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Neil Gaiman: Different Kinds of Pleasure February 2005

Neil Gaiman's first work in the SF field was as co-editor of Ghastly Beyond Belief, a book of humorous SF quotations (1985, with Kim Newman). His career in comics began with "Violent Cases" (1987), but he is best known for his ground-breaking "Sandman" comic/graphic series, which began in 1989 and includes "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (1990), the only comic to win a World Fantasy Award. Recent forays into comics include The Sandman: Endless Nights (2003) and miniseries 1602 (2004).

His novels include Good Omens (1990, with Terry Pratchett); Neverwhere (1996), the novelization of his BBC dark fantasy miniseries; Stardust (1998); American Gods (2001), winner of the Hugo, International Horror Guild, and Locus awards; and YA novel Coraline, winner of the Hugo, Nebula, Stoker, and Locus Awards. Anansi Boys is due in September 2005.

Other books include Don't Panic: The Official Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Companion (1998); collections Angels and Visitations: A Miscellany (1993) and Smoke and Mirrors (1998);
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anthology Book of Dreams, co-edited with Ed Kramer (1997); and two graphic children's books with Dave McKean, The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish (1997) and The Wolves in the Walls (2003). He also directed A Short Film About John Bolton (2003). He wrote the script for forthcoming film Mirrormask, directed by Dave McKean.

He lives with his wife near Minneapolis.

Excerpts from the interview:

“The power of being an author, the joy of it for me, is that if one wasn't an author one would be a really boring person filled with peculiar bits of trivia, the sort you meet in a bar saying 'Did you know that...?' For an author, all of this 'white knowledge,' the kipple in the back of your head, no longer is old keys and broken batteries, abandoned buttons, forgotten paper clips; it's actually useful! Most authors I know, whether or not they went through a standard education in their fields, tend to be autodidacts. And they tend to have that immense love of stuff, of promiscuous and unbridled reading.”


“Back when I was starting out, I attached to my typewriter (I haven't had a typewriter since 1986) a quote from Muddy Waters: 'Don't let your mouth write no check your tail can't cash.' Actually, my entire career has consisted of my mouth writing checks and my tail having to figure out how to cash them! When I look at stories of mine, I often compare them to the Platonic ideal of the story I had when I set out to write it, and they fall short. Which is fine. I think if I was satisfied with what I was doing, I would stop. But I love discovering and learning these skills. I like writing short stories -- the joy of making a well-written story is unlike anything else in the world -- though I'm not yet good enough, so they still have that quality of making a clay pot when you're at school. Sometimes you're going to get one that looks peculiarly lopsided and incredibly ugly, the kind of thing you present to your grandmother, who will say, 'Thank you, dear' and maybe put a rose in it if she knows you're coming. Then sometimes you'll make something and go, 'Fuck, it's a pot!'”


“There's that sort of quality to 'A Study in Emerald'. There is no rational reason why this peculiarly goofy idea, mixing bits of Sherlock Holmes and the Old Ones of H.P. Lovecraft, should have become a story that was better loved than anything else I wrote, yet it was. And I knew when I finished it that I'd done something really cool. When I was writing it, it was deeply frustrating (I started it a couple of ways that didn't work), and now I've won a Hugo for it. That's wonderfully gratifying. And I'm convinced that if only I were a better writer, I could do it on demand, not make any more of those lopsided pots that didn't work.”


“I'm still working on Anansi Boys, partly because it took me a long time to figure out how I wanted to shape it. One difficulty with it is the fact that it's funny. Since Terry Pratchett has single-handedly colonized such an enormous territory of classic English humor -- laying down the streets, the shape of jokes -- I didn't feel I could go back to the kind of style the two of us used when we wrote Good Omens. So I had to figure out a way to write a funny novel that was not a Terry Pratchett novel. I decided my models were going to be Thorne Smith and P.G. Wodehouse. I chuntered along happily doing one or two thousand words a day, and then I looked up and realized the novel had taken on this wonderful life of its own. You thought you knew the plot, but every now and then you invent a little bit of business that wasn't in the plot. I got to the point where I thought I was just starting Act Three, but when I stopped and typed it up I discovered I was well over 50,000 words into a novel that I'd always planned to be 70,000 words (that was the Wodehouse length). Also, there was an awful lot of plot, to the point where if I went back and used the ending I'd had in mind when I started it would sort of fizzle. So I did the sensible thing and stopped writing it for a couple of months, to let it 'compost.' Finishing it was an extremely odd experience, because Anansi Boys oscillates between being a funny novel with some scary and disturbing bits, and a disturbing novel with some funny bits, and the second half was, on the whole, fairly dark, and having figured out how to write it funny once again I had to admit that I had no idea at all of what I was doing, and then I had to do it anyway. But eventually it finished itself in zeroth draft (with a lot of help from me) and right now I have to type up all the handwritten scenes, stitch them together and find out if I have a novel or not when it's done. I hope I do. I think I do.”


“SF has always been about people helping one another: the immense generosity of trying to create more writers in genre, looking after them and showing them the ropes. It still holds true despite all the infighting, all the things that can go wrong. Here's an example. Colin Greenland sent me Susanna Clarke's first story; I read it and fell in love with it. (He'd already met her and fallen in love with her.) I sent it to Patrick Nielsen Hayden because I thought he would love it, and he bought it for Starlight. What's lovely about that is, the very first person I dared show any of my fiction to in 1983 was Colin Greenland, after we met at a Brian Aldiss signing and got on like a house on fire. (Those first stories of mine were terrible, whereas Susanna is a genius.)”


“I still love the book-ness of books, the smell of books; I am a book fetishist -- books to me are the coolest and sexiest and most wonderful things there are. For an author, they're your headstone and your living monument: mine will allow me to lecture and entertain people long after I'm gone. Isaac Asimov put it best when he pointed out that the book, especially the paperback book, is a perfectly designed thing. It does not need an on-and-off switch; it doesn't need power; it's comfortable to read -- black print on white paper, driven by sunlight, is terrifically efficient; it's a good size for putting down, and when you drop it you can find your place almost immediately. But I get deeply and genuinely pissed off that books weigh anything, and if I want to take them with me I have to load up a suitcase or the trunk of the car with them. Information weighs nothing!”


The full interview, with biographical profile, is published in the February 2005 issue of Locus Magazine.

You may purchase this issue for $7.95 by sending a check to Locus, PO Box 13305, Oakland CA 94661; or via credit card submitted by mail, e-mail, or phone at (510) 339-9198. (Or, Subscribe.)


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