So, as I said, I have things to say about the Town Hall/University Bookstore event I did with Neil Gaiman in Seattle on June 26. Neil talked about it on his blog days ago, because he is better than I am.
Here is a photo from said event, taken by my friend Victoria Kieburtz, who was in the audience. I suspect, from the look on my face, that this is midway through Neil giving a speech about turning off one’s cellphone, even if you are using it as a camera and have forgotten that it is in fact a phone, even if you are the sort of person who never ever gets a call. Because, you will get a call. And then people will want you to die. You yourself will want to die.
More about that in a moment. Now it’s July 8th. Dear god. I don’t know how time is passing this way, except that I’m writing a book, and hours pass in moments. This is a good thing. Sometimes when you’re writing (or revising) (or for those who are crazy like me, simultaneously writing AND revising) a book, the days stretch to infinity, and yet Nothing The Fuck Gets Accomplished. Maybe you move a comma. Move it again. Crumple said comma and throw it out, grab it back again, try vainly to put it in again.
And it is significant that when I just attempted to type “comma” I typed “condom” instead.
Hell. I trust my typos. I’ll go there instead of where I was planning to go. Revising – she said, completely seriously – can, in fact, be like unskilled, enthusiastic-but-spastic teenage sex.
Stay with me.
The kind wherein you don’t quite understand where things are supposed to go, and so you spend more time trying to figure out how to put the condom on without sticking your thumbs through it (16 years), than you spend actually doing the deed (3 minutes).
This is so true of revising. It can take WAY LONGER to revise a manuscript than it took to write the first draft. So, you know, metaphorically, you twitch the condom around, try different brands, trying to get it to feel right. It never quite does. Maybe because you’re putting the thing on inside out. Or because you believed that dude who told you you should use the ones made of delicate baby lambs.
Or, you know, if you’re the girl, you’re sometimes looking wild-eyed at the whole thing, thinking Dear God, I Have No Idea. What The Hell? For example.*
The sorrow of revising, really, is that you grow your virginity back every time. It never seems to get better. Sex does. You learn how to do it. Revising is different for every project.
Each time, it’s a whole new partner, and sometimes said partner is equipped with parts you’ve never encountered before. Six legs, yo. Forty-seven mouths, and you’re having to DEAL WITH THAT MADNESS. Dental dams?
I’m not in that place right now, thank god. I’m first drafting. Which is like falling in love, rather than like bad teenage sex. Everything I write makes me think I’m a genius just now. Give me a few months. I’ll be cursing the name of this beloved, and wondering why we ever started dating in the first place, because clearly, said beloved will now have revealed himself to have perhaps giant gaping holes in the middle of his heart, and thirteen penises. Which will need to be, um, dealt with.
Wow. That was a departure from what I was meant to be talking about. Never ask me for writing advice. I’m a pornographic hazard. Also, probably I should never speak to children.
Okay. Onward. I grabbed some clips from Youtube of this event I did with Neil at Seattle’s Town Hall.I think there was official video too, but I haven’t seen it. So, these are cell phone videos from the audience.
We were in the greenroom backstage for a while, because of the spectacular fact that there were a kabillion people. Not a kabillion (I realize, this figure, questionable) but 1000-ish, and a line around the block, because mysteriously, in the Gaiman Fan World, everyone’s last name begins with A-M, and so there was one gigantic line, and another very tiny, and it took a while to figure out what had happened. Neil had been suffering an extensively crappy day involving accidentally sending his hotel room phone number and room number out into the Whole World via a TwitterFail. He’d also pre-signed many many books. I’m not sure he still had feeling in his fingers. Had I been Neil, I would have just had one shriveled left Monkey’s Paw of a signing hand. (Not a happy outcome either, the monkey’s paw signing hand – it can grant wishes, yeah, but just as in the story, the kind of wishes a shriveled signing hand might grant are not wishes you’d want granted.)
Molly Lewis, ukulele lady extraordinaire opened up for us – Neil had noticed via Twitter that she was showing up as audience, and messaged her to come play, and honestly, who doesn’t like a little ukulele song? Here’s Molly, singing a killer funny immodest proposal to Stephen Fry (not from the event – I don’t see any video of that night, but this is one of the songs she sang.) Molly is lovely. Also, her man had on devastating lavender wingtip shoes, which I coveted. She rocked the house, basically, and put everyone who’d been waiting a while back into an excellent mood.
And then it was time for us. There were complications. Somewhere, I’m sure, someone’s got a photo of me (5’3″) standing onstage next to Duane Wilkins from University Bookstore (6’8″-ish), with both of us looking baffled, and as though we’re doing some sort of vaudeville.
There was confusion. It was that kind of day. So, Duane was meant to introduce me, and then I was supposed to introduce Neil and then Neil was supposed to come out, but something went sideways, and Duane and I ended up onstage together, looking at each other in fuddlement as Duane introduced Neil, and as Neil came out.
Rather, as he says in the below clip, Neil was suddenly thrust onstage, and we looked at each other going, hmm, and kind of cracking up. It was fine, though. Neil declared himself invisible, and I introduced him anyway. Because hell, I had many nice things to say about the man. I wasn’t going to not say them.
