“Elegant Little Things” – Neil Gaiman & Audrey Niffenegger @ ChicagoPublicLibrary
Make no mistake. Mr. Gaiman draws himself a crowd.
To celebrate his novel, “Neverwhere,” being selected as the One Book, One Chicago Spring 2011 selection, Neil Gaiman sat down for a conversation about the book, London, Chicago, creativity, and a bunch more topics with the also talented and accomplished Audrey Niffenegger. (If her name doesn’t sound familiar, maybe “The Time Traveler’s Wife” does. Yep, she wrote that, as well as one of my favorite books – “Her Fearful Symmetry.”)
By the time I arrived, the line was out the door and they were already into overflow seating. Fortunately, I was in the front of the overflow line which began to wind around the hall of the Harold Washington Library Center and through the lobby. Also fortunately, the library staff had it all figured out and wristbands and posters were distributed in no time at all.
My husband had left work earlier and therefore managed to get a seat in the actual auditorium. (The photo above is his.) I, however, was taken downstairs into a smaller lecture hall where a video feed was set up. I sat by a lovely man who was reading Christopher Moore’s “Bite Me,” and we struck up a conversation while waiting for the event to begin.
It started late – due to getting the 600 plus people who’d turned out seated – but around 6:20 the library commissioner and the Allstate lady were done with their spiels and the real attraction could begin.
Gaiman, in all black, and Niffenegger, in a brown-ish dress, sat center stage and chatted like the friends they are. Most of the conversation revolved around the book at hand – “Neverwhere” – and the audience was treated to the story of the book. Gaiman had become fixated on the idea of stories where a city becomes a character, and was approached to write a series for television, which is where “Neverwhere” began. (The novelization came a little later.) While working on the series, he was able to go to abandoned London Tube stops and into the sewers, and he talked about how he was surprised by the sewers and the “elegant little things in the brick.” Who would make something beautiful down where no one would hardly ever see it? As to why “Neverwhere” begins with a map of London Tube stops, Mr. Gaiman explained that “Good fantasy novels always begin with a map!”
Delving into some of the characters in “Neverwhere,” he stated that he didn’t want to write a hero when he created Richard Mayhew, and that he thought about two ideas – that, in stories, those who give are sometimes protected (like in fairy tales, where generosity saves you) but also that “No good deed goes unpunished.” By rescuing the bloodied girl on the sidewalk at the beginning of “Neverwhere,” Richard begins his coming of age story. Gaiman also spoke about the character of Anesthesia, an d how she’s one of his favorite characters because “bad things happen to good people.”
He went on to say that she’s one of those characters that, if there ever is a sequel to “Neverwhere,” may or may not appear. (Incidentally, he’s working on a short story about the Marquis character.)
After all this fascinating discourse (and much, much more) it was time for questions from the audience. Some highlights –
- What did Gaiman think of “American Gods” being taught in an American Lit class? He felt surprised – “You should have been safely dead a long time before they teach you in University.” He also went on to speak about how “American Gods” is the only book he’s written that people either love or hate – with no middle ground. Most other books he’s written, people either really like or are “meh” about, but “American Gods” has “haters.”
- How is Terry Pratchett doing? Pratchett, Gaiman’s co-writer on “Good Omens,” is doing well despite having Alzheimers. He’s still dictating novels. (Also! There’s a TV series based on “Good Omens” in the works! Fans rejoice!)
- What are the two authors reading? Gaiman is currently reading Wendy Cope’s new poetry collection, as well as Charles Dickens’ “Bleak House,” which he listens to as an audiobook while working out. His wife, Amanda Palmer, apparently can not understand how he can work out without music. Niffenegger just read a wonderful book thats coming out in September called “The Night Circus,” by Erin Morgenstern.
- What inspired “Coraline?” A Typo. Mr. Gaiman was writing a letter to someone named “Caroline,” and immediately saw the error he’d made, but it stuck with him. He thought it sounded like a great name. His daughter, who was four at the time, would crawl on his lap and tell him stories and he would write them down for her – and they were always full of monsters and witches. When he went to the bookstore to get some “really scary books for small children,” he was surprised to find there weren’t any. So “Coraline” was written as a book his daughter would love.
- How long before the end of “The Sandman” series did Gaiman know the ending? Suddenly, I heard a familiar voice over the monitor in the overflow room. My lucky husband – in the auditorium – got his question answered! Gaiman responded that he always knew how it would end, but not how long it would take to get there. What he originally thought would be thirty issues turned out to be seventy five.
All in all, overflow seating aside, it was a fascinating and terrifically entertaining evening and I’m so glad I went. If you don’t, follow @neilhimself on twitter. He’s a blast. And has really cute dogs.
Oh, and support your local libraries. Seriously.
(Photos courtesy of my genius husband and his fancy auditorium seat.)