Neil Gaiman in Madison

I had the distinct pleasure of seeing Neil Gaiman, Peter Straub and Gary Wolfe speak at the Wisconsin Book Festival last weekend. Hot damn, Neil Gaiman rocks in so many ways. The official title of the talk was something on the lines of “The Evolution of Horror and Fantasy: Genre Fiction and ‘The New Wave Fabulists.” Straub and Wolfe immediately launched into a schpiel on how all the authors hate the bizarre genre title of “New Wave Fabulists”. Wolfe mentioned “When I think of waves, I think of something nasty washed up on the shore.” Straub went on in this vein for a good 20 minutes before saying “I said we should be called something like ‘The Underground River’ or “The Mountain behind that other Mountain Movement.” Wrenched from his reverie over his water bottle, Gaiman shrieked in his fabulous British accent “What, we could have been the mountain behind that other mountain movement.! Well!” It was fantastic.

Some of my favorite commentaries include Gaiman saying something on the lines of “You can write about L.A. or New York passably well just by reading about them and watching TV. However, most people know nothing about the “fly-over states’ (Midwest). I mean, the first time you come here and go outside and your nose hairs freeze, and you can feel EVERY ONE OF THEM, then that is science-fiction.” Much to our delight, Gaiman also mentioned going to the House on the Rock “Wandering around in there for 4 hours, then coming out and looking around for someone to explain to you what it was all about. And no one does. You swear you will never go back, and a few years later you are dragging some friends there. ” Funny and accurate.

One questions addressed to the panel was about getting ideas on horror writing and what really scares them. Gaiman concluded that all the horror writers he knows are very nice, well adjusted (here he gave a toothy beaming smile) folks. “It’s the self-help writers…” he said meaningfully. The other panel members all vigorously nodded their heads. “They’re the ones with the secret rooms.”

The talk ended up with a comment from Wolfe about how reading older books explain and enrich modern books in the horror and sci-fi genres “Like with the composer Daniel Iverson, it’s good music, but if you know that his melodies are Eastern Seaboard Hymns, it makes it that much richer. ” Gaiman whooped with laughter and said “Ah yes, of course, Iverson. They’re all making The Face because they have no idea who he is.” He then made the “knowing” thoughtful face most of the audience was wearing, accompanied by the slow nod that says “ah yes, Iverson” complemented with the sideways eye flicks to see if anyone else knows what the speaker is talking about. All in all a great afternoon. I did pick up his new book but had it signed as a gift for a friend, so I will have to get myself a copy soon. And now, on to what I did read…