First and foremost, we would like to applaud and thank Changing Hands Bookstore for presenting the Phoenix, AZ, stop on Neil Gaiman’s The Last US Signing Tour to promote his now New York Times Bestselling adult novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane. The event was held the evening of Wednesday, June 26, at the South Mountain High School Auditorium from 6PM until Gaiman signed through the line of eager fans and their copies of Ocean plus one. Furthermore, Changing Hands deserves extreme commendations for having the foresight to schedule food trucks for the attendees to sample while they waited for their turn in the alphabetically-assigned line. We would like to thank the participating food trucks: Short Leash Hot Dogs, Satay Hut, and Mamma Toledo Pies for providing delicious eats and treats against boredom and hanger (anger caused by extreme hunger.)
Two weeks into the tour, the event started smoothly after soft-spoken, English-accented Gaiman found the microphone’s on switch and launched into his discussion starting first with the tremendously exciting news that The Ocean at the End of the Lane just hit #1 on the New York Times Bestsellers list earlier in the day, “and Dan Brown is at number two.” Gaiman continued to tease fans by offering to read the entire book in celebration, as it would take about as long as the signing process. He went on to anecdotally welcome all attendees who have become his fans for their interest in his varying genre forays, excluding their possible interest in committing, “author murder.”
After a couple upset children, “they come in twos,” Gaiman began eloquently reading a passage from Chapter 2 of The Ocean at the End of the Lane, helping to establish the novel’s protagonist, setting, and naming. It is an extreme privilege to partake of an author reading his own work; every beat, pause, and punchline delivered as it was meant to be received. Not having had the chance to read Ocean yet, our impression of the novel from this reading is the bitter-sweet, wisdom-earning moments of childhood that shape and mold us all into the adults we will become. Gaiman lyrically captures how the young mind processes events, compartmentalizes said events, and thusly forms a perspective.
Following the excerpt from The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Gaiman answered some hand-selected questions garnered from attendees while standing in line prior to the event’s doors opening. From what type of tea he prefers to, of course, his impression of writing two Dr. Who episodes, and the momentary consideration of branching out into interpretive dance, a choice sampling of the Q&A segment is as follows:
Florida inspired “Crazy Hair,” Dallas “Ocean,” what, if any, experience has Arizona inspired you to write about?
Arizona . . . Tucson counts, doesn’t it? So, in 1991, I was at the World Fantasy Convention in Tucson and I went to a party. I won the World Fantasy Award for a comic, “Sandman 19,” which I had written and which Charles Vess had drawn. The following morning they would have a meeting and decide that comics could never again win awards for best short story. Which, to my mind, was a lot like locking the stable door after the horse has got out and won the Kentucky Derby. But, anyway, I went off to a party . . . out in the Tucson desert and I was wearing my leather jacket and people had been mocking me all day for wearing a big, hot, heavy, jacket for the kind of weather you have out here. Then suddenly, it was night and nobody was mocking me anymore. They were just shivering. And, I walked outside the party and I was having a conversation with a wonderful writer named Jamie Owen and we were chatting about stuff, and I saw a meteorite. It was that wonderful thing where you look up and see a falling star. Coming from England, falling stars were just sort of flashes, a flash of light. This wasn’t a flash of light. It was just a small moving giant diamond. And it landed just over there somewhere. If I borrowed a car I could drive and go and find it; if I walked I could go and find it. That was fantastic. I thought wouldn’t it be interesting if when I got there and instead of being a lump of meteoric metal-iron, it was something else. What if it was a beautiful giant diamond glinty thing? And I thought, what if it was a girl and she had a broken leg and was really grumpy about it? I went back to the hotel in Tucson where the convention was at and I asked around for Charles Vess . . . and I told him about a town called Wall, and about what was going to happen and a young man who would be in love with a village girl and how he was going to promise to bring her a fallen star and she was going to take him up on his stupid promise and he would find a star with a broken leg and trek all the way back across fairy land. And, I told Charles that we were going to call it “Stardust,” unless I came up with a better title.
How do you manage the physical strain of all this (book tour and signing) and how is this different from your usual life?
In my usual life, I get up. I might do some exercising. I’ll probably answer some email. Go for a walk. Have lunch. Write. Make stuff up. Have dinner. Answer some more emails. Do something fun and interesting with my wife. Go to bed. This is absolutely nothing like what I’m doing now. So, yes, it does not compare with my normal life at all. My normal life is absolutely as dull as I like it. I quite like dull. Dull is kind of fun. You get more writing done. Mostly, I’m learning an awful lot about how to sign lots of books fast and discovering that it actually doesn’t really depend on me. It depends on the person standing on this side of me who can whip the books away from me as I sign and the one on this side who can slide them in front of me. I’m getting very used to not being intimidated by thousands of books stacked up on a table. You sign your way through. And I’m aided in this by a Pilot, I forget the name, either a Pilot 832 or 823, a wonderful fountain pen. And so far it’s signed its way through about 20-something thousand signatures without skipping. So, the biggest difference right now is when you start doing a lot of signing, by the end of the signing people ask, “does your hand hurt?” and normally I say, “no.” And by last night, I’ve been doing this for two weeks and I say, “yes, yes it does hurt.” That’s actually pretty much as interesting and exciting as it gets.
Additionally, when asked what he does with all the fan stuff he receives, Gaiman explained that some is re-gifted, some is kept and fiddled with, and yet still about 80% of the artwork acquired up until 2004, was auctioned off at the Fiddler’s Green Con with proceeds going to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, which he will probably do again soon with the art obtained post 2004.
And finally, what’s on the horizon for Gaiman? After being asked whether or not he plans on venturing into any new media, Gaiman eluded to a possible collaboration with the Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt (who penned the music for the off-Broadway adaptation of Coraline) on a musical. Gaiman also indicated that he has always been eager to work on a video game title, but after several failed attempts, he is concerned about possibly being jinxed and hopes that effect has worn off by now.
Following the Q&A segment, Gaiman delighted us all with another reading from Fortunately the Milk, specifically for the younger audience members (and possibly for the adults’ good behavior,) his next children’s book available in September. Instantly, that transcendental feeling of being escorted into an imaginary-scape where our only obligation is to enjoy the moment enveloped us and we began wishing we were in a more comfortable chair, or perhaps our comfortable beds, or even still our comfortable beds from childhood.
And now for the actual signing: we would once again like to take this opportunity to express our appreciation of the Changing Hands Bookstore representatives for their fluid handling of this portion of the event. With their line procession consisting of groups called by pre-assigned alphabetical lumpings of forty people based on when event tickets were purchased, to their considerate signings for the disabled, extremely pregnant, and fidgety kid crowd first, to giving stickies for title page personalizations, and finally the assembly-line at the signing table, the event flowed in a well-planned and finely-honed fashion. Lastly, we wish to extend a hearty thank you to Gaiman, himself, who was extremely polite and patient, allowing each fan the extent of the moment they wished to share with him.