Saturday, November 24, 2007

Neil Gaiman: A Gathering of Dreamlings and Nightmares

kSo a few hundred people went to Subic today to attend Neil Gaiman's A Gathering of Dreamlings and Nightmares. Everyone was given a copy of the script to Beowulf with Neil's signature on it and then he gave a reading of the first chapter of his upcoming novel, The Graveyard Book. It was followed by a brief talk and then a Q&A.

Audio Recording:

The Graveyard Book Reading (51:35, 24 MB)
Talk and Q&A (58:06, 27 MB)

The Graveyard Book Introduction Transcript:

Good morning!

This microphone… there are elves!

Right. In spite of the fact that some of you were here 1230 and probably asleep quietly in the background somewhat, one of the reasons I became a writer was to not get up early in the morning. And this qualifies as early and I did really well at the Advertising Congress the other day because that started at 930 and I was still on jet lag American time. My soul was still halfway across the Pacific and my theory is that souls travel at 60 miles an hour, about as fast as the fastest car. This morning it’s finally caught up with me so instead of beginning by giving another talk, I will begin by reading it to you and we’ll see if my writing actually arrived with my entry.

1985 I lived in a very, very tall, very thin house and a shop downstairs and the house itself had about two rooms on each floor and a windy staircase that keeps on going up and I had a son and a baby daughter and we didn’t have a girl. Deep, deep beneath the house, there were blocked up tunnels. This was true. That led to the old graveyard across the road but they were blocked up. You could see where they’ve been. But there was an old graveyard across the road. And that was where I took my son and that was why I wrote each day and that was why he would ride his tricycle and there’s nothing like watching a slow boy riding a brightly-colored tricycle through the gray stones to make you think of a novel so I did. And I tried writing it and it wasn’t good enough. So I put it off a few years and around the time of Good Omens, I thought I was getting quite good at this novel thing and I will try again. And I tried again and it didn’t work. Wrote about teenagers I thought I wasn’t good enough and I will put this away. At about the point I finished Sandman, I thought I’m getting quite good now. I will try this one more time. And I did. And it was rubbish. And I thought what, still not good enough. And about 18 months ago I thought you know, I’m just not getting any better now so whether I’m good enough or not it doesn’t matter so I might as well start writing that book. So 22 years, 22 years after I came up with the idea and 22 years from then, I started writing it. Then I began with chapter four and the book is called The Graveyard Book because I always loved The Jungle Book as a title. I thought all right, this would be a great Jungle Book because in the Jungle Book, he was in a jungle and he was brought up by animals. And here, you’ll be brought up by a graveyard.

So I will read to you some of chapter one and how much of chapter one I read to you, really just depends on whether you’re enjoying it and I’ve read a tiny bit, the first few pages of this at a children’s literature festival in Bath. I’ve read about ten pages of it a few days ago at an academic fantasy conference in Minneapolis so you are going to be getting more of it, your people any of it and you’re going to hear more of it than anybody. So really you are my guinea pigs. If you love my funny writing stay here. If you don’t, it may get rewritten. As you all know it’s ever so slightly disturbing, at least at the beginning.

-Starts Reading-

See, you were actually the first people to hear the entire first chapter. I wasn’t sure when I began but halfway through I thought I’m going through. So you got to hear all of that.

Talk and Q&A Transcript:

So I figure, I’ll talk to you for a little bit and then we’ll go to the question bit of things because I think there are a quite a few questions that came in and we can do as many as we possibly can and that’ll be a good thing.

Those of you standing over there there are function seats up in the front here which probably have some kind of occult purpose that nobody is sitting on them. If you guys want to sit on them, standing people will occupy them, then go for it. I will not stop you.

So tomorrow marks the official release of the two Expeditions books which are the first place and some of the runners up and second and third place of the runners up are winners in the competition that I started with Fully Booked after I came here. I was 2 1/2 years ago. Some of you probably experienced the hell of the Rockwell Tent.

