inkwell.vue.257 : Neil Gaiman, "Anansi Boys"
permalink #0 of 87: Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Wed 19 Oct 05 08:24
    
Our next guest first joined us in Inkwell more than five years ago and he's
been hangin' around intermittently ever since, much to our delight. Welcome
again, Neil Gaiman!

Neil is a messy-haired white male author trapped in the body of an identical
white male author with perhaps even less-tidy hair. His books and comics
have won many awards. He thanks you for your offer of a comb but does not
believe it would do any good. Despite being English, he lives more in
America than he does anywhere else in the world, and is currently somewhere
in his mid-forties. He wrote ANANSI BOYS especially for you.

Leading the conversation with Neil is author and former Inkwell host Martha
Soukup. She modestly describes herself thusly:

Martha Soukup is extremely obscure, but is known to have a book collection
of short stories called _The Arbitrary Placement of Walls_ (DreamHaven), and
a play running at the Exit Theatre in downtown San Francisco through the end
of October, called, obscurely, "Manumission".  She has won many fewer awards
than Neil Gaiman and so feels it is all right to mention that there've been
some, but mostly wishes to mention again that, if you're in San Francisco
and October isn't over yet, you can see some very funny actors in that play.
  
inkwell.vue.257 : Neil Gaiman, "Anansi Boys"
permalink #1 of 87: Neil Gaiman (neilgaiman) Wed 19 Oct 05 10:54
    
And it doesn't seem five years since we did the first of these (for
Sandman: Dream Hunters, wasn't it?). Ah well. I'm here. Hullo Martha.
What would you like to know?
  
inkwell.vue.257 : Neil Gaiman, "Anansi Boys"
permalink #2 of 87: Martha Soukup (soukup) Wed 19 Oct 05 11:31
    
Hello, Neil.

There are so very many things I really would like to know.  And many
of them are things I'd like to know about this book!

But I guess we should start with the very basic question about this
book.  In _American Gods_, you had a huge canvas with gods of many
countries, continents, and times.

But this book concentrates on one god, Anansi.  (And a few other
animal gods who come in and out of the picture.)  Tell us why an entire
novel for Anansi--or the children of Anansi?
  
inkwell.vue.257 : Neil Gaiman, "Anansi Boys"
permalink #3 of 87: Neil Gaiman (neilgaiman) Wed 19 Oct 05 14:15
    
Well, it's not really a book for Anansi, what with him dying when the
book begins, or it is, because it's an Anansi story and all stories are
Anansi stories, after all. 

Mostly I just liked the idea of writing a book about families,
something small and light and funny that would make people feel happier
at the end than they were when they began. And I had the title and the
story - well, the situation -- of Anansi Boys in my head years before
American Gods, so borrowed Mr Nancy as a special guest star for it from
something I hadn't written yet.

And I didn't want to write a book that would take several years to
write, like American Gods did, like my next adult novel probably will.
I wanted something about the same size as a P. G. Wodehouse novel (and
I failed - at 105,000 it was about 30,000 words longer than I was
hoping for).
  
inkwell.vue.257 : Neil Gaiman, "Anansi Boys"
permalink #4 of 87: Martha Soukup (soukup) Wed 19 Oct 05 16:53
    
But it moves along quickly.

So, then, if it's Anansi for the stories, why Boys?  Mr. Nancy's
children are his sons; no daughter.  Though every positive figure in
the lives of Fat Charlie and his brother, I think, pretty much--yes,
every figure of family and friend is a woman.  Young women for friends
and more than, old women for grandmother figures, and Maeve Livingstone
(whom I loved).

Just because you're a boy?  If that's because, this is a very simple
question and we can go right on to the next one.
  
inkwell.vue.257 : Neil Gaiman, "Anansi Boys"
permalink #5 of 87: Neil Gaiman (neilgaiman) Thu 20 Oct 05 09:29
    
Well, the place the story began was the idea of the
one-bloke-who-is-normal and the charming-psycho-magic-brother-from-hell
who comes into his life. That was the thing in my head right at the
start, a decade ago.

Beyond that... Well, I'm not sure that I'd be as binary as every woman
is positive (The Bird Woman isn't a positive figure, and I don't think
you could describe Rosie's mother as positive, although she was
enormous fun to write, and the four-old-ladies-in-Florida bring
decidedly mixed blessings) and every other male figure as negative (Mr
Nansy is positive, though embarrassing if you're Fat Charlie, and
somewhat dead, and Morris Livingstone is pretty positive although
slightly more dead than Anansi, and I was quite fond of Benjamin
Higgler although he didn't get a lot of page time, and three separate
nice male taxi drivers). 

