We’d waited months to see him. Neil Gaiman, my favorite author, was coming to Nashville. This was unheard of. He rarely got anywhere near the South before.
I got out of work at 4 and drove downtown. I’d decided to park at the Main library, partly because it was just a block away and partly because I just don’t understand downtown Nashville at all. It is too crowded, the roads are too narrow, and Nashville drivers aren’t that alert or considerate.
The show started at 6, with the doors opening at 5.
Here is the line for the show. Walking from where I am to the front door took about 10 minutes. This wraps up and around and over and across and through.
Here is more of the line.
The War Memorial Auditorium is an older facility, where the comfort of the audience was not really considered. The bathrooms are in the basement, so if you are in the balcony (which we were) that meant going down and then back up four flights of stairs. The only concessions are from a vending machine (in the basement) or beer, wine, and sodas in the lobby. This whole arrangement was very tedious for trying to endure the evening. It started at 6, and we finally left at 11:30, having still not had our section called for the signing line.
This view is from our seats, waiting for him to come on stage.
Here is a girl with cool purple hair and a smart bow (which she made). There were many people with alternative hair color at this show. Bright pink was very popular.
And, here he is on stage.
In the biggest sense I’m glad we didn’t stay until the end, because we could have been there until 1 in the morning (he said that was common). He mentioned that this was his last signing tour because it was just getting too hard to manage. There were about 1600 people there at this show alone, and at the last show he’d had to ice his hand because he’d signed so much. I felt a little guilty even thinking about getting him to sign my book at this point. He writes longhand – this is the hand he’ll use to write the next book. So really, I’d rather him write a book than write his name. Plus, I was really tired. I would have loved to just have seen him up close, and said thank you, and given him a smile. But, it was not to be. It isn’t like we would have had a long, meaningful chat or anything. I’m sad, but I’m realistic.
He said that sometimes people would say “Your book changed my life”. He usually dismissed this, until after his Dad died. His Dad had died suddenly, when Neil was on tour, and he put off his grieving. There was just too much that had to be done with the tour. He didn’t have time to grieve. But then after the tour, while at home he read a book where a fictional character died, and that opened him up. He started to grieve for that character, and through that, grieve for his father. So he started to understand how fiction can be healing for people.
He mentioned that when he first started signing tours he was writing the “Sandman” series, and there were “very few people with a pair of X chromosomes in the audience”. Later, as his writing diversified, his audience diversified. Occasionally he’d notice a huge man come up to him in a smelly dirty t-shirt who would say he owned a comic book store. The man would say “You brought girls into my shop!” (He did this in a great accent). To which he mused to himself “Maybe if you washed your shirt more often girls would come into your shop more often.”
He read from “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” We got a bit towards the end of the book. There was a thunderstorm going on, and we could hear the “boom!” from inside the auditorium. It was a section of the story that took place during a thunderstorm and it is very scary. He was waiting the entire tour to be able to read that bit during a thunderstorm -so we were in luck. This special performance was just for us. The thunder was perfectly done. He gave thanks “to the effects department” at the end.
About writing “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” – He feels he is in a three way relationship, himself, Amanda, and her album, and the album is winning. She went away to Australia to record her new album, and this time he’s only getting occasional emails, and they usually are very short and say “the album is doing fine”. So he decided to write a short story for her, that was very personal and had a lot of feelings in it, because that is what she liked. He wasn’t sure if he could pull off feelings, because “Well, I’m English, and I’m male.”
He started writing it as just a short story, and it kept going, and kept going, and it ended up being a novella which was far more than he meant. He sent it on to his publisher and said “Well, I seem to have written a novella, and I’m very sorry and it won’t happen again.”
It was amazing to find out how much of this story is real. There really was a Hempstock family that lived at the end of the lane that he lived at when he was a child. Their farmstead really was in the Domesday Book. There really was a South African lodger who killed himself in a white Mini, for the same reason, who lived at Neil’s house. In fact, when he finally found out, as an adult, why that Mini went away so suddenly, he was really upset. His take on it was “Something interesting happened to my family and I didn’t know?!”
This is his kind of humor. Dark. Real. Strange.
The way he wove in reality with fantasy makes both a little mixed up. How real is the fantasy? How fantastic is the reality?
He talked about writing in general.
