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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Everything's coming up Goblin!

Good evening. Your humble web goblin here, back in the saddle. Mr. G has turned back over the reins of the blog for the next three weeks while he is in China.




A little birdie sent me this concept still from Neil Gaiman's "The Price" (a Christopher Salmon film).



I have it on good authority that Salmon will be updating the Video Production Blog on Monday afternoon with its first post, so keep an eye out for that.




The last time I guested in this space, I made a joke, later elaborated upon, about always wearing a knit goblin-ears cap when working for Mr. G. Since that time, due to the kindness of his readership, I have been sent not one but two goblin-ears caps!






I've been wearing them all winter, and before that to the A Low Key Gathering at the House on the Rock.




Our month-long Decade Retrospective has not yet drawn to a close, and one of my favorites has not yet seen the spotlight.

from Wednesday, April 10, 2002:
Reading your blog on fan fiction, you mentioned 'slash' fiction - what in the world is that? Shalene



Figuring that someone out there had probably put it better than I had, I typed

What is slash? into google, and found an instant essay for you.




For those in too much of a hurry to click, slash fiction is basically erotic fan fiction, normally TV series based, pairing off two (er or more I suppose) members of the same sex who don't normally couple for the cameras. From the "/" mark in the middle of "Kirk/Spock" or "K/S" fiction, which is where it all started. ("But Spock," said Kirk, huskily, realising, finally, irrevocably, what his true self had been trying to tell him ever since the beginning of season one, "it's so huge. And it's green." "And it would be logical for you to... touch it, Captain," said Spock. And so on. It's normally written by extremely nice ladies. I have several very sane, respected, and respectable friends who write slash fiction, and do not try to make me read it.)



(I wasn't making up the Knight Rider thing either: I remember a table selling printed fanzine slash fiction, before there was ever a world wide web, with several volumes of "Now impale yourself upon my throbbing gearshift" stories which I thumbed through with delighted and horrified amusement. But then, I was never a David Hasselhof fan.)



Neil -



Related to the hot blog topic: What should one do to report a website that one suspects is in violation of copyright? I myself have come across a site that contains: a) information and images about Richard Powers' novel "The Gold Bug Variations" that readers of the book will find quite helpful; b) the whole book, every damn word. There's no way this is legit, but what can I do about it?



I'm slightly afraid of what nastiness might result if I were to contact the site's author. Some sort of discreet, one-stop online copyright-violation-reporting service seems ideal . . . does one exist?



This is a matter close to my heart. If no such service exists, surely certain publicly interested parties ought to examine the notion. Whom should I contact? (Paging Harlan Ellison . . .)





Well, I've always started out by contacting the webmaster (a quick WHOIS search will give you an e-mail address) or the person who posted it, if they have their address up on the page. (Lots of times stuff has been posted without the webmaster knowing it. And they don't want it up, putting their website at risk: I once wrote to the very cool Project Gutenberg people, who make public domain material available on the web, pointing out that Stephen King and Douglas Adams and I were not yet in the public domain, and could they take that page down, and they were mortified.) Seeing I'm the copyright holder and have every right to grumble, no-one's ever done anything more than take the book or story down, occasionally -- very occasionally -- muttering something hopeless and grumbly like "information wants to be free!" as they do, but mostly being very pleased someone let them know that it was up there.



("No, that's pizza," I want to tell them. "Pizza wants to be free. Concentrate on liberating pizza from evil pizzerias. Information, on the other hand, really hates being free, and is never happier than when manacled to a wall, like Kirk and Spock in some piece of late 70s bondage-oriented slash fiction.")



Sending an e-mail to the book's publisher is probably the easiest way to do it, if you don't fancy an exchange of e-mails with the webmaster or the person posting the stuff. (For The Gold Bug Variations it's William Morrow/HarperCollins). Check out the publisher's website, or the author's authorised website if they have one, and send an e-mail to the CONTACT person giving them the website address of the place with the unauthorised materials, and brief details. (For this web site it's Julia Bannon, Julia.bannon@harpercollins.com who would forward your e-mail to the right place.).





Lastly, because I promised to use these borrowed powers for good, a small plug: for those in the area of Abington, PA who like their games played on top of tables, 7th Dimension Games is a wonderful store with an awesome owner who is a long-time fan of Mr. G and really knows his stuff.

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Saturday, February 26, 2011

He's leaving home (bye-bye)

In a few hours I leave for the airport. I'm off to China to work on something I can't yet talk about, which is also connected to the project I was doing the last two times I went to China.

Last time I was out there, in Autumn of 2009, I spent several weeks in Xinjiang Province, where things like the Internet, text messaging and international calling were completely turned off by the government following the riots in June 2009 (and not turned back on until May 2010). [Xinjiang, in the West, is an area the size of Western Europe, population about 25 million.]

When I got back to the rest of China I still had to battle with the Great Firewall of China, which turns off access to things like Blogger and Twitter, and while I used my US phone a lot for things like Twitter and email, I discovered when I came home a phonebill for about $5000 had been incurred -- although given that the astonishingly heavy phone usage in China seemed, from the bill, to have continued for over a month after I left China, it was more likely that the phone had been hacked or cloned while I was out there, as even at T-Mobile's extortionate foreign rates, that seemed a bit much.

So this time I plan to do it the easy way.

Bye-bye blog. Bye-bye people reading this. Farewell denizens of Twitter and the folk of Facebook. I'll miss you all, in a very intimate and personal sort of a way.

I'll be back at the end of March.

I've handed the keys to the blog to the Webgoblin while I am gone.


You could read Hayley Campbell's glorious blog - here's an entry about Getting A Man In that is funny, well observed, beautifully written and toe-curlingly embarrassing.

(Oh, and if you're in Edinburgh, my wife is looking to rent a three or four bedroom house or flat in August. The address to email to is at the link.)


Here are some photos I took on previous visits to China. My first trip in 2007. On the Great Wall.

Yaks for sale in the market of Kashgar

An Ixat. I also got a great photo of an Enternit cafe. (And for a similar phenomenon in reverse, check out http://hanzismatter.blogspot.com/ as described in http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/02/fashion/sundaystyles/02tattoos.html)


My breakfast ticket at a small hotel...

Dates drying in the desert sun. The man who guarded them had been dropped off by his family a few days before. They would come and get him a few days later...



Riding with Khazaks in the mountains south of Urumqi.

Goodnight. Do not break everything while I'm away.

(The hardest bit of leaving is going to be maintaining the exercise I've been doing at home while I'm on the road. Wish me luck.)

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

One of those slightly random too-long posts filled with peculiar stuff not to mention a recipe for Wil Wheaton

I'm delighted and really honoured to announce that I've been made a Patron of the BookEnd Trust in Tasmania. As they explain,

The Bookend program seeks to inspire students and the community with the potential of building positive and effective environmental careers and solutions.

We achieve this through a diverse range of projects, including scholarships, documentaries, school visits, public presentations, on-ground field courses and the award-winning Expedition Class adventure learning program.
I loved being made a part of it. I've been fascinated by Tasmanian wildlife since my first trip to Hobart in 1998.

You can read all about it at http://www.bookendtrust.com/index.php/newsletterfeb2011, learn about the BookEnd Trust and see some amazing photos. Here's a BookEndTrust YouTube video of me and Amanda getting close and personal with two echidnas named Eric.



People ask why this blog doesn't have comments enabled, and it goes back to how old it is. When I started blogging, blogger didn't do comments. And by the time it did, well, I liked it just how it was, and had no desire to change anything. Over on Facebook, there are comments, so I got to see something close to a flame war break out over whether, when I had posted a photo of me with an endangered Tasmanian Land Crayfish, I had meant "crawfish" or not. (I should have just said "Yabby.")

And I thought, yup, that's why I've never turned on comments here.

...


Sometimes I think that when I die, or perhaps as I am dying, I shall be confronted with my characters.

Not the ones you would expect, the ones who had their stories, but the other ones. The characters whose stories I planned to tell but never did. There was the girl who never made it into Season of Mists (was her name Carmen? I think it was) who talked about herself in the third person and described herself as "hard as effin nails", and the lonely journalist trying to investigate the Bender family in Kansas and elsewhere in the Michael Zulli Sweeney Todd story, and Jenny Kertin who is waiting for me to take her to the village of Wall and wishes I'd hurry it up...

Them, and a few dozen others, the people from the tales I never told, who have waited on the boundaries between the potential and the actual, in a ghostly limbo. They'll be so disappointed when I die. And I have no doubt I will feel guilty, for all the stories I'll never write.

