Neil Gaiman at Book People in September of 2005
On September 25, 2005, Book People, an independent bookstore in Austin, TX, hosted a meeting with the author Neil Gaiman. Gaiman read an excerpt from his then-new novel “Anansi Boys”, answered questions and signed books.
Gaiman is so funny it’s suspicious. Each of his answers to the audience’s questions was like a mini stand-up comedy. He cracks a joke in every other sentence. Can he really improvise that well? Or did his agents plant people in the audience with pre-approved questions?
Neil Gaiman first apologized for being late. The reason for delay is that bookstores are mysterious places and books need to travel within the store. And for that there are things like freight elevators and strange passages with offices in them.
Neil Gaiman. …And in the last 10 minutes trying to get from up there, where I signed a few books from the start, to down here, we’ve come through all of them.
At one point he and his “handlers”, the Book People employees, got on a freight elevator and none of them knew how to work it. But eventually they arrived.
Neil Gaiman. Hello! Yeah, the plan. There is a plan. I’ll do a reading. My God, there are a lot of you. Thank you for waiting. I will do a reading, then we’ll do questions and answers, and when we’ve done that, I will sit, I imagine, at that table over there, and sign till my hand falls off. When I’ve last seen, some of the nice people backstage at this bookstore were running out to try and get more copies of the book, cause they’ve run out. And I said that I would try, before I start signing to people, I would try to sign my way through 30 or 40 copies just in case any of you have babysitters, transport issues or anything, just grab a signed copy and run away. Cause I suspect that it’s going to go on very late.
So, reading. (Addresses someone in the audience:) Can I borrow your book? Instead of reading my way… I love doing readings. And I’ve been mostly reading bits that I haven’t read before. So (at some other reading) a week ago I started reading Chapter 1 and I’ve been working my way through ever since. But I thought today I would move later in the book for a scene I just thought might be fun to read.
So first of all I’m gonna read you the dedication and them I’m gonna give you all the story so far so you know what’s happening at the bit (?) I start reading. So, this is the dedication.
“You know how it is. You pick up a book, flip to the dedication, and find that once again, the author has dedicated the book to someone else, but not to you. Not this time. Because we haven’t yet met, slash, have only a glancing acquaintance, slash, are just crazy about each other, slash, haven’t seen each other in much too long, slash, are in some way related, slash, will never meet but will, I trust, despite that will always think fondly of each other, this one’s for you. For you know what, and you probably know why.” (Audience applauds.)
(…) In “American Gods” there was a borrowed character from a book I hadn’t written yet, to make a special guest appearance. So Mr. Nancy in “American Gods” was actually borrowed from “Anansi Boys” which I knew that sooner or later I will get around to writing. And it is a funny book, I should probably warn you well in advance. Having written “American Gods”, which was a great big serious book, I then started running into people who would explain to me how obviously… how they have finally figured out how Terry Pratchett and I must have written “Good Omens” together. They have figured it out what obviously happened was I wrote a very serious book and then Terry danced behind me like a little pixie (sprinkling in jokes). It really wasn’t quite the case. So I thought it would be fun to write a funny book.
It’s a story about a young man named Fat Charlie, who is not really fat but his father called him Fat Charlie, and when his father called things names, they stuck. Fat Charlie has a very sweet fiancee named Rosie, who decides that he should invite his father to their wedding. And he rapidly discovers that his father died in an embarrassing way. Singing karaoke. And as he tumbled through the stage in a fatal heart attack his arm shot out and he grabbed hold of anything he could, which happened to be the (something-something) of a tourist from Michigan. Exposing her breast to the whole world. (…)
After the funeral he gets to talk to the family neighbor, Mrs. (So-and-so). He said, I never really knew my father. (…) And she says, you’ve got to make allowances for him, because he was a god. And he says, he was not a god, he was my dad. And she says, he could be both, it happens.
And he says, hang on, if my dad really was a god, which he wasn’t, why couldn’t he do certain magic, godly, miracle things? And she says, well, how do you think he got away with not working all those years? He says, hang on, if my dad could do magical, mystical, miracle things, why can’t I? She says, oh, your brother got all that.
And he makes a fatal mistake of inviting his brother into his life. And they have together an evening of wine, women and (…)
(The excerpt Neil Gaiman was about to read starts the morning after, when Charlie wakes up to face the consequences.)
Questions and Answers
Q1. How are you liking Minnesota?
Neil Gaiman. How am I liking Minnesota? If anybody actually explained the whole winters thing to me, in a way that I could have understood, I probably would never had gone there. But I am English, I come from a country… It’s sort of like a Texas thing: I mean, you know what cold is? Cold is that point where winter goes hard (?) (…) turns white and fluffy and falls from the sky, and that is cold. And that is obviously as cold as it gets.
You do not realize the vast fathoms of cold that exist beneath that, a peculiar science-fictional cold. Where your world shrinks to what you can heat. Where you turn on the news in the morning and some old lady went out to fill a bird feeder in her slippers, and they stuck to the sidewalk. They’re trying to figure out how to set her free, or whatever.
