Saturday, September 29, 2012

A quick one, while the wife is away

Small and helpful blogpost that still isn't the one I mean to write.

I'll be in Conversation with Philip Pullman, talking about fairy tales and writing, on October the 29th at London's Cambridge Theatre. Details are at
and tickets are going ridiculously fast, which is why I thought I'd better nip on and mention it now.

I told one of my Unchained Tour stories  at Amanda Palmer's gig in San Diego. 

On Wednesday night, Amanda and her band will be in Minneapolis, at First Avenue,  and I'm going to tell a story there with her, and probably sign afterwards. This is the link to get tickets.

Over 20 years ago I saw and surprised Tori at First Avenue (and of course, The Flash Girls used to play there from time to time). It will be nice to go back...

(If you want to hear the new album, it's on her website on a Pay What You Want model at

Last night I read a chapter of THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE to the audience at George Mason's Fall For the Book festival. 15 hours before that I'd emailed the final draft of the book off to my publishers. It's now a real thing. 

And I better press Publish before this plane gets below 10,000 feet...

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Monday, September 24, 2012

Taking A Story Out In Public...

The Unchained Tour is over, and I will write a blog about it, when I get a moment.

It was amazing.  I feel like I'm learning a whole new skill.

I'm in San Diego today with Amanda, and talked her into letting me try something a bit odd: I want to tell one of the stories I told on the Unchained Tour at her gig tonight, before she hits the stage. I like the idea of seeing what happens if I do this without having the Unchained Team around me, without Edgar and Dawn and Peter telling stories, without Peter keeping the show running.

It's not a reading.

It'll be closer to this (from The Moth in 2007):

Not sure how it'll work out of context and at a rock club, but it might be fun.

If you want to come and see me, get there early. I'll probably sign afterwards with her and the band.

This is probably much too late notice for anyone not actually here in San Diego, but if you're here, come down to the House of Blues around 7 pm.

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Monday, September 17, 2012

A Letter from a Scared Actress.

A few years ago, a message came in to this website on the FAQ line from a young actress from Georgia (the one from the former USSR, not the State with Atlanta in it) called Anna Gurji. She sent a link to her webpage and to films she had made in Georgia, and told me she was a fan, and if she ever came to the US, she would want to be in something of mine.

She made it to the US, and although she has never been in something of mine, she read the female lead (with Wil Wheaton as the male lead) in the first read-through of Michael Reaves' film BLOOD KISS. I was not there as a writer. I was there because I will actually act in it, playing a Hollywood director with a dark secret. So I've acted with Anna and spent time with her. She's a good sort.

She wrote to me the other day, worried.

She said,

Something very bad happened. I desperately need everyone's help right now.

I don't know how to start writing this letter. It's crazy, the world is.. life.. I'm so shattered right now, I don't know.. I feel very dead inside. 

Last summer I auditioned for an indie low budget feature movie and I landed a supporting role. The movie was about a comet falling into a desert and ancient tribes fighting over it for they thought that the comet had some magical powers.

A year later, the movie was dubbed (without the actors' permission), the lines were changed drastically and the movie was morphed into an Anti-Islam film. Even the names of the characters were changed. And the character I had scenes with GEORGE became MUHAMMAD. 

I really need your advice right now? How can I have my voice shown to the world so that I can tell them the real story.

All these media people that keep calling me are using my real story and then chopping or manipulating the interview the way they want to. 

I don't know what to do. It's very scary, Neil.

I told her to write her story for me, to say what she wanted, and I would put it up here for her, as she wrote it, to get her message to the world. The best weapon against lies is the truth, after all.

So here's what Anna knows about the truth:

Everyone who wishes to find out the truth about the movie now known as the Innocence of Muslims, please read the letter below. I, Anna Gurji, as one of the supporting actresses in the film will share with you what really happened.

A year ago, in the summer of 2011, I submitted my materials to various projects on the Explore Talent web-site. I received a call from the casting director of the movie “Desert Warrior”, and my audition date was scheduled. I auditioned for the role of Hilary. Several days later, I was informed that I got a callback. I did the callback. Several days later, I was informed that I landed the role of Hilary in the movie called “Desert Warrior”.