Not that that'll be happening for some time to come. But I've been talking to friends of mine who are writers at the end of their lives, and it makes me think.


...

I mentioned on Twitter that I'd made a Sweet Potato/Tamarind/Tofu/Polenta casserole and that Maddy has astonished me by liking it, and Wil Wheaton promptly asked for the recipe. Which is much too long for Twitter:

What I like doing with recipes most is ignoring them. Or at least, going "Well, yes. Although I don't have any of those things. But I do have something a bit like it..."

The idea came from a recipe in Isa Chandra Moskowitz's Appetite For Reduction. (Incidentally, I'm now comfortably wearing long-forgotten jeans from the size 31 tub, and do not plan to lose much more weight, because there are only two pairs of jeans in the 30 tub.)

So...

I'd learned from various books on making tofu less boring that you can slice it and put it in the freezer. It freezes, and also dries out a little. If you then drop slices of frozen tofu still frozen into cooking liquids, you get a slightly chewier tofu that tastes more like the cooking liquid and less like nothing very much at all than tofu normally does. (There is a reason why the expression "As tasty as tofu!" is not in everyday use.)

So I had a bag of slices of firm tofu in the freezer. (According to the place I found the info, it doesn't work for silken Tofu, BTW).

In the fridge I had some buckwheat-millet polenta. I'd cooked some buckwheat and millet the day before in the rice cooker with more water than I'd use for a grain, to get a porridge. Then I'd put it in the fridge and was slicing some off it as I needed it.

I had a large sweet potato and, oddly enough, in a mostly empty fridge, in the cheese drawer I had a block of tamarind paste...

1) Slice the sweet potato and put it aside. Slice some mushrooms...

2) Mix about 1/4 of a cup of lemon juice and about 3 tablespoons of tamarind paste up, and start to simmer, stirring. Add the sliced mushrooms. Add a pinch of turmeric and cumin and paprika. Add a tablespoon of maple syrup. Add about half a cup of vegetable stock. Keep stirring. When the tamarind has all dissolved into it, add the frozen tofu strips to the mixture. (They thaw and absorb moisture and flavour as they do so, becoming incredibly Tamarindy tofu strips.)

3) Non-stick-spray a casserole dish. Put the sweet potato in. Pour the tamarind sauce and tofu over it. Stir it until all the sweet potato is covered with the sauce. Put a lid on it. Put it in a 400 degree F oven for 25 minutes. Then take it out, stir it around to make sure that nothing's sticking to the bottom, put it back in the oven for a final 30 minutes.

4) The buckwheat/millet polenta? Slice it up. I heated it in the pan I'd cooked the tamarind up in a few minutes before the casserole was ready.

I added the Polenta at the end of cooking, stirred it all up and served it. Maddy wolfed it all down, although she wasn't a huge fan of the tofu, and she raved about it afterwards and today.

There you go, Wil. Let me know how it turns out.

...


I love this photo because I didn't mean to take it. I was trying to figure out if the camera was on on the phone, and it took it all by itself. It seems very unfair. I never take photos that look like that when I'm actually trying to.

The two photos below are for people complaining that the blog is turning into a white dogs in the snow tumblr. They are, of course, quite right. (Although it's not as doggy as the real thing.)

I love the way that Lola always sits or lies down for photos, the way that Cabal always stands.



Things are very sad in the world of bees. It finally warmed up here (ie got above freezing) and there were no bees out doing the things bees do as soon as they get warm days. Also the snow had not melted around the hives.

So we checked and all the bees were dead. Five hives, all gone. It looked like they died at the start of the winter, when temperatures plummeted into the minus 20s, as their honey stocks were pretty much untouched.

We're getting some Russian bees this year (finally), which are meant to be hardier, and we'll insulate the hives earlier in the autumn, but I don't actually think there was anything we could have done, which makes it better and which also makes it worse.

Hello there,

Having touched on the subject a few times in your blog, I thought you might be interested to know a number of Prisoners of Gravity episodes are now available on the TVO Archive web site, in what appears to be reasonably good quality: http://archive.tvo.org/program/119701

Cheers and good will!



Not just up, but in great quality too, which is a huge improvement over the ones that have crept up online so far. Here's the half-hour SANDMAN episode from 1993. Yes, we were all babies back then.



The one I would love to see again is the 1991ish episode of Prisoners of Gravity where they handed out awards. And they gave one to me for being their favourite guest. Dave McKean had too much fun directing a whole set of acceptance speeches for me. It was (the way that I remember it anyway) very funny.

Dear Neil,

I would like to reference something you said in one of you journal entries. Specifically,

"(It was mostly my then-fiancee Amanda Palmer's fault. She had said something like, "You go to these things and you don't actually meet people." And I'd said something along the lines of, "Hah. Actually a whole Roller Derby team is coming to see me talk in Indianapolis." And she had said, "Yes, but you won't really get to meet them." Which was so true that when I got off the phone I told my assistant Lorraine to tell the Roller Derby team that I wanted to know if they would like to have dinner.)"

I would just like to let you know that if you wife is ever giving you grief about not actually meeting people, I would be happy to help you appease her. You are welcome to offer me dinner any time you happen to be in the Los Angeles area. I should warn you though, my girlfriend would definitely want to be invited too.

You don't need to thank me, it's really no trouble.

Sincerely,
Matt

P.S. The thought just crossed my mind that you might actually have some rather strange fans that would say what I just said and think that they were actually doing you a favor. I would just like to clarify that I sent this mostly in an attempt to be clever and mildly humorous. And since I'm being honest, because of the tiny chance that you would take me up on the offer. Which would be awesome.


That's very nice of you! It probably won't happen, only because my visits to the LA area are always too short, and I never get to see all the people I already know and miss.

But thank you.

...


And for our next February Trip Down Memory Lane...

Greetings Neil from the Santa Cruz Mountains!

I adore the blog post regarding Koumpounophobia. I am curious though, is that your canning jar full of buttons?


Jan 29 2008
http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2009/01/heres-button-trailer.html


It is indeed. The film crew had arrived that day with a script that they had written about mothers, how people thought mothers were nice but really they could be creepy. I read it, and shook my head and said "This would work brilliantly if it was for Hitchcock to walk around the Psycho set with, but I think it's wrong for Coraline. I don't want kids to be scared of their mothers, after all. What about..." And then I saw a jar filled with buttons I'd been given a few weeks earlier by some fans. "What about something about being scared of buttons?"

"Great idea!" they said. "You'll need to have your script ready in 20 minutes."

And I said I'd hoped they would write it, and they said that, no, it was definitely going to be me. So I wrote it, and used the jar of buttons as a prop...

So from Thursday January 29th, 2009, Here's the Button Trailer.




And yes, this was shot in my house -- in the front room I don't use much, and in the downstairs library.


...

Actually, two years later, I'm using the front room as my bedroom most of the time -- I started doing it this time last year when Cabal couldn't climb stairs -- and using my real bedroom as a workout space.

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Monday, February 21, 2011

In Which I am worried by an Earthquake, and Memories of a Reproductive meal in Warsaw

The hardest part of having a wife on a rock tour is when something like today happens. Amanda had a gig tonight in Christchurch, with our friend Jason Webley, who was staying with our friend Hera.

I love Christchurch. Amanda and I stayed there a year ago: we borrowed Hera's parents' house (they had a copper bathtub in the bedroom, unconnected to anything, which puzzled me a great deal), and went for long walks along the beach, and talked and talked and talked.

And then, suddenly, a couple of hours ago, everything changed. An earthquake in Christchurch -- less powerful, but more damaging, than the one last September. Amanda's plane, about to take off, was grounded in Napier as they closed Christchurch airport. Jason and Hera were unharmed per Hera's twitter feed. But per http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10707997 there have been ten aftershocks so far, and entries like the following are really worrying...

2.51pm
Police say multiple fatalities have been reported at several locations in Christchurch CBD. They say two buses were crushed by falling buildings.

3.14pm
The Provincial Chambers building is reported to have collapsed, with people trapped inside.



Meanwhile, Amanda is having to figure out how to get to Auckland for tomorrow's gig. And many people in Christchurch have had their lives and world shattered.

You can make donations to the New Zealand Red Cross at http://www.redcross.org.nz/donate

...

Michael Zulli gave me, as a 50th birthday present, a copy of his book THE FRACTURE OF THE UNIVERSAL BOY. It was a special limited edition he had had printed up, and was really beautiful, moving, strange and harrowing.



