LIVE TALKS LOS ANGELES PRESENTS: Neil Gaiman

On August 6, 2013 by Joy Shannon
photo credit: Kathy Hanson

photo credit: Kathy Hanson

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Enjoying The Ocean at the End of the Lane: Neil Gaiman at Live Talks LA

by Joy Shannon

photo credit: Kathy Hanson

photo credit: Kathy Hanson

I was first introduced to the writing of Neil Gaiman by an ex-boyfriend who used to read me his short stories from Smoke and Mirrors as I fell asleep. I am skeptical of modern fantasy fiction. I am a history buff and I love non-fiction. Though, I deeply love Tolkien and I had previously thought that The Lord of the Rings was enough fantasy for me to enjoy for my lifetime. Yet, I fell in love with Gaiman’s writing in that state between consciousness and dreaming. And this “new,” meaning post-Tolkien fantasy writer to a stodgy historian like me, won me over. This is why the story of how Neil Gaiman wrote his most recent book The Ocean At the End of the Lane touched my heart.

photo credit: Kathy Hanson

photo credit: Kathy Hanson

To an enrapt and deeply respectful literary audience at the Alex Theatre for Live Talks LA, Gaiman revealed that he began this new novel by accident. It was a short story he was writing as a “message in a bottle” to send to his wife, songstress Amanda Palmer, as she was continents away recording her album and he was missing her terribly. Yet, the story kept expanding and expanding, as Palmer was recording her album for months. Finally when the pair met in Dallas where Palmer was mixing her album, Neil began to read her the story he had written in her absence. Every night when she came home from her long days in the studio, he read her more of the short story that had become a novel, and she fell asleep to it. Perhaps this is why Palmer said in her deeply personal blog about this experience that this has become her favorite Gaiman novel: “From now on, whenever anyone asks me “which book”…it’ll likely be this one. It’s just that good.”

photo credit: Kathy Hanson

photo credit: Kathy Hanson

Both Gaiman and Palmer have openly expressed how Palmer isn’t necessarily a fantasy fiction fan because she likes honesty and feelings. Palmer’s songwriting is so personal and grounded in reality that she barely veils anything in metaphor (See her amazing recent nude performance in London that was a retort to British tabloids making a fuss over a “nipple-slip” on the Glastonbury festival stage). On the contrary, Gaiman joked that he’s not used to writing about feelings because he’s “English and male.” Yet, it seems that Palmer’s penchant for deeply personal and feeling work, has rubbed off on Gaiman. This new book probably has the most of his personal life experiences folded into what Palmer calls the creative “blender” of his imagination.

Gaiman began the Live Talks LA event by reading from his new book The Ocean At the End of the Lane, which enraptured the audience. Following this, he spoke candidly with interviewer Geoff Boucher about the ins and outs of his career and how he finds inspiration. Refreshingly, Gaiman spoke of his insecurities and need for reassurance, which was such a vulnerable human admittance from a writer of his caliber and level of success. The audience members were invited to ask him questions and one question brought about one of the most poignant few moments of the evening. An audience member’s question referenced advice Stephen King had given to Gaiman early in Gaiman’s career. King had advised Gaiman to “just enjoy” his career- from the book signings to all the press. But Gaiman admitted that he really didn’t enjoy it for years. Instead he worried about everything from deadlines to what he called “the fraud police showing up at (his) door saying ‘We know.’ ” Gaiman says it wasn’t until about ten years into his career, after he had won a Newbury Prize, that he was able to truly enjoy it, like King advised.

This story was followed up by a question that Stephen King himself had emailed into Live Talks LA before the event. King asked Gaiman if fantasy writers dream more vividly than people from the “straight world.” Gaiman jokingly admitted that he has no idea, since he’s never dreamed as anyone else. He said he used to have terrible nightmares as a child and teen, but once he started writing the Sandman series, he started to use his nightmares as story ideas. So his dreams changed, or perhaps whether he was scared of them anymore evolved, because he began to use them for some of his writing inspiration. In the end, Gaiman said that his subconscious drives his work and sometimes he feels like the “first reader” of his books, rather than the writer.

This compelling author talk, ended with Gaiman reading out from his upcoming children’s book due out this fall, which is a follow up to his 1997 book The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish. I could have fallen asleep in bliss at that moment, listening to Gaiman’s lilting tones as he read this whimsical story. That moment brought me all the way back to when I first connected to Gaiman’s writings, in the place somewhere between consciousness and my dreams. It makes utter sense to me that his wife connected to his new novel in a similar way.

After the event Gaiman signed probably about a couple thousand of books until almost 3 am. And I waited in line too, and when i got up there, he gave me a hug. All in all, it felt like a truly special evening, which both the audience and Gaiman, having long since taken Stephen King’s advice, seemed to enjoy immensely.

photo credit: Kathy Hanson

photo credit: Kathy Hanson

Links:

Neil’s new book:

http://www.neilgaiman.com/works/Books/The+Ocean+at+the+End+of+the+Lane/

Live Talks LA video of Neil’s talk:

Amanda Palmer’s blog about Gaiman’s new book:

http://amandapalmer.net/blog/20130618/

Amanda Palmer’s amazing nude performance:

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