Neil Gaiman is a gentleman. I had always suspected as much, but after my recent Q&A conference call with him, it was confirmed.
Let me back up a bit. I have long been an admirer of Neil’s work. My first introduction was his magnificent opus, The Sandman graphic novel series. I was entranced with how he combined humor, pathos and allusions from pop culture to Greek mythology to reinvigorate the graphical novel format. I was so inspired that my musician friend Paul and I used it as the starting point for a gothic opera, Veil & Subdue.
After that, I couldn’t get enough. Neverwhere was a particular favorite, then Coraline, then American Gods and Anansi Boys and so on. In brief, he was on my short list of writers who transcended simple fantasy into the fantastical. Thus, when the opportunity to do a Q&A on behalf of Blogcritics showed up, I nearly broke my laptop’s touchpad in my haste to claim it.
It was my first official Q&A and I was so nervous. I had fewer than 20 hours to prepare a question for someone whom I considered not only extremely talented, but supportive to other writers and readers (more on that later).
Naturally, I slept not a wink. Questions floated through my head; I plucked haplessly at them like dandelion seeds: some were too obvious, some too pandering and a few too cutesy.
The hour of the conference call arrived. I dialed in early and listened to the hold music. The instructions came on: Press *1 if you have a question. “Oh, do I,” thought I. Done, I pressed the keypad.
And then Neil Gaiman came on the line. He was as witty and self-effacing as I had imagined, with a wonderful speaking voice – sonorous, yet gentle. His answers were humorous and diplomatic. One reporter asked him if he felt there was something missing in the current glut of vampire, werewolf and zombie books. His response went straight to the point, which is about diminishing literary returns with the loss of passion:
“There’s always this problem in any form of literature. [Books] happen because the time is right for them and they get written by people who believe in them…whether it’s wizards or vampires –whatever. Other people look around and go, ‘Oh, this is a way to make money or a way to cash in.’ They mean less and less; it’s like old-style photocopies. You photocopy a copy of a copy and pretty soon you end up with a grey sheet of paper with lines on them.”
Neil Gaiman is a tireless advocate for writers. Here is his latest advice to those suffering through National Novel Writer’s Month (NaNoWriMo). He also supports readers of all ages, as the founder of All Hallows Read and countless other literary projects. He spoke eloquently on the importance of books to kids, regardless of whether the books themselves are perceived as quality: “The truth is that when kids encounter books, they bring themselves to them. The place you find the magic can be anywhere…because you’re bringing yourself as a reader to it.”
I enjoyed his answers and sat quietly, waiting my turn until the moderator said, “OK, there are no more questions, so thank you Mr. Gaiman.”
Fortunately, our phones were muted, because I wailed, “NOoooOOoooOO!” and pressed buttons, to no avail. I had botched it; the system had beaten me. I was not going to get a question answered by Neil Gaiman.
In despair, I popped onto Twitter and sent this:
“I was on the conference call and system didn’t pick up that I had a ?: As far as performing dialogue, do you ever act out your own while writing or was this a completely new experience?”
It was a half-hearted hope. I had been following his Twitter account since I joined, six months ago, but he has 1.6 million followers. Imagine my shock when this popped up:
…and then he answered my question.
Such a small courtesy, yet so unexpected. He was likely weary of the questions and the strained Q&A format – the long silences and the stutters as each participant was piped in and out.
I responded with:
“Did you enjoy being Simpsonized? Do you feel more yellow-ish now?”
And he said:
And so that, dear reader, is how I got a personal answer to my question. So I hope you had a chance to watch The Simpsons on Sunday, because it features the voice of Neil Gaiman, New York Times best-selling writer and a true gentleman. Also now in yellow.
The Book Job Episode Synopsis
Lisa loses faith in the legitimacy of the “tween lit” industry and decides to pen her own novel. Homer, once informed of the lucrative opportunities, assembles a team to write the next big tween best-seller. Neil Gaiman as Himself joins the group to lend a seasoned writer’s eye, but the Springfield crew ends up with more than they expect in The Book Job, a parody of The Italian Job.
Neil Gaiman is a New York Times best-selling author and the recipient of numerous literary awards. His novels include Neverwhere, Stardust, American Gods, Anansi Boys and Good Omens with Terry Pratchett, as well as a children’s book author. Although originally from England, he currently lives in America. He is not, in fact, yellow.
You can visit Gaiman at his official site.