Here are a couple of panels. Michael is trying to raise the money on Kickstarter to self-publish it. There's a write up about the book, and many more pages, (and the fact that Michael will even draw Batman for people who support him with $2,000 or above) at http://www.bleedingcool.com/2011/02/19/michael-zulli-will-even-draw-batman-to-fund-new-graphic-novel-the-fracture-of-the-universal-boy/.

He's already raised over $12,000 of the $17,000 he needs. You can support it (and pre-order a copy of the book for yourself into the bargain) at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1151517311/michael-zulli-the-fracture-of-the-universal-boy.

...


Dear Neil,
I thought I would submit a favorite blog moment. It's not my absolute favorite but it rather sticks out in my mind as something that made me smile.
I'm thinking it was a few years ago that you were at some lovely restaurant whilst on tour and you ordered some soup that came to the table with a dollop of cream artfully swirled into the concoction. You took a picture of it and posted it on the blog because the artful display of cream-on-soup looked just like a sperm.
I used to keep the picture of the soup on my computer for a good laugh but I lost it when said computer died a violent death.

Much love,
Becca


I remember that one!

From March 17 2007, A Miscellany:

The last time I was in Poland, four years ago, I had a day where food never happened and I got grumpy about it. Everyone is so concerned about making sure this doesn't happen again that I suspect I'm going to leave Poland a rotund and cherubic figure, astonishingly well-fed and pink.

Dinner tonight included, as a starter, a small caviar and rice thing at the centre of the plate, with strangely spermatic tadpoles drawn in purple and brown sauce heading towards it, probably to fertilise it.

And seeing that no-one would believe me without photographic evidence...




Off to Krakow tomorrow morning.

...
and I learned from Lisa Snellings that her poppet planet is open (and that she's going to do a new set of the Neil Rats... I hope she'll make them in brass and glass and all sorts of strange things) and that the details are up at http://slaughterhousestudios.blogspot.com/2007/03/poppet-planet-is-live-gallery-is-open.html

Neil,
Just a quick question - what happened to your tags? Reading them used to be one of the best parts of the post, but now they actually and accurately identify what you talked about. Creativity is always greater than organization!
Best,
Stephanie

I liked them too.

I was Given a Good Talking To About Them, because apparently people had been complaining that they weren't useful enough, and I was told that I couldn't just put tags up that only applied to the post in question. But hah! it only takes one message like yours and I'm ready to go back to my bad old ways. With, frankly, joy.

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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Snow. And the Holly Naming Conversation Redux

It's snowing again. We've had a foot of snow so far today. This is the kind of thing we would regard as a Real Snowstorm if we hadn't the 22 inch snowfall in 24 hours in December. I just went out at midnight and shovelled the path to my house, then I galumphed through the snowdrifts with the dogs and shovelled next door, because I was feeling virtuous.

The dogs have done their part by sitting exactly wherever I needed to shovel next.

I figured the exercise was a good thing, too.

A few people wrote in and asked whether the fact that I have a wife now who is 15 years younger than me has anything to do with the exercise/eating healthy/shedding weight thing. And of course it does, but not in the way you might imagine.

She liked me just fine the way I was. (We'd been together for two years, after all.)

But definitely one of the factors involved was that while I was in Australia I started thinking a lot about how I really like this being married, and how much I like being with Amanda, and how I want it to go on as long as possible. Which took me to the point of realising that I owe it to her and to me to be in the best shape I can be in twenty five years' time. As I said in that last post, my grandfathers were both infirm old men when they died. And they were in their early seventies. My father was in great shape when he died in his mid-seventies (well, in great shape up until his heart stopped beating, anyway). He exercised. They didn't. They would have stared at you, puzzled, if you'd suggested it.

When I got back from Australia I read a bunch of books on living better longer, which all said pretty much the same thing (Eat more vegetables! Exercise! Eat less rubbish and did we mention the vegetables? And honestly, we weren't kidding about the exercise!) And it became very apparent from all the reading that being in good shape in twenty-five years from today has to start with changing things now, and that there was no magic pill I could take that would do any of it for me.

I figure it's an investment in quality of life. And while I could obviously still spontaneously combust, crash a car or be eaten by space-goats in that time, I cannot see any downside to getting as healthy as I can right now and staying that way as long as I can.

Also, as a side-effect of exercising, I'm getting to listen to Hugh Dickson read Bleak House, which is keeping me listening, and, more importantly, keeping me exercising. (It's interesting: I realised that I listen to things in a different way to the way I would read them. I was listening to Chapter Ten today when I noticed that the alternate, third person chapters are all in the present tense, something I would have spotted long time ago if I were looking at the words on the paper.)

And as a secondary side-effect, I get to wear jeans that have been too small for me and unworn for so long that they have now become Vintage Clothing.

While out exercising (well, walking the dogs. I tried running in the snow, but it was over ice, and I fell down a lot)I tried to get a photo of the lamppost, shining in the woods in a snowstorm, but the cameraphone camera was not quite up to it, and the wind was whipping the snow around. So the best I got was this:



Earlier today, when we just had a few inches of snow, I took this photo, which I like mostly because Lola seems to be materialising out of the snow, and because she looks so amazingly goofy, like something half-gargoyle and half-dog.



I also got a good shot of the disapproving tree, looking very disapproving.


...

On April 27th I'll be in New York for National Public Radio's Selected Shorts. I'll be hosting and reading a story.

Tickets are going fast -- the link and information is at http://www.symphonyspace.org/event/6372-selected-shorts-magical-realism-the-world-of-marvelous-stories-with-neil-gaiman. I'm really looking forward to it. No, I don't know which story it'll be.

...

Hi Neil-

I'd like to suggest the following greatest hit:
Monday, May 31, 2004
In Which the author finally has The Conversation with his daughter...
http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2004/05/in-which-author-finally-has.asp

I realise each of my children (two girls!) is a unique creature full of her very own lifetime of surprises. And though I know I'm doing my job when I'm encouraging them to be the best Sophia or Olivia they can be, I selfishly hope that they'll also grow to enjoy and appreciate many of the same things that my wife and I do.

They're not old enough yet for us to have had that "Oh dad, I do love you," light-bulb moment, but when they burst into a chorus of "I'm Sticking with You" over breakfast, I'm given hope that we're doing something right.

Thanks for all the stories and for sharing so much with us on such a regular basis!

Dave


I love seeing what people pick as their favourites. So often they're blog entries I would never have thought of. So from May 31st 2004, here's In Which the author finally has The Conversation with his daughter...


Pretty good day.

Woke up, grabbed notebook before I got out of bed and wrote several lyrics for the Wolves in the Walls opera, including one that made me laugh called "Smash Something Breakable". Exercised, said hullo to the garden. Then spent the afternoon writing the novel, which went from completely despondent "this is awful the whole thing is unusable I have no idea what I'm doing" to, a thousand words later, "I suppose it's not that bad really and I think I know what happens next," and there are worse places to be.

This evening I had a very pleasant time with Holly, which began with her mentioning how much she liked the song "Across the Universe" and me playing her the version of the song by Laibach, which has always been my favourite. "Dad," she said, happily, "This was the version of the song I knew as a little girl. You used to play it. I always wondered why the Beatles one sounded different from the way I expected. I mean you could understand the words for a start." Then we sat in front of the computer for a few hours and I made her a playlist of more songs she had loved as a small girl, the ones she'd remembered and the ones she'd forgotten, which led to our having The Conversation. You know, the one I've known was coming for the last almost-nineteen years.

I dragged songs from her childhood over to the playlist -- "Barcelona" and "Nothing Compares 2 U" and "I Don't Like Mondays" and "These Foolish Things" and then came Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side". "You named me from this song, didn't you?" said Holly as the first bass notes sang. "Yup," I said.

Lou started singing.

Holly listened to the first verse, and for the first time, actually heard the words.

"Shaved her legs and then he was a she...? He?"

"That's right," I said, and bit the bullet. We were having The Conversation. "You were named after a drag queen in a Lou Reed song."

She grinned like a light going on. "Oh dad. I do love you," she said. Then she picked up an envelope and wrote what I'd just said down on the back, in case she forgot it.

I'm not sure that I'd ever expected The Conversation to go quite like that.

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Friday, February 18, 2011

The King of Pain Explained. An Absence of Northern Lights.

The weather outside is, well, a pain in the neck actually. All of the paths I used to walk on have melted and then frozen, so many of them are pure ice. The snow beyond the paths has melted down and refrozen into a solid crust too -- a crust almost hard enough so you can walk on it, but, alas, not hard enough to run on. Footing is treacherous, the moonlight is beautiful, and I have not yet seen the promised Northern Lights...

