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Meeting Neil

Conclave: A Journal of Character is printed and available on Amazon.com; the kitchen at Casa del Lobos is finished; I’ve finalized the plans for the Conclave Release Party (see next post); the kids performed in their first Ukrainian dancing performance; we found a mysterious hole in our basement that we thought was a crawlspace but is much deeper and has a ladder leading down into it, and I met Neil Gaiman.

I didn't meet Neil in the hole in the basement, although wouldn't that have been perfect in its own way?

I first "met" Neil thanks to the magic of twitter.
Both of us are late-night writers online at the wee hours. This is one of the remarkable things about Twitter, that you can be in contact with other creative people whom you might otherwise not meet, and Neil is among a group of well-known writers, musicians, and artists who dip into twitter to communicate with fans and peers, and also to disseminate information. We had tried to orchestrate prior meetings, but tight schedules and other commitments made it impossible. The meet and greet at C2E2 was our only window this time. (Thank you, Cat and Lorraine.)

On Saturday, April 17, C2E2 hosted an Evening With Neil Gaiman at the Arie Crown Theater to benefit the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF). A colorful crowd for the Dream Experience held bags or stacks of Neil’s books, some toting small rolling suitcases filled with massive Absolute Sandman collections, waiting to be signed.

As we waited, we mingled; and my neighbors were the tall and cheeky Dr. Ross of Electrical Engineering at Purdue, the sweet and self-proclaimed shy Katie Barista from Terra Haute (see photo above), as well as a few others who floated in and out of our lively conversation that ranged from the need to supply scotch in waiting lines to coffee beans from Alabama to ex-lovers scarred by Billy Joel music.

Soon it was my turn, and after I introduced myself, Neil scooped me up in a hug that lifted me off the ground! (Those of you who know me well know that I am a hugger. I hug with ferocity the people dear to me, and I value a strong hug. This was a strong hug.)

He was sweet and sincere, and he made me feel as if we were old friends reunited. We spoke quickly about our tables by designed Kwak Chulan, the fascinating (albeit frustrating) phenomenon of the ashcloud, and how grand it would be to hear Gene Wolfe read again. Cat took a photo that she promised to send (I'll post it when I get it), and I stepped aside to give the next person their opportunity. 

After meeting Tony Harris, whose beautiful Art Nouveau-style artwork illustrates Neil’s poem about Sts. Oran and Columba, In Relig Oran, on a print that we were given at the event (signed by both men), I took my seat in the front row, next to Katie Barista and Dr. Ross.

We watched as the remaining fans had items signed and posed for photographs while engaging in surreal conversations with nearby folks about vampirism, the ability of human eggs to select their sperm, and the relative sex appeal of people in different professions.

Then Neil and Cat thanked everyone and went offstage to dine, while the rest of the ticket holders filed into the theater for the “Evening With…” event that began at 7pm.

Acclaimed comic book illustrator Jim Lee graciously introduced Neil, who then began reading: some new poems and stories, and some older pieces that he hadn’t read aloud in nearly ten years. He is a master storyteller, and his words come alive when spoken by the author himself.

From the beginning, Neil was conversational on the stage and seemed to genuinely enjoy himself, more freely sporting his puckish grin as the evening went on. After a brief intermission, he returned to answer questions collected from the crowd that included: how to get a publisher’s attention, subtle rebellion against a grammar school teacher, his upcoming Dr. Who episode, and his writing process. Walking around the stage, Neil would frequently look around and make eye contact with the audience. It’s one of his gifts, this ability to make people feel included.

The event ran late, much to the delight of his fans, and after sincere thanks for attending and supporting the CBLDF, Neil made a gracious exit. 

Neil secured a special place in my family’s heart when he named one of his characters in The Graveyard Book Miss Lupescu (since that is the name of the family I married into. I go by Valya Dudycz Lupescu). My children adore his books and audiobooks, and they loved the film adaptation of Coraline. We have had lively family discussions about the differences between the two media. I treasure books and films that encourage a discourse between parents and children about things like making hard choices, fear, bravery, and fairies (my daughter missed the little fairy ghost girl from the book Coraline).

This is one of the things I admire about Neil’s writing—that it can bridge generations and entertain children, parents, and grandparents. He has books that would not be of interest to kids, but there are others that appeal to both. Certainly adults can appreciate allusions in them that may be lost on children, and kids can appreciate with a childlike wonder the absolute adventure of his words.

On Sunday morning, when I told my oldest daughter about the CBLDF event and showed her photographs on my phone, she was impressed. My photo with Neil gained me points in the cool-meter of my almost seven-year-old. This is no small feat and is probably my favorite part of the Dream Experience.
“Can he come to our house someday, Mama?” she asked. “So I can meet him and show him our Coraline door?” 

Maybe. I have a lot of tea.

