Monday, October 22, 2007

the flowers of romance

Cabal's cape did nothing to protect him against his encounter with a skunk last night... while I didn't have much of a right hand last night, for reasons you will learn at, so we didn't deskunk him until this morning.

There's an interview with me in The Independent in which I mention a few things I don't think I've said on the record before...

Neil --
In Ross Douthat's recent column in the Atlantic Monthly concerning the J.K. Rowling press of late (, Douthat suggests that "a writer confident in her powers wouldn't feel the need to announce details like this". It seems odd to me that ulterior motives are so quickly suspected -- she was an author answering a question with additional information not previously known. Do you find yourself withholding information during Q&A if it's not already contained in the story? Why or why not?

All that tells us is that Ross Douthat doesn't write fiction.

You always wind up knowing more about your characters than you can get onto the page. Pages are finite, and the story isn't about giving you all the information about everyone in it any more than life is. Things the author knows about characters (or at least, strongly suspects -- it's never really real until it hits the page, because the process of writing is also a process of discovery) that don't make it onto the page could include the characters' backstory, what they like to eat, the toothpaste they use, what happens to them after the story is over or before it began, and what they do in bed. That something didn't turn up in the books just means it didn't make it onto the page or wasn't relevant to the story. (Or even, it made it in and the author cut that scene out because it didn't work. One of my favourite scenes in Anansi Boys went because it made the chapter work better when it was gone.)

(I remember being astonished when I learned a few years ago, from an obituary, that two teachers I'd had as a child were a same-sex couple. Mostly astonished because at the age where they taught me, I didn't imagine that teachers had romantic lives, or were even entirely human; and learning that they were a pair reconfigured everything I knew about them, which wasn't very much.)

Neverwhere has two gay characters who are Out, as far as the book is concerned, and one major character who is gay but it isn't mentioned, simply because that character was one of many people in that book who don't have any sexual or romantic entanglements during the story. So it's irrelevant.

Sometimes even the author doesn't know for sure. (I used to wonder about Lucien the Librarian in Sandman. On the one hand, I strongly suspected he was gay; on the other, he seemed to have a small unrequited thing for Nuala going on. And if it had ever mattered in a story, I would have found out for certain, but it never did, so I didn't.)

And, truth to tell, sexuality tends to be such a minor thing, if you have several hundred characters running around in your head. You know more than you've written. One of the characters in Wall in Stardust, for example, is not what he is pretending to be in a way that has nothing at all to do with sex, although the clues are all there in the book, but if I don't do another story set in Wall you'll never find out who he is, or even why he's interesting.

As for withholding information... before the Internet, I'd tell anyone anything they wanted to know. ("Who's the missing member of the Endless?" "Destruction." "Oh.") After the Internet, I would try and avoid answering some direct questions because it might spoil things for people. "Why did Delight become Delirium?" "Who's the Forgotten God?" -- they're questions I would happily have answered for anyone who asked at a signing 20 years ago, because it wouldn't have gone any further, not in any way that mattered. Not any longer, because one day I may tell those stories. (If I knew for sure I wouldn't tell them, then I'd happily answer people now.)

Neil, would you please post the best-ever rice pudding recipe you mentioned? Presuming you were able to recreate it, of course. ^_^

Many thanks!

I tried one using the same method but I accidentally used horrible non-fat half and half instead of full cream milk, and the result was sort of grey and had a sickly corn-syrupy sort of background taste. Everything else worked though. I'll try one more, paying attention to quantities, and if it works I'll post it here.

... lists Absolute Sandman 2 as being written by me (which it was) and designed (which it wasn't) by Dave Mckean. It doesn't mention any of the other artists involved (Shawn McManus, Kelley Jones, Mike Dringenberg, Bryan Talbot, John Watkiss, Matt Wagner, Stan Woch, Colleen Doran, Duncan Eagleson, John Bolton, Malcolm Jones III, George Pratt, Dick Giordano, P. Craig Russell and Vince Locke). So I sighed, and filled in the form that allows you to fix things on Amazon. It was always the best thing about -- they made goofs but they were fixable.

I just got an email from them, listing all the names I'd submitted (along with Alisa Kwitney's, who wrote the introduction). And it concluded,
Action: None. We could not verify the requested update.
Data accuracy is highly important to us. We appreciate the time you have taken to submit your updates to us. Best regards,
Catalog Department

And sure enough, it's still wrong, and just lists me and Dave.

I'm wondering how they couldn't verify it. I mean, if you google Absolute Sandman 2 it takes you straight to which has a complete list of everyone in it and what they did.

If anyone is reading this who works for Amazon, would you mind asking them how they verify these things? And whether there's any point in sending in corrections in the future? Up until now, the fact my name was the same as the person who wrote the book, and that I'd been on Amazon since 1997, always gave my corrections some kind of weight.

It's not that they make mistakes (according to Odd and the Frost Giants (actual price £1.00) is a £25 "sturdy board book that will help every child to learn their numbers from one to ten - with the help of the snappy selfish crocodile". ) It's whether they can fix them. (Here's the correct link to Odd.)

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