inkwell.vue.116 : New York Times Bestselling Author Neil Gaiman: _American Gods_
permalink #0 of 406: Linda Castellani (castle) Thu 28 Jun 01 17:00
    
Our next guest is truly one who needs no introduction.  That didn't stop
me from asking his interviewer, Martha Soukup, to write one, anyway, and
in response, she graciously provided the following:

"Neil Gaiman writes everything, or at least some of everything.  He did
some journalism and then he changed comics just a touch or more with the
Sandman series.  Dark and funny and sad and smart and curious, it had some
of everything in it, and it won all sorts of honors from comics people and
non-comics people, but it was just a bit of what Neil wanted to write.

"So he has written graphic novels (Mr Punch, Signal to Noise, and others)
with his brilliant artist friend Dave McKean; and short stories (collected
in Angels & Visitations and in Smoke and Mirrors); and a television series
for the BBC, Neverwhere; and a children's book (The Day I Swapped My Dad for
Two Goldfish); and songs (for The Flash Girls); and poems; and the English
version of an anime script (Princess Mononoke); and quite a few novels
already (starting with Good Omens, with Terry Pratchett, and continuing
through Neverwhere and Stardust, also as an illustrated novel with Charles
Vess); and a radio play (of Signal to Noise); and a silly bit of doggerel to
introduce a short-story collection; and several film screenplays, many of
which Hollywood is bound to eventually get around to making in its
fits-and-starts way.

"_American Gods_, Neil's longest work since the Sandman series, is already
a New York Times bestseller.  After living in a mysterious house in the
middle of America for most of the last decade, Neil has written about a
country even stranger than it looked from the outside, a country that
takes its soul from everywhere in the world, and transforms it into
nothing you could have expected.  His protagonist, Shadow, a big,
thoughtful man deeply in love with his wife, has spent three years in
prison staying out of trouble, serving his time.  Trouble, he learns even
before he meets the mysterious Mr. Wednesday, is waiting on the outside.  
His old life is over, the gods are afoot, and a storm is brewing--"

Martha Soukup will be interviewing Neil, and maybe we can get her to tell
us more about this "silly bit of doggerel as the introduction to her short
story collection, _The Arbitrary Placement of Walls_", that she keeps
mentioning.  She has won nowhere near as many awards as Neil Gaiman, but
she does have a Nebula around somewhere.

It gives me great pleasure to have Neil and Martha in inkwell.vue.  Please
join me in welcoming them to this discussion of _American Gods_.
  
inkwell.vue.116 : New York Times Bestselling Author Neil Gaiman: _American Gods_
permalink #1 of 406: Neil Gaiman (neilgaiman) Fri 29 Jun 01 13:39
    
Thank you for the introduction, Linda and Martha... I`m looking
forward to the interview. Ask the first question...
  
inkwell.vue.116 : New York Times Bestselling Author Neil Gaiman: _American Gods_
permalink #2 of 406: Martha Soukup (soukup) Fri 29 Jun 01 20:09
    
Hi, Neil.

Here I am in Las Vegas, where I wasn't this morning.  Halfway between my
hotel and the Bellagio's box office is a small storefront with a big sign
that says TOURS and WIN and FREE INTERNET.  I asked the chipper uniformed
woman in front, "What's the catch?  ", which seems a fair question to ask
just at random moments in this city.

"No catch," she said.  "You got in and there's Internet."

So I went in to start the interview there.  The catch: one iMac station,
two people ahead of me, nothing to do but read brochures about taking a
helicopter to the Grand Canyon and having lunch by the Colorado River.
Half an hour later, under the sign that said PLEASE BE COURTOUES, I found I
couldn't telnet to my e-mail and I didn't remember the command to enter
this topic.

So I'm in my hotel.  I dropped exactly one quarter in a slot in the casino
downstairs.

And being here, after waking this morning in cool San Francisco, prompts
this question:

How do you possibly approach writing a book--one book--that is set in San
Francisco and Las Vegas and Wisconsin and Chicago?  What can just one book
say about all of America and its mythologies?  You did say a lot--but what
made you think you could?

