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Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Last Kickstarter Post

We're in the last four days of Amanda's Kickstarter.

Over the last almost-a-month of the Kickstarter she's gathered a huge amount of support, set records for what crowdfunding can do, made the news internationally,  and she is now planning a giant webcast block party in Brooklyn on Thursday night for the people who supported the project and to count down to 11:59 when the Kickstarter ends and she starts to play.

She's certainly got enough supporters, and she's already well exceeded her goal and is somewhere off into the land beyond her wildest dreams. (As I write this she's 900% funded, and looks on course to make this a million dollar Kickstarter.) But I still thought I'd stick something up here, in the last few days, because...

We put together the Evening With Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer Kickstarter last year, to raise the money to professionally record the West Coast tour we did in November. We raised a lot more money from the Kickstarter than we had expected, so we made everything we could even better than anyone had expected. The double CD we had planned to do became a beautiful triple CD package, for example, and then we did a special super secret bonus CD with a banana on it to go along with that - as well as over two additional hours of extra material we released digitally for all the supporters. We worked very hard to make sure that everyone who supported us got something better than they had thought they were getting when they signed up.

And when the stuff started showing up in people's mailboxes and they started posting happy photographs of their stuff (like these...)




...then people here and on Twitter and on Tumblr started sending me sad messages, telling me they wished they had supported the Kickstarter, they'd missed it as they hadn't seen it, or had forgotten, or were broke at the time -- but was it too late to get the stuff?  I wrote back a lot, and said yes, I was sorry but it was too late. We'd only made enough for the Kickstarter backers.

(We do plan to release An Evening With Neil and Amanda commercially, probably towards the end of the year. And it'll be a nice package, but it won't be what the Kickstarter folk got. That was special, and it was just for them.)

Amanda will be releasing a version of her new CD to the public in September. That's the one you'll be able to buy at your local store. But the two CD set inside a book (the blue thing on the right), or the quadruple vinyl in its box, or whatever else she decides to throw in to the other levels, the art-book she's making -- that stuff will only exist for Kickstarter.  If you want it, or any of the other rewards (down to the $1 reward that gets you the whole album digitally when it comes out, which I promise will be significantly cheaper than it'll be on iTunes) then this is really just a reminder that you only have four days to click on the Kickstarter link and support it...



...

Amanda did a post the other day on her blog and for backers, explaining that, no, a million dollar Kickstarter wasn't actually going to make her rich. People are signing up for things, she'll make the things and provide them, but she doesn't get to put a million dollars into a swimming pool and then throw it into the air, like Uncle Scrooge. It's not tax-free donations, it's people signing up for services.

So, to clarify:

The Kickstarter exists to fund a CD release (to the public, not Kickstarter supporters) and a tour (ditto).

The Kickstarter money funds the studio and promotional costs (just as a record label might have done). The business model isn't, Make Money From 20,000 people. It's Use 20,000 people to crowdfund the costs of manufacturing and distributing and promoting a CD and a tour to the General Public. And then get rich from that.

You'd think a band who took their video and studio and promotional budget from a record label and used it as income instead of as an investment in their future were being pretty shortsighted. That's the Kickstarter money: it's a video and promotional and design and manufacturing and touring budget. That's what it's for.


...

There. That's the very last post about Amanda's Kickstarter, unless I start blogging from a rooftop in Brooklyn when it's all over, as the NYPD haul Amanda and the Grand Theft Orchestra away. She says they have all the permits in place for a midnight rooftop gig, and they've even hired the police to block off a road and so on. I just think of the Beatles on the roof of the Apple building, and the legion of uniformed cops who appeared to make them stop...


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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Quick Useful Sandman Slipcase post

A hasty post...

There's a slipcased set of Sandman on the way. It's going to be published in November. I'm so happy. This is something that I have been asking DC to make for a very long time, and I am genuinely thrilled it's going to exist. It will look almost like this. (If you look carefully you'll notice that the final book in the box shown here is not The Wake. That's because that edition of SANDMAN: The Wake has not been published yet.)



(Here's the Amazon listing for it -- they've dropped it from $200 to $125. And I'm sure there are other such deals elsewhere on the web.)

DC are also going to be selling the Slipcase with some copies of The Wake. So if you have the rest of the  books already, you can simply put them into the slipcase.