I came away from the Philippines just absolutely inspired by how much artistic talent there was. I would talk to people and people would give me short stories they’ve written, people I have judged a hard competition and was just overwhelmed by the amount of talent here and thought it was amazing. At the same time overwhelmed and very very frustrated because I talked to people here and I kept getting the feeling that people thought that nobody was, nobody was trying out for, people wanting to write for DC Comics wasn’t sending scripts to DC Comics because obviously you’re in the Philippines so why would you send something all the way to America? People wanting to write science fiction won’t send stuff to the big science fiction magazines. People didn’t seem to think they actually could and I thought you know, there’s so much talent there and it needs focusing and I phoned Jaime Daez and Fully Booked and we chatted about this and we came up with the idea of putting together a competition and just getting people to write and draw and do comics and write stories and just encouraged and see what we got out of it and we got some absolutely terrific stuff in the first round of the competition and a lot of that is being published and officially launched tomorrow and I get to read the winners and the finalists and stuff of the second round of the competition today before we get to announce the various winners tomorrow and I’m really excited about it. One of the reasons I’m excited about it is just the idea of encouraging fantasy in the Philippines. I got, I have this frequently asked questions line in my website which people use to send stuff in. I got up this morning and the question that had come in from somebody this morning was why, do you think you’re going to write something that doesn’t have the supernatural in it or magic. I thought the honest answer to that is I could sit here and list several dozen things that I’ve written that are mainstream fiction from Signal to Noise or Up Run Down (?). But I love using fantasy. Fantasy is a marvelous metaphor, fantasy is a wonderful way to make things solid. And fantasy also, for me, is the, it’s the mainstream of literature. I think all fiction is fantasy. If you go back 5,000 years ago, the stuff that we got from there from ancient Egypt, it’s what we would consider fantasy. It’s also exactly what we would consider literature. Moving forward, we get the Greeks, we get the Odyssey, we get the Illiad. Again, it’s what we have for literature and it’s fantasy. We have the great playwrights and we have Aeschylus and Euripedes and these guys. And what they’re writing is what we would now consider fantasy. Moving forward again, we run into things like Beowulf with its monster fighting and dragon fighting is the root of half of pretty much half of what we got right now in the fantasy field. We got Shakespeare who found no need at all to say okay, these are the real plays, Henry IV part nineteen or whatever. And here are the ones with fairies, witches, or ghosts they belong on a different shelf. They’re all part of the same thing. The threesome --- by Charles Dickens. You’re looking at a world in which obviously a great writer can not only have spontaneous human combustion but also have a miser getting visited by three ghosts over the course of one magical Christmas night without the need to go and take that book and stick it on the fantasy shelves. It was the best tool for what he needed to do. Doing a story about Christmas, you’re doing a story about time and regret, and you’re doing a story on a change by one night’s either dreaming or being forced by ghosts to reinspect their life. Why? It’s the perfect tool. And it was only in, I can continue it being the perfect tool really until Tolkien and JRR Tolkien is to fantasy what a large bowling ball is to a rubber sheet. Everything gets stretched out of shape, everything twists, everything distorts. Although oddly enough Tolkien was not writing a fantasy. He wasn’t writing something that was going to put on the fantasy shelves of the bookshop. Because there were no fantasy shelves on the bookshop when Tolkien was writing. His book was reviewed by the great poet WH Auden in the New York Times and simply reviewed as a great novel. But Lord of the Rings as I said was a bowling ball on a rubber sheet. Simply by existing it changed everything and was published—the last volume was published in the mid-1950s, around 1955. By about 1965, it had started to become an underground classic and by around 1968, with the rise of the hippie movement, it was now an overground classic. By 1970 people wanted more things like that and there was a man called Lin Carter in America who realized there was a desire for more things like that so they founded the Ballantine Adult Fantasy line and they got also some books, none of which has been published as fantasies when they were written. They were just books but they gathered them altogether and said these are fantasies. And authors like Lord Dunsany who wrote the Irish Lord who wrote beautiful mannered strange tales of gods and dreams. Ernest Brama who wrote about China that never existed. You got all these, James Branch Cabell, the American who in the early 1920s was considered the one great American writer who used to get fan mail from people like F. Scott Fitzgerald and by 1930 was pretty much gone.

He gathered up, the fantasy work of all these people and put it out as one volume. On each volume as The Ballantine Adult Fantasy series. And then he wrote publishers American realized that they could publish books and put the words “in the great tradition of Lord of the Rings” on them and suddenly you got Sword of Shanarra and dozens of other books, in which plucky little fellows would be given the loot of doom and transported halfway across the world and fling it into the burning pit of despair and they come home again meeting elves on the way. And a lot of these stuff, and suddenly you have a fantasy genre and you have a world in which fantasy went to live on the shelves under fantasy. And also you notice something that I also personally find very problematic, which is you start getting something that I always think of as the literature of the imagination. Becoming unimaginative. You got world in which you’ve read it all before. It’s a dash of Conan the Barbarian, three large teaspoons of Tolkien and you dissolve it all in your last Dungeons & Dragons game. You got the book. And more recently I think you have a lot more interesting things because you got a generation of new mainstream writers, fantasy writers who’ve all grown up reading fantasy. And they all grew up reading Lord of the Rings and suddenly we’re in a world in which the New York Times Best-Sellers and books that win Pulitzer Prizes, you got things like The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon which begins with someone being shown the Golem of Prague and goes off to examine the birth of comics as a mainstream novel. And Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold which is a novel narrated by the ghost of a young girl who was killed by a serial killer. You got all of the techniques of traditional fantasy now creeping back in to mainstream literature partly because I think mainstream literature is less without them.

