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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

SUPERGROUP MADNESS!



As I type this I'm about an hour away from going on stage at Berklee College in Boston as part of the world's least super supergroup. It's me, Amanda Palmer, Ben Folds and Damian Kulash from OK Go. We're like the Inferior 5 of supergroups. We started existing yesterday at 4 pm, stopped working and named ourselves at about 4 am, having, in the meantime, written and recorded six songs. Tonight we do Our Gig, and then there remains the angry break-up, the bitter recriminations, the bile-filled Rolling Stone article, the VH1 Behind The Music Special, the sad descent into cocaine hell, our tragic but cleaned-up comeback and triumphant mega-tour followed by the night all of our hits will be sung by a succession of hopefuls soon to have their own dreams rudely shattered on American Idol...

Er.

Actually, it had a lot more in common with Roger Corman, who, when asked why he'd made the original film of Little Shop of Horrors, explained, "We were going to play tennis but it was raining that weekend." Amanda suggested we do something interesting, Ben said why not make 8 songs in 8 hours? and Damian and I were seduced and sucked in by their madness. Honestly, if they jumped off a bridge, we'd probably jump off too.




Here's a picture of us done last night by artist Cassandra Long - the four principals and Sean Slade, our producer.

Well, we set out to record 8 songs in 8 hours, actually recorded six songs in six hours, with help, suggestions, kibbitzing, and suchlike from the good folk and dangerous insomniacs of Twitter.

I had expected that my job would be REALLY EASY. All I had to do was write lyrics. I knew I could write the lyrics for songs in less than 8 hours... I didn't have to write songs, play an instrument or even sing.

It wasn't easy. It was always fun, though, even when it was hard. And by 3 am when I realised that I'd written some lyrics for a song that had to be sung by someone with an English accent, I just said sod it, and did my best to channel John Reed (you probably don't know who John Reed was, but he was my hero when I was eleven, and the mainstay of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company) and to talk in tune, like Rex Harrison, rather than go "OmigodIaminarecordingstudioandIhavetoactuallysingnowwithBenFoldsplayingpianothisisincrediblystressfulargh"
I just swallowed my nerves and did it.

The songs are a mixture of funny and sad and odd. I found myself trying to write Amanda-ish songs for Amanda, Ben Foldsish for Ben, Damiany for Damian, and, er, I don't know, a sort of Tom Lehrer-W.S. Gilbert for me.


We wished we'd had more time. But I think we were pleased, and surprised, by how real it sounded, even if we all had things we wanted fixed. (In my case, placeholder lyrics that had crept into the real songs.)

Then we went to sleep for three and half hours. Our supergroup, which we called 8in8, after the hashtag we'd been using, and because the only other suggestion was B.A.N.D. after our initials, had by that point its first album up for sale on Bandcamp. We got up on stage at the ReThink Music conference and talked about what we'd done and why and played the audience bits of each song, and explained it. Oh, and we gave it a title, which is explained in this article from the Boston Phoenix Blog. Also, because we were very tired.

Here's the panel from this morning. We were very sleepy.


Watch live streaming video from rethinkmusic at livestream.com


Since then, we have slept for half an hour. We are still very sleepy.

You can go and listen to it at http://music.amandapalmer.net/album/nighty-night. You can download it - minimum payment a dollar, it goes to charity, and your money will bring good things to the children of Boston.

The goal was to do something more fun than going out to dinner together and catching a panel, and we did that, and also to show people that creativity isn't always a matter of magic and inspiration. Mostly it's a matter of work. Of doing it. And I hope we did that too. There were songs that didn't make it, things that never gelled, but with all that, the best part of it was when when stumbled away from the studio, six songs that hadn't existed before existed now.

Huge thanks to the people of Twitter who suggested (whether they knew it or not) that we write about Nikola Tesla, Because the Origami, One Tiny Thing Out Of Place, A Squirrel Suicide, and Joan of Arc, and thank you to the lady with the mirror we saw on the way to the studio, shouting at herself in the glass, who made us want to write a song about mirrors.


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Thursday, April 21, 2011

No. I will not write a diet book. But this worked for me...

I stood on the scales this morning, and saw numbers I've not seen for about 20 years. I'm now about 25-30lbs lighter than I was when I started. I saw Lorraine's trainer yesterday afternoon to get a new weights routine for home and on the road, and realised that I now have muscles that I haven't had since I was 22 and working on a building site. And I thought, really, audiobooks do not get enough credit for being wonderful things.

It sort of started back in January, when I saw the photos from Sydney Opera House, and I noticed something that I'd noticed from the other side, which was that I seemed to have developed a prosperous middle aged belly. My lovely Oscars waistcoat that Kambriel made me was straining to keep it in...



