Neil Gaiman, Prince of Stories

OK, so despite the slightly confusing title line, this isn’t a review of the book about Neil Gaiman titled Prince of Stories (though that is coming), but instead a brief discussion of my trip to see Neil Gaiman in Seattle this past Sunday.

The first thing to say about Neil is that he is absolutely charming.  It may be that messy mop of hair, coupled with an ever-growing beard (though I hear it may be gone now).  It may be his soft-spoken British accent.  It may be (after reading what I’ve typed so far) because I’ve apparently got a bit of a man-crush on him.  But he has this presence and speaks very well on many different subjects, from his books, to his life, to weird little bits of Doctor Who history.

Gaiman began his talk by summerizing the story of American Gods as such, “A man named Shadow is released from prison and employed by a man whom he discovers is one of the Old Gods.  And then, shit happens to him.” (not an exact quote, but the spirit is there)

He then began reading aloud from the new edition of American Gods, which contains the Author’s Preferred Text, that is approximately 12,000 words mostly coming from his original manuscripts.  The American and British versions were also compared to make a version of American Gods that is as close to the original document that was submitted to his editors more than a decade ago.

(It is worth noting that this exact version of American Gods was presented in a limitation of 750 copies by the now defunct Hill House Publishers back in 2003, which now retails for $450 and up on most rare book sites.  Gaiman’s desire to make this “definitive” version of the text available to more readers led to this tenth anniversary publication.)

After reading two well-chosen passages, Neil sat down with fellow author Maria Dahvana Headley to discuss a great many things.  Topics of conversation mostly were about American Gods and how it came to be in the present form, as well as how it came to be initially (most of which is also covered in the Introduction to the new edition).

Conversations dipped into other topics of Gaiman’s life, including, but not limited to:  Doctor Who (both about the episode he wrote recently for the show and his childhood fear of Daleks), Sandman, touring with his wife Amanda Palmer (of Dresden Dolls fame), writing in his garden, the state of his beard, comic books, Douglas Adams, and much more.

At the end of the event, Gaiman and Headley fielded some questions from the audience (1000 strong, at least, and about a third had questions, of which they had time for around ten).

Most thrilling for me was that Gaiman was not only aware of, but had also read Harry Stephen Keeler, author of such novels as The Man With Magic Eardrums, The Skull of the Waltzing Clown, The Case of the Two-Headed Idiot, and I Killed Lincoln at 10:13.  Keeler is best known (if one can even call such a little known author best known) for complex plots and generally bad writing.  But I’d recommend tracking down a book of his and trying him out (any book, I’ve read a few and they’re all equally… complex).  Gaiman referenced him by saying that he wouldn’t read good literature if he was suffering from writer’s block.  Instead, he would read bad writers to say, “Well at least I’m writing better than this.”  Apologies to the ghost of Harry Stephen Keeler.

The final question asked of Gaiman was who were his own personal gods in the world of writing.  First was Douglas Adams, who would be the god of “backing awkwardly into a vase, knocking it over and breaking it, and then looking at the pieces in a completely different way from anyone else” (once again, not a direct quote, but the spirit is there).

Second in Gaiman’s Pantheon was Alan Moore, hairy erstwhile writer of Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Batman: The Killing Joke, Lost Girls, etc.  In Gaiman’s group of gods, Moore would be the god of looming.  Gaiman then followed up this proclamation with a frighteningly spot on impersonation of Alan Moore, which was by far the best part of the evening.

I walked away from the evening in great spirits and with signed copies of the newest edition of American Gods, as well as Coraline, The Graveyard Book, and Odd and the Frost Giants.

Next up, I’ll be digging into a couple small press titles (The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine by Alina Bronsky and Death at the Flea Circus by David Barker, and a double post covering the new text of American Gods and Prince of Stories (mentioned at the head of this post).

For games?  Well, if I ever get back to that, I’m currently plugging away at the original Legend of Zelda and am planning another trip through A Link to the Past as well, so I’ll have some kind of Zelda action in the coming weeks.


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