Linda Castellani (castle) Wed 7 Aug 02 20:55
Martha Soukup introduces our next guest: According to his weblog at www.neilgaiman.com, Neil Gaiman has been writing for more than twenty years, as a top name in modern comics and a bestselling novelist, and still tends to need a haircut. This is true. His landmark monthly comic book, "Sandman," won dozens of awards from all sides, has been collected in ten volumes...and was discontinued, while DC's best-selling book, because, Neil said, he'd finished telling the story. During and after Sandman, Neil wrote a number of acclaimed graphic novels (with his collaborator, artist Dave McKean); novels, starting with the end-of-the-world humorous Terry Pratchett collaboration "Good Omens" and continuing through the recent "American Gods"; quantities of short fiction and poetry, much of it collected in the award-winning books "Angels and Visitations" and "Smoke and Mirrors"; a radio drama; the BBC miniseries "Neverwhere" (also a novel); an episode of "Babylon 5"; the illustrated (by Charles Vess) prose novel "Stardust"; a picture book for children (with Dave McKean), "The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish"; the English script for the animimated film "Princess Mononoke"; a number of his own film scripts; quantities of strange songs for the Flash Girls; and really just more things than we can list here. The Dictionary of Literary Biography calls him one of the top ten living post-modern writers. "Coraline" is Neil's first novel for children, or as he has said, "for gravely disturbed young ladies of all ages and genders." Like Alice, Coraline is a curious and sensible girl who finds herself in a disturbing and dangerous world--but a world that is thoroughly Gaiman's. Diana Wynne Jones calls it "the most splendidly original, weird, and frightening book I have read, and yet full of things children will love." Martha Soukup writes short stories. Many of them are collected in her book "The Arbitrary Placement of Walls," available from DreamHaven. She doesn't have near as many awards as Neil, but her Nebula is very shiny. Please welcome Neil Gaiman and Martha Soukup!
Neil Gaiman (neilgaiman) Wed 7 Aug 02 22:08
Thank you, Linda. You know, when you list it all out like that it looks like a lot.
Martha Soukup (soukup) Wed 7 Aug 02 23:58
Do you have the slightest idea how much you write, Neil? That left out journalism and all sorts of other things, too. That's not actually meant to be the first official question. I suppose the first official question should be, was it inevitable you write a classic children's fantasy novel after doing so many other things, and how did you come to Coraline's story?
Neil Gaiman (neilgaiman) Thu 8 Aug 02 14:26
"Do you have the slightest idea how much you write, Neil?" Well, I don't think I write anywhere near enough. So far this year I've done six comics short stories (one for each of the Endless -- still got Destiny to go for Moebius)for a big hardback book called ENDLESS NIGHTS, the first chapter and a half of a thing for Marvel called 1602, a Sherlock Holmes short story, a ghosty sort of magical Ray Bradburyish short story, a poem about writing the Arabian Nights for a Datlow-Windling book, and a very odd long short story about being undead in New Orleans. (And a few introductions and oddments, and I suppose about 50,000 words of journal for neilgaiman.com). And a couple of drafts of The Fermata for Bob Zemeckis. And maybe a few other things I can't think of offhand. But I feel sort of guilty because I haven't really started the next novel, and for that matter I have only sort of got a few pages into the next children's book... "I suppose the first official question should be, was it inevitable you write a classic children's fantasy novel after doing so many other things,and how did you come to Coraline's story?" Well, putting it like that makes my life sound a bit like a giant to-do list. (Which may not be that far off.) I've always wanted to write children's books. My first book ever, the one in the box in the attic which only ever came out to be read to Maddy (and then put back) was a children's book -- a sort of weird mixture of The Land of Green Ginger and Dr Dolittle. It wasn't very good, although it had a few decent lines in it. Coraline was the kind of book you write for your daughter. Specifically Holly, who, although almost scarily normal these days, had, in her youth, a little touch of the Wednesday Addams about her, and whose own stories normally crawled with witches pretending to be mothers and brave little girls who would escape on bicycles. I thought it would be good to write Holly a story (this was in about 1991). I ran out of time in 1992. Wrote another page or so over the course of the next 5 years and restarted it in 1998, realising that if I didn't I would have missed the opportunity to write a story for Maddy and for Holly. In 1997ish I sent the mss. so far (mid chapter 5) to Jennifer Hershey at Avon-as-was and asked for a contract, so that someone was actually waiting for it, and then wrote it, a word at a time, between everything else. I had a notebook on the bedside table, and tried to write 50 words before going to sleep at night. I wrote a chapter or so on the train to San Diego in 1999, and more of it on the CBLDF cruise in 200, then finished it in the summer of 2000 when I got stuck on American Gods... Then I went back to it in October 2001 and wrote a missing chapter I'd forgotten to put in. And then it was done. So there wasn't really any plan to write a "classic children's fantasy". It was just this odd thing I was doing for my kids when I wasn't doing something else, which was most of the time.