According to Bleeding Cool, retailers have until this weekend to get their orders in for November to guarantee that they'll get them. So if you want one, either if you want a copy of The Wake with a Slipcase, or the set of all the books, you should talk to your Local Comic Shop now. (How do you find your local comic shop? You could always use http://www.comicshoplocator.com/)

(The current edition of paperbacks contains the same colouring as the Absolute editions, although, obviously not all the extra material in each of the Absolutes. If you already bought the Absolute Sandmans 1-4, feel proud of yourself. You are not required to buy the books again. You are never required to buy again what you already have.)

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Monday, May 21, 2012

A Preamble to a photograph

This is a very long preamble to a photograph.


When Amanda and I were first going out together we would spend a lot of time on the phone, talking about big real things. We don't talk on the phone anywhere nearly as much any more, and when we do talk on the phone we're more likely to be trying to figure out the logistics of where we are in the world and how we can warp space and time in order to be in the same place relatively soon than about our hearts or our lives. That's just the way things are, and when we're together, late at night, in bed, we still talk about all the big real things. 

But we used to talk on the phone. One night I said something to Amanda about my life, and beds, and the sizes of beds, and she got very quiet. I thought she was crying on the phone, which seemed odd, as I'd not said anything (to my mind) about hearts.

A week or so later, she announced on Twitter that she was writing a song. She posted photos of herself after each verse. It seemed like the whole of Twitter was cheering her on.

I got to Boston a few days later, and she played me her song, on the huge grand piano in her cramped apartment. She'd taken a tiny fragment of my life and made it into something else, a story about a couple, from joy to death, exhibited, as in a legal case or at an inquest, as a sequence of beds. I cried when she played it. 

She asked me to give it a title, because I had inspired it, and I didn't want to give it a clever title, and so I called it "The Bed Song", and the name stuck.

It's one of the songs on her new album.

She's asked a number of artists to make art to go along with the book, asked if I would do something for "The Bed Song". I thought about what I wanted to make, realised it was a sequence of five photographs, mirroring the five verses/exhibits in the song. And that, while I love taking photographs (my lomo cameras are some of my favourite possessions) I did not know how I would take these photographs...

Fortunately, a few days later there was a gathering in Barrington Illinois to honour Gene Wolfe, and my friend Kyle Cassidy was there with his beautiful actress wife Trillian. I asked Kyle if he'd like to collaborate on making art: I'd write a script, describing the images, as I would have done if I was writing a comics script. He'd take the photos. Kyle said yes. Then I told him the deadline we were on...

And that we'd need people of all ages, willing to be photographed, in couples (all but one), naked in a bed.

Kyle set off, undaunted.

Kyle is an amazing photographer. We found volunteers through friends and through Twitter. It was relatively easy to find people to pose in their twenties and thirties and forties... finding older models was harder. I was hugely pleased when my friends Samuel R. Delany and Mia Wolff agreed to pose for the last  photograph we needed. 

Many of the people who had their photos taken told Kyle that it was a life-changing experience for them, and I can believe it.

The photographs were beautiful. The sequence of photographs worked as a story. We were happy, about everything except...  Kyle had taken too many good photographs.

Each photograph was a piece of art. Amanda's doing an art book already, of the art that's been made for the album, but we desperately wanted to see Kyle's photos reproduced at the size and at the same quality as they'll be hung in the art galleries they'll be hanging in this summer, during Amanda's art tour. And we wanted the photos that weren't just part of the set of five, that would hang in the gallery and be part of the art book, to be seen.

And Amanda was putting together a Kickstarter (it's at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/amandapalmer/amanda-palmer-the-new-record-art-book-and-tour). It was going to need incentives at various levels. And if the incentive level was priced high enough then we could actually afford to make the kind of book we dreamed of -- something with the level of art and craft you'd find in the impressive oversized Taschen photo books. Although there would be significantly fewer photos than the $15,000 Helmut Newton SUMO book (but then, it also wouldn't need to come with its own display stand).

So that's what we're doing. We're making a maximum of 666 of them (to commemorate the % by which the Evening With Neil and Amanda Kickstarter exceeded its level). If the demand is less, we may make significantly less. We want copies for our models, and a few for ourselves. You'll get one if you support the Kickstarter at the $1000 level or above (so each of the 35 people hosting a house party, for example, will get a copy), and you also get all the goodies from lower levels as well.