The filming of the movie was done in August of 2011. We were filming the movie in a studio warehouse with a green screen in Duarte, CA. The project was a low budget, independent feature movie.

The filming of the movie was beginning soon after the day I was told I got a role. The script was not sent to me. When I got to the set, I was merely provided with the scenes my character was in.

I did not consider this to be an unusual thing, seeing as I have had an experience with something like this before. I did a movie once where the script was written in a foreign language and only my parts were translated into English and accordingly, I was provided with my scenes only. Having experienced that, I thought the same thing was happening with “Desert Warrior”. Aware of the fact that the supposed producer and the script-writer of the movie (known as Sam Bassil) was a foreigner (thanks to his accent), I thought that the original script was written in his native tongue and that not all scenes were translated into English. Also, the filming dates of the movie had to be rescheduled last minute to fit my schedule (I had other films to do right after the “Desert Warrior” outside CA). Because of this rushed rearrangements, I thought that the production first forgot and then did not consider it necessary to send me the script, and again - I did not find this unusual, since I knew what role I had, I knew about my character and I knew about the story of the film.

My character Hilary was a young girl who is sold (against her own free will) by her parents to a tribe leader known as GEORGE. She is one of his (most likely, the youngest) brides in the movie.

The film was about a comet falling into a desert and different tribes in ancient Egypt fighting to acquire it for they deemed that the comet possessed some supernatural powers.

The movie that we were doing in Duarte was called “Desert Warrior” and it was a fictional adventure drama. The character GEORGE was a leader of one of those tribes fighting for the comet.

There was no mention EVER by anyone of MUHAMMAD and no mention of religion during the entire time I was on the set. I am hundred percent certain nobody in the cast and nobody in the US artistic side of the crew knew what was really planned for this “Desert Warrior”.

The atmosphere at the set was as friendly as possible. We all knew that we were doing an adventure drama for a very low budget financing. The director Alan Roberts even had plans that with this low budget product he would be able to get some more money to make a good quality version (by shooting it in the real desert and having better product in every category) of the “Desert Warrior”.

I had interactions with the man known as Sam Bassil on the set. He was very amiable, respectful, soft-spoken, always making sure that the filming was running smoothly and everyone was satisfied. He even told me the premiere of the movie was going to happen sometime soon and I would get a good amount of tickets to invite my friends and family.

I have never been informed about the premiere after that (if it ever happened) and have not seen the final product (if there is any, except for the short one that is uploaded online).

People ask what’s my reaction after seeing that.


Two hours after I found out everything that had happened I gave Inside Edition an interview, the duration of which I could not stop crying.

I feel shattered.

People who were tricked into believing that we were making an adventure drama about a comet falling into a desert did nothing but take part in a low budget indie feature film called the “Desert Warrior” that WAS about a comet falling into a desert and tribes in ancient Egypt fighting to acquire it.

It’s painful to see how our faces were used to create something so atrocious without us knowing anything about it at all. It’s painful to see people being offended with the movie that used our faces to deliver lines (it’s obvious the movie was dubbed) that we were never informed of, it is painful to see people getting killed for this same movie, it is painful to hear people blame us when we did nothing but perform our art in the fictional adventure movie that was about a comet falling into a desert and tribes in ancient Egypt fighting to acquire it, it’s painful to be thought to be someone else when you are a completely different person.

Like I explained to Inside Edition, I feel awful.. I did not do anything but I feel awful.

I feel awful that a human being is capable of such evil. I feel awful about the lies, about the injustice, about the cruelty, about the violence, about the death of innocent people, about the pain of offended people, about the false accusations.

I don’t know what else to do but speak the truth. I will not go into hiding (since I have nothing to hide), because if we don’t speak the truth, there is no world worth living for.

I grew up in Georgia Republic (ex-Soviet Union), I have witnessed the strikes, protests, demonstrations, injustice, cruelty, violence in my life. I was there during the war between Russia and Georgia, sleeping in outdoor clothes and packed backpacks waiting to be bombed. And I left my country, knowing that there was no future for a film actress there (seeing as the film industry is still in the process of recovery after the collapse of the Soviet Union).