One thing that I was saying at the Ad Congress the other morning which I think is worth repeating, because when I talk to young writers they’ve often been told this and they take it the wrong way is that there’s a tradition of young writers being told write what you know. And what I think young writers tend to take from this and perhaps even what the professors or teachers telling them this is that they should write just about their daily lives and nothing else. Write about the vistas that they go through and nothing else. I always took that the other way which I guess is why I love writing about stuff that’s a bit off kilter. You write what you know. I’m writing a book about a kid being raised in a graveyard, being stolen by ghouls at one point. By having to go on an exciting adventure into town to get a headstone for a witch buried in unconsecrated ground. About the day that the living and the dead dancing with each other, about the ultimate battle with the man Jack and the people behind him. And I’m writing that because I know it. I wrote about a world underneath London because that was what I knew. I wrote about a world of dreams, I wrote Sandman. Because I knew it, because no one else was going to write it if I didn’t. And I think in terms of writing what you know, it’s kind of important as a young writer or as an artist to just look at what it is you do know, what it is that makes you different from everybody else. One piece of advice I try to give young writers when they start out, they tend to want to be like everybody else, they tend to want to copy. And what I told them is that the only thing that a publisher will only pay for, the only thing that a publisher cares about is the stuff that makes you different, the stuff that only you can do, the stuff that makes you unique. And that’s the kind of stuff you discover as a young writer by metaphorically walking down the street naked. Anybody competent can write like somebody else, do a fair copy. Every now and then I’ll run into writers who are very proud look, I can do the Gaiman thing. I’m like that’s very good. They already got me! Dave McKean, many many years ago, when Dave McKean was a very, very young artist, he was about twenty two, maybe twenty three. He saved his money and went over to New York and he went to Neal Adams’s studio and Dave at that point did not have a style, did not have a thing that was Dave McKean. He hadn’t just done enough drawings and he showed his portfolio to Neal Adams who went through it, the famous comic book artist who then went into advertising. He went through his portfolio one picture at a time and said that’s okay, that’s you know, work on that and he got to the end and looked at it. What I’m seeing is on this page here is that you can do a credible impersonation of Bob Peek. He said but if I want Bob Peek, I have Bob Peek’s number and phone Bob Peek. Why would I look for somebody like that but not as good?

And I think that in many ways was the kind of turning point for Dave. That was the point when he came back to England to determine to find out who he was as an artist to try and draw in ways that only he could draw, to do the things only he could do. And I think that’s so important. And people ask me how do you get there. And I point to quotes from people like Chuck Jones, Chuck Jones the creator, I don’t think he’s the creator of Bugs Bunny but the creator of the greatest Bugs Bunny cartoon, the creator of the Road Runner. Many of the Warner Brothers cartoons and he said that you have a million shitty drawings in your pen and it’s your job to get them out before the good stuff can appear. So draw that million first and that’s how you do it. You do it by doing it. You write—I remember a number of times at Rockwell, people would say to me, they’d get to the front of the line, they’ve been standing there for three or four weeks by that point and they would look down and they’d say I want to be a writer, what does he have? And I would say write. And most of them would look at me as if I was joking and a few of them would go yeah. And the few of them who went yeah, you got me on that one. I felt okay, you’re in there with a chance and a few more would say, okay I already do that and I’d say finish things. And for a few of them you’d see them struck gold and I go okay, you’re in there with a chance too. Because really that’s 95% of being a writer. You write, you finish things. After that can sell things. But it’s amazing how many people have the theory that really what they really need to do is have somebody come along and find them and discover them and say I think you’re a very good writer. Write me a trilogy. Here’s the check. You may never work again. And they do. And maybe elves will come in the night and finish that story. It never happens. The way to do it is by doing it. And once you finish writing something you send it out to somebody who might possibly publish it and then you start on the next one. And right now people have this magical thing called the Web out there which flattens everything if you’re an artist, if you’re a writer, if you’re a critic, if you’re a poet, just interested, the Web is out there and there’s a plethora of horrible stuff out there and there’s a plethora of really good stuff too.

Why don’t we go over to doing some questions.

Q&A:

There’s one from a 10-year old who says she is a potential Delirium. Please tell me you are writing a new book. Also tell me if you do poetry. Yes, all of your books are great.

Thank you. I do do poetry. I don’t do as much poetry as I should do.

You’re actually the first person—I’ve been going to the Ad Congress since the early 90’s—you’re the first speaker to have read poetry in the Ad Congress which I think is wonderful.

