Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Neil Gaiman Speaks; Big Island Rachel Swoons

This story begins, as so many of mine do, with a comic book.

The first comic book I ever read was "Sandman," by Neil Gaiman. I was thirteen, and "Sandman" not only started my love affair with the medium, it also started my near-obsession with this eclectic British author living outside of Minneapolis. He's written comics, adult books, young adult books, children's books, screenplays, songs, and poems. If I had to describe his work to others, I'd say he writes "fantasy," but that's not quite right. "Lord of the Rings" is fantasy; Harry Potter is fantasy. Characters and events in regular fantasy exist in universes separate but parallel to ours. But Gaiman's work is concerned with the twilight area where fantasy worlds rub up against the real world, and how things and people are changed by encountering that in-between space.

I can't overestimate how much Gaiman has shaped me as a writer and a reader. Put it this way: before I began reading his work, when people asked me who my favorite author was, I didn't have an answer. And while I am wont to exaggerate and tell bold-faced lies, I am telling the truth on this one. There was nobody before Gaiman.

Last Sunday, I saw him speak at the Director's Guild Theater in Midtown and thanked all the gods that ever were that I live in New York City. It was one of the highlights of my little life.

Gaiman is a fabulous public speaker. (I didn't care much for the woman who was asking him questions, Dana Goodyear, but she knew who we all were there to see and just stayed out of his way.) I took copious notes during his talk because yes, I am a MASSIVE nerd, and I'd like to now share with you some quotes from that magical afternoon:

"I know the Q&A part is going to be very intelligent, this being New York. Well, you all will ask intelligent questions. I'll just waffle. And you'll like it."

"I don't consider myself a prolific writer because I know prolific writers. Terry Pratchett, for instance, since getting Alzheimer's has only written 5 books." [Terry Pratchett was just diagnosed earlier this year.]

"I used to do most of my writing at night. After midnight, everyone in England would shut down, so I'd have to phone an American if I wanted to chat. But then I gave up coffee and cigarettes and failed at being nocturnal."

"America is very strange. Winter can kill you. And no one in the Midwest seems to have a problem with that. Do you people not know this is odd?"

"The universe is perfectly us-shaped."

About the night his Sandman comic "A Midsummer Night's Dream" won the World Fantasy Award. "There can be gradations of unique, damnit! And that night, I was very unique." [That's an English major's joke.]

"I feel bad at signings when I see people with those enormous "Sandman" editions, the dangerously huge books. The smart ones bring wheelie carts. Or children."

To the audience while introducing his newest short film: "Why are we here? Obviously it's to suffer and die and create art. But we're here in New York to screen my film."

About writing a Doctor Who episode. "I remember being three years old at school, and you'd get your one-third pint of milk and put your little bendy straw in it and go 'Exterminate! Exterminate!'" He did a great Dalek voice, too.

And then he signed my comic book. I got a little weepy. Massive nerd, I know. Heaven help us all when I get back from Comic Con this weekend.

On a related note, it's Gaiman Week over at Big Island Rachel's Books! My review of "Coraline" is up now, and will be followed by "Good Omens" (co-written with Terry Pratchett), and then, if there's time before Comic Con, "American Gods."

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