Neil Gaiman lured 600 people into the palm of his hand last night simply by reading from his children's book that begins with a baby having toddled into a misty graveyard, unaware that a man with a knife wants to slice the life out of him, as the man had the rest of the child's family.
A couple of long-dead spirits rescue the little one, decide to raise him, and divert the stalker.
Gaiman's half-hour reading of The Graveyard Book was not nearly long enough; as good an indication as any of what a fine story smith he is.
Mop-haired and clad in a frumpy brown jacket with leather-patch elbows and bulky side pockets, Gaiman is a boyish 48. He charmed the mostly young-adult audience at Authors! Authors! in the Stranahan Theater, a series sponsored by The Blade and the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library. He's tickled the book won the prestigious 2009 Newbery Medal for children's literature and has remained a best seller for a year. It was a long time coming, he explained.
"It started about 1985. I lived in this very tall, spindly house in a little Sussex [England] town opposite a graveyard." He'd take his 2-year-old son to ride his tricycle in the cemetery. "He looked so at home there and I thought I could write a book about that. It would be sort of like The Jungle Book."
But the story didn't gel.
"I thought, 'This idea is a better idea than I am a writer.' I put it away."
In the interim he wrote comics (notably Sandman), Anansi Boys (with elements of thriller, horror, romantic comedy), an adult novel American Gods (for which he's likely to pen one or two sequels, he said). He wrote reviews of music and movies, interviewed writers, wrote screenplays, and the children's book The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish.
While on a family vacation in 2004, he picked up The Graveyard Book, and read the first two pages he'd written to his daughter Maggie, who asked the magic words, "So what happened next?"
"So I kept writing," he said.
During a question-and-answer session after his talk, Gaiman said he plans to write about China in a story linked to a Chinese myth, a novella about his character Shadow, and a sequel to Stardust that takes place 150 years later.
He said he doesn't identify with his characters and he does have an appreciation for fine wine, for which he blames oenophile friends who spoiled his taste buds so they want "a little chromatic scale on your tongue." He's also a fan of single-malt scotches.
Yes, his popular Coraline book has much in common with Alice in Wonderland, especially doors and an infuriating cat.
To an aspiring journalist seeking advice, he said, "You can be good. You can be a nice guy. You can be punctual and get your work in on time. Any two of those things and you'll probably work. What I would say is be all three and you will probably continue to work."
Next in the Authors! Authors! lineup will be Christopher Buckley, whose most recent book is the acclaimed Losing Mum and Pup: A Memoir, about his famous parents, William F. Buckley, Jr., and Patricia Buckley. He'll speak at 7 p.m. Nov. 18 at the Stranahan Theater.
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