Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Mon 5 Feb 07 11:20
It's my great pleasure to once again welcome our next guests to Inkwell.vue. Neil Gaiman makes things up and writes them down. He has won Hugo, Nebula, Bram Stoker, World Fantasy, Mythopoeic and Locus awards, along with others that he can't think of right now offhand. He has a website over at <http://www.neilgaiman.com> . He's been wandering onto The WELL and answering questions when a new book comes out for about eight years and rather enjoys it. He has children and cats, but less than he used to have as both children and cats move away... Elise Matthesen, known as lioness on The WELL, takes great delight in arranging and connecting beads, metal, words and music. For her day job, she builds one-of-a-kind named necklaces and other adornments that some people call "narrative jewelry." She used to be a journalist; these days she asks nosy questions for her own enjoyment. So glad to have you here, Neil and Elise! I look forward to this conversation.
Elise Matthesen (lioness) Mon 5 Feb 07 17:19
Hi, Neil! How are things today in the makin' stuff up business? The cover of Fragile Things says "short fictions and wonders." Good phrase, that; handy, and it expands to fit almost any form. Also, it won't scare off people who might be nervous about finding the occasional poem and suchlike amongst the stories, while for those of us who seek out the fierce and funny and mysterious stuff you do with poems, it's just simple accuracy. However, is this going to lead to the need for additional shelving if the category of wonders catches on? The first time we hung out here, not quite seven years ago, you had just written Stardust and then Sandman: The Dream Hunters, and you were working on American Gods and on Coraline, and planning to plant giant pumpkins. Does your house still want to be Gormenghast when it grows up?
Neil Gaiman (neilgaiman) Tue 6 Feb 07 20:02
Hullo Elise... the house keeps growing. I've stopped it growing outward,though, and right now it's growing inward -- I'm turning an old bedroom into an upstairs library, just replaced the upstairs 120 year old windows for ones that will keep out the cold (it's minus 7 outside, because it just warmed up a bit). I never really succeeded in growing the giantest of giant pumpkins; you need a singlemindedness and to be there the whole summer, and I never did both. But I grew some small giant pumpkins that were bigger than biggest normal pumpkins. It doesn't seem that long ago, seven years... I was pretty satisfied with Fragile Things. I think it should proabably have been shorter, but I'm not 100% certain what I would have left out, as every story is someone's best bit of the book.
Elise Matthesen (lioness) Tue 6 Feb 07 20:08
When I was looking at all the goodies in the book and trying to figure out where to start with questions, it suddenly occurred to me that there was a useful tool upstairs in the Velvet Room among the stack of Tarot decks, so I went up and grabbed the Vertigo Tarot and pulled a card. (Have you done an interview by Tarot before? Rachel Pollack will be quite tickled, I expect.) Here's the card the questions that bits of Rachel's text about the card brought to mind: King of Swords - "We do not see any focal points or center for the lines, as if the world of the King is bigger than we can visualize." Is the inner world of a story too big to get onto the page? (You compare the tension between the thing in your imagination and the thing that comes out on the page to cooking, in the introduction to Fragile Things, so maybe it's what ingredients are on hand and whether something else in your imagination already ate the eggs.) "The lines, however, imply that any laws here are the laws of the mind, of abstract geometric thought, maybe the inner laws of creation." "Inner laws of creation" makes me think of your set of instructions for what to do when you find yourself in a fairy tale. Where did you write that one? Any of those instructions particularly pertinent lately? "One eye is half closed, distorting his vision." Dude, you know which one of your characters that brings to mind. It was a treat to read the novella at the end of Fragile Things and find out a little of what's been happening since American Gods. Has Shadow heard anything from Wednesday lately? "A powerful personality and intellect, someone in a position of authority." Are you getting cited as an authority? (And if so, do you get to pick what you're an authority on, or is it thrust upon you? And do they cite you accurately?) "Someone who has fought many battles in life." Have you? Fought many battles in life, I mean. You've fought one or two about art and business, yah? What does fighting do to the work and to you?
