June the 19th 2001 is the publication date of American Gods, a book which despite the many shelves in this office filled with books with my name on the spine, feels an awful lot like a first novel. (Perhaps because it was the first long work I've done without any collaborative input from anyone, and that wasn't first something else.) And this, in case you were wondering, is the occasional journal on the americangods.com website. I thought the journal could count us down to publication, and see us through the US and the UK publication and tours for the book in June and July.
I first suggested we do something like this to my editor, the redoubtable Jennifer Hershey, about a year ago, while the book was still being written (a process that continued until about 3 weeks ago). She preferred to wait until the book was on the conveyor belt to actual publication, thus sparing the reading world lots of entries like "Feb 13th: wrote some stuff. It was crap." and "Feb 14th: wrote some brilliant stuff. This is going to be such a good novel. Honest it is." followed by "Feb 15th. no, it's crap" and so on. It was a bit like wrestling a bear. Some days I was on top. Most days, the bear was on top. So you missed watching an author staring in bafflement as the manuscript got longer and longer, and the deadlines flew about like dry leaves in a gale, and the book remained unfinished.
And then one day about three weeks ago it was done. And after that I spent a week cutting and trimming it. (I'd read Stephen King's On Writing on the plane home from Ireland, where I'd gone to do final rewrites and reworkings, and was fired up enough by his war on adverbs that I did a search through the manuscript for -----ly, and peered at each adverb suspiciously before letting it live or zapping it into oblivion. A lot of them survived. Still, according to the old proverb, God is better pleased with adverbs than with nouns...)
Today I wrote a letter to go in the front of a Quick and Dirty reading edition Harper will put out -- taken from the file I sent them, so it'll be filled with transatlantic spelling, odd formatting errors and the rest, but it'll be something to give to the buyers from bookstores and to people who get advance manuscripts so they can see what kind of book this is.
I have no idea what kind of book this is. Or rather, there's nothing quite like it out there that I can point to. Sooner or later some reviewer will say something silly but quotable like "If JRR Tolkien had written The Bonfire of the Vanities..." and it'll go on the paperback cover and thus put off everyone who might have enjoyed it.
This is what I wrote about it in the letter in the Quick & Dirty proof:
American Gods is the most ambitious book I've written. It took longer to write, was a harder and stranger beast than anything I've tried before.
It's a thriller, I suppose, although as many of the thrills occur in headspace as in real life, and it's a murder mystery; it's a travel guide, and it's the story of a war. It's a history. It's funny, although the humour is pretty dark.
It's the story of a man called Shadow and the job he is offered when he gets out of prison.
When I finish a project, I sometimes like to to go back and look at the original outline – see how far the project came from my first thoughts. When I finished American Gods, in January 2001, I looked, for the very first time in two and a half years, at the letter I wrote to the publisher describing the book I planned to write next. (I wrote it in a hotel room in Iceland in June 1998.) The outline ended like this:
If Neverwhere was about the London underneath, this would be about the America between, and on-top-of, and around. It's an America with strange mythic depths. Ones that can hurt you. Or kill you. Or make you mad.
American Gods will be a big book, I hope. A sort of weird, sprawling picaresque epic, which starts out relatively small and gets larger. Not horror, although I plan a few moments that are up there with anything I did in Sandman, and not strictly fantasy either. I see it as a distorting mirror; a book of danger and secrets, of romance and magic.
It's about the soul of America, really. What people brought to America; what found them when they came; and the things that lie sleeping beneath it all.And, oddly enough, that seemed to describe the book I'd written pretty well.
And the other thing I'm doing (you'd think I'd have people who would do this for me, but no, it's just me) is sending out the e-mails to music publishers telling them I'd like to quote their song at the start of a chapter, and then waiting for their reply. There's no commonly agreed scale of pricing on this -- $150 is pretty usual (as the author is paying), but some publishers ask for a whole lot more. if they ask for too much more I say sod it and go and find a good public domain quote that does the same thing.