The main reason I went out there, apart from having American wife who figured it was actually time for her family to meet the kids, was I was running out of space to put the books. I had too many books. I discovered that I can actually buy an Adams family house with 50 acres of wood-(…) for for slightly less than a 1-bedroom flat in London. It was the point when (moving to Minnesota) became a very, very good idea, and I have somewhere to put my books.
Q2. How on God’s green Earth were you able to wear a black leather jacket on Texas on summer day?
Neil Gaiman. Actually, I love wearing leather jackets in places like Texas, because what normally happens is either… it’s a little bit weird in here (?) because it’s got 600 pockets in it, so it’s a bit warmer. But normally in places like Texas and Arizona you wind up going from severely air-conditioned environments to incredibly hot places with sun beating down on you, to air-conditioned environments. And as far as I’m concerned, a leather jacket is a perfect thing to be wearing, cause it keeps you warm in a severely air-conditioned environment, and then it’s maximum possible sunscreen protection. And (it’s perfect for a walk to the car?)
It only gets problematic when you have to (…) half a mile walk. The sad thing, I actually got… I did a tour of Asia: Singapore, Philippines, those nice equatorial places. And I bought myself an equatorial leather jacket, which was really, really (…), and I thought, wow, this was the coolest thing I ever worn. It was as thin as paper. But it really was a leather jacket. And then I finally discovered a couple of days ago why it is that most people don’t make leather jackets which are as thin as paper. It just sort of ripped. All the way down, for no particular reason. And I phoned home and said, please send me a reasonably lightweight leather jacket now.
Q3. Are you going to be doing audiobooks in the future?
Neil Gaiman. Am I going to be doing audiobooks in the future? I’ve done some in the past. I did “Coraline” in the US and I did a bunch of short stories which Papa Cohen’s (?) is gonna be collecting. And the last time I was in Papa Cohen’s (?), which was about a week ago, I was talking with the nice people at (…)-audio, and they would say, (…) we really, really like you, and what could we do? Cause I said no to doing Anansi Boys. There are some things that should not be read by a floppy-head white English (something), like little old Jamaican ladies. But I think I may do “Stardust”. Audience applauds.) It’s only 55 thousand words. It’s about 6 hours.
And the other thing I wanna investigate the whole rights situation on is doing an unabridged “Neverwhere”. Partly because a “Neverwhere” audio that exists is abridged, and the abridger (…) and it’s sort of problematic. It’s really, really good until the point three quarters of the way through, where the abridger, who was doing a sensitive and elegant and beautiful job of abridging, suddenly looks at how much book there is left, and how many minutes she has left. And all of a sudden: the Marquis de Carabas dies! The Marquis de Carabas comes back to life! (Nevermind that) in the book there was stuff going on in between. (He gives more examples of illogical things that happen when the abridger cuts out chunks of text.) Which is terrifying to me. If somebody had heard this thing, and they have read “Neverwhere”, (they’d say) “no, that’s not what happened!”
Q4. What’s the direction with Miracleman? Are you going to do more?
Neil Gaiman. I wanted to do more with Miracleman. What happened is we figured that everything was (…) sorted out on Miracleman. And then Todd McFarlane who has been claiming that he had the rights, who may or may not have had some rights, but definitely (… ???) rights to Miracleman — declared bankruptcy. If there’s one thing Todd is really good at it’s losing legal cases. (Audience laughs and applauds.)
(He goes on further about some details of the legal case.)
After many people found you guilty in the court of law, you do what Todd did, which is, you declare bankruptcy. And that is what (destroyed the whole deal with?) Miracleman. Because apparently Todd was claiming Miracleman as an asset, and he is in the bankruptcy court. His comics company is in bankruptcy. (Neil Gaiman further says his lawyers are trying to figure out if it is possible to bring it back into print, because he would like that.)
Q5. I heard rumors: are you ever gonna to make a Sandman movie?
Neil Gaiman. Am I ever gonna to make a Sandman movie? You heard rumors? It looks like we are probably making a “Death” movie. “Death”, mostly because you can make a movie “Death: The High Cost Of Living” and all you have to do is, to use the word that Simpsons did, “embiggen” it. It expands. If you shot “Death: The High Cost Of Living”, you would have a 32-minute film. So you just do that story, only more things happen during the day, and you get to learn more about Eremite, and all sorts of things like that.
Sandman movie is much more problematic. They tried a lot in the mid-nineties, and they had some really good people trying very very hard. You had Terry Rossio (?), who later did “Pirates of the Caribbean”, and they did a terrific script. And you had Roger (…?), who I worked with later on “Beowulf”, this thing, I (…) the next film. (Audience applauds.)
(Then he lists the cast for “Beowulf”, and the audience laughs at some mentions, such as Angelina Jolie as some character’s (name unintelligible) mom.)
But anyway, so these guys did fairly decent Sandman scripts in the mid-nineties. You can even find them online. And Jon Peters (?) who was somehow involved in this thing, trying them out and explaining that for God’s sake, guys, it’s based on a comic, why are those people hitting each other? And then we had (a person’s name, unintelligible) script, prepared to his specifications. I never finished reading it. I got halfway through and felt too sick to continue. The first Morpheus’ (?) line the guy wrote was “Aha, foolish mortals, as if your puny weapons could harm me!” (Audience laughs.) “The mighty Lord of dreams, the sandman!” And it went downhill. (…)
(He talks about a presentation he made to Hollywood people who were interested in making a Sandman movie.)
