Wednesday, April 09, 2003
Dear Mr. Gaiman,

Do you ever grow tired of people telling you how much they appreciate/love/worship/have built a shrine to your work? I ask this because I get positively giddy whenever someone likes something I've read (I'm still on a cloud from my mark of II-i from Cambridge University's Summer School). However, just after graduating high school, I was selected as one of a hundred students to attend a weekend round-table discussion with various famous authors, painters, actors, etc. Arthur Golden, author of 'Memoirs of a Geisha' was there and I told him I very much enjoyed his book (I actually thought it was just okay, but I felt it was polite to say something a little nicer than that) and then he went up on the podium to discuss being an author and said how much he HATED being told how much people liked his book! I was personally shocked.

Since I adore you writing, and wanted to be one of the millions to tell you so, I wanted to know if this is common among authors or if he was being a (insert_nasty_word_here).

Thank you!

--Sarah Glazer

P.S. I've put this question to the FAQ about a thousand times and I will continue to do so because I'm dying to know the answer: Do you have a favourite mythological creature or character or being?

Let's take things in order

1) Getting up in public and saying how much you hate it when people tell you they liked your work, especially in a situation where people have (possibly because they meant it, possibly because of social politeness) just been telling you they liked your work, is rude. And it's foolish. The action of telling a writer or artist or musician you liked their work is a way of trying to give something back for the pleasure they gave you -- it's like clapping or cheering at the end of a performance. If you, as an artist, can't truly cope with, or dislike and have to say so, being told by people they enjoyed something you did, you shouldn't put yourself in situations where it's likely to happen.

(It's useful to bear in mind that only someone with no social skills of any kind would go up to an author and say, "Hey. Neil Gaiman. You wrote Neverwhere, right?"

"Er, yes."

"It sucked, man. Sucked so bad I couldn't finish it. London Below, London Above, it's just bullshit. I could write better stuff than that out of my ass, man."

So why an author would expect people to say anything other than "I like your work," or even "I've never read your work, but I have a friend who loves it," or "I'd never heard of you but after hearing you talk I'm looking forward to reading something you've written," I can't imagine.)

2) Yes, personally I like it when people tell me they enjoyed something I made, and no I don't get tired of it. This is because a) I'm human and b) writing is a solitary sort of thing to do, and until I get some feedback, I have no idea of whether or not something worked.

Having said that, there are gradations of being told that people enjoyed my work that move in and out of my own comfort zone. Let me demonstrate:

"Oh man, I loved Sandman."

"I'm pleased. Thank you." (Well within my comfort zone)

"No, I'm telling you man, it was the most amazing piece of literature ever written by anyone. You are a genuine fricken' genius."

"Er, thanks. I enjoyed writing it." (Slightly beyond my comfort zone, but as long as they feel that way, I'm not going to argue.)

"I tell you, when, like the Earth is about to blow up, if like aliens came by and they could only save one person, man, I think it should be you, you're so wonderful. I mean, you're the best writer there has ever been or will ever be."

"You're um much too kind. Er." (Way out beyond the edges of my comfort zone and heading for Alpha Centauri.)

But mostly saying thank you, and meaning it, gets an author through almost all of those situations.

I've written a lot of things, and they've gone on to have lives of their own, and nobody's meant to like everything I've written. (I don't like everything I've written: I never set out to write something that's not going to work, but sometimes there's a bigger gulf between what you hoped to make and what you ended up making than at other times. It's like making clay pots at school.) I don't expect anyone's tastes to be the same as mine.

3) I don't think I do have a favourite mythological character or creature or entity, which is probably why I didn't answer. When I was about eight I read Anthony Boucher's "THE COMPLEAT WEREWOLF" and decided then and there that that was what I was going to do when I grew up, because I couldn't think of a single thing cooler than being a werewolf, and that probably lasted until I wrote the Sandman story "The Hunt".

I remain very fond of Stheno and Euryale, the two immortal gorgons, still missing their mortal sister Medusa. I think I enjoyed writing their scenes and dialogue in The Kindly Ones as much as anything I've written, and would love to go back to them one day, maybe from another direction.