Neil Gaiman on Minnesota, Sandman, and why he can't do another signing tour

Categories: Books, Interview

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Tony Nelson
Neil Gaiman before his Minneapolis signing in July. Check out more behind-the-scenes photos.
This year, writer Neil Gaiman has juggled more projects than you can count on two hands. These include releasing a children's book and an adult novel, writing his second Dr. Who episode, and gearing up for a prequel to The Sandman series. We caught up with the author on the Minneapolis stop of his last U.S. signing tour to chat about a little of everything, like what chilly Midwest winters have taught him and how he feels revisiting Sandman.

Here's more from our interview with Gaiman for our cover story: The dark night returns for Neil Gaiman.

See also:
Amanda Palmer on Neil Gaiman: He desperately loves to be surprised

The pressure is on for Sandman: Overture, since it's the 25th anniversary of the series. Does it get to you?

Yeah, it definitely feels weird. I think I like writing things best when nobody's waiting for them, nobody expects them, and nobody knows what they're going to get. So you know, The Ocean at the End of the Lane was enormously fun because it was just a short story that I was writing for my wife that got out of hand, and just kept going.

The Sandman... nobody seems quite sure, I think DC was saying seven million sold in the latest press releases, but seven million was the same number they were using in 2003. I know that we've been selling a quarter of a million, half a million copies of graphic novels every year plus electronic stuff. I'm going, 'It's got to be a lot more than that...' I'm thinking nobody's actually ever gone out and counted. [Laughs] There's definitely a kind of weird feeling, like 10 to 15 million people are looking over my shoulder going, 'This has got to be good.'

Has this story always been hovering in the back of your head? Or has it developed more over time?

It was one of the ones that was there before Sandman 1 started. And it's hinted at... there's a thing about it in Sandman 8, and Sandman 42. It just never really fit the Sandman that I was doing at the time. It was always just sort of pushed away and I went, 'Ok, when I finish Sandman 175, at some point, I'll have this little story to tell.'

I was going to tell it for Sandman's 20th anniversary, and then I didn't, mostly because DC Comics at the time were perfectly happy for me to do it under the terms that I signed up to do Sandman in 1997, and I was of the opinion that I should get something slightly better. Not hugely better, just something slightly better. Like, 'Guys, I was 26, please give me a slightly better deal now.' They said no, they couldn't because then everybody would want one. Then a few years later they said, 'Well, it's the 25th anniversary, do you still want that deal?' And I was like, 'Okay, come on, let's do it.' We got J.H. Williams [to do the art], and we're all excited because we've got Todd Klein and Dave McKean and the old gang is back together again.

In Amanda Palmer's blog about The Ocean at the End of the Lane, she noted that the long distance between you two was taking its toll. Did that affect the way the story turned out?

I think it did. I think mostly it was just that it's weird. I've only ever written two things for specific people going, 'I'm writing this story for someone that isn't me.' In each case, they sort of grew and transformed and got out of hand. One was of them was Coraline, which I wrote for my then-five-year-old girl, Holly. I started it for Holly, I finished it for Maddy. And one of them was [Ocean], which in my head was just a short story. I was just going to send it over to Amanda from Florida, and I liked that. She was making an album. So there wasn't a lot of missing going on, she was really busy. I missed her.

Each day, I'd keep writing, and then I'd sort of know what was going to happen the next day, so I'd write that, and I'd know what would happen the day after that, so by then I'd know what was going to happen next. There was this point where I didn't know how long it was, I didn't know what it was. I just thought, 'Okay, I'll keep going with this thing until it's done, and I'll send it to her.' And you know, it came as a surprise to me.

We got together when she came back from Australia in Dallas, Texas, where the album was being mixed. I went into Dallas, and I typed up the book that I'd been writing, finished it up in a coffee shop, did the second draft, did a word count, and went, 'I appear to have written a novel. Did not plan that.' And then had to go all... 'Can I make this fatter? Because it's now a novel, and it's a 56,000 word novel. It's longer than The Great Gatsby, it's about the same length as Stardust. Can I make it fatter? I don't know where any more words go, it's just my story.' I read it to her, each night, back then. She liked it. I don't think it was until she read the whole thing, when it was published -- she got an advanced copy. I gave it to her, she went off and read it, and only then she went, 'Oh my god, this is beautiful.'

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