“We’ll take you through the storyline and show you what it is, and you’ll see that you couldn’t do it unless you make 3 or 4 movies, but this is how we would do it if we did. And this is why it is important… you know, better not to make it than to make it wrong, because it matters to people.”
And I think we can wait at least until we have some kind of perception what this thing is. Really, I hope the Sandman will find its Peter Jackson, that it will find a person for whom it’s important to get it right. And if it does, we’ll get some Sandman movies, otherwise I’d rather we don’t get anything.
Q6 Do you think you’ll ever write a sequel to Neverwhere?
Neil Gaiman. Probably. But the problem with the whole sequel thing is, there are lots and lots of stories in my head. And given a choice between writing a sequel to something, and doing something I’ve never done before, that I might make a fool of myself, but at least it would be completely new, I will tend to pick the completely new one. So there was a story in my head that, say, Neverwhere story equal (?) to seven sisters (?) which is sort of a murder mystery (…) (But if he is forced to choose:) shall I do this, or shall I do something I’ve never done before, I’m much more likely do something I’ve never done before. But… sooner or later I probably will.
I actually started a “Neverwhere” short story. (…) I love writing with fountain pen and I love writing in notebooks. And a few years ago somebody had given me this beautiful notebook. And they said, please, write something in this notebook. (?) And I thought it was gorgeous. I pulled out my fountain pen and started a story. And there was this paper, this incredibly gorgeous paper, had bits of crushed rose petals. Three pages in, tired of cleaning bits of rose petals off my fountain pen, having described nothing more than what Marquis of Carabas keeps in his pockets, some of which was very, very peculiar, I gave up and got a different notebook and wrote a different story (…) which is in the next year’s short story collection.
I think it’s time for another short story collection. I’ll call it “Fragile Things”, I think. I was gonna call “These people must know who we are and tell that were here”, which is a quote from a little (unintelligible), but then people started saying (…)
Q7. Do you like all your comic book movies?
Neil Gaiman. (…) I think… I don’t have a problem with the whole movie thing, but I never thought it was gonna be very important (?) You know, they come, they go, you get some good ones, you get some bad ones. On the whole, Hollywood has not quite figured out what everybody else knows by instinct, which is, the closer a movie is to the comic book, the better it looks.
I remember I was in San Diego last year, no, not last year…
Somebody in the audience shouts: 2003!
Neil Gaiman. Thank you! (Audience laughs)
(In that conference in San Diego when he was on a panel, a Hollywood representative said:) “I have an announcement. John Constantine movie is being made. It’s going ahead.” And she said, “starring Keanu Reeves”. (Audience laughs) And the whole room of people went…
Somebody in the audience guesses the room’s response: “What?”
Neil Gaiman. They didn’t even say it. What they did was, they went, “oh”. Everybody mentally did a checklist: is he English? No. Grubby? No.
I really do think it’s important. And the Hollywood people still don’t get it. (…)
Q8. Anything new coming up with Dave McKean?
Neil Gaiman. Oh, that was good. Because: (he speaks briefly about “Mirrormask”) So… yes, there are two things happening with Dave McKean. One of which is “Mirrormask”, and then there are other cool “Mirrormask”-y things that are coming out. “Mirrormask” is a movie Dave and I made. It’s a family fantasy movie. Family fantasy movie at least in our definition of family fantasy movie. Which… I think, I still get an impression that the American definition of a family movie is one you can leave a three-year-old in front of for several hours and come back, and they will not have had any ideas. (Audience laughs and applauds.) They sort of (…) and everybody hugs at the end. But it’s our definition of a family fantasy movie. And it comes out, I think, this Friday. (…)
And right now I believe Dave is two and a half years late on a book called “Crazy Pack” (?), which is a poem. A funny poem. It (was supposed to?) be finished by the end of 2005, and I think he’s just started it. So that may come out next year. And it will be kind of like “The Day I Swapped My Dad For Two Goldfish”. And then I think he’s making a movie out of “The sequel to noise” (???). It should be fun.
OK, thank you all so much for coming, being so patient, especially gently (?) (audience laughs), and I will try and get everybody here signed. But I’m gonna tell you one little thing just before we start.
Photographs. You can take as many photographs as you like while I’m scribbling, but I don’t want to have to stop and pose. Because these days absolutely everybody has some kind of digital (imaging) apparatus on them, (and they) hand it to somebody else who can’t figure out how it works. (And as we) look up to it and smile, the person presses the button, and it turns itself off. (Audience laughs.) And they run back and they show them the correct button to press, and this time they run back, and look up, and they press the button, and they say “it’s OK, I think it took”, and the person goes “no, no, no, the flash didn’t go off. You have to hold it down for longer.” And then we go again. And by that time a minute has passed. And if you look around you, count the number of people and multiply them in minutes, you’ll realize why you can (take pictures while I am signing), but I’m not stopping, I’m gonna keep signing.
Thank you very much.