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Sunday, November 21, 2004

Back again, more or less...

I never ever do dinner party things. I'm useless at them. But there I am, in Islington, at a family function, sitting next to someone I don't know at a dinner, trying to make conversation. "So," I say, to the lady on my left, "What do you do?" This is, I learn, the wrong question. She explains that she's terrified of saying the wrong thing to me. Apparently it happens a lot at dinner parties. She's quite sure, you see, that she could say something and I could take it the wrong way. I tell her I don't do that very much. Well, she essays, a bit nervously, that she does things like work on helplines for battered wives (which seems to me something that no-one could possibly take offense at, but she figures that, being male as I am, I might find this deeply dodgy or something) and suchlike useful things. I fail to get upset, so, encouraged and emboldened and pleased to be over the contentious bit of the conversation, she tells me that she writes. She's not yet published, but she writes. Then she decides to guess what I do. She guesses, wrongly, for a while. Eventually she gives up on guessing and I tell her I'm, er a writer actually. She doesn't believe me, and the man sitting opposite says that I certainly am, he's seen my name in airport bookshops. She realises that she has told a writer that she wants to be a writer, and is unable to take it back, and goes off to tell my cousin (who is hosting the event) that she really should have warned her. The conversation, such as it is, never quite recovers, and I remember why it is that I never, ever do dinner partyish things.

...

I put Holly on a plane back to the US yesterday. And while the family in the US is doing thanksgiving I'll be doing things like the Mirrormask DVD commentary, and the BBC radio recording of Mr Punch (I'm English and do not Quite Get Thanksgiving, so am not heartbroken by this, although I miss everyone).

It's weird being away from home, and doing all those things I don't normally do, like reading the papers in paper form, as opposed to on the screen (Chocolate, I learned this morning, is a more effective cough suppressant than codeine). And I'm currently fighting with Final Draft (I've abandoned Final Draft 7 after it ate rather a lot of work, and have gone back to Final Draft 6), doing the third draft of the Death: The High Cost of Living Movie, which is currently called Death and Me, mostly because it's Sexton's film as much as it is Didi's, and I wanted a title that reflected that.

Dave McKean has almost, almost, almost finished Mirrormask. I spoke to him yesterday, and he thought the final tweaks would be made today -- something to do with playing with the colour in a handful of scenes. And this weekend I get to be there for the recording of the BBC Mister Punch radio play.

Anyway, I can get online for the first time in a few days... Lots of e-mail to catch up on. Lots of everything to catch up on.

I'm very behind on the FAQ line questions and info... let's see:

no doubt you've already been sent the article from New Scientist (or seen it yourself; you've mentioned you read their site) about how people who think of superman when asked about superheroes are less willing to volunteer their time than people who think of other superheroes, but, in case you missed it, it's at http://www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns99996679 (My personal theory is that they are less willing to help than other people because their lives are not enriched by enough comics to make them well-rounded people, not because they are comparing themselves to superman and deciding not to help people because they don't measure up). David

Good old New Scientist...

Neil, I need your help.Remember when you posted a link to that article about urban mythology and religion, and how it unconciously related to Neverwhere? The population of homeless children had a common mythology about 'The Blue Lady', or something like that? I was hoping to use it in an essay on Magic Realism. If by some small chance, you could point me toward the article/link, that would be amazingly helpful. Otherwise, I'll just dig through the archive section. Thanks!~A.G.

Easily done. It's an odd article, because it goes through seasons when its rediscovered, and then people send it to me again... (The last wave of them was almost exactly a year ago.) The article, on the beliefs of the Miami street kids, is at: http://www.miaminewtimes.com/issues/1997-06-05/feature.html. Enjoy.

Hello, Mr. Gaiman. I'm wondering what the proper etiquette is when it comes to work inspired by anothers. For instance, I'm a college Film major, and recently had an idea for a screenplay, but the idea stems from something you discuss in the commentary to one of your short stories in Smoke and Mirrors. Is that something that as a writer is okay to run with on your own if it goes off in a divergent direction from the other story, or is that where right issues and the like come into play? Thank you for your time, James.

