This past Friday I found myself in our nation’s capital for a book signing, more specifically a book signing by Neil Gaiman on what is allegedly his last book tour. The event took place in Lisner Auditorium, part of the GW University campus. The place was full of fans, many more fanatical than I, sporting Doctor Who shirts, corsets and graphic tees of the hyper-nerdy variety, a batman costume, and even a Neil Gaiman puppet. There were over a thousand people jammed into the sold out space, all of us eager to hear one of our favorite authors speak.
Eventually, after some introductions by organizers from Politics and Prose, the local bookstore that had set-up the event, our wish was granted.
Gaiman came out and spoke about his latest book The Ocean at the End of the Lane. He began by providing a background on the book, describing how it had originated as a short story he was writing for his wife Amanda Palmer. She isn’t a fan of fantasy fiction, and so the story, though fantastical, drew from Gaiman’s own past. Following this explanation, he read the fourth chapter of the story, since he said he was tired of reading the first one, as he had done at the other stops along the tour.
After this first bit of reading, there was a Q&A with Gaiman reading questions that audience members had submitted via note cards prior to the reading. He explained that at his other tour stops he had a moderator reading him questions and doing interviews, but here he would just be reading out the questions and answering them. He said he had considered having the Neil Gaiman Puppet read the questions to him but admitted he had decided against it because he was too afraid to find out what internet memes might arise from photographs of him alongside the puppet.
Questions ran the gamut from “What was it like to work on Doctor Who?” to “Why do you write so much about angels?” His answers were often monosyllabic or single humorous sentences, though sometimes he did go into more detail. For instance, his answer to the Doctor Who question was something along the lines of “very enjoyable”, while he explained that “angels are like cockroaches” for him. Every time he thinks he’s written his last story about an angel, an idea for another one will scurry through his mind.
Following the Q&A he read one more excerpt from the novel that brought the presentation part of the event to a close. Then it was time for autographs! Or really, it was time to wait around for a long time. As I said, there were over a thousand people in the audience, and Gaiman was signing books for anyone who wanted to hang around. He set himself up with a table on the stage, and a line formed to go up and get your book signed. The organizers called people up by their ticket numbers.
I was 516.
As you can imagine, this took awhile (about three hours to be more precise). But, finally, I managed to get up on the stage and handed him my brand new copy of The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which I had bought as part of my ticket for the event. He looked at the name I had asked him to address the book to (for those of you who have never been to a signing, someone will write out your name legibly on a post-it before you approach the author so that things go more quickly), and I mentioned that it was my pen name.
“You’re a writer?” he said.
“Yes,” I said.
“Do you write?” he said.
“Yes,” I said. “I just recently had a story published actually, I’m hoping to build on that.”
“Good,” he said. “Keep at it.”