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Pop culture junkie, native of Las Vegas, not really a writer.
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Saturday, November 8, 2008

Neil Gaiman at the Vegas Valley Book Festival

Neil Gaiman was slated as the opening keynote speaker for the Vegas Valley Book Festival this year and this Las Vegan jumped for freaking joy over it! I’ve been reading Neil since discovering his Sandman comics when I was 15 and I have always loved the entire fantasy world he has created with his work for adults and children. I’ve also been reading his online blog for years which is a tricky thing because reading about his travels and life and work and thoughts and processes on a daily basis makes me feel as if I know him, like we are friends, and well. . .I don’t know him and we’re not friends. Could he live up to the expectations I have in my head? Will he be as cool as I think he is or will he be a prick? I’m so very pleased to report that he is the former.

I took the entire day off work on Thursday and at 1pm at the newly renovated, historic Fifth Street School downtown Neil was doing a book signing. It was added last minute so there was hardly any advertising. In fact I only learned about it because he posted a notice about it on his blog two days before. So thanks to the little to no adverts, there was hardly anyone there! Awesome for the 50 or so of us that did make it and awesome for Neil because he was able to spend real time with each person and chat and doodle in their books and all in all be a spectacular guy. You were only allowed to bring one book from home for him to sign and the rest you had to purchase on site from the stupid Barnes & Noble table. These were not his rules, but the venue’s rules and I get it, they need to make money in order to continue putting on this great festival, so ok. Luckily I hadn’t yet purchased Neil’s new YA novel, The Graveyard Book, so I knew I would just buy it there. But what from my own Gaiman collection would I bring? I was torn between my first edition copy of American Gods, my advanced reader’s copy of Stardust, and Absolute Sandman Vol. 1. I eventually decided on the American Gods because the Stardust is paperback and kind of beat up and the Absolute Sandman Vol. 1 is HUGE and weighs about 30 lbs and I didn’t want to lug it around.

I ended up buying more than The Graveyard Book at the signing because when I saw that they had copies of all his work I realized this would be a wonderful Christmas present buying opportunity. So I bought two copies of The Graveyard Book, one for me and one for my 13-year-old niece, Kylie, and then I bought two of his picture books for children: The Dangerous Alphabet and The Wolves in the Walls for my nearly 3-year-old niece, Hailey. Perfect!

I was about the tenth person in line and when I approached Neil at his table and lay my five books down for him he greeted me with a lovely, “Hello, how are you?” and I stifled a giddy, girlish giggle and said "fine" and mentioned that I noticed he had blogged at 1am and I hoped he had gotten some sleep. He responded with a rather long story about flying and time changes and knowing people in Vegas that he has to greet upon arrival and some other things, but I was so dumbfounded that I was having a little chat with Neil Gaiman that it didn’t entirely register. It was also quite charming, but very disconcerting, that the entire time he was talking he was looking me directly in the eye!! He was very deliberately making a connection with me, his goofy, giddy fan, and I must say that I admire him so much for it! Then he went back to signing my books, but not only was he signing his name, he was doodling pictures in them! It was pretty amazing. Next he told me that great chunks of American Gods was written in a hotel room in Las Vegas and then started going on about how hotel rooms then could still be found fairly cheaply and he rarely writes at home, he likes to travel to random places and write and again, I am dumbstruck as Neil freaking Gaiman talks and talks to me! He then finished his doodling in my books, posed for a picture with me, cheerfully said “See you tonight at the talk!” and it was over. Uh-may-zing. Here’s what he said about the signing on his blog, “Just did a lovely signing - only about fifty people altogether, which meant that I got to talk to everyone and draw in their books, admire their tattoos and so forth. Really pleasant.”

There were many more people at the keynote address that night. The theater at the main branch of the Clark County Library only seats 399 people so they were handing out wristbands at 6pm for the 7pm talk. I got there about 4:45pm and was about the 40th person in line. My friend Cameron met me and we got seats right up close Neil came out and was funny and personable and eloquent and charming. He spoke about imagination and writing and how he stole all his great book ideas from his children. He read from chapter seven of The Graveyard Book, he read his poem The Day the Saucers Came and then he surprised us by reading two yet to be published children’s books, Crazy Hair, which was riotously hilarious, and Blueberry Girl which was written for Tori Amos’ (then) unborn daughter at Tori’s request and is touching and sweet. He spoke for over two hours but I can’t possibly relate all that he said because my memory is not that good and his humor wouldn’t come out right in my telling of it. I will try to retell one story because it was Vegas related and terribly funny. Here goes. When he was locked in that Vegas hotel room writing American Gods (which he had already mentioned to me earlier in the day, squeee ) he needed to quote something from Song of Solomon, and to his delight realized that he was in a hotel room and they may have a bible in the bedside drawer as hotel rooms are wont to do. He went to the bedside table and lo and behold there is a bible To his utter horror however he finds that the bible is defective. It’s pages are stuck together and it won’t open. So he does what any hotel patron does when something in their room is defective: he calls housekeeping to ask them to bring him a new one. When he opens the door minutes later to the housekeeping’s knock, he discovers four people standing staring at him, one housekeeper, and three others come to bear witness to the only man in human history to ask hotel staff for a replacement bible in their hotel room What kind of Holy man could this be? The housekeeper handed the bible to him gently, as anyone would hand a bible to a Holy man, and Neil graciously took it as Holyily as he could so as not to disappoint them. He sat down ready with his newly, not defective bible to look up the passage he needed for his novel only to discover, DRAT, that it was a newer version and he needed the King James’ version which the defective bible had been. But he didn’t have the heart to call again to housekeeping.

So that’s the story. I know it doesn’t read as funnily as it was told to the room by Gaiman himself, but I did my best.

And because I am an awful braggart and am still so happy from my Day of Gaiman, I’m including pictures from the day and of his wonderful doodle-icious signatures in my books:

Me and Neil:

Neil signing my books with his own special pen:

My copy of The Graveyard Book:

Kylie's copy for her birthday (which is today) that Neil inscribed for her especially:

The Dangerous Alphabet for Hailey:

The Wolves in the Walls with a special message for Hailey:

And my first edition American Gods:

Now here are some pictures from his talk, no flashes allowed in the theater, but I still got some good ones!

This one (a smile!) is my favorite:

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