Elise Matthesen (lioness) Tue 6 Feb 07 20:23
(If anybody hasn't seen the Vertigo Tarot yet, there are some images and a review here: <http://www.aeclectic.net/tarot/vertigo/index.shtml>. Neil wrote the introduction for the book that goes with it.)
Neil Gaiman (neilgaiman) Tue 6 Feb 07 21:08
"Is the inner world of a story too big to get onto the page?" All stories are too big to get onto the page, if they're good stories. Just like the world is too big to get onto the page. But you can sketch and scratch it, and show bits that imply the whole. You can let the reader put it together in her mind. "Inner laws of creation" makes me think of your set of instructions for what to do when you find yourself in a fairy tale. Where did you write that one? Any of those instructions particularly pertinent lately? I don't remember where I wrote it (in the basement? on the road?). I remember the feeling I had in my head before I wrote it, a sort of bubbling conviction that there was something there and that the tone of voice, flat and simple, would carry me through. Trust your story. "...Dude, you know which one of your characters that brings to mind. Itwas a treat to read the novella at the end of Fragile Things and findout a little of what's been happening since American Gods. Has Shadow heard anything from Wednesday lately?" Poor Shadow. He needs a much more workmanlike author than me. I want to write a clutch of novellas about him in the UK, and then I want to take him back to America, some years on, to learn things and to get into deeper trouble. And look at me, not writing them. "Are you getting cited as an authority? (And if so, do you get to pick what you're an authority on, or is it thrust upon you? And do they cite you accurately?)" Yes. No. Sometimes. "Someone who has fought many battles in life." "Have you? Fought many battles in life, I mean. You've fought one or two about art and business, yah? What does fighting do to the work and to you?" I don't like it much. It takes energy and time away from the important stuff like work and family. (My guess was that the McFarlane legal case probably left me one book behind. And I won the case, but would rather have had the book.)
Elise Matthesen (lioness) Tue 6 Feb 07 21:19
Sort of like a bizarre changeling story, where they come and take away a book and leave you this legal case win in its place....
Elise Matthesen (lioness) Tue 6 Feb 07 22:37
Next card: The Hierophant -- Morpheus, from "The Sandman" Rachel says, "Morpheus, also called the Sandman, Dream, and the Lord of Dreams, is the very image of a High Priest. Like a High Priest, Morpheus does not so much act in his comic as preside over it. Often, he will not even appear for several issues, and yet his presence pervades the story. [...] In many Tarot decks, the Hierophant represents orthodox spirituality. By contrast, Morpheus has seen all religions come and go. He knows them as special dreams, and so can lead us beyond specific teachings to the strangeness and beauty of sacred experience. [...] Divinatory meanings: [...] Gaining wisdom or knowledge from dreams." You got the title of the collection from a dream. Though sort of roundabout, what with some musicians holding onto the whole long phrase and giving it back to you later, wasn't it? How did they get it from you, anyhow? As for Morpheus himself, it sounds like Absolute Sandman is going well. There was a note last November from Dreamhaven Books on their Official Neil Gaiman Online Store news page at <http://www.neilgaiman.net/news-home.php> that said, "Neil stopped in today and signed lots of books. Including a quarter-ton of Absolute Sandman Vol. 1. We kid you not." Yikes! (I can see why a person would prefer readings to signings on tour, but it's nice there's still a way to get signed books when one really wants them.) Regarding religions, hmm. Oh, yes. I've got to tell you that my absolute favorite story in the whole book is "In the End." (And the note you put in the Introduction about the Yeti just makes it better.) What was Strange Kaddish? And "the strangeness and beauty of sacred experience" means I should ask you to describe a meal you had with Poppy Z. Brite.