Why did I want to pursue acting? I had a role in a short film when I was thirteen. There was a scene in the movie, where my beggar character and my character’s blind father were thrown off the bridge by police officers. During the filming of the scene, I was attacked by a huge lump in my throat, witnessing what the police were doing to my blind father. I wanted to cry, but knowing that my blind father would worry about me if he heard me cry, I swallowed the lump and stayed strong and did my best to defend him against the injustice. Experiencing the magic of acting (losing yourself into the character) was what had me fall in love with the craft. After a long journey and fighting to somehow get to the States, I managed to come here with my mother.

It’s so difficult for an actor (especially the one from a foreign country) to begin a career. People think that once you are in the States, you have all the doors opened before you. It’s not so. It’s very difficult to join the union, to get an agent, to lose your accent and to land roles if you don’t have connections. For four years I have been struggling to slowly move ahead and not give up. A year ago, when I got the supporting role in this indie feature film “Desert Warrior”, I was so excited.

I don’t understand why was this happened to me, when all I wanted to do was pursue my acting career.

I have to admit I wanted to pursue my acting career because I loved the process of transformation into a different character – a selfish reason.

A few months ago, I just finished writing a script with my father about world peace, which helped me understand something – forgive and care for your enemy. Then, I understood that there is a bigger reason for acting. When we act, we help people see all different characters that exist. When people see about all these different characters, they start to understand them. When they understand all these different characters, they come close to accepting them. When they come close to accepting them, they come close to being united. And when they come close to being united, they come close to loving and helping each other.

I was thinking about something a week ago. We are like cells in the body of Earth. Why won’t we work together and support each other instead of killing and destroying each other. If cells kill each other, eventually the body will die. By always speaking the truth and supporting the world peace, I hope we will be able to save the Earth from dying.. someday. 

Growing up in a family that was extremely open-minded and respectful to all the differences in the world (all the religions) and growing up peacefully with people with so many different religions around me, it is devastating for me to have my face put into something that is completely opposite of what I believe in.

I want to send my condolences to the families and friends of those who lost their lives. Everything happens for a reason, they say. I believe this is a trap of evil to separate us from our humanity. We must stay strong and not forget that violence has not been able to get us anywhere spiritually and has not been able to make the world a better place. Understanding and love will.

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Saturday, September 15, 2012

In which I am Unchained...

I am typing this on an old blue school-bus. There are eleven people on the bus, including me. Two of them are asleep. There are two musicians, a sound man, a PR-wrangler, a driver, a videographer, and six storytellers. We are a motley and disreputable bunch, a diverse mixture of genders and skin-colours, sizes, ages and body-shapes.

I am one of the storytellers.

The outside of the bus is hand-painted with scenes from stories.

Two of the storytellers in the bus have scenes from stories they have told painted on the outside of the bus. They are Edgar Oliver, and George Dawes Green. George's story picture shows him listening to stories as a boy, while the moths flutter into the porchlight. When George grew up he founded the storytelling movement/institution/ organisation called The Moth. This bus, and the tour, is George's idea too.

 Edgar Oliver's story shows Edgar and his mother and sister, and painted next to it, the opening of one of Edgar's stories about Savannah, and his childhood. Edgar is from Savannah, and he lives in New York, but his accent is unlike anyone else's, probably in the world: it is musical and it is theatrical and it is unplaceable, vowel sounds that are English or Eastern European.

The bus is a storytelling bus. Every day – sometimes twice in a day – the bus will come to rest and we will tell our stories.

I am here because George asked me to come, and it seemed like an interesting way to spend nine days of my life.

Last night I told a story about chains: about my dog, who spent the first three years of his life on four foot of chain, and about the chains that bind us, and about love, which, only after I told it, I realised was peculiarly appropriate, given the name of the tour. It's called Unchained.

I was really nervous: one reason I was nervous was that I hadn't told the story before, or even rehearsed it. (The rehearsing time had been eaten because the bus had blown a tyre on its way to Columbia, where I was connecting with it.) But once I started telling the story, it seemed to work. People listened.

