Last Monday (by which I mean December 14th, not yesterday), I saw Neil Gaiman
in Decatur, Georgia. He was there because the Little Shop of Stories
put on one of the best Graveyard Book Halloween parties
in the nation (alongside Winnipeg's McNallly Robinson
) so he came to do a reading, and a signing, and a bit of Q&A. Not in that order. We were at Presser Hall at Agnes Scott college
, and the 500 seats in that auditorium were not nearly enough. The joint forces of Agnes Scott and Little Shop had set up an overflow room with a screen for the event, allowing the number of attendees to swell to approximately 1050 people.
And Neil Gaiman had promised to sign for every one of us, before an early morning flight to Winnipeg the next day. The event began at 6:00 PM. How long until this man is dubbed the Saint of Readers?
Brilliant photo of Neil reading from Odd and the Frost Giants is by brilliant photognome.
It was definitely weird, realizing that I was only, in 2009, in the same room with Neil Gaiman for the first time. I've been reading his works since I was 16 and randomly picked up Good Omens
in the bookshop because I was Apocalypse-obsessed and it had a humorous cover
. Around the same time, I independently came to be introduced to The Sandman
through Death (not quite realizing the chap who co-wrote Good Omens
with Terry Pratchett
also wrote those Endless graphic novels I was reading) and, a bit later, The Dream Hunters
. I came to his blog as everyone did in the beginning, through American Gods
, and have been reading his assorted thoughts, quips, and cat-and-dog picture-spam posts since mid-2001. That's about eight and a half years now. Bizarre.
The day dawned in an incredibly dense fog: visibility was less than a mile and flights were severely delayed at Hartsfield for quite some time. For a while there, it was questionable whether Neil's flight would make it in from Orlando. Luckily, it did. Later that night, we also had a thunderstorm roll through. Creepy fog and a wild thunderstorm: what more perfect weather for Neil Gaiman?
My husband and I met up with my friend Teresa
about lunch-time in Decatur. Teresa, aka blueinsideout
, happens to be a brilliant crocheter and had made a fantastic Nobody Owens
in no time at all. He was to be a gift for Neil that night and I was sure he'd love him (I was right: he pronounced the Bod-doll "glorious" and asked Teresa for a hug). After admiring him from his perfect yarn hair (a wild halo, eerily similar to Neil's) down to his precisely-torn pants, we adjourned to the Matador Cantina for Mexican food goodness.
If you're ever in Decatur for lunch, don't go to the Matador Cantina. I'm just saying, the food was mediocre and not worth its price tag. You're paying more for the neighborhood than quality.
Subpar lunch done, we arrived at Agnes Scott in enough time to stand in line for approximately twenty minutes or so. The line wasn't too bad: it only stretched the equivalent length of a block, snaking around the sidewalks in front of Presser Hall. Andy and I managed to snag sets in the center of the auditorium
, so that I hardly had to squint at all to see Neil's face. (And I think the majority of my squinting was more due to a slightly out-of-date glasses prescription.)
Even though the seats of the auditorium were a bit cramped and so many people had been waiting for some time, the audience was one of the most polite I've ever been in. It was marvelous: all around me, people were reading books or knitting scarves or even playing on their laptops. Most of us had our smart phones out more than once. My immediate seatmates were reading Terry Pratchett's Hogfather
and Catching Fire
by Suzanne Collins, while the ladies behind me had a spirited discussion about young adult dragon-raising fiction and the lads in front of me discussed plots to catch Charles Vess
' signature (for an illustrated Stardust
Before he came out on stage, Neil signed for some children back stage. It was a nice touch, and later he borrowed from the same group of kids to perform his readings. He snagged a copy of Odd and the Frost Giants
from one boy, and then a copy of The Graveyard Book
from another. The child-oriented readings remind me of an amusing quip the chair of the Decatur Book Festival
- who introduced Neil Gaiman - threw out at us at the beginning of the evening: "You all know you're here for a children's reading, right? Because this group looks nothing like any children's reading I've ever attended." Ha! Neil Gaiman oeuvre is, indeed, mult-faceted.
Neil Gaiman came on with the wildest halo of hair I've yet seen him with, and I was momentarily startled that his locks didn't get a separate introduction. He immediately launched into an amusing explanation of how the Halloween party idea was born, which was basically that he sometimes finds words coming out of his mouth that he didn't intend, while his brain goes "...oops." ("Oops" sounds stupidly charming in his particular British accent, by the way.) After a nice bit of chatter, he read the second and third chapters from Odd and the Frost Giants
During the later Q&A, he answered questions posed by people through the Little Shop's blog and which he hadn't had a chance to look at before coming on stage. He was asked about the origins of Coraline
and The Graveyard Book
, the answers to which I've heard more than once. (You can read about them, in brief, at this article
on the Decatur event.) Someone asked him about his process of writing women, to which he replied that he writes women like he writes anyone else: as people, because they are. (He also mocked some comic book writers, saying he's read a great many titles where he's just stymied that the writers never seem to have met a real woman, even though they doubtlessly were given birth by one.) He was asked how social sites such as Twitter and Facebook have affected the writing life, to which he said he liked the immediacy of his readers in this Twitter world. He was also asked, randomly, what he thought of the works of T.S. Eliot. I don't know either.
The final question he took was, "Could you please tell us the meaning of life?"
His reply: "Eh, no. There are three rules here: never disclose the meaning of life, never name people's pets, and almost never name bands. It's just inviting trouble, otherwise."
After the second reading (the Nehemiah Trot advice scene from The Graveyard Book
), the signing began, which was naturally long and tedious. The proceedings suffered from some poor organizational tactics on the part of the Little Shop staff, but most everyone was polite and patient during the wait. In fact, the only trouble I saw all evening was the woman who cut in front of Andy and me in line. We chose not to say anything to her, though. I ignored her rudeness in favor of discussing Warren Ellis and Grant Morrison and the like with the energetic fellow in front of her.
He began signing for people sometime just before 8 PM; it was nearly 11 before Andy and I made it to the table. After thanking him for supporting the Interstitial Arts Foundation
and a good measure of embarrassing effusion, I walked away with two personalized books (my hardback, illustrated Stardust
and anniversary edition of Good Omens
) and a quick snapshot
He didn't finish signing for people until after 1:00 AM, upon which point he only got a few hours of rest before having to hare off to Winnipeg. He signed at least one item for all 1050 people and, most often, two items. In the first three hours, the man only took one break. He is, seriously, an incredibly dedicated and gracious man. I really respect his consummate professionalism in relating to his fans.
I'm glad that I heard him speak, and I'm happy to have stood in line for him to sign some of my best-loved books. However, I don't think I'd ever do the signing business again: it's just too much madness, and I don't need all
my Gaiman books signed. Still, I would definitely like to hear him speak and read again, and I definitely recommend attending such an event for any appreciator of his works.
Also, mad sincere thanks to the Little Shop of Stories, the staff at Agnes Scott, the Decatur Book Festival involved parties, and, of course, Elyse Marshall and those who made this happen at HarperCollins