Saturday, August 15, 2009

What's all this about Neil Gaiman?

Okay… I know many who read my blog are already SF/F/H readers/geeks/fans/etc… so Gaiman's awesomeness may be self-evident.

But not to everyone.

In short: Neil Gaiman is a highly intelligent and gifted writer who has done amazing work crossing the boundaries of genre, media, and literary in ways that may require non-Euclidian geometry. Most agree he's also an attractive person - appearance-wise as well as personality-wise. (But not more than my existing Husband of Awesome, sorry, Mr. Gaiman.) He treats colleagues and fans with respect and shares his world liberally through social media… which also creates an illusion of familiarity. (We know what he feeds his dog, for example, and that his youngest daughter loves the Jonas Brothers, and that he's madly in love with girlfriend Amanda Palmer.) You can find out more on his website: or his Twitter feed: @neilhimself

All that aside… This is why _I_ am a fan.

I returned to school after leaving a rather unfulfilling job of 3 years in the financial industry. I never finished grad school, however… and compared to my excellence in undergrad (Commonwealth Scholar of not one but TWO majors and a minor in Spanish - all in 4 years), my grad school work was lacking, painful… and made me for the first time in my life HATE writing.

It was depressing.

There was one highlight, though: Gothic Lit. It wasn't the only course I earned an A in, but it was the hardest course I earned an A in (one of only 2 As, I may add…)

Crux: One assignment required analysis of something modern that was clearly influenced by original Gothic literature.

I announced this to the H-of-A, who promptly dropped on my desk the first four graphic novels of Neil Gaiman's The Sandman.

I know I'm not the only one who can say they were changed forever by this series… I don't know if people were changed quite the same.

In essence, I found my "mojo." I gave a fabulous analytical presentation of Preludes & Nocturnes, and then turned around and did my final project on purposeful ambiguity in A Game of You, Seasons of Mist, and Ann Radcliffe's The Italian.

Honestly, it was the only paper I was truly happy writing for this whole time; it returned my confidence. All my other assignments, and especially my thesis, were bringing me to tears. I got lost in the world of Sandman for a few years, taking its lead and making some major life changes. People started paying me to write, so I put my efforts there and never finished my thesis. I don't regret it.

Fast forward through reading anything else by Gaiman I could get my hands on… and onto Worldcon Anticipation's Call for Papers that appeared in my inbox.

I already knew Gaiman was one of the Guests of Honor, and I absolutely wanted to see him. I'd worked my way onto other convention participant lists by now… but this was the World Science Fiction Convention! Could I get in here? I knew my paper was good from college - but that wasn't saying much since general academic writing now terrified me; I was convinced I couldn't do it well. Determined to defy my evil inner-critic, I tweaked my idea about ambiguity and narrowed the topic to A Game of You, based on excellent feedback from my education colleagues.

The paper was accepted. I was going to be participating in SOMETHING for the World Science Fiction Convention! I was stunned.

Fast Forward to months of stressful writing and revising… feel free to peruse back-blogs if you want to hear pieces of it. ;) I put an awful lot of work into that paper to get it perfect - after all, I "wasn't good" at academic writing. I even asked DC Comics' permission to use art from A Game of You and had a minor squee when given permission. (OMG - a letter from DC Comics in my mailbox!) My ever-patient and supportive friends put up with sending me feedback - up to and through the convention. My roommates listened to me practice presenting.

I ran into Gaiman in the Green Room the first day of the convention. We chatted a moment and I asked if he would be coming to the Academic presentation about him. He checked his schedule and his handler reminded him he had Hugo rehearsal at that time… He kindly said that if he got out early, he might stop in, but also explained that prior academic papers he'd attended had left people anxious - and him stuck in a position of wanting to address when someone missed a point or something. We parted, as I had hands full of lunch-to-go and a friend of his was awaiting him at one of the tables.

It was an entirely professional-feeling encounter with a hero - pretty durned cool!

And when I got back to the room to hear my room-mate had caught him after his first panel and received a hug, I was unprofessionally jealous.

The rest of the convention had me scheduled against just about any chance I might have of running into him again. I traveled the entire convention carrying A Game of You in hopes of a chance encounter when I did not see him in a rush or engaged.

Sunday came. My schedule was pretty cemented and there WAS NO chance for me to catch Gaiman again at any panel, signing, or even if I beat the 1-in-a-few-hundred chance of getting into his Kaffeeklasch. My presentation was that day, the big party was that night, I just finished a 9AM panel after over a week of nights consisting of only 3-4 hours of sleep, and I was dragging my feet back to the hotel knowing I still had to pack and move and unpack…. I was a royal mess of anxiety mixed with a little despair.

I saw him about midway between the convention center and the hotel. He was walking at a leisurely pace.

Face & courage painted on (not unlike Barbie from A Game of You) as is my usual convention adornment, I asked him if he had a moment… he said he did and wasn't in a rush. I pulled out A Game of You and explained I was presenting an academic paper on it that very afternoon and asked him to sign it for me. He asked me about the paper, and I shared my thesis and a point or two, and he said it was interesting and asked if I'd seen some of the art changes in Absolute Sandman (the point I brought up was how the art creates ambiguity in places by contradicting narrative). I had not… he explained some of it while signing. (Wicked cool… must obtain copies when I have $ again… (self note, not said aloud).) He then wished me luck on the paper presentation. Feeling very shy, I asked for a hug and he gave me one. I thanked him and floated back to the hotel.

I didn't think to ask for a picture; I didn't want to be overbearing. Here's two I took with the not-so-fabulous throwaway camera… one is of the signing (and actually, Ana took it for me), and the other is at his fandom panel where he was requested to veer from his normal all-black attire and wear a Hawaiian shirt. Very cute!

His wish of Good Luck was fulfilled… the paper presentation - and the rest of the convention - rose beyond my highest expectations.

Gaiman wrote a blog entry on meeting one's heroes (which, for the life of me, I can't find the link on either his blog or mine - & I know I referenced it before): The general problem of turning fellow human beings into heroes; most are regular people, and those heroes he met became friends. While I'd love to share beer or tea with Gaiman and talk shop (on all writing including journalism, poetry, fiction & comic books); discuss mythology, fairy tales, and fandom; share sadness over deceased fathers (his died almost exactly 6 months after mine)… and I'd imagined - or dreamed - such… it would not be. Not with 3,000 others clamoring for just a moment, just a signature or just….

After all, so many of us feel like friends thanks to the magic of social media.

So, he stays (just?) a hero - but one who lives up to his reputation of being very sweet, very intelligent. And also very good at giving hugs and helping manifest dreams.

Thanks, Neil - er - Mr. Gaiman!


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