A sold-out National Press Club listened spellbound last night, as teller-of-tales Neil Gaiman told the story behind “American Gods”–and quite a few more.
The event, DC’s stop on Gaiman’s tour to promote the 10th anniversary edition of his multi-award-winning novel, took place appropriately in a stubborn and devoted haven of the printed word. The National Press Club is Washington’s hangout for newspaper journalists, and has been since 1908; its emblem is the owl, standing, they say, both for wisdom and for keeping watch late into the night. (A nice package of symbols for a writer and admirer of myth and its imagery– I hope he enjoyed it.) He’d spoken here once before, when his Sandman collection “A Game of You” won a GLAAD Media Award, but they told us this was the biggest crowd they’d ever had for a book event. (And tickets were only $6.00!) I’d bet it was one of the most interesting, too, with several cosplayers and some strikingly inked people in attendance.
Taking the stage in his trademark black-on-black, Gaiman opened with a haunting reminiscence, saying that his first signing for “American Gods” had been held in June 2001, in the Barnes and Noble bookstore in New York’s World Trade Center. He had continued his tour, returning home on September 8th, and three days later his opening stop no longer existed. Considering the theme of the book it somehow seemed appropriate, he mused, to an audience now sitting in awestruck silence. –and he does that; he holds the listener in absolute thrall; he is a story-teller of magical powers. I wish I could convey his graceful phrasing, the thoughtful, considering way he holds a pause, as though it might reveal something unexpected. His humor is bone-dry, his tone can slide from wry to deadly stern in a second, and as a reader he’s peerless.
He told a few funny stories of his experiences as a transplanted Englishman in America (“this huge and wonderful and quite peculiar country of yours”), and he talked at length about the genesis of “American Gods”: how the idea came to him on a sleepless night under the midnight sun of Reykjavik, how he had deliberately tried to shake off what he called the “British narrative voice”, how his 40-year study of world mythology had come into play as he chose (and invented) the gods who became characters in the plot. (One deity of his invention, he noted in mixed bemusement and pride, now appears in several reference works on mythology; “it would be churlish to correct them”, he said, but he also seemed to just quietly dig the idea of his baby goddess making her way out into the world, leaving her mark, becoming just as real as her time-honored sisters. And I mean, who wouldn’t?)
He read two passages from the novel, and then answered a selection of questions from the audience, which provided even more fun and some cool tidbits of news. He discussed how it felt to write a Doctor Who episode after being a fan of the series since the age of three (“The closest I’ve ever come to actually feeling like a god”) and said he’d like to do a novelization of that script including all the material that didn’t fit into the episode. He also confirmed that HBO is creating an “American Gods” miniseries; the first arc would take up the entire first book, and he hopes it will take until 2014 to complete since by then he may have a second book done.
But the funniest of all was Gaiman’s final story, in response to a question on whether he planned to write more children’s books. He had already been thinking that he’d like to write something for very young kids, he said, and then it had come to his attention that just about the only country in which his earlier kids’ books aren’t available in local translation is China, because they disapprove of stories in which children disrespect their elders’ authority. (Yeah, I can’t see “The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish” meeting that mark.) But our man welcomed the challenge, a crafty gleam in his eye. “My task was clear,” he intoned; “to write something aimed at two-year-olds, which does not respect authority, and which the Chinese still can’t find a reason not to publish.” Cheers and applause.– It’s called “Chu’s Day”, and Chu is a baby panda with a chronic sneeze, which causes Bad Things to Happen. Can’t wait to see how it goes over in Beijing. =)
A memorable evening with our of our finest fantasists. (And we got photos too!