Right now we're just finalising the specs -- Kyle wants a lock on the box (or slipcase) it comes in, for example, but we need to decide what kind of lock...

There will be photographs,  reproduced at the same size (HUGE -- the book is planned to be the same size as the recent oversized Little Nemo Sunday pages) and quality (amazing) as the actual prints. There will be an essay by me about the song, what inspired it and what it means to me. There will be the script for Kyle and the emails. There will be a reproduction of Amanda's handwritten lyrics. And we will sign it, and limit it, and I very much hope that each of the people who winds up with a copy is made very happy by it.

Of all of the things in the Kickstarter campaign, it's the most likely to ship last, because the production process of objects like this is always beset with nightmares. We want it fancy and beautiful and unique, but each fancy thing we add means there's something else that can go wrong or delay things, and that printers and bookbinders and boxmakers will simply not be able to do what we're asking, meaning we'll have to find someone who can, or wait, or send something back to be redone.

Right now, Kyle is taking the handful of last photographs for the book. And as we were talking about it, I realised, with a creeping horror, that the final photo had, inevitably, to be me and Amanda. Amanda has been in many photographs naked, has no nudity taboo that I've ever noticed. I'm English. I have a nudity taboo. 

Kyle took several shots of us in Philadelphia last week, in our hotel room. Some of them we had the covers over us, in others (the scary ones -- well, scary for me) we didn't.  I held Amanda and did my best to go to sleep and not to think about the camera on a stick far above us.

I've not seen any of the photos Kyle took of us without bedclothes, yet.  I'm nervous as hell about seeing them, but also certain that we'll find the one to be the final image, and glad it will only be in a very limited edition book. But the photo that Kyle just sent over showing Amanda and me together, under the covers, with me mostly asleep, is beautiful.

And this is it.



It's the only one of the photos that's in colour, too. I think we may use it as the image on the limitation page, the one we all sign.

And, with Kyle's permission, I'm putting it up here.

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The unlikeliness of the long-distance golf-ball-headed chisel-wielder...

I've been thrilled how many people have watched and reblogged the commencement speech.

If you want to read it, there's a transcript up at the UArts website, here.

I went by train from Philadelphia to Arlington, where SFWA was holding the Nebula Awards weekend. I wasn't actually nominated for a Nebula: I was nominated, along with director Richard Clark, for a Ray Bradbury Award for the Doctor Who episode "The Doctor's Wife".

(I'd been nominated once before, in 1998, for writing the English language script to Princess Mononoke. And I lost.)

I hoped I had a chance, but didn't think it was a shoe-in: all the other things nominated were major Hollywood movies, including Midnight In Paris and Source Code. But I thought, seeing I was in the area,  and that I had lots of friends I would see who would commiserate if I lost, and forgive me if I won, that it might be a fun trip.

I went. It was a wonderful ceremony. Connie Willis was made a Grand Master, and I kvelled.

The Bradbury Award is unique: a man dressed as a diver with an old IBM selectric "golf ball" for a head, holding a mallet and chisel to carve the happy and sad faces of drama out of a pyramid on top of a book. There's nothing like it.

And yes, Richard and I (and Doctor Who) won. I thanked everybody, Richard, the amazing cast and crew, Steven Moffat, and then I thanked Verity Lambert and Sydney Newman, who put a cranky old time-traveller into a police box almost half a century ago, and sent him off across time and space.

Here is a photograph of me and John Scalzi dueling with Bradbury Awards:



I flew home this morning. I put the award above the desk beside my Jim Henson Creativity award, and surrounded it with poppets...


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Friday, May 18, 2012

Trust me, I'm a Doctor * (*Honorary, of Fine Arts)

This needs a proper blog entry all of its own, but I am running around like a mad thing, so as a stopgap, here's the Commencement Address I gave yesterday to the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Everything I could think of that someone starting out on a career in the arts right now might need to know.


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Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Maurice Sendak: "Cannibals and Psychotics"

I remember the first time I saw a Maurice Sendak book. It was In The Night Kitchen. I was eleven or twelve, and had been given a small allowance by my parents to buy my littlest sister, who did not read, books, if I would read them to her. I loved books and reading aloud. In The Night Kitchen was liberating, transgressive, and a dream come to life: I understood the nakedness, could not understand why all the chefs were Oliver Hardy but loved that all the chefs were Oliver Hardy. Years later I discovered Little Nemo in Slumberland, and In The Night Kitchen came into focus.

