Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Father's Day & Invisible Plane Post

Two of my children have grown up and gone away, and I have one left at home (here seen piloting her invisible plane, in a photo by Kyle Cassidy). And it's Father's Day, which seems like the best time to mention how much I enjoy, and appreciate, being a father. I've learned more from being a father than from anything else I've done, any books I've read, anything I've studied, anyone I've spoken to. It's a good thing being a father, if you enjoy it, which I do. So this is where I say thank you to Mike and to Holly and to Mads, for teaching me so much. And for being smart and loving and funny.

Last night Maddy told me she has Planned Things for today. I do not know what these things are. She and her friends have not yet woken from their sleepover. Last night I used them as guinea pigs to test out some BPAL prototype scents Beth had sent in my direction. Last year's Snow Glass Apples scent and booklet was a huge success when it was released at Comic-con, both as a scent and as a snapped-up CBLDF benefit unique thing (here's a CBLDF link to what appears to be the last few copies/bottles in the world). This year's scent is remarkable. I forgot it was meant to be a secret, and cheerfully unbagged the cat on Twitter, but will be slightly more circumspect here and say only that it is a scent that will accompany a short story that appears in Fragile Things and M is Magic, concerning the eating of things.

(Beth, Goddess of BPAL, sent me three different versions of the scent in question, and let me choose. I picked the version with Raisins and Smoke, but without Beer. For some reason the beer made it smell like coconuts, when applied to skin. Everything Beth does is alchemy and magic as far as I am concerned.)

Over on CBC's Definitely Not the Opera, the wonderful Sook-Yin Lee interviewed me about being a father and being a son, and that's now up in their Father's Day special. (It's a really good interview, much of it stuff I don't recall being asked in interviews before. It starts about 55 minutes in, and ignore the awkward link-edit at the beginning that makes it sound like I'm saying that my small son and I were newlyweds.) The MP3 file is at

This writer has a list of "Five Things Someone Else Should Do."

(Sorry about the awkward link). Among them is "Ideas in Abundance," taking Madoc's outpouring of ideas in "Calliope" and actually writing stories around them. Have you ever considered authorizing such an anthology?

The writer in question is the remarkably brilliant China Mieville, who is smart and prolific and a nice guy to boot.

And no, I don't think I could officially authorise such an anthology (given that the Sandman is owned by DC Comics.) If someone did it, however, on the web or on paper, I would be delighted.

Hi again
I was looking at my new-from-Amazon Crazy Hair book (pretty pictures, lovely rhymes), when something seemed a bit odd. Did you change the second line? I remember you reading it three years ago, and I remember something like "I am thirty, Bonnie's three".
Now I see it's "We were standing silently" or something like that.
Just out of curiosity, am I right, and why did you change it?


I changed it because, when Dave had finished the illustrations (and it took him many years to do Crazy Hair), Bonnie really did not look like she was three. Not even a little bit. And it seemed much easier, and quicker, for me to change the line than to ask Dave to repaint every page.

Hi Neil,
"The native dragons of the British Isles"
The term British Isles is a bit of a sore point.
I'm an Irish fan of yours. The term British Isles suggests Ireland as part of the Isles. We are no longer part of Britain and up to the point of the vikings you mentioned we were not part of Britain either. I know it might seem like a silly point to you but the term still strokes a lot of old wounds with people here. And I know it was not intentional, so I thought I would clarify for the future.

I hope the writing is flowing and all is well in your world,


Ah, there. I managed to give offense while just trying to figure out a way of talking about the places that these stamps were sold. If it's any comfort, I wasn't thinking about Ireland while writing that sentence. (And just read the Wikipedia discussion with fascination.)

Hi Neil -

you may want to let your readers know that in addition to the presentation pack you can also purchase postcards of the stamp designs - which will be absolutely perfect for filling the conspicuous Neil Gaiman bumpersticker void. (Seriously, please tell the Neverwear people to get some bumperstickers up - the 'How to talk to girls at parties' art or the 'lil Sandman would be fabulous... If I were creative enough, I'd make a black & white bumpersticker w/the silhouettes of the Endless on it, but alas - my skills are lacking.)

