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neil gaiman

Good News for Former LitPark Guests!

by Susan Henderson on January 28, 2009

Time to break out the exclamation points for two well-deserving guests of LitPark:

Tomorrow (Thursday, January 29th), the fabulous Jimmy Margulies will be on CNN’s American Morning program for a feature on cartoonists drawing Obama and Bush. It should air between 8:30 and 9am. And if you missed Jimmy’s interview or want to leave him a message, just click here.

Other big and wonderful news: Remember earlier this month when I was saying how much I loved Neil Gaiman‘s Graveyard Book? Well, guess who just won the Newbery Medal? (Exclamation points, please!!) If you missed Neil’s interview, you can click on A Photo History of Neil Gaiman’s Hair. And since those comments are closed (because they’re on the old system), you can leave him your good wishes over at Twitter.

Nothing better than seeing good things happen to good people.

Be sure to stop by Monday for a new Question of the Month and a sneak peek at February’s guest!

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Monthly Wrap: When Patience is Required

by Susan Henderson on January 9, 2009

Years ago, when I left my job as a rape crisis counselor, I was presented with a plaque. In beautiful calligraphy, my co-workers had listed the qualities they valued most about me: Dedicated Somethingerother. Compassionate Listener. Some Other Things. Patient.

I showed the plaque to Mr. Henderson, and he asked, “Do you think they meant this as a joke?”

Because not only am I known for listening only when I feel like it, but I will do things like put a frozen waffle in the toaster, and as soon as the edge is even slightly cooked, I’ll eat around the outside because I can’t wait two minutes for something I want.

You’d think I’d have picked a career that involved immediate rewards.

But logic is never one of the reasons a person becomes a writer. You know how it is. Your friends see you madly scribbling your ideas down on paper. They see you carrying around typed pages, crossing out words, circling things and drawing arrows here and there. They comment on how you disappear for weeks, sometimes months, to work on your manuscript. And, innocently, they ask, “What have you published?” And, “Can I read your book?”

They have no idea why these questions are so deeply frustrating. Or how a person can write for months, for years, and have nothing to show for it. Nothing that counts on their terms: A trip to the bookstore to find a beautiful hardcover book on one of those front tables.

It baffles them how you can write so slowly. How the things you’ve published are so hard to find. How you are never, or hardly ever, paid for your work. How, after not being paid for twenty years, you continue to call yourself a writer. And yet, that’s what you are. And you know the big break will come soon. It must. Because you’re good. Because you have things to say. Because you know your writing is better than the books on the bestseller list, or it will be after this next revision.

I can’t tell you how moved I was by your answers this week on how and why you endure, and was glad to see David Niall Wilson continue the discussion over on his blog with a post entitled Perseverance: Writing is NOT the Hardest Part.

So what do you do while you hope someone falls in love with your work? What do you do while you hope for that career break?

If you’re an impatient type, you do this: You move forward. You put your finished manuscript in play, and then you get to work on the next one. And you try to make this new thing the best you’ve ever written. You move forward because a writer doesn’t wait; a writer writes.

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What I read this month: Tawni O’Dell, Back Roads (Dark and brilliant); Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Love it even more now than when I first read it as a teenager. Choked me up so many times. No real plot, but, oh, what a portrait of a generation! Wonder if it would sell today?); Wally Lamb, The Hour I First Believed (Wow. First half of the book is better than the second half, but still: Wow); Truman Capote, Other Voices, Other Rooms (Like most first books I’ve read, particularly the unpublished ones, it’s a bit of a mess. But here and there is something wonderful, like this: “They can romanticize us so, mirrors, and that is their secret: what a subtle torture it would be to destroy all the mirrors in the world: where then could we look for reassurance of our identities? I tell you, my dear, Narcissus was no egotist…he was merely another of us who, in our unshatterable isolation, recognized, on seeing his reflection, the one beautiful comrade, the only inseparable love…poor Narcissus, possibly the only human who was ever honest on this point”).

What I read to my kids this month: Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book (Just try to read the first 2 pages and not buy the book. Loved it); Dylan Thomas, A Child’s Christmas in Wales (We read this out loud every year, and whoever happens to be reading when they get to snowballing the cats, or Ernie Jenkins, or the dry voice singing on the other side of the door always feels like they won the lottery).

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Thank you to my January guest, the fabulous editorial cartoonist Jimmy Margulies. Thank you to everyone who played here. And thanks to those who linked to LitPark this month: When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Buy Books, Rioter’s Roost, The Nervous Breakdown, The Debutante Ball, Ad Libitum, David Niall Wilson, Inside-Out China, Daryl Ebneezra Kadabra, TweepleBlog, Notes From the Handbasket, Truthenia, Kelley Bell’s FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS, Upstate Girl, Making it up, Koreanish, read by myfanwy, Kick Off Your Shoes And Stay A While, Twilight Spy, Satin Black, Biscuit Cream: A Writer’s Blog, Word of the Day, Southern Fried Latina, and Bookies. I appreciate those links!

