At the last minute, a friend provided me with a ticket to see Neil Gaiman at DAR Constitution Hall. This was a pleasant surprise, and it turned out to be a very fun evening. I’ve always enjoyed Mr. Gaiman’s work, and he is extremely witty and charming in person. The man is a born storyteller, and last night’s event brought that home to me yet again.
Local author Keith Donohue prepped the audience with a short, enthusiastic introduction. Mr. Gaiman then took the stage, riffling through a very thick stack of index cards – questions submitted in advance by audience members. He proceeded to spend the next 90 minutes or so alternating between answering various questions from the cards (he claimed that there were a lot of good ones this time) and reading stories and passages from his work.
He talked about a wide range of subjects, but the topic always came back to writing. He discussed the special rewards of writing for children, who can develop real world strength and self-reliance through reading about strong and empathetic characters. He reminisced about his collaboration with Terry Pratchett on Good Omens, comparing the opportunity to having Michelangelo call you up and ask if you want to work with him on painting a ceiling. He revealed how many of his well known stories started as “stolen” observations about the lives of his children, and how excited – and terrified – he is to be expecting another child in his life in the next few months. And he gave simple, direct advice to prospective writers in the audience – just write. Finish stories.
Gaiman’s humor was always present. He repeatedly poked fun at his own off-kilter view of the world – asking booksellers about horror books for five-year-olds or comparing the setup of The Graveyard Book to The Jungle Book. He laughed at his arcane process for selecting content for his short story collections. He even joked that he had to remind himself not to swear when the Newbery Award committee called to tell him he had won the award – those of you who have seen or heard about his acceptance speech for his first Hugo Award will understand…
His readings were also wonderful. Not all authors are skilled at the art of public reading, but Gaiman has the ability to inject a high level of drama and character into his readings. I find myself very engaged whenever I hear Gaiman read, and I encourage other writers to listen, learn, and develop their own public reading skills.
So, thanks for an entertaining and thoughtful evening, Mr. Gaiman. You’ve inspired me to make a commitment – I need to dive deep into the archives and get at least one of your Fast Forward interviews converted and posted on the YouTube channel!Share