Sometimes, you need to embrace your fan side. Imagine how boring life would be if we all hid our excitement about the things we loved, from books or writers to science or philosophy. It’s our enthusiasm for the things we love that helps us connect with other people who share that love or leads to new people discovering those things for the first time. There’s nothing like watching someone’s face light up when they find out you like the same thing(s) they do.
In that spirit, I am an unabashed fan of Neil Gaiman. He’s an author that I admire greatly, not only for his books but also for his online presence, the advice he gives and the tidbits of his life he shares. He has a wonderful imagination that comes across in all aspects of his interactions with his fans. However, the first time I saw him this year, which was also the first time I’ve ever seen him in person, was entirely by accident. I attended the Evening of Awesome at Carnegie Hall (hosted by John Green, another author I admire, and his equally awesome brother, Hank), at which Neil Gaiman was a surprise guest.
I’ve seen Neil Gaiman twice since then, both times intentional and at his own book signing events. But the most recent one was just this past week, and it was beyond amazing. There is nothing better for an aspiring writer than to hear an author you admire talk about writing. Gaiman has a new book out, and he read two passages from the book in addition to answering questions from the crowd and having a conversation with the host, author Erin Morgenstern.
Hearing about a successful writer’s process, inspiration and random thoughts is valuable in myriad ways, and if there’s any author I would sit and listen to for hours, it would probably be Neil Gaiman (although it’s a tough choice between a few other writers, including John Green). Every answer he gives, even to the question “What is your favorite cheese?” (yes, someone asked that), becomes a story, just a little tale that he weaves for the audience. The best part is that it is not intentional—by that I mean it is clearly not rehearsed. Storytelling is a part of Gaiman, a part of his life, and he delights in it, and that enthusiasm transfers to his audience.
My favorite part of his conversation, though, was when he talked about how all of his stories have bits of truth in them. Many people wondered if his newest book, which is fiction, was comprised of true memories of his from childhood. Gaiman went on to describe it like a mosaic, how it is a full picture from far away but when you get up close you see the individual squares making up the whole image. In most of his stories, he said, only the red squares are true, and they’re sprinkled sparingly throughout the larger picture. But there is truth in the larger image—just not very much.
He also talked a lot about the process of writing The Ocean at the End of the Lane and how it differed from when he wrote his other novels. That’s a subcategory of talking about process that fascinates me: how the process changes not just over time but for each story an author writes. So much that we consider to be static in life ends up being fluid in the most wonderful ways, and the same is true for writing. Everything from grammar rules to how organized or disorganized you are can be flexible depending on what the story requires. I think this interest in how things are changed by circumstance or time explains why I tend to favor character-driven stories.
Anyway, the point here is not for me to brag or revel in my admiration for Neil Gaiman. If you are a writer or just an avid reader, I think it’s important to go to these types of events, even if you never work up the courage to ask a question yourself. Aside from being fun, there is great value in sitting and listening to someone you admire talk about how and why they do what they do. Not in the sense that they might offer overt advice on success or anything so mundane; instead, what they say will most likely give you new things to think about or different ways to approach something in your own life. At the end of the event, you’ll be a slightly different person than you were before, and there’s nothing that’s more thrilling.
Each time I’ve seen Neil Gaiman, I’ve come away with something intangible but wonderful, and because of that I hope I’ll be able to see him many more times in the years to come.