This one, two clips, one of Neil arriving early onstage. The next of him reading from American Gods, very beautifully. Like most people in the room, I’d have been down to listen to him read all night. Neil’s a deservedly decorated reader. Some authors read from their own work and find themselves sweating and panting. Neil’s great at it. See clip.
After he read, we sat down to talking. I asked Neil about the genesis of American Gods. Normally, this question – the one where you ask a writer where he gets his ideas, is not allowed. None of us like it. It makes for sarcasm, typically, and internally, we’re all saying snarkily, Dude, the Idea TREE, what do you think?
But I knew that the genesis of American Gods was a really interesting story, and Neil is eminently equipped to tell such a story, so, I asked. Neil obliged by going into detail on topics ranging from the initial image of a man sitting down on a plane next to a stranger and the stranger telling him he was late (Seriously, if that image appears in your brain, how could you NOT write a book? It kills.) to Iceland, jet lag derangement, window blind fails, and lack of sunsets, to the weirdness of America, people waiting ritualistically for cars to fall through ice on a lake, to the nature of thinking about America as someone who has come into this country as a foreigner himself. Somewhere in there I asked about whether or not he now found the UK to be weird too – and he talked a bit about Neverwhere and writing a book about Weird London from America as a means of dealing with missing the UK.
I, was, of course, onstage, and therefore not taking notes, so I’ve got nothing in the way of direct quotations. Sad, too, as Neil said tons of incredibly smart, funny things. But-
Writer Dana Hunter was at the event and wrote a couple of very nice recaps of it here, and here, with some video and photos.** She does a much better job than I could do as far as quotations are concerned.
Here is Neil talking about writing for Dr. Who – the video is less than spectacular, but the audio is good. This was in response to an audience question about whether writing for the show was exhilarating or terrifying. He talks in depth, eloquently and hilariously about many topics, including the joy of daleks, and of the discovery that they were unable to see the color red, “which I thought was brilliant, except that there were red daleks” and of being a small child, watching the show from behind the couch in his grandparent’s house, as well as about how he ended up writing The Doctor’s Wife.
There were a lot of really wonderful questions from the audience, which I got in notecard format. If you see me in the videos, looking totally distracted, and shuffling cards, that’s why. I was listening to Neil but I was also going through a pile of amazing questions, and trying to sort them into an order so that I could ask a little bit on a lot of topics. There were lots more to cover, and it was a bummer that we couldn’t just go all night. We could have. The last question of the night was my favorite, actually, and it was the following :
Have You Ever Met A God?
What a lovely question. Neil had an equally lovely answer (involving devastating impressions) regarding Alan Moore and Douglas Adams.
Somewhere in there, to bring this post full circle, I asked a question that’s been obsessing me lately, both for real reasons and for ridiculous -because it’s *obviously* not a full-on serious question.
Queen of Kings is my first novel, and the world has changed a lot, very quickly, in terms of author promotions, and what you do to help a book get noticed. That’s the real part. Every author I know thinks about these things – how much promo do you do? How much do you pay for? How much do you put yourself out there? I clarify, this is in ALL scenarios, wither you’re with a major publisher or not, whether you have a 200 copy print run, or a 200,000 copy run. Another author friend of mine and I have been cracking each other up talking about just how far things will go.
We came up with the (terrifying) notion of the Author Sex Tape. People have made careers that way. Leak a little love to Youtube. I mean, it hasn’t hit the author market yet, but…
Think about it. George RR Martin already has a copyright on his personal sextape catchphase, Winter Is Coming.
I asked Neil what, in a world in which things had gone totally crazy, would be his own author sextape catchphrase. Here’s what he said (lots of laughter, but you can hear him):
I love that he told me I was asking this question of a man who’d written a book in which, early on, a gentleman disappears inside a prostitute. I was.
He asked what I would choose for his catchphrase, and I said American God.
He is. Not American, but what the hell. (The phrase English God doesn’t really have the impact, does it?) I love what Neil does in both our genre, and outside it. He is a tireless advocate for libraries, for free speech, for keeping the word of literature full of weirdness, and for, generally, stories. He works his ass off, basically, and he manages to write really fantastic books at the same time.
Rock. On. That’s all I can say. I thank Neil and University Bookstore for inviting me to do this event. I had a great time.
And now, back to my dearly beloved, currently flawless and darling, first draft of a second novel.
PS: While I’m at it, my much-mentioned dear friend Sxip Shirey is doing a Kickstarter Fund Drive right now for his new – absolutely going to be amazing album A Bottle Of Whiskey and a Handful of Bees, and you should certainly go visit that page and watch the video he made. Give him some money! Sxip is another of those American Gods I was just talking about. I donated. He’s done work with me (he scored my book trailer), and with Neil too (he scored Neil’s short film, Statuesque). His own work is just fucking brilliant. He brings it, on instruments real and invented, with breath and bones and marbles, with toy pianos and harmonicas and heart and soul. Yes. Help him make this album.
*I advocate safe sex, don’t get me wrong. Use condoms. Duh.
**I’m posting this even though there are some snarky things about me in the comment section. Sigh. Note: I definitely wasn’t bouncing my leg because I was trying to tell the world that I have nice legs. It was because, HELLO, it was supremely boiling onstage, and I was nervous. But let me say here, this could have been WAY worse. I asked Twitter what I should wear to interview Neil, and it was a straight up dead tie between 1) Child-Size Dalek Costume, and 2) Naked.