All Things Neil Gaiman

Photograph by Mike Gallagher, a friend from Glasgow whose blog can be found at: http://www.mikegallagher.info/

One of the panels that I went to during World Con was about Neil Gaiman the human being. It was entitled “The Many Interests of Neil Gaiman” and featured Cheryl Morgan, a friend of Mr. Gaiman’s, and Neil Gaiman speaking on Neil Gaiman.

I can honestly say that Neil Gaiman is very charming and very funny. When he smiles or has an amusing thought his eyes light up like he is a kid. It was very nice to be able to sit and listen to him speak about his life and his many interests.

He and Cheryl began the panel discussion with his fondness for bees. If you read his journal, it is possible to find out about his fondness for bees. He won two blue ribbons in the county fair for his honeycomb and another type of honey. He creates special labels for the jars of honey. Cheryl suggested having a type of convention honey. Neil Gaiman thought this was a good idea except that he would need more hives.

He has had other hobbies in the past– growing exotic pumpkins. Growing exotic pumpkins is entertaining because they just grow and come up everywhere. His battle with the ground hogs discouraged him from growing pumpkins. One year he planted pumpkins and the ground hogs would eat the shoots as they came up. He decided to try to combat the ground hogs. He went to find out what to do to get rid of the ground hogs. He was told to get wolf urine or lion urine. He sprinkled it around and the ground hogs ate more of the pumpkins. So he bought the little sponge flowers that one is supposed to use to keep the scent of the urine around the garden and soaked them with the urine. And the ground hogs ate the sponges.

Cheryl related a story about her mother who had had a badger traveling through her garden and digging up her prize flowers. She called about the badger and the person was excited and wanted to come see the badger rather than help Cheryl’s mother be rid of the beastie.

Neil Gaiman stated repeatedly that he is not a dog person. He did not plan to have a dog. However, he is the hero of his own story on his blog and while he did not know that he would have a dog he firmly believes that everyone else who reads his blog knew that he was going to end up owning a dog. He was heading home on the freeway and saw a large brown animal heading towards the freeway. He stopped and hauled the incredibly large, muddy dog into his mini. The dog took up his mini and was covered in mud and it smelled as though covered in cow poo.

He took the dog to the humane society because it had a chain and he posted signs.

At this point people reading his blog knew that he had a dog. He thought he was done with the dog. The humane society called him and the dog belonged to an old farmer who thought the dog was a nuisance. The lady on the phone had told the farmer that the guy who had dropped the dog off seemed fond of the dog. SO the farmer told him to get the dog.

At first he thought he had a brown dog. He has a white dog. A white german shepherd. When people tell him that they did not know that there were white german shepherds he gives them the history of the breed. He smiled mischievously and said that that is the moment that he knows he has people trapped because he can go on and on about the dog.

Amy Palmer. Both of them are in transit. They nervously started dating and then had another date when their travel schedules overlapped. Jason Webley put them together. Neil had linked to a song of Jason Webley, Jason experienced website failure, and he sent more music, and then suggested that Gaiman meet Amanda. He had always been a fan of the Dresden Dolls. They had emailed quite a bit and she emailed and told him about the photographs of herself posed dead. She asked him to write stories around the photographs. Check out www.whokilledamandapalmer.com/

He, Amanda, and Kyle Cassidy took more photographs for the project.

Neil Gaiman talked about “liner notes” and how there was a relationship with a whole album and the sequence of the albums was important. He talked about the moment he switched to CDs was when he could hit random and have the songs randomized. His daughters only buy songs– not albums. They see patterns in songs.

He says he loves introducing things– he likes telling why things are cool. His agent has banned him from doing more because he was doing too many. Cheryl said he is always enthusing about stuff that she doesn’t know about and it is kind of embarrassing. Neil said that that has to do with that Cheryl has to stay on top of the critical canon and he gets the freedom to pull from where ever. For instance, Robert Aickman is an author that he enjoys– he is an author’s author. He writes about strange things that have happened to people. Mr. Gaiman says Mr. Aickman’s stories make the world odder and are wonderful but very few people know of them.

Neil Gaiman’s first World Con was in 1987. It had many wonderful moments and one very odd one. He was put up in a room by Titan who was publishing one of his comics. He stayed up all night talking to people in the bar. Then he realized people were going to have breakfast so he went and had breakfast. Around eleven he went to his room and a woman answered the door. His room had been given away because the hotel staff thought that he had left without paying. He stood in the lobby nervously. Then someone with Titan spoke to the manager and pointed out to them that they were renting quite a number of rooms and had scheduled a couple events. Neil got a room. He never got his things back including items that he had personally purchased from the dealer room and had been stashing in the hotel room. He said that to this day he hates that hotel.

