If nobody minds, I may try and gather up all the asks and answers about writing so far and put them up in a big blog post - or several big blog posts — over at Neilgaiman.com. Mostly because I’m now seeing a lot of heartfelt questions coming in that I’ve already answered here on Tumblr.
Neil, I'm sorry for asking this once before, but your pashmob for Amanda was just about the most romantic thing I’ve seen in my life and I’m wondering if you’d help me do something similarly lovely for my girlfriend. She will turn 20 on May 13th and nothing would make her happier than getting to hang out with a few pugs that afternoon. Will you post this in the hopes that some Manhattan-area pug-owning Neil Gaiman fans will reach out to me before then via tumblr, so we can arrange a meet-up?
So if anyone out there
a) has a pug
b) wants to make someone’s girlfriend happy on her birthday
I had an argument with a friend of mine about a topic concern comics and I thinked, "well, why not ask Neil about it? Sometimes he answer!" So, here's the question: I believe you should have answered this before, but, in your vision, comics are an Art, like the "9th Art" and stuff? If yes/no, why?
I think that one was pretty definitively settled by Gilbert Seldes in 1923 in his book The Seven Lively Arts. The chapter on Krazy Kat and comics, and why it’s an artform is wiser and more exhaustive than anything I’m going to write here on Tumblr 90 years later.
How do you feel about killing beloved characters in stories? Philosophically, I suppose. Does it cheaply play off of emotions, or do you find it good to keep your readers on their toes?
You tell stories. As in reality, if the stories keep going long enough, people will die. Also, normally before they die people will make love, eat things, possibly even use the bathroom, fight, argue, cry, laugh or play the bassoon.
You tell the stories as best you can. Asking “cheap emotion or keeping readers on their toes” seems to me like asking a chef “So. Using tomatoes in a dish. Do you do it because the red reminds you of blood or because the tomatoes have to be used up or they’ll be thrown away?” It sort of misses the point about why a chef is using tomatoes in a recipe.
Obviously, when a beloved character dies, it will create a different emotional effect on a reader (and on a writer) than if someone nobody cares about dies. But it’s also true that you can sometimes create a beloved character in a handful of words.
Do you have specific music you listen to while writing? Or do you prefer to write in silence? (PS- did I see you at Fuji Ya Sushi in St. Paul a few weeks ago? If not, there is a man in the Twin Cities who is your perfect doppelganger.)
I like music while I work, although I’m getting pickier about what the music is. I used to need things with lyrics, and now I find lyrics are getting more distracting.
And I can write in silence. Or with people talking in the background.
I used to like writing with the TV on for company, late at night, but I seem to have lost that as an ability - I can’t process both streams of information any longer. At a guess, it’s an aging thing.
And yes, that was me in Fuiji Ya. I was about to record SWEEPER OF DREAMS at K.N.O.W, over the road.
I have been working on a fictional story, it is great. (I feel that it is) You are my favorite author. I hope that you can tell me what is the best way to get published. I am extremely passionate about becoming an author like yourself. Wish to live up to your hype. Please help?
Go and read the archives of the journal at neilgaiman.com. There’s about 2 million words there, and a lot of it is advice for writers. There are lengthy entries on how to be published. They are much more complete than anything I could write this morning.
And I most definitely do not want to live up to my hype.
Hello--would you rather we call you Neil, or Mr. Gaiman? Or something else entirely. I always find that when I become familiar with artists' work I start to call them by their first names, but then there is this constant awkwardness in my brain over whether or not the artist would be okay with that. Thank you!
I really enjoy your work, although I have only read and seen a small selection so far. The first book of yours I read was The Graveyard Book for a Children's Literature course. It was my favorite book from that whole class. I have one question that we couldn't quite decide on during our class discussion, we were of a split opinion: did you base it on The Jungle Book? It seemed so to me, a boy raise in an other-than-human environment, and the title seemed a clue.
That is probably because you did not all read the acknowledgments at the back of the book, where I thank Rudyard Kipling and talk about the debt that The Graveyard Book owes to The Jungle Book.
I always recommend reading acknowledgments, introductions, author biographies, even the thing that tells you what type something was set in. You can learn stuff, and also crazed authors such as for example myself sometimes hide additional stories in them.
Mr. Gaiman, I'll be short and straight to the point: Are you done with the comic book industry? Not that I'm complaining about your books because I'm a big fan.
Not as far as I know. There is a limit to how many things I can do at once, obviously. But I’m sure that, sooner or later, I will write more comics, just as I am sure that sooner or later I will write more TV scripts or more poems.
Hi, Neil. I am currently in the middle of studying The Watchmen in my modern literature class (which is by far one of my favorite novels), and my teacher is basically implying that because it is a "graphic novel/comic book" it should not be considered "real literature". Any suggestions or points you have on trying to convince my overly pretentious teacher otherwise?
