I had been trying to meet Neil Gaiman for a long time. I admired this genius of a man for many reasons. One being his work, of course. I found such wonderful things in a Neil Gaiman story, but truth be told, more for his career. Oh, what a career. Yes, the Rock Star of the Literary World, but more than that was the fact that he had made his own brand into a kind of genre all by itself.
Nothing quite like a Neil Gaiman book.
So, being a fan I wanted to meet him and being a writer I hoped for some of the magic to rub off. A “Look, Andy, I believe in your story telling so much, that I’m going to endorse you.” Or, “I’ve decided that you and I should write a book together!”
When I lived in Chicago I went to “A Night with Neil” to celebrate the release of the Graveyard Book. There he read chapter three from the stage and delighted one and all. Ever the showman, his thick mop of black hair, his deep English accent and of course, the wondrous prose.
Well, there the cost of admittance was one book and the book came autographed. No line up for autographs because when Neil does a signing too many people line up and he is there until 5 o’clock n the morning. Damn!
Anyhow, after the reading, he did a Q and A with questions from the crowd, he pulled the questions out of a hat that were written before the show started, because if he were to take them directly from the crowd, we would have been there until 5 o’clock in the morning!
Someone (not me, I didn’t put a question in the hat, because I almost never do what everyone else is doing, since birth I am like this) asked him what the secret is. You know “the secret” to being, well, like Neil. He said “Goat bones! Goat bones! Propitiate the gods with goat bones.” And we all had a wondrous laugh and then he, of course, said, “to write and keep on writing and to start with short stories because you can complete them and when you complete things, you see how they are to be done and then after awhile, you can complete bigger things and see how they are to be done, too.”
At the end of the night, I walked away feeling like I had just had a very nice time with a great writer and great speaker. And I had.
But, I had already written short stories AND novels, and so, not being like anyone else, I endeavored to meet Neil for real. Not just a member of the crowd, but really.
Some time passed when I saw that Neil was going to be in Montreal for World Con. Holy Moses, I packed my things traveled three thousand plus miles and went.
Aside from Montreal being a fantastic city and me being thrilled just to walk its streets, I plotted and schemed on how to meet Neil face to face, up close and personal whereby he was sure to say something like, “You know, Andy, I’ve read your manuscript, and I have to tell you, its bloody good and what’s more, you’re bloody good and you’re going to be my new co-conspirator and write American Gods, The Sequel with me!”
Yes, yes, yes!!!
The problem was one didn’t just walk up and talk to Neil. Hell, no. There was protocol,
One morning I was walking, getting my coffee and scheming, when I happened upon a huge line for a Neil Gaiman book signing. Shit! Quick. What to do? Go and buy that Neil Gaiman book right there and jump in line and meet this demigod mug to mug. And that’s exactly what I did. With Unread Neil Gaiman Book tucked under my arm, I got in line. Waiting and waiting. And then the guy in front of me turns around and says “what number do you have?”
“Number? Number? Ah, what number?”
“Well,” he says, “you gots to have a number, you see like this. And I don’t know if me number is small enough to get into the signing before Neil has to be at that panel discussion.”
“Don’t you have a number?”
Nope. The Big Dork didn’t have shit. And no raffle number = no signing by Neil.
That’s fine. I got schemes and I got plans and I got backbone.
When Neil entered the panel room, standing room only, but I was lucky enough to get a seat, everyone clapped. I remember watching him walk up, shaking his mop of bushy black hair and I thought–no, actually said to my friend who I had dragged along, “Maybe that’s what I have to do, get a big head of bushy black hair.”
Anyway, the panel was very Neil of course and all very charming.
But, time was running out and I had yet to get my personal meeting with Neil. Oh, you could have coffee with him! But no, you had to win that too.
No, no. That wouldn’t do. I need a sure fire thing, I needed an inside track.
The night when the Hugo was given Neil won, of course, for The Graveyard Book and gave a speech wherein he said, “Funny that I won this, because I don’t even write Science Fiction” and of course, no one cared! Anyway, with that night came all the after event parties. So many parties and so many opportunities to meet Neil.
My friend and I wandered the parties, one hotel room to the next, looking for the one with Neil in it. After a good hour, we finally got the punch line, Neil isn’t at these parties, dude.
Then came the big question: where’s the real party? You know, the Neil party?
It was fated, a fortuitous stroke of amazing luck, that shortly after that, we got onto the elevator and told the guy operating it that we wanted to go to the “real party where Neil was” and he took us.
The bottom floor. Ding, the door opened and here was the gala.
Ah. Yes, where all the New York editors were, yes, oh, hello, that’s a luminary in the literary universe, oops there’s another one. I tried talking to a girl who was happy to talk with me the night before at a common party and who very purposely and visibly stuck her nose in the air when she saw me at this party.
Yes, my dear, I see how its done now.
Well, needless to say. It was now or never. My friend had left shortly after stepping out of the elevator, because, he said, he didn’t want to be somewhere he wasn’t wanted. No bother, the road to Neil must be walked alone. Begone, traveling companion, you have served me well, but we are at journey’s end.
The golden chalice was near at hand and I carried with me the favor of the gods.
After some more milling about, some eating of the food, I was feeling pretty good that no one was bum-rushing me, no bouncer kicking me out. Yes, well, like I said, the gods favored me this night.
And then, as if a spot light shone down, I saw Neil.
Amidst a flock of his Clarion students (missed that one) he posed for a photo. Yes, it was Neil alright. I waited just out of sight, lurking for the right moment. Plan? Pure bravado. Just walk up and stick out my hand and…
And what? Say, “I’m your biggest fan”, “Hi, I loved Neverwhere”, “Hey, sir, um, can we write a novel together?”
I’m not going to crash this party anymore. I’m not going to be “that guy.” No. What is he going to do for me, that I cannot do for myself?
Make me famous? Hahahahahahahhahaha.
“Goat bones, Andy, goat bones.”
I backed away. I turned and walked out. I left the hotel. I left the con. I walked to my hostel, yes, hoStel, where the beds were cheap and the beer cheaper and I smoked a cigarette thinking, I didn’t meet Neil Gaiman. tonight, or today, or this week. No, but I met someone else. He doesn’t have bushy hair or an English accent, but he is someone who really can help me in my career and who really will write the next book with me.
I traveled all this way to meet myself.
I’m still a Neil fan, but I’m a Anne Rice, Stephen King, China Mieville, Dean Koontz and Clive Barker fan, too. A so-many-others fan. And more importantly I am an Andy Schwarz fan.