For work today (and tomorrow, and I am sure Sunday) I am copyediting the galleys of the upcoming Tenth Anniversary edition of American Gods. Which is just what I was doing this time ten years ago.

Hello Neil, I was just wondering, who did you base 'King of Pain' on from "Three Septembers and a January" Is he Thomas Paine?

I find it strange, why is he incorporated into the same comic as the Emperor of America?


Thomas Paine is indeed in Sandman, but he's in "Thermidor", the issue before "Three Septembers and a January". No, the King of Pain was a real person, and is drawn as he was described, from the San Francisco of the time of Emperor Norton.

He's in the book because, well, who would you send to negotiate with an emperor but a king?

I'll try something I've not done before here, and embed a little of the book I found him in, Herbert Asbury's The Barbary Coast, in here from Google books.



And today's February pastblast request:

Hi, Neil,
Belated congratuations on your wedding! All the best to you and your lovely wife.

When you asked about the blog's greatest hits, two entries immediately came to mind. One was the Skippy show, and the other was the one in which you describe taking Maddy to school - Monday, December 05, 2005. You described something that I've since heard repeated by others (ex: a friend is married to Susan Sarandon's brother, and my friend has described Sarandon's children begging her not to go to the Oscars - "But Mom, it's so EMBARRASSING! Can't we just stay home?!"), that no matter how cool the rest of the world thinks you are, your children will always think you are a geek.

Words of wisdom :)


I just re-read the entry in question and I'm putting the whole thing up, mostly because I was astonished to discover that the NPR links from 2005 still work.

It's from http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2005/12/early-night.html

Up at the crack of dawn this morning to take Maddy to school. She doesn't like me taking her to school normally, because it's embarrassing, what with me driving her in the Mini, but today, Mary in Italy with Holly and my assistant Lorraine taking Lisa Snellings to the airport, I crawled out into the grey world and took her to school. Wearing a thick dressing gown and big slippers, because I wasn't getting dressed at that time in the morning for anyone. It was strangely poetic that the passenger door decided to freeze shut (it was minus 2 F), meaning that Maddy had the entire journey to school to confront the dread embarrassment of the idea that, on arrival at school, I would get out of the car in dressing gown and slippers and then she'd have to get out on my side. We negotiated, and instead of dropping her off outside the school, I found a discreet spot in the car-park, and she slipped out there, pretending as hard as she could that she didn't know me.

Did Talk of the Nation with Neal Conan in the afternoon -- I've always done it at KNOW in St Paul before (except for http://www.npr.org/templates/rundowns/rundown.php?prgDate=18-Sep-2003&prgId=5 when I was in DC in September 2003), but all their studios were in use today, so I drove to Eau Claire instead, to WHWC, and did it there instead. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5039319 if you want to listen to the conversation.

The first time I ever did Talk of the Nation it was around 1993, and I was on with Scott McCloud. We were meant to be talking about comics, but at the beginning of the interview, the then-host said that he'd read some of my comics (he named Death The High Cost of Living and Signal to Noise) and he didn't think that women would like them, which meant that the entire phone-in consisted of women comics-readers calling in to tell the host exactly what they thought of him.


...

Hi Neil,
How did you achieve that really cool effect with the blue eyes in the photo you posted in your blog?
Cheers,
Michael
p.s. I just finished Anansi Boys today and I really enjoyed it. Oh, and thanks for the lime. You gave it to my wife, Kat, at the Manchester signing. We've still got it and are contemplating how to preserve it.


It's an accident, but a cool one, and was only in that photo. The glasses have a slight blue tint to them anyway, but I'm facing the snow, and they're bluishly reflecting back snow, branches and a photographer in such a way as to look like eyes -- the "pupil" is reflected legs...

Hi Neil

I have looked in many places but can find no answer to the quesion "What was the lime for on your desk at the Mnachester signing?" I meant to ask at the time but blurted out something tedious instead.
These are the little things that eat away at my fruitless days, any hope of an answer?
cheers
Rebecca


If the message before yours is to be believed, it was for Kat.


...

And finally, Mitch Benn has started a podcast of funny songs. It's a lot like his old BBC Radio 7 show except, as he explains, he's allowed to put his own songs in too. (In this case, a Tom Waits style song about making a sandwich before you get drunk) and put in songs that swear. Oddly enough, most of the songs he's found on this opener are a bit sweary. It's the kind of podcast I like - I can subscribe to it in iTunes and Google Listen, and it'll be there for me when I want it. You can listen to it or download it at http://mitchbenn.com/podcasts.

And (given that I know a lot of people who make music read this blog) he's looking for funny songs for future podcasts. So if you don't like his selections on his first one, you should suggest some to him. Or, if you make music, send him some (he's at mitchbenn@hotmail.com, or @mitchbenn on the Twitter).

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Catch Up (and Entitlement Issues once again)

I just realised that I'd forgotten to do the February tenth anniversary repost for today.

And a few more things have come in...

So I'm home, and it's warmed up. The snow has gone soft, but almost none has melted. It looks like this right now out in the woods.









(Photos taken with a real camera for once, as opposed to the Nexus-S...)


Black Phoenix Alchemy Labs have some more amazing scents out as benefits for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund:

Lemon-Scented Sticky Bat
http://www.blackphoenixalchemylab.com/stickybat.html

The Lovers Tee
http://www.blackphoenixtradingpost.com/teezoom-vtlovers.html

The Lovers Perfume
http://www.blackphoenixalchemylab.com/vampiretarot.html

Bill Hader sent me a link to this Saturday Night Live short film, which reminded me of all the films Mark Evanier has on his blog of people talking in accents without actual language content. It made me smile.




...

There have been a lot of people asking me to repost one particular blog entry. This was the longest and most articulate of the requests...

Mr. Gaiman,

I'd like to submit my nomination for your "Tenth Blog Anniversary" thingy.

It's perhaps not one of the ones that sends me into giggle fits, or one of the ones that makes me just sit and reflect for a minute or five, and it was written only a scant couple of years ago, but it DOES have a valuable message for both rabid fans (well-meaning and not) and also the little, starving writer inside me. I refer, of course, to the post you named, "Entitlement issues..." (http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2009/05/entitlement-issues.html), but which most of the people I know who refer others to it call, simply, "George R R Martin is not your bitch."

This post was unique in that it not only stated -- bluntly, humorously, and well -- something that some of us kind of stumbled around the edges of while trying to answer rants from friends, customers, and random people who commented on our choice of reading material, it also said something important, but perhaps not consciously intended, to the little guy in my head...

You know who I'm talking about, right? The one with all the stories to tell who is always being terrorized by the monsters 'Other Stuff to Do' and 'It's Not Happening, Anyway'? That guy? He now yells at me whenever I don't sit down with him regularly to listen for his stories, since the most important part is not whether or not the Big Project is working or whether what we're telling is Good Enough to Share, just that we're doing SOMETHING and we're doing it because we love it.

So yes. Please, if you would, re-post that one for him, and for me. We both say thank you ... for that, and for the many, many other words you've shared with us.

Sincerely

-mathew


Fair enough. In order to put it up, I need to repost the question that prompted it as well. So, from May 12, 2009, Entitlement Issues:

Hi Neil,

I've recently subscribed to George RR Martin's blog (http://grrm.livejournal.com/) in the hopes of getting some inside information regarding when the next "Song of Ice and Fire" book is due to be released. I love the series but since subscribing to the blog I've become increasingly frustrated with Martin's lack of communication on the next novel's publication date. In fact, it's almost as though he is doing everything in his power to avoid working on his latest novel. Which poses a few questions:

1. With blogs and twitter and other forms of social media do you think the audience has too much input when it comes to scrutinising the actions of an artist? If you had announced a new book two years ago and were yet to deliver do you think avoiding the topic on your blog would lead readers to believe you were being "slack"? By blogging about your work and life do you have more of a responsibility to deliver on your commitments?

2. When writing a series of books, like Martin is with "A Song of Ice and Fire" what responsibility does he have to finish the story? Is it unrealistic to think that by not writing the next chapter Martin is letting me down, even though if and when the book gets written is completely up to him?

Would be very interested in your insight.

Cheers
Gareth


My opinion....

1) No.

2) Yes, it's unrealistic of you to think George is "letting you down".

Look, this may not be palatable, Gareth, and I keep trying to come up with a better way to put it, but the simplicity of things, at least from my perspective is this:

George R.R. Martin is not your bitch.

This is a useful thing to know, perhaps a useful thing to point out when you find yourself thinking that possibly George is, indeed, your bitch, and should be out there typing what you want to read right now.