Neil Gaiman (neilgaiman) Wed 7 Feb 07 06:45
It was a band called ONE RING ZERO, who decided to make an album with words by authors (called "As Smart As We Are" taken from a Jonathan Latham song about cockroaches). My favourite song was Daniel Handler's "Radio". I sent them my words, which were dreamed (actually from two different dreams, with a few lines at the end written while awake to sort of tie them together). Elizabeth at DreamHaven says I'm well on my way to half a ton now. But that has a lot to do with how extremely heavy the Absolute Sandman is. I'm pleased you like "In the End" -- Strange Kaddish was a short anthology by Clifford Meth. I forget whether it was meant to be Jewish authors or Jewish themes. Either way, the Book of Genesis seemed like a good place to start (or finish). You know, my favourite meal with Poppy is one we haven't had yet -- not the amazing Melbourne meal, or the amazing New Orleans meals -- because she has told me we are next going to meet in Chicago and eat strangely scientific food next -- molecular SF food made with liquid nitrogen and test tubes and things. It may not be sacred, but it is guaranteed to be strange.
Elise Matthesen (lioness) Wed 7 Feb 07 10:46
Strength - Black Orchid (Leo) "Black Orchid is an outgrowth of the plant world, a defender of the Green and its secrets. She uses the power of perfume, a very gentle kind of strength indeed, to soothe humans, and to command them to serve her. [...] Strength in this modern Tarot does not promise any ultimate solutions or happy endings...." Back in 1988 you did Black Orchid with Dave McKean and Todd Klein. Was that the first time you worked with each of them? What has working with them given you? Why Black Orchid? Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab's new collection of perfume oils based on your work is a fundraiser for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. Isn't Elizabeth brilliant? I'm trying to decide between Mr. Nancy, Mr. Jacquel, and Mr. Ibis, at the moment. Your remark that there are Stardust ones in the works means that decisions are soon to get even more difficult. Maybe I could just ask Maddy to pick for me, pretty please with lemon-scented sticky bats on top. [Memo to self: find out if a link to the tale of the lemon-scented sticky bat in our inkwell interview seven years ago will work here, or if a person needs to join The WELL to read all the inkwell interviews past.] Anyhow, will there be more? Is there a Shadow scent in the works? Are you and yours testing out a treasure hoard of BPAL goodies? Most of all: will there be a Fabulous Lorraine BPAL offering? [OK, that was complete BPAL fangirl squee. Ahem. Right. Composure.] You said something a while back about happy endings in various sorts of stories (Sandman, Stardust, and Sandman: The Dream Hunters, I think it was) and what different stories -- or different forms, maybe -- will and will not permit or require. In your stories for children, and in their adaptations to theatrical and movie forms, what things can and can't you do with endings?
Keeper of Rat Gravy (notshakespeare) Wed 7 Feb 07 10:48
[All of inkwell is viewable from outside, so a fully qualified URL will work.]
Elise Matthesen (lioness) Wed 7 Feb 07 19:46
Oh, good. The lemon-scented sticky bat story is here: <inkwell.vue.73.174>
Neil Gaiman (neilgaiman) Wed 7 Feb 07 22:04
No, I did Violent Cases with Dave McKean first. But Black Orchid was my first encounter with Todd Klein, a working relationship I've loved. And which continues. (As does my working relationship with Dave. Hurrah.) Why Black Orchid? Because she was the only DC comics character I could name, no matter how obscure, that didn't have someone already working a revamp. Beth at BPAL is wonderful. She's done a number of Stardust scents, which were Maddy's favourites. We need Terry Pratchett's permission on the Good Omens scents she wants to do, and I need to check the various merchandising positions on the other ones. But we're only limited by her imagination, which seems pretty limitless. As for Lorrraine -- dunno. These days she and Malena do their own products... I keep trying, and I can't think of anything I wouldn't do in the ending of a book for a child that I also wouldn't do in a book for an adult. It all seems to come down to respect.
