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Friday, February 23, 2001

American Gods Blog, Post 11

I'd post more, but there's nothing in the world as dull as an author going over a copy-edited manuscript. I finished chapter eight today. The copy editor's done a very solid job. Occasionally I wish that he'd queried things instead of just fixed them (Mad Sweeney, for example, who claims when drunk to be Irish and a leprechaun, says "fucken" a lot. The copy editor has carefully gone through and carefully changed every "fucken" to "fuckin' ", figuring, I suppose, that I just didn't know how it was spelled.)

When you see things fixed that weren't broken, you write STET in the margin in green pencil. Mostly, you just nod and are happy that someone caught your goofs before it went to press. You'd be astonished at the number of different ways I'd managed to spell McDonald's in one small book. Well, one quite big book, actually, but the point holds.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2001

American Gods Blog, Post 10

There's coin magic in AMERICAN GODS, of the conjuring kind. And just as I ran the medical parts (and the post mortem parts) past a doctor, I ran the coin magic past a top coin magician -- Jamy Ian Swiss, better known as a card magician. (I met him some years ago, at a Penn and Teller gig in Las Vegas I attended -- P&T had just guest-starred in the Babylon 5 episode I'd written, 'The Day of the Dead').

Jamy sent me a terrific professional's-eye critique of the coin magic, and I can make some subtle changes in the copy-editing (which I think will start tomorrow, Wednesday, at least on the US version -- I've been told I'll get the copy-edited manuscript by lunchtime). (And there's always a little nervousness in receiving a copy-edited mss. One never knows what kind of copy editor one will have got. On STARDUST I had a lovely one, who even made sure that the UK spelling grey rather than gray held throughout, because she thought it more appropriate. On the book before that I had a copy editor who, it seemed at the time, repunctuated practically every sentence for no good reason, leaving me muttering "Look, if I'd wanted a comma there I would have bloody well put a comma there" too often for comfort.)

But I was talking about coin magic, not copy editing. Sorry.

This is from my last e-mail to Jamy Ian Swiss, who was grumbling about the depiction of stage magic in most forms of fiction. And I thought it might be interesting for you, hypothetical journal reader.

...............................

One reason I wanted the coin magic in American Gods to be good magic, was to ground the whole thing in reality, and to introduce a world in which nothing you are being told is necessarily reliable or true, while still playing fair with the readers.

I know what you mean about stage magic in fiction though: too often it seems to read as if the writer hasn't done anything magical since getting the magic set aged 11 -- [example removed]

I think part of the reason that fiction has problems with stage magic is that the compact the magician makes with the audience is twofold: "I will lie to you" and "I will show you miracles", and fiction tends only to grasp the second half of that.

................

Now back to writing the jacket blurb. (Or at least, doing a draft of the plot bit that the publisher may or may not use. When it comes to the "Neil Gaiman writes good stuff" bits of the blurb they are on their own.)

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Friday, February 16, 2001

American Gods Blog, Post 9

Yes, I know this is an American Gods website, and an American Gods journal, and I really ought to write about American Gods here. (And I'm just about to try a draft of the dustjacket copy -- I felt the first round might have given too much away.) But I thought I'd mention that my spooky children's book Coraline (which will come out in hardback from Harper about the time American Gods comes out in paperback) is being adapted by Henry Selick (who directed the Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach and Monkeybone). You can read more about it at http://www.scifi.com/scifiwire/art-main.html?2001-02/15/14.00.film

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Thursday, February 15, 2001

American Gods Blog, Post 8

Mystery slightly solved -- the Neil Gaiman thing is the video of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund Reading I did at the Aladdin Theatre in Portland last year (the real title is something like Live at the Aladdin.) This seems faintly cursed -- when Amazon initially listed the video they gave it the ISBN and information of a book on the history of pro wrestling.

Still doesn't explain why no Minneapolis area Booksense store has any other book by me, including American Gods, but I assume it's just a glitch in the system. (I tried it on Booksense with a New York zip code and it worked just fine.)

I started a journal entry today that turned into a 1500 word rambling essay on the start of American Gods, how it began, how the characters got their names, and why, in my opinion, some books and some stories have genders. So I've put it aside and will look at it tomorrow to see if it makes any sense or not... if it does I'll post it here. If not, consider yourselves lucky to have been spared it...

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Wednesday, February 14, 2001

American Gods Blog, Post 7

So strange and organic changes are happening to the website. Which I for one find fascinating, so I went and played with everything. I signed up to get the first chapter of American Gods. And I even clicked on all the weblinks to order American Gods, to find out what was what.

The results were: the Amazon.com link to me to the book; the Barnes and Noble link took me to the book; the Borders link didn't take me to the book, but a hasty search brought it up. And booksense.com was, well, quite bizarre.

I did a search for the book. Nothing. I did a search for any books by me and this was all I got:
Search Results Page 1 of 1

Neil Gaiman by Gaiman, Neil
Format: Hardcover
Price: $19.95
Published: Westhampton../journal/archive.asp status: Not yet published

Leading us to all sorts of mysterious questions about this eponymous book. Why did I write a book called Neil Gaiman? Who are Westhampton House? I suppose we'll all find out on May the first.

