considers himself an independent but sees the Democratic Party as "the lesser of two evils." He said that's why he campaigned in Indiana, Illinois and Iowa for onetime Democratic front-runner Howard Dean, despite razzing from his Republican friends he has met through tennis, basketball and golf. (He carries a 5 handicap, meaning he's much better than your average weekend duffer.)

And when the Democrats lost the election last November?

"I sulked," he said with a smile, forgetting for a moment that he prefers to keep a poker face.

Raised Catholic, the agnostic Spartz has no patience for those who condemn the wizardry in the Harry Potter series.

"In Harry Potter, there is a clearly defined good, a clearly defined evil, and good triumphs over evil," he said. "[The series] is about being a kid, growing into adulthood. But [some people] aren't interested in reading the book. They just want to impose their views on others."

Spartz works on the Mugglenet site every day, reviewing posts by his volunteer staff of 40. He gets hundreds of e-mail messages daily containing Harry Potter tips, questions and the frequent, "Your site rules!"

"I've always known I was going to be somebody big," he said matter-of-factly, "so things like this, they're cool, but they don't surprise me."

And that is why, when he is talking about how the phone rang on May 3, Spartz almost grudgingly concedes, "It's nice to be recognized."
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Soxy
post Jul 11, 2005 -> 02:03 PM
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Glad to see he isn't 40.
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