No, that's just Where Ideas Come From and Being Part of the Cultural Dialogue. I just read Terry Pratchett's lovely novel Going Postal, and realised while reading it that, at least in part, it's a Will Hay comedy. (This means almost nothing if you aren't British.) Of course when our hero arrives at the abandoned post-office, waiting for him will be an old man and a gormless boy. That's how that story works. It doesn't mean that Terry's stealing from anything, it means he's part of the cultural dialogue. And so are you.

Dear Mr. Neil Gaiman: I wrote you once before (about what I cannot remember) and you are possibly the only author I've ever seen to actually take such a personal level with his/her readers. Thank you for that--now, to my M.O.: I am writing about a short story I plan on writing for my AP English course, and I know I want to expand upon that idea if it fleshes out the way I hope it will--however, it is (most grotesquely) a metafiction loosely based on AMERICAN GODS. I suppose I am asking for your blessing, and wanting to know if I get it published in my school's literary arts magazine--is this plagiarism? Would it upset you to know a girl somewhere in the Midwest is taking characters you slaved over and gleefully bending them to her will? (I would, of course, give you credit for the original work.)

Considering your possible response to the previous question, I also wanted to know, in general, how do you feel about metafiction and its lesser appreciated (and usually for good reason--usually) cousin, fanfiction? Giggling teenaged writers aside, do you believe books like GRENDEL and ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDERSTERN ARE DEAD, ect. are as valid as totally new ideas? Or is it more intellectual to delve into the facets of existing work to find something new-ish? Do you think it fair for Anne Rice to become upset by her fans continuing the stories of Louis and Lestat where she left off in their own, amateur fictions? And how would you feel if you stumbled across a hypertext morass of misplaced modifiers and conjecture, detailing parts of characterization you did not state in your works? (I'll have you know there are currently 220 fanfictions on "fanfiction.net" devoted to the SANDMAN series alone--Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes only beats you by two works.)I wanted your opinion as you are the inspiration for my work-in-mind (tenetively taken from Sam or Jaquel's point of view--not directly detailing Shadow's journey, but occuring within and around it, I suppose). Thank you for your time. Well, here goes nothing--I'm hitting SEND now.

No, I don't mind. Have fun with it.

The last time I was foolish enough to say anything at all about fanfiction, a paragraph, taken out of context, was widely quoted on websites, and I got several hundred e-mails taking me to task for not understanding, appreciating or acknowledging that writing fanfiction was the highest and noblest aspiration of mankind. (I think I told someone who asked if writing fanfiction would be good for "honing writing skills" that of course it was, but if that was what he was writing for, he'd have to start writing his own stuff eventually. This was, I was told at length and by many many people, a terrible thing to say.)

So... yes, I think that playing with other people's ideas and work is a perfectly valid way to make art. I also think it's much wiser and safer to do it with ideas and work that are comfortably in the public domain if you want your work to be seen professionally.

Beyond that, go and read http://www.neilgaiman.com/journal/2003/02/long-occasionally-frustrating.asp and http://www.neilgaiman.com/journal/2003/02/you-know-i-should-know-better-than-to.asp and then read http://www.neilgaiman.com/journal_archives/2002_04_01_archive.asp#75170854 Which taken together are pretty much all I have to say on the subject, and include a paragraph of Gollum/Smeagol slash.

I'm doing a Masters degree,with one module being on Children's Literature. I've been able to turn it into looking primarily at fiction, with a particular focus why adults are so addicted to children's fantasy. Having read a lot of your work, you still retain that power to create pictures without reams of description. Are there any particular considerations you use when writing for children? I realise that the actual content is less sexual and less overtly violent, but do you bring in any other considerations as well?If you get time to reply, many thanks in advance. Jo Wynn-Jones

I was trying to think what considerations I use when writing for children, and mostly it's just "Do I like this? would I have liked this when I was ten? Do I think it's cool? Would I have thought it was cool when I was eight?" And then you're writing, and after that it's just a matter of putting the words down in a way that makes the story come alive for someone else. I tend to avoid sex in children's literature, because it makes kids feel uncomfortable (or it did me) in the same way that a kid feels uncomfortable seeing an adult drunk throwing up across the road: it's part of something you aren't part of and don't particularly want to be part of. Having said that, there's going to be a lot more sex and violence (and horror) in my next children's novel, The Graveyard Book, than there is in Anansi Boys, which is for adults.