Elise Matthesen (lioness) Thu 8 Feb 07 09:31
Nine of Wands "Nine is the last single digit. Therefore, numerologists often describe Nine as the completion of a process. Howeer, as we saw with the Four, Fire energy does not go well with ideas such as completion, finality, structure. Fire prefers freedom and the idea of a new beginning. In this clever use of the nine Wands, we see eight of them forming a kindof simplified bos, or cage. The ninth reaches beyond this confinement to draw a trail of light across the sky. [...] Divinatory meanings: Firm action, release, purity of purpose. A single action or piece of knowledge which changes a situation dramatically, especially in the direction of liberation." When you completed Fragile Things, what did you do next? Are there things you usually do to mark the completion of a book or another project? How about beginnings? How do you start things? Do you in fact prefer "freedom and the idea of a new beginning? "A trail of light across the sky" makes me think of Stardust. What's currently going on with Stardust? Work-wise, which things that you've let go of have led to liberation? Has releasing something led to something new, something you couldn't have imagined until you were out of the old structure? "A single action or piece of knowledge which changes a situation dramatically" is part of a writer's stock-in-trade, to be revealed to the reader at the right moment. You've read many things aloud on tour, and sometimes you've said you didn't know certain pieces were going to work when read aloud. What happens that tells you something did work? There are cages in one of the stories in Fragile Things, and imprisonment has been part of the history of a number of your characters.
Elise Matthesen (lioness) Thu 8 Feb 07 11:47
[Sorry about being such a typo festival there; I pasted in the un-cleaned-up version of the questions. Gotta watch that.]
Neil Gaiman (neilgaiman) Fri 9 Feb 07 18:37
When you completed Fragile Things, what did you do next? Are there things you usually do to mark the completion of a book or another project? With novels, I normally celebrate in some way because I know when they're done. With other things -- comics, short story collections, illustrated children's books, movies, theatre and so forth -- I'm never sure when they're done, and almost never celebrate. You're assembling and deciding and making choices up tot he point of publication, and then you're up to your neck in promotion. How about beginnings? How do you start things? I put it off for too long, I circle round them, then I edge over and strike up a conversation, rather nervously. Do you in fact prefer "freedom and the idea of a new beginning? "A trail of light across the sky" makes me think of Stardust. What's currently going on with Stardust? It's been turned into a movie. It's not my baby any longer. It's as if my baby grew up and started hanging around with some people I don't know, and now I'm just waiting to see if it will make a success of its adventures or not. I keep my fingers crossed. Work-wise, which things that you've let go of have led to liberation? Has releasing something led to something new, something you couldn't have imagined until you were out of the old structure? The biggest one was ten years ago, when I stopped writing monthly comics. It's enormously liberating not to be always on deadline. (It has a downside: Dave Sim was telling me that he, who wrote and drew his twenty odd pages a month every month, has, in three years, almost finished twenty two pages.) "A single action or piece of knowledge which changes a situation dramatically" is part of a writer's stock-in-trade, to be revealed to the reader at the right moment. You've read many things aloud on tour, and sometimes you've said you didn't know certain pieces were going to work when read aloud. What happens that tells you something did work? The audience reaction. That's what takes you from "That was interesting" to "Wow. That was amazing! They liked that one." But the experience of reading something is very different to having it read to you. the poem "The Day The Saucers Came" gets a very different response when I read it aloud. People discover that it's funny, and that it's meant to be funny. There are cages in one of the stories in Fragile Things, and imprisonment has been part of the history of a number of your characters. There are! It has! It's metaphorical and it's literal, too.
Elise Matthesen (lioness) Fri 9 Feb 07 19:07
Elise Matthesen (lioness) Fri 9 Feb 07 19:42
...and speaking of beginnings, two cards fell out here, and the first one was the Fool. (The second one was the Five of Cups.) The Fool - John Constantine - "Think of the Major Arcana as a comic book story. [....] This is the story of the Major Arcana, and the Fool is its hero. [...] Divinatory meanings: Wildness, taking risks. Some kind of leap of faith. [...]" Have you fooled around much with Tarot cards? What do you think of the Fool? (For that matter, how do you feel about heroes?) Which of your characters make good Fools, stepping off that cliff, with or without their faithful dog right behind? What's the biggest leap of faith you've taken? Five of Cups - "The theme of loss becomes much more specific here. [...] We see writing at the top right of the card. In contrast to the Three, the writing is clear, if ornate. It may symbolize the ability of consciousness -- or art -- to understand, and therefore accept, painful loss." What did you find out about loss from the books that you loved when you were little? And when you wrote "The Problem of Susan," you were coming back from a bout of meningitis. You said, "It was some months before I could think clearly enough to write, and this was the first piece of fiction I attempted. It was like learning to walk all over again." That's a pretty fierce story to write as a first thing back, and loss is one of the many things it dances with. How do you feel about the Narnia books since writing that? Any interesting conversations come of it?
