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“There are things in this book, as in life, that might upset you. There is death and pain in here, tears and discomfort, violence of all kinds, cruelty, even abuse.” That is how best-selling author Neil Gaiman introduces his latest collection of short fiction and poems. The book is called “Trigger Warning,” named for the caution now used on images, films and literature that could trigger flashbacks or anxiety. The anthology is filled with what the Newbery Medal-winning author is best known for: ghost stories, science fiction and fairy tales. Join Diane for a conversation with Gaiman on why he says these stories are about the masks we all wear.
- Neil Gaiman Author of more than 20 books of fiction for children, young adults and adults. His best-selling book, "The Graveyard Book," won a Newbery Medal. The adaptation of his novella "Coraline" was nominated for both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe.
Read A Featured Excerpt
Excerpted with permission from “TRIGGER WARNING” by Neil Gaiman. Copyright 2015. Reprinted with permission by William Morrow. All Rights Reserved.
Neil Gaiman's Favorite Video: Amanda Palmer's "The art of asking"
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Fiction writer Neil Gaiman is the author of more than 20 books for children and adults. He's won dozens of awards, including a Newberry medal for his bestselling fantasy novel "The Graveyard Book." One of this best known works is his eerie children's novel, "Coraline," that was made into an Academy Award nominated film.
MS. DIANE REHMThe title of his latest anthology of short stories and poems is "Trigger Warning," and he joins me in the studio. I invite you to be part of the program. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Neil Gaiman, it's good to meet you.
MR. NEIL GAIMANIt's such an honor to be here, Diane.
REHMWell, thank you very much. You know, I'm looking at the subtitle of your book, "Short Fictions And Disturbances." What do you mean to convey by that?
GAIMANI liked the idea. Well, partly it's because when I did my very first book of short stories about 20 years ago, it was called "Smoke and Mirrors," and I thought I need a subtitle so I called it "Short Stories and Illusions." And that was good. So now, I'd set something to motion and when I came to do this, I thought, well, it has to be short fictions and something. And I looked at the stories trying to figure what they had in common. And I thought, well, disturbances feels about right.
GAIMANThey're the best of the stories, I think, even when they're funny, even when some of them are heartwarming are unsettling. They contain disturbances in our lives. They contain moments that things get turned upside down and some of them, they do that thing that I tend to do where they don't really settle down in any one genre so they may trip over the border into horror and then trip back or something. And I thought disturbances, that's a good word and as with the title, it lets you know that things may not be safe within this book.
REHMTalk about that title, Trigger Warnings."
GAIMANWell, "Trigger Warning" is something that I first ran into online where -- on things like Tumblr or Twitter where if you were linking to something that could contain disturbing content that could potentially upset someone, trigger some kind of PTSD-style flashback, you would let them know that this post or whatever, this image could be very disturbing. And I saw that and thought, that's such a good idea. That keeps people safe.
GAIMANAnd then, I noticed that they were not heading out into universities and there were -- last year, there was a certain amount of fuss being made about whether great works of literature, for example, should contain trigger warnings and I look at the screen, no, they definitely shouldn't. You should not put a warning on the beginning of "Romeo and Juliet" saying you may not want to read this because it contains under age sex and suicide and murder.
GAIMANYou don't want to warn people. What you want to do is say, if you are a grownup, if you are in university, if you are studying this thing, it may disturb you and it may challenge you, whatever it is, and you're going to have make the choice. Do you go there, would you not go there? And for me, I thought -- started reading the argument, started seeing university professors explaining why they didn't want trigger warnings on things in their classes and felt that the whole idea of putting a warning on literature is one that just fascinated me.
GAIMANAnd I thought it's absolutely a topic for discussion. It's absolutely something that's interesting and out there. I know that several of these stories would upset people. I put something in the introduction, which many people have read as a joke and it actually really wasn't, when I mentioned that I have a friend who cannot cope with tentacles and there is a giant tentacle in one of these stories. And people have said, well, you can see Gaiman, you know, joking about this thing, making light of it.
GAIMANI'm going, no, no, this is my friend Rocky. I have seen her in a sushi restaurant when somebody walked past with something tentacular on a plate and watched her sweat, fall faint.