I read a poem called The Day the Sorcerers Came to advertising people. I have no idea what they thought about it. It was about the imagination and paying attention when things happen. I love writing poetry, I don’t write enough. One reason I don’t write enough is that there’s never anybody waiting for it and there’s always people waiting for other things.

Out of interest, now that we’ve sat down in these incredibly deep chairs, it looks to me like half of the audience has actually vanished. The people at the back, can you see us? Okay, then we’ll keep sitting down. I was just worried that we vanished and there was nothing but tops of heads.

What have you liked most about the Philippines and would you like to see more of it and have you ever considered using the country as a setting in your fiction?

What do I like best about the Philippines? I think probably number one comes the people. Number two it’s probably a close-run thing. On one hand, it’s the art. On the other, it’s the Calamansi juice.

And also probably I love your mythology. That sort of goes into the other part.

I heard you were reading books that people sent you about our folklore.

What was great about coming here a couple of years ago was at Rockwell and other places, people would just come to me and say here and they’d give me books. And I’d go thank you and I started reading them in the bath back at the hotel and going this is so cool! Why didn’t I know any of this stuff? Oh my gosh, you have long-tongued vampire witch creatures which splits itself in half! Nobody else has that. Why aren’t you making movies about this? Why don’t you spread this with the rest of the world? You should make good ones, spread it! Spread the word.

I don’t know, in terms of would I ever use the mythology of the Philippines? I might do. It’d be more like a short story or something like that but you never really want to feel like a cultural tourist, I’d rather much see lots of really really good Filipino fantasies which include that stuff and I think that’s starting to happen.

Although you’re really, I guess coming from the Sandman story cycle and reading through American Gods, you’re actually quite good at taking out details from other countries, folklore, and mythology and somehow integrating them. It’s a theme you return to again and again. Does that feel like cultural tourism to you as well?

There was definitely a point in the middle of Sandman where I thought I have to be careful otherwise this is going to turn into the myth of the month club. And having said that, there was a book that Dave McKean and I planned to do. Originally it was going to be a Sandman book, I don’t know if it will ever will be. But we were going to do these three very small books, one was going to be green, one was going to be orange, and one was going to be blue and the orange one was going to be aboriginal myth and the blue one was going to head more into the Pacific and I think the green was going to be Ireland.

Just Ireland?

Yeah, you could keep—you could do an encyclopedia of Irish things.

When and why did Delight turn into Delirium?

That’s a really really good question which one day I hope to answer.

There aren’t that many things left right now that I don’t answer. I don’t answer that one—because that’s a story. I don’t answer who’s the Forgotten God in American Gods because that would probably be, if I ever do the next big American American Gods novel, that one will be answered.

In the old days I used to answer these things but that was before the Internet.

Neilgaiman.com/journal.

It’s not even that. It was before there was any Internet, I would you know, before there was even CompuServe and that kind of stuff. I remember in the very early days of Sandman, I’d be doing signings for people and people would say who’s the missing one of the Endless and I’d say Destruction. They’d say oh, cool. And then carry on figuring that it probably wouldn’t have gone any further than that guy’s friends and the guy next to him on the line. These days, you answer something like that and it’s on the Web in roughly 20 minutes and it’s not even on the Web right. It’s on the Web as much of it as the person can remember it typing it very fast and suddenly people are saying I understand that Angelina Jolie is going to be playing Beowulf. No, Beowulf-ish.

Speaking of Beowulf, saw Beowulf and it was fantastic. So which of your great books will be up for a motion picture next?

Which of my great books will be up for a motion picture? What a nice question, I like the adjectives. Which of your books, great! Coraline, Coraline is next. I’ve seen about 10 minutes of it, it’s being made by a very nice man named Henry Selick. Henry was the director who did the film called The Nightmare Before Christmas. Many people think because the full title of the movie is Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas that Tim Burton directed it or made it or oversaw it but he really didn’t. He did the original drawings that created the very original comic that the whole thing was based on and designed four or five of the characters but beyond that it was Henry’s gig all the way. And he’s doing a glorious job on Coraline. The characters don’t look like the Dave McKean drawings and they don’t look like Nightmare Before Christmas people either. They have their own set of rather odd, very cool look. It’s being filmed in 3D as well because it’s very easy to film stop motion in 3D. Just have a little 3D camera and move the people around and it looks amazing.

Let’s just hope they feature it in IMAX theaters here just like Beowulf.

By the time it comes out they also doing this thing called Real D out in America. And now all over the world which are basically digital cinemas which have a special kind of screen, can do a special kind of—it doesn’t have a giant IMAX, it’s incredibly good 3D. It looks different from the IMAX 3D but it’s very very convincing.