As a parent, I read Where The Wild Things Are to my children, but Holly's favourite Sendak book was Outside Over There, and I must have read it to her hundreds of times, perhaps thousands of times, marvelling at Sendak's economy of words, his cruelty, his art.

What I loved, what I always responded to, was the feeling that Sendak owed nothing to anyone in the books that he made. His only obligation was to the book, to make it true. His lines could be cute, but there was an honesty that transcended the cuteness. 

I never met him, although I had friends who worked with him, and friends who were friends with him. I never wanted to meet him. I had read the books -- by that point I'd read all the books -- and read the interviews. He was so grumpy and so wise, so sensible and so very much at the service of each of the books. He made personal books that came out and were banned and challenged and then embraced by the children who had grown up with them. (In The Night Kitchen was the 24th most challenged US library book in the last decade.)

When I heard this morning that Maurice Sendak had died, I asked the New Yorker  over Twitter if they could unlock a two page comic: art spiegelman and Maurice Sendak in conversation in 1993, drawn by both of them. They did, and I am grateful to them.

Click on the small version of the first page to read the whole thing (and click on that to make it bigger).


And the strange thing about reading this, was that it was pretty much, I realised, what I'd been trying to say last week when I made my Zena Sutherland speech in Chicago. Only I took thirty-five minutes and almost five thousand words to say it, and art and Maurice did it in eleven panels.

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Sunday, May 06, 2012

An extremely exciting week

So, last year I recorded a piece for a This American Life episode about adventure. It's a little memoir about adventures, and how I mostly don't have them.

It wasn't the piece I originally wrote, though, which was a short story. Or rather, it was the piece I originally wrote. Ira Glass wasn't sure about the personal one, when I sent it over, and wanted a short story, so I wrote a short story instead, but the producers preferred the personal memoir, and outvoted him, so that was what I recorded.

Ira Glass still liked the short story, and mentioned to Dave Eggars that I had a short story that he liked that nobody had read, and Dave Eggars wrote to my agent and asked if he could read it for McSweeneys, and I was happy that it wasn't going to be completely forgotten forever (I'd already forgotten it existed, and hadn't given it to anyone or submitted it anywhere, so it was just sitting getting dusty on a hard drive somewhere). I wasn't sure if it was any good, and had to be nudged by Dave several times to send it. It was called Adventure Story.

Having emailled it to Dave I forgot about it again. And then, in the post, this arrived:


I opened it. And I thought, I've got  story in McSweeneys!

I read the story, a little nervously, now it was printed, and thought, and it's good.


It's a great issue of McSweeney's. The Jason Jagel comic insert, Topsy Turvy, is wonderful, the collected writing is, as always, excellent, varied, powerful (the book 2 account of a week in Rwanda; the writing that inspired the Egyptian uprising...). Beautiful production values.

You can get a copy of it at McSweeneys: https://store.mcsweeneys.net/products/mcsweeneys-issue-40

I'm really happy and proud and thrilled to be in it. Thank you, Ira Glass.

...

The New York Times has a page of me talking about books and what I'm reading and suchlike on it.  (The blue picture is Jillian Tamaki's wonderful picture of me from it.) (They edited out the bit where I had President Obama talking about a hooker eating a man with her nether bits, which in retrospect might have been wise, but made that section less funny.)



Do you prefer a book that makes you laugh or makes you cry? One that teaches you something or one that distracts you?
Yes.
Wait, do you think those things are exclusive? That books can only be one or the other? I would rather read a book with all of those things in it: a laughing, crying, educating, distracting book. And I would like more than that, the kind of book where the pages groan under the weight of keeping all such opposites apart.

You can read the rest of it at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/06/books/review/neil-gaiman-shares-his-reading-habits.html?_r=2&ref=books&pagewanted=all
...


Amanda's Kickstarter has been an enormous success -- currently it's the most successful music Kickstarter ever. In six days it has got over 10,000 supporters and has raised over $555,000 towards putting out the CD and book and taking the band on a world tour.

She wrote about it on techdirt..

