June 27, 2011

An Evening With Neil Gaiman

So tonight around 7:25 tonight I was sitting in a church, waiting for Neil Gaiman to show up. I was also cursing myself for being nice enough to lend my digital camera to my sister, which left me camera-less when the man himself walked into the room. No one fainted. As far as I know.

To be perfectly honest, my first thought was Man, I wish I could live-tweet this. Because if I could have, I would have been tweeting something like "Holy @#$%, he's so close you could @$@@%!&^ attack the man!" I've never had the urge to live-tweet anything before, so it took me a while to figure out where this urge was coming from. After a moment I realized that it had to have something to do with the audience. We (all 300 of us) were sitting there in jaws-dropped awe as Neil (Can I call him Neil? Probably not, we're not that close. I was only in the twentieth row or so.) Gaiman opened his mouth and started to talk. And I wanted the audience to be there together, shooting rapid-fire messages back and forth about his beard (should really come off), his Doctor Who obsession (is awesome), his dog (adorable). It was weird. I am not normally a live-tweeter, but apparently the presence of the Gaiman can do that to you.

Tweeting aside, it was a lovely evening. Adam Savage (apparently of Mythbusters fame) interviewed Neil, and off they went. At times I was tempted to think they'd practiced the whole thing beforehand, as Adam pulled obscure quote after obscure quote about literature from his pocket, dropping them haphazardly into the conversation. Neil talked about his immigrant experience as it related to American Gods, about the difference between what you intend to create and what is there when you're finally through, about Daleks and invisibility and Mars bars. It was lovely. Being in the twentieth row (or so) it was exceeding hard to see the man. I had to crane my neck -- but that's what happens when you get there only twenty-five minutes early to see Neil Gaiman.


Some selected quotes:

- Regarding the weirdness of arriving in the Midwest to live: "Does this water taste weird to you?"

- Question from the audience: "Are you tweeting right now? Like, with your feet?" Answer: "I'm tweeting with my mind. With the hashtag #whataweirdquestion"

- Oddly appropriate for my WIP: "You never had to hide behind the sofa from little mermaids."

And then there was a bit about meeting a red Dalek and feeling sorry for it, because apparently Daleks can't see the color red. Apparently this would curse it to effective invisibility.

Final thoughts: lovely show. I'd see it again. I'm tempted to type in an emoticon at this point, but will abstain.

ETA: Coincidentally, I happened to write a blog post today that mentioned memoirs, Neil Gaiman, and bee-keeping. I can say almost for sure that if Neil Gaiman writes a memoir about bee-keeping, I will read it.

Why (Read) Memoir?

Recently I put down a memoir. I'd picked it up on the recommendation of Michael and Ann of the excellent podcast Books on the Nightstand, and gotten about 40 pages or so into the story before setting it down again. At the time I couldn't quite pinpoint why I was having trouble getting into the story. The writing was quite good -- the author is a well-received writer of novels -- so that wasn't the problem. But for some reason, I just wasn't captivated.

There are a lot of reasons why books captivate or bore, and I could write at length about all of those. I'm not trying to make an all-encompassing statement here on why I read in general. But I was able, after a few days of thought, to come up with the particular reasons I'd put down this particular memoir. It wasn't because it was a bad book. It wasn't because the author is a bad writer. To put it simply, there are two reasons I read memoir (assuming, of course, a baseline of decent writing and storytelling, and the like).

1. The author. There are fascinating people out there, and though I'm not prone to celebrity stalking as much as some people, there are certain well-known people I pay attention to. Neil Gaiman, for instance. I would definitely pick up a memoir by Neil Gaiman, or by Vienna Teng. Musicians, politicians, actors, writers -- there are many whose name on a book would immediately pique my interest.

2. The subject matter. I am a travel memoir junkie, mostly because I can't afford to do any of the traveling myself. Same goes for food -- can I afford to hit the hot spots where twelve course dinners are $250 a person? Hell no. Also, I've got some food allergy troubles. But for some reason, I've been really into food memoirs lately, by chefs or just really good eaters. Add to this list the ever-increasing line of subjects I find fascinating... Bee-keeping, for one. I would read a memoir about bee-keeping. Or jaguar-taming.

The problem with the memoir that shall go unnamed is not that it was bad, as I said earlier. It's just that I read memoirs for two very simple reasons, and this memoir satisfied neither of those. I know the author's name, but am not particularly interested in him otherwise, and the lens of the story was not a subject I found interesting.

So readers, why do you read memoirs? Do you read them at all?

June 8, 2011

Running/Writing

Running is a lot like writing. This is one of those statements I feel qualified to make because I'm currently occupied with both: I just started training for a half-marathon, and I'm currently in the middle of trying to make my NaNo soup look more like a linear story. Don't believe me? Read on.

1. They both operate on delayed gratification. Sure, you can go for a run tomorrow. But when will you start to see the results? If you're like me (motivated by the desire to be physically fit and less flabby), it's going to be a few weeks before the physical changes start kicking in. In the meantime, you have to bust your butt and take the pain.

It's the same thing with writing. Sure, there may be instances of "IAFOS! The perfect sentence!", but by and large writers are partly motivated by the desire to develop their skills, finish books, and ultimately get published. Again, these are not changes you are likely to see tomorrow. And probably not in the next few weeks, either. (This is an instance of running delivering before writing does.) But if you keep at it, your writing will improve. You will finish your first draft, and then your second. And if you have the discipline and patience to keep at it, you stand a shot at being published. (Eventually.) (And because the rest of your puny competition will have thrown in the towel.)

2. They're both occasionally painful. Ever felt the muscle seize up after you ran four miles for the first time in months? Yes, that's painful. I've been running for four weeks now and still occasionally wake up sore. Don't get me wrong, I actually kind of enjoy it. It makes me feel like I've accomplished something. But it's still pain, and it doesn't really make me thrilled to get up in the morning and get to the track.

Writing? Well, keeping to a schedule and writing every day is painful too, at times. Sometimes it's really hard. Sometimes all you can do is stare at the wall and think thoughts along the lines of: "I hate this story! This sucks! It's so unoriginal! Everyone's doing vampire/werewolf/zombie/mermaid/unicorn books these days! No one is going to like it! It's not the same as it was in my head!" I may eventually take back this statement, but for now I'll lay it out there: Writing is generally painful. Writing is generally hard. But if you want to be a writer...it kind of needs to get done.

3. They are both worth it. I was a serious athlete in high school, and continued (sort of) in college. But now that I have an office job, it's difficult to motivate myself to get moving after a day of mind-numbing paper-pushing. But I still do it (and hope to continue). Why? Because exercise is key to a healthy lifestyle. Because it helps me sleep better at night. And because (yes, it's vain) I want my body to be attractive (in a healthy way), and I don't like that it's only my own laziness that stands in my way.

I also want to be a writer. I want it so badly, sometimes I can't sleep because of it. I read the agency blogs, I know the news, and every time I hear about a new book deal I think about how that's going to be me someday. Every day I sit down to write and push through the can't-find-words syndrome, that's a day closer to being where I want to be, no matter how few or how silly my words are. It's an accomplishment, writing another 750 words, running another 4 miles. It's work towards my goals. And that makes it all worth it in the end.