Cheryl pointed out that that was when he started wearing black. He agreed. He liked the idea of monochrome but he had been wearing all grey but there are lots of greys. Brown greys and greens greys and a whole assortment of greys. His grandmother had told him he couldn’t wear all black because of the black shirts of the 1930’s. After his grandmother had been dead for five years he bought his first black t-shirt.

London Things. Dr. Who. He felt that Dr. Who was uniquely his even though it first came out when he was around three. He could remember drinking his school milk and walking it around saying “exterminate” like a dahlek. Patrick Troughton was the doctor for him– the others were actors playing the doctor.

Neverwhere. It was the London underground.

Dr. Who changed his perspective of the universe and gave him a perspective of the fragility of the universe. Also a sense of the optimism. The new Dr. Who has undone the things that he would have undone– the time lords. In Dr. Who there is no continuity. The same discontinuity as life. And you can always go back in time and change things.

Sushi. He and Terry Pratchett survived the book signing tour for Good Omens with sushi. He had had one prior bad experience with sushi. He was taken along to pretend to be someone’s boyfriend. He figured his job was to not embarrass his friend. He started with the most unfamiliar and worked towards the most familiar. He ate different things until he came to the “avocado” bowl. He took a large ball of wasabi and saw the face of god until he could spit it out.

When he and Terry Pratchett were on tour they would each write something to build off the comments of the other. “Burn this book” and then the other would write: “Apply holy match here.”

With The Graveyard Book he knew the feel of it before he knew what the book was going to be. He talked about the next book being the LOTR to The Graveyard Book’s Hobbit so look for more great things coming from Mr. Neil Gaiman!

So this is World Con


So this is World Con.

Panels! discussions! artwork in the exhibit hall! parties! people dressed in costume! your favorite authors strolling down the hall in passing!

I am incredibly tired today. I was up tooo late last night. I went to the Masquerade which is a kind of combination talent show/costume fashion parade and then to a party where I met George R.R. Martin. He is very nice and was holding court in a room where raffle tickets were being sold to raise money for a children’s literacy program. The prizes were books that had been donated by various authors including Martin.

I started feeling wonky yesterday like I was getting sick and so I made a point of eating three meals and I took a nap. There are so many panels and discussions to go to that it is hard to know when to take a break!

I will write more later if I can find internet and I get a chance.

Mascots at World Con

This year at World Con mascots were given the opportunity to have their own badge for $5. This is my first World Con and I did not know about mascots. Mascots are stuffed animals that people carry and they are just that– they are mascots. Last night I had the opportunity to meet Buffalito.

This morning I was introduced to Riker Bear who is the mascot of U.S.S. Pioneer. He is the mascot of the Denver Science Fiction group who will be putting on the Mile HIgh Con in Denver in October and have been in existence since 1995. Riker Bear wears Build A Bear clothing, has his own car, and has been on a cruise. he travels extensively and has traveled without his owners. He is the bear pictured in the photo.

World Con: Writing Across the Genres

This morning I went to a panel discussion about writing across the genres. The panelist were James Patrick Kelly, Michael Swanwick, Ellen Klages, Delia Sherman, and Preston Grassman. Delia Sherman has a new book out called the Magic Mirror of the Mermaid Queen. She writes realistic material with folklore elements and is associated with the Interstitial Arts Foundation. Jim Kelly and Michael Swanwick are names that I am familiar with. They joked back and forth with one another and when Swanwick came in late, Jim Kelly shot a purple rubber band at him that almost hit me. Grassman is a freelance writer who has been living in Japan and is currently collaborating on a new novel with KJ Bishop. Klages described herself as writing the type of stories that people get in to bar fights over what they are not.

In this panel various different ideas for writing across genres or not were presented. The main reason for not writing across genre was economic. Swanwick described an article that Piers Anthony wrote where Anthony advocated for writers to write one funny fantasy story and then another and build up a following. In Anthony’s model the writer would create fiction that was similar to what they had written before and with each successive book they would pick up readers and earn more money.

Kelly brought up another point in that authors who write across genres are sometimes viewed as not being serious and lacking focus.