I wouldn’t bother. “Never try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and it annoys the pig,” as Robert Heinlein once said.
I mean, you could ask your teacher to explain why Watchmen’s on the syllabus, if it’s not real literature. Or why TIME picked it as one of the 100 best novels of the Twentieth Century, but that will probably just make your teacher even more defensive. And mostly you’ll just be trying to explain to someone who is color blind why red is a really nice colour.
(About twenty years ago I was on a flight to the US, and sat next to an English professor at some middle-range US university, and we talked about books, because I love talking about books. And his specialty was early twentieth century literature, and I thought our conversation was going to be so much fun, until I realized that he really didn’t know any authors who he didn’t teach. He could talk Hemingway or Fizgerald, but as soon as I started mentioning authors equally as interesting out of the canon, and I was sticking to American authors because he was, you know, American, he started looking hunted; and I felt a little sorry for his students, but only a little, because even a bad teacher can’t stop you reading in your own time.)
Hi Neil. I'm getting married in December and my fiance and I are having trouble selecting a reading for the ceremony (we need at least two). Do you have anything you'd recommend, either written by you or someone else?
I keep hearing from people that they are reading “The Day The Saucers Came” at their weddings, which always makes me smile.
I’ve not written much about weddings, although I wrote this for my friends Mark and Irma when they got married, and read it at their wedding…
This for you, for both of you,
a small poem of happiness filled with small glories and little triumphs a fragile, short cheerful song filled with hope and all sorts of futures
Because at weddings we imagine the future Because it’s all about “what happened next?” all the work and negotiation and building and talk that makes even the tiniest happily ever after something to be proud of for a wee forever
This is a small thought for both of you like a feather or a prayer, a wish of trust and love and hope and fine brave hearts and true.
Like a tower, or a house made all of bones and dreams and tomorrows and tomorrows and tomorrows
I was wondering how many people on the planet know who the Forgotten God is. I don`t want to know who it is, but what I really just want to know is the amount of people who actually know the real answer. (I am lying, of course I want to know who it is. Every soul who has read American Gods is curious.)
If I die tomorrow and anyone says “I know! He told me [at a signing!/after I saved his life in Tangiers!/while we here having sex!/because he was drunk!]” that person is lying. Also, I have never been to Tangiers.
There are about 5,300 ASK messages right now sitting in the queue. Which is why yours hasn’t been answered, I expect.
One question I keep seeing over and again, even more than “What MFA program should I do?” (I do not answer this, because my answer would probably be: “I have no idea. I never did an MFA program. I just wrote stuff.”) is, over and over, a variant on “How can I possibly be original? The stories I want to tell have already been told.”
Because sometimes you do not have to be original, as answers have already been given, I will answer with a quote from an essay by John Barth, who points out that our worrying that what we are writing is not new is, well, not new:
Once upon a time, perusing a book about the Egyptian Middle Kingdom, I noted that some twelve centuries before Homer, in about 2000 B.C.E., the scribe Khakheperresenb was already voicing what I like to call Khakheperresenb’s Complaint: “Would I had phrases that are not known,” the scribe laments, “in new language that has not been used not an utterance which has grown stale, which men of old have spoken.” I used to comfort my students (and myself) with the reflection that for all we know, two or three millennia of sea and sunrise metaphors might be like the first few million stars in our galaxy—a mere drop in the bucket!—while at the same time acknowledging that Khakheperresenb’s feeling of having arrived late to the party is not to be dismissed. …
If I could time-travel back to the Egyptian Middle Kingdom, I would console Khakheperresenb with the familiar paraphrase of Walt Whitman: “Do I repeat myself? Very well then, I repeat myself.” Or André Gide’s comforting remark, “Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again.” Originality, after all, includes not only saying something for the first time, but re-saying (in a worthy new way) the already said: rearranging an old tune in a different key, to a different rhythm, perhaps on a different instrument. Has that been said before? No matter: on with the story!
As well as any couple can when half of the couple is making a new record in Melbourne, Australia and has a head that is completely full of band and new record songs, and the other half of the couple is sequestered at a friend’s empty house in Florida mostly trying to figure out if the thing he’s writing is for kids or adults, while continuing to write it anyway.
Which is to say, we’re doing fine, but I miss her. And I’m pretty sure she misses me.
Neil, I have found that when one is in possession of a good book that happens to have some steamy bits in it (such as American Gods), and is in the company of parents/small children, and said parents/small children come across the book and open it at random, they will almost always land directly on the page with the steamy bits. This occurrence is invariably awkward for all involved parties, and is not limited to just the book used as an example. Your thoughts on this phenomenon?
It’s like the way that if a long movie or even 24 hour long TV marathon has only one steamy sex scene in it, it will come on at the exact moment that your parent or child sits down next to you and says, “What are you watching?”
