Sunday, July 18, 2004

Cucking claptrap

I've long known that Claptrap means rubbish or nonsense. I was browsing in a dictionary the other day, as one does, and learned that it came from things one could say on a stage or to an audience that meant very little, but were automatic applause-getters. (Things that literally trap, well, clapping.) And it's also the name of a machine they had once in old theatres that simulated the sound of applause. It's such a good word: anything declaimed from the stage that gets people clapping without thinking. Claptrap. And just as applicable to any side in a political debate...

The other word I've been pondering recently is cucking-stool, the original form of what later became called a ducking stool. Cuck is a word that remains on the fringes of colloquial English as cack (as in such phrases as "when the headmaster said 'now, empty out your pockets' I thought I was going to cack myself"). The OED seems to think that it was probably a cucking stool because people thus punished were tied to a privy seat and ducked into a pond. Knowing the robustness of old English, it's quite possible that the people so ducked were considered cuck, or, even more likely that they might soil themselves in the ducking...

(Which sounds much more like the sort of thing that scaryduck would post than I would really. Only he'd put it so much more robustly.)

Of course, E. Cobham Brewer thinks it was just a "chucking" stool (ie it was chucked into the water); while an 1897 account suggests, unconvincingly, it was a toilet seat used to display the ladies' posteriors in public, and that nobody got dipped in a pond at all.

I love language. It's such fun.

(Which reminds me, another reason to beware ducks. Thank you Maure.)


You answered a question about your home life asked by someone who had also recently read one of your short storys called "The Problem of Susan". Is it online anywhere, or published in any available book? Susan was one of my favorite characters, so I must read it!


The Problem of Susan is in Al Sarrantonio's impressive new anthology FLIGHTS (here's the Green Man review of the book). I'll be reading it at the Mythopoeic Society's Mythcon, in Ann Arbor, in a week or so.

Hi Neil,

I've been reading your blog for about a year now, been reading your work for, oh, let's see...15 years? Since Sandman 1. Anyway, my first book will be out in October, and I am attempting to line up some travelling dates to support it. After reading the question about the family, which I found enlightening, I was wondering how your family feels about your frequent absences. My wife seems extremely apprehensive about the three trips I have tentatively planned and total about three weeks together. As the the other gent's post stipulates, I have no wish to pry into your personal affairs, so aliases and generalities are AOK. Anyway, though I know it is not a lack of trust but separation anxiety,(though since I am absolutely incorrigible about acknowledging ANYBODY'S existance when I am writing, she should be well used to it)I do wish to know if other famous people also have such mundane concerns.

Cheers sir,

Nathan Howell

Well, I know of quite a few authors who make a point of dragging a husband, wife or person on the road to help keep them sane and to have someone to talk to. Do it if it works for you. It's never really worked for me, although I took enormous pleasure in bringing Mike and Maddy out to the CORALINE reading I did in San Francisco a couple of years ago (although there was, at least, something that wasn't a signing going on), and Holly came out to see the LA American Gods signing the year before that. Mostly I'd not inflict a signing tour on a dog, let alone someone I care about: the little ones are probably okay when you're starting off (although the first signing tour I ever did was a UK one for Sandman #1 and Black Orchid, with Dave McKean, and it was pretty huge and exhausting even then) but the bigger they get the less fun they are, the less sleep and food you get, and the more you just keep going, grateful that someone's remained at home and is making sure the kids get to school and the house isn't burning down in your absence. If you're curious about my last proper signing tour, go and look at the original American Gods blog -- the signing tour starts on June the 19th 2001:

(As for the absences, well, it works out. Sometimes I'm gone, but when I'm home, I'm very home and pretty much always available to wander around with, read books with, watch Spaced or Laurel and Hardy DVDs with, depending on the age of the child in question, put the Archie Andrews radio show onto someone's iPod or whatever else it is parents do.)

Dear Mr. Gaiman,

How is Diana Wynne Jones's middle name pronounced? I want to be sure before I recommend her to everyone I know.

Thank you,

It's pronounced Win, as in what people do in playing Monopoly with their daughters, on the odd occasion when they don't lose.

Hello Neil,I've a small, odd question. (I hope you can settle a bet between a friend and me.) We've been trying to find this online everywhere: how do you pronounce Michael Chabon's name? I know you two are friends, and I know you're good at transcribing names--you've said your name is pronounced "GAY-m'n" and Coraline sounds like "Horror-wine."Keep up the excellent work. I've been reading you since 1992, and you've got me for a long time to come.Nicholas.

He pronounces it Shaybon. Pretty much equal stress on both syllables.

