When Neil Gaiman came to town

OceanatendoflaneDark skies and local goths descended upon the desert theater on the night Neil Gaiman came to town. ‘Twas an unseasonably chilly spring, (well, chilly by our standards), made all the more chilling with rain, wind, and the arrival of a shaggy British man wearing several shades of black, who took to the stage to read a few chapters to the brave outliers of this rural industrial community.

He read an excerpt from The Ocean at the End of the Lane (2014). I leaned over to my husband and whispered, “The toast gets burned and then they find a dead body.” He read a selection from “A Calendar of Tales,” (Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances, 2015) about a man who takes literal refuge in his books when his wife abandons him. My husband whispered back, “Can we get a burger after this?”

Neil accepted questions on index cards from the audience. “Do the cats in your books represent cats you have known in real life?” “What do you recommend for me to read?” “Where do you get your ideas?”

Yes, let’s go get that burger. Now.

triggerwarningUSHe had ready punchlines for those stale questions. He improvised (well, let’s say “improvised”) a story about a Were-Chair that attacks people, leaving only four round prints in the ground near its victims, baffling investigators. He talked about Syrian refugee camps in Jordan, the inspiration for his retelling of Hansel & Gretel (2014). He said children’s books should offer hope. He said Gene Wolfe once told him, “You don’t learn how to write. You only learn how to write the book you’re writing now.” Or something like that.

He was charming and sweet and funny… and conventional and traditional and inoffensive. He’s too commercial and marketable now to provide a truly captivating evening, and I’m well beyond my Neil Gaiman phase, but hey, he bothered to get off the plane in the middle of nowhere, and I wouldn’t have blamed him if he didn’t.

And besides, it was cold and windy and rainy.

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21 thoughts on “When Neil Gaiman came to town

  1. Gaiman is awesome. Haven’t gotten to this one yet, but I’m sure it doesn’t disappoint! Thanks for sharing!

    If you’re ever interested in some other great book reviews and musings, be sure to follow! Thanks!

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  2. Hestia says:

    I have a thing where the few times I’ve had a chance to ask an author a question, I can never think of anything interesting that I want to know. “Where do you get your ideas?” Doesn’t everybody walk around thinking and noticing weird things and having their brain produce odd thoughts in response? (Maybe not?)

    Maybe I want to pretend the words just appeared on the page, an artful window into a world we haven’t visited yet.

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    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      I have questions for Gaiman, but most of them are probably rude: “What was it like to grow up in a scientology household?” “Did that have anything to do with your unlikely youthful success?” “Do you feel creatively stifled by your overwhelming popular success?”

      And “where do you get your ideas?” How drab. And the conceit beneath that is, “Tell me how you do it so I can do it,” and “I’m sure your books come from one inorganic place.” Like the author has a book idea tarot card set, or something.

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      • “Book idea tarot card set.” That totally reminded me of that time that PK Dick used the I Ching to write a book and then was all like look at this mystical book that the I Ching wrote. What a weirdo. Anyway, tangent.

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  3. thebookgator says:

    I feel like I completely understand what you are saying, but I suspect he keeps his weirdness inside. Do you know much about his wife? I followed her after watching a TED talk she did, not realizing they were married. Now there is a daring soul. Amanda Palmer TED talk: The art of asking. Youtube video that attracted me: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9WZtxRWieM

    Liked by 1 person

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      Yep, I know all about his wife. She is all he talks about anymore, which is really the only time he seems to come alive, so good for him, but boh-rang. I heard about her TED talk, but I haven’t gotten around to watching it.

      Funny how we’re all criticizing his lack of spunk, while Amanda seems to be the epitomy of it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hestia says:

        I’ve gotten that feeling, too, that he’s much, much weirder than he presents — and also quite private, as many (most?) writers are.

        Maybe this is projection as a person who is quite private and much better at communicating through writing than talking, but I could really see why an author — especially one who is pretty out there — might want to play it safe. I can’t imagine letting myself talk off-the-cuff about anything in a public setting. I would say something stupid or offensive, and be embarrassed for months!

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      • thebookgator says:

        It is interesting! Honestly, I had no interest in him until I learned she married him. She’s a very, very unique artist and pretty much is the epitome of exposure.

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  4. Kate says:

    I’ve never seen him live, but have heard several of his interviews on pods and what not. I admit, I’m getting monotonised by the same schtick he brings out for the reader-fan audience. He’s best when he’s talking about human rights rather than his stories, or to an audience that aren’t following his every word with adoration. I’d like to hear him in debate with someone who really disagrees, when he doesn’t have time for the measured tones and slow punchlines. But hearing him read his own fiction aloud is wonderful, I love that.

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    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      THIS! I’m with you 100%! I would love to see him talk about something that’s not mainstream safe. The best part was when he was talking about visiting Jordan… I could have listened to that all night over all those stupid questions people were asking him.

      Measured is a good word to describe him. I don’t think his future books will be very good unless we see some fire out of him, but he may just be too happy and in love and successful to bother.

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  5. Ha. How were the burgers?

    I saw him talk a bunch of times at World Fantasy in 2013, and he was quite delightful to watch then. But one of those events was also Neil Gaiman in conversation with Susan Cooper, and I suspect that dynamic had a lot to do with it. The other, I think, was him in conversation with an editor he has worked with a ton over the years, also good stage chemistry, so fun to listen to.

    My favorite memory of it all was literary running into him as he ran into the building out of a taxi in the rain and I ran out of the building desperately trying to fix a deteriorating couchsurfing situation. Which I guess does say something about the talks. I videoed them though, now I am feeling curious about going back and seeing what I think of them outside of the con wonderland euphoria bubble I was in at the time.

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    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      Heh, the burgers were great, but it was way past my pumpkin time.

      I think part of the problem is he’s just so polite and wasn’t going to broach anything controversial with this conservative audience. The turnout was good for this area, but it hardly filled the theater. I think we were on the 5th row and there were plenty of empty seats in front of us. Most of the people who came are familiar with his children’s books and his work on DOCTOR WHO. I’d have loved to count the number of people who actually read AMERICAN GODS without burning it afterwards.

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      • “I’d have loved to count the number of people who actually read AMERICAN GODS without burning it afterwards.” Hahahaha. I would like to see those numbers myself.

        Yeah, his politeness (which also makes me think of what you said above about how without some more fire his next books aren’t going to be great)…I think you are very right there. He is on a tipping point of too politely successful where he might just becoming boring bland. Should be interesting to watch if not to read.

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  6. If you don’t like the questions at a talk, you know what you’re supposed to do, right? Ask one yourself.

    Yeah there’s always a lot of dumb questions at these things, but at least those people had it in them to contribute something (even if that something is mostly poop and dishwater).

    Really nice telling of the event though. Cheers

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  7. I admit, I’m not a huge fan of Gaiman (his books, while I can appreciate their artistic value, are often too weird and abstract for me) but I probably would have made the trek to see him if he were in my town and in such an intimate venue, just for the opportunity. Where was this, btw? It’s hard to imagine him showing up most places these days and not filling the seats.

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    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      I think Gaiman’s recent stuff is more traditional, so you might prefer that, even though it’s kind of driven me off. (But you know how I like weird stuff 🙂 A local book club raised money to bring him, the tickets were free, and it was held literally in the middle of nowhere, Texas, halfway between El Paso and Dallas. We have this giant performing arts center that sits in the middle of the plains desert, all by itself, with a 10 minute drive in either direction to the nearest towns. It’s a unique venue and attracts some really big performers.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. […] already shared my more recent thoughts on Gaiman, but he is a gateway author for me, and although I’ve outgrown him (or perhaps he’s outgrown […]

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