People are not machines. Writers and artists aren't machines.

You're complaining about George doing other things than writing the books you want to read as if your buying the first book in the series was a contract with him: that you would pay over your ten dollars, and George for his part would spend every waking hour until the series was done, writing the rest of the books for you.

No such contract existed. You were paying your ten dollars for the book you were reading, and I assume that you enjoyed it because you want to know what happens next.

It seems to me that the biggest problem with series books is that either readers complain that the books used to be good but that somewhere in the effort to get out a book every year the quality has fallen off, or they complain that the books, although maintaining quality, aren't coming out on time.

Both of these things make me glad that I am not currently writing a series, and make me even gladder that the decade that I did write series things, in Sandman, I was young, driven, a borderline workaholic, and very fortunate. (and even then, towards the end, I was taking five weeks to write a monthly comic, with all the knock-on problems in deadlines that you would expect from that).

For me, I would rather read a good book, from a contented author. I don't really care what it takes to produce that.

Some writers need a while to charge their batteries, and then write their books very rapidly. Some writers write a page or so every day, rain or shine. Some writers run out of steam, and need to do whatever it is they happen to do until they're ready to write again. Sometimes writers haven't quite got the next book in a series ready in their heads, but they have something else all ready instead, so they write the thing that's ready to go, prompting cries of outrage from people who want to know why the author could possibly write Book X while the fans were waiting for Book Y.

I remember hearing an upset comics editor telling a roomful of other editors about a comics artist who had taken a few weeks off to paint his house. The editor pointed out, repeatedly, that for the money the artist would have been paid for those weeks' work he could easily have afforded to hire someone to paint his house, and made money too. And I thought, but did not say, “But what if he wanted to paint his house?”

I blew a deadline recently. Terminally blew it. First time in 25 years I've sighed and said, “I can't do this, and you won't get your story.” It was already late, I was under a bunch of deadline pressure, my father died, and suddenly the story, too, was dead on the page. I liked the voice it was in, but it wasn't working, and eventually, rather than drive the editors and publishers mad waiting for a story that wasn't going to come, I gave up on it and apologised, worried that I could no longer write fiction.

I turned my attention to the next deadline waiting – a script. It flowed easily and delightfully, was the most fun I've had writing anything in ages, all the characters did exactly what I had hoped they would do, and the story was better than I had dared to hope.

Sometimes it happens like that. You don't choose what will work. You simply do the best you can each time. And you try to do what you can to increase the likelihood that good art will be created.

And sometimes, and it's as true of authors as it is of readers, you have a life. People in your world get sick or die. You fall in love, or out of love. You move house. Your aunt comes to stay. You agreed to give a talk half-way around the world five years ago, and suddenly you realise that that talk is due now. Your last book comes out and the critics vociferously hated it and now you simply don't feel like writing another. Your cat learns to levitate and the matter must be properly documented and investigated. There are deer in the apple orchard. A thunderstorm fries your hard disk and fries the backup drive as well...

And life is a good thing for a writer. It's where we get our raw material, for a start. We quite like to stop and watch it.

The economics of scale for a writer mean that very few of us can afford to write 5,000 page books and then break them up and publish them annually once they are done. So writers with huge stories, or ones that, as Sandman did, grow in the telling, are going to write them and have them published as they go along.

And if you are waiting for a new book in a long ongoing series, whether from George or from Pat Rothfuss or from someone else...

Wait. Read the original book again. Read something else. Get on with your life. Hope that the author is writing the book you want to read, and not dying, or something equally as dramatic. And if he paints the house, that's fine.

And Gareth, in the future, when you see other people complaining that George R.R. Martin has been spotted doing something other than writing the book they are waiting for, explain to them, more politely than I did the first time, the simple and unanswerable truth: George R. R. Martin is not working for you.

Hope that helps.

If you have any problems with the language here, I'd refer you to the second part of this post. http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2010/01/zoe.html. I'd repost it, but Zoe's death is still raw.

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What I did in New York, with a digression into fitness and daydreaming a long way from the ball

I just had two days in New York. I'm typing this on the plane home.

On the first day I went, with my agent Merrilee and my friend Anna Schuleit (an amazing artist) to see Sarah Jones at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. Sarah -- or rather, two of her characters -- interviewed me on stage.

I love what Sarah does, especially because I am a writer who has quite often had dozens of characters running around in my head at the same time. (The ones I always liked were the ones who did the most work themselves. I always loved Delirium, for example, because I only ever had to give her a straight line, and then shut up and listen.) Sarah's got a bunch of characters running around in her head, and she can hand over not just words on a page but her whole body to them and see what they do and say and think. Some of her material is scripted, but a lot of it, the best stuff, was seat-of-her-pants improvisational stuff, answering questions for the audience, and interviewing me.

The Nuyorican is TINY -- it seats about 200 people, and each of her shows there have been sold out. The final one of these experimental shows is on February 28th. Her guest interview subject will be DJ Spooky. I wish I could be there.

Sarah's website is http://sarahjonesonline.com/

It's already sold out, although there are a handful of standing room tickets still available. Your best bet is to keep an eye out on Sarah's website and see if she's going to transfer the show somewhere bigger. I hope she does.

(I met Sarah, and Anna, and for that matter Paul Miller AKA DJ Spooky, at the mysterious Campfire retreat I went to last year. I made so many great new friends there.)

Yesterday began with me doing something I don't do, which is, I walked across the street from the hotel to the New York Health and Racquet Club which served as its fitness centre. Then I did 45 minutes on the elliptical, while listening to Bleak House.

The whole weight-loss and now fitness thing came about because I started researching ways to stay in as good shape as I can for as long as I can. I watched my grandfathers become sick old men. My father died suddenly at 75, but was incredibly fit and healthy, without a day's illness, until then. And I realised I didn't want to go like my grandparents did. So I did what I do when I want to understand something, and I started reading.

And everything I read said, You lose the weight and you get exercise. Vigorous exercise for at least half an hour a day is best. Which made sense: my dad jogged or swam every day until he died.

I'm not an exercise person. At school, there were the kids who were "good at games", and there were the kids who were "bad at games". I was solidly in the Bad at Games side of things. When kids lined up to pick teams, at the end there would normally be a really fat kid, or a kid with bottle-thick glasses, or a kid with a leg-brace, and me, and I'd still be picked last. I didn't mind, really, because that normally meant that I got placed a long way away from the action, and would have plenty of time to make up stories in my head, although occasionally I'd be so far away in my head that I'd be rudely slapped back to reality by being hit in the face by a hard wet leathery football.

One of the many things I liked about being an adult and, you know, not at school any more was not having to ever exercise vigorously.

(I'm pretty sure my total and complete lack of interest or rudimentary competence in any sport was hugely disappointing to my dad, who had boxed for the army, played rugby at county level, all that. And I'm grateful that I never suspected how disappointed he must have been until years later, when I had children of my own, and I saw how much joy and pride he took in my son Mike becoming a twelve-year old ice-hockey player.)

But I really like being alive. And I like being alive with a pretty decent quality of life. I'm fifty and, considering that I'm a sedentary writer who takes to exercise naturally like a duck takes to petrol, I'm in really good shape. But I could see that I might not continue to be. My annual medical check-up numbers were moving in the wrong direction. I was starting to feel creakier and older: and while getting older is one of the privileges of life on earth, and one I really like, I decided the time had come to do something about it. I don't ever want to do stupid stuff to pretend to be young, by dying my hair or whatever. (About ten years ago, irritated with being described as "boyish" in every interview, I had a white streak put in my hair. But then I decided that was silly and let it grow out.) I feel like I've earned every white hair and every wrinkle. They make me happy.

But I want to be in as good shape as I can be for the last half or third or whatever of my life. As much as I have control over it, anyway.

Losing weight, looking after myself, eating better and smarter, and exercising, is working so far. All the medical numbers that were creeping into the orange are back now in the green.

Which is also why I've just blogged this at such length. It's like putting a marker in the sand, telling people I'm doing this. Telling the world.

...and I got onto it because I was talking about yesterday. Right. So, morning, exercise. Lunch, and afternoon meeting about an astonishingly cool book that I'm going to be doing that'll probably come out in 2014, and which hasn't yet been announced, so I can't talk about it yet.


(I just stopped composing the blog entry and wrote a love-letter to my wife, who is currently in New Zealand, and whom I miss very much. I'll see her on the 13th of March, at the end of her Goes Down Under tour, and am now counting the days. There. Now I am back.)