Martha Soukup (soukup) Thu 8 Aug 02 15:49
Now, it's just a terrible thing to put out to the rest of us that you're writing a million things a year and you don't think it's enough. Except when we're wearing our reader shoes. Then we're happy that you keep trying to write more. "Coraline" has a flow that makes it seem it was written in a few sittings, rather than a word at a time on trains and boats. Did it take a lot of rewriting to get it that way, or did you manage to get back to just the right place each time you took it back up again? A person who has met you might suspect you'd written it for your children. Except the father and mother in the book both seem to be Neil. This is the smaller question of this post: if I happened to be at your house, and you made a Recipe, would it be all right if I went to your fridge and heated up a frozen pizza from the freezer? I love Coraline's parents for letting their daughter do that.
Neil Gaiman (neilgaiman) Thu 8 Aug 02 22:17
It had its own voice from the first sentence. When I got to the end and was typing it up, I remember the only thing I found to indicate the disjointed way it had been written was one place where she put on a dressing gown, and then a few pages later she put it on again. But the rewriting was just the normal sort of wash & brush up, spit on a hankie and scrub before it goes off to see the nice people that I usually do. Less than I do with a short story, I suspect. As for parenting -- well, the person who would pronounce, with a certain amount of disgust-mixed-with-wisdom that I'd made a *recipe* again was Mike aged about 7 or 8, and he ate mini-pizzas and microwaveable french fries (they came in little boxes) whenever he decided that things had gone too far in the direction of Interesting Food. & yes, I'm pretty much both of the parents.
Martha Soukup (soukup) Thu 8 Aug 02 23:06
And how much of you is Coraline? I think she's the sort of protagonist that readers, girls at least, will all want to identify with. Was that an issue for you, was Coraline just the girl she wanted to develop as, or is it more (or less) complicated than that? Does she have literary predecessors, to your mind?
Neil Gaiman (neilgaiman) Thu 8 Aug 02 23:35
Well, there's some me in Coraline, and my kids as well, but mostly she's herself. I learned about her as I wrote her -- I discovered very early on that she was an explorer, for example. She certainly wasn't written with me going "I hope people will identify with her" -- more sort of me trying to make her believable, and to believe in her. I didn't want to make her a little adult, or to have her win by pulling something unlikely out of the air. I wanted her able to win as a kid, up against something much nastier than an adult. Literary predecessors? Hmm... probably a host of them (Alice is the obvious one) but she wasn't created as a literary gloss, more just as an attempt to get someone up and breathing and through the story...
Martha Soukup (soukup) Fri 9 Aug 02 11:27
I love that she's an explorer. I think most children are, and adults often forget that. What Coraline faces on the other side of the fourteenth door is very nasty indeed, but I've already been delighted by her patient--almost long- suffering--dealing with all the adults in the regular world. They're all very nice adults, but oblivious in their various ways to the world of a child. The ones who aren't related to her invariably get her name wrong, even though they're always happy to see her. They all have their own very intense concerns. Coraline seems pretty alone, even before she goes through the fourteenth door, because the only people she has to talk to are grownups. Did you ever consider having other kids in the (regular-world part of the) book? It would be very different....
Neil Gaiman (neilgaiman) Fri 9 Aug 02 12:47
There's a boy next door in Henry Selick's film script for Coraline, just so she has someone to talk to from time to time. And there was definitely a point while I was writing it that I thought I might let her go back to school before the events in the last chapter happened, but it seemed wrong in the end, so I didn't. I liked the fact that she copes with the world beyond the door in the same way that she copes with this world, and in the way that most kids have to cope -- you're in someone else's world without a roadmap, and the other people have more power than you and are bigger than you.
The Other Dan (stagewalker) Fri 9 Aug 02 13:33
Hello, thought I'd stick my nose in and ask a question or two. Spoilers ahead, so be warned gentle readers... I'm a little curious as to which things were intentional, and which things simply "happened" (i.e. the fact that Coraline is an explorer is something that "happened".. she told you, and not the other way around). In particular, I was wondering about The Other Mother as the power figure in the world beyond the door. All the other beings, including The Other Father are simply creations of hers... manifestations of her will (although with a certain degree of sentience of their own) Was it intentional to give Coraline a foe that was (or approximated) her own gender, or did The Other Mother just push Other Father aside and say "I'm in charge!"? I'm also curious as to the nature of the oldest child in the closet. It was a nice little surprise that I didn't see coming. Did you?
Martha Soukup (soukup) Fri 9 Aug 02 13:43
Another small non-spoilerish question: You've set the book in England. Why England, for this particular story?
Neil Gaiman (neilgaiman) Fri 9 Aug 02 18:28
Stagewalker -- all of them things I learned, rather than things that were planned. Martha -- Actually, I set the book in the house (and flat) I lived in when I started writing it, with a little bit of the house I grew up in (well, that's where the door comes from). Why? Well, it was going to be Holly's book, and I thought she'd get a kick out of making it her house (even down to the mirror that was a wardobe door at the end of the hall).
Martha Soukup (soukup) Fri 9 Aug 02 18:30
A very personal book. Which makes me wonder: who's the cat?