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American Gods Blog, Post 6

So... permissions are in on Greg Brown's song In The Dark With You (which starts Chapter Fourteen) and Stephen Sondheim's Old Friends (which starts Chapter Thirteen). I decided that I'd start Chapter 6 with the public domain Midnight Special rather than Iggy Pop's Sister Midnight, but that was more because it was slightly more appropriate than because of the public domainness or otherwise of the thing. I've also, with a little regret, changed an Alan Moore song-quote into a Ben Franklin Poor Richard quote, because it said the same thing and fitted the theme slightly better on several counts. And because Ben said it first. No word yet on Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood, or on the Robert Frost, ee cummings or Yeats quotes. (The Yeats is from The Second Coming, which I almost consider public domain these days, considering it's been quoted to the point of cliche -- which is why the character who quotes it, quotes it when he does -- but I thought it polite to ask.) I'm waiting to see how much Please Don't Let me be Misunderstood comes in at before I start negotiating with the Tom Waits people over a couple of lines of Tango Till you're Sore.

There are probably more than 20 chapters in the book, but all the rest of the chapter headers are from dusty and out of print books.

Incidentally, I'm trying to decide whether to put a bibliography in the back of AMERICAN GODS, or whether it might be more fun to put it up online here (when we open that wing of the website).

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Sunday, February 11, 2001

American Gods Blog, Post 5

A little over a year ago, I was asked to do a thing over at The Well's inkwell.vue area. I had a topic and people could ask questions, and it just quietly became a sort of combination of occasional diary and place I could mention things. It was only meant to go for a few months, but these things sometimes have a life of their own, and it's become the topic that hasn't died. Or rather it has just died, as, with over 1900 postings in it, they've frozen the topic and started a new one, Countdown to American Gods. It's at http://engaged.well.com/engaged/engaged.cgi?c=inkwell.vue&f=0&t=104

And I just went in and posted a little blurb about the book, and the covers and such. Once I'd finished typing it, it struck me that it would probably serve as a pretty good journal entry for here, as well. So here you are. Me introducing American Gods.

It's a big fat book about America, and about a man called Shadow, and
the job he is offered when he gets out of prison. It's kind of a
thriller, I suppose, if you can have mythic thrillers. I suppose it could be
considered SF or fantasy or horror, depending on where you stand, and
I'd not argue with anyone who considered it such. My former publisher,
Lou Aronica, read it and said it was a slipstream novel, using Bruce
Sterling's term for (as I understood it) books that give you the same
buzz you got as a kid from genre stuff but that aren't published as
genre.

The US cover shows a road and a lightning bolt. The UK cover shows a
motel sign, a telegraph pole, and a lightning bolt.

This is not actually an example of parallel evolution. Scarily, the US
cover for American Gods was designed before I started writing the book, over two years ago, and the cover was simply based on a two or three page letter to the publisher about the kind of book I thought I'd write next. I'd called the book American
Gods in the letter as a kind of placeholder name, until I came up with something better, and then they sent me a cover mock-up, and it looked so definite I never had the heart to even try to come up with another title. And the image they'd sent me really did look like the cover of the book I was writing.

When they'd read the first half of the book, the UK publishers,
Headline, called and said they hadn't a clue what to put on the cover.
So I sent them a photocopy of the US cover, and they took the lightning
bolt idea and added a wonderful motel sign (for the 'Stardust Motel'
which must have amused somebody).

We're four months away from publication here, at a point in the
process that's usually a lot further down the road (we're compressing
the usual 8 months-plus between handing in a manuscript and publication
into about half the time.)

Then again, my scary children's novel CORALINE was handed in in June 2000, and won't reach bookshops until May 2002. (Although Harper Audio may release an audio version of it in December 2001/January 2002.)

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Friday, February 09, 2001

American Gods Blog, Post 4

Not sure what happened to the weblink I put up in the last post, but it doesn't seem to be there. It was Joe Fulgham's DREAMING website at http://www.holycow.com/dreaming/

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American Gods Blog, Post 3

You know, this web site is like a new office, with white walls and bare desks. It needs things to make it feel more homey. More pictures, for a start. (Remind me to tell you about the Author Photos some time.) I'm planning some fun things for it. Well, that's not true. I only have one fun thing planned, which is an area which won't go live until the book is out, and may even be passworded in some way that would mean you'd need to have read the book to access bits of it. It would be an area of annotation and background information. Mostly mythic... The other stuff will be pretty obvious -- we'll put up the signing tour dates as we get them (for the US and for the UK), we'll probably have a place people can leave questions and comments. And every now and again when I run out of ideas for things to write, I'll do a sweep through the questions, and answer them. (In the meantime, if there are things you need to know, I suggest looking at )

I thought about putting links up to the various chain stores online, places where you could pre-order American Gods. And then I thought, well, you have plenty of time before it comes out, there's no rush: the next time you walk past your local bookshop, why not go in and tell them to make sure they get a copy in for you?

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American Gods Blog, Post 2

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.

So, there. Journal entry #1 done. & now back to my day job (which currently mostly involves writing Death: The High Cost of Living.)

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American Gods Blog, Post 1

The journal is open.

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