Thursday, April 26, 2007

Readings and bees and books

Good morning world.

Holly and I got in to New York yesterday, checked in to the hotel and then ran to the MOTH rehearsal. Got there slightly late. I watched someone named Edgar tell a story of Southern Gothic madness that had happened to him, and then I told my much less impressive story. Got notes on it and then Holly and I headed out into the rain to get back to the hotel where my fellow panelists on the YA panel were waiting to be ferried to the Small Press Centre, a library on 44th st I've walked past over the years and never entered. It smelled like dusty books in dream-libraries. Did the panel (on "Leaving home as a rite of passage in children's fiction"), four very different panelists with very different styles, but a good panel nonetheless, and then dashed through the rain to the Town Hall for the reading.

I was sort of terrified -- there's nothing like being part of a sold-out 1500 seat reading with Nobel Prize Winners, Booker Prize Winners, Pulitzer Prize Winners and the star of The Man With Two Brains to make you feel like you're only there by accident and that just before you go on someone will notice and tell you to turn in your pencil and go home.

Backstage everyone was in the same boat, all clutching or shuffling our books or papers. I headed into a quiet corner to finalise what I was going to do and time myself (we had eight minutes. If we went over Caro, the festival organiser, was threatening to pull us off with a hook) and found Don DeLillo leaving the same corner. Half of us were sent to the left of the stage, half to the right. ("I hope this is not a reflection on our political positions," said Nadine Gordimer firmly as she was sent to the stage right gang.) Salman Rushdie was a stage right introducer and a stage left reader. I was sitting stage left, with Pia Tafdrup, Tatyana Tolstaya and Kiran Desai. Kiran was nervous and funny and we chatted quietly while waiting for it all to start.

I never drink before readings, and noticed with a certain amount of surprise that I appeared to have poured myself a plastic cup filled with white wine.

(They are a literary audience, I told myself. They will not have brought rocks. They will not throw any rocks they might have brought. Even if they have brought rocks and plan to throw them, I'm on near the end and maybe they will have thrown all the rocks they have brought before I come on, and I can probably dodge the few remaining rocks.)

Steve Martin came on first, read from a memoir about his early days as a stand-up comic, back when he was figuring out what it was that he did, and he sang and did the napkin trick as part of the memoir, and the audience laughed and loved it and we laughed and loved it over on stage left, and nobody threw any rocks and everything was going to be okay.

All the readings were brilliant and very different. When my time came I read two pages about home from the end of American Gods, and "Instructions", and the audience seemed to like it. I floated offstage and down to the backstage area where we watched Nadine and Salman do their bits on TV (better sound down there than stage left too) and then we were done. Except for signing books.

Soon I realised that everyone else had gone away and I was still signing books. I kept signing books. It went on for a while.

Then Holly and I went back to the hotel where the reception was in full swing. I ate enough hors d'oeuvres on plates going past to make up for the dinner I'd never actually had in all the running around, said thank you to lots of nice people who told me how much they'd liked my reading, and somewhere in there realised that I was not going to be able to stay awake for much longer. Fled to hotel room, lay in bed and thought "I'm so tired. I'm too tired to go to sleep." And then I slept.


Hello Neil,

As the article you linked mentions, we've been hearing about the bee losses for a few months. After you first mentioned the bees in your journal I wondered where yours would be coming from because I had wondered what would be done to replace all of the bees that were dying off around the country. Are you importing some of the African bees?

take care,

I don't think the bee losses are quite as bad as you imagine. There are bees, and there are bee breeders.

Sharon Stiteler explains,

Our bees are Minnesota Hygienic Italian Bees developed by Marla
Spivak at the U of M. She is one of the researchers studying Colony
Collapse Disorder--she said that this has been a problem for the last
15 years and this year the media has grabbed on to the story. has
studied the Varroa mite, which over the past 20 years has become a
major threat to commercial honeybees. First discovered in the United
States in 1987, the mite weakens the bee's immune system. It kills
off most bee colonies within a year or two after invading. Beekeepers
use pesticides to control the mites, but Spivak has studied ways to
breed honeybees that are resistant to it. The bees have been bred to
have a "hygienic" behaviors. They sense when brood is diseased and
cleans them out. They also clean out any dead bees as well. This
behavior cuts down on foul brood and other colony problems. Marla's

She is also the lady that taught the Beekeeping Short Course that I
took last month on how to keep our bees. Here is a link to an
article she wrote about our bees:


You can read Sharon and Lorraine's beekeeping adventure (without me, dammit) over at and


The most frequently asked question currently, in regard to the photos of the book I'm writing The Graveyard Book in, is (for example) In seeing the post about The Graveyard Book in which you show us your handwritten version in the fancy Italian book, I noticed that you haven't crossed out a word. Did you pick a particularly good page to show us, or do you simply have no need to cross out as you write? If the latter is true, you will make writers everywhere very jealous and variants, like I have a similar one where i write my poetry in, and I was wondering, considering the fact that you're writing a first draft in it, if you scratch out page-length text if you dont feel like they should be included in your story, or rip out pages, or something of the like that would ruin the neatness of the whole blank book and render it less "beautiful", since I myself wouldn't have the heart to.

I found myself mostly remembering Aubrey's comment on Jonson talking about Shakespeare and how much better it would have been if Shakespeare, who didn't, actually had crossed some stuff out.

If I'm writing fiction by hand I'll put a loose line through something that I'm definitely not going to use (but I'd never pull it out, and I'd normally want it to be readable in case I change my mind, or in case there's something there I can use). But it's pure first draft, straight out of the head and onto the page, sort of like this blog. The important thing is moving forward, for me: editing, fixing, tidying, leaving stuff out, that's all for when I put it onto the computer, that's all for the second draft.

Right. Better get out of bed and stop blogging: Laura Miller will be here in a few minutes to interview me about Narnia, and my hair looks really kind of scary.

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