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A Gathering For Gaiman (Part One)

The prolific author talks about exploring America's roads and riding by rail

By Steve Fritz     June 26, 2001


Author Neil Gaiman
© N/A
It looks as if the Beatles have invaded a Borders bookstore at the World Financial Center in Manhattan. A line of autograph-hungry fans pours out of the main signing area, dominating the entire second floor of the multi-level facility. A stunned employee estimates that over 600 people are in attendance, all carrying one particular item: AMERICAN GODS, the latest novel from multi-purpose writer Neil Gaiman.

However, what stuns the bookstore employee is not the overwhelming number of fans in attendance, but rather Gaiman's nonchalant attitude toward the accumulating masses. After all, a turnout of this magnitude qualifies as an average signing for the author.

"I once did a signing," he recalls. "It was me and two other authors, who shall remain nameless, and who were something like #1 and #3 on the TIMES best seller list. We were all to do our little things, reading from our books, then sign some books and go on to a meal. The other writers spent about a half hour to an hour signing. Then they went off to their meals. It took me two to three hours before I finished signing. It told me a lot about the TIMES lists."

While Gaiman's is not a name you would most likely see on the NEW YORK TIMES list he readily admits that he will probably never sell as many books as the late Barbara Cartland one does get the impression, however, that he is entering the same sales terrain as well-known colleagues Stephen King or Clive Barker. In fact, his publisher Harper Collins is pleased to report that AMERICAN GODS started out at #22 on the Amazon.com and that's just from pre-orders alone.

Preludes and Nocturnes, the first trade paperback in Gaiman's SANDMAN series



Not bad when you consider AMERICAN GODS, unlike the bulk of Gaiman's work, contains virtually no drawings of any kind. On the contrary, the book is a straight-ahead novel, rather than a graphic novel quite an accomplishment when you consider that the author is perhaps best known for the creation of DC's last SANDMAN series. Even more interesting is the number of people at the signing that have never read, much less looked at, a single comic book or graphic novel with the Gaiman imprimatur.

"I really have no time to counter it," says Gaiman. "I just feel it's very strange for most people. I am whatever I was when they first found me. Some people are surprised to find that the same guy that wrote THE DAY I SWAPPED MY DAD FOR TWO GOLDFISH also wrote something as dark and strange as AMERICAN GODS."

Dark and strange is the perfect way to describe his novel. Exploring a side of the American psyche where the country's native population rarely ventures, the book's "hero" is Shadow a former bank robber who learns of his wife's death just as he is being released from prison.

The Day I Swapped My Dad For Two Goldfish by Neil Gaiman



Stunned by his loss, Shadow soon finds himself under the employ of a mysterious one-eyed man named Wednesday. Not long after his hiring, the character is facing off against limousine-driving men with very strange powers who swoop up out of nowhere to beat the living brains out of you. He also meets up with his wife, who truly is quite dead.

It turns out that Wednesday is a god. He's been on this planet for about a millennium and has witnessed other, newer gods taking over. Not happy with what he's seeing, the deity begins rounding up other older gods so that they can retake their former place in the cosmos. Shadow finds himself in the position of being either a lynchpin or Judas to the entire affair and is not quite sure of his role. Still, Wednesday takes Shadow to places most Americans have never heard of but that truly do exist. However, readers would probably sleep better at night not knowing too much about them (this comes from a man who has witnessed the strange perversions first hand).

AMERICAN GODS shares a popular thread in common with most of the author's other writings. His treatment of deities and things religious is both highly inventive yet extremely logical. What's different with this novel, however, is the style that Gaiman employs. It stems from the most native of American literary forms: the road novel. The author's writing takes on an entirely new voice, one similar to that of noir writers Dashiell Hammett and Damon Runyon.

"I worked hard at making it an American book, making the narrative voice unobtrusive for most of the book," says Gaiman. "Raymond Chandler was more of an influence than Dashiell Hammett, as were people like Elmore Leonard."

Taking a momentary break from his signing chores to make a rather shocking announcement, the author's next novel, entitled CORALINE, is actually already finished and ready to see print in 2002. However, the novel would still be in its conceptual stages if it weren't for a strange twist of fate.

"[CORALINE] was something I began while working on AMERICAN GODS," says Gaiman of his next novel. "I was writing about 50 words a day in a notebook just before I'd go to bed. Then I received an invitation to go to the San Diego Comic Con last year, and I figured I'd go by train. That would take me about three days and I figured that would give me plenty of time to finish up AMERICAN GODS, which was incredibly late at the time. The only thing is, I packed the notebook for CORALINE for the trip! I didn't realize it until it was well too late. So I decided to work on CORALINE instead. I was surprised to see how quickly it then went."

Edward Gorey in a self-portrait rendering



As fortuitous as this was, there was a bit of tragedy surrounding the completion of the novel. Much to the dismay of the artist's fans, Edward Gorey, the creator of such works as AMPHIGOREY and THE HAPLESS CHILD AND OTHER STORIES, was going to illustrate the book, but he passed away shortly after Gaiman finished writing it. A true shame for the work it sounds as if it would have fit perfectly into the artist's repertoire.

Check back Thursday for part 2 of CINESCAPE's chat with author Neil Gaiman.

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