Now I am going to the bachelor party of my ex-Mormon friend from Utah, who
moved to Brooklyn, which are another two very different Americas.
  
inkwell.vue.116 : New York Times Bestselling Author Neil Gaiman: _American Gods_
permalink #3 of 406: Neil Gaiman (neilgaiman) Sat 30 Jun 01 00:34
    
Well, I wasn't sure that I could, and I'm not quite sure whether or
not I did. But I did know that I wanted to try. Living in the US for
the last 8 years I've seen so many things that seemed to me to be
strange and interesting and unlikely, and I wanted to explain them and
understand them and describe them.

Las Vegas, for example, is in the book because I wanted to try and
describe it. The same with winter. 

Writers tend to input for a while. Then they ponder. Then they output.

I've been seeing a lot of America, and doing a lot of pondering for 8
years.

Charles Brown of Locus asked me why I thought that Clive Barker and I
were the only writers of the fantastic who tackled America as a
mythological place. And I said I didn't know. Bbut thinking about it,
and allowing that the initial statement is true (which it may or not
be, and probably isn't) it might be because americans, being surrounded
by america, do not write about it because it's neither exotic nor
strange to them. (Although I can't see how anyone could not regard any
of it as exotic and strange.)

(And I'm not sure I've ever been anywhere, on any continent, that
wasn't exotic and strange on some level.)
  
inkwell.vue.116 : New York Times Bestselling Author Neil Gaiman: _American Gods_
permalink #4 of 406: Martha Soukup (soukup) Sat 30 Jun 01 17:18
    
Still in Las Vegas, having had an interesting time at the (boys') bachelor
party and another interesting time at the Elvis wedding.  I wish it would be
winter in Las Vegas.  Right now.

I want to ask a little about your protagonist.  In your earlier books
Stardust and Neverwhere, you went the fine old route of having for your
protagonist someone who was a naif, and innocent of the world he was
entering, and who grew up and became more assured and useful from a rather
flustered start.

Shadow is in some ways a naif.  He knows nothing of the world of gods he
finds himself embroiled in as he gets out of prison at the start of the
novel.  But he's a grown man, a married man, a strong and self-assured man
from the start.  We feel there are things we don't know about him and maybe
that he doesn't know about himself.

And he's very much in love with his wife, which does create difficulties for
him.  But it seems to me also that it's not the usual thing in a big fantasy
story of a questish sort to have a married human protagonist.

I liked him, in short.  Can you talk about him a little and what let you
spend so many hundreds of pages with him yourself?  I might have thought it
would be tricky making someone who seems like just some guy as interesting
as or more interesting than all the flashy gods he comes across.
  
inkwell.vue.116 : New York Times Bestselling Author Neil Gaiman: _American Gods_
permalink #5 of 406: Linda Castellani (castle) Sun 1 Jul 01 15:01
    

Just a reminder to those who are reading along on the Web and aren't WELL
members:  e-mail your comments and questions about American Gods to
inkwell-hosts@well.com and we will see that they get posted here for Neil
to respond to.
  
inkwell.vue.116 : New York Times Bestselling Author Neil Gaiman: _American Gods_
permalink #6 of 406: Dan Wilson (stagewalker) Sun 1 Jul 01 18:25
    
Ah, we get to ask questions already?
Well then....

Neil,
with Sandman, you created a world that was so richly populated and
delightful and strange and interesting that a whole slew of authors
were quite willing to play in it, thus creating the Book of Dreams. In
American Gods, you have created a world that is just as rich for
exploration. What are the odds of seeing a short story compilation
based on the gods and humans encountered in American Gods? It's
probably entirely too early to even think about this, but I did, and so
I'm asking. *grin*

Dan
  
inkwell.vue.116 : New York Times Bestselling Author Neil Gaiman: _American Gods_
permalink #7 of 406: Lenny Bailes (jroe) Sun 1 Jul 01 20:29
    
John Barth's Giles Goat Boy and Robert Sheckley's Journey of Joenes
are two stories that have tackled America as a mythological place.  But
both of those were satirical pastiches of Greek literature. They   
transposed Greek gods to American settings but didn't explore
mythic figures that grow naturally on American soil.
  
inkwell.vue.116 : New York Times Bestselling Author Neil Gaiman: _American Gods_
permalink #8 of 406: Neil Gaiman (neilgaiman) Sun 1 Jul 01 22:23
    
Martha -- sorry about the delay in replying. I was fried last night.
Today I did a 7 hour signing and may now be equally fried....

