It’s Neil Gaiman’s last book signing tour, and ScienceFiction.com had the privilege of attending one of his reads at the Tattered Cover in Denver.
For those who have never attended a book signing, it is always a special moment to remember. Especially if it is an author you have loved for over a decade. You’re with someone who creates things you like in an intimate setting reading their words to you.
This book signing, however, was less intimate than you would think. 1,000 tickets for autographs were sold for a venue that could only hold 300, and Mr. Gaiman had to be piped in over the store’s loudspeakers for those who didn’t get in line early enough, which was by, all account, five hours before the event. Every book shelf of the two story local bookshop was lined with Gaiman’s fans, all hoping to get more insight into the books they loved so much. The number of fans is largely why Gaiman will be doing lecture tours instead of the traditional book signing events.
Gaiman, known for being dedicated to his fans, signed books until one in the morning, and even spent time signing books before the event for those who may not be able to wait in line that long for them to exchange at the customer services desk.
At this particular reading, he read pages 14-21, detailing the events that were to be the catalyst for ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’. Hearing an author read their own book is a very gratifying experience, and Gaiman is no exception. There was more humor in his descriptions, and the crowd laughed (about half of which had not read the book) openly every paragraph or so.
Gaiman also talked about how ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ came into fruition.The Ocean at the End of the Lane’s back cover, featuring Gaiman at age 7.
He first described the cover and explained that the image on the back cover (a boy standing on a drainpipe) was actually him at age seven. Gaiaman did not know that the photograph, which is important to the story, existed until after he wrote the book. His sister showed it to him, and when he showed it to his wife, she suggested that if they cut off his ridiculously grinning face, it may just indeed look “sinister” enough for the back cover.
She was right.
In fact, many of the events in the story have correlations to his own life. From the suicide in his family car, the need to escape life into the world of books, Gaiman’s fantasy world seems to mirror a lot of his own prior experiences.
He then referred to the book as an accidental novel, and wondered why he hadn’t written a novel in eight years (the last being ‘Anansi Boys’). He answered his own question, though, with “I was busy.”
When his wife, Amanda Palmer of the ‘The Dresden Dolls’, was away in Australia recording an album, he decided to write so he didn’t notice how much he missed her. “She may have thought a daily text saying ‘I love you’ was enough,” he explained, “but I was miserable.”
So he started writing her a short story. As he continued writing it, he realized that it was more of a novellette. As he kept continuing to write, he realized that it was definitely a novella. When he finished, he wrote a very surprised email to his publisher saying “I wrote a novel.”
“It was almost apologetic,” he laughed.
After the reading, he took some questions. These are the highlights:
How long does it take to finish a book?
Gaiman’s eventual answer to this was “it depends.” He noted that it took a year to finish ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’, but ten years to finish ‘Coraline’. ‘American Gods’ took two years.
He digressed a bit about the writing process versus the editing process, and talked about how he spent a few months with ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ sending it to friends and taking notes. “When somebody tells you it doesn’t work, they are always right,” he advises. “When they tell you why, though, they are almost always wrong.”
How is releasing ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ Different from your other book releases?
Unequivocally, Gaiman said that releasing this book was different; that he never put anything out that was so immediately well-loved. “Most of the things I did that are classically well-loved…” he recounted, “they came out to a deafening silence. […] I mean there were a few reviews of ‘yeah, it’s alright’.”
While his books would eventually achieved bestseller status, it doesn’t really help the fact that the New York Time didn’t even review ‘The Graveyard Book’ until it got a Newbery Medal. “I don’t mind it,” he said. “It’s what I’m used to. But this book was different.”
He stated, in awe, that Time magazine did a three-page piece on him, and that Vogue had also done an interview. “Not my people,” he sardonically comments. When Vogue asked him who his favorite designer was, he remembered muttering “something about building a shrine to whoever invented the black leather jacket.” What surprised him the most was that the advanced readers’ copies brought in all sorts of non-genre fans and he wasn’t sure how to deal with them.
Gaiman then addressed the crowd with a smile and said, “You are the equivalent of the people who liked the band before it was cool.”
Are there change you have to make between writing children and adult fiction?
Gaiman admitted to having thought about this a lot, especially because he was a part of a lecture on the question. He would write notes about it in the margins of his rough draft for ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’, and his favorite description was one that he had forgotten he had written, but later found when he was editing the draft.
“In adult fiction,” it said, “you can leave the boring bits in.”
How do you stay disciplined when you’re too distracted or upset to write?
Gaiman confessed that writing is how he deals with being distracted or upset. “I escape into books,” he explained. “They are a place where I can control everything because it’s so much easier than being where you can’t.”
He went on to tell a story about how he went home to England for a funeral (another seeming parallel in the book), and when he was flying home he started writing some notes for the ‘Doctor Who’ episode, “The Doctor’s Wife” (which he originally titled “Bigger on the Inside”). When he landed, he realized that he had 95% of the dialogue for the episode written, but had no memory of doing it. Essentially, writing the episode had become a place he could escape to.
On Sequels:The cast of the BBC Audio Drama, Neverwhere.
Interworld will have more sequels, but not written by Gaiman. Instead, it will be done by the Reeds. For Stardust, he said “I don’t know. Eventually. I claim that I will never write these things, but I did one.” He then talked about the Neverwhere sequel, “How the Marquis Got His Coat Back”, which he wrote because he loved the recently released BBC audio drama (starring James McAvoy and Benedict Cumberbatch) “This is great,” he thought. “I should go back there.”
The short story will be out next year and will apart of an anthology called ‘Rogues’, which will feature writing from the likes of George R.R. Martin, and Garth Nix.
Are Liza Hempstock and Lettie Hempstock related?
For those who have read ‘The Graveyard Book’, Liza Hempstock is a familar character. She is the ghost that is in love with Bod, the living boy who has a ghost family. She also shares the last name with Lettie Hempstock, the older girl in ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ that serves as a sort of guide through the main character’s life. Neil Gaiman responded that they are indeed related, and that Liza is the great-great-great-great(… he continues this about thirty times) grand niece of Lettie.
If you had an alter ego, what would it be?
“I don’t like what [alter ego] implies,” he answered. “I love being me.”
He thought on the question a little more and then stated that he wished he were something like Triplicate Girl. “I want more bodies,” he lamented. “Obviously, then, I would be tidier.” He liked the idea because he could have one of him sign books. Another to answer the telephone. And another to conduct some sort semblance of a social life.
There are still chances to see Gaiman during this final book signing tour, which he will be conducting around the United States until October 1st. Check here for dates and locations.