Monday, April 14, 2003
Today's Cool Trivia Moment -- from concerns the origins of Lobster Newburg. Who was Newburg? What was Newburg? Ah, there's the rub...

Lobster Newburg. According to Dictionary of Words and Phrases by William and Mary Morris, the term is named for Ben Wenberg, a West Indies ship captain who came up with this dish by adding the ingredient cayenne to his famous recipe at Delmonico's Hotel. As the story goes, Mr. Wenberg had a falling out with the hotel owner, who, as revenge, reversed the first three letters of a dish which had previously been called Lobster Wenberg; hence, "Lobster Newberg."

A while back you mentioned that you were talking to A&E Home Video was going to release Neverwhere on DVD here in the US. Has there been any progress on that release?

Yup -- it's probably happening in the autumn. I'll be recording the commentary for it fairly soon.

As soon as I heard mention of Blackie The Unfortunate Guinea Pig and his Viking Funeral, I had to know more. Unfortunately, several Google site searches have turned up nothing--of course, given your past statements that Google periodically loses portions of your journal, it could be out there but unfound. Could you please either tell us the story or tell us where the story can be found?

~ Kass Fireborn

I don't think I've ever told that story here. At the end of it, Blackie, and Holly's dead hamster Roly, head off down the flooded river in a flaming cardboard box. Ah well, one day.

Hi Neil!

I look forward to meeting you at the "New York is Book Country" event in September. I caught your last angel tour, but never had the chance to actually talk to you.

I have a general question about meeting fans. If I do get to talk to you, I fear that I will become a blubbering idiot and barely able to speak. (I tried to meet Tori at several shows this spring but didn't get a chance, I know it would be the same with her.) I'm sure that after I walk away I will think of a brilliant (or at least semi-intelligent) question to ask you. But at the critical moment, it will be "um.. i love your work... um..."

What advice can you give us so that while in your presence we can keep our heads on straight? Or do you mind the blubbering when we lose them? I know you have commented at length before about your reactions to various praises from fans, but not quite addressing this issue.

Thank you so much for this journal! It means a lot to us little people.


I'm not sure it's entirely healthy to start thinking of yourself as one of the little people, Kate. Unless, of course, you actually are one of the little people (possibly one of Martin Millar's Good Fairies of New York -- and here's a three page webcomic about them, if you've not read the book).

Anyway, the main thing to do is not to worry about it too much.

The people who faint or start crying are well in the minority, but I don't mind, and I pick them up from the floor or give them a hug and tend to assume that it all got a little much for them -- which I suspect normally has much more to do with getting to the front of a line they've been standing in for hours, rather than the overwhelmingness of me. (I know me, and can assure you I am very unoverwhelming in person. Am also not scary.) And I'd take a heartfelt "I like your books" over a hundred clever prepared statements. Also, while you may be convinced that you made an idiot of yourself, I'll just remember the nice person with the green hair who couldn't remember how to spell his or her name...

I wrote up a thing on April the 11th 2001, prior to the American Gods tour, at (oh what I wouldn't give for permalinks) which is advice for people going to signings.

And I was going to put it in as a link, but having noticed a fair number of people recently sending me things I've recently put up links to, and the weirdness of the archives, it may be more sensible just to repost it for everyone's benefit... so:

1) It can be a good idea to call the store first and find out if they have any specific ground rules. Some do, some don�t. Will they be handing out numbers? Will you have to buy a copy of American Gods from them in hardback to get prime place in the line or will it be first come first served? What about books you bought somewhere else? Can you bring your ferret?

2) Get there reasonably early if you can. I�ll always try and make sure that anyone in line during the posted signing times gets stuff signed. At evening signings I�ll always stay and make sure everyone goes away happy, but on this tour there will be several places where I�ll need to go from a signing to another signing, so don�t cut it fine.

3) You may own everything I�ve ever written. I�m very grateful. I�m probably not going to sign it all, so you had better simply pick out your favourite thing and bring that along.

4) As a rule, I tend to tell stores I�ll sign 3 things people bring with them � plus any copies of the new book you buy (if you have six brothers or sisters and buy one each, I�ll sign them all). But stores may have their own policies � and we may wind up changing the rules as we go in order to make sure that everyone gets stuff signed.

5) Eat first. I�m not kidding. If it�s a night-time signing of the kind that can go on for a long time, bring sandwiches or something to nibble (some signings with numbers handed out may make it possible for you to go out and eat and come back. Or you may be first in line. But plan for a worst case scenario of several hours of standing and shuffling your way slowly around a store). (If it�s a daytime signing somewhere that a line may snake out of a store into the hot sun, bring something to drink. I always feel guilty when people pass out.)