In the evening, I went to the theatre.


Elyse Marshall has been my publicist at Harper Childrens for the last two and a half years -- since The Graveyard Book was published. She's been unfailingly nice, generous, easy, sensible, competent, trustworthy and a quick learner. I have worked with many excellent book publicists over the years, and Elyse was the best of all of them.

And now she's leaving: she's been offered a better job by Penguin, and is going to take it, and my loss and Harper Childrens' loss is Penguin's gain and the gain of their authors.

So I got my own back on her for leaving last night by scaring her silly.

She liked it, though. And it wasn't just about the fear.

I'd wanted to see PLAY DEAD since it opened. Teller (the smaller, quieter half of Penn and Teller) is a friend of mine. I also admire his writing and love his sense of the dramatic. He cowrote PLAY DEAD with Todd Robbins, who stars in it.

It's a spook show.

It's a spook show in a tiny Greenwich Village theatre, where a man in a white suit -- well, it's white at the start of the show, anyway -- gets up in front of an audience and scares the willies out of them. Sometimes the lights go out. Magic happens, and illusion. Blood is spilled.

(I myself got hauled up from the audience and put on stage with a transparent ouija board, and a transparent plastic planchette, and I put my finger on the planchette and I saw it move to spell out things it could not possibly have known.)

It's an excellent evening of pure theatre (85 minutes long, no intermission). I think it would be an excellent show to see with a loved one or a good friend. You will probably find yourself being hugged or clung to at some point in the evening, if you are not the one doing the clinging and the hugging...

And Elyse pretty much forgave me her initial dread and dismay, because she loved the show so much (it's visceral, but its also entertaining, educational and very, very funny).

The only downside was a party of ladies who hadn't quite got the idea that while the person on stage is talking, you're meant to stop talking.



Here's a YouTube video of Todd Robbins talking about the show.

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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Be my Valentine and Memories of a Very Fat Cat

The thaw started today. The first day above freezing since the winter began: sunny and glorious. By the end of it you could see green grass where the snow had been thin. Grass! And now there's a few more days of it to come.

I'm off to New York for some meetings tomorrow (I will also be the outrageously talented Sarah Jones' guest at the Nuyorican on Tuesday night. Regular tickets are already sold out but there may be standing room tickets left), which is good because I don't think I like doing Valentine's Day with a new wife half-way around the world. It feels lonely. It's strange to think that when I get back, most of the snow might have melted.

(Then again, in this part of the world, there might just as easily be a sudden blizzard while I'm away, and I'd get back to find a fresh 20 inches of snow.)


It's February. I know it's not Spring. But it might be nice to have some warm days now. (And by Warm I mean, Above Freezing.)



I wanted to say something like "even the dogs are getting tired of the snow" but it wouldn't be true. Lola will never get tired of ploughing face-first into snowdrifts, and Cabal still loves snatching mouthfuls of snow as he walks.


This is one of the dogprints Lola leaves in the snow. You can see her ears at the left...



...

I put a Valentine's Day gift for the world up at http://www.last.fm/music/Neil+Gaiman/_/Harlequin+Valentine. Enjoy. (There's more stuff up at Last.Fm, and you can still buy those original CDs from DreamHaven Books, or download them from Audible.com)

Neil,

I don't know if you've ever heard of Josh Ritter but he wrote the sweetest, saddest song about a mummy who wakes up and falls in love with the archaeologist studying him. The video is done with puppets and it seemed like something you would like:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KXBI2_zH9Js

Love,
Tracey


I really like Josh Ritter. "Girl in the War" was one of my favourite songs of 2006. And that's an excellent video, and so appropriate for Valentine's Day. A dance of loneliness and eternal life, performed by heartbreaking marionettes. Perfect.



And to continue our Decade Celebration of Greatest Hits (or at least of Blog Entries people liked):


Hi,Neil!

My favorite blog post is the one you did about not shaving cats with old beard trimmers...

Mary Roane


Ah yes. A Furball post. I miss Furball...

From May 31st 2001: http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2001/05/american-gods-blog-post-66.html

Often people come to me and say "As a bestselling author, with many published works to your name, and a basement full of awards, most of them in need of a good polish, you must have some words of advice for the world that you wish to share."

And I do.

It's this.

If you have a 25lb long-haired calico cat whose fur is all matted into evil dreadlocks, and who is too fat to properly clean herself, do not put fresh batteries into an ancient beard-trimmer and attempt to shave her. You will only cause distress to the cat, and create a mess. There are professionals who will happily do this kind of thing, for a small fee. Leave it to them.

(This has been a public service announcement on behalf of Furball the cat, currently believed to be hiding in the attic in a severely traumatised state.)



and since I've posted that...

From November 6th 2002, http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2002/11/furball-is-astonishingly-fat-cat.asp


Furball is an astonishingly fat cat. She is so fat that many people, on seeing her for the first time, start impromptu comedy routines ("Is that a cat or a pumpkin? That cat's so fat you could use it as a pillow! I'm not saying that cat's fat, but, well, she is pretty fat, actually." etc.) She's a long-haired confection of orange, white and black, and is faintly reminiscent of a calico feline walrus. Her many skills include convincing everyone in the house, and some people who are just passing through, that she hasn't been fed in weeks, and convincing gullible songbirds that a cat that heavy and spherical could never jump high enough to be any kind of danger.

Being incredibly fat means that she often sits up on a chair or a sofa, on her haunches, like a person, which can be slightly off-putting. It also means she can't always clean herself properly. She's developing dreadlocks.

So tonight I gritted my teeth, rolled up my sleeves, and washed her. In the sink.

When she stood bolt upright and started trying to sink her claws into the mirror above the sink to get away, I merely smiled and carried on washing her. I knew that cat-claws, while wonderful things, cannot get traction on the glass of a mirror. And that just-trimmed cat-claws can't allow a cat the size and shape of a small walrus to climb sheer glass.

Nobody had explained these simple things to Furball, though, and she went straight up the side of the mirror.

Sooner or later, I'll figure out how.


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In Which Two Things Are Done For the First Time, and We Encounter Bats

Today I did two things I've never done before.

1) I worked out to Dickens.

I'd realised that one reason I tend not to work out is that I get bored. It's why things like the Wii work for me -- having someone on the TV saying things is more interesting than just doing stuff. I don't like reading while I do stuff though -- I slow down and turn pages. And I don't like watching TV. So this morning I went and signed up for an Audible account (which was pretty easy, as it's just your Amazon email and password) and downloaded Bleak House, a Dickens novel I've started several times, always enjoyed, and always mislaid long before finishing it.

The chapters are 16 minutes long in the version I'm listening to.

I did 32 hard-pounding minutes on the elliptical machine without even noticing that time was passing. This is a glorious thing.

I told my currently antipodean wife, who sounded like she badly wanted to mock me for working out to Dickens (as opposed to music), but she didn't, probably because I've pointed to her that me exercising is a fragile sort of thing and should only be encouraged.

2) I went to a Roller Derby bout.

This is because a conversation on Twitter about Author Coffees in Indonesia led to someone making a coffee named after me. Because of this, when I went to Indianapolis to receive the Kurt Vonnegut Jr Award for Literature, I took some of the Naptown Roller Girls and their loved ones out to dinner. (It was mostly my then-fiancee Amanda Palmer's fault. She had said something like, "You go to these things and you don't actually meet people." And I'd said something along the lines of, "Hah. Actually a whole Roller Derby team is coming to see me talk in Indianapolis." And she had said, "Yes, but you won't really get to meet them." Which was so true that when I got off the phone I told my assistant Lorraine to tell the Roller Derby team that I wanted to know if they would like to have dinner.)

And Lorraine beginning to talk to Joan of Dark (who had made the coffee, knitted the Coraline Octokitties the team had used for lucky charms, asked if I could get them seats at the Library Lecture that preceded the talk, and hosted the dinner) which led to Lorraine becoming friends with Joan and the Naptown Roller Girls, which led to Lorraine losing an amazing amount of weight, getting terrifyingly fit, and wanting to try out for a local team.

Joan of Dark came up this weekend to see Lorraine and to watch the bout -- the Naptown Roller Girls Third Alarm team vs. The Chippewa Valley Roller Girls.

And, at the last moment, I surprised myself by asking if I could come. Lorraine had been reading a book on derby when we were on a plane together and I'd run out of reading material, and I wanted to see how the thing I'd read about matched up to reality.

Joan of Dark gave me a sort of continual commentary of her own on what was happening and what the things that were going on in front of us actually meant, which helped transform it from lots of good-looking women skating and pushing each over into something that actually meant something.

