He’s been called the Prince of Stories. Neil Gaiman is the author of a library of tales across comics, novels, film and more, and he’s coming to Houston to speak for the Society for the Performing Arts. We got a chance to sit down with him in advance to talk about Doctor Who, American Gods, refugees and the time he fled to Galveston to escape the cold of the American Midwest.
The following interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Houston Press: Because I’m also the resident Doctor Who writer, I want to first ask, will you be doing more Doctor Who, and do you feel bad that you didn’t get to write for Peter Capaldi?
Neil Gaiman: Yes, I feel terrible I didn’t get to write for Peter. I spent Peter’s entire time as Doctor Who working on Good Omens for the BBC. It’s six hours of television, and I kept promising myself that as soon as it was wrapped up, I would write a story for Peter. I even knew what kind of story I wanted to write, so I was really sad when I learned he had happened without me. He’s such an astonishing actor and a really good man.
Houston Press: You write across so many mediums. Novels, comics, short stories, everything. Which medium is your favorite to write in?
Neil Gaiman: I have an enormous softness for radio plays. Which I write almost none of for having to send my children out to dance in the street for money to pay for their father’s radio play-writing habit. I do love audio plays because they have all the immediacy of theater or film, but they still engage the imagination in the way that prose does. I think that is an absolute delight.
Houston Press: Have you ever been approached by, say, Big Finish or one of those groups for doing something?
Neil Gaiman: These days what seems to happen is adapting things I’ve already done. A wonderful adaptor, Dirk Maggs, he’s done Neverwhere, Good Omens, Stardust, How the Marquis Got His Coat Back, and is going to be doing Anansi Boys next. All for BBC Radio. I keep thinking it’s one of those things I should be getting back in, making some magical audio stuff. I did it before it was cool. I was doing a lot of it in the late '90s. There was this wonderful thing on the Sci Fi channel called Seeing Ear Theater, where we did “Snow, Glass, Apples,” which I adapted for Bebe Neuwirth, and Brian Dennehy and Michael Emerson, before he was famous, starred in an adaptation I did of “Murder Mysteries.” In each case it was such a delight bringing these things to life.
Houston Press: I know you recently went back and did a preferred text of American Gods, and obviously the show just came out. Do you like watching a work evolve after you finish it, or is it a painful process?
Neil Gaiman: It is a fascinating process. There is a mingling of joy and pain. You get a bit of both. Sometimes it’s a thing where you have to kind of be a grownup. You have to say, “It’s not my thing.” If you’re going to let other kids play in the sandbox, you have to be prepared for them to break the wheels off the toy, or to bring a toy you hadn’t planned, or whatever. But on the other hand, you wind up going, “Oh my gosh, I never would have thought of that. That is so beautiful.”
Houston Press: You do a lot of charity promotion, everything from individual stuff like Cinnamon's cancer fundraiser to more sweeping organizations. In the current atmosphere, where do you think people can put their money and time to make the world a better place?
Neil Gaiman: If I were them, I would look around for things that genuinely matter to them. I think the worst thing in the world is when I go out there and say, “Send money to refugees.” There are over 65 million refugees in the world right now, the highest number of displaced people we’ve had since World War II, and they are out of money. There are so many people in camps. If you’ve got 100,000 people in camps, like you do in Zaatari camp in Jordan, the Syrians, just think about everyone lining up in the morning to get their bread supply. How much does the bread supply cost for 100,000 people? How about the electricity? All that sort of thing.
Then people see me pushing refugees, and they say, “How can you say that when there are disabled veterans not being looked after?” Well, good. Go do disabled veterans. That’s a good one. What about libraries? Yes, you should absolutely go do libraries. Support things that you care about. I think the important thing right now in this strange world we’re in is for people of all political stripes and shapes to get involved, to find things they care about, and to use their time and money and whatever they can to make the world a kinder and safer place.
Houston Press: What is the weirdest encounter you have ever had with a fan?
Neil Gaiman: It used to be that encounters with fans were peculiar and memorable because they didn’t happen very often. I have somehow achieved a facial famousness, which you’re not supposed to have as an author. I always thought I would have the anonymity being an author provided.
My publisher, Bloomsbury in England, Nigel Newton, loves telling this story. In 2002 he hadn’t heard of me, but they had just bought Coraline. We were at a HarperCollins event, and they made us wear name badges. Back then no one really knew what I looked like, but because I was wearing a name badge, all of the waitresses were fans, and several of them had Sandman tattoos. Which meant that in about five minutes, we were surrounded by astoundingly nice young ladies giving us chocolate-covered strawberries, drinks and amazing nibbly bits while all around us the upper echelons and famous authors galore were wondering why they couldn’t get served.
These days it gets weirder. I’ll be in the supermarket pushing the baby around, and people will sidle up and want a selfie. Which I never mind. Weirder is when you catch people taking selfies with you in the background. Wish you’d just come over and say hello. It’s so much easier.
I’m trying to think if I’ve actually ever done anything in Houston before. All I can remember is that I spent a week writing in Galveston, which I did because it was incredibly cold in Wisconsin, and it was not cold there. I phoned the travel agent, which tells you how long ago this was, and I asked if she had a USA Today map. She said yes. I told her, “Where I am is dark purple. I want to go someplace orange.” She said, “How about Galveston?” I said, “Is it orange? Great.”
It was a week I went away to finish writing an episode of Neverwhere. When I got back, my wife was grumpy because I’d got away for a week and didn’t finish it. I wrote a lot of other stuff, though! I wrote “Snow, Glass and Apples” and The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish.” I still look at that week in Galveston as the single most productive in my life. And I did write, you know, seven-eighths of Neverwhere. I look back and wonder why can’t I have a week like that.
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Houston Press: Thank you so much for your time. You mentioned lovely girls with Sandman tattoos. My wife is sitting here recording this interview for me with Delirium on her arm.
Neil Gaiman: They’re the best, aren’t they?
Houston Press: They absolutely are.