Thursday, June 30, 2011

How I Spent Tuesday Night

It is great to be a grownup.  Really.  I wouldn't want to be fourteen again unless I could have a good look at what my future would be, because fourteen was just the worst year ever. But it got better. And sometimes I do wish I could let that geeky fourteen year old know just how much better it would get to be. A while ago, I either tweeted or posted to Facebook that if my fifteen-year-old self could know what my present day life was like, she'd say "way cool" (and, probably, "worth the wait.") The first person who expressed agreement with what I was saying, because he felt the same way about his own life, was my friend Neil Gaiman.

I first met and photographed Neil before he was the super-star author he has become. It was at the 1990 World Fantasy Convention in Chicago. I was in law school, but I was still actively adding photographs to the growing exhibit of professionals in the field of science fiction, fantasy and horror that's traveled farther than I have.  So I took the weekend to fly to Chicago to have some time with Len Wein and to add to the photographic collection.

Len introduced me to Neil, who was building a nice career with the Sandman comic books he was writing for DC Comics.  Len had been midwife to the influx of British writers at DC, starting with bringing Alan Moore in to write Swamp Thing and following that as Alan's editor on Watchmen.  Neil came along a few years after, a fan of Len's from reading his run on Phantom Stranger, and one of the first stars of DC's Vertigo imprint.

In the first portrait of I made of Neil (below, in 1990), he reminded me of a young John Lennon.  

Maybe it was just the accent. Love that accent.

The following year, Neil won the World Fantasy Award for Best Short Story with the Sandman story "A Midsummer's Night Dream." The rules for the Awards were immediately changed so that a comic book could never win again.

Over the years, we'd meet up at various conventions or signings, and keep in touch by e-mail or social media.  Neil morphed into a rock god, requiring body guards and the use of aliases to stay at hotels. Around 1999, I got him to agree to be my master of ceremonies at the 2001 Nebula Awards I produced in Los Angeles, which, by coincidence, was the first one at which he was nominated for a Nebula Award. A year or two later, he won the Nebula Award for best novel for American Gods.

Which brings me to Tuesday night.  Neil was in town for an appearance on the 10th Anniversary Tour for American Gods. I ordered four tickets as soon as I heard about it, which got us second row seats.  I invited one of the girls from the barn, who had recently gushed about Neil's episode of Dr. Who, "The Doctor's Wife," and who had asked me to pass on to Neil how much she liked it ("best episode of Dr. Who ever!") I figured it would give me the same kind of kick I got from introducing my girlfriend's granddaughter to Stan Lee last year at Comic-con to introduce Jenni to Neil. (It did.)

For reasons unknown, the local organizers of the appearance chose to make all tickets will-call (though, thankfully, they did assign seats so it wasn't festival seating.) This is not the best arrangement when there are some 1800 seats in the theatre, and, as you can see from the photo below, most of them were filled.  Ticket distribution started at 5:30, there were people buying tickets at the door, and the show started an hour late.
Besides Len, my son Michael, and Jenni, we picked up Susan Ellison, wife of Harlan, to take to the show.  She and I stood in line while the others went off to get some dinner, which turned out to be a good arrangement. I saw Neil's limo pull into the parking lot just as Susan got her tickets, so we walked around the theatre and found him.  He looked at us and asked "did you get your back-stage passes?" Uh, no. "They were supposed to be with your tickets." Oh. Fortunately, Neil's assistant for the evening got them for us while we stood around talking to Neil and waiting for Len, Michael, and Jenni to get back.  We had a nice chat with Neil, actor/comedian Patton Oswalt, and Zelda Williams (Robin's daughter) back stage and then headed in to our seats for the show.

And we waited. And waited.  Susan, who bought her ticket separately from ours, was way in the back of the orchestra.  Eventually, Len went back and brought her up to our row where there were a number of empty seats.
 And we waited some more.  The 8 P.M. start time kicked off at about 9 P.M. The audience was grateful.
 Neil and Patton chatted for a while. Neil talked about the inspiration for American Gods and alluded to things that might be in American Gods 2.
 Then Zelda Williams came out.
 The three of them did a dramatic reading of an early passage of the book.  It was unforgettable.
 Patton Oswalt and Zelda Williams reading from American Gods.
After the show, we all went back stage again.  I wanted to make sure I got a photograph of Jenni with Neil (below.) Jenni told me that it was the best night of her life and that Ace would be the most spoiled horse ever because of it. Gratitude is lovely.
Wil Wheaton showed up back stage with his wife, whom I had not met previously. Wil looked at us and exclaimed "I should have known you'd be here!" He's not at all like the "Evil Wil Wheaton" from The Big Bang Theory, which is why that character is such a hoot. Wil had also been back stage at the Craig Ferguson show that Neil had taped before heading over to the Saban Theatre. I didn't think it was possible to do both shows, but that was before the time between them increased by an hour!

We got home in time to tape the segment--too late for us to actually watch that night--but here it is for you to enjoy. Ferguson is quick and amazingly well versed in things literary. He must be one of us because he knew what Cthulu was and who wrote it. The awkward pause at the end of the set is priceless.
 I realize that Neil has helped build his audience by careful use of blogging and Twitter, but the evening made me think that this must have been like it was for Americans to attend an evening with Charles Dickens or Oscar Wilde. It was really quite thrilling to realize that writers still can still have an avid following and Neil has really earned it.
[American Gods is about to start production as a television series for HBO from Tom Hank's Play-tone production company. Neil's books Stardust and Coraline have already appeared on the big screen, but they make excellent reading. His Graveyard Book has won many awards and is a lovely read. Maybe, someday, the script that Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio wrote for Sandman will make it to the big screen,]


Miriam S Pia said...

I am unusually familiar with this man's work. Most writers who I think of as writers, I've read their books. I think of Neil as a writer but what it really is that I watched his Neverwhere TV show in the UK in the 1990s and saw the movie Coraline with my son...and I have read part of American Gods and...the one about the Angel that he did with Terry Pratchett...what was that one even called? I remember that I liked it.

M. C. Valada said...

You are probably thinking of "Good Omens," which came out in the late 1980s. I think I have a bound galley copy I got at an American Booksellers Convention before I headed off to law school.

Kitty Cat said...

Wonderful photos, it was great to meet you backstage, and glad that all's well that ends well--

M. C. Valada said...

Same here, Cat. I've read so much about you that it was nice to finally meet you. We enjoyed talking to your in-laws while we were waiting.

JoeBowling said...

Thanks for the photos and summary. I moved to Los Angeles almost two years ago after a stint in the military. While reading Neil's books aboard my submarine, I dreamed of coming to LA, getting my degree, and creating some of my own. Seeing my favorite author talk about my favorite book was a rare treat, even if I was in Row Q. I feel a renewed inspiration now and I'm glad he came. Your post was a fun read.