6) You may be in that line for a while, so talk to the people around you. You never know, you could make a new friend. I�ve signed books for kids whose parents met in signing lines (although to the best of my knowledge none of them were actually conceived there). And while we�re on the subject, bring something to read while waiting. Or buy something to read � you�ll be in a book shop, after all.

7) Don�t worry. You won�t say anything stupid. It�ll be fine. My heart tends to go out to people who�ve stood in line for hours trying to think of the single brilliant witty erudite thing that they can say when they get to the front of the line, and when it finally happens they put their books in front of me and go blank, or make a complete mess of whatever they were trying to say. If you have anything you want to ask or say, just ask, or say it, and if you get a blank look from me it�s probably because I�m slightly brain dead after signing several thousand things that day.

8) The only people who ever get short shrift from me are the people who turn up with tape recorders who try and tape interviews during signings. I won�t do them � it�s unfair on the other people in the line, and unfair on me (and I was as curt with the guy from the LA Times who tried it as I am to people who decide on the spur of the moment to try and tape something for their college paper). If you want to do an interview, ask the bookstore who you should talk to in order to set it up.

9) Take things out of plastic bags before you reach me. Firstly, it speeds things up. Secondly, I once ripped the back off a $200 comic taking it out of a plastic bag, when the back of the comic caught on the tape. The person who owned it was very sweet about it, but tears glistened in his eyes as I signed, and I could hear him wailing softly as he walked away.

10) Yes, I�ll happily personalize the stuff I sign, to you, or to friends. If it�s a birthday or wedding present, tell me.

11) Remember your name. Know how to spell it, even under pressure, such as being asked.

[If you have a nice simple name, like Bob or Dave or Jennifer, don't be surprised if I ask you how to spell it. I've encountered too many Bhob's, Daev's and even, once, a Jeniffer to take any spelling for granted.]

12) No, I probably won�t do a drawing for you, because there are 300 people behind you, and if I had to draw for everyone we�d be finishing at 4.00am � on the other hand, if you�re prepared to wait patiently until the end, I may do it then, if my hand still works.

13) If it means a lot to you, yes, I�ll sign your lunchbox/skin/guitar/leather jacket/wings � but if it�s something strange you may want to make sure you have a pen that writes on strange surfaces legibly. I'll have lots of pens, but they may not write on feathers.

14) At the start of the tour the answer to �Doesn�t your hand hurt?� Is �No.�

By the end of the tour, it�s probably going to be �Yes.�

15) Yes, you can take my picture, and yes, of course you can be in the photo, that�s the point isn�t it? There�s always someone near the front of the line who will take your photo.

16) I do my best to read all the letters I�m given and not lose all the presents I�m given. Sometimes I�ll read letters on the plane to the next place. But given the sheer volume of letters and gifts, you probably won�t get a reply, unless you do. (On one previous tour I tried to write postcards to everyone who gave me something at the last stop on postcards at the next hotel. Never again.) If you�re after a reply or to have me read something, you�re much better off not giving it to me on a tour. Post it to me care of DreamHaven books in Minneapolis.

(And although things people give me get posted back, on the last tour FedEx lost one box of notes and gifts, and on the tour before that hotel staff lost or stole another box. So smaller things I can put into a suitcase are going to be more popular than four-foot high paintings done on slabs of beechwood.)

17) No, I probably won�t have dinner/a beer/sushi with you after the signing. If it�s a daytime signing I�ll be on my way to the next signing; and if it�s an evening signing I�ll be heading back to my hotel room because I�ll be getting up at six a.m. to fly to the next city. If there actually is any spare time on the tour it�ll�ve been given to journalists, and if there�s any time on top of that old friends will have started e-mailing me two or three months before the tour started to say �You�ll be in the Paphlagonian Barnes and Noble on the 23rd. That�s just a short yak-hop from my yurt. We must get together,� and would have got themselves put on the schedule. (Still, it never hurts to ask.)

18) If you can�t read what I wrote, just ask me. After a couple of hours of signing my handwriting can get pretty weird.

19) If I sign it in silver or gold, give it a minute or so to dry before putting it back in its bag or closing the cover, otherwise you�ll soon have a gold or silver smudge and nothing more.

If I think of anything else, I'll mention it as I go -- or expand this one...

The only thing I'd add, is that if it's me signing at a store, it'll go on till everyone's done; but if I'm doing a signing at a book festival or similar they often allocate a period of time to signing, with a real cut-off when the time's up, so the further up the line you are, the more chance you have of getting something signed.