There were two things that were important in making Shadow, I think.
One of which was being sick and tired of the C.S. Lewis line about how
writing about how odd events strike odd people is an oddity too much.
It was something I'd tried to stick to in Neverhere and in Stardust --
both conceived at the same time, and with similar heroes making the
transition from boy to man -- but which I was really feeling was
fundamentally dishonest, not least because it makes one pretend that
there are people who *aren't* odd.  And I'm not sure I've ever met any
of those.  And I missed Sandman, in which I don't think anyone was
normal or usual, because once you saw them from the inside no-one is.

So that was part of it.

The other part of it is aging, I suppose. I liked the idea of writing
a man who was  a man as the story started.

The hardest thing with Shadow was realising that he had to be third
person. The first draft of the first chapter was also a first person
narrative -- but a very frustrating one, as he didn't tell you what he
thought or felt, just what happened. I let it sit for several months
knowing it was wrong. Likewise the arrival in Lakeside, which I'd
originally started as a short story for the 999 anthology, and
abandoned, was in first person.

When I recast it in the third person it worked like a charm.

I liked spending time with him. Occasionally I'd get frustrated with
editors who would say things like "But he's just a big dumb guy, how
does he know who jackson Pollock is?" and I'd know that I'd failed in
making Shadow work as someone who embodies contradictions. And somehow
is much more real when he pretends to be things...

Dan -- there's a story with Mr Nancy I want to do soonish that's much
shorter than American Gods.

Lenny -- exactly. And they neither of them take any delight in or
explore the Americanness of things -- the Pentagon scene in Joenes
isn't about the Pentagon, for example. I remember the Sot-weed factor
as being much more american than Giles Goat boy, but I was only 13 or
14 when I read them and it was a long time ago.
  
inkwell.vue.116 : New York Times Bestselling Author Neil Gaiman: _American Gods_
permalink #9 of 406: JaNell, wondering about the fate of Yggdrasil (janell) Sun 1 Jul 01 22:41
    
Neil-
Lakeside is Menomonie, Wisconson, correct?

If so, is the meaning of the root (Latin, not Native American),
'Main Entry: men-
Variant(s): or meno-
Function: combining form
Etymology: New Latin, from Greek mEn month -- more at MOON'

in short, 'Moon', purposeful, or coincidental? 

If it was purposeful, is this multiplicity of levels of clues
consistant elsewhere in the book? I'll end up feeling like Humbert
Humbert, without the pedophilia...


A brief search also yielded this:

"Just sixty miles east of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota..."
  
inkwell.vue.116 : New York Times Bestselling Author Neil Gaiman: _American Gods_
permalink #10 of 406: Martha Soukup (soukup) Sun 1 Jul 01 23:29
    
Shadow is clearly a big quiet man who doesn't mind (and sometimes finds
useful) people thinking him dumb.  I thought that was clear even before you
described his childhood as a bookish, bullied boy.

I hesitate to ask another question while you're recovering from a seven-hour
signing.  Let me see if I can think of a short one.


Do you think it's important for readers to recognize the gods in the book to
"get" the story?
  
inkwell.vue.116 : New York Times Bestselling Author Neil Gaiman: _American Gods_
permalink #11 of 406: Neil Gaiman (neilgaiman) Mon 2 Jul 01 00:17
    
JaNell -- no, Lakeside's not Menomonie any more than it's Fond du Lac
or  Rice Lake.

Lakeside's in Northeast Wisconsin, for a start. It's not a college
town, which Menomonie is. And it has a town square.

Keep looking...

And while Shadow's name(s) have a variety of meanings that's certainly
not one of them. 

(menomonie/menominee etc mean "wild rice", of course, and it's native
american.)

martha -- I hope not.  I tried to give enough information that people
would go "Oh, I get what kind of person this is," without needing to
know who they were. Obviously the Cairo stuff works better if you know
who Thoth and Anubis are, but mostly I felt like I'd buried enough
information in the book to keep people who didn't have a clue about
mythology reading and enjoying it, even if they didn't get everything
they could get out of it.
  
inkwell.vue.116 : New York Times Bestselling Author Neil Gaiman: _American Gods_
permalink #12 of 406: Linda Castellani (castle) Mon 2 Jul 01 08:44
    
E-mail from Maggie:

Hi Neil!