I assume it’s because the universe has a sense of humour.
How do you get over the fear of failing? I've always wanted to be a writer, but I have never really started anything with substance because I'm afraid of writing something that won't work or that I'll look back on with shame because it didn't amount to everything I always hoped my work would be. I know that this will probably evoke the, "just write" respose, but I guess I just wondered if every artist hesitates to create for fear that they'll make shit instead of beauty, or if I'm just a coward.
Yes, it happens for all of us.
No, your work will probably never be as good in reality, for you, as the perfect wonderful glittering brilliant thing it was in your head when you imagined it.
But other people do not know what you imagined. They only know what they read or see or hear, and for them, the thing you have made may well be wonderful.
And if you fail… is it that bad? Nothing wrong with failing. We do it all the time. At least three stories by me are so utterly rubbish I’ve never collected them. You don’t set out to make bad art, but if you are going to make art, not everything will be perfect, or even good.
You’re not a coward. Just a human being. The alternative is arrogance, and I’d take humanity over that any day.
Except you need a little arrogance, to believe that what you want to say is worth saying. Or that people would want to listen.
I wrote a Sandman short story once, called FEAR OF FALLING, about this. It was me sorting out how I thought and felt about fear of failing, and worse, fear of succeeding. It’s in the Fables and Reflections collection. Some people have told me that it helped them, and I’ve seen phrases from it tattooed on people’s backs and arms.
And, as I said in Coraline, bravery doesn’t mean you aren’t scared. (We’re all scared.) Bravery is being scared, but doing the work anyway.
It’s called The Imperfect Enjoyment, and is by John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (1 April 1647 – 26 July 1680).
I put a link up to it rather than post the text here, because it’s definitely a Not Safe For Work poem. The language was rude then and remains rude now. And as for the rant at his penis for betraying him… well….
But it would make me sad if World Poetry Day was too safe, and filled only with poems that didn’t make one blink.
Republicans have morality upside down. Santorum, Gingrich, and even Romney are barnstorming across the land condemning gay marriage, abortion, out-of-wedlock births, access to contraception, and the wall separating church and state.
But America’s problem isn’t a breakdown in private morality. It’s a breakdown in public morality. What Americans do in their bedrooms is their own business. What corporate executives and Wall Street financiers do in boardrooms and executive suites affects all of us.
There is moral rot in America but it’s not found in the private behavior of ordinary people. It’s located in the public behavior of people who control our economy and are turning our democracy into a financial slush pump. It’s found in Wall Street fraud, exorbitant pay of top executives, financial conflicts of interest, insider trading, and the outright bribery of public officials through unlimited campaign “donations.”
Political scientist James Q. Wilson, who died last week, noted that a broken window left unattended signals that no one cares if windows are broken. It becomes an ongoing invitation to throw more stones at more windows, ultimately undermining moral standards of the entire community
The windows Wall Street broke in the years leading up to the crash of 2008 remain broken. Despite financial fraud on a scale not seen in this country for more than eighty years, not a single executive of a major Wall Street bank has been charged with a crime.
Since 2009, the Securities and Exchange Commission has filed 25 cases against mortgage originators and securities firms. A few are still being litigated but most have been settled. They’ve generated almost $2 billion in penalties and other forms of monetary relief, according to the Commission. But almost none of this money has come out of the pockets of CEOs or other company officials; it has come out of the companies — or, more accurately, their shareholders. Federal prosecutors are now signaling they won’t even bring charges in the brazen case of MF Global, which lost billions of dollars that were supposed to be kept safe.
Nor have any of the lawyers, accountants, auditors, or top executives of credit-rating agencies who aided and abetted Wall Street financiers been charged with doing anything wrong.
And the new Dodd-Frank law that was supposed to prevent this from happening again is now so riddled with loopholes, courtesy of Wall Street lobbyists, that it’s almost a sham. The Street prevented the Glass-Steagall Act from being resurrected, and successfully fought against limits on the size of the largest banks.
Windows started breaking years ago. Enron’s court-appointed trustee reported that bankers from Citigroup and JP Morgan Chase didn’t merely look the other way; they dreamed up and sold Enron financial schemes specifically designed to allow Enron to commit fraud. Arthur Andersen, Enron’s auditor, was convicted of obstructing justice by shredding Enron documents, yet most of the Andersen partners who aided and abetted Enron were never punished.
Americans are entitled to their own religious views about gay marriage, contraception, out-of-wedlock births, abortion, and God. We can be truly free only if we’re confident we can go about our private lives without being monitored or intruded upon by government, and can practice whatever faith (or lack of faith) we wish regardless of the religious beliefs of others. A society where one set of religious views is imposed on a large number of citizens who disagree with them is not a democracy. It’s a theocracy.
