Evening With Neil Gaiman,
A Night in Chelsea
an Anonymous Pawn
September 28th, I joined about 700 others at the Fashion Institute
of Technology (FIT) to see
Neil Gaiman. Originally, I'd asked my boss to join me since
she had copyedited two of Neil's books. I was looking forward to
lining up with the hundreds of other nameless, faceless fans but
being able to claim less than six degrees of separation and say,
Hi, Neil, great to meet youby the way, this is your
she declined. She told me authors never appreciate those foul copyeditors
who mangle their precious prose in order to make it perfectly punctuated
and grammatically correct. Besides, she added, I
deal with other authors all the time, and they're all annoying.
at about six-thirty I walked, trotted and jaywalked from midtown,
where I was working at a book publisher who shall go nameless, to
27th and 7th, managing to arrive a little before the reading was
to begin at seven o'clock. I met my friend Richard in front of FIT
and we scurried inside to the Great Hall, where we were tagged,
for some reason then unbeknownst to me, with pink bracelets.
was a dais set up for Neil and his interviewer, writer John
Hodgman, and hard plastic chairs lined up in rows where the
earlier arrivals were sitting. At a table off to the side, Barnes
& Noble employees were selling Neil's latest book, Fragile
Things. Behind this table were some student-lounge-type upholstered,
cushy chairs and sectionals. And here's the good part about coming
late, at first Richard and I and the other fashionably late arrivals
had to stand off to the side of the room, but then the FIT folks
started hauling out those comfy chairs for us (I half expected them
to start poking us with soft cushions and shouting Confess!
down side about comfy chairs is that if you're tired, it's difficult
not to fall asleep. And that's exactly what sleep-deprived Richard
did almost immediately. Quel embarrassing! Yes, Richard was
the one other person at the event who had never heard of Neil before
(not the one who did raise his or her hand when John asked the audience
if there was anyone there who had never heard of Neil before). I
decided to let sleeping friends lie and not bother Richard unless
he started to snore, loll about or fall over, none of which he did,
of Neil's comments: There will be movie versions of Stardust,
Coraline and possibly Death: The High Cost of Living.
That he had started his blog as a way to tell about all the non-writing
aspects of how a book becomes a book, such as copyediting, proofreading,
cover design, blurbs, and getting permission to use lyrics; for
example, in Anansi Boys he decided to paraphrase Under
the Boardwalk after being told it would cost $7,000 to quote
directly. And my favorite comment: writing is not hard, you'll be
okay as long as you remember to leave a saucer of milk outside your
door for the elves.
guy John Hodgman
read a few selections from his book, and then we were told we would
be called to line up according to our designated bracelet colors,
and Neil would sign two things for each of us. And hence the down
side about coming late: the employee we spoke with told us the first
hundred people had received black-and-white bracelets, the next
hundred green, the next blue, and so on, with pink being the last
color and thus the last to be called. She did tell us that, yes,
we could leave and come back and recommended a sushi restaurant,
Coco Sushi. You should try it the next time you're in the neighbhorhood.
we downed tea and sushi, I asked Richard what he thought of Neil.
He said it was obvious that Neil was a kind, goodhearted person.
I was surprised Richard was able to pick that up after what little
he'd actually heard, being off in the land of Dream and all. I'd
been introduced to Neil's Sandman graphic novels back in
the 1980s and at first thought of Neil as being the typical black-shirt,
leather jacket-clad, comics/horror author who was incredibly talented
but probably full of himself, and it wasn't until reading his later
work that I picked up on that compassion in his writing. In fact,
while I admire Neil's amazing ideas and his gift for language, I
can't help but think that maybe his greatest achievement is creating
heroes with depth. Anyone can invent a cool, memorable villain,
but to make the good characters who could so easily be dull, such
as Richard Mayhew, Fat Charlie Nancy and Tristran Thorn, real and
believable is a skill that so many authors lack.
at FIT, Richard decided to bugger off rather than stand in the line
that still circled around the Great Hall. Over the next hour, I
listened to other people's conversations, then tried to tune out
conversations in order to read Fragile Things. I read "The
Problem with Susan"then while reading another story,
I was hit by that wave of I know where this story is going. What
a brilliant idea, why didn't I ever think of this? Then the
story ended differently than I'd thought, which means that the idea
is mine to do something with and that's somewhat depressing because
I probably never will. I also found a "bad break" in another
story, but happily there were no widows, orphans or word ladders
to be found (just a little insider joke).
the clock ticked toward eleven-thirty, I thought about how this
was probably the last time I'd ever stand in line in a crowd to
get an autograph because I can't think of anyone else, except maybe
John Crowley, who I'd be willing to do this for and that I must
be the oldest person here and obviously too old for this sort of
Neil Gaiman autographing
Fragile Things and various other items at the Fashion
Institute of Technology in Manhattan
puzzled over what else to have signed. My notebook? Too inkstained
from a wayward pen. My iPod? No, it's batteries were wearing out
and I'd be exchanging it soon under its extended warranty. Cell
phone? Ditto regarding the battery. My final decision was to have
Neil sign as an organ donor witness on the back of my driver's license.
noticed that Neil wasn't just signing his name over and over, he
was going out of his way to personalize every item, not only writing
dedications but also illustrating: a copy of Fragile Things might
be adorned with a drawing of a butterfly; for Stardust, I
saw him drawing a star and a crescent moon with a face. I'd never
heard of an author/celebrity/what-have-you going that extra few
miles to make hundreds of fans happy.
my turn arrived, I decided to just mumble a thanks or make some
other inane comment and let him move quickly to the next person
so he could get the hell out of there. Besides, I couldn't help
thinking how awful it would be if I said something stupid that would
ruin the moment and somehow kill some of my enjoyment in reading
Neil's work forevermore. He wrote the dedication in my Fragile
Things, then pointed out that he'd misspelled "and"
as "nad", but I said that made it more unique (and so
it does). He also wrote to "dream oddly..." (I always
do) and then he signed my book, then my license, and I walked off....
I realized I was shaking a little as if I'd just met one of the
Beatles, which in a sense, I had.
I headed off to Richard's building a few blocks away. He lives in
a men's SRO and has an extra room for guests. It was really quite
nice except for the bathroom down the hall, which needed some work.
I felt perfectly safe since we were the only ones on the floor aside
from some guy who rarely leaves his room, and Richard says the other
tenants dare not come up because they haven't realized that his
fits of rage are only against his computer, Microsoft and various
electronic gadgets and never directed at another human being.
room faced a grassy lot and I could see the little garden behind
the building next door. I love that about New York, how you can
find all these little hidden enclaves if you know where to look.
I felt a bit like Sara Crewe in A Little Princess looking
out over the rooftops of London from her little attic room. There
was no Melchisedec to tame but I did notice a cockroach scurrying
by. Luckily for him he managed to dart behind the painting canvases
that lined the room and disappeared before I could swat him.
A room with
a view in Chelsea, viewed through the fire escape
Here you can see
the garden outside the neighboring building