This last weekend, I met Neil Gaiman. It was an amazing experience.
He was doing a tour for his latest novel [Ocean at the End of the Lane] which just happened to stop in D.C. This is the first time one of my authors has been close enough for me to see them. I must say, I was pretty fracking excited. Gaiman is one of those multi-talented geniuses when it comes to literature. He has dabbled in every medium, I think, and has been successful in all of them. Novels, short stories, novellas, comics, TV, etc. He is so talented, part of me really wants to hate him. He is dark and gritty and scary in a way that kids find fun and adults find deeply disturbing. Looking at pictures of him, most might assume that he is awkward and shy, an artist who is painfully uncomfortable away from his craft. But people who read his works should not be surprised to find him warm, funny, and personable, like he’s just as excited to see you as you are to see him. Okay, so I was quite surprised, happily, delightfully surprised, even. I wasn’t sure at all what to expect. They say you should never meet your heroes. So maybe Mr. Gaiman wasn’t my hero until now.
I thought it was just a book signing, but it was actually a whole event. He read a chapter from the book, which was sooo great and not just because of his English accent. Then he answered some questions from the audience. When we entered, we [me and my friend, Lauren, a fellow fan] were offered note cards on which to write our questions. We declined, me with a snort. What question could I possibly have for this man? Where do you get your ideas? Would you like to read my blog, as so few other people seem interested? Would you like to come to my wedding? What’s your favorite book/movie/super hero? [And of course, I think of a good one now: What’s your favorite super power?] Can I have a lock of your hair? Do you need someone to read your works before they’re published? Any job openings on your staff? Will you read this novel I’m writing mostly in my head? All pretty dumb questions, right? I don’t ask great people dumb questions, which is not to say that other people didn’t ask dumb questions. “What was it like working on Doctor Who?” “Fun.” He was a good sport about those questions and even told us a fabulous anecdote about a collaboration on a short story that started with five pages and was then whittled down to three [he is worried that their next meeting might trim it down to a few scant paragraphs] and another one about Filipino pregnant women who turn out not to be preggers at all. And he was funny, never rude, even when dumb questions did appear [like the one that continued on to the back of the note card and ended with “Why?”] I would love this guy as a professor. I’d be too intimidated, I think, to be his friend.
Then he read another section of the book, a happier bit since the chapter he read before was pretty grim. We laughed with him. It was wonderful. You could tell he was really proud of this novel [which started as a short story because he missed his wife =>how exactly does one “accidentally” write a novel?]. He was proud of it because he stayed very close to himself in the writing of it, using his own home and his own 7-year-old self as models. That’s brave. Putting yourself into a novel as the victim, rather than the hero, is ballsy. It’s no wonder he is so gratified by our appreciation of the text. We aren’t just approving of his story, we’re approving of him, of the family that has lived in his imagination since he was a teenager.
Then it was time to sign books. He was signing all copies of his new novel as part of the promotion, but he would only sign one other title and would only personalize one book. My original intention, before I understood this limitation, was to have him sign Good Omens, the book that got me into him in the first place, and to personalize Neverwhere for my older brother. I didn’t have a paper copy of his new novel [1 ticket and 1 book was $40, while 2 tickets and 1 book was $60. I gave Lauren the book and bought my own copy for my e-Reader.] so I could only get one book signed. I am selfish. I got mine personalized. I’m proud of myself because when I got up to the table, I didn’t throw up. I managed to say more than two words to him. Upon reading his inscription, I insisted that I would do no such thing as it would be sacrilege. He assured me that I didn’t have to.
A very small part of me, very, very small part, wants to do it because he told me to. Now I’m a fan. Now he’s my hero.
And the book is amazing. I loved it.