GAIMANThis is somebody who cannot cope with tentacles. But the point for me is that we all have, well, most of us have, those places which -- and I'm not just talking about things that upset us. That's one thing. But those places where it's like the earth is kicked out from under your feet.
REHMBut it's fascinating to me, and you've just mentioned your introduction, it's fascinating to me that you did write this long introduction to your collection of short stories. That's fairly unusual.
GAIMANWhen I was a boy and first discovering collections of short stories, loved any single author short story collections in which the author would tell you something about the process, something about the way in which these were written, the situation they were in, who the story was written for, maybe what inspired it because as a kid who wanted to be an author more than anything else in the world, this was like being taken backstage.
REHMFrom what age did you want to be an author?
GAIMANI don't ever remember not wanting to be an author. I do remember times when I thought it would be a complete pipedream. I mean, when I was -- put it this way. When I was about 10 years old, 11 years old, at the age when most kids are fantasizing about being sport stars or athletes, I was working on a grandiose fantasy in which I was the author of "Lord of the Rings." Now, and because I was 10 and had a very strange kind of mind, in my fantasy, I needed to have a copy of "Lord of the Rings" with me and then I needed to accidently slip into a parallel universe exactly the same as the one we were in, except Tolkien had not written "Lord of the Rings."
GAIMANAnd then, it got a little bit problematic because I was going to have to find an adult to type the entirety of this copy of "Lord of the Rings" that I had because I thought, I can't just send my book into a publisher. They will figure out there's something dodgy. It's going to have to be a giant typed script and I'm 10 and I can't type. I don't even own a typewriter. So I'll have to get an adult to do it. And then, my fantasy would always get into trouble because I'd go what do I do with this adult?
GAIMANThis adult will know that they typed out this thing. How am I going to pay the adult? Maybe I'm going to have to murder the adult because they can't know. But that was the kind of strange mad fantasy that I would have.
REHMAnd what were your parents' reactions?
GAIMANI think on the whole, because I don't think I ever explained my fantasies about being a writer to my parents, they just loved me reading. They were very happy with me reading, except, obviously, before family events, weddings, bar mitzvahs, things like that, at which point they would frisk me because I would always have a book on me somewhere and they would lock in it the -- they would find the book and lock it in the car.
REHMBecause otherwise you'd go off and find a place to read.
GAIMANThey would find me sitting quietly under a table with my book.
REHMSo you went through school where?
GAIMANI was educated in England in a handful of schools in the south of England.
REHMWhat was your father doing at the time?
GAIMANMy father was doing a whole bunch of things, primarily owning a vitamin company and doing property, buying and selling property.
REHMAnd your mother?
GAIMANMy mother was a pharmacist.
GAIMANAnd both of them were -- it's very strange. A few years ago, I was doing a signing in Barnes and Noble, Union Square and my father, who was in New York for the week -- he's dead now. He's been dead for about six years, but he was there and he slipped in just to watch me at this mega signing. There were 1500 odd people there and I was just signing away. And my agent, Merrily (sp?) who is very wonderful, my literary agent, walked over to him and she said, you know, isn't this amazing? Isn't this wonderful?
GAIMANAnd he said, yes. And she said, you must have always known, though, that it would be like this. And my father looked at her and said, I had a son who wanted to be a writer. I thought I'd be supporting him for the rest of his life. And...
REHMIsn't that something?
GAIMANThat -- and what was great about that is they'd never let me know that. He'd never -- I'd never got that from him.
REHMAre you an only child?
GAIMANNo. I had two sisters, neither of whom wanted to write, but both of whom -- it's pretty strange, that thing when you get to be a -- I have three kids and now, you know, adults. The youngest is in college. But it wasn't until I'd been a father, you know, three times and watched this thing happen that I realize that I must have been a strange kid.
REHMNeil Gaiman, his new "Short Fictions and Disturbances" is titled "Trigger Warning." You can join us, if you like, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com.
REHMAnd welcome back. Author Neil Gaiman is with me. He's written more than 20 books of fiction for children, young adults and adults, including his bestsellers, "The Graveyard Book," "The Ocean at the End of the Lane," and "Coraline." His newest is what he calls a collection of short fictions and disturbances. It's titled "Trigger Warning." At the same time, Neil, you've just come out with an illustrated version of one of the stories, "The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains." And this is an illustrated version, which I've had such fun reading. You've read this story in concert halls, accompanied by a string quartet. Let's hear a little of it and then hear how it came about.
