Yesterday I drove for 2.5 hours (there was gnarly traffic on Highway 37) to get to Santa Rosa. My ultimate destination: An Evening with Neil Gaiman: The Last US Signing Tour for the recently released novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Ocean).
I met up with my good friend Kim at her house where we caught up and talked about Neil Gaiman, Amanda Palmer, several of his books, nerves and many other things. About 4:30 we left her house to head to the theater. We were giddy and nervous and excited. We enjoyed our time in line people watching and checking out the ‘other item’ that people had brought for Neil to sign. There were many copies of American Gods (which Kim had), several Stardust novels, Good Omens, Anansi Boys, Stories (the edited anthology), and lots of Sandman (and Death) related books.
We entered the theater very shortly after the doors opened at 5:30 and took seats five rows from the front on the left hand side of the stage. An hour later, Neil took the stage. He was entertaining and engaging and utterly fantastic. He read from Ocean, answered several questions and tied in wonderful personal anecdotes.
- His favorite Muppet is The Great Gonzo.
- Shirley Maclaine once pulled his hair to see if it was real.
- When he was 9, he had a lisp and went to elocution lessons to correct it (and then continued the lessons for about five years).
- Of his beekeeping: “Everyone should have a hobby that could kill them.”
- Patrick Troughton is his ‘Doctor.’
- He’s always afraid the fraud police are going to show up.
Then he read from his upcoming book, Fortunately, the Milk. It was hilarious! I will definitely be pre-ordering that (so I can be one of the adults ‘secretly reading a kids book’). Neil spoke to us on stage for about an hour and a half. Then the signing began.
Kim and I were lucky enough to receive a signing pass with the letter ‘E’. We knew we had some time to wait but not too much. I brought a deck of cards so we proceeded to play a couple rounds of rummy before switching to the less complicated game of Crazy Eights. We had a blast playing cards and people watching and every once and awhile stopping and staring in awe at Neil signing away. And soon ‘E’ was called to line up. We were herded like cattle and Copperfield Books staff guided us and prepared everyone’s books for signing (making sure a post-it note with correctly spelled names was inserted in the one book to be personalized, opening all the books to the right page to be signed, etc.).
I brought my copy of The Ocean at the End of the Lane to be signed and personalized, several more copies of the book to be signed and gifted, and my (very heavy) copy of Absolute Sandman, Volume 1. Kim had brought her copy of American Gods (formerly my copy) and her copy of Ocean.
She went first, but we were essentially together. Neil looked up at her as he began to sign her books and commented on her height. She said she was tall like a tree. And he called her lovely. We both kind of spazzed out and rambled a bit.
He started drawing a strange monster into her copy of Ocean instead of just personalizing it. And for some reason I started telling Neil about the fact that her copy of American Gods used to be mine….but now it’s hers. He commented that books tend to find their home and whom they belong with. That was such a lovely comment and it really is true. He finished the little creature in her book, signed ‘Love Neil Gaiman’, and then signed her copy of American Gods.
He then moved on to my books. He started with my copy of Ocean and I pulled out two boxes of tea I had brought to give him. He began to tell me that he was very grateful because he was without his luggage and as a consequence had no tea due to the recent events related to air travel. I had no idea what ‘recent travel incident’ he was talking about because I had been traveling myself and had not been following any news updates (I discovered later that night he was referring to the terrible crash at SFO). But I kept smiling goofily while I tried to process what he was saying. It dawned on me that he was telling me he had no tea until I gave him some.
My smile just kept growing bigger as I processed what he said and as he thanked me for the tea. He drew a heart in my copy of Ocean, proceeded to sign the other copies of Ocean, and then moved on to my Sandman. He looked back up at me and asked if that was mine too. I told him yes and so he said he would break the rules and personalize that too just for the tea. But not only did he personalize and sign it, He freaking drew Sandman!!
But Neil was done signing for us and we were ushered away to keep the signing procession moving. Kim and I were both in shock and as soon as we were outside the theater we began to repeat everything Neil said and did and talk about the things he drew for us. By the time we got back to the car we were squealing and dying to open our books in the light of the parking garage. We then proceeded to take photos of our books and ourselves with the giant smiles and shocked expressions of people who still hadn’t fully processed all that just happened. After taking many photos (and frantically posting them on social media sites), we finally settled enough to actually drive home, but we continued to talk and replay the events of the evening. It was magical and everything I wanted it to be and more.
Eventually, we got back to Kim’s house, ate like starving people and then proceeded to watch Blink (a Doctor Who episode for those who don’t know – and if you are one of those people – Go watch it!).
It’s been a full 24 hours and I’m still having trouble relating what my evening with Neil Gaiman means to me. Neil Gaiman has inspired me in so many different ways and across many different media. His work conveys so much feeling and depth. He is a gracious, intelligent man who appreciates his fans. I am so grateful I was able to spend an evening with him. And I am even more grateful I was able to share the experience with an amazing friend. I will remember and think fondly of the event (and cherish my signed copies of Ocean and Sandman) for many years to come.