Book Mania Redux

I’ll return to spanking the deserving in just a bit. Right now, I’m wearing my new “I’m Kissin’ the Muse” t-shirt, I’m listening to Turbo Ocho, and I’m just wanting to think about books and writing and everything.

Oh, and a word about Turbo Ocho: it’s not April 29th and I already own it! Ah ha ha! I’m listening to it right now! Woo-hoo! And it’s gorgeous, and if you’re not a Peacemakers fan, you really need to become one. Like, now. Amazon will let you pre-order.

Look. If a black metal chick can listen to southwestern rock, so can you.

I’m listening to my favorite band ever, so I might as well talk about my favorite author ever: Neil Gaiman, my darlings, hands-down. It’s a tough choice – he’s competing with Terry Pratchett, Connie Willis, Guy Gavriel Kay, Lynn Flewelling, Patrica A. McKillip, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Friedman, Susanna Clarke, Robert Holdstock, R.A. Salvatore, Warren Ellis, and my dear, departed Robert Jordan, among many others. But Gaiman wins.

He wrote Sandman.

If you’ve never read Sandman, you have two orders on Amazon to make. Get to it. Preludes and Nocturnes will start you off nicely.

And don’t give me any of that, “But Dana, it’s a comic book” shit, either. I tried that whine. Because I was a pretentious bitch who wouldn’t lower her nose far enough to see the pages of a comic, I missed out on many years of Sandman in my life. If it wasn’t for my friend Justin, who browbeat, cajoled, pleaded, and finally just shoved the thing in my hands and forced me to read a few pages, I’d still be Sandman-deprived, and that’s a horrible fate.

Sandman changed my life.

It took away my fear of death. You can’t fear death when Death is a cute, perky Gothic chick with a mile-wide smile.

It taught me the power of dreams.

It showed me the power of myth.

It made me aware of a lot of different kinds of people I’d never really noticed before, such as lesbians trying to have babies, and the plight of the transsexual when it comes to rituals that are for women only.

It gave me the greatest comeback ever to Descartes’s ridiculous “Cogito, ergo sum.” Yes, even better than the Descartes-walks-into-a-bar joke. And no, I won’t tell you what it is. Go read the series.

The language is phenominal. The art is astonishing. The scope of the stories is incredible. It won a fucking World Fantasy Award, all right? No comic book has ever won the World Fantasy Award, but Sandman’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream issue did. And it will be the last ever, because the fuckers went and changed the rules afterward. Even the fantasy world can’t escape pretentious bullshit, but for one sweet moment, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman shattered their pretentions and forced the snooty world to see that comic books could be every bit as “serious and important” as regular old prose.

It’s that incredible.

On the wall behind my bed, I have two prints of Dream from Sandman: The Dream Hunters, illustrated by Yoshitaka Amano. One of them is signed by Gaiman. And one night, on the way to the bathroom after a bout of writer’s block, I stopped in front of that print and said jokingly, “Allow me to serve you in whatever capacity you wish, my lord.” I even gave a little bow. And that night, I learned you do not joke with the Dream King, because I hadn’t even finished peeing when a story idea slammed straight into my brain, and I hadn’t finished washing my hands before the thing was whole and complete in my mind. I wrote it in three hours. It’s one of the best stories I’ve ever written.

And no, it wasn’t fan fiction. Do shut up.

So that’s where my love affair with Neil Gaiman began. And it has never stopped. His short stories are wonderful. There’s one, Nicholas Was… that is only 102 words long, that remains my favorite Christmas story ever.

He wrote my favorite poem, “Locks.” I read it to my mother one night. It was the only way I could pay her back for all of the bedtime stories that led me to become a writer, and it was lovely.

He wrote my favorite essay, “Being An Experiment Upon Strictly Scientific Lines.” Funniest treatise on drinking and writing I’ve ever read. And I’ve got a DVD of him reading it in that – oh, to die for! – British accent. I nearly pee myself laughing every time I watch it. “Elephant spunk again?” ROTFLMAO!

I know, I know. If you haven’t read it, that’s not funny. So go read it.

I’ve read American Gods. Hallucinated it, too. I got so involved in the book that I forgot to eat for nearly thirty hours, and by the time the battle of the gods rolled around, my blood sugar had dropped so low that I experienced the battle in vivid sensory detail. Very strange and very fun.

I’m not about to try reading it drunk.

Neil Gaiman has not only been my favorite author, he’s been one of my compasses. I went to see him in Chicago in 2001, and I’ll never forget one of the things he said about writing: “Being contentious is what you should be doing. You should be shaking people up.” I try to remember that when the urge to tame down an element in a story in order not to offend anyone tries to overtake me. Writing safe, comfortable fiction is fine for them as likes it, but it doesn’t have impact, it doesn’t have passion, and it’s sure as shit not what I’m wanting to do as an author. Neil Gaiman gave me the two sentences I needed to free myself from fear. If I become a pioneer, it’s down to him. If I get burned at the stake, well, oops.

And he’s one of the nicest people in the universe. I’m not that nice. I wish I was. I hope I can treat my readers with half of the respect and caring that he treats his with, because if I can, I’ll have my fans feeling as warm and special and loved as they deserve.

When I met him, I said, “Neil, I just wanted to say thank you. You’ve never disappointed me.” I was having a rabid fangirl crisis, and it was the best I’d managed to come up with, slightly more original than the omigod you’re so awesome can i have your babies!!!11!1! schtick. But it was still silly.

Yet he leaned back in his chair and looked at me as if amazed by my profundity, and he said, “That’s the sweetest thing of you to say.” And damn it, he meant it. It was as if no one had ever told him how incredible he was before.

When you’ve won as many awards, achieved the fame and status he has, and can still treat every fan as if they’re the most special thing in the universe to you, well, you know you’ve got humility. He’s not into abasing himself, mind, he knows he’s good, it’s just that it’s never gone to his head. He still seems bemused by the fact people like his scribbles so much.

He’s an amazing writer, and an even more amazing human being. That’s why I love him so.

Now go read Sandman. And when you’re totally hooked on comics, as you will be, come back to me for some more. I’ve got a list will blow your mind.

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Book Mania Redux