Some of it possibly came from a desire to keep the cast numbers down,
and because I had two men in the spotlight and a third in a ghost-light
upstage...

Does that help?
  
inkwell.vue.257 : Neil Gaiman, "Anansi Boys"
permalink #6 of 87: Martha Soukup (soukup) Thu 20 Oct 05 11:23
    
I loved Morris Livingstone at least as much as Maeve, even though we
mostly only heard about him.  In fact I'd like to see a whole story
about the most popular short Yorkshire comedian.  Maybe partly because
I just don't know enough about Yorkshire stereotypes.

You didn't have room in this story for more of that couple than there
was, though!

I wasn't thinking about Benjamin.  Cheerful young fellow.  Or the poor
taxi drivers.  Not thinking all the men were Bad and the women
Good--just that all the family, family-type people and of course
romantic prospects Fat Charlie had, after his father died before the
book started, were women.

("Of course", of course, even though he's a Nancy boy.  Did you know
there's a grooming-products-by-and-for-queer-men line called Nancy Boy?
 Apparently their claim to fame is that Queer Eye recommended their
shave cream to one of their butcher makeover clients.)

Three different countries go into making Fat Charlie: America where he
spent his early childhood; England where he spent his late childhood
trying to learn how to fit in; and the island where his family came
from.  (A certain part of America--Florida; a certain part of urban
England--South London; and a certain island; all nicely drawn and not
interchangeable with say Chicago or Devon or Haiti.)  That seems very
plausible in a more and more mobile world, but why did you like it for
his story?
  
inkwell.vue.257 : Neil Gaiman, "Anansi Boys"
permalink #7 of 87: midget gems (riffraff) Fri 21 Oct 05 16:57
    

"I just don't know enough about Yorkshire stereotypes."

feel free to ask me, Martha, I've fled from them all my life without
success.

Hi Neil! First of all, I think the book got put down once, due to an
interested two year old - picked it up wednesday and done yesterday. I guess
my first question is.. what would you recommend for further reading on
collections of west african anansasem? (that the right word?) I loved that
the tarbaby story was orginally an anansi tale, and I wondered how many
others (i know, i know, all of them) I'd recognize.

And, I guess I thought the characters were sons partly because it then led
into the title/wordplay - anansi boys/nancy boys.

And lastly, for my first batch.. St Andrews.. based on anywhere in
particular?
  
inkwell.vue.257 : Neil Gaiman, "Anansi Boys"
permalink #8 of 87: Neil Gaiman (neilgaiman) Fri 21 Oct 05 17:44
    
Riffraff -- my favourite of all the books of stories I found is
actually online at http://www.sacred-texts.com/afr/jas/, and I highly
recommend it. (These are Jamaican retellings.)  

St. Andrews is built mostly from Barbados and St Lucia, albeit with
the extradition rules of several other islands.

Martha, in a very early version of the story in my head, Fat Charlie
was a Lawyer in Baltimore. But I liked the idea of spreading the story
across the world more, and I was confident of my ability to write an
English Fat Charlie and less so of my ability to write a Baltimore Fat
Charlie.

St Andrews sort of grew during the story -- it became increasingly
obvious that the story was going to wind up in a (literal) Caribbean
and in a (metaphorical) Africa.
  
inkwell.vue.257 : Neil Gaiman, "Anansi Boys"
permalink #9 of 87: midget gems (riffraff) Fri 21 Oct 05 18:57
    

excellent.. cheers!
  
inkwell.vue.257 : Neil Gaiman, "Anansi Boys"
permalink #10 of 87: Martha Soukup (soukup) Fri 21 Oct 05 19:16
    
There's a bit for Fat Charlie; then to what seems more the hard
part--how do you approach writing a brother with godly (demigodly?)
powers?  Especially the parts from his point of view?  Where do you
start with that?
  
inkwell.vue.257 : Neil Gaiman, "Anansi Boys"
permalink #11 of 87: Neil Gaiman (neilgaiman) Fri 21 Oct 05 21:47
    
I don't know where you start, Martha. I've been writing from the point
of view of Gods, demigods and other unpersonly entities since about
1987. 

In the case of Spider, he had to be charming, a hair's breadth from
dangerously psychotic, funny, confident and -- well, everything that
Fat Charlie wasn't.  I did what I always do with characters, sort of go
and find the bit of you that's him, and write from that point of view.
  
inkwell.vue.257 : Neil Gaiman, "Anansi Boys"
permalink #12 of 87: Martha Soukup (soukup) Sat 22 Oct 05 11:11
    
The book is a quick and fun read, for all that it's longer than you'd
envisioned.  Was it a quick and delightful write too?  Are some things
more fun to write than others?  (And if so, what makes the difference?)
  
inkwell.vue.257 : Neil Gaiman, "Anansi Boys"
permalink #13 of 87: Neil Gaiman (neilgaiman) Sat 22 Oct 05 12:11
    
There were some quick and delightful days writing it. Mostly what I
remember was writing the first two chapters, convinced it was a huge
mistake and I should go and write something serious and sensible
instead, the point about half way through where I realised a) I wasn't
three quarters of the way through and b) the whole plot structure I'd
been building didn't work, because it all seemed to be heading
somewhere else, and I needed to stop writing it and figure out what it
wanted to be, like a failed stew that's going to be an amazing curry.