I just ordered both from the US with no problems, btw.

Thanks for the stories!

I'll get onto it. Any Neverwear suggestions should be directed at Kitty, at her blog:

Hey Neil,

Wayward young writer here.

I have a question concerning characters. Most of the writers I respect seem to create autonomous characters inside their own mind. This process sounds mad and delightful and impossible, at the moment.

I feel that my characters are glaring flaws in my stories. I want them to feel real and sovereign to my whims, instead of contrivances.

If you have any time to bestow some advice, I would greatly appreciate it. Just a revelatory aphorism or two.

Also, thank you for so many wonderful stories. Your stuff is guiltless pleasure reading.

Dan Kelly

When I was a young writer I would come up with stories, and then put characters into them. And each of the characters would often feel like, in Thurber's words, "a mere device".

I think the breakthrough for me came when I started writing comics -- because I believed in them. Because sometimes I would be using characters I hadn't created, but simply cared about. And over the next few years I learned that if you cared enough about your characters, what happened to them was interesting.

I'm not sure that's much of an aphorism, but it's important to care about them, about who they are and what they do. And (for me) for them to be people I would want to spend time with -- I don't really care whose side they are on, and they can be monstrous on the outside or, worse, on the inside, but you still have to want to spend time with them. If you met one of these characters socially would you talk to them, or make an excuse and flee?

(As a sidenote, I think the years I spent as a journalist doing interviews for magazines really helped as well. I learned a lot about speech patterns, and ways of describing people, and letting their words describe them. But more importantly, I learned that if you are actually interested, and not faking it, people will tell you anything, and you will take pleasure in their company. So my suggestion for any young writer is, talk to people, especially people you would normally avoid talking to. Find out their stories. Figure out how you would put them into stories, if you would, or just describe them with a few words.)

Hello Mr. Gaiman,

My question, or requested suggestion, is how to properly utilize personal tragedy to fuel writing. For reasons that do not bear explanation, someone that was unhealthily important to me has left, and I have continually tried to use it as inspiration, but it's having quite the contrary effect.

I have the kind of free time any writer would dream about, but none if it is productive, and I would like it to be.

So, again, any words of wisdom would be very appreciated. And if not, I understand given your busy schedule.

Thank you either way.

I don't think immediate tragedy is a very good source of art. It can be, but too often it's raw and painful and un-dealt-with. Sometimes art can be a really good escape from the intolerable, and a good place to go when things are bad, but that doesn't mean you have to write directly about the bad thing; sometimes you need to let time pass, and allow the thing that hurts to get covered with layers, and then you take it out, like a pearl, and you make art out of it.

When my father died, on the plane from his funeral in the UK back to New York, still in shock, I got out my notebook and wrote a script. It was a good place to go, the place that script was, and I went there so deeply and so far that when we landed Maddy had to tap me on the arm to remind me that I had to get off the plane now. (She says I looked up at her, puzzled, and said "But I want to find out what happens next.") It was where I went and what I did to cope, and I was amazed, some weeks later when I pulled out that notebook to start typing, to find that I'd written pretty much the entire script in that six hour journey.

So my suggestion is, stop trying to use it and do something else. (Which sounds a bit dim and simple when I put it like that. "Doctor. It hurts when I do this. What should I do?' "Stop doing this." But you know what I mean.)

Right. Girls are stirring in rooms above. I shall make them pancakes with sliced strawberries in them.*

*When I am king I shall make out of season non-local strawberries illegal. They don't taste like strawberries. Every year in June I have to remind myself that actually, I like these things, and that sun-warmed strawberries fresh-picked in season are one of the heavenly delights of the world. It's those big red faintly starberry-flavoured things called strawberries that turn up the rest of the year I dislike.

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