Obligatory Gushing Post

I spent the evening at the Michigan theater in Ann Arbor1. I was there for an evening with Neil Gaiman3 sponsored by Nicolas's Books4. The evening was to follow the standard book signing format. Gaiman would read from his new book The Ocean At The End Of The Lane, answer some questions from the audience, then proceed to the signing portion. According to the Facebook page for the event, he would sign as many copies of the new book as one brought plus two other titles.

This presented a problem for me. I've been a fan of his since the Sandman days. I think I have just about all of his books (although some I listened to on audio from
Audible so there is nothing to sign there). The first title would be a no brainer -- Good Omens is one of my favorite books. I have read it multiple times and it gets better with each new read. As for the other...maybe the collection of Rudyard Kipling horror fiction that he wrote the introduction for? Perhaps the sleeve for the CD of “Snow Glass Apples” that I played one Halloween in the background. I had parents waiting, denying their children the ability to further trick or treat, until they had reached the end of the story.

As for the new book, I had plenty of options. One day a few weeks ago I received the signed first edition I had special ordered from Barnes and Noble. I also received via the same Unites Parcel Service drop, the copy I had forgotten that I had preordered from Amazon.


Then there was the copy that I got free with the purchase of my ticket.

Well, you can never have too many books, right?

I thought I had solved my "what should the second title be" problem when I found a copy of “Death Talks About Life” at a dealer at the
Motor City Comic Con. The comic, originally released in the 80s, explained how to prevent the spread of AIDS.

The event was being held at the
Michigan Theater. This is the drawing power the Mr. Gaiman commands. He sold out the beautiful old theater, balcony and all.

Unfortunately, Gaiman was delayed due to flight difficulties. An announcement was made that in order to accommodate everyone people would only be allowed to have one item autographed. OK. No biggie. I have my first edition at home.

This is where the Neil Gaiman is a class act part comes I to play. He let the theater know (before he arrived) that he would prefer to stick to the original deal as promoted on the website: as many copies of the new book as one had, one other item. He arrived at the theater and while scarfing down a quick dinner of sushi, signed a couple hundred books so people with small children or babysitters at home could pick up a non-personalized copy and still make it home "before midnight when the babysitters turn into wolves and devour your children."

Gaiman was the perfect example of the polite Englishman. He apologized for his lateness despite the fact that there was nothing he could have done to avoid it. He told an amusing anecdote about someone on his flight who recognized him, but was worried she would miss the event because she would arrive in Detroit late (“My dear, they really can't start until I arrive.")

Then he started to read.

If you have ever read any of Gaiman's work (and if you are reading my blog I assume you have) you know the power of his words, how easy it is to be drawn into his universe. If you have heard him read one of his audiobooks then you know what a great storyteller he is.

Hearing him in person was amazing

He started to speak and the audience became silent. Not just quiet, but silent. No whispering. No phones going off. No one shifting in their seats. Silent.

After the amazing reading, Gaiman answered questions which the audience had written on index cards. Since there was a bit of an extra wait, there was quite the stack of cards. Rather than go through them ahead of time (as he had no time to do so) he just answered as he went. His answers were informative, charming, and amusing at the same time. I teared up (sometimes from laughing so hard) a few times.

He related some very funny anecdotes including being told how to shave by Harlan Ellison (who he described as a “grumpy man”
5) in response to a question about the best advice he had ever been given. Someone asked if he was a weird child and he said that he didn’t think so at the time. He thought sitting under the table reading was perfectly normal.6 He told a brief story about meeting Shirley MacLaine which had me in stitches. I think my favorite of the evening was in response to the question“How do you maintain your humility?”

To which he answered:
“Have a cat. They know who is in charge ... hint, it is not you. Who cleans up whose vomit? Who trod in it? Dogs are rubbish for being humble. They will sit at your feet while you write, gazing up at you thinking ‘I don't know what you are doing but I know it is brilliant.’ A cat will jump up on the table, walk between you and the computer, then walk away and you know they are thinking he doesn't know how to properly execute a semi-colon.”

Then he shared a piece from his new book (due out later this year!) and went off to sign.

The signing portion of the evening took a few hours, but I think it was well worth the wait. I think most of the other attendees did as well. There was quite a wait for the autographs, but the crowd didn't seem to mind. It appeared that they had all decided what I had, a chance to be near Mr. Gaiman was well worth the wait.

Gaiman signed additional books so anyone who had to leave could do so and still get their autographed copy, but I think that the vast majority of the audience stayed. They called us up in groups, based upon where we were sitting. I was in the fourth group to be called, which meant I was there for an hour or more. The good news what that by doing it this way, we were able to stay in our seats. The bulk of the people there simply pulled out a book and started reading.

I should mention that the Michigan Theater is a lovely building with huge chandeliers, sweeping staircases, and lovely gilded accents all over. There is a working Barton Pipe organ (which was not being used that particular evening) which once accompanied silent films. It is such a grand place that one doesn’t mind standing in line under all of that beauty.

The organizers had the line snake up the stairs, across the balcony, and back down to where Mr. Gaiman was signing. They had a number of people there to insure that all of the material being signed was prepared (opened to the proper page, had a FLYN
10 with the person’s name on it for items being personalized, etc.). They also had someone walk around with a fruit and veggie tray for the people in line.

It was kind of cool peering around to see what people were having signed. I think there was a pretty even mix of books to comic books. The two young women in front of me each had a note for Mr. Gaiman. When one handed the note to Gaiman, she said:

“I know that you don’t have time to chat right now so I wrote down what I wanted to say.”

Gaiman looked her in the eyes and said “I will put this right here in my pocket so I have something to keep me from being sad and alone while I am on the plane.”

The woman blushed. My heart melted a little.

After he signed my books he thanked me for coming and shook my hand.

I’m really not sure what happened after that. I know I walked all the way around the block which held the parking structure where I had left my car. I’m pretty sure I drove home.

1 Not quite true. I spent part of the evening waking around Ann Arbor, specifically walking to
Vault of Midnight, a very cool comic book store in Ann Arbor. I picked up a couple of graphic novels (Joe Hill's Locke and Key and Clive Barker's Hellraiser as well as a Wormwood graphic novel I didn’t have yet, and a game called Make Your Own Elder God which I simply could not pass up). If you haven't been, go next time you are in A22.

2 Then go to
The Prickly Pear for fry bread. Mmmmmm Fry Bread.

3 Author of books for adults, children, graphic novels, movies...Sandman, American Gods, Coraline, Neverwhere, The Graveyard Book (which spent more than a year on the best seller list), Good Omens. You should know who he is.

4 Another place to visit when you are in Ann Arbor. Great bookstore. You may remember them from me gushing about the Kim Harrison signing.

5 I love Uncle Harlan, but that description is an early contender for understatement of the year.

6 Isn’t it?

7 It is great to be around readers.

8 I didn’t have my glasses so I wasn’t able to do much reading. I did, however, get the bulk of this post written -- on my phone.

9 Ain’t technology grand?

10 An FBI term for Post-It Notes. It was coined by an agent who got tired of having his reports returned by his supervisor covered in what he called Fucking Little Yellow Notes.