Thursday afternoon, a calendar alert I had been waiting on for weeks finally popped up on my phone. It said, "Neil Pantsing Gaiman." Only it didn't say pantsing.
I met Neil Gaiman, ya'll.
This is my third book signing and I know this sounds bizarre, but can I please make a hobby of this? Please?
So far, I have met Ree Drummond, Joe Hill and Neil Gaiman. And while one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-others, they are all very much alike in that they are amazingly charming. I love writers. I fancy myself a writer, so that's part of why. But I am definitely a reader and that's the bigger why. These people create the worlds that I love to fall into. They build from nothing an entire universe of magic and grace.
So... Neil. Neil (can I call you Neil) was amazing. For starters, he not only read from the book he is touring (Ocean at the End of the Lane*), but also from his upcoming yet unreleased children's book (Fortunately the Milk). He also answered a slew of questions, going so far as to empty out his pockets. He told the rambling story of how OatEotL came into existence. He talked about Amanda. He made jokes about John Scalzi (who was on hand to introduce him). He was, truly, delightful. I laughed, I teared up, it was better than Cats.**
This was what I went for.
I mean, I like the face to face, one on one with the authors. And I came all this way and waited all this time, I was definitely going to stand in line and get close enough to touch Neil. (Hey, I'm NOT creepy. Really.)
But it's the reading that I love. The line is just liney. It's a queue with a lovely person at the end. It's big smiles and maybe a hug and a scribble. It's not conversation. The readings, though, well... I love to hear author's talk. I love to hear them talk about the way they write or why they write or what their lives are like at home. I am the perpetual Psych 101 student and I want to take all the tidbits of knowledge I can gather and try to figure out why this person writes this thing.
I got lots of that.
But, despite the fact that I've talked a lot about that, that's not really what I want to talk about. I want to talk about meeting Neil. So, here it is: the man deserves the Nobel Prize for Niceness.
There were 1,000 ticket holders, divided into letter groups A through P. I was group M. I was not the tail end of the line, but I was somewhere decidedly close. I was exhausted. Let me say that again: I was so freaking tired. From drinking at the bar and reading the book. I cannot even imagine what it was like for the people working. Neil, yes. But also his staff, the bookstore staff, the event center staff.
So, about 1:30 a.m. (not an exaggeration, at all), I finally came to the front of the line. We had been warned. There were a lot of people. No posed photography, no flash photography, the line keeps moving. I was expecting something much like an assembly line.
What I got was a well-oiled machine, yes, getting the books prepped and ready and to Neil's hand in a smooth, fluid fashion. But then I got a warm smile, a kind word and a bright smile. I got genuine warmth and kindness. And, for the record, I got a doodle. Ha. A doodle.
At 1:30 a.m., I got a doodle and a smile and genuine individual attention from a hero of mine. And after me, the approximately 150 people behind me probably got about the same.
I thought about him after I got home. At 2:00, when I was tumbling through my front door, Taco Bell cup in hand, tired and worn thin; as I was kicking off my shoes and stumbling to bed; as I was debating whether or not I could stay awake long enough to write another 500 words, Neil Freaking Gaiman was still sitting in that event center, smiling and talking and signing his name for what I estimate was the two thousand five hundredth time that day.
And you know, he didn't have to. Neil Freaking Gaiman doesn't have to tour. (And let's face it, we're not talking about bands, I'm not sure any writer has to tour, although I'm sure publishers have some studies about cost benefit analysis.) He didn't have to agree to sign two things for each of 1,000 people. He didn't have to come and talk and make jokes about murdering the obnoxious warm-up band next door. And he certainly didn't have to be so charming and warm. I'm not sure I would have been. By 1:30, I probably would have been a little manic and a lot bleary-eyed-madwoman.
But he gave me a gift. In addition to a doodle that I will see every time I open my Nook, he looked at me. He saw me. He didn't know anything about me, other than I like his work. But he saw me and smiled. When we are talking about the people we want to be when and if we grow up, that is enough.
*Which is wonderful. I finished it the next day, because I just could not keep my eyes open another minute. It is beautiful and haunting and LOVE is not a strong enough word. One of my biggest compliments is when a book so captures me that a single image becomes so burned into my brain that an everyday object always makes me think of that book. Pitchers of lemonade always make me think of Heart-Shaped Box and crave it the way you crave chocolate when you see a commercial. I have a strong feeling that claw footed bathtubs and Ocean at the End of the Lane will always be inextribly linked in my warped little head.
**It should be noted that I don't love Cats. I don't know why. I've tried. I find it... weird. And not in a good way. It's just a saying, ya'll.