Neil Gaiman (neilgaiman) Fri 9 Aug 02 19:09
The cat started out because I really wanted a cat -- our flat had a no animals rule. And I missed them. By the time I got to the last two thirds of the book I'd had my houseful of cats for a long time -- one reason why the cat is so, well, cattish, I suspect.
Maure Luke (maureluke) Fri 9 Aug 02 21:59
Neil, having worked in an elementary school in which teachers are asked not to read the Harry Potter books to their classes because of a perceived threat to Christianity, I was particularly impressed by your choice of the Chesterton opening quotation. Why and how did you come to choose it?
Neil Gaiman (neilgaiman) Fri 9 Aug 02 22:50
Maure -- which is odd, considering that J.K. Rowling is, as she points out, a Christian. (But then, I don't remember Christ ever preaching Against People Who Made Stuff Up, or the chapter in Matthew about Jesus throwing the Fantasy Authors out of the Temple. In fact he was quite big on the whole Parable bit.) I've been a fan of Chesterton's since I was ten. That was a quote I ran into in one of his essays (I love Chesterton essays) which I wrote at the top of the manuscript in order to keep myself focused on what the story was about. And once the book was done, it seemed right to keep it there. I'm sure that CORALINE will run into its own problems, sooner or later, although it's low on sex, swearing, overt violence, disrespect to authority, and magic-using heroines. Probably people will complain about it being The Wrong Sort of Book. And Not Reassuring Enough.
Maure Luke (maureluke) Fri 9 Aug 02 23:18
>>I'm sure that CORALINE will run into its own problems Oh I hope not, although that could be taken as a sign of its success. I liked the quotation very much, because it suits the story so well, and because it's an answer to people who underestimate children, and would have them read the kinds of stories that don't require or provide any kind of reassurance.
D. Snyder (jonl) Sat 10 Aug 02 05:26
Email from Davey: Hi Neil, hi Martha. One of the aspects of Coraline that made her most real to me was the way she simply accepts her worlds at face value. I wonder about the button eyes, and how Coraline's transition to the Other Place would be completed by allowing those buttons to be *sewn on* -- in whose nightmares did you find that image? (My reaction to that entire idea had absolutely nothing rational about it, and the tapping of a long red fingernail against the Other Mother's eye was horrifically effective reinforcement.) Davey
Neil Gaiman (neilgaiman) Sat 10 Aug 02 15:02
Maure -- I did a hasty hunt to see if I could find that quote from Chesterton online. I found something close in an extract from Tremendous Trifles -- "FAIRY-TALES do not give a child his first idea of bogy. What fairy-tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogy. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy-tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon." Davey -- I wish I knew where the button eyes came from. I can explain them in retrospect, but have no real memory of the moment they entered the story. I think that the moment that the Other Mother entered my head she had big black buttons for eyes. The needle and thread scene, and the fingers tapping, just came about as something that followed on logically from that.
Martha Soukup (soukup) Sat 10 Aug 02 15:18
And the mouse orchestra?
Linda Castellani (castle) Sat 10 Aug 02 15:45
I loved the mouse orchestra! And I especially loved how they kept sending messages that were spot on, so you knew they were real, even if the messenger thought he was delivering nonsense. About those button eyes, which are really, really disturbing, I have to know: were they sewn to the eye*lids* or to the actual eyeball itself?
Mary Roane (the-roane) Sat 10 Aug 02 23:04
You said you realized later that you'd left a chapter out and added it. Which one was it?
Neil Gaiman (neilgaiman) Sun 11 Aug 02 01:05
Linda -- ow... onto and through the eyelids into the eyes, I expect. Could be wrong though. Mary -- it was Sarah Odedina my UK editor who asked "whatever happened to the other father"? and I realised I knew, but hadn't explained...
D. Snyder (jonl) Sun 11 Aug 02 05:54
Email from Davey: Neil, perhaps your mother was frightened by a gruesome stuffed toy while she was carrying you. No, wait, that doesn't quite work out... Linda, I'm going to sleep now, *before* Neil answers your question and I have more nightmare fodder, eep. (And my sewing circle meets tomorrow, too!) Neil, do you have any particular thoughts about the comparisons to ALICE IN WONDERLAND? It's been a while since I last re-read ALICE but I don't remember it being as threatening a story as CORALINE. (And I suddenly had this odd wondering non sequitur moment: what if something like ALICE had been written by Shel Silverstein? Sorry.) (By the way, congratulations on the WFA nomination for AG. I do believe that makes a clean sweep, yes? I'm impressed, and very pleased, but not surprised.) Davey
Neil Gaiman (neilgaiman) Sun 11 Aug 02 09:12
Davey -- I got an e-mail from Mark Kelly at Locus online to let me know that American Gods was the first book to make a clean sweep of nominations. I think the Alice comparisons are simply because it's a book everyone's heard of in which a girl goes somewhere else. Coraline's a very different kind of thing, though. (For a start, and importantly, it's not a dream.) I remember putting the rhythms of Alice and the Cheshire Cat into the first dialogue between the black cat and Coraline, with a certain amount of joy (I used to know Alice In Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass pretty much word for word -- as a kid I could recite them. Still have most of the poetry in there) but that's the only place where I had the book echo Alice, at least consciously.
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