I guess like everything we’ve been hearing in this Ad Congress, change and shift is happening faster than we think.

In America, Beowulf came in number one in the world and number one in America. But what was really interesting was that it got 40%, and it got out to 40,00 screens, but 40% of its takings from 700 of those screens which were the 3D ones. Because the word had got out just go and see them in 3D. There were over 40 or 50 IMAX. But the rest of them were just people seeing it in 3D in their local cinema. And I think that the fact that they all took so much money in 3D is actually going to change everything because now the cinemas who don’t have the 3D, they’re going you know I should spend the money on the special screen and go digital and stuff. So you may get more of it here.

Another interesting question, how do you come up with the lyrics in your graphic novels? Is the process very much like how you compose your poems?

No. No it’s not. The process, most of it is when I’m trying to write poetry I’m trying to write something that I think or believe but if I write a lyric or a pun in a graphic novel, a novel, or even in a movie, you’re just trying to find something that feels right for the characters.

I remember seeing Tori Amos lyrics in your earlier work.

Tori was very easy because I just phoned her up and said can I use some of your lyrics? And she did say yes. But it’s the same—even in Beowulf there’s a point when I wrote my own version of what we call an English Rugby songs.

What advice can you give on how to deal with the disappointment that somebody else has put up a similar story to what you’ve written? It’s heartbreaking to be unoriginal.

Yes it is. The best advice I can give you on that one is that a writer named Jonathan Carrol gave me when I had this whole story that I planned which was going to be called A Game of You and I read a Jonathan Carrol books called Bones of the Moon. You bastard you just wrote my book. And you wrote it first, you wrote it like 5 years ago. So I wrote to him. I never met him but we sort of crossed paths vaguely and we knew each other and I could get his address which I did from his publisher. So I wrote him a letter and just said you know, I was going to do this thing but I just read your book and I’m not going to do my graphic novel now. And he wrote back and he said basically, and I paraphrase, you idiot, write your book! The purpose of a writer is to write it new. Your book will not be my book. What you do will not be what I do. You write it and tell me your story because a story is so much more than an idea. And it’s true. By the time I finished Bones of the Moon, I finished A Game of You and it’s a long way away from Bones of the Moon and it was my story.

On the one hand I would tell you that. You write that and write it new. On the other hand, it would definitely, a couple of times working on Sandman in particular where I would have an idea for something and I realized the idea was out there in the end. And if I didn’t get to it fast, somebody else would. I remember doing a serial killer’s convention and having the idea of a serial killer’s convention about 18 months. I was sitting at the World Fantasy Convention in 1988 and Sandman #1 had not come out and I just looked at all these disparate people and the only thing they had in common was that they were famous authors of fantasy. So I wondered if serial killers do this? Just go off to a hotel for a weekend and talk about women and serial killing and things like that. Because there’s always an add-on on women and fantasy in fantasy. Women and horror in horror conventions. Women in advertising, yeah? There’s got to be that add-on women in serial killing. And then it took you know, fourteen fifteen months before I got to writing that episode and I was terrified that somebody was going to write it first. And if they did I would feel unoriginal and couldn’t write it. So you do have, there is that one too but overall I think what I would say to you is what Jonathan Carrol said to me which is write it anyway, write it new, what you write will not be what anybody else will write.

Another question from a 9-year old. Have you ever considered including chick-lit in your novels?

I haven’t—probably not. I’ve never really been quite convinced that chick-lit was actually a real genre. I think all chick-lit was a publishing style because what would happen with chick-lit while chick-lit was big in America was they’d just have covers and they’d have a pink cover and a bit cartoony and a hand and a purse or a shopping bag or something like that and this would be chick-lit. And right now the chick-lit boom has boomed and busted and all these authors, the good ones the books are still coming out. They just no longer have big colorful pink and green colors with shopping bags on them but they’re repositioning themselves as novels or as thrillers over here or as romance. The chick-lit thing is sort of breaking back into its component parts. So I’m not entirely convinced that it was a genre, I just think it was a way of publishing a bunch of very disparate books together which happened to be about young women and generally speaking kind of funny. Mostly my favorite chick-lit author was Alisa Kwitney who for years was my editor on Sandman and went off to become a chick-lit author. I was like what? But now the chick-lit boom has ended, she’s taking her father’s name as an author. Her father was an author named Robert Sheckley, a famous science fiction author and she’s going to be publishing. While she was a chick-lit author, she couldn’t get—she’d also write novels about sexy web wars and things but they wouldn’t publish them so she decided to also become Alisa Sheckley so they’ll publish that stuff.