Life Is Easy When Considered From Another Point Of View (dam) Sat 10 Feb 07 05:41
Neil, first time I've been around while you are here and I just want to thank you for all the weirdness you have brought into my life over the years!
streaming irreverent commentary (pauli) Sat 10 Feb 07 12:01
I'll echo dam's thoughts and tell you how much I enjoy your writing. I'm hoping that QPB gets my copy of Fragile Things here in time to take with me on a trip next week. I'm also enjoying the discussion here.
Neil Gaiman (neilgaiman) Sat 10 Feb 07 20:55
ave you fooled around much with Tarot cards? What do you think of the Fool? (For that matter, how do you feel about heroes?) Which of your characters make good Fools, stepping off that cliff, with or without their faithful dog right behind? No, never really fooled around with Tarot cards. Always been impressed with my friends who do. And as for fools, you pays your money and you takes your choice. Most stories start with someone stepping off the cliff, and end with the world... (I did a reading of the unabridged NEVERWHERE recently, and Richard Mayhew is, of course...) What's the biggest leap of faith you've taken? I think it was when I started as a writer, convinced I could support myself with my pen, with little evidence other than faith. What did you find out about loss from the books that you loved when you were little? Only a little. The best thing about losing things and people in books was that when you started reading the books from the beginning, they always came back. And when you wrote "The Problem of Susan," you were coming back from a bout of meningitis. You said, "It was some months before I could think clearly enough to write, and this was the first piece of fiction I attempted. It was like learning to walk all over again." That's a pretty fierce story to write as a first thing back, and loss is one of the many things it dances with. How do you feel about the Narnia books since writing that? Any interesting conversations come of it? I read it at the Mythopoeic Convention, figuring that if it and I survived that, it was probably a real story. Very few interesting conversations -- I've seen a few interesting academic papers on it, though. It falls a long way short of the story I had in my head when I started to write it, but I like that it irritates, and gets under people's skin. Dam and Pauli -- thanks so much.
Elise Matthesen (lioness) Sat 10 Feb 07 23:19
Two of Wands - "[...] The flame burns brightly against the rough background. The hand from above points its Wand down to a dark pool, so that the flame changes to rings of golden light. Balance is more important than symmetry, more alive, more real. [...] We see that same balance between the Magician and the High Priestess -- will and the unconscious, fire and water. [...]" I've heard or read tales from you and various friends of walking through places in London late at night, talking and talking. Tell me about one of those times. (Extra points if it involves Lenny Henry and/or a fruit machine.) Why does talk late at night burn so brightly in the mind? (Not really an interview question, that; I've just always been bemused by this.) In whatever you're working on now, what balancing act is being required of you? When you are working with someone (Dave McKean, or any of the other folks), do you balance each other? Do you divvy up fire and water, or does each of you do everything?