But abuses of public trust such as we’ve witnessed for years on the Street and in the executive suites of our largest corporations are not matters of private morality. They’re violations of public morality. They undermine the integrity of our economy and democracy. They’ve led millions of Americans to conclude the game is rigged.
Regressive Republicans have no problem hurling the epithets “shameful,” “disgraceful,” and “contemptible” at private moral decisions they disagree with. Rush Limbaugh calls a young woman a “slut” just for standing up for her beliefs about private morality.
Republicans have staked out the moral low ground. It’s time for Democrats and progressives to stake out the moral high ground, condemning the abuses of economic power and privilege that characterize this new Gilded Age – business deals that are technically legal but wrong because they exploit the trust that investors or employees have place in those businesses, pay packages that are ludicrously high compared with the pay of average workers, political donations so large as to breed cynicism about the ability of their recipients to represent the public as a whole.
An economy is built on a foundation of shared morality. Adam Smith never called himself an economist. The separate field of economics didn’t exist in the eighteenth century. He called himself a moral philosopher. And the book he was proudest of wasn’t “The Wealth of Nations,” but his “Theory of Moral Sentiments” – about the ties that bind people together into societies.
Twice before progressive have saved capitalism from its own excesses by appealing to public morality and common sense. First in the early 1900s, when the captains for American industry had monopolized the economy into giant trusts, American politics had sunk into a swamp of patronage and corruption, and many factory jobs were unsafe – entailing long hours of work at meager pay and often exploiting children. In response, we enacted antitrust, civil service reforms, and labor protections.
And then again in 1930s after the stock market collapsed and a large portion of American workforce was unemployed. Then we regulated banks and insured deposits, cleaned up stock market, and provided social insurance to the destitute.
It’s time once again to save capitalism from its own excesses — and to base a new era of reform on public morality and common sense.
My assistant, Fabulous Lorraine, who bouts under the derby name of Quiche MeDeadly, wants me to spread the word around on this.
And when a derby girl wants the word spread around, what you do is, you spread the word around. Trust me on this.
We wanted to share this with you, and ask that you share it with everyone you know who loves roller derby and wants to see it gain the legitimacy it deserves.
What: A letter writing campaign to the White House asking that the president honor the women of Team USA. Feel free to use our stock letter or write your own. Please stay respectful and on point. If you write a letter on behalf of this campaign you are representing the whole roller derby community. If we each send an e-mail, it will be very hard to ignore our request. You can easily e-mail the White House through this link,http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/submit-questions-and-comments.
Er… getting some extreme and in some cases kind of unpleasant messages in on the Ask line about the Nudity poem, telling me I hate women, hate women’s bodies etc.
That poem was written, along with the poem “The Day The Saucers Came”, in 2006 for Spiderwords, a SF/Fantasy/Horror poetry website.
(Oddly enough, when they went up on line, “The Day The Saucers Came” was the one that got the hatemail.)
For the record, I really like nakedness, would not know what the hell to do if instead of nipples, someone had golden eyes or flower-petals, and I am afraid that I would just as soon not encounter human mouths or tentacles or a tiny star-systems between anybody’s legs.
(I do not think I have ever been disappointed by naked bodies, which I find just as interesting as clothed bodies, although often in very different ways.)
The opinions and experiences expressed by narrators in poems or novels or short stories do not necessarily coincide with the opinions and experiences of the author. (In this case a musing about Sacheverell Sitwell’s line that it is the mystery that lingers and not the explanation, and wondering about someone for whom that was true in other ways.) I tend to take it for granted that people know that, but sometimes it may need pointing out.
As a small footnote to a footnote: in The Graveyard Book, the sentence Really, he thought, if you couldn’t trust a poet to offer sensible advice, who could you trust? comes with its own freight of irony.
Any suggestions on getting through writing "awkward" (to yourself) scenes in a story? Like if a major plot point can only be revealed/explained/expressed through a more romanticized situation, and for whatever reason that makes you uncomfortable to write?
I wish there were.
I blush furiously, or put off scenes where I know I’ll have to write something embarrassing. But there isn’t a short cut, there’s no magic charm, elves won’t come in the night and write it for you, and, as Robert Frost said, the best way out is always through.
You write it. It’s rarely embarrassing or problematic once it’s down on the page.
A few points in regards to your love of swearing: 1) Your books did a lot to supplement my vocabulary of foul language. 2) This didn't go over well with my elders, considering I was about 12 at the time when I was putting this knowledge to use. I think they resent you. 3) Did you marry Amanda Palmer just because her name has the word "fucking" in it? Don't lie.
1) Hurrah! Alan Moore once said that I have a dirty mouth over seven centuries, because I told him lots of Victorian rude things that he needed for From Hell. (I did not tell him this, though.)
2) Sorry about that. Not very sorry. But a bit.
3) No, I married her because she makes me smile, and I could never imagine getting bored of talking with her. The fucking (as a middle name) was just a magical bonus.