GAIMANYou ask me if I can forgive myself. I can forgive myself for many things, for where I left him, for what I did. But I will not forgive myself for the year that I hated my daughter, when I believed her to have run away, perhaps to the city. During that year, I forbade her name to be mentioned. And if her name entered my prayers when I prayed, it was to ask that she would one day learn the meaning of what she had done, of the dishonor that she had brought to our family, of the red that ringed her mother's eyes. I hate myself for that. For nothing will ease the hatred, not even what happened that final night on the side of the mountain.
REHMTalk about eerie.
GAIMANYou know, there's something about having a string quartet that makes an author feel invulnerable. I think all authors should have string quartets behind them. It's a wonderful thing.
REHMHow did that come about?
GAIMANCompletely accidentally. It, like all the best things in life, it just turned up. I was invited to do something on the stage of the Sydney Opera House. And they said, we would love you to do an appearance at Sydney Opera House. And I'd just finished. The story had not even been published yet, "The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains." And I thought, well, that's about 70 minutes long. That would be perfect for what they're asking me, because they said, you know, no more than 90 minutes on the stage. I wrote back and I sent them the story and I -- and they'd asked if I would do something that in some way would have some musical theme...
GAIMAN...and perhaps some visual theme. And I suggested Eddie Campbell, the artist whose illustrations are in that book, could do some paintings that would be projected behind me as I spoke. And they suggested FourPlay String Quartet, who are -- they're like a rock band of string quartets. They're these four Australian, classically trained musicians, who still do things like the Simpson's Theme or the Dr. Who Theme as part of their repertoire.
GAIMANAnd they sent me some of their records and I just thought, these guys are amazing. I sent them the book. They put the music together. I went out there. We fine-tuned it a little bit in rehearsal, did it on the stage of Sidney Opera House, got a standing ovation, and thought, we have to do this again. That was so much fun. And wound up, last year, doing a micro-tour: The Warfield in San Francisco, Carnegie Hall, which was amazing, the Barbican in England, Edinburgh. I'm just...
GAIMAN...it was so wonderful. I felt like I was getting to make movies inside people's heads. And adults don't get read to. They don't, you know, it is the tragedy of adults. People read to us when we are children and we love that and we can make stories up in our heads. But all too often, once you're a grownup, you've lost that thing. People will not read you stories. And suddenly, you can watch people shifting in their seats at the beginning, going, he's going to be telling me the story for 70 minutes. And then, at the end, they're on their, you know, and there are moments in the middle where you can literally hear a pin drop. People aren't breathing. They're just being really still because you're in a quiet pit that's exciting and they don't want to miss a second of it. So wonderful.
REHMI think that might happen now, actually. If you would read for us a story from "Trigger Warning." And it's part of a group of stories, and this is titled, "July Tale."
GAIMANYes. It's part of the calendar of tales, 12 stories I wrote, each inspired by something somebody had said to me on Twitter. And this was July.
GAIMAN"The day that my wife walked out on me, saying she needed to be alone and to have some time to think things over. On the first of July, when the sun beat down on the lake in the center of the town, when the corn in the meadows that surrounded my house was knee high, when the first few rockets and firecrackers were let off by over-enthusiastic children, to startle us and to speckle the summer sky, I build an igloo out of books in my backyard. I used paperbacks to build it, scared of the weight of falling hardbacks or encyclopedias if I didn't build it soundly. But it held.
GAIMAN"It was 12 feet high and had a tunnel through which I could crawl to enter, to keep out the bitter Arctic winds. I took more books into the igloo I had made out of books and I read in there. I marveled at how warm and comfortable I was inside. As I read the books, I would put them down, make a floor out of them. And then I got more books and I sat on them, eliminating the last of the green July grass from my world. My friends came by the next day. They crawled on their hands and knees into my igloo. They told me I was acting crazy. I told them that the only thing that stood between me and the winter's cold was my father's collection of 1950s paperbacks, many of them with racy titled and lurid covers and disappointingly staid stories. My friends left.
