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The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Up close and personal with Neil Gaiman

By Tatiana Craine

When I found out I had a chance to interview the man I have been idolizing since I was fifteen, I nearly died. The fact that I was seeing Neil Gaiman was enough to turn me into a giddy fan girl. However, the reality that I was going to be talking to him one-on-one was both exhilarating and terrifying. What would I say to the writer that has been next to Tolkien and Lermontov in my literary pantheon for years? His reading took place Oct. 8 at the United Church of Christ.After waiting in the lobby for a few minutes, I was taken into a back room where Gaiman was waiting for me. A squeaky “Hi” escaped my lips as I shook his hallowed hand. That was when I realized I was no longer breathing. Trying to buy myself some time to save face, I plugged in my rented 1980s tape recorder and ran into a beautiful White German Shepherd that I recognized as Gaiman’s dog, Cabal. I learned that Cabal had been slightly tetchy since Gaiman had been gone on a months-long research trip to China for his newest book on travel. Gaiman’s absolute graciousness and Cabal’s warm eyes made my jitters melt away, and I jumped right in to one of the best experiences of my life.

Tatiana Craine: I’ve heard you feel that chapter four of “The Graveyard Book” is the best thing that you’ve written for both children and adults.

Neil Gaiman: I think it’s probably “The Graveyard Book” is the best thing. Chapter 4 is probably, I don’t know. I have different favorite chapters. They come and they go, and I’ll read one and go, “Oh that was my favorite,” but I think overall “The Graveyard Book” is simply my favorite thing that I’ve done so far. And that’s probably to do with the fact that it’s just better than the thing that I had in my head when I started.

TC: I read it, and it’s wonderful. I loved it.

NG: I was signing down at Red Balloon [pre-signing books for the St. Paul event], and one of these ladies said I haven’t read “The Graveyard Book,” but one of my people who has-she said it’s really heartwarming and nice and I said, “It really is; it’s about family.” And she said, “I thought it would be scary and spooky.” And I said, “Well there’s some of that, but basically it’s about family.”

TC: “The Graveyard Book” is based loosely off Kipling’s “The Jungle Book,” right?

NG: Yep.

TC: And the times when your son was riding his tricycle around graveyards, right?

NG: These things are true.

TC: So where do you get your inspiration for some of your other works like “The Sandman” or “American Gods?”

NG: Oh, “American Gods” came from about four or five different places. It came from sort of a lot things coming together. I had bits of it. I had the idea of these two people meeting on a plane, and I didn’t know who they were or what they were doing there. I had all these – a load of stuff – and then one day I was in Iceland, and I was very jet-lagged and very tired. And I hadn’t slept in a long time and I went to a sort of tourist exhibition they had of the Vikings coming to America and I looked at it, and I thought, “I wonder if they brought their gods with them. And suddenly I had a book. And suddenly I thought, “Okay that thing with those two people, that goes there. And that thing with the cars parked on the ice, going through everyone, that’s in there as well. [Talking to Cabal, who has started to wander off with his leash.] Cabal, come on, just sit. Everyone’s okay. Nobody’s going anywhere. Look, I’m sitting down.

TC: Lately you’ve been dabbling in a new approach to getting your work out there by having “American Gods” or “Neverwhere” free to download online. There’s also this tour where you read a chapter of the book out loud in each city, which is a lot like what Radiohead did with their last album, in terms of marketing. How do you feel about this new method of letting readers see what you’ve done?

NG: I love it! It took me a while to get there because the-originally I’d see people putting up poems or stories of mine up on their websites and I’d say, “Okay, you come down. This is my copyright. It’s wrong. I don’t want this up there.” I never thought, “You’re somehow taking away my audience,” but I did think, this is wrong. And then I started to think about this, and I started to ponder it more and more. And one of the things I realized was somehow, almost without looking, I became huge in Eastern Europe. I became huge in Russia. And I became huge in Poland. I’d never been to Russia and I’d never done any promotion in Russia. And really, the big thing in Russia is that people had put out pirated editions of all of my stuff. I thought that’s really interesting. And I started to realize that I would find music, and what would tend to happen is I’d go “I like this song” and “I like this song” and I’d download a few more and I’d go and find a couple more and then I’d go I like this, but then I’d go and buy an album. And then I’d start buying the albums when they came out. So much of this is just a matter of how do you find your favorite authors. You know, people don’t find their favorite authors by walking into a bookstore and saying “I will have that. Here’s my money. Oh good! I’ve found my favorite author.” They find their favorite author when somebody says, “I just read this thing you’d like, here, tell me what you think,” and then they’d pass it over. Or you’re sitting in a dorm and you notice a book on the floor and the cover looks interesting and you pick it up and start reading the first few pages and then you keep reading it. I don’t think I found any of my favorite authors ever by buying them. I found them in libraries. It’s that process of choosing and picking and being able to try something out. So I started pushing HarperCollins to let me do some of that. And they would go, look, we sell these rights, how can we give them away as well? But the birthday of the blog, the seventh birthday of the blog, was coming up. And I said, “Well, can we give away ‘American Gods’?” and they said, “Yes! Well, no. But you can read it online.” And I said, “Okay.” And they did. And sales of all my books went up 300%, and I was just like, look, that didn’t hurt. So when it came to “Neverwhere,” I said, “Can we do a downloadable ‘Neverwhere’?” And they said, “We can’t do a downloadable ‘Neverwhere’ because people could keep it.” And I said, “What if we had a download that just expires after a month? Which is kind of like taking a book out of a library. You’ve got it for a month. And technically you could download it at the beginning of September or download it at the end of September and you could have it for like 59 days if you wanted.” And they said, “Yeah, okay.” So we did that. I have no idea whether it’s worked or not. On the other hand. I got a call about 25 minutes ago saying that the book [“The Graveyard Book”]had gone in on the children’s list on The New York Times, so I don’t think giving away all the chapters, except tonight’s, has actually hurt [the book] at all. It’s a way for people to find it and find that they like it.

TC: And lastly, you have a huge following at Macalester. So many budding writers there would love to hear any advice that you have for them.

NG: The trouble is that the only good, useful, sensible advice that I can give to writers is all. stupid. And very basic. Because the biggest piece of advice you can give to anyone who says “I want to be a writer” is, write. ‘Cause elves will not do it for you. They will not come in the night and write it for you. And most people who want to be writers will tell you about all the things they’ve started. Which means the second thing you get to. They say, “I’ve started four novels and all these short stories,” and the next thing is that you have to finish things. And starting things and finishing things and writing -that’s the big thing. Everything else after that is details. You know, yes, you should read a lot. Yes, you should get out there and experience life. The biggest difference between a talented 16-year-old writer and a talented 28-year-old writer who’s really as good as t
he 16-year-old, is the 16-year-old doesn’t really know how things work. And hasn’t actually been battered a little bit. And so really doesn’t have anything to write about. So going out and getting battered and finding out as much as you can about life. I loved being a journalist. It meant that I could go ask nosey questions of people in every walk of life. You sort of go, “Oh, there are these people and there are these people and there are these people and that’s how that works,” and it’s really good for being a writer. Journalism is good too. Anything that forces you to make words is good.

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