If you could ask Neil Gaiman any question in the world what would it be?
One Rowan student asked, “What’s with the beard?”
“This is technically known as an ‘I’ve gone into hiding and I’m writing’ beard, which has become an ‘I’m going into public with this’ beard,” Gaiman said.
Writer Neil Gaiman visited Pfleeger Concert Hall for “An Evening of Creativity” where he entertained a sold-out room of eager listeners for nearly two hours.
The award-winning author is known for his work in comic books (“The Sandman”), his novels (“Stardust,” “American Gods”) his work in children’s literature (“Coraline,” “The Graveyard Book”) and scriptwriting (“Doctor Who”).
For his visit to Rowan, Gaiman chose to share some of his lesser known or unpublished work, answered audience questions, and gave advice on writing and the creative process.
The first piece Gaiman shared was a poem he wrote for what he described as “the best possible reason:” his hotel’s Internet was down. The poem, “The Day the Saucers Came,” was written in the half hour Gaiman had to kill before his ride to the airport arrived.
“I couldn’t answer my email, I couldn’t do anything and I thought, ‘What a strange world this is where we’re all peculiarly tied to electronic things’ and I looked at my phone and I saw there was no signal and I thought ‘They have writing paper,’” Gaiman said.
Other readings included an unpublished short story titled “Orange” which tells a story through a series of answers to questions the reader never learns, “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury,” a story written for the 92nd birthday of author Ray Bradbury, “Adventure Story,” a piece originally produced for National Public Radio’s Ira Glass’ “This American Life,” and “In Relig Odhrain,” which was inspired by reading about St. Columba and the Scottish Island of Iona.
Gaiman used “Saucers” as a jumping-off point to discuss the idea of creativity and to address the question writers are most often asked: “Where do you get your ideas?”
“People say, ‘So, where do get your ideas?’ and you say, ‘from an Idea of the Month club,’ ‘from a little shop that sells ideas—’ and it’s not a stupid question,” Gaiman said. “It’s the question, that’s why we mock you. We mock you because we don’t really know, we think we know, but we’re not sure and we’re scared that they’ll go away.”
Gaiman went on to say ideas come from “all over the place,” but that a lot of the time, they come from “confluence, from connection — from two things that didn’t live in the same place in your head suddenly meeting.”
He also stressed that daydreaming and boredom can be amazing tools for any aspiring writer.
“Being a little bit bored can be really good,” Gaiman said.
During the Q&A portion of the evening, one notecard asked if Gaiman had any audience in mind when he begins to write a story.
“Yeah, I do. Um — me,” Gaiman said to a laughing crowd. “On the basis that I’m the only person whose taste I know and so I figure, ‘I’ll write something that I’d like.’ Sometimes, I might be writing something for a hypothetical me at age seven.”
The lone exception to his ideal audience is “Ocean at the End of the Lane,” which Gaiman wrote for his wife, Amanda Palmer.
“I tried showing her where I grew up and it wasn’t there anymore,” Gaiman said. “They built all over the fields I used to walk and my childhood was gone. So I wrote her a story set in the world of me, age seven.”
Another question asked how Gaiman combated writer’s block.
“Writers are really, really clever and we’ve managed to convince everybody there’s this thing called writer’s block,” Gaiman said. “You’ll never hear a gardener say, ‘Oh I’d love to garden today, but I’ve got gardener’s block.’ We get stuck. The trouble is saying ‘I’m stuck’ doesn’t sound fancy and it sounds like something you can fix.”
Dr. Lorin B. Arnold, the dean of the College of Communication and Creative Arts, was instrumental in getting Gaiman to come to Rowan. After watching a speech on YouTube that Gaiman made a few years ago at the University of the Arts, Arnold — a Gaiman fan — thought Gaiman would be a perfect fit for the College of Communication and Creative Arts. The college includes majors in radio, television and film, art, writing arts, and journalism. Gaiman has worked in all of these mediums.
In November 2012, Arnold visited Gaiman’s website and looked into what it would take to get the author on campus.
“It says something like ‘Call my agent at this number, get her to tell you how much my speaking fee is, be shocked, say you can get Bill Clinton for that amount of money,'” Arnold said, referring to Gaiman’s Web page. “It was very humorous, but basically it told me it was going to be very expensive.”
In February 2013, Arnold started looking for funding sources. Realizing that Gaiman would be a great fit for the whole university as well, Arnold thought Gaiman would be perfect for the President’s Lecture Series. She pitched the idea to multiple units within Rowan and eventually applied for the President’s Lecture Series.
During that same time, Arnold wrote a proposal to Gaiman, as he does not accept every speaking offer he is given. Knowing that Rowan alumn and professional photographer Kyle Cassidy knew and had worked with Gaiman, Arnold included the possibility of adding a master class that would be taught by both Gaiman and Cassidy. While Gaiman was at Rowan, he told Arnold that the master class ultimately convinced him to accept her proposal over many others.
The master class took place Friday afternoon before Gaiman’s lecture. Gaiman and Cassidy taught Professor Lisa Jahn-Clough’s writing children’s stories class in the Bozorth auditorium, answering student questions and talking about getting ideas, the writing process, revision and collaboration.
Jennifer Dulo, a senior dual English and writing arts major, was one of the students at the master class. A self-proclaimed die-hard Gaiman fan, Dulo received both an autograph and a hug from the author.
“It was amazing because they say, ‘Never meet your idol because they’re never what you expect,'” Dulo said. “He was definitely better than I could have expected.”