I discovered the otherworldly author Neil Gaiman in 2009 while watching this short introduction to the stop-motion animated film Coraline, which is based on his book by the same name.
Gaiman’s elucidation of Koumpounophobia (fear of buttons) is intentionally reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s beloved opening monologues for his brilliant series Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The playfully foreboding tone Gaiman exudes in this video reminds me of the stories I used to conjure when I was a little girl to scare my friends and family. To me, the best stories are a mixture of light and dark, heroes and monsters, the living and the dead. Just a spoonful of the macabre helps any story go down.
After reading Gaiman’s award-winning novel, American Gods, I fell completely in love with his style of writing. His books are clever, charming, peculiar, captivating, and unsettling in the most amazing ways. They are dripping with nostalgia, often alluding to mythology and literary classics – a mixture of the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Homer, and Joseph Campbell. When I read his books, I feel as though Gaiman is wandering deep inside the dark cavern of my own imagination with a flashlight, illuminating my perception of reality, time, memories, and space while simultaneously casting terrifying shadows upon them. It is as if his universe exists inside of mine. I have no doubt that all of his other loyal readers feel the same way.
Thanks to an unbelievable stroke of luck, Gaiman came to the Santa Rosa Theater this July on his Farewell Book Signing Tour. The event sold out quickly, but my good friend Meghan purchased tickets just in time. It was an early birthday present and one I will never forget!
Over 1,500 people packed the theater, clutching their treasured copies of Gaiman’s books and anxiously awaiting his appearance. I saw many copies of American Gods, Stardust, Good Omens, The Graveyard Book, Anansi Boys, The Ocean At The End of the Lane, and The Sandman.
When Gaiman came to the stage we gave him a standing ovation, to which he responded with a smile and a gesture for us to sit down already.
He was humble and open about his writing process and success. He explained that, like most writers, he suffers from “Impostor Syndrome” and is convinced that at any moment the Fraud Police will show up and take him away. He told us a story about how Shirley Maclaine once pulled his hair to see if it was real. He joked about his beekeeping hobby, exclaiming “everyone should have a hobby that could kill them!” Then he read from The Ocean At The End Of The Lane and his upcoming book, Fortunately, the Milk. I was laughing and smiling so much that my face hurt.
After that, he promised to sign everyone’s book - all 1,500+ of us. We were grouped by letters and after a couple hours of waiting, our group letter was called and we were quickly herded towards the signing table.
As we edged closer to him, I watched him sign books and make quick chit-chat with fans. He was very warm and gracious. Then it was my turn. When Neil Gaiman and I locked eyes he said, “My, you’re lovely!” I was shocked and overwhelmed. He proceeded to comment on my height and aura (I was tall enough to block the bright lights aimed directly at him on the stage).
I’d like to tell you that I said something clever in that moment, that my brain sifted through all the fragments of my observations, witticisms, and wisdom – separating coarse particles of banality from the fine powder of brilliance – and isolated a golden nugget of a reply. One of my favorite writers of all time was sitting within my reach. He was looking right at me. He had just paid *ME* a compliment. So what did I do? In a fit of joyful bewilderment, I presented him with my best Jazz Hands (with only ONE of my hands, mind you) and replied, “I am like a lovely tree.” Yes, that moment turned me into a moderately hysterical, flustered mess. I am still embarassed.
Thankfully, my awkward and embarassing reaction made him smile. I must have done something right because instead of just signing my book, he proceeded to draw me an original tree monster ghost. He also wrote “Love, Neil Gaiman.”
It was the most surreal and overwhelmingly awesome moment of my life!
I stood there, dazed, and watched as Meghan had a similarly amazing experience. She brought him special tea from Disneyland. He smiled and explained that he was very grateful because he was without his luggage due to unfortunate events related to air travel and, as a consequence, was without his tea. He then drew Sandman inside her copy of The Sandman and proceeded to autograph all of her books.
Before we knew it, we were ushered away. The show must go on, or rather, the signing procession had to keep moving. Meghan and I were still in a state of enchantment as we left the theater. It was like waking up from a beautiful dream only to discover that you are holding an object that proved the dream wasn’t a dream afterall. We felt invigorated and overwhelmed with happiness. I have no doubt that we will always cherish our signed and personalized books, and I look forward to reading more from this amazing man. Sometimes meeting an idol is better than you can imagine. It certainly was in our case!