I decided to cross post our meeting with Neil Gaiman from my blog “The Forbidden Pool”, because all of us who went were of The Grey Havens Group and had such wonderful discussions in various nooks and crannies and pauses because of that. And also because Gaiman is a great lover of Tolkien’s work and was obviously very influenced by him as a writer. Lately I contemplated this after re-reading Smith of Wooton Major with the Grey Havens Group, and realizing what a tribute to this little gem of Tolkien’s that Gaiman’s Stardust is.
I remember the moment when I held a book by Neil Gaiman in my hand for the first time, it was in the early 90′s and it was “Preludes and Nocturnes”, the first Sandman album, and while you sometimes have no idea that a book or set of stories will change your life, sometimes you can feel a tingle deep within signalling that things will never be the same. This was such a moment. Oddly, it wasn’t any of my nerdy friends who got me into Sandman, but rather a very odd (even by geek standards) girl I took a class with in college. She always behaved like the biggest introvert in the world, and when there was a concert by a band she liked (unfailingly something deeply subcultural and undergroundsy) she would insist on going alone, so she could experience it to the fullest. For some reason she sometimes came and talked to me about art and gave me book and music recommendations though, and for that I will always be grateful, because she told me about Neil Gaiman and Sandman. Coming to think of it…this girl, with her abrupt ways and intent stare, would herself have been an excellent and very interesting character in a book by Gaiman.
The ten Sandman books along with the ones about Death and The Books of Magic will always be up there on my 100-list of most important books in my life. That’s a big percentage that Mr. Gaiman influences my reading life with as a writer.
After that came his novels and he became more and more famous, and suddenly in the later half of the 90′s his name started to travel outside of geek culture, and film adaptations of Coraline and Stardust helped all of that along. I saw Gaiman in London back all those lives ago, and it was such a small crowd in comparison to the 1000 people who gathered at the Tattered Cover bookstore in Denver yesterday. I have a feeling that if Mr. Gaiman could clone himself and sign more, or if the bookstore held more people, they could have easily sold several thousand tickets. The event yesterday was the end of an era, as Gaiman said himself. This is the last book tour he takes where he visits bookstores. He will in the future do talks/reads in theaters and bigger auditoriums, and maybe it’s my imagination, but I thought I heard a hint of regret in his voice when he said that. On the one hand I’m sure it’s great to be a writer-rockstar of sorts, but on the other, I do remember him as a nerdy younger man, talking about comic books at the Forbidden Planet in London. That person is still there, Gaiman is pretty much the same when it comes to genuine passion and an unfeigned drive to share that passion with others.
Me and my friends were lucky, because we belonged to the 300 guests who could be in the room with the author when he talked, the rest of the ticketed fans had to wait outside and watch the event on tv monitors. Later though, the author would faithfully and with great stamina sign books for everybody.
Gaiman talked about how he had started writing his most recent book “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” because he missed his wife (Amanda Palmer) so much, and how the raw text was done in about 4 months because of the isolation and drive he felt. And then he spoke more on the writing process and how it differs much depending on “how long the piece of string of the story is”, and also depending on what state of mind your life circumstances leave you in. When his father had passed away, Gaiman wrote the Doctor Who episode “The Doctor’s Wife” frantically during one single plane trip, and didn’t remember much of the process afterward.
The writer also touched, with great humor, on the difference in how media approaches him today compared to how they used to. For years, there was a deafening silence (except from the usual fan base) whenever a book of his came out, and even as recent as with the Graveyard Book, The New York Times didn’t review it until after they realized that it had won the Newbery Medal. …On the other hand, nowadays the writer gets such odd questions from media as: “Who are your favorite designers?” At that point in the story Gaiman smirked a bit and mumbled to us “If I knew who designed the black leather jacket, I’d put a shrine up for them”.
Mr. Gaiman also took some questions, some of the most amusing answers were:
“Having a hobby that could kill you” (on what is the best thing about keeping bees – apart from the honey)
” In adult fiction you can leave the boring bits in” (on the difference between writing YA fiction and adult fiction)
I also realized that I need to re-read the Graveyard book, because it has a great great great grand niece of Lettie Hempstock’s in it, and I remember a quote from Gaiman’s newest book, where one of the Hempstock women tells the protagonist that there are several descendants of the three originals out wandering the world, and that these are pretty phenomenal women in their own right. I am also looking forward to a story of Gaiman’s called “How the Marquis got his coat back” that will be published next year in an anthology. To everybody who’ve read and liked Neverwhere, this is exciting news.
All in all, the hour and half blew by, and I was glad that I was at the event with my friends from the Grey Havens. Kelly, Donna, Kim, Kate, Clay, Sarah, Stant and Jessica. We were in the first 15% of the people who got to meet the author for signing, but we had done a lot of waiting to be where we were, and entertaining each other with book recommendations and anecdotes about reading helped making it all special.
When it was my turn to have my books signed by Mr. Gaiman, I gave him my old Sandman album “Season of Mists” (one of my favorites) and told him that I had read him since the Sandman days. We talked for a few moments about Forbidden Planet and those days, and I admit that I was shy and starstruck, thinking that this nice man must be very weary from all the talk with thousands of people already. So I was about to leave, and in answer to his “it was lovely to meet you” I heard myself saying “yes, Neil, it was really so wonderful to meet you too”. I *never* call authors by their first name, unless I know them (at least as in having been properly introduced), or am in some unique interviewing situation. I always felt that the young men who gather around scifi cult authors or comic book writers at cons and chummily call them by first name just because they love their work, were a little embarrassing. But there it was, it slipped out on its own. Neil Gaiman looked at me in a very warm sort of way and held out his hand to me, I took it, and he held it for a moment in both of his. And that was it.
I don’t even feel ashamed for being a little teary while walking away with my friends after this. He is a very nice guy, and he had other warm moments with other fans, but this one will always be mine.
Only a man who has been a great fan of writing himself through all his life has this type of humble warmth, and that is Neil Gaiman. One of the most overlooked and subtle things that Gaiman does constantly, all the time and often, is to read the books and short stories of unknown new writers and say kind things about their stories and promote them. He does it with people that are not know at all, and many many have gotten a boost in those hard initial years because of this generous writer and book lover.
ETA: It’s funny how some people will remind us of favorite characters from beloved authors. My friend Kelly, who founded the Grey Havens Group really reminds me of Gaiman’s character “Death” from Sandman. She can pull off looking like her visually, with some hair gel and gothy makeup…but amazingly enough it’s primarily on the inside that the real resemblance is, and not that many can pull that off.