I’d love your story Tastings from Smoke and Mirrors. Will you be writing more erotica in the future? This is not for the 9- and 10-year olds.

The trouble with Tastings—I don’t know if I’m a good erotica writer because I get really embarrassed. And the people who write slash for recreation laugh at me on this. Ha ha! I wrote 25 pages of pure, lustful pornography and I was getting dressed at the same time and eating cornflakes but for me I get embarrassed. So what I would do with Tastings, Tastings took about 4 years to write not because it was particularly difficult but because at the point when we get really embarrassed, I just save what I’d done and exit and wait ‘til the embarrassment had died down which came two months later.

I hope the elves come and finish that part.

They never did so when I’m not embarrassed I’d come back and I’d write another page and a half of pornography, my cheeks flushing… the biggest problem with writing stuff like that of course is when you’re a young writer, you have these imaginary, your parents are reading it in an imaginary sort of way and looking over your shoulder which is kind of off-putting when you’re writing and then a few years later after you’ve met, your actual children are looking over your shoulder. Which is even more embarrassing. And then occasionally you wind up chatting two people like oh, your sister who says, you know mum read the whole Smoke and Mirrors and I never explained to her what a blowjob was and I’m going Oh God kill me now and they do and preferably after my family had been wipe out by Nuclear war.

What stories did you read your kids and what were their favorites?

What stories did I read my kids and what were their favorites? The Narnia books. I got to read the Narnia books all through twice because once I read them to Mike and Holly who were 2 years apart and then Maddy came 9 years later so I got to read them to her as well. Beyond that it was anything that I could, anything they were interested in. I rapidly learned—one of the reasons why I love writing children’s picture books, I don’t write as many as I should do but I love doing Wolves in the Walls, I loved doing The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish is because one of those things we discovered very very early on with kids when they’re really small is that if they like the book, it’s not something you can have to read to them once, it’s not something you can have to read them three times. Three times a night may be usual for six months. It was a book called Catch the Red Bus that I had to read my son Mike and I could still recite it and I loved it. It’s about this family of bears who go on a holiday through various different colored forms of transportation and there wasn’t a lot of sub-text, there wasn’t a lot going in it. One reason why I love writing books for kids is to at least put words in that adults will enjoy saying and sentences and things that adults might find funny.

Do you do your own hair?

Do I do my own hair? Now I get the Council to do it. Yes, it just sort of, the weird thing about my hair particularly when I come to places like the Philippines is it actually works as some peculiar way of weather forecasting system depending on you know, I got up this morning and it’s all bizzarely curly and I said oh, it’s going to rain. But no, the hair, there’s no doing anything with it. Good hair comes with bad hair. It’s a little bit shorter than it is because I decided I wanted to do a short haircut to walk the premiere lines available. I thought I may as well because if I do that, then my mom and dad will be proud of me and they won’t say what, you can’t afford a haircut with all the money you’re making which is the kind of thing my dad will actually will say.

Your novels just like other fantasy work are highly characterized by the development of archetypes through life. Have you identified or recognized which archetype you are, or which archetype you are when you’re writing?

Oh. The joy of being a writer is you get to be all of them. And that’s the fun of being a writer, you get to be God, you get to be everybody, you get to be the hero and you get to be the villain and you get to be the giant and you get to be the animals. That’s why you do it. People will say which one of your characters are you? I think you’re so and so. No I’m all of them. And if characters are going to be interesting, they’re interesting because you gone and find that little bit of you that makes up the character. You go on and find them inside of you whether they’re good or bad or interesting or strange and you know, most likely I just try to write characters I’d like to meet, even the bad ones.

So when you’re asked to write for an existing character, let’s say when you integrated John Constantine into Books of Magic and all of that, does your little bit of you go into that other person’s character and make it different?

Yes sometimes! I think it’s probably true that my Constantine isn’t Jamie Delano’s Constantine, isn’t Alan Moore’s Constantine, isn’t Brian Azzarello’s Constantine, isn’t Mike Carey’s Constantine, isn’t Warren Ellis’s Constantine. They’re all you know, the way the character changes just like Batman changes whoever’s writing. Frank Miller’s Batman is not Danny O’Neal’s Batman and I’m sure each of them pointing to themselves and found which part of them really wanted to put on a mask and swing through the night. It’s just that Frank’s wants to hurt people more.

What would you say to young talented Filipinos who have chosen not to pursue a career in creative writing out of practicality because writing won’t pay the bills in this country?