It's an odd process, writing something that you want to be funny,
because if you're doing your job it ought to read like something
knocked out on a sunny afternoon in one long fit of inspiration while
the Muse was in a particularly giddy sort of a mood. But really it was
written just like anything else -- some good days, some days where you
stare gloomily at the page, some days when you know what you're doing,
some days you feel like you're edging forward on a thin rocky ledge
over a chasm in the fog.
  
inkwell.vue.257 : Neil Gaiman, "Anansi Boys"
permalink #14 of 87: Melanie Hamilton (hamilton) Sat 22 Oct 05 16:52
    
Hello Neil.

Since you're talking about process, I was wondering how you come to
dress your gods in their human skins.  Do they choose by directing your
attention to a particular person's looks or behaviors? Or, are you
inspired by something from this person or that and you then say, Hmm,
maybe Spider does that; or, that's definitely a Charlie moment?  

Thanks
  
inkwell.vue.257 : Neil Gaiman, "Anansi Boys"
permalink #15 of 87: Martha Soukup (soukup) Sat 22 Oct 05 17:58
    
I wonder what the point was in the story that you realized you had to
stop and think and make it a curry instead of a stew?  Do you want to
say where you'd thought it was going to go, except it wasn't working
out to go that way?

(I always find this kind of interview tricky, because I don't know how
mindful to be of spoilers.  Maybe everyone in this topic has read the
book already?)
  
inkwell.vue.257 : Neil Gaiman, "Anansi Boys"
permalink #16 of 87: Neil Gaiman (neilgaiman) Sat 22 Oct 05 20:25
    
Martha -- the exact moment I knew the book wasn't going where I
thought it was going to go, was when Maeve Livingstone was in the lift
on her way up to see Grahame Coats, and I knew what would happen if
they met. I wrote that scene then barely wrote another word of it for
four months, although I did go to the Caribbean for research.

Melanie, I don't think so, or at least, no more than I do with any
characters. One steals from life, from time to time, but mostly it's a
set of branching paths. What I mostly did for research was to go places
-- I stole lots of places from real life, and then put imaginary
people in them.
  
inkwell.vue.257 : Neil Gaiman, "Anansi Boys"
permalink #17 of 87: virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Sat 22 Oct 05 21:28
    
(Those readers following this on the World Wide Web who are not members of
The Well can nevertheless join in the conversation by sending e-mail to
inkwell@well.com to be posted, as, for example Randal has done.)

Randal writes:


Been reading "Anansi Boys" and am coming to the end (no spoilers, please),
and I wanted to ask Neil, what is your educational background?  I've read
most of your works and saw (and enjoyed) "Mirrormask" and wonder, how did
you get into this stuff?

Greatly enjoying "Anansi Boys," by the way, Anansi isn't a diety we hear
much of in the States.  This leads me, indirectly, to a rather invasive
question, which is, why did you move over here?  It seems to me that the
sheer amount of raw story material in the British Isles must be very rich,
do you find that the States offers something unusual by way of material?

Randal Doering
San Francisco, CA
  
inkwell.vue.257 : Neil Gaiman, "Anansi Boys"
permalink #18 of 87: Neil Gaiman (neilgaiman) Sun 23 Oct 05 00:18
    
Randal -- I don't think so, although I'm sure I couldn't have written
AMERICAN GODS without having lived here. But the book grew out of the
living here, rather than coming to the US to get material for a book.

As I recall, it was a combination of having an American wife who
wanted to see her family again, being paid by DC Comics in dollars
which, under Bush senior, weren't worth much if you were in England,
and discovering that I could buy an Addams Family house with 15 acres
of woodland in the midwest for the same price as a one bedroom flat in
London. But it was all a very long time ago.

I think I was always "into this stuff". At least, I can't remember a
time when I wasn't. But that wasn't from education, or it was, but it
was the bits that happened round the edges of the education --
discovering school libraries filled with books from the 1930s, and so
on, and reading them -- that made the difference in the long term.
  
inkwell.vue.257 : Neil Gaiman, "Anansi Boys"
permalink #19 of 87: Martha Soukup (soukup) Sun 23 Oct 05 10:14
    
What kind of research did you do in the Carribean?  Just soaking
things up and seeing what happened, or were there specific things you
were looking to discover?

