Some authors make a place inside your brain so that you feel you’ve always known them. This is an illusion of course, they’re real people with an existence outside of their fiction, but the idea is oddly persuasive, so much so that when I first considered buying my ticket for one of the American Gods 10th Anniversary book tour events I had to stop and think hard whether I had ever seen or met Neil Gaiman. Surely I must have?
But no, I’ve read his books and comics (although Sandman only very recently) and I follow him on Twitter. I’ve seen the movies based on his work, Stardust in particular charming me immensely. I’ve heard him on podcasts and reading his own work, the CDs for Fragile Things sit on my shelf, and “Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House
of the Night of Dread Desire” never, ever gets old. And he’s a presence in the circles I pay attention to and sometimes travel in, a fellow traveler if you will. But I have not, in fact, ever seen him in person. How odd. So I got the ticket and headed to Berkeley last June 27, crossing a tunnel for an event! If you’re a San Franciscan, you know how momentous this is. Not just that, it was on a Monday. I had planned to go to Death Guild with some friends, so I had to plan my outfit accordingly. Fortunately, casual Goth looks pretty much like Gaiman cosplay so that worked out fine in a creepy fan sort of way.
The line was long and the lack of organization from the folks running the event a bit surprising, but eventually we were all seated in the lovely, brightly decorated First Congregational Church, which had flame-colored banners hanging from the ceiling and a brilliant stained glass window in the nave. Being a rock star of the genre, he of course had an opening act. In this particular case a local singer by the name of Zoe Boekbinder who played guitar and did some live looping.
Another surprise, which I only found out via Twitter while already seated was that Adam Savage, of Mythbusters fame, would be conducting the interview. He did a great job of it and besides clearly having a good rapport with Gaiman, knows Gaiman’s work and often referenced specific scenes in American Gods with phrases like “my favorite bit was.”
Gaiman then took audience questions, each of which he answered thoughtfully regardless of their content or whether he must have heard them before. He is clearly one of those authors who interacts well with an audience primarily because he is honestly interested in the conversation. He comes across as warm and funny but more than that as a fellow geek, and nowhere was this more clear than when the conversation turned to Doctor Who. Interesting as was he was talking about his own work and the process of writing American Gods, he truly lit up when talking about being on set and writing for the show, and his own memories and history with it prior to that. He also mentioned working on a novelization of “The Doctor’s Wife”, which would include backstory that did not make it into the episode.
He stood at the pulpit and read from American Gods, one of the scenes that I most vividly remembered, probably because it is set in San Francisco. Specifically, my old stomping grounds of Upper Haight, and deals with the sort of vague fashionable pagans I knew quite a few of around the time I first read the book.
He also talked a little about a John Cameron Mitchell’s working on a filmed version of “How to Talk to Girls at Parties”, his planned sequel to Anansi Boys and unplanned but living in his head prequels and/or sequels to various other works including Stardust and Sandman. He said he had no new information on the HBO adaptation of American Gods other than that it is in good hands.
Due to time constraints, he pre-signed books rather than staying after to do so. Normally, I don’t bother getting signed books unless they are personalized to me, and seeing his tweets (and later, photos) of the giant piles he had to sign, I felt a little guilty having signed up for the ticket+book, but I almost immediately reread it cover to cover taking precious time from my Hugo Voters Packet reading schedule and ruining any collectible-mintness of the hardcover, but it was utterly worth it to visit that world again.
SF/SF Issue #119, July 27, 2011