On Sunday, October 4, my husband Matt and I went to see Neil Gaiman reading at the Cleveland Public Library. Amazingly, this event was free. I mean, I would have paid to see Neil read, but free is fantastic. Our libraries rock. Matt is wonderfully supportive of my fan-girl-ness. It probably helps that he is also a big fan of Neil Gaiman’s writing and comic books.
I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of crowd. I figured either, yeah, it’s Neil Gaiman, so they’ll be lining up around the block (this is what actually happened) or this is Cleveland, so no one will find out about it, and there will be 14 people in a huge auditorium yelling, “We love you Neil!”
There ended up being over a thousand people, all radiating happiness and hero worship. Not everyone fit in the main room, which I think holds about 700 people. Another few hundred people were shuffled into an overflow room across the hall, where I suppose they watched on TV screens. Still more were turned away entirely. Matt and I got there at noon, two hours early, and managed to get great seats in the middle. The first fan started the line absurdly early in the morning.
Neil’s fans are an odd assortment of hippie-crafters, goths, metal-biker types, and general misfits, most of whom are much friendlier than they look. The bookworm connection probably helps. Matt, who is usually by far the social one in our pairing, accused me of being a social butterfly for once. It’s just easier to talk to people who are a bit batty over fantasy and such. Cult audiences are so much fun. Also, yes, a real bat got into the building, flapping spookily among the rafters, which only seemed fitting. Neil himself is super friendly, which didn’t surprise me, but he is also rather adorable, which did. The grim visage he carries around doesn’t really translate in person.
We got to hear the first ever reading (I think) of Odd and the Frost Giants, a short novel he wrote for World Book Day, which I’d never even heard of until the reading (the day, not the book, but actually, I’d never heard of either). Apparently authors and publishers put out 100-page books for free, children are given book tokens and get to choose from (I think) nine books. I’d never heard of it because it’s the world outside of the US (just UK and other island-y parts of Europe actually). Shame, it sounds like a good idea.
We heard about projects including an upcoming trip to China (which now, a month later, he's just finished) to research a nonfiction book on China, and a short story about a man whose imaginary girlfriend comes to life (which he has since completed and had accepted). During the question and answer section, Neil made sure to get a couple questions from the overflow room, and took a few questions from kids (there were quite a few in the audience), including “Do you remember signing a girl’s foot in Portland?” He’s a fantastic speaker, and of course most of his fans already know he’s a wonderful reader. I’ve listened to his audio books before, but I was still sort of amazed at his vocal range with characters, particularly reading Odd and the Frost Giants. I really did feel as though I were a little kid again, listening to the bear voices in a faerie tale. Afterward he signed books and possibly feet.
Actually he’s a saint. He signed for everyone that wanted something. I’m not sure what time he left, but Matt and I finally made it out with our signed books at about 6 pm, and I know Neil was supposed to leave to catch a plane at 4:30. So yeah. Saint.
In high fan-girl fashion, I had sketched Neil a picture: a caricature of Neil. As he put it: “Oh, it’s me! Beekeeping! With a three-headed Cabal!” So I think he liked it, even though my friend Jack told me I was being creepy.
I was giddy, and emotionally drained from being giddy, for the next several days. It was an amazing day and I got to give Neil my drawing, and we got some books signed, and heard part of a new story, and got a teaser about what he was working on next, and generally heard him talk about what he does and what it’s like. It was an unbelievable way to spend a day, especially sharing it with Matt. Even if I didn’t get to eat more than a cookie and a half between waking up and 7 pm dinner. Totally. Worth it.