There's a great story about how bamboo grows. A farmer plants a bamboo shoot underground, and waters and tends it for about three years. Nothing grows that's visible, but the farmer trots out there, tending to this invisible thing with a certain amount of faith that things are going to work out. When the bamboo finally appears above ground, it can shoot up to thirty feet in a month. This is like my kickstarter campaign. The numbers aren't shocking to me, not at all. I set the goal for the kickstarter at $100,000 hoping we'd make it quickly, and hoping we'd surpass it by a long-shot. 
 I've been tending this bamboo forest of fans for years and years, ever since leaving roadrunner records in 2009. Every person I talk to at a signing, every exchange I have online (sometimes dozens a day), every random music video or art gallery link sent to me by a fan that i curiously follow, every strange bed I've crashed on...all of that real human connecting has led to this moment, where I came back around, asking for direct help with a record. Asking EVERYBODY. Asking my poor fans to give a dollar, or if nothing else, to spread the link; asking my rich fans to loan me money at whatever level they can afford to miss it for a while.
 And they help because they know I'm good for it. Because they KNOW me.
...

I went to Chicago and delivered this year's annual Zena Sutherland lecture. Zena was an editor, a reviewer and an influential figure in the world of children's books. I wish I'd known her - everyone who had known her described her as "a pistol!" and they all talked about her in ways that made me so very proud to be this year's lecturer. (Here's an online obituary.)

(The first Zena Sutherland lecture was delivered by Maurice Sendak. The second by Lloyd Alexander. Yes, I was very intimidated.)

My lecture was called

“What the @#$%&*! Is a Children's Book, Anyway?”


which I mostly pronounced "What the [very bad swearword] is a children's book anyway?" when I read it onstage. I got to say things like...



Children are a relatively powerless minority, and, like all oppressed people, they know more about their oppressors than their oppressors know about them. Information is currency, and information that will allow you to decode the language, motivations and behaviour of the occupying forces, on whom you are uniquely dependent for food, for warmth, for happiness, is the most valuable information of all.

Children are extremely interested in adult behaviour. They want to know about us.

Their interest in the precise mechanics of peculiarly adult behaviour is limited. All too often it seems repellent, or dull. A drunk on the pavement is something you do not need to see, and part of a world you do not wish to be part of, so you look away.

Children are very good at looking away.


...along with the story of how I was very nearly expelled from school, at the age of eight, for telling a classmate a dirty joke I'd heard from some kids on the walk home, and a lot of pondering about what children read and why and how authors can figure out whether or not they are writing a book for children or adults.

It'll be published in The Horn Book in the autumn.

...

And by now you are undoubtedly thinking, what an exciting week. And you would be right. This was the most exciting week ever. Because...

I hived a swarm!


I walked the dogs in the woods. I heard something buzzing gently, and it seemed to be a tree. I looked closer... It was a swarm of bees high in a buckthorn tree...



Now, when a hive gets overcrowded, or just feels the time has come, the bees swarm. Three quarters of the hive, along with the queen, take off to find a new home, leaving the remaining bees behind to raise a new queen in the old location.

Swarms of bees are scary. You've probably seen one. They are also relatively harmless -- bees in swarming mode are not grumpy, not out to sting you, they've filled up on honey which actually makes it physically difficult for them to sting anyway, and mostly they just want to find somewhere new to live.

I prepared an empty hive. I put a couple of frames of honey into it from a hive that could afford to lost them.


Then, with two friends (Hans, who cut down the tree, after we decided it was just too high for ladders, and author Kelly McCullough, who saw me tweeting about it and decided that giving a swarm a home would be more fun than writing or revising that afternoon) we made it happen.

(This is Hans, He is like a midwestern, less Jewish, less orange-rocky Ben Grimm.) 

Hans cut down the tree (a good thing, because Buckthorn is a bad thing). Kelly helped and suggested I sing the Winnie the Pooh "I'm just a little black rain cloud" song, in case it helped. I did. It did. . I caught the swarm in a cardboard box as it fell, and Kelly and I transported it to its new home, poured in the bees.

While I was fairly certain we had not lost the queen when the tree fell, I also put a frame of brood from the Russian hive in, with a couple of queen cells (they are much bigger than usual bee-larva cells, and look like peanuts) ready to hatch on it. If a queen in a hive hears another queen about to hatch, she simply heads over and stings it. If she's not there to sting it, it hatches and the hive has a new queen.)


(Panoramic photo magic: here is Kelly on both sides of the swarm's new home at once.)

The dogs sat the whole thing out. They've had experiences with bees in the past. 

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