GAIMAN"I sat in my igloo imagining the Arctic night outside, wondering whether the Northern Lights would be filling the sky above me. I looked out but saw only a night filled with pinprick stars. I slept in my igloo made of books. I was getting hungry. I made a hole in the floor, lowered a fishing line and waited until something bit. I pulled it up. A fish made of books: green-covered, vintage Penguin detective stories. I ate it raw, fearing a fire in my igloo. When I went outside, I observed that someone had covered the whole world with books, pale covered books, all shades of white and blue and purple. I wandered the ice floes of books.
GAIMAN"I saw someone who looked like my wife out there on the ice. She was making a glacier of autobiographies. I thought you left me, I said to her. I thought you left me alone. She said nothing. And I realized she was only a shadow of a shadow. It was July, when the sun never sets in the Arctic. But I was getting tired and I started back towards the igloo. I saw the shadows of the bears before I saw the bears themselves. Huge they were and pale, made of the pages of fierce books, poems ancient and modern, prowled the ice floes in bear shape, filled with words that could wound with their beauty. I could see the paper and the words winding across them and I was frightened that the bears could see me.
GAIMAN"I crept back to my igloo, avoiding the bears. I may have slept in the darkness. And then I crawled out and I lay on my back on the ice and stared up at the unexpected colors of the shimmering Northern Lights and listened to the cracks and snaps of the distant ice, as an iceberg of fairy tales carved from a glacier of books on mythology. I do not know when I became aware that there was someone else lying on the ground near to me. I could hear her breathing. They're very beautiful, aren't they? she said. It is Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights, I told her. It's the town's Fourth of July fireworks, baby, said my wife.
GAIMAN"She held my hand and we watched the fireworks together. When the last of the fireworks had vanished in a cloud of golden stars, she said, I came home. I didn't say anything. But I held her hand very tightly and I left my igloo made of books and I went with her back into the house we lived in, basking like a cat in the July heat. I heard distant thunder. And in the night, while we slept, it began to rain, tumbling my igloo of books, washing away the words from the world."
REHMNeil Gaiman, reading "July," a story in his new collection titled, "Trigger Warning." You know, I'm -- I marvel at your imagination. Can you tell me how it works?
GAIMANMostly, it begins with daydreaming. Which was something that I only really realized when I was talking some years ago to one of my daughter's classes at school. I went in and there's a bunch of 7-, 8-year-olds, and the first question they asked was, where do you get your ideas?
GAIMANAnd authors always get asked where we get our ideas. And we get asked it and we don't really know and we get scared. So we tend to come up with flip, funny answers that aren't even funny. But when you've got 7-year-olds asking you, you owe them a real answer. So I tried to explain that most ideas begin with the same process as daydreaming. Your mind is just wandering a little and you're sitting there and you start thinking things like, what if, or if only, or what would happen when? And I was giving them the kind of examples that you give school kids. I was saying, okay, what if you discovered that your school teacher was going to kill and eat one of you at the end of term? But you didn't know which one it was?
REHMOh, my heavens.
GAIMANAnd suddenly they, okay, that's, you know, that's a story. It's a story beginning.
GAIMANWhat would happen if you shrank tiny? What would happen if you were invisible? They're lovely, just starting places. And for me, so many of these stories began in that kind of way, just with following a weird chain of thought. When I was about 14 years old, I didn't have a girlfriend. But some of my friends did. And I thought, well, how do I cope with this? You know, I'm in an all-boys school. So I write a girl's name on my exercise books. And when asked about her, I said, no, she's nothing, we're just friends, so that people would think I had a girlfriend.
GAIMANAnd as an adult, I was asked to write a story for a book of love stories. And I started thinking, wouldn't it be strange if that girl -- if I was an adult and she turned up in your life? What would happen if you had made up a girlfriend when you were 15, but now you're in your 30s and she's emailing you and you bump into her? And how does that work? And it's just that -- the what if? Wouldn't that be interesting? What could I use that story to do? What could I tell people with that story? And, of course, normally, for me, the first draft, I'm finding out what I'm saying.