Neil Gaiman (neilgaiman) Mon 12 Feb 07 08:44
Elise, this is far and away the strangest and most magically random interview I have ever done. Let's see ... I can't do late night Lenny Henry, because mostly late at night Lenny's either on tour or at home. But I could do you someone that almost rhymes, and put fruit machines in there, and a dead friend. The party was I think for either PJ O Rourke or Tama Janowitz, and I think it was PJ O'Rourke -- every Pan publishing party of that vintage took place in the same room upstairs in the Groucho Club, anyway -- and when the party ended I wandered downstairs with the publicists and Roz Kaveney and a lady named Maria who was then the books editor of Time Out. We carried on talking and drinking, and when the Groucho closed we moved, shedding a few people as we did so, to another club, and then to another, and finally it was just me and Maria wandering the streets of Soho, still talking, and Maria (who in five years would lose her job, and twenty years later, her life, both mostly from booze) desperate for that last final drink. We were in the unpromising area at the top of Wardour Street, and I blinked, and realised that I was standing next to a door I recognised. My friend Dave Dickson had taken me there, years before. A downstairs bar, semi-secret. Lemmy from Motorhead had been down there, playing the fruit machines. I knocked on the door. A suspicious face looked out. "Can we have a drink?" I asked. "I don't know what you're talking about," said the man, impassively. "Er..." I thought about mentioning Dave Dickson, but didn't think it would work. "We're friends of Lemmy's," I said. "You should of said," he told me. "He's downstairs waiting for you." And we went downstairs. Lemmy was still on the fruit machines, as he had been two years before. I sidled over to him. "Er, just used your name to get in," I said. "Good on yer," said Lemmy. And Maria got her drink. I never found it again -- never looked for it -- although I am certain that if I was ever drunk enough and in Soho late at night, it would be there waiting. And Lemmy, wherever he really was int he world or out of it, would be down there playing the fruit machines. And late night talk does burn brightly in the mind. Neverwhere came out of a late night talk with the late Richard Evans, in Glasgow at Eastercon in 1986, where I started rambling on about "Magic City" books, like Winter's Tale or Free, Live Free, in which the city was as much a character as any person in the book, and saying that someone should do it for London. (Richard said "Why don't you" and I fumfed and told him he should find a real writer and commission one, or something.) Dave McKean and I are fire and water, yes. We don't even think the same. But most good collaborations, the ones that make you want to do it again, are -- you enjoy each others work and you couldn't do it yourself. (Good Omens might have been an exception to that, as Terry or I could have written the whole thing. It wouldn't have been the same book, but both of us could have done it.)
Elise Matthesen (lioness) Mon 12 Feb 07 08:55
"Elise, this is far and away the strangest and most magically random interview I have ever done." *curtsies* *cracks up giggling*
R.U. Sirius (rusirius) Mon 12 Feb 07 09:44
Hi Neil. Thanks for coming on my show back when to talk about this very book, and since I still pay my WELL bill I feel entitled to hyping the interview... here: http://www.10zenmonkeys.com/2006/10/04/neil-gaiman-has-lost-his-clothes/ and here: http://www.rusiriusradio.com/2006/10/03/show-68-neil-gaiman/ But aside from that, I recently came across a posting somewhere that said that your name was on a list of famous people who are part of the Church of Scientology. I'm having enough cognitive disonnance in this area trying to fit Beck into that picture... Should I say, "Say it ain't so?" or is it none of my business or what? thanx RU
Elise Matthesen (lioness) Mon 12 Feb 07 10:38
Ace of Swords - "The suit of Swords belongs to the element of Air, which is related to thinking. Therefore the Sword symbolizes a clear mind, originality, analysis. [...] So the Sword in Tarot also represents conflict and pain. At the same time, the association with battle gives it the quality of courage. The Sword here reaches up from a dark night to stormy clouds. Fire below the clouds gives them a reddish tinge. All these images establish the suit as something harsh and painful, themes we will see later in such cards as the Three, the Five, and the Nine. But we also get a sense here of courage, and the willingness to confront reality. The Sword is shown clearly, not blurred like the cup. This signifies the difference between thinking and feeling. [...] Divinatory meanings -- Courage, strong emotion, thinking things through very clearly, facing conflict or pain honestly." You said earlier in the interview, "I keep trying, and I can't think of anything I wouldn't do in the ending of a book for a child that I also wouldn't do in a book for an adult. It all seems to come down to respect." Is respect partly about facing conflict or pain honestly? What would disrespect look like? Some of Emma Bull's characters said something related to this. An artist is talking to his engineer during a recording session about the take they have just done: ----------------------------------- "Did you like it?" Chrysander said. "Yes," said the engineer. "Why?" "You're a cruel bastard," muttered Vere. But Chrysander continued to watch her. "Because it sounds like a really ugly story told in a really beautiful way." "Ah," said Chrysander. It didn't sound like what was in his head. But the idea seemed to have come across. ----------------------------------- Has it been that way for you sometimes? And what of the differences between thinking and feeling, and the uses of each in the work you do?
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