We had a great time. I was impressed with the skill, smarts, tactics, and occasional brutality of the teams, with the always entertaining announcer Matt, and with the wonderful Miss Dee Lovely (who sang "The Star Spangled Banner").




Here's Lorraine (left) with Joan of Dark (right).



And here's the Naptown team and me. Photo by Kelly McCullough. A study in red-eye. (I wished I'd had a photo with the Chippewa Valley team as well, but by that point they were mostly surrounded by friends and well-wishers.)

I hope Lorraine passes her try-out.

...Actually, now I come to think of it, there were several other things I did today I've never done before, like assemble an inversion table, and make a passable polenta out of cold millet porridge. But the two things I've mentioned were the most fun.

...

As part of the tenth anniversary greatest hits set, what about some bats?

Squeaky says,

my favourite blog post is the one involving the lemon-scented sticky bat.
it still makes me laugh.
i have a random, dog-eared mini-post-it-note stuck to a file holder on my desk at work. it bears the legend "lemon-scented sticky bats" which will occasionally catch my eye and make me smile.


and

One of my favorite blog posts is about the lemony scent bat that got stuck on the fly paper... I wonder if you ever found/scanned Maddy's drawing.

Hi, by the way... Tori Bat!


I never did.

Here's the journal entry in question, from February 2007: FROM THE DISTANT PAST http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2007/02/from-distant-past.html



Before this blog ever existed, I inhabited other places you could only get to by modem. First Compuserve, then Genie, and then the Well, and answered questions and so on in each place, and hung around. I've no idea if there are any archives anywhere of the Compuserve stuff or the Genie topics, but The Well is still there, I'm glad to say, and every few years I go back and am interviewed and hang around the inkwell.vue area for a few weeks. It's a wonderful place, and accessible to anyone from the web: http://www.well.com/conf/inkwell.vue/

So, in context of the current Fragile Things interview, which has only just begun, I found myself reading a post from the 20th of June 2000, written while I was writing American Gods. Which I am reposting a bit of here because a) there's lots more cool stuff like this on the various Well topics I did (here's the first, the second, the third, -- and b) if ever a story was meant to be on this blog, it's this one.


...last week Maddy woke me up early in the morning.

"Daddy," she said, "There's a bat on the kitchen window."

"Grumphle," I said and went back to sleep.

Soon, she woke me up again. "I did a drawing of the bat on the kitchen
window," she said, and showed me her drawing. For a five year old
she's a very good artist. It was a schematic of the kitchen windows,
showing a bat on one of the windows.

"Very nice dear," I said. Then I went back to sleep.

When I went downstairs...

We have, instead of dangling fly papers, transparent strips of gluey
clear plastic, about six inches long and an inch high, stuck to the
windows on the ground floor. When they accumulate enough flies, you
peel them off the window and throw them away.

There was a bat stuck to one. He was facing out into the room. "I
think he's dead," said my assistant Lorraine.

I peeled the plastic off the window. The bat hissed at me.

"Nope," I said. "He's fine. Just stuck."

The question then became, how does one get a bat (skin and fur) off a
fly-strip. Luckily, I bethought me of the Bram Stoker award. After the
door had fallen off (see earler in this topic) I had bought some citrus
solvent to take the old glue to reglue the door on.

So I dripped citrus solvent onto the grumpy bat, edging him off the
plastic with a twig, until a lemon-scented sticky bat crawled onto a
newspaper. Which I put on the top of a high woodpile, and watched the
bat crawl into the logs. With any luck he was as right as rain the
following night...


Of course, if it was now, I'd scan in Maddy's bat drawing to go with it. (I wonder if it's anywhere findable.)
(There are rumours, by the way, of a possible upcoming Lemon Scented Sticky Bat scent from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab. Keep an eye on their website...)

of course, that wasn't the only post about bats on the blog. There was one with this video in it, from May 2007 (called Sorry and a Short Fillum)...




And there was this one -- someone asked me for it on Twitter when I first mentioned reposting some favourites: THURSDAY, AUGUST 13, 2009 Underneath the Bats and the Stars



I know.

I've got so many tabs open I need to put up here and close, and so much going on, and I haven't even caught up telling you what I did at Worldcon on Monday, or how I then flew to Toronto and caught up with Tori Amos and saw her in concert for the first time since Budapest, or about her daughter Tash's epic Mustachio competition for the crew...

But instead of doing any of that I took Cabal and his best friend Freck (a dog who appears to be staying over) out to the bottom of the garden, and lay on my back and stared up at the cloudless sky. Just about the moment I thought, "You know, I don't have to see any meteors -- just peacefully getting a chance to stare at the stars is good enough," zoom and zoom, two beautiful, low meteors shot through the sky, trailing glittering tails behind them, and I went "oooh" as if it was a special, perfect, fireworks display put on just for me.

And the bats were out too: ragged patches of silent blackness against the deep night-purple star-bespattered sky.

Amanda's pointed out that I have a tendency always to be doing the next thing, or, while I'm doing something to be thinking about the next dozen things I need to be doing, and that I should enjoy and be in the moment more, and she's right. So I lay there and looked at the stars and the bats and I counted the falling stars.

I counted 28 altogether. About ten of them had tails. Some were just streaks of light, others zooming pinpoints. A couple of them were full-on magical golden-yellow special effects.

I thought I lay there for 20 minutes. It was, I realised when I came in, well over an hour.

And there are things I have to read tonight, and things I still have to watch: but I watched 28 stars fall, and I didn't mind that I couldn't think of anything to wish for, and the air was cool and the bats were silent and I could have stared up at the sky forever.

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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Death, and Free revisited.


Dr Sketchy's is, according to the New York Times, a "cross between a life drawing class and new-wave cabaret" which takes place in over a hundred cities around the world. It was founded by the glorious Molly Crabapple (who drew the "Desert Wind" print you can get from Neverwear). Last week the New York Dr Sketchy's did a very Endless sort of an evening, as Sandman characters Death, Delirium and Desire posed for the assembled sketchers.

Johnny Blazes made an amazing Desire.



Tess Aquarium played Delirium.



And Stoya made a Death that was, well, to die for.




The photos are by the amazingly talented Lauren Goldberg.

More photos and an account of the evening, not to mention photos of the people sketching, can be found at http://www.drsketchy.com/site/comments/endless_love, from where I also stole all the photos.

...


I'm a patron of the Open Rights Group.

Last year they did an interview with me in my hotel in London. An extract from it went up on this page, http://zine.openrightsgroup.org/features/2011/video:-an-interview-with-neil-gaiman and up on YouTube.

In it I talk about copyright, misconceptions about copyright on the web, and my observation that piracy can be a promotional action.

It's been interesting seeing the YouTube video start to go viral over the last couple of days.

I'm not going to embed the video here - head over to Open Rights Group page and look at it there. As Patron I should be sending them traffic, after all.

And I thought I'd repost -- this is sort of fun, this reposting lark -- a few extracts from blogs on the subject of Giving It Away. You can read all of them, and more besides, at http://journal.neilgaiman.com/search/label/free%20book

The context is, for the blog's 7th birthday, we put up a book of mine online for a month for free. (There had been a vote, and American Gods won by a landslide.)

From Friday 29 Feb 2008: The Nature of Free http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2008/02/nature-of-free.html

I'm currently talking to Harpers about ways we can make the American Gods online reading experience a more pleasant one. And about ways to give American Gods away that would make Harper Collins happy while also making, say, Cory Doctorow happy too.

I was surprised by a few emails coming in from people accusing me of doing bad things for other authors by giving anything away -- the idea being, I think, that by handing out a bestselling book for nothing I'm devaluing what a book is and so forth, which I think is silly.

I like giving stuff away. I think it's sensible. I like that you can read Sandman #1 on the DC Comics site, for example. (It's at http://www.dccomics.com/media/excerpts/1696_1.pdf. (Although for reasons known only to DC, they have put the last two pages of the story in the wrong order.) We've got five short stories up at http://www.neilgaiman.com/p/Cool%20Stuff/Short%20Stories, and I just realised on poking around that I've put more essays and things up over the years on this blog than have ever made it into the essays section, and a lot more audio than ever made it to the rather threadbare audio section (although there's lots of free audio now up at http://www.last.fm/music/Neil+Gaiman)


During one of the interviews recently, a reporter said something like, "Of course, a real publisher wouldn't give away paper books," and I pointed out that 3,000 copies of The Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy were given away by Douglas Adams' publisher, with a 'write in and get your free book' ad in Rolling Stone. They wanted copies of HHGTTG on campuses in the US, and they wanted people to read it and tell other people. Word of mouth is still the best tool for selling books.

