by Frank Lewis
“I know that people in Cleveland are, theoretically, like people in other places,” said author Neil Gaiman Sunday afternoon, in a soft British accent. “But I don’t know what people in Cleveland want to know.” A mob wanted to know anything Gaiman would talk about.
According to the library, a crowd of over 1,000 turned up. Fans began lining up before 11 a.m. for the 2 p.m. event. An hour before it kicked off, the line was a block long. The event nearly didn’t happen at all. Gaiman had the flu, and was talking about canceling appearances in Cleveland and Toledo (Monday), but girlfriend Amanda F. Palmer (formerly frontwoman of the Dresden Dolls) tweeted that she’d badgered Gaiman into keeping his commitment.
Gaiman’s reputation has been growing steadily for over two decades, from his work in comics (including Sandman) to children’s literature (Coraline, now a movie), picture books (The Wolves in the Walls), and adult fantasy fiction (American Gods). Last year’s The Graveyard Book has been on The New York Times bestsellers for a full year. It won a Newbery Medal, which is given to authors for the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. (Gaiman mow lives in Minnesota.)
Gaiman is also a noted reader: He performed the audiobook version of The Graveyard Book, which won the Audio Publishers Association’s Audiobook of the Year award for 2009. And his reading/question-and-answer session delivered such a performance. Gaiman claimed he was winging it, explaining, “If I don’t plan too much, nothing can actually go wrong.”
The writer read from his new book, Odd and the Frost Giants, and The Graveyard Book. Between, he answered questions and talked about his life as a reader and a writer.
“I was the kind of kid who, if he was confronted with a book, would read it.” He recalled his family frisking him for books before he entered family events. After he discovered C.S. Lewis (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) at the age of 6, a steady diet of Rudyard Kipling, Clevelander Harlan Ellison, poetry, and more left him wanting to be the one writing stories — and using parenthetical notes when possible.
Highlights from the talk:
• Gaiman is working on an adult short story, tentatively titled “The Trouble with Cassandra,” for an upcoming collection. It’s about a 30-something man who, as a teenager, had created an imaginary girlfriend. And 20 years later, she starts turning up, contacting his friends and connecting via Facebook.
• He’ll spend next year working on a nonfiction book about the mythologized story of the Chinese monk that traveled to India and back to bring original Buddhist texts to his country. In the legendary version of the story, the monk is accompanied by magic beasts, including a dragon and monkey. “It’s been 22 years since I did a nonfiction book,” he said. “So I decided I’d better do another before I’d forgotten how.”
• He loves poetry, enjoys writing it, and may collect his work into a single volume. Interestingly, he said writing poetry is not unlike writing for comics: “You’re using the same engines, coiling the words very tightly."
• Though he prefers wearing black, his favorite color is green.
• The afternoon’s only disappointment involved pie. Gaiman, via his Twitter account (@neilhimself), has been promising “pie for everybody” if The Graveyard Book remained on the bestseller list for a year. Last week was the 52nd week, but when Gaiman entered the auditorium, he came without pie. The author said he calculated what pie for the entire planet would have cost, then abandoned the plan. But he does, he said, plan to buy 16 large pies for the children of his publisher’s staff.
• Not surprisingly, he’s big on reading for children. “Your imagination,” he said, “is the most invaluable thing you can possess.”
Gaiman made good on his praise for the children. After he spoke, fans lined up around the auditorium, and all through the building, waiting for a signature. Gaiman signed for approximately 50 families with children first. He’d planned to leave by 4:30, but stayed until 7 p.m., signing items for each of the approximately 700 fans who’d waited, adding pictures around his script name.
Gaiman’s appearance marked the launch of the Writers & Readers series, which will feature novelist Ann Patchett, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and others at future events. — D.X. Ferris