Monday, February 1, 2010

Neil Gaiman, Literary Rock Star and Me.

Let's be honest, there's really not much I can say about Neil Gaiman that hasn't already been said by someone else, somewhere else.  So instead of wasting time heaping praise upon the literary world's first iconic "rock star," I'll simply recount my two encounters with the widely read author and then I'll let Gaiman speak for himself.
The first time I met Gaiman was in a little comic shop I used to frequent in Sherman Oaks, California, called Forbidden Planet (sadly, it's no longer there). The Sandman had been in print less than a year and Gaiman was several years off from becoming the superstar he is today. Thus, I found him seated alone at the back of the store, making his rounds, promoting the book from store to store, city to city and God knows where else. There he sat as the rush of comic collectors wound their way around the store pawing through the week’s comics deciding which ones to buy and which they were just going to just read off the rack.
Being an avid comic book reader, I had stumbled across The Sandman when it first hit the stands earlier that year so I knew how prolific that guy in the dark sunglasses and leather jacket was. I headed home and retrieved my back issues, and then made my way back to the back of Forbidden Planet. Gaiman and I spoke for several minutes, then he signed my books.  On my way out I picked up a copy of Sandman # 8 that DC had sent along with Gaiman as a giveaway.  Apparently there was a misprint in the run and they were earmarked to be destroyed. Rather than waste them, DC decided to give them away for free.  I’m told its quiet rare.  Only 800 were printed.  I got one.
My other cool Gaiman story took place several years later. My wife at the time, (which is code for my now “ex-wife”) knew I was a fan of The Sandman books so she wrote to Gaiman and asked if he would draw a sketch for me as an anniversary gift.  Needless to say, he did.
I’m guessing it’s probably rare too.

Gaiman was kind enough to take a few minutes out of his busy schedule to answer some questions for The Write Blog.  If you don’t know who he is, you’ve led a very sheltered existence. Back when he first created The Sandman he was simply know as an English comic book writer. These days he is referred to as an author of science fiction and fantasy short stories and novels, graphic novels, comics, audio theatre, and films. He has won numerous awards, including the Hugo, Nebula, and Bram Stoker, as well as the 2009 Newbery Medal and is the author of Stardust, American Gods, Coraline, and The Graveyard Book. And of course, his most notable work to date remains The Sandman series.

Jeffrey Berman: I read that you once said, “I'm not really an adult novelist, or a short story writer, or a screenplay writer, or a poet or a comic writer or a radio play writer or a playwright or a children's author. If I'm anything, I'm a storyteller.” What do you see as the difference between a writer and a storyteller?
Neil Gaiman: These days most storytellers are writers; not all writers can (or do) tell stories. I think what I was trying to get at there was that for me the story is the most important thing. The medium for the story is less important, except as far as it makes the story shine, like a setting for a jewel.

JB: In what way does your writing differ now from earlier on in your career?
NG: It's less exciting and less scary. When I started out there were a lot of things I knew I couldn't do, and a lot of things I only found out I couldn't do by going and doing it. And no-one was watching and nobody cared. These days there are a lot of things I know I can do (but I don't want to repeat myself) and too many people watching.

JB: Myths play such a big part in your work.  What is it about the “old stories” that appeals so much to you? What is their importance to you as a writer?
NG: I don't know why I love them (do we ever know why we love?) but I do, and they make me happy, and I try to pass on that happiness.
JB: You spent ten years crafting the mythology that went into the Sandman. What kind of research did you do before you began writing it and how much more was required on your decade long journey with Morpheus? Did you always know where the story would end or was it something you came upon as you were writing it?
NG: I knew where it would end. The research was a combination of 26-36 years of reading everything I could, combined with mad cramming whenever I had any story that demanded historical accuracy.

JB: How do you decide what medium is best suited to tell a story when you begin writing it, whether it’s a screenplay, a novel or a comic book?  Is one more challenging than the other and if so, in what way?
NG: They're all challenging. It's just a different set of challenges each time. I tend to pick based on gut feeling and what I would like to see. Sometimes I'm wrong. I kept starting ANANSI BOYS as a movie and stopping, and eventually wrote the novel and was happy.

JB: Can you share any writing tips or techniques that you use or have developed?  For instance, I’ve read that music is a big part of your writing ritual.
NG: Anything that keeps you happy and writing is part of my writing ritual: I like music, so I tend to have it playing in the background. But if I'm interested I can write in an airport waiting areas. The biggest tip is just to do it. Put one word after the other until you've made something that didn't exist before.

JB: How do you know when something you’ve written is finished or at least good enough to let go?
NG: I start thinking about the next thing. That's how I know the last thing is approaching the end.

If you’d like to know about what Neil Gaiman is up to you can follow him on his weblog at

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