I’d point them to people like my friend Gene Wolfe who—Gene is a lovely man. Gene is probably the best science fiction writer, one of the best writers living in America right now. He’s in his late 70’s and he wanted to be a writer so what he did, the way that he’d write short stories and novels was that he’d set his alarm one hour earlier than he had to get up and he would get up at 4:30 in the morning of 5 o’clock in the morning and he’d write for an hour. And then he would go off to work and put in a whole day’s work and the truth about writing—there is something I learned from a Stephen King book. I think it was probably Danse Macabre but I could be wrong, it might just be one of the essays that King wrote in between stories somewhere. And one of the reasons I love King is not just because when he tries he’s really a good writer but also he’s somebody who enjoys writing and very willing to de-mystify the process and King was somebody who said a page is about 300 words. A novel consists of about 360 300 word page. Most novels are around 360 novels. If you only write a page a day at the end of the year you have a novel. Which is a sort of way of putting things into perspective. You only have to write 300 words a day. That’s one page that’s you know, it’s a blog entry plus one email, whatever. At the end of a year you have a novel and that is what I would say to talented young Filipinos who have given up on being creative because they have to earn a living which is great if you can find the time to write a page a day then at the end of the year you’ll have a novel to come out with and you haven’t had to compromise.

When you write a story, how do you structure the plot?

Depends on the story honestly. It’s—I tend to think about it a lot. Make some notes. I start to write at a point where it feels like it wants me to start writing which is normally before I know everything about it. I like to know a few details. And I’d like to have an idea of the shape of the journey. The shape of the journey, you know you’re starting in Subic, you know you’re ending in Manila, you know you are heading out in a car without enough gas and you have no money. You want to get to Manila somehow, what’s going to happen on the way you are going to learn but you know the shape of the journey.

You do your research for example wherein you require a lot of detail. For example when you need to know this was the particular name of a god or this was—do you do the research during or before or does the research inspire?

All three. I do research, very often you’re doing research before you know you’re doing research. I get interested in something. And then we notice that I’m buying lots and lots of books on that something. And then I noticed that I’ve started boring people. Because when they ask so what are you doing these days? You say let me tell you about the Chinese Silk Road, the history of the Silk Road or whatever. And afterward you see their eyes flicker and then you say another interesting thing I know about graveyards is and then they say I have to run away now. About that point you probably know it’s going to turn into a novel.

Terry Pratchett, Terry and I have been talking about stuff for years and I’ll occasionally notice a Terry Pratchett book come out 15, 20 years after he became obsessed about something. And started started reading lots of old text books or he finally put an ice palace into the last of the Tifanny Aching books. Terry getting fascinated by ice palaces in 1991 but there was never a book that they went into. So you do that but on the other hand you also wound up while you’re writing, you research stuff as you go. With Anansi Boys, I had to write a Jamaican funeral in Florida. And I thought you know I have no idea what a Jamaican funeral in Florida is like. I know what an English funeral is like, I’ve been to Jewish funerals, I’ve been in Catholic funerals in Minnesota but I don’t think they’re the same as Jamaican funerals in Florida. So what I did was I went down to Florida for some other reasons and while I was there I kept checking the local paper until I saw a photograph of a very large happy black lady and an announcement of when she was going to be laid to rest. Drove down until I found the funeral, found the place and watched the funeral from a very respectful distance and that’s the graveyard I put into Anansi’s Boys including Babyland, this little place where all this sudden, you got to a corner of the graveyard, the garden of rest of course because this was Florida where there were sudden toys, little plaques announcing somebody died age two years old and these sad, moldy cause it’s incredibly wet and these little teddy bears staring out at the sky. And that’s the kind of thing I couldn’t have made that up, I will put that in my book.

All your work has to be read over and over each time and when they do, readers always discover something more. Do you consciously make sure that there are new levels to discover only on the second or third reading?

Gene Wolfe whom I already pointed to once, once defined in his book The Castle of Days, he defined good literature as that which could be read with pleasure by an educated reader and reread with increased pleasure. And I loved that. So yes, it’s always kind of intentional. You want to put things in that give pleasure the first time through. You want go give stuff that’s just going to give pleasure on the level of what’s going to happen next. And then you wanna create a different kind of pleasure for someone who already reads it once and knows what happens next. And now you wanna read it again, you want them to go oh my gosh, that’s how it fitted in together, that’s what happens there, that’s who this was. And you could put things in that aren’t obvious. It’s something I’m fascinated right now in films as well because I’m starting to think, in the old days, most films were there to just give everything they had on the first viewing. Now in a DVD world, you sort of hope there are things you’re going to get the 2nd time or the 3rd time. I was thrilled watching some of the little things in Stardust which Jane and Matthew put in. Even costume details and stuff. Somebody may not notice that until the 3rd or 4th time they watch it and then they go oh my gosh.

Mr. Neil Gaiman, do you plan to stop writing. If so, what do you plan to do instead? Smiley.