GAIMANThe second draft, I've figured out what I'm saying and now I'm trying to make the theme consistent. I'm trying to make sure that it is about the thing that I discovered that it was about while writing it.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And, indeed, that does turn into a story.
GAIMANIt does. It's called "The Thing About Cassandra." And it was a story that I got to write that was basically about the gulfs between us, about the imagination, and about how -- loneliness and how we cope with it.
REHMAll right. We've got lots of callers. I'm going to open the phones, 800-433-8850. First, to Jordan in New Milford, Conn. You're on the air.
JOURDANOh, good morning. Now, I'm an author. I wrote the book "Me Squared." And I'm currently working with an indie filmmaker because I wrote a little short story spinoff called "Josephine's Job." It's a sci fi story about cloning. And I had some questions about creative control. Because Mr. Gaiman, I really enjoyed the film adaptation of "Stardust." And I wondered, how much creative control did you have over that? And how much creative control do you think an author should have when there's an adaptation of somebody's work being done?
GAIMANWhen I was a very young author, my first graphic novel, a book called "Violent Cases" was adapted to the stage. And they did it in what I thought, as an author, was the best possible way, in that they just took the text of the graphic novel and did it on the stage. And I was amazed when I saw things that were huge and important in the book became trivial on stage. And things that were almost trivial in the book suddenly became important on stage. And I realized that you cannot necessarily simply move something from one medium to another. It needs to be translated. It needs to work in its new medium.
GAIMANWhich is one reason why I tend -- rather than hoping for creative control -- what I tend to try and do with things like "Coraline," with things like "Stardust," with some of the things that are happening in the future, to find filmmakers whose work I love and respect, find collaborators whose work I love and respect -- Henry Selik making "Coraline." And for me, the way that I did that was I finished writing "Coraline." I'd seen Henry's work on "The Nightmare Before Christmas," which he directed, and on "James and the Giant Peach," I thought, he is perfect for this. Sent it to him. He called up. And just made sure that Henry got the option and Henry got to make it.
REHMSo it's trust.
GAIMANI think it's trust. And I think it's a matter of finding people whose work you like and respect. Because no matter how much control you think you have, you're not -- unless you're actually making the film -- which, I ha couple of case, you know, there have been -- a few years ago I was invited to do a short film for a series of silent films and television in the UK. And I figured the only way it work would be if I directed it. Because otherwise I would be writing a 100-page script for a 10-page film. And I knew that nobody was going to get the sense and the sensibility in what I wanted. So I just directed it and I made it. And at that point, you have a sense of, because I say so.
REHMNeil Gaiman, his new book is titled, "Trigger Warning," subtitled, "Short Fictions and Disturbances." And we'll take a short break here. More of your calls, comments, when we come back.
REHMAnd we're back. I'll go right to the phones to Rachel in Rockville, Maryland. You're on the air.
RACHELI wanted to know what Mr. Gaiman's favorite video was, like YouTube video.
GAIMANWhat a great question. Okay. I understand you're actually calling from school.
RACHELYeah. Actually, school just started so I'm skipping for you.
GAIMANI will answer quickly then so you can get back. Thank you so much. I think my favorite video and this is -- this would sound creepy but it's also true, is my wife. She did a TED Talk, Amanda Palmer, she did a TED Talk called "The Art of Asking."
REHM"The Art of Asking."
GAIMAN"The Art of Asking." It goes from her time as a human statue to her time doing the world's most successful music kickstarter and how she learned to trust people and to ask for things. And I am in awe of it. I watched her take it from this idea that she wanted to do to 13 minutes of pure heart and honesty and soul bearing onstage and I look at that video and I just think that it's so perfect. So it's got to be that.
REHMRachel, I hope you'll take a look at that. I'm sure you'll enjoy it. And thank you for calling. To another high school or perhaps junior high school person, Garrett in Columbia, Maryland. You're on the air.
GARRETTHi. I'm Garrett. I'm 13 years old and I've recently written my first novel. It took me seven months to do.
GARRETTSo I was wondering how I can progress as an author, you know, and maybe what I do with a novel once I've finished it and think it's pretty decent.
GAIMANWell, the great thing that you have that I did not have and nobody had until relevantly recently is you have the web. So you have so many ways to get your novel out into the world. You can put it up on Amazon as a thing. You can get it printed these days cheaply and easily and give copies to your friends or possibly, if you have enough chutzpah, sell copies to your friends and family.
