Dark 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.
He 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.