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Neil Gaiman

by Susan Henderson on February 7, 2007

When I thought of having Neil Gaiman visit LitPark, I wondered, What of Neil hasn’t already been covered? I could say something about his storytelling, naturally, or how he’s the one author who lives on both my bookshelf and Mr. Henderson’s. I could say something about the characters he writes, like Dearly and The Runt, who sort of crawl into my brain and live there even after their stories end. But people write these things about Neil Gaiman all the time.

So I thought, When I talk to other people about Neil Gaiman, where does the conversation tend to go? Easy. In the end, I don’t tend to tell people the very private and permanent ways his writing takes hold of me. I tend to talk about his hair.

Neil was such a good sport about this. Ready?

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A Photo History of Neil Gaiman’s Hair:

In Sussex, aged about 22 months. Waiting for my sister to be born. Such a neat child (although I’ve probably been dressed by my grandmother). You pushed the roundabout around until it went fast and then you jumped on. Or you tripped and were pulled around, face-down, skinning your knees.

About three? Down at the bottom of the garden in Purbrook, in Hampshire, on the swing.

Mr. Punch territory. My paternal grandfather, me and my cousin Sara, on the seafront in Southsea. July 1963.

My sister, my mother, her mother and me. September 1963.

When about 4 or 5, my hair was bothering me, so I took matters into my own hands. I found a pair of scissors, climbed into bed, got under the sheets, to hide, I suspect, and gave myself a haircut. It was the sort of haircut you give yourself in the dark under your sheets at the age of 5. This was after the attempt to repair it by my father.

I’m not sure that hair particularly made much of an impression on me until I was in my teens. From age 9 to 13 it was something that the school barber cut once a month or so (except in school holidays), and that teachers grabbed by the place the sideburns would one day be in order to make a point. Like Newt in Good Omens, the best I could hope for from a haircut was shorter hair. I had my fair share of ears snipped by scissors and clippers, to the point where I’d be wary of hair cuts.My father bought a “home hair cutting” kit once. It was an evil plastic device that looked like a comb with razor blades in it, which he would use to cut our hair. The idea was that he’d drag the comb through your hair and you’d magically get a great haircut. In reality the razor blades hurt as they dragged and scraped across the hair, and you wound up looking like your dad had given you a haircut with something advertised on TV.

Graham, Geoff, Neil, AlI was sixteen. Shortly after this photograph was taken Geoff (then a drummer, now a meteor hunter) and I bleached our hair. We wanted to look like Billy Idol. His hair went sort of blonde. Mine went ginger. Following a disagreement with my father, in which phrases like “you are not staying here with hair that colour” may have been used, I borrowed a tub of raven black from my cousin and was delighted, the following morning, to discover that I now had black hair with purple highlights, which was, I decided, the best of all worlds.

Douglas Adams and me in 1983. I’m 22, still smoking and wearing colours. Douglas is playing guitar while we wait for the photographer, John Copthorne, to finish setting up. (Douglas is playing Marvin’s “How I Hate the Night” song.)

I think this was taken the day before Maddy was born in August 1994. I’d decided I wasn’t going to get a haircut or shave until she turned up. Or something like that. I’d grown some pumpkins for practically the first time.

I got to England to work on Neverwhere and found everyone had shorter hair than I did. So I walked into a barber’s on the corner and asked them to cut my hair. They did. 1995, per the postmark.

Me and Clive Barker circa 1996. Two very scary people in leather jackets. Look! We are so scary! Photo by Beth Gwinn. Tee-shirt by Jenny Holzer.

Gaiman, Gaiman, 1998.

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Neil, with his busy schedule, did not need to take the time to search for and scan in photos for me, but he did. And if there’s anything you should know about Neil Gaiman it’s this: Though he has the most glorious head of hair, he could lose all of it tomorrow and really lose nothing at all.

Thanks, Neil! Now let’s hope my site doesn’t crash. xx

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Oh, P.S. A shout out to The Olive Reader – thanks for the link! Okay, see you Friday for the Weekly Wrap.

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Robin Slick & Gaiman’s FRAGILE THINGS

by Susan Henderson on February 3, 2007

I would never dream of having Neil Gaiman on LitPark without including the incomparable Robin Slick, whose blog is an odd and awesome mix of rock n’ roll, erotica, and Neil.

Before I turn things over to Robin, I have to tell a funny story. Robin and I had known each other for years from the Zoetrope online writer’s workshop, but one of the first times we met in real life was a classic moment of bonding. We were at a large, loud roundtable of fabulous writers. And people who know me well know I rely heavily on lip-reading to follow a conversation. People who know me casually almost never notice this because I can be a good faker. In a crowd, when there’s more than one conversation going on, or someone has their back to me, this is harder to do.

Okay, so Robin and I are sitting together, and we’ve both ditched the idea of having this cross-table talk with everyone in the room and just start talking to each other. But the background noise is still there, and I’m missing words and parts of words. The topic of conversation happened to be “middle-age erotica,” something Robin specializes in writing. Not only did I misunderstand the topic to be “middle-eastern erotica,” but I found I had plenty to say on the topic.

Two things often happen when you have rotten hearing – one is that people treat you weird and the other is that they leave you out. Robin, did neither. When it was clear to both of us that I’d taken the conversation out to the moon, Robin first tried to make me feel better by bragging how she couldn’t see well enough to read the menu, and then we started laughing so hard, we were crying. I’ve got Robin’s back for ever and ever, for hundreds of reasons, but this is one of them.

Robin is a writer of fast-paced, comedic heartbreak. One day, I’ll have to bring her back to talk about her own writing, but today she’s here to talk about Neil’s FRAGILE THINGS.

Here’s Robin introducing next week’s guest and his newest book . . .

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I hope you aren’t expecting a normal book review from me ”“ I have no idea how to do that properly but at least I’m not going to start this out “I loved Fragile Things because”¦”

Well, anyway, it’s true ”“ I do love it and Fragile Things was an extra-special treat for me because having just discovered Neil Gaiman last year, I hadn’t read at least 3/4 of the stories in the collection even though many were award winners previously published in magazines and anthologies. Oh yeah, did I mention I really thought I was the person responsible for “discovering” Neil Gaiman? Don’t ask. I found his book “Smoke and Mirrors” on my shelf last summer, grabbed it to take with me on vacation because I knew I didn’t read or buy it and wondered what the hell it was doing there ”“ all I can tell you is that each short story took my breath away and I couldn’t wait to return home to Philadelphia and tell all of my friends about this brilliant “new” author I’d found. Imagine my embarrassment when I googled him”¦last time I checked he’s got six million, two hundred ten thousand Google results by just typing in “Gaiman”. In any event, in case you are wondering, the mystery was later solved when my son saw me with the book and moaned “Oh my god, what are you doing with that ”“ it belongs to my ex-girlfriend and she nagged me for a year that she wanted it back only I couldn’t find it.”

It was right in the bookcase and the little wench who played with my son’s affections can’t have it back now because I got Neil to sign it when I saw him read at Temple University in January.

Please excuse the fact that I look like I’m having a stroke ”“ the truth of the matter is, I was. Anyway, that’s where I had my first exposure to “How to Talk to Girls at Parties”, one of the numerous highlights in “Fragile Things” but I was far too riveted by Neil’s drop dead gorgeous face (Ohh”¦those heavy lidded eyes”¦that smile”¦that tousled mop of dark, wavy hair) and sexy British accent to pay proper attention. So even though the story blew me away on the spot, I didn’t get the full impact until I was curled up on the sofa reading it in print.

One thing I kept asking myself while devouring each story: What goes on in this man’s brain that enables him to write like this? I want to climb in and find out.

(She said chastely”¦ okay, she is really lying but whatever.)

What I really meant was: How does anyone have such a glorious imagination? I know with my own writing, most of it comes from personal experience one way or the other; even my fumbling attempts at speculative fiction contain some autobiographical elements.

“You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it,” says Neil.

Oh my God. Please let me get those very same ideas. I want to write stories like those in Fragile Things ”“ tales like “October in the Chair” featuring the twelve months of the year roasting huge sausages on a stick which spat and crackled as fat dripped onto the burning applewood ”“ and have characters who turn out to (allegedly) be mortal-like men and women who meet every thirty/thirty-one days in a bizarre kind of book club situation”¦or “Sunbird”, where a group of eccentric gourmets eat a hell of a lot more than Cassolette d’escargots aux noisettes en hommage à Monsieur Cleuvenot (that would be snails in hazelnut garlic butter to you)”¦or how I’d love to have written “Closing Time,” an amazing mix of club and ghost story which includes a luminous, disembodied green hand – in fact, it’s been given the name of Green Hand by young students and it’s rumored that those who see it die soon after but trust me, that’s just the tip of the iceberg in this 2004 Locus Award Winning Best Short Story.

Um, Susan? Is it a coincidence your young son colored his hand a lovely shade of emerald and is henceforth known in your blog as “Green Hand” Henderson? I think not!

When I read “The Flints of Memory Lane”, I pictured a terrified young Neil calling his parents for a ride home after witnessing something decidedly supernatural ”“ and what a joy it was to go back and read his introduction and find out that it is in fact a true story after all and I have to admit, after learning that, a small part of me thought “Aha! He is otherworldly ”“ he’s a chosen one ”“ that’s how he’s able to write these things”.

I have no idea what I mean by that exactly, nor do I know why I’m ending this review with another Neil quote which has absolutely nothing at all to do with Fragile Things ”“ I guess I’m including it because it broke me up laughing:

“Is the chemical aftertaste the reason why people eat hot dogs, or is it some kind of bonus?”

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Robin Slick is the author of THREE DAYS IN NEW YORK CITY and ANOTHER BITE OF THE APPLE, erotic comedic novels published by Mundania/Phaze Press. Her short stories have appeared everywhere from heady places like In Posse Review and Slow Trains Literary Journal to give-heady places like Clean Sheets. She lives vicariously through her rock star offspring Julie and Eric Slick, who were featured in the Picturehouse Films documentary, Rock School, and are now members of the Adrian Belew Power Trio. Visit her online at her website and In Her Own Write, where she tries to blog daily about writing, Neil Gaiman (though not so much anymore now that her former computer-hating hippie husband has become a daily reader) rock music, and how much she abhors the Bush Administration.

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