Author in January with straining waistcoat and glorious wife.

And I didn't really like that. I didn't like that I was starting to feel, well, my age. Authoring is a sedentary profession, and I was feeling pretty sedentary. (And, according to the New York Times, sedentary may be lethal.)

When I got back to the US I talked to Amanda's best friend Anthony about it, and about wanting to get myself into shape for the next thirty years, and he suggested a book he'd found really useful called Younger Next Year, which I ordered and read with interest. I liked the book, and thought, I ought to put this into practice.

It said, among other sensible things, that I should exercise for 40 minutes a day, getting my heart rate up. And I should do weights...

And I thought, But Dear God I'll Be So Bored.

And that was when I had one of those ideas that ought to come with floating lightbulbs. I thought, Bleak House. A book I loved, but had never finished, due to always leaving it places.

I've been chatting to the Audible.com people about a mysterious thing I'll announce soon, and Don Katz from Audible had shown me the Audible app and mentioned that I could now use my Amazon account to log in and buy books on Audible. So I downloaded the Audible app to my phone and to my iPod touch. I listened to samples of a dozen Bleak Houses, then plumped for the top-rated, which sounded excellent. And from that point on, most days, I did 40 minutes a day of Bleak House. And if I couldn't do 40 minutes I'd do half an hour, or 20 minutes. I'd exercise, and I'd lose myself in Dickens, and the time would fly by.

It's a glorious book, and perfect for an audio book -- Hugh Dickson narrates it with skill and deftness, managing the varying voices of the enormous cast with ease and accuracy, coping with the two narrators (Miss Esther Summerson and a mysterious, all-seeing present tense narrative voice) into the bargain. A landscape I could get lost in, aided by the Audible software that always kept track of where in the book I was (I did not trust it at first, and would bookmark at the end of every session, but slowly learned to trust it). (This is a link to the Hugh Dickson reading of Bleak House. I do not guarantee that you will lose 25lbs, but it is an excellent book for all that. It has Fog and Spontaneous Human Combustion and Death and Mysteries, and one carefully slipped-in joke about breasts.)

As for what book I'm going to do next (and what you lot suggested), you'll have to wait until the next blog entry to find out.


Significantly healthier Author at the weekend at Patriots' Day Post British Are Coming 6:30 Am Post-Ninja-Gig Pancake Breakfast with Wife. She has her own tricorn hat.


To learn why Amanda was wearing a tricorn hat, what happened on Patriots' Day, and about the performance of Columbinus the night before, and why it was sad that the High School Drama wasn't on the stage of Lexington High School, read Amanda's blog at http://blog.amandapalmer.net/post/4774252734/lay-down-your-arms-you-damned-rebels

(And yes, I felt uncomfortable on the Patriots' Day morning, as the British marched in, but I stopped feeling uncomfortable the moment it occurred to me that they were all British back then, after all. Some of them just lived in America.)

On Monday Night I came home.

To learn about what happened on Tuesday, when both the snow and the Russian Bees who needed hiving arrived at the same time, you should read Sharon Stiteler's blog at http://www.birdchick.com/wp/2011/04/russian-bee-installation/. I got stung twice (mostly I think because the bees were cold and landed on me for warmth, and my hands were too cold to feel them, so I'd move and they'd be crushed) but simply put on gloves and carried on, and the stings were both gone later than afternoon, which may mean that Russian stings are not as painful as Italian stings.

This image of me pouring bees is stolen from Sharon's blog too.



More bees arrive on Sunday -- Italians (Minnesota Hygenic) and Carniolans.

....

Right. Time to close some tabs:

Here's Bizarre Magazine on the House on the Rock AMERICAN GODS party last Halloween. http://www.bizarremag.com/entertainment/interviews/10501/neil_gaiman.html Fun interview with some wonderful photographs.

There's a fascinating NPR Book Club over at Monkey See, where they're discussing Sandman: Dream Country, starting with "Calliope".http://www.npr.org/blogs/monkeysee/2011/04/21/135598864/book-club-neil-gaimans-the-sandman-dream-country-part-one

I was thrilled that STORIES, the anthology I co-edited with Al Sarrantonio, is nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award, and equally as thrilled to learn that "The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains" is nominated as Best Novelette. http://www.shirleyjacksonawards.org/sja_2010_nominees.php

And now I shall go to work. Well, I will still be here. I will just type something else.

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Blog about SAAPM and baby photo


I'm in Lexington MA with Amanda today, in readiness for tomorrow morning's reenactment of the first shot fired in the American Revolutionary War (Amanda has been giving me a history lesson and a walk around). (Also she is in the New York Times today. And you can buy the Performs the Hits of Radiohead on her Magical Ukulele EP they talk about here.)