Have you also spent time in that part of Florida?
  
inkwell.vue.257 : Neil Gaiman, "Anansi Boys"
permalink #20 of 87: from KWASI KWAKWA (tnf) Sun 23 Oct 05 13:18
    



Kwasi Kwakwa writes:


Hi Neil,
I'm the person Pam had you sign a book for. Thank you, by the way.

I was wondering if it was a conscious decision to make very little explicit
reference to the ethnicity of your main characters, and why you decided to go
about it that way
  
inkwell.vue.257 : Neil Gaiman, "Anansi Boys"
permalink #21 of 87: Melodious Thunk (sjs) Sun 23 Oct 05 13:43
    
I just started ANANSI BOYS.  Thank you for my dedication.

On the same page you tell of your respect for, among other ghosts,
P.G. Wodehouse -- so I smiled later on when you described Mrs. Higgler
as 'far from gruntled.'  I'm looking forward to the rest of this.
  
inkwell.vue.257 : Neil Gaiman, "Anansi Boys"
permalink #22 of 87: Neil Gaiman (neilgaiman) Sun 23 Oct 05 16:16
    
Martha -- yes, spent a lot of time in that part of Florida. Even went
to  a funeral there (picked out of the local paper). I'd already been
to the Caymans, but that wasn't what I wanted for the book. So last
October I went to Barbados, and also took a day trip around St Lucia. I
was very industrious -- going on day tours, talking to local people.
It was interesting -- left to myself I'd probably just have sat on the
beach reading a book, but there was something about knowing I was there
for research that actually made me research.


(Incidentally, I checked my blog and you'll see me starting the novel
--a lthough I wouldn't get back to it until November -- in March 2003,
at http://www.neilgaiman.com/journal/2003_03_16_archive.asp.)

Kwasi -- yes, it was a conscious decision. I don't think it's very
hard to figure out the ethnicity of each of the characters, and I was
very good about identifying white people as white whenever they entered
the text. I knew that most of the characters would be Anglo-Caribbean
going into the book, so decided that that was the default. It bothers
me in fiction going in that white is the default. 

I'm occasionally surprised by getting, for example, one letter
explaining that the foods at the funeral -- curry goat and so on --
were all wrong for the american south and were more the sort of food
that you'd expect to see in e.g. Jamaica (I suppose I thought that
since I'd noticed there was a large Caribbean population in Florida,
other people had too, but possibly not), and it's obvious that some
people have managed to read the book and fail to realise where the
various characters in it come from, but I think most readers figure it
out somewhere in chapter two, if they haven't already. 

sjs - you're welcome.
  
inkwell.vue.257 : Neil Gaiman, "Anansi Boys"
permalink #23 of 87: midget gems (riffraff) Sun 23 Oct 05 18:22
    

I especially liked that moment, when you realise that referring to a "white
girl" means we're out of that whole white-centric POV

and man, reading it made me *really* want Jamaican food, which considering
I'm in Oregon for the next couple of weeks means I'm SOL

so, back to questions - having heard over and over again the chestnut about
how a book is never really finished, just abandoned, I'm wondering if, now
it's out there, is there anything you considered doing differently, and if
so, what that might be?
  
inkwell.vue.257 : Neil Gaiman, "Anansi Boys"
permalink #24 of 87: Neil Gaiman (neilgaiman) Mon 24 Oct 05 09:21
    
Well, that's true, but you only abandon it when it's done.

As for anything I considered doing differently...? Well, yes.
Everything, pretty much. You start out with an infinite number of
possibilities, and each branch that you reach in the story you could go
any one of a number of ways, until you're at the end of the book
looking back at what actually did happen. A bit like life, I suppose.

I was reading Alan Bennett yesterday (his Untold Stories) and in one
essay he wrote,

"Always beneath the play you write is the play you meant to write;
changed but not abandoned and, with luck, not betrayed, but shadowing
still the play that has come to be."

I think it's more or less the same with novels.
  
inkwell.vue.257 : Neil Gaiman, "Anansi Boys"
permalink #25 of 87: Coleman K. Ridge (ckridge) Mon 24 Oct 05 09:49
    
I have had much pleasure talking with my teenage son about _Anansi
Boys_. Thank you, Neil.

_Anansi Boys_ is in part a story about what kinds of stories there
are, and how stories shape tellers. As Anansi tells it, Tiger stories
are about strength and badness, while Anansi stories are about
trickiness and wit. Anansi says that Anansi stories are better for
tellers than Tiger stories.

Does this distinction inform your own story-telling, and, if so, how?
  

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