As Neil says, "Dream dangerously."

***  Edited to add the link to Cat's Chicago/Stillwater photographs: http://picasaweb.google.com/furrytiger/CHiStill?feat=email#  ***


( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 20th, 2010 03:48 pm (UTC)
That is very cool! Great picture with Neil.

Dr. Phil
Apr. 20th, 2010 05:11 pm (UTC)
wow, valya! what a great story! i can hear you telling it to me! you are so lucky to be scooped up in the arms of neil! XOXO!
Apr. 20th, 2010 09:54 pm (UTC)
What a brilliant evening, I am SO VERY HAPPY for you :D :D :D
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 21st, 2010 01:26 pm (UTC)
Have you read any of his fiction or short fiction? He's an excellent storyteller.

Hooray! I can't wait to hear what you think of the newest issue.
Apr. 22nd, 2010 03:25 pm (UTC)
I've been missing your posts. Good to hear from you again, and great to see all the photos!
Apr. 28th, 2010 04:21 pm (UTC)
:) Thanks, Holly. I have been posting a little, but several people have told me that they aren't receiving updates. Not sure what's up.

I'm happy to read your posts as well. (I miss the regularity with which people posted on LJ before the dawn of the Facebook/Twitter era).

Apr. 23rd, 2010 03:08 pm (UTC)
How wonderful for you! A whole evening and photos, too. I get all flabbergasted when I meet my favorite authors, and here he honored you with your name in his book! That is soooooo cool. Did you get that one signed?

Why is there a comic book legal defense fund? Are artist/authors sued for, say, putting a famous book into graphic book format?

AND WHAT THE HELL IS DOWN THAT HOLE??? Did you go down the ladder? Wow. Scary looking, especially in that eerie green light. I want to hear about what's down there. I'm happy Neil isn't. Down there.

love, me
Apr. 23rd, 2010 04:10 pm (UTC)
Sandy, while I am delighted that Neil chose to immortalize a Lupescu in his book, he didn't know me at the time, so it's all a fortunate coincidence on my part. Or fate?
I didn't get The Graveyard Book signed, but I will someday.

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund was founded in 1986 to the preserve First Amendment rights for members of the comics community (including writers, illustrators, and collectors/readers). They work to have the rights of comics protected in the same way that art and literature have been protected. It boils down to the freedom to express ideas, regardless of the medium used.

I haven't gone down the ladder. It's a precarious entry way. I'll keep you all posted once we explore further.
Apr. 23rd, 2010 04:31 pm (UTC)
I think it must be fate.

Thanks for the explanation about CBLDF. I've heard of it, never knew the function.

Well, it LOOKS precarious. Have fun and be careful when you do explore. How strange. How old is the house? Maybe someone tried to build a bomb shelter in the 50s, or maybe it was used for bootlegging or something exotic!
Apr. 26th, 2010 01:57 am (UTC)
The house was built in 1927.
Casa del Lobos definitely has stories.
Apr. 27th, 2010 07:38 pm (UTC)
Great story and well told! He's been a favorite of ours for a long time. We are looking forward to spending Samhain with him in Wisconsin and I'm sure Drake will have to get his Sandman series signed.
May. 4th, 2010 10:06 pm (UTC)
Here from Neil's blog post. You've got a picture of me! My husband and I are in the first group shot above--I'm wearing a black shirt and glasses, and he's the tall guy wearing the cream-colored Star Wars shirt. We mostly talked about what a yeti would blog about and struggled to get one of my Absolute Sandman volumes out of its case--it turns out the thing was glued in there by the factory! It was all good though, and Neil even drew a little mouse in the copy of Coraline I had him sign for my daughters :).
May. 4th, 2010 11:14 pm (UTC)
Hi Angelus49, thanks for stopping by my LJ and saying hello.
So you were right behind us. Did you overhear any of our many colorful conversation snippets?
May. 4th, 2010 11:19 pm (UTC)
We did. Lots of conversations to hear there! But at least yours were amusing :).
May. 5th, 2010 02:11 am (UTC)
I'm so glad I read this post, although a little late. A lovely and magical evening, and I love the *hug* story.

May. 5th, 2010 04:54 pm (UTC)
It's amazing the things one runs across on the internet. It was nice hearing your version of the evening Valya, although I imagine those conversations scarred me for life :-)

-Dr. Ross
May. 5th, 2010 05:00 pm (UTC)
Re: :-)
Hello, Dr. Ross!

Nice to hear from you. I was hoping that you made it safely home.

I was happy to meet you and chat while we waited. You know, some of those conversations were too wacky to recount here. I couldn't bring myself to transcribe them (and I don't think anyone would have believed them)...although I would not be surprised if they migrate into my fiction someday.


Edited at 2010-05-05 05:01 pm (UTC)
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )