I’ve lived in LA, worked in movie studios, met big stars. None of them made me giddy the way meeting Neil Gaiman did.
His book American Gods inspired my current work-in-progress, and his cross-media talents have fed into my desire to create a multi-media visual novel for my PhD. What I would be working on now, what I would be writing without Neil’s influence is an existential mystery beyond my puny powers of imagination.
It was an experience all about the fans – some had expressed dismay that a favorite music act (Paul & Storm and Jonathan Coulton) were playing Manchester the same night. So Neil calls the musicians up, and has them play “the world’s shortest set” to open up the reading. They set the tone for Neil’s reading from The Graveyard Book nicely with songs about how hard it is for mad scientists to find true love.
Neil’s reading was, of course, phenomenal. I usually buy the audiobook versions of all his books because they really take on an entirely new level of life when he reads them. It wasn’t until I saw the video of his US Graveyard tour, each chapter’s reading caught on tape, that I realized how much seeing Neil read adds to the experience. Even his small facial expressions help you see each character, to imagine this small boy named “Nobody” gagging over beetroot soup.
I was also struck by how eloquent and masterful his oration is on the fly. Me, when I have to think on my feet and actually speak, it comes out as so much stammering and verbal diarrhea. Neil thoughtfully and thoroughly answered each question, usually adding some anecdote or story that let us see into a bit of his life. Stories about how his children influenced his writing, about his son riding his tricycle in the nearby graveyard, his daughter asking him what happens next in the Graveyard story, propelling him to finish. About meeting Steve Ditko, how he was as awed by the “creator” of Spiderman as we were by him. Even about the love of sweaty, unkempt comic book storekeepers for his “sexually transmitted” Sandman series (“You brought women into my store, man!”).
I love how he answered every question as though it were of the highest importance – a direct contrast to another recent experience I had at another big-name author’s reading, where the guy’s best answer was “Hmm, that’s interesting. I’ll think on that for my next talk.”
There were definitely more questions than there was time for, and I found myself rooting for a nice girl with lime green hair. She raised her hand patiently every time, but never got to the front of the queue. I hope she emails him her question. 🙂
The book-signing line was miles long; we were about halfway back, and it took us an hour to get to the front. The wait wasn’t bad, actually. We met some nice folks in line, and got to read the books we were having signed (“My other books are so on the back burner now,” said my friend M as she gobbled up Chapter 1 of Graveyard). We could see how tired he was, but he always signs for everyone who waits, and that says a lot for a man who is living for the moment off room service.
I had wanted to ask a question during the Q&A session, but found myself a bit too nervous, so thought I’d save it for a later email. Honestly, I wanted to kidnap him away somewhere and talk to him for hours, like he was my BFF or something. I wanted to tell him how thoroughly I connected to American Gods, how fascinated by Neverwhere. I wanted to tell him all about my PhD, see what he thought, tell him how it was all thanks to his imagination.
But I just got to the front of the line, set my books down (one old copy of American Gods and one new of The Graveyard Book), and let him get on with the business of signing. He signed Graveyard, drawing a little tombstone with my name on it.
Then his helper picked up my copy of American Gods and waved it at me, a worried expression on her face.
“Is this yours? This really is too much for him to write.”
“Whah?” I said. My name’s only four letters!
Then I looked. Just inside the front cover was a mini-stack of post-it notes, the same exact ones they were using to write everyone’s name for Neil, filled with scribblings.
“Oh, no!” I said in a rush. “That’s just PhD notes. Just my name is fine.”
Neil grabbed the book, already signing. “What’s your PhD?” he asked.
Brain blank. It wasn’t quite BFF time, but he’d asked about my brain child!
“Creative writing,” I said. “I’m writing a multimedia visual novel, based on Welsh mythology.”
As we walked out of the hall, heading for the long car ride home, I opened the book to see what the “PhD notes” were. First, they weren’t even mine, though I am using the book as a reference for my studies – I’d bought the book from BetterWorldBooks.com, and had never noticed the post-its in the front. The book’s previous owner had clearly began a little short story on these slips, detailing how her parents were zombies, but that was all right because her dad died of a heart attack while having sex.
How much more strangely perfect a cap on a Neil Gaiman evening could there be?
Okay, he didn’t exactly stand up and shake my hand and tell me how much I’m contributing to the field, but it was enough for me. I giggled at random intervals all the way home. Even through the freak North Wales snowstorm that whited out the roads and threatened to leave us stranded at some Shell station near Prestatyn. Brr.
In the end, it cemented for me why Neil Gaiman is my favorite author – he’s all the things a writer really should be. Plus, he’s hella cool.
Neil, thank you for all you do for the fans, and to inspire other artists (not just writers!). You’re my favorite weird guy ever.