Hi Neil, As a pleasant diversion from actual, uh, homework, I've been translating Coraline into Latin. Has this been done before, or am I embarking on an original endeavour?

As far as I know, you're the first.

I thought you might be interested that, in addition to the younger generation, your work is being studied by degree students. Coraline and the first Sandman have both been included on the English Surrealism syllabus at the University of East Anglia. In previous years, English Surrealism has also found a place for you with American Gods. Speaking as one who has had it up to here with Heidegger and had a gutful of Goethe, I thank you.

How cool.

Hi Neil,I recently broke up with my boyfriend of three years. Among the many legit reasons for doing so, I realized that I'd pretty much convinced myself being with him cramped my creativity. Where before this relationship I wrote constantly, while in it I barely found the time, and when I did it was hard won with ridiculously hurt feelings coming at me like daggers thrown by a blind man("You hate me." "No, I just need some time to myself." "Why do you hate me?").

This is my first relationship, and I'm trying to sort out the bullshit from the truth, so my question is this: in your estimation, can people in a writer's life truly affect their ability to write? Or did I lose the knack I once thought I had by rights and am lumping it into this relationshipwreck because it's easier that facing the truth? I know you're no therapist, but I'd appreciate your insight, if you have any.

I think that people telling you that you can't do something, or are no good, or whatever, can certainly affect your writing ability, if only because it makes you want to do it less. It's like telling someone they can't sing: after a while they don't sing, or not around you.

And no, you haven't lost the knack. I highly recommend going "Right -- you said I was wasting my time. I'll show you," as something to tell yourself when you sit down and start writing. And then go on to demonstrate to anyone who thought you were wasiting your time how wrong they were.

Neil -I know that you have mentioned bookcrossing on your blog before, so, in the hopes that there are perhaps people in the Idaho area who might have information, please let your readers know that one of the main programmers for the bookcrossing.com site is missing, and any help would be greatly appreciated www.bonnercountydailybee.com/articles/2004/11/17/news/news02.txt Namaste,Kristin

Of course.

Do you have any advice on what to look for in a good MFA program?

None whatsoever. Sorry.

Dear Mr. Gaiman, I've just made it back home in one piece and should be crashing, but I had to write. It's been said before, but it won't hurt to say it again: what a great job the con organizers did at Fiddler's Green, how grateful we all were for the time the guests spent with us fans and what a brilliant auctioneer you proved yourself to be. I've been to my share of fundraisers, but I really can't recall one where people parted with their money so happily and with such enthusiasm! And all done for a worthy cause.
I'm sure your e-mail count is scary, so I'll try and be brief. I was taking pictures through the weekend and many people asked for my e-mail or for a way of accessing them. I'd be grateful if you could post the link to the pictures on your blog. I apologize in advance for all the red eyes, odd angles and other mishaps. They are entirely my fault. I really don't think any photograph would do justice to all the costumes and the people attending, but the line up of Deaths and Deliria gives an idea.You were right - it *was* the best Fiddler's Green ever. Thank you for everything, Georgia
Link: http://photobucket.com/albums/v520/GCA/

You're very welcome. Georgia flew to Fiddler's Green from Brazil (which meant that she was up there with the couple from Spain and was beaten by the young lady from Singapore in the who-came-furthest stakes).

I am doing a book report on you, so could you please give me info about your life? Thank you!!!!!!!

Sure. I'm 44, and I do not have a beard this week. Beyond that, you could go to The Dreaming website at www.holycow.com/dreaming and search for Gale, which will get you several biographical articles. Good luck!
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