How J.K. Rowling Saved Spycraft

As creators, we're always chasing magic. We're always hoping that something we put out there will connect with someone. We crave validation that isn't always evident in the cold dark that often comprises the bulk of the process. Because no matter what any of us tells you, we're all at least a little narcissistic. We have to be. It's how we connect with ourselves. It's how we conjure those ideas on the page, the screen, and the stage. If we're lucky, against-all-odds lucky, and we're very, very talented, we find magic, and those ideas stop being ours alone. They venture out and find new homes, take root in new minds, grind around in the great collective, and become something more.

It's a little sad that the greatest thing we creators can achieve has very little to do with us, not in practice anyway. We put things out there and we watch them grow or wither, thrive or die. Yet unlike gardeners or builders, we don't have the luxury of helping the process along. We can't very often tinker with our ideas in the wild. At that point, it's all crashing neurons in the fleshy gray. It all happens out there across the overlapping brainspace of the audience. Eventually, the accepted measure of the work surfaces in the Vin diagram of popular opinion, but that's rarely the whole story. The actual magic, the stuff we so desperately desire, is out there in the single minds where the idea's taken roost, and for all our wild fancy those are places we can never visit.

So we clutch our Vin diagrams, real or imagined, and forge ahead through the cold dark, hoping for magic. Some days, the dark is colder than others.

Six hours ago, I was in a bad, bad place. I'd just found yet another error in Spycraft 2.0: Second Printing that I can't explain, that shouldn't even be possible, and yet there it is, mocking me. It's almost like I can feel this book taunting me now. In one way or another, on and off, I've been working on this and World on Fire for two years. Think about that for a moment. Two. Years. That's over two and a half percent of my life, assuming I make it to the "average" male end (BTW, most writers don't - check the stats). It's a long time to go without creating something new. For anyone with the hunger, it's a lifetime of famine.

It was one of those moments writers face when they're bitch-slapped by the process. The end might be in sight, but it's just not as shiny and inviting as it once was. Your beautiful masterpiece is showing its age before it's even born and no amount of surgery's gonna turn back that clock. Oh, and it's still ticking. Everything looks more interesting than wasting another second on the latest Death Bus, but every day spent on this project is another day your audience can shrug and go find a fresh diagram to join. New projects, the stuff you're genuinely excited about, seems a lifetime away (and it might be - remember those writer stats, boys and girls). There's a mountain of minutae in the way and no matter how hard you try you just can't bring yourself to climb it. Guilt, depression, and a withering creative drive conspire to assassinate that wailing part of your brain that keeps you going. Oh yeah, it's a party.

We started Crafty Games because, ultimtely, we weren't done. There were a lot of things we wanted to do with Spycraft 2.0 and circumstances robbed us of them. They also gave us a second chance, but in true Faustian style, it came with a price. Running our own company is no small task. The volume of labor that has nothing to do with actual production is pretty staggering, even for a company as intentionally lean as ours, and getting this venture off the ground was especially daunting. Just getting the founding contracts finalized took months, draining a lot of the initial vigor from the proceedings. But Scott had it right with Farthest Star. Through it all, there was the promise of more. The chase for magic.

Tonight, I was feeling weak and lost sight of the chase. I railed at Scott for a while (because that's one of the many reasons you undertake these sorts of ventures with partners - so you can lean on each other when you need to), and stumbled off to my evening plans more than a little deflated. My buddy Steve and his lovely wife Niki met me at the theater and I railed at them, too. There were sympathetic noises (I can't write those words anymore without thinking of Ree Soesbee at the AEG offices - her sympathetic noises were masterful), but I still didn't feel much better.

The lights went down and I wandered back into pleasantly familiar territory: Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I've been there before, of course. I'm no stranger to the franchise, though I'm still on a visitor's visa. I haven't read the books and I don't intend to until I've seen all seven movies. This has been my intent from the beginning. Too many times books have simply killed the movies for me. The Bourne Identity, for example, which is one of my favorite books but left me utterly cold on the screen, largely because they kept the less interesting half of the source material. Contrary to popular belief in the Geek Nation, I believe this is a necessary part of the process. Literal translations have no place in the realm of entertainment. Lord of the Rings proved that, as did Sin City, which worked as art, but scarcely qualified as a film.

Regardless, I haven't read the books, so I know I'm missing out of a lot of backstory, but I'm also seeing the movies on a level that I think only a fraction of the audience will ever know. I've gone so far as to avoid flyleaf info about the series. I don't even know the basic premise of each movie before I sit down. It makes for an exhilarating experience that I hope will be repeated when I get to sample the greater work. (None of you go spoiling anything or I may have to do evil things to your inner children. Demented things that would get me permanently etched on neighborhood watch lists if they were real people. But they're not, so ha!)

Because I don't want to risk spoilers and because Ms. Rowling's scribblings are probably destined to be the defining literary zeitgeist of a couple generations, I'm not going to delve into story here. Fortunately, what I want to say doesn't have all that much to do with the specifics. It probably has to do with the general themes and plot points, but only in that I'm really grooving on the nature of Harry's plight following the Big Thing in Goblet of Fire. No, Ms. Rowling's magic is still percolating on a different, perhaps more rudimentary level with me. I walked out of the theater reminded what magic is and why any of us bother.

The Harry Potter opus is truly extraordinary. It takes me back to the wonderment of my youth yet respects and challenges me as an adult. It speaks to all ages and means something different to each of them. It is magic, right there on the screen. It isn't distilled or distorted. There's no Hollywood filter or focus group polish. Or maybe that's all there is and I can't tell the difference. Either way the result is the same: I'm enchanted. So many deviously simple, marvelously festive ideas! Places I wish I could visit! Characters I want to chat with for hours! Every piece just sings.

Prior to this latest movie, my favorite was Prisoner of Azkaban. It's also one of the dark stories, which probably has something to do with my preference, but I also appreciated Alfonso Cuaron's take on the material. To match the plot's grander scope, Cuaron gave us wider shots, played with the edges of the screen, and gave our eyes space to wander through and beyond the action. David Yates has a different take for Order of the Phoenix. Enticing depth gives way to harrowing confinement. The color palette, so lush in Prisoner, is washed out to enhance the very human stakes. And the characters! Yea gods! I thought Cuaron did a stellar job with the delicate balancing act that was Sirius Black, but what Yates pulls off with the players here is astounding. I felt with every character on the screen, even the bit players, and Luna. Holy Christ, I hope she's a fraction as cool in the books as she is on the screen. She was unearthly.

My elation may be fleeting. I may wake up tomorrow and find myself back to the ennui of the home stretch, but at least for tonight, I can see that elusive thing for which we creators yearn. Just now, I remember magic and why it's worth chasing.