Dear Neil:My six-year-old son and I have been fans of Anansi the Spider for some time, having first encountered him in Gerald McDermott's _Anansi the Spider_. His teacher sent home an Anansi story for Garrett to read as homework yesterday, but he was puzzled because she pronounced Anansi's name so differently. He wants to know how it should be said. I can't find anything definitive, and a friend pointed out that you'd probably know. How do you pronounce Anansi?Angela

I've heard it pronounced A-nancy and uh-nunsi. (It tells you a little how it's pronounced that in some parts of the West Indies, Anansi stories became "Aunt Nancy" stories.)

Incidentally, according to a newspaper story I ran across a few years ago, there's a push in the Caribbean to stop teaching Anansi stories in schools, because he's such a poor role-model. There is currently a debate taking place among the teaching profession in the Caribbean who have expressed a concern that Anansi the Spiderman (a cultural folk hero) should be banned and no longer taught in Caribbean classrooms because Anansi, apparently represents a role model for "out smarting" people. Anansi has been used for generations as a vehicle to communicate morals and principles.

There are lots of great Anansi sites. Here's one, for example...


A question: We're going to be parents! What do we do?

A request: More children's books, please.

Another question: How did Shadow come to be a Foreign Service Brat? I grew up as one myself, and don't think I've ever run across another FSB in all the fiction I've read, so of course I'm interested. Obviously it was useful for the plot, as it facilitates his parentage. But I also think there's an outsider-ness to Shadow that may stem in part from that background (among other things, of course) that makes him a great point of view for this American road story.

Thanks very much

Ian Ireland
(with Julie looking over my shoulder)

What do you do? Well, mostly, I suggest you enjoy it. As far as I can tell, having now done it three times now, without an instruction manual, if you love your kids and don't actively work to screw them up, they seem to come out remarkably well, so I recommend not worrying and just enjoying it. They learn all the difficult stuff, like walking and talking, without you having much to do with it. And it all happens much quicker than you'd believe. (One moment they're secretly selling their toys to passers-by to raise money for sweets, the next they're telling you why Microsoft is The Great Beast.) Listening to them's good too; you learn an awful lot.

There's the new edition of THE DAY I SWAPPED MY DAD FOR TWO GOLDFISH coming out next month. Next year may well bring THE DANGEROUS ALPHABET, a sort of Goreyish poem I wrote as an Xmas card a few years back, as an illustrated book (my publisher was so taken with the card that she asked if I'd mind if it became a book, and I don't), and when Dave McKean has recovered from making Mirrormask he'll do CRAZY HAIR. And then once I've finished ANANSI BOYS (a novel for adults) I'll write THE GRAVEYARD BOOK (a novel for kids).

The strange thing is that I suspect that THE GRAVEYARD BOOK (a kids book) will have much more sex, more death, and be deeply scarier on most levels than ANANSI BOYS (an adult book). ANANSI BOYS is, at least so far, a huge big funny enthusiastic puppy of a book that just wants to be loved, and will probably be pressed on kids by librarians. THE GRAVEYARD BOOK will be something else -- something really creepy and cool, I hope. The first few pages of THE GRAVEYARD BOOK (more or less all that exists) follows a serial killer called Jack around the empty house in which he's just killed everyone in the family but the baby. He's looking for the baby.

Shadow was a FSB because I wanted him to be American, but for America to be alien enough to him that he'd notice things that people who were born and bred in America tend to take for granted. So that seemed like a good way to keep him rootless.

Hello, Neil, I was wanted to ask about the protrayl of the Judeo-Christian God in Season of Mists. What was otherwise one of the best Story-Arcs in comic book history seemed to be a little doused by it; he is protrayed as somewhat all-powerful but we never get to see who or what he is. I read in an interview that you viewed all religions as mythology, so why was the Judeo-Christian God so much more powerful than all the other Gods, who may lack belief but do not lack in numbers, and even the Endless?Or maybe it's just me being a tetchy Neo-Pagan :)

Well, no you don't get to see him.

Mostly, Lucifer's Creator gets to be on top because it's the DC universe (or it was at the time, this was way pre-Vertigo); it had a Hell, and in whatever form he/she/it existed, it had a Creator. And for the story to work I wanted a God much older and wiser and deeper and perhaps crueller than any of the other gods, fairies etc wandering around the story.

I wrote Murder Mysteries more or less at the same time as Season of Mists, and although one is in the DC universe and one isn't it's probably fair to say that in my head they share a cosmology of sorts, which may answer some of your questions. Or not. You never know.