I haven't done anything to promote that I'm on the tour so far, mostly because I didn't want to change the nature of the tour or the audiences too much by being here. It's not a Neil Gaiman show or a Neil Gaiman tour: it's the Unchained tour, and I'm just one of the storytellers, and that is the way I like it and was the reason I agreed to come out.

The tour has pretty much sold out without me saying anything. Right now there are only two venues with any real tickets left for sale (Charlotte SC and Charleston NC) and a couple of venues with a handful of tickets left. is the website with the venues on it.

(It may say Over 18 Only on the website, but they are fine with under 18s turning up - they just wanted to make it clear that this wasn't an event for kids.)

I am typing this as we chug down the freeway from Columbia to Spartanburg. I'm happy: there are nice people around, and a table in the bus I can type at. I have lots of things to write, and it's always good to write with people around you, all of them working on their own projects, or reading, or talking. There's a No Internet on The Bus rule too, which I may break in a moment, and put this up. Or I may enjoy the No Internet rule, and wait until we get to where we are going, and find a coffee-shop instead.

There is no air-conditioning. Instead we are driving through a hot day with the windows of the bus rolled down, and we are cool, and there is a breeze, and tonight we will sit in a room in Spartanburg (“It's called Sparkle City,” said someone this morning, "and Hub City".) and we will tell true stories about our lives, of our childhoods or our longings and desires, our fears, and there will be music, and we will feel human.

Someone came back to the Green Room last night after the show and handed me some comics he had written. “These are for you,” he said. “Because stories... I guess, stories are the nearest thing I have to a religion.”

“Me too,” I said. “Me too.”

If you are in the area, come on down to the shows, if they are not already sold out. Last night's was very sold out. Someone Twittered this photograph of a sign at the front of the line to get in. 

I promise you nothing except stories.

(This is me not working yet while Jose, who is driving the bus, does something that makes the bus go.)

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On the road

I am on the road, on a bus, with a band of storytelling reprobates, in, right now, South Carolina. This is the bus. 

Monday, September 03, 2012

Hugo is The Doctor's Wife

Yesterday I flew to Chicago,

I had my photo taken with the other nominees

I believe Dan Harmon (L) brought the Darkest Timeline instant goatees (well, vandykes)

I went to the Hugo Award ceremonies, brilliantly moderated by John Scalzi, a man who needs his own TV show...

...and collected the Hugo Award for my Doctor Who episode, THE DOCTOR'S WIFE.

(In this photo by David Dyer-Bennet I appear to have wandered in from a different, much more sinister, awards ceremony...)

I'm hoping that Chicon 7 will put the awards ceremony up online -- or even better, put the individual speeches up on YouTube. (They streamed them, but the stream was turned off by copyright 'bots just before I started speaking, so unless it goes up somewhere you'll never hear about what I thought of the Inspector Spacetime spin-off Community, or about the 1965 Doctor Who episode "Awards Ceremony of the Daleks".)

I went to the room parties (including the Hugo Losers Party. It's always a bit nerve-wracking going there, when you've actually won. I expect to be debagged or covered in custard or something.) The entire wonderful Scalzi family, mother-in-law Vera included, acted as my escort, help and bodyguard. This is about as cool as it gets.

I got four hours sleep. I flew back to Albany, while my Hugo was taken home without me in a TARDIS-blue car with the license plate IDRIS. Can anything be more appropriate?

Thank you to Idris-owner Steven Manfred, who has by now answered at least two thousand Doctor Who questions from me, and is always there when I come up with a new bunch of questions.

And it feels so strange to be writing that my episode of Doctor Who won a Hugo Award. I remember when I was predicting on this blog that The Girl in the Fireplace and Blink would win Hugos. And they did...

And I did mention during my awards speech that only a madman or a fool would tempt fate by doing it again, having won. And that I am now on my third draft...

PS: A reminder that I'm reading a brand spanking new story on Wednesday the 5th at 6pm at the Sosnoff Theatre at Bard College. Which is in the general neighbourhood of Poughkeepsie, NY. Please come and listen.

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