I did the Columbia University event at Symphony Space on Thursday Night. I was interviewed by Paul Levitz. He asked questions I'd never been asked before, about the business of comics, about what I did over the years that was different from the way other creators had done things. It was really enjoyable for both of us.

On Friday I recorded my part for the American Gods audiobook. I narrated the "Coming to America" sections, and did all the Author's Notes. (This is the production you can be in too. And you should listen to some of the auditions and vote for people, too. Over 800 people had sent in their auditions last time I checked.)

Yesterday I saw my old friend and Magnetic Field Claudia Gonson, and her baby Eve. Claudia took a photograph of the two of us, and it makes me very happy, so I'm putting it up here.

...

I've been really remiss -- April is over half done and I haven't mentioned this...

April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month.

Every two minutes, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted. (I don't know what the statistics are internationally. Probably very similar.)

RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network - http://www.rainn.org, is one of the organisations doing something about this. They have a free, confidential helpline - the National Sexual Assault Hotline, the phone number which is 1.800.656.HOPE

In April, up until April 30th, any tax deductible donation made to RAINN will be matched, up to $30,000.

You can donate over at donate.rainn.org.

(And yes, I'm donating. Your purchase of Blueberry Girl still supports RAINN too. And if you donate over $250, RAINN will send you a get a free signed poster from Neverwear.net, while stocks last.)




(Obviously, if there's another support group that you prefer, you should donate money to them... That last redundant sentence was brought to you by the people on Twitter who told me off for supporting RAINN last year, as opposed to their preferred charity.)

...

Lots of articles, and requests for me to comment, about the slew of articles that came out about Playtone taking American Gods to HBO. I'm not sure where the news came from or who put it out, and I don't actually think things are at a point yet where I'm ready to comment on it, other than to say that everything's looking really promising so far.

Longer blog soon. Promise.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Adult Residents of the Continental 48 States! You Can Be In A Real Full Cast AudioBook!

I'm in Chicago for ONE BOOK ONE CHICAGO.

The conversation last night with Audrey Niffenegger was as much fun as I had hoped. Audrey is one of my favourite people, and we don't get to see each other very often, so even grabbing an hour to talk on a stage was golden. (We met on stage in Sydney, five years ago. I think we're next seeing each other on a stage in Edinburgh in August.)


(This is Audrey in the Library Green Room. It was very green.)

Some great photos of the event over at Valya's page - http://www.vdlupescu.com/journal/2011/04/one-book-one-chicago/

People filled the hall, then the overflow room, then were turned away. (I'm sorry.)

This morning I spoke to some teens about Neverwhere. This evening at 7 I do a reading and a talk and a Q&A at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, University of Chicago, 5850 S. Woodlawn Avenue. No signing (I pre-signed 1100 books yesterday) but I hope a bit more of a chance to say hello to people than I had yesterday. It's a much bigger space than yesterday, seating over a thousand people, so the chances of you not seeing me if you come are slim.

Then up early tomorrow to New York to do the Columbia University talk with Paul Levitz. And to see my wife (insert happy author face here).

So the big news is...

(and this will make you sad if you are a) Under 21, b) Not a continental US resident, c) you have taken a vow of silence or d) you are getting married on May the 15th)

Harper Collins are doing a contest for someone to win a part in the Full Cast Audio of American Gods. Here's a sample of it.



All is explained over at http://neilgaiman.bookperk.com.

I did a video explaining the simple version of the rules. Basically, you upload an audio file audition. People vote. Harper Collins judge the 20 most popular auditions. The winner is flown to New York and records a part in the Full Cast Audio that's currently being recorded. No, I don't know which part -- we'll wind up tailoring that to the person who wins.

I'm really sorry if you're under 21, not in the continental US, under a vow of silence etc.

You never know, if this works, they could do an international one.

Or I could make a really cool announcement about something to do with Audiobooks that I can't talk about yet.

Anyway, if you are interested, make sure you read the Official Rules, which contains the thing you're meant to read and lots of other information.

...

I'm about five workouts or less away from the end of the audiobook of Bleak House (read by Hugh Dickson). Am now wondering what to listen to next. I want something big, chunky and unabridged. All suggestions gratefully received.

Right. Must run and read stuff.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

One book (Neverwhere) one city (Chicago)

I'm in Chicago right now on my way to go and see Gene Wolfe for lunch, and then over to the Harold Washington Library to presign a few thousand books.

Tonight Audrey Niffenegger and I are in conversation at the library. It starts at 6 pm. Details at WHERE'S NEIL.