GAIMANYou can put it up on the web for people to read and just invite readers and get comments. What do you do next? You write your next book 'cause that's how you get good. And you've come so far by spending seven months and actually finishing it. I tell people that the most important thing you can do is finishing things. You learn more from finishing a story that isn't great than you ever will from starting and abandoning a great story.
REHMI think that Garrett is truly on his way. In the email he wrote, he says, I got up early to spend a couple of hours every day on it. That is a writer.
GAIMANThat's absolutely a writer and that's so smart. My friend, Jean Wolf, who I think is now in his 80s and one of the finest writers that we have still creating in America today, for much of his adult life, would set his alarm for quarter to 5:00 in the morning and before there was anybody in the house, he would get up and he would write from 5:15 to until about 6:30 and that was his writing time.
GAIMANHe'd just write a page, a page and a half each day. But if you write a page and a half each day, you've written a novel at the end of the year.
REHMAbsolutely. Garrett, good luck to you. We'll be rooting for you. Let's go to Janet in Highland, Illinois. You're on the air.
JANETYes, thank you. Neil, is there a disturbance that you are trying to heal as you write? I find it perfect that there should be no warning on literature, because it's vicarious healing. And it -- when it comes at the right time, it's what you need to be whole. And I'm still fishing in your igloo and wondering what I'm going to pull up. But is it healing for you to write the story?
GAIMANIt's absolutely. It's always healing. And I found, there was recently a book about my career, for want of a better word, called "The Art of Neil Gaiman." Which was a lot of -- heavy on the visuals, but essentially, it was an account of everything I've done. And the writer of it, Haley Campbell, I gave her access to my attic and all of the tubs of papers up there. And she included in there, just a small note written in one of my notebooks while I was writing I think it was probably "Stardust." Possibly something else, and it just said, when things are bad, I go to the writing place.
GAIMANAnd that's so true. It's always been my way of healing myself, my way of creating a world that I can control. When things are out of your control, when you write, you're God. When you write, the world does, you hope, on a good day, what it's meant to do. And you come away from a period of writing, you come away from a story with a certain amount of insight into what you've done. But of course, the strange thing is it's not until you re-read something, for some reason, 15, 20 years later, that you suddenly realize what you were writing, what you were saying and why it was important for you to write that story at that time.
REHMTell us about the story "Orange." I know you wrote the entire tale while in the airport and on a plane in one trip.
GAIMANYou know, sometimes you get lucky. There are stories in that book that took me literally years to write. Most of them took weeks to write. And then there was "Orange," which I had let an editor down. I had an editor in Australia and I'd had to pull a story that I'd written for him because publication schedules on something else just meant that he couldn't publish it. And he said, well, will you write me something? And I said, well yes, but it's not like I have an idea and now we're literally 48 hours away from your deadline. And he said, well, just anything.
GAIMANAnd I got to the airport, and I'd been thinking about just some comments that a friend of mine had been making about her little sister who had started using orange tanning cream. An overabundance of orange tanning cream. And was leaving orange smudges on the fridge and on the walls as she passed. And that was sort of sitting there in my head. And I had a vague idea for a short story and then I suddenly realized how the story could be told. And it was that moment of thrilled excitement where I went, if I do the story as a set of answers to a questionnaire, to an interrogation.
GAIMANBut you don't actually find out what the questions were, you're forcing the reader to use their imagination to fill in the gaps. And the reader is going to have to create a story in a very strange and upside down way. And I just sat down in the waiting room, you know, waiting to board, and just started writing it. And remember writing some of it in baggage claim while waiting to change airports. And then landed in Australia and the story was done.
REHMRead a little bit of that for us.
GAIMAN"Orange." Third subject's responses to investigator's written questionnaire. Eyes only. One, Jamaima Glorfindal Petula Ramsey. Two, 17 on June the 9th. Three, the last five years, before that, we lived in Glasgow, Scotland. Before that, Cardiff, Wales. Four, I don't know. I think he's in magazine publishing now. He doesn't talk to us anymore. The divorce was pretty bad and mum wound up paying him a