This is how people found new authors for more than a century. Someone says, "I've read this. It's good. I think you'd like it. Here, you can borrow it." Someone takes the book away, reads it, and goes, Ah, I have a new author.

Libraries are good things: you shouldn't have to pay for every book you read.

I'm one of those authors who is fortunate enough to make my living from the things I've written. If I thought that giving books away would make it so that I could no longer make my living from writing and be forced to go out and get a real job -- or that other authors would be less likely to be able to make a living -- I wouldn't do it.

As I tried to explain in the Guardian interview, the problem isn't that books are given away or that people read books they haven't paid for. The problem is that the majority of people don't read for pleasure.


From March 3 2008 More on free and suchlike http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2008/03/more-on-free-and-suchlike.html


This just came in, and I thought it deserved a long reply...

Hello Mr. Gaiman:
As a bookseller, I am a bit surprised by your recent comment about free books and the HarperCollins download. When you say, "the problem isn't that books are given away or that people read books they haven't paid for. The problem is that the majority of people don't read for pleasure," you seem to miss the point that all of us booksellers are hoping to sell your book to READERS as well as non-readers. Our situation improves as more non-readers become readers, but we can't survive when the readers go elsewhere. I am not at all against free literature--I firmly believe that the more people read the more people read--but somehow, if we independents are to survive, we need to be included somewhere in the formula. I also believe that we independents have no RIGHT to exist, that our time may have passed or be passing, but it would be nice if we could survive; I believe we can--and do--serve a very important purpose.Thanks. I don't sense that you have anything against booksellers--I do want to let you know how your comment might be interpreted by some.
Don Muller
Old Harbor Books
201 Lincoln Street
Sitka, Alaska 99835

Hi Don,

I don't see this as either they get it for free or they come and buy it from you. I see it as Where do you get the people who come in and buy the books that keep you in business from?

The books you sell have "pass-along" rates. They get bought by one person. Then they get passed along to other people. The other people find an author they like, or they don't.

When they do, some of them may come in to your book store and buy some paperback backlist titles, or buy the book they read and liked so that they can read it again. You want this to happen.

Just as a bookseller who regards a library as the enemy, because people can go there and read -- for free! -- what he sells, is missing that the library is creating a pool of people who like and take pleasure in books, will be his customer base, and are out there spreading the word about authors and books they like to other people, some of whom will simply go out and buy it.

If readers find (for free -- in a library, or on-line, or by borrowing from a friend, or on a window-sill) an author they really like, and that author has a nice spanking new hardback coming out, they are quite likely to come in to your shop and buy the nice spanking new hardback. You want that to happen. You really want that to happen a lot, because you'll make more in profit on each of the nice spanking new hardbacks than you will on the paperbacks (or, probably, on anything else in the shop).

I don't believe that anybody out there who can afford a copy of American Gods is going to not buy it (or another of my books) because it's available out there on line for nothing. (Not at this point, anyway.) I think it's a lot more likely that some of the people who read it will find an author they like, and buy more books. Which is good news for people who run bookshops.

(Remember: one in four adults read no books last year. Among those who said they had read books, the median figure — with half reading more, half fewer — was nine books for women and five for men. The figures also indicated that those with college degrees read the most, and people aged 50 and up read more than those who are younger. Which means you need to find ways to get young readers to read books. And means that if someone likes American Gods and goes out and buys my entire backlist from you, that's more books than most Americans read in a year.)

I think it's very likely that someone who reads American Gods online and likes it may decide, come the 30th of September, to go out to your shop or somewhere else like it and plonk down their $17.99 for The Graveyard Book in hardcover.

I don't see it as taking money from the pockets of booksellers.

(To steal a metaphor from Cory Doctorow, it's dandelion seeds rather than mammals. A mammal produces a few offspring that take a lot of resources. A dandelion produces an awful lot of seeds because the cost in resources to the dandelion is small, but those that sprout, sprout.)

Then again, I do not always understand the ways of booksellers.

Old Harbor Books looks marvellous -- http://litsite.alaska.edu/akbooksellers/oldharbor.html -- and looks like somewhere that's involved in creating readers and a reading community. My local bookshop (now deceased) was physically arranged so that finding a book and then buying it was harder than walking around around the shop and going back out again; the bookseller mostly sat at the cash register in the middle of the shop playing online chess, and he tended to be unhelpful, vaguely grumpy and to treat people who wanted to buy things as nuisances (he was nice to me, because I was me, but still); he didn't stock paperback bestsellers because "people could always go to Wal-Mart for those" and when the she shop closed its doors the final time they put up a note on the door saying that it was Amazon.com that had driven them out of business, when it manifestly wasn't -- it seemed to me that they didn't work to entice people into the bookshop (which is what those paperback bestsellers were for), and didn't give them a pleasant experience when they were there...

But I digress...

Anyway (it probably bears reiterating) this is an experiment. Harper Collins are going to be looking at the figures over the next month and longer. If sales of American Gods crash in bookshops -- or if sales of all my other books crash -- they won't be doing it again. If American Gods sells more, if my other titles sell more, on actual Bookscan sales, then I think we'll all agree that you and your fellow booksellers will be selling more books, and will thus have nothing to worry about.

Remember, publishers aren't making their money from free downloads or from free online books. Like you (and like me), they make their money from books sold.

What we all want to do is sell more books. To readers, to non-readers, to people who thought they didn't like that sort of thing.

Also, there are also a lot of posts coming in like this:

No question - just wanted to let you know, after getting your "American Gods" online for free and reading about 200 pages, I had to go out and buy the book. Great read!

which may make you feel a little better....


From the 5th of March 2008 Very Small Footnote to Free: http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2008/03/very-small-footnote-to-free.html

Free books. I started thinking about times we've used this principle in paper books -- using the free thing to spread the author or the idea, and, if you ignore the five fingered discount (remember, in the UK you can add Terry Pratchett to the "four authors who are flying off the shelves and don't forget the graphic novels" list) then you still have things like Free Comic Book Day. And before there was ever Free Comic Book Day, there was Sandman 8.

It was 1989. I wrote Sandman #8, Mike Dringenberg drew it, and the editorial and marketing departments at DC Comics got enthusiastic about it. I went out and got three pages of quotes from fantasy and horror authors about Sandman, wrote a "The Story So Far". DC Comics overprinted Sandman #8 and sent each retailer an extra 25% above what they'd ordered, for free, and told them that they could do whatever they wanted with them.

Some stores simply sold them.

The smart stores gave them away. Some of the smart stores even went back to DC and asked for more. The stores that gave them away were the stores who, a year or so later, found it very easy to sell Sandman trade paperbacks to their customers. And then to sell Sandman hardcovers. And some of them are now selling the Absolute Sandmans.

(And a few people have written to let me know that ABSOLUTE SANDMAN Volume 3 is now up at Amazon, with the extra 5% discount for pre-ordering it bringing it to 42% off.)

Anyway. There weren't any grumbles that we were somehow devaluing other comics, or that this was Marxism in action, or that this was going to put comics retailers out of business or anything like that. It was about expanding the readership, about convincing people that it was safe to try something new.

(I just called Brian Hibbs at Comix Experience who put labels with his store's name and address on his free comics and then left them at barbers' shops and on buses and anywhere else he could, bookcrossing style -- he said he passed out about 400 copies of Sandman 8 and got 100 readers back, who bought every copy of Sandman, and the collected editions, and some of those people are buying Absolute Sandmans from him now -- and then he pointed out that it wasn't just Sandman that those people bought, but lots of them discovered comics and bought everything...)


The results of putting AMERICAN GODS up here for free that month came in in August. Sales of my titles -- all my titles -- in Independent Bookshops went up significantly while we had American Gods up here for free. We sold more copies of American Gods. And we sold more copies of everything else. And then, when we took AMERICAN GODS down, they dropped again, to pre-free book levels.

....

And if you've made it through the blog so far, I should mention that I decided that I should keep getting fitter and healthier, so I tried out the new Wii Yoga and Pilates, and really liked it. (I'd done the Yoga exercises on the Wii Fit, but they didn't actually ever feel like Going To Yoga With Amanda Palmer. And this one more or less does. "Did you sweat?" Amanda asked suspiciously, when I told her about it on the phone, and I told her that, Yes, I sweated.)

And I am now, much of the time, jogging, in snowboots, through the snow with the dogs instead of walking. They love it, and I'm starting to enjoy it too.

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