Tomorrow I talk and do a reading Solo at 7 pm at Rockefeller Chapel. University of Chicago. Do come, if you are in the area.

The day after that - Thursday - I'm in New York doing a talk with Paul Levitz, former publisher of DC Comics. Details at Where's Neil and in the last blog post, and I'd link to them here but I am blogging on my phone.

I can't even link to the photo of me, Suranne Jones and Matt Smith on the Doctor Who set that the BBC just released. But I will. You know I will.

Postscript. Hah! I figured out how to do it from the phone. Someone asked if I had shrunk and I had to explain that, no, the camera is tipped to one side for dramatic effect.


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Thursday, April 07, 2011

If this is thursday then I must be at home

Hullo.

I've been all over the place. I went from Scotland to London (on the sleeper train. Nobody was murdered, which disappointed the Agatha Christie-loving part of me) where I made breakfast for my daughter Holly, ate breakfast with Mitch Benn (whose comedy song podcast is now essential listening) then flew home for long enough to hug Maddy and walk the dogs, then flew to San Francisco.

I had a late dinner with the Chabons and got up early the next morning, worked out for an hour (not as virtuous as it sounds, the getting up early - I think I was still on UK time) then went to breakfast. A gentleman who looked sort of English looked at me and said "you're Neil?" and I admitted that I was. He was actor Mark Sheppard. I moved my food over to his table, and we were soon joined by director Toby Haynes and Nerdist Chris Hardwick.

And we chatted and we chatted. There was a small background crisis, because I wasn't comfortable with the original clip from my DOCTOR WHO episode that was going to be shown. I'd got permission from the BBC to show another, but we weren't sure how to get it shown until I said "Er, I've actually got it on a flash drive.." and had to go off to my hotel room and rummage around until I found it, marvelling at the magic of living in the future all the while.

We did a panel. It was great fun.



We also did lots and lots and lots of interviews. The title of my episode has now been announced, so I was able to at least say that, although not to go any further into it. Probably still said too much, all things considered.

Here's the whole panel for the curious.



The bit I think I was happiest with is about 16 minutes in, when I was asked what I would say to someone worried about having to know 47 years of backstory before watching Doctor Who, and I said:

“No, look, there’s a blue box. It’s bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. It can go anywhere in time and space and sometimes even where it’s meant to go. And when it turns up, there’s a bloke in it called The Doctor and there will be stuff wrong and he will do his best to sort it out and he will probably succeed cos he’s awesome. Now sit down, shut up, and watch ‘Blink’.”



Toby, Mark, me. Why do we look so pleased with ourselves?

Later in the afternoon, I wound up walking down Geary Street with Mark Sheppard, enthusiastically singing Ian Dury's "This is What We Find" but it was San Francisco, so nobody batted an eyelash (or, come to that, eyelashed a bat).

Up the next day at 4:30 am to fly to LA, where I attended a meeting on the mysterious upcoming American Gods adaptation project. The results were all I could have hoped and more. (I know I sound coy, and I'm doing my best not to, but I can't really talk about it until everything's ready, and the real announcements won't come from me.) More meetings. An earlyish night, an airport hotel, another bloody hotel gym and now on Chapter 47 of Bleak House. Then I flew home...

Which is where I am now. The snow has not quite finished melting, but it's warm enough, and sunny, and very very muddy, and, in E E Cummings' words, puddle-wonderful.

Let's see. Upcoming things...

You should keep an eye on WHERE'S NEIL as we're trying to keep it up to date. But I'm putting things up here that haven't made it to there yet...




On April 25th... well, that one's so unlikely as to make me think I might have imagined it. Ben Folds, Amanda Palmer (aka my girl) Damian Kulash (from OK Go, last seen on the stage of the Fitzgerald Theatre singing "Happy Together" with me during John Hodgman's WITS episode) and I will be writing and recording 8 songs in a day, with the aid of Twitter and madness. On the 26th we'll talk about this and perform them. This is all at the Re-Think Festival at Berklee in Boston.


Then on April the 27th, it's Selected Shorts - again at Symphony Space. This event has already sold out, I'm afraid, although per the website there will be standing room tickets on sale on the day. You'll be able to hear it on your radio eventually though. Four short stories, two read by me, two not read by me.

On June the 24th you can see me, host John Moe, and my musical guest Josh Ritter in WITS at the Fitzgerald Theatre in St Paul. Tickets and info at http://minnesota.publicradio.org/radio/programs/wits/

Right. Having typed all that, I'm going back to work. Here's the just-posted video of me telling my tale on The Moth in 2007 to keep you company in my absence:

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