Another reason that was discussed for not writing across genre that was discussed was that if the fiction is not easily categorized it may not easily find a publisher or a place in the bookstores. Klages pointed out that short stories is a place where writers usually can write across genre and play with things. She relayed an anecdote however where “Green Glass Sea,” a short story that she wrote, she could not get published because the story was not considered “science fiction”– it was about science and was fiction. Swanwick told about hanging out with Dozois and Dozois telling him that whenever Dozois published something that did not have the impossible he got flack.

From this point came another set of ideas.

Genre categories in some ways ghetto-ize fiction. Klages pointed out that Chabon had won a Pulitzer and then he won a Hugo. She asserted that he might not have won both if the order had been reversed. It was also brought up that in science fiction circles the word literature is said with a sneer. Swanwick talked about problems in defining categories. He mentioned that in biology, species are defined by type specimens. Type specimens are dead. You cannot define a species until after you have killed it. In order to define a genre you must first kill it. He says that he tries to defy every possible rule and play with people’s expectations and minds. Boundaries are redrawn every time that someone does something that no one has seen before.

So. What are the benefits of writing across genre?

Sherman said that art is always a moving target. There is nothing wrong with staying within genre— such as Patricia McKillip. Practitioners of the epic tradition are writing beautiful things and she does not want that to stop. However, she would like to move past formula fiction. The genre has to grow in order to provide something that will be talked about in fifty years. It used to be just that literature grew. The way that things grow is that you create things that people do not have the rules to know how to approach it and have to approach it on its one terms. If it does not fit these rules– then how does one unpack it. How does one examine it? The thought process inherent in this is what keeps a literary tradition alive.

Klages said, “You have to have people who are not easily pigeon holed or else all you have is pigeon holes.” She went on to say that we learn by being exposed to new things.

A lot of the people on the panel are trying to write something else because they want something new. Writing boring fiction is boring. Swanwick said that he pays a price for writing things that are not easily classified, but he wants to do different things. He said that he could make more money in advertising or by writing the same things over and over. Swanwick said that he thinks the rules of genre pull the stories down. He says that he is not trying to break the rules but he doesn’t want to tailor down to expectations. He aims to produce something satisfying and new.

Swanwick told this joke, “What is the difference between a science fiction writer and a large pizza? The pizza can feed a family of four.”

Is Literacy in Decline?

I went to a panel this morning that was about whether or not literacy was in decline. The panel consisted of educators and librarians and one writer of historical fiction. The moderator of the panel made a distinction between literacy– as being able to read– and literateness. He suggested that while Sarah Palin was someone who he was certain could read, he did not believe her to have any degree of literateness.

I listened to what was being said for the first half an hour and decided that I was in disagreement with a great deal of what was being said. I am an educator and I disagree that our children are becoming less literate. Our children are more engaged with the stream of information than any other generation in history. They play games, look for information, and engage with a variety of different media. They are thinking and engaging with information.

It was suggested that texting is creating a loss of literacy skills. I adamantly disagree. The text of texting is a written dialect or code. It is a new type of written language and those using it are both capable of writing standard English and writing text. The usage is at this point in time situational. Further, texting may very well cause a shift or evolution in the language but this is not a detriment as long as communication is happening and thoughts are being relayed.

One educator lamented that high school students cannot write an essay. I would agree with this but I do not see this as an issue of literacy. I would prefer to take it out of the narrow context of being able to write in a subject oriented manner such as “English” or language arts. I think that this breaks into two other categories which are content and the organization of thought.

Content should not be narrowly defined. Content is anything that someone is willing to read.

Writing should be nothing more than a way to communicate and the art or skill is only one possible avenue. Writing out of necessity needs a larger meta-skill. Most people who can write at all can write a few words, a sentence, or a paragraph, but they cannot put these together in an organized way to relay thought because they do not know how to organize thought.

We are currently going through a revolution in thought and society due to the explosion of electronic media. It is only comparable to the invention of the printing press. While the printing press solidified conventions of spelling, it expanded thought. Brochures, broad sheets, pamphlets, books, etc. could suddenly be printed after the printing press was invented. The incidence of literacy in that era soared and out of that time period came huge shifts in thought and humanity moved towards more a egalitarian sense of the world.

Electronic media are making information more easily accessible both in terms of speed and in terms of widely being available. Teens text instantaneous messages. Adults tweet. News of a closed election escapes in real time. Politics and thought will shift. Geography becomes less of an obstacle. It is important to keep information free and accessible to foster further freedom and nurturance of thought.