The Woman Behind the Journal, Interview with Shay Rahm

Professor Shay Rahm is the Publishing Director for New Plains Student Publishing, but sometimes we just call her “Empress.” Shay is motivational, inspirational, encouraging, and all around a great teacher. We owe her a great deal for her patient coaching and tireless leadership. Read on for more about the woman behind the journal.

Kelsey Smythe (KS): To start off, can you introduce yourself?

SR: My name is Shay Rahm and I am a lecturer of English at the University of Central Oklahoma. And I have multiple other titles, including Publishing Director of New Plains Student Publishing, Executive Editor of New Plains Review, Executive Editor of 1890: A Journal of Undergraduate Research, and Executive Editor of the Central Dissent: A Journal of Gender and Sexuality.

KS: That’s a lot of titles.

SR: Yeah, it is. And I do more, too, but those are my main ones.

KS: So, how long have you had your current role of executive editor and how did you come about the job?

SR: I have been at UCO for 17 years and I have been in charge of New Plains Review for 9 or 10 years. After doing that for several years, starting last year, working with some graduate students and very kind faculty, we developed the New Plains Student Publishing Group which encompasses three journals, not just New Plains Review. I’ve had my role as executive editor for 9 or 10 years and have been publishing director for the last year or two years that we’ve been working on this bigger project.

KS: So, what would you say drives you when it comes to teaching and leading New Plains Student Publishing?

SR: Oh, students! I don’t know, I’m old, and I’ve done a million things, thankfully. I was a corporate trainer before I was a member of the faculty here at the University. I just like students to come up with ideas and let’s just see if we can make it happen. And we might have to circumnavigate some issues and do some other things, but that’s what drives me. They’re interesting and amazing ideas and I’ve been very fortunate that people have allowed me to do the things that I’ve wanted to do, and so I want to give that back. I think that I’m selfish, obviously, and I like to learn new things all the time, and that’s why I teach, right? I think that’s in part why a lot of people teach, because they want to stay in the loop and stay caught up with things. I have students now who have gone on and are in the publishing industry or they’re professors at other places or they’re something completely different, but knowing that I gave them a chance, that they would come in with an idea and I gave them a chance to see it to fruition… I like that the most. Of anything. That’s what I like the most.

KS: So, what are you most proud of with New Plains Student Publishing?

SR: Well, I think the fact that we have it. Because no one said we could, and we did anyway. And so every time we were told “no” or “there isn’t funding” or “well, you can’t really” or “why would you?” or “how was that going to be possible?”, we just kept going forward and so then we just said, “well, we’re going to do it anyway.” And then it just became, because we were doing it anyway. I think that’s one thing I wasn’t afraid of, even when I was told no, I wasn’t afraid to just find another way to do it. And not against the college or department or university, they were all very supportive but it was more just red tape here and there and just finding a way around it, and saying, “well, we can do it this way instead of this way.” I think the fact that every day I walk into the office and there’s multiple students, as you know, in here and around, working with me or working on projects that we all started together at one point, that makes it worth it all and that’s what I’m proud of. I feel like we are an entity of ourselves now, and whether everybody else feels that way or not, I don’t care, cause that’s how I feel.

KS: In regards to looking forward, what are you most excited about accomplishing in the future with New Plains Student Publishing?

SR: Well, I want it to blow up. And I want more students from different departments involved. I really want to get some sort of business or marketing class involved. Poor Michelle [Art Director & Production Chief] needs a whole team of graphic designers and other art people involved. I’d really like to see, across the campus, every college, that there’s people involved in all those areas. Ultimately, I want to become a University Press and that’s a huge thing, and so you gotta take those little steps along the way.

KS: I know you tell your students a lot to read more, so what does your reading life look like?

SR: To be honest, right now, my reading looks more like BBC News or Salon or NPR, just apps on my phone. I get up really early in the morning when it’s still quiet and dark outside and I pull up an article or something and then I do that whole, you know, follow the rabbit down the hole and try to find the most obscure, random articles I can, about things like hot air balloons or something random, because of a very short opportunity to read in that case. When I have more time, I do read fiction. I read a lot of speculative fiction, I read a lot of Sci-Fi stuff, I’m big into Charles Yu, Ken Liu, just look at my bookshelf. Daniel Wilson. I’m really big into futuristic. Anything that involves a robot, I’m most likely going to read it. I’m really into AI, understanding that. And half of it I don’t understand because my science side of my brain doesn’t necessarily work. But for some reason when I’m reading fiction, I feel like I really understand what’s going on. I read a lot of short fiction, not a lot of novels anymore. Partly because of time and partly because I like to read stuff by a lot of different people, so if I can do some short fiction I can read various authors.

KS: So, if you had to pick one favorite book?

SR: Charles Yu. I would say Third Class Superhero is one of my favorites. If we’re talking about what I’m currently reading, Charles Yu is one of my favorite authors. Evelyn Waugh, A Handful of Dust, is probably the novel that made me become an English major. I was a physical therapy major, now I’m an English professor.

KS: Those are pretty different majors. So what’s the next book on your TBR [To Be Read] list?

SR: On my TBR list… I’m going to have to reread some short fiction for a presentation I’m giving. It’s a collection of short fiction, sort of sci-fi. So that’s next on my TBR cause I have to do it. But it’s all good, it’s not a bad thing. It’s all by Gen X authors, people my age, including Third Class Superhero and Sorry Please Thank You: Stories by Charles Yu.

Interview with John Granger, Dean of Harry Potter Scholars

John Granger, given the moniker of “Dean of Harry Potter Scholars” by TIME magazine, is a published author and internationally renowned lecturer on the artistry of J.K. Rowling’s writing and Wizarding World. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Chicago then proceeded to get his Master of Fine Arts from Oklahoma City University in Creative Writing. Currently, Professor Granger is seeking his doctorate through Swansea University in Wales. He’s been a featured speaker at a plethora of Harry Potter conferences globally, including conferences in Boston, Orlando, Los Angeles, Toronto, and St. Andrews in Scotland, and a guest speaker at universities such as Princeton, Yale, Cornell, and Baylor.

He’s published seven works on the subject of Harry Potter including The Hidden Key to Harry Potter: Understanding the Meaning, Genius, and Popularity of Joanne Rowling’s Harry Potter Novels (Zossima Press), Looking for God in Harry Potter (Tyndale House/SaltRiver), Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader (Unlocking Press), How Harry Cast His Spell: The Meaning Behind the Mania for J. K. Rowling’s Bestselling Books (Tyndale House), The Deathly Hallows Lectures: The Hogwarts Professor Explains the Final Harry Potter Adventure (Unlocking Press), Harry Potter’s Bookshelf: The Great Books behind the Hogwarts Adventures (Penguin), Harry Potter as Ring Composition and Ring Cycle (Unlocking Press). Professor Granger is an editor, contributing author of, and essayist for several other collaborative works as well. He was also one of three “Potter Pundits” (along with Travis Prinzi and James Thomas) for The Leaky Cauldron’s “PotterCasts” (2007-2010) and helped create over fifty podcasts on MuggleNet Academia.

Alexandra Savage (AS): Which single literary text or tradition do you believe had the greatest overall impact on the Harry Potter story and J.K. Rowling?

JG: Rowling’s favorite author is Jane Austen and favorite book is Austen’s Emma. I think the manners-and-morals tradition and its parody writers—Rowling’s two other favorites are Colette and Nabokov, both like Austen parodists—are the places to start when trying to understand her artistry.

AS: If the Harry Potter series could be summed up in one quote from a character inside the story, which do you think it would be and why?

JG: Rowling has said that Dumbledore’s final words to Harry at the otherworldly King’s Cross Station in Deathly Hallows were something she waited seventeen years to write and act as a key of sorts for the books. Why? Because it all but says that Rowling’s objective has been a transformation of her readers’ understanding of understanding.

AS: You lecture around the world about the structure of the Harry Potter story arc. Can you briefly explain the structure?

JG: Rowling is a ring writer; as her name suggests, her stories work in circles. The ring structure has a beginning and end match that latches the circle, a turning point roughly halfway that points to the latch of start and finish, and the chapters going out to and coming back from the turn have to reflect one another. This chiastic structure is evident in each of her books and the seven book series as well.

AS: Plenty of fans are clamoring for spin-off stories about the Marauders or Severus Snape. Are there any characters or plot lines you wish J.K. Rowling had gone or would go further into?

JG: If you get the integrity of the individual books and their relationship with one another, it’s hard to ask for extras that will violate the symmetry and unity of it all. A beautiful building isn’t improved by add-ons not tied to its architectural conception—and Rowling’s story will almost certainly suffer for profit-taking or fan-servicing extras.

AS: J.K. Rowling deftly imbeds nods to other novels and authors in her books. Which hat-tip do you think is the most fascinating? Alternately, which do you think fans of the series overlooked the most?

JG: If you read Nabokov’s Lolita or Pale Fire (and as part of my class [at the University of Central Oklahoma], you will read the latter), Rowling’s debts to the puzzle king of parodists is pretty astonishing. My favorite hat-tip? Grindelwald. There’s a Grindelwod in Pale Fire.

AS: As a premier Harry Potter scholar, you have a sound ear for plausible theories surrounding the stories. Do you have any fan theories or “headcanons” that you favor? Any that you dislike or love to disprove?

JG: I enjoy the Snape theories, e.g., that he is a half-vampire (Rowling has denied he is a full-vampire) and that he and Dumbledore had a plan in place to take down the Dark Lord in Volde War I [the First Wizarding War] but that James Potter’s and Sirius Black’s idiot idea of making Peter Pettigrew the Potters’ secret keeper blew it up. There’s no proving or disproving any of that sort of speculation.

AS: The new Fantastic Beasts movie series is subtly shaping up to be another one of J.K. Rowling’s signature rings. Having seen Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, where do you think the series might be heading? Do you have any predictions for the next movie or possibly the last movie?

JG: The Boy Who Lived in this series, Credence Barebone, will be the hero and Jacob Kowalski, whose initials are important, will become a wizard by story’s end. One or the other will be master of the Elder Wand, by plan or accident, which will lead to DDore’s [Dumbledore’s] win over Grindelwald.

AS: Of course, there’s one “Wizarding World” story that lacks the finesse and structure we’ve come to expect from J.K. Rowling—Cursed Child. How does it fit into the established canon, if it does at all?

JG: That’s the big question, isn’t it? We’ll be looking at it in the “Artistry of J. K. Rowling” UCO class to see if it does or doesn’t show the characteristics we’ve found in her novels and screenplay.

AS: J.K. Rowling has begun writing another book series, the Cormoran Strike novels, under the nom de plume Robert Galbraith. Do you have any insights into the future of that series?

JG: I’m still hopeful that one day Harry Potter fans who have not read any of these books will discover Cormoran Strike. They’re written in parallel and, I think, as commentary on her Hogwarts Saga numbers, so I’m really looking forward to Lethal White, book number four; it’s set at the time of the London Olympics so I’m pretty sure we’ll see Goblet of Fire and Quidditch World Cup echoes.

AS: Lastly, for fans of Harry Potter, what further reading would you suggest for them to gain a deeper understanding of the series, its structure, characters, and symbols?

JG: Beatrice Groves’ Literary Allusion in Harry Potter, my Deathly Hallows Lectures and Harry Potter’s Bookshelf, the Harry Potter for Nerds books (I and II) by Travis Prinzi and Kathryn McDaniel, and The Ravenclaw Reader by John Patrick Pazdziora and Micah Snell. And the “Reading, Writing Rowling” podcasts on MuggleNet.com!

You can catch up with Professor John Granger over on his blog, HogwartsProfessor.com, where he posts regularly about the goings-on of the Wizarding World and all things Rowling, and welcomes comments and discussion from the community on all posts.