He's calling it his "Last U.S. Signing Tour," but novelist Neil Gaiman assured the crowd Monday night at Bloomington Jefferson High School that this doesn't mean he'll never tour again. It means, he said, that he's unlikely to do readings and signings again, because the signings can go on and on and on.
"Last night [in Ann Arbor, Mich.] I finished signing at three in the morning," he said. By the time he was done, "Everything hurt. My brain hurt. I could no longer spell common names, like 'Dave.' "
Everything Gaiman said drew warmth and laughter and applause from the devoted audience in Bloomington. Gaiman is a Brit who now lives in western Wisconsin, and Bloomington, after all, was practically home. An "American Gods" miniseries is in the works, Gaiman said, and the room clapped. "The Graveyard Book" is being turned into a movie. More enthusiastic applause. "My dog is hanging around back stage," he said, and the crowd pretty much wanted, as one, to go back stage and pet Lola. (His other dog, Cabal, died in January, he told the crowd, and the crowd nearly wept.)
Gaiman spoke to a capacity crowd at an event sponsored by Barnes & Noble Galleria and meant to promote his new novel, "The Ocean at the End of the Lane." Before reading, he asked for a show of hands--how many have read the book? About half of the people in the audience had--which meant that half had not.
("The Ocean at the End of the Lane" is a lovely, mysterious book about a man who goes back to his childhood home and begins to remember the odd things that happened when he was 7.
So Gaiman read an early scene, in which the 7-year-old protagonist faces his disappointments (burned toast, a missing comic book) sadly and stoically, juxtaposed against the larger problems of the adult world (missing car, dead body).
The book, Gaiman said, came about by accident. "It's the first time I ever wrote a book by accident," he said. "Normally, I write books on purpose." But Gaiman was in Florida, writing an episode of "Dr. Who," and his wife, musician Amanda Palmer, was in Australia, cutting an album. "I missed my wife," he said simply. "I thought, I know what I'll do--I'll write her a short story."
Palmer doesn't much like fantasy, Gaiman said; she likes books with feeling. "I haven't done a lot of feelings, because I'm English, and I'm male." But he sat down to write the short story ... and it turned into novelette ... which turned into a novella ... which turned into a novel.
After the reading, after answering questions (including, "If you were a superhero, what would you have on your tool belt?", to which Gaiman replied, "If I were a superhero, I wouldn't be the kind who wore a tool belt. I would be the kind with flowing robes and a book"), Gaiman held up a sheaf of papers. It was, he said, his next book--"Fortunately, the Milk," which will be published in September. Normally, Gaiman said, he only reads this book in fabulous venues, "But I figger this is my home team." And the crowd roared with delight. "And because you are my home team, I know you will be nice," he said.
"Fortunately, the Milk" is a hilarious story--at least, the part he read aloud was hilarious--about the adventures of a dad who steps out to buy some milk for his children's cereal. It involved a pirate ship, and a pirate queen, and a hot-air balloon, and the bottle of milk safely tucked in the father's pocket. The crowd roared with delight.
And when Gaiman was done, he got what few authors ever get: A standing O. Because, of course, this was his home team, and they knew it. Oh, boy, did they know it.
[Photo: Jeff Wheeler]