Last night 1800 avid readers and Dr. Who fans packed the Center for the Arts to watch Neil Gaiman receive the Mason Award as part o the “Fall for the Book.” It was a reminder that Neil Gaiman fans are weird. I should know. I’m one of them.
That first line came across a bit news story-ish, sorry. Back when I was beautiful, I was actively involved in journalism before a very bad teacher managed to crush that love, more interested in fostering the popular students than you know, teaching someone something about journalism. So I’ll re-start.
I saw Neil Gaiman speak and it was freaking awesome. The place was packed! I couldn’t have been more excited!! (You can tell I was excited as I used two of my daily allotted exclamation points for the day.)
As mentioned, I love Neil. So do a lot of other people Neil. He’s a great writer, he’s a genuinely funny speaker, and he just lights up an audience. Beforehand, we were allowed to ask questions... I blanked and couldn’t think of one, but there were plenty of others. Neil came out, and laid out the plans for the evening for us: a reading from his new book (squeal!) then he’d answer questions... he had a large amount of Dr. Who questions (damn) then he’d read one more story to us, unpublished. It was going to be an excellent night.
I mention the Dr. Who fans in the audience. I don’t have a problem with Dr. Who or it’s fans. I’m a fan of the good Dr. That being said, when we rose to give him a standing ovation, and you’re sitting in front of me in a “bow ties are cool” shirt and when you rise your pants fall halfway down your ass exposing your not-so great underwear but you won’t pull them up for fear you’ll miss out on your picture... please don’t. Just. It takes half a second, and he was posing, he’ll be there for a while. This is your Bad Shakespeare Public Service Announcement of the day.
It started with his reading from his book that he sent off to the publisher earlier that day, “The Ocean at The End of the Lane.” It was brilliant. He joked that originally he wasn’t going to do it because we would have to wait a year to find out what happened. I don’t care. I was reminded about the power of reading aloud by another professor, and this encapsulated it. All due respect to the professor (Hi, Zenkov!) who did read in a wonderful way, there’s nothing quite like hearing your favorite writer read his own work. It was an experience unlike anything I’ve ever felt. When I read to myself, I hear my own voice, but for the first time, I was watching the action happening. No spoilers here, but I cannot wait for the book.
Then came question time. There were the Dr. Who questions, which he took and answered (As well as he could... he related a funny story about being asked questions with a mouth full of food, and it being reported as fact), he talked about his writing gazebo, why he wouldn’t be signing books afterwards (there were 1800 people... that just wasn’t going to happen), his appearance on the Simpsons where was thrilled to be playing himself as a “Baddie”, and all the usual questions. Then he got asked the usual question that I couldn’t wait to hear the answer to.
“What’s your advice to writers?”
Now, I figured he’d be asked that. He’s a successful writer. The room was filled with avid readers, most of whom I’m sure thought of writing. So he gave us his advice, which I will forever remember.
“If you you’re using a pencil, make sure it’s sharp, if you use a pen, fill it with ink, if you’re at a computer, turn it on. Write a word, then another, then send it to someone to publish it. When they reject it, send it somewhere else.
Simple words, but let’s be honest with you, words that no one wants to hear. Being Neil Gaiman, he did throw out a funny story how there’s no magic postcard that you have to burn at midnight during a full moon with a black match then writers appear at your door to tell you the secrets. That’s Neil.
I was a little sad he didn’t get a chance to sign anything in person, but he presigned plenty, and I did get a copy of my book then. Tenth Anniversary Edition of "American Gods", one of my favorite books.
There’s always a little trepidation at seeing someone you admire so much speak. There really is. There’s the chance that they may let down this wonderful ideal you’ve built up in your head. We all go through that, and that’s evident when we build up some romance between two actors that falls apart, or some athlete that’s caught doing drugs. But I’m excited to say that seeing him live surpassed all my expectations. I got to hear a book that was unreleased, read by the original author. I got to hear that there isn’t a secret to writing, you just have to do it. I got to hear 1800 people cheer for a book. To me, that’s incredible. I got to hear 1800 people cheer for a writer like he was a rock star. I got to see 1800 people give a standing ovation to a guy who writes for a living.
I don’t have a closing sentence, really. I could throw in a joke, “But remember to pull up your pants.” I could throw in something profound, “And that’s how I discovered my true path.” But I’m not going to. I’m going to leave it at that. That last statement, because I’m proud of what that means for the future.
I got to see 1800 people give a standing ovation to a guy who writes for a living.