Neil Gaiman stopped in Washington, D.C., this past weekend at DAR Constitution Hall. When he stepped up to the podium and said a quiet “Hello,” I was rather struck by his soft-spoken demeanor. Yet the author from the U.K. has quite an arresting and endearing stage presence: captivating the audience as he filled the ensuing ninety minutes with jokes, poignant personal anecdotes, and a small selection of excerpts from his books. I wager that you’ll be utterly mesmerized within the first five minutes of one of Neil Gaiman’s speaking engagements.
Let’s run through some highlights from this fascinating Q&A:
It’s very easy to like Neil Gaiman because he answers questions with such a refreshing spirit of frankness that is punctuated with a wonderful sense of humor. Does he prefer working on novels or comics? “What I prefer,” Gaiman teases out with his English drawl, “is doing whatever the hell I want to.” Aside from generating a lot of cheers and laughs, the remark speaks to an honesty and confidence that’s backed by the award-winning writer’s own personal experiences. He recounted his early days as a journalist, interviewing best-selling authors that were stuck in a particular genre, when they’d really like to try other areas. It’s a trap that he’s always sought to avoid, which is one reason why his popular novel “American Gods” is set in the States instead of in London.
Gaiman read out a small part of “Good Omens,” the novel he co-authored with the late Terry Pratchett largely through long telephone conversations. He also read the “October Tale” and the “Adventure Story” from his own short story collections. There’s certainly something to be said of being present when a novelist reads his own work aloud. That evening came complete with the inflections of the voice, furrowed brow, and dramatic pauses to conjure up a genie, a delivery man, and other characters with ease.
Gaiman doesn’t believe in writer’s block, as if relegating it to the realm of excuses. It’s easier to win sympathy when you say that you have writer’s block, as opposed to just being “stuck.” You can backtrack and fix your writing if you’re stuck, he explains, because the project is still in your control. When he gets stuck, he moves to another project until he’s ready to return to a previous one.
“American Gods” is being pitched to the Starz Network. Gaiman informed the crowd that “Sandman” is owned by Warner Brothers, but Joseph Gordon-Levitt (“Dark Knight Rises”) has been working on it.
Writing episodes for “Doctor Who” is not the same as writing a novel. As a way of demonstrating, he voiced the assessment of a production crew member: “It’s very good, but … we only have 100 hours of CGI. Your script has [more like] 700 hours of CGI!” Regrettably, some of the brilliant content gets cut.
Of Superheroes and Superpowers
One of the funniest questions was the following: “Batman or Superman boxers?” Gaiman is rather clever with wordplay and he responded instead that he’d put his “money on Batman if it’s Batman [versus] a pair of Superman boxers.”
When asked about superpowers, Gaiman said he would “love to make time stretchy.” It would be very useful for a writer because you could hold onto those spurts of inspiration. What would be better than being able to “lean against a Tuesday” and have “another three hours?” he posed, holding his hand up as if resting the tips of his long, thin fingers on an imaginary wall.
The audience rolled with laughter upon hearing the tale of how Gaiman’s wife, Amanda Palmer, removed her clothes in one of the rooms of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston; I believe it was for a sketching session (but it was hard to hear what he said). It resulted in some museum workers covering the security cameras with cups so as not to distract the security guards who watch the feed. Radio personality Ira Glass, as the story was told, had simply asked what the author had done that morning. “You don’t have adventures?!” an incredulous Glass exclaimed over the phone.
“I don’t,” insists Gaiman. “My wife has adventures. Sometimes I get swept up in her wake!”
I would count that as a real adventure. While it’s a pity that “An Evening with Neil Gaiman” lasts no more than ninety minutes, it turns out to be quite the evening! You shouldn’t expect less from this master storyteller, whose range of fans encompasses people of all ages.