I’m glad it’s smiley instead of please, please, stop writing. What do I intend to do instead? Do I intend to stop writing? No, I don’t ever intend to stop writing. There’s other stuff I like doing as well. And there’s also things that I’m not yet done. I really wanna write do some original stage play and stuff. Maybe do an original music or two because I thought that would be very interesting.

It’s stuff that I’ve never done and that’d be fun. And I worked last year with the International Theater of Scotland on doing the Wolves in the Walls, sort of a children’s opera. And it was fun but I thought wouldn’t it be cool to do something from scratch? And I love the rhythms of live theater. I love the way that live theater never repeats. I must have seen the Wolves in the Walls now fifteen, twenty times and I’ve never seen the same thing happen with the audience and the people on stage. So I wanna do more of that. I love to direct another film. And one of the reasons I’d love to direct another film, the only one I’ve done so far was a short film called A Short Film About John Bolton which I would absolutely point at, yes, this is a Neil Gaiman film. With films where you write the script, people think you have a lot more control over everything including what they see on the screen and the lines that are seen on the screen and how the story is structured. No but the thing there that in fact you do because of the film making process. At the end of the day, I look at Mirror Mask which is a film that I wrote a script for and it’s Dave McKean’s film. I look at Beowulf. I sat down and originally wrote a script for Roger Avery’s Beowulf with Roger and then Roger and I wrote a script of Roger Zemecki’s Beowulf. For those of you who get to see the Beowulf script book which I think maybe all of you, one of the cool things about the Beowulf script book is that you see both scripts and you get to see the script that we wrote when we wanted to do something a lot more like Terry Gilliam’s Jabberwocky or the Holy Grail but set in the Norse land and the script it sort of turned into at the point where Paul wanted to make it bigger and if you compare that to the thing that’s on the screen and you go oh, that’s why. There are places occassionally where I’ll read film critics saying well I—you don’t really get the motivation for this character here. I’m going I wrote it. Done me wrote it, think they may have even filmed it. Just never made it into the thing because the pacing didn’t work or whatever. So I’d love to do you know, direct a little more. Mostly just because if you direct, you can go this is my thing. It feels kinda peculiar and weasley with films that you’ve written when you stand there and somebody says well I didn’t like so and so and really the only honest answer is no, I didn’t like that either. But you can’t really say that. Whereas for someone like A Short Film About John Bolton, it may only be a thirty minute film, but if somebody says I didn’t like that, I can say well, fuck off, I liked it. That’s why I put it there. And that’s very much apologies to anybody under the age of seventeen. But that very much is sort of how you wind up feeling about things and I’d like to do more about it but I can’t imagine directing something that I haven’t written so there will still be writing involved in that.

Musicals, stage plays, more children’s books—it’s all writing though. None of it is that point where I really want to go to a little town in England and set up a sweets shop with things in big jars or something. Or a bed and breakfast. I can’t imagine doing that. I’d sort of creep into the night and start telling people weird stories. Terrible, very very scary.

7 comments:

imogen_ph said...

Thanks for this transcript, interesting stuff! I have some pics from the Expeditions book launch at my flickr gallery btw, please come visit. I also posted links to your posts at my blog.

Nymeth said...

Thank you so much for this transcript. I really enjoyed reading it.

Charles said...

You're welcome. =)

Paul said...

Oh my god, thank you so much you're a savior!

Okay, I'll explain my reaction. I'm a student journalist for our school, and I'm also a really big fan of Neil. When I got there, I had the intention of interviewing him but it didn't push through, so I wrote a question to him and tried recording the q&a bit. When I came to transcribing it, many parts of it were unintelligible that I almost gave up, until I saw your transcription.

Sir, would you be so kind as to let me take a copy of your transcription? It would be of great help to us (especially to me). I'll make sure that we give you due credit, for your effort, in the article I'm currently working on.

With Eternal(s ^_^) Gratitude,
Paul Salonga

Lightheaded said...

Hi. I've lurked here before, when Neil Gaiman visited a couple of years ago I think.

And the transcript/video/audio are fun to read/watch/hear :) At least even if I wasn't there it felt like I saw Neil again.

Minor correction though in case somebody looks out for her - it's Alisa Kwitney - the Dream King's favorite chic-lit author referred to.

Charles said...

Lightheaded: Thanks for the correction.

Paul: No problem. But if you noticed, my transcript is far from perfect. =)

Paul said...

yeah, I noticed. :) But it's okay, I'll just fill those in. What I really lack are whole chunks of words that I wasn't really able to decipher. What I've got are little details in my head that needed the other chunks of words for them to resurface, hehe

Thank you very much! :)