He writes in longhand so he doesn’t get distracted. He stays away from the computer while writing. He said he might go look up how many Ps and Ls are in ‘apparently’ and then end up 90 minutes later finding himself buying something on Ebay that he doesn’t want. Also, he changes pen colors every day, so he can see what progress he’s made. He found out that Neil Stephenson does the same, but he uses expensive paper from Italy that comes sealed up with wax.
A fan gave him a handmade book at a signing once, with handmade paper made with rosepetals. He knew that this would be perfect for writing a sequel to “Neverwhere” – “How the Marquis got his coat back” He started writing it with a fountain pen (his normal tool of choice) and found that every time he hit a rose petal the pen would create a huge blot and he’d have to clean up the mess. He got about a page written and never finished. He realized that he could have switched to a ball point pen, or regular paper, but he just wasn’t in the mood at that point.
He wrote on Coraline for quite a while, and then let it sit for several years. Then he wrote a little more, and let it sit for a few more years. He finally sent it off to his editor who loved what was there and she said “What happens next?” He said “Send me a contract and we’ll both find out.”
He wants to write sequels – “…it isn’t like I think I am better than people who write sequels. It is just that there are so many other characters that have stories that want to be told.”
After the reading, he answered questions from the audience. There were 3×5 notecards on each seat when we arrived for us to write questions. Here are some that I remember. They aren’t exact quotes, just what I recall. A. stands for audience, NG is Neil Gaiman.
A. “Who is your favorite Doctor?”
NG. “Yes, Who is my favorite Doctor.”
(Earlier on he said after mentioning Doctor Who – “How about we make a deal? Every time I say ‘Doctor Who’, you don’t go ‘Wooo!’ , or we will be here until Friday. (Personally, I don’t have a problem with this, as I’d happily hang out listening to Neil Gaiman for a month at least…))
A. “What would you do if you drove 2 hours to get here, and you’ve forgotten where you parked.?”
He then told us that he doesn’t have this problem, because after many years of touring and staying up late signing, and then having to be at an airport very early to check in, he decided to use a tourbus. He goes outside to the bus, gets in, and goes to sleep. He wakes up ten hours later in another town, showers and changes, and is ready to go.
So at the end, his reply to the question was “Me, I’d look for the bus. You, you’re screwed.”
A.“I’m thinking of a number between 1 and 10”.
NG. “No, you’re not. You’re thinking ‘He read my card!’.”
NG. “Why not?”
There were other cards that said “Why?” on them and he commented that we were very existential here in Nashville.
A. “You are married to a much younger wife. Are you going to have another child?”
NG. “Well, that is very personal. But, then again, I’m married to Amanda, who blogs about everything we do, so I’ll probably find out that we are going to have a child by reading her blog.”
Here was the final question –
A. “So, you’re in Nashville, and you might not like country music. But if you did, what country music artist would you have dinner with?”
NG. “Well, I’m not going to be having dinner with anyone tonight because I’ll be here signing, but if I did, it would be Bela Fleck.”
The crowd erupted in a roar of approval. Bela Fleck isn’t quite country, and he isn’t really pop, or rock. He’s unique. He does things with a banjo that humans don’t normally do. He created a banjo version of “The Danse Macabre” for Neil’s “The Graveyard Book” Bela Fleck is cool.
Then Neil went on to say that it might be possible that Bela was there that night. He was being coy. There had been a chair set up next to the podium all night, and most of us had just assumed that Neil would sit in it if needed. No. It was for Bela. He came out with his banjo. This was a Nashville-only event. We were treated to Neil reading a section from “Fortunately, the Milk” (not yet published) with Bela Fleck doing his own special accompaniment to it. There were aliens and pirates and fathers, oh my! And Bela made all the noises and it was wonderful.
I went downstairs, all those stairs, to go to the bathroom. I looked outside. There is an immense statue just outside the doors. It was pretty cool when we came in, but after the rain it was really intense. It was hard to get the camera to handle the weird lighting.
This is my favorite view. It is not altered at all.
Here is a view with the focus on the statue and the courtyard.
Here is a view with the focus on the sky.
You can kind of combine them together in your head to get an idea how awesome it was. I’m pretty sure Neil would have been impressed – if only he’d been able to take time away from the adoring fans.
The storm had created an amazing sky. It was a pretty cool evening.