First I'd like to thank you for taking the time to come out for signings, 
and for devoting so much time to your journal and this topic.  I was at The 
Stars Our Destination signing with my sister and two sons - you signed my 
eldest's TDISMDFTG and my newsgroup t-shirt.  (Our pictures were a wash, 
alas.)  Thank you again, you made our entire year!

What I've really enjoyed about AG is the little flicker of recognition 
after meeting a character, the "Hey, I know who this is!" realization that 
sneaks up on you with each god we meet.

What influenced your choices of the gods that we meet?   Thoth and Anubis 
were instantly recognizable, but others not so (the Czernobog and the 
Zorya, for instance...I really had to think about them for a minute!)  Was 
it your intention to be very obvious with some, and rather subtle with others?

I'm re-reading, after having gobbled up AG over the course of my ride back 
to Ohio and the following morning.  It's amazing to me, how many little 
details escaped me the first time through - you've inspired me to brush up 
on my mythology again and reminded me how much I always enjoyed the old tales.


Maggie      UIN 10248195
http://www.chocolatefiends.com
"I will.  For chocolate."             
  
inkwell.vue.116 : New York Times Bestselling Author Neil Gaiman: _American Gods_
permalink #13 of 406: JaNell (janell) Mon 2 Jul 01 09:01
    
I was actually cheating a bit, looking for an intelligent question
(failed) after checking other people's guesses. 
Do you really want us to look for the 'real' names of the charectors?
I mean, for instance, the tree Shadow (Baldur?)is sacrificed on seems
to be the Yggdrasil, the women there the Norns or Nornir (the Fates),
and the water is from the Well of Urd?

The temptation here is to actually critique the book, or the
storyline, and I'm not sure that's what y'all are looking for, either.

A question I do have- its seems that (most of the) women /goddesses
who have sex in AG, like in horror flicks, must die. Why?
  
inkwell.vue.116 : New York Times Bestselling Author Neil Gaiman: _American Gods_
permalink #14 of 406: Neil Gaiman (neilgaiman) Mon 2 Jul 01 10:49
    
Maggie -- I remember you! Sorry that the photos didn't come out.

I didn't want a recognisable line-up. I like the fact that nobody
really knows the slavic gods -- and that there are gods of lots of
different levels of fame out there. 

i tried to build AG to be re-read. The first time everything's a
surprise. The second time you see patterns. I hope.

JaNell  -- do I want you to look for the real names of things. Real in
what sense?  I mean, yes to the tree, the women and the well, but
there's nothing hidden about that.

Women who have sex dying like in horror films? Hmm... I think you're
simply wrong on that, or reaching for somethign not there. Men and
women and gods have sex and don't have sex and have sex on and
off-stage in the book. All of them die in the end, obviously, except
the ones who are still living when the story's done.  Essie Tregowan
certainly has sex, and she dies, but I'm not sure I see the link.
Bilquis has a sex scene at the beginning, and she has her unfortunate
run in with the technical boy later in the book, just as  an arab taxi
driver in New York has sex and he may well have been killed by a fallen
girder, but it's not in either case a punishment for the sex, it's
because a war is on and people are getting killed.

Certainly the only person who makes love to Shadow in the time frame
of the book survives comfortably to the end, and beyond.
  
inkwell.vue.116 : New York Times Bestselling Author Neil Gaiman: _American Gods_
permalink #15 of 406: JaNell (janell) Mon 2 Jul 01 10:51
    <scribbled by janell Mon 2 Jul 01 10:52>
  
inkwell.vue.116 : New York Times Bestselling Author Neil Gaiman: _American Gods_
permalink #16 of 406: JaNell (janell) Mon 2 Jul 01 10:56
    <scribbled by janell Mon 2 Jul 01 10:59>
  
inkwell.vue.116 : New York Times Bestselling Author Neil Gaiman: _American Gods_
permalink #17 of 406: JaNell (janell) Mon 2 Jul 01 10:57
    <scribbled by janell Mon 2 Jul 01 17:49>
  
inkwell.vue.116 : New York Times Bestselling Author Neil Gaiman: _American Gods_
permalink #18 of 406: JaNell (janell) Mon 2 Jul 01 11:03
    
Honey, I just like to see what's underneath... the layers and patterns
of things are fascinating to me... so I was looking for those, went
way too deep, and then unfortunately lapsed into teasing you a bit.
  
inkwell.vue.116 : New York Times Bestselling Author Neil Gaiman: _American Gods_
permalink #19 of 406: Kelly (kellyhills) Mon 2 Jul 01 12:23
    
We can ask questions? :-)  Maybe I won't be so tongue-tied in front of
a computer...

Neil: I was curious how you chose which gods to use as characters, and
also curious why you used the Norse gods as the 'main' gods? ... I
quite liked one description of Loki, which immediately popped to mind a
mental image of a Sandman comic; did you use the Norse gods simply
because you had before?


-Kelly
  
inkwell.vue.116 : New York Times Bestselling Author Neil Gaiman: _American Gods_
permalink #20 of 406: abbe (abbecohen) Mon 2 Jul 01 12:58
    
Are the Slavic gods real?  (Oops, no, I didn't mean to just ask 
"does God exist?" or "are the gods real, or figments of our
imagination..." or any such philosophical questions... but having
typed them, I am amused enough to let them stay.)   

Rather, do they come from a particular nation's mythology, and 
did they really have those names in the original mythology?  
If not, what was the inspiration for using such literal names?

As I'm busy trying to become conversant in a Slavic language,
I was entertained when I realized I could decipher the names down to
Black-god and White-god, and the slightly more puzzling "Zorya"
Morning, "Zorya" Evening, and "Zorya" Midnight.   I believe Zorya means
dawn, or at least in the Slavic language I'm learning it does: which
makes little sense if taken literally - but perhaps if you 
take "dawn" to mean "the beginning of" it juxtaposes better.
  
inkwell.vue.116 : New York Times Bestselling Author Neil Gaiman: _American Gods_
permalink #21 of 406: JaNell (janell) Mon 2 Jul 01 15:06
    <scribbled by janell Mon 2 Jul 01 17:55>
  
inkwell.vue.116 : New York Times Bestselling Author Neil Gaiman: _American Gods_
permalink #22 of 406: Rebecca (nefertiti) Mon 2 Jul 01 16:24
    
Neil--I'm clinging to Kelly's shirttails in asking:

Which gods sprang immediately to mind, and which revealed themselves
as characters upon research?  Which did you have to cut, which ones
were you saddest about cutting (if any), and which came knocking at
your door, so to speak, too late--after you were done with American
Gods?

I suppose my impetus for writing extra stuff onto Kelly's very nice
question is that I live on a farm in KY (I came to your Lexington
signing), and it struck me as I was working with our cows that, given
the popularity (at least in parts of the country) of livestock shows,
etc., it's a shame that Hathor (Egyptian cow-headed goddess) didn't
show up.  After all, those shows (and come to think of it, most animal
shows...), and all the attention paid to the animals, would be a
veritable banquet of worship to their respective deities.  Or...does
being a cow goddess pretty well exempt you from bloody combat?  (And if
you think so...you should meet some of my cows...)

Thanks,
Rebecca
  
inkwell.vue.116 : New York Times Bestselling Author Neil Gaiman: _American Gods_
permalink #23 of 406: Rebecca (nefertiti) Mon 2 Jul 01 16:28
    
It comes to mind, of course, after I've posted my last question, that
all kinds of gods could have been in the background...just not the
foreground.  Sorry bout that.
  
inkwell.vue.116 : New York Times Bestselling Author Neil Gaiman: _American Gods_
permalink #24 of 406: Martha Soukup (soukup) Mon 2 Jul 01 23:40
    
Neil, you already have a lot of questions on the table, so you can table
this one for later if you like.

Did you have a larger scheme in mind with the parts of America you use in
the book?  Or are they just all places you'd wanted to write about?  (Which
could be a scheme itself.)
  
inkwell.vue.116 : New York Times Bestselling Author Neil Gaiman: _American Gods_
permalink #25 of 406: JaNell (janell) Tue 3 Jul 01 05:29
    
Glad you asked, Martha, I was wondering about that, too... how/why did
you come to use Rock City? Was it just that's it's a primo example of
America's merchandising of historical, landmark, and sacred places?

I have a theory about that tendency, that it's a matter of controlling
or diminishing things we have no power over, didn't make ourselves,
and don't understand... 


Even though I lived in Chattanooga for six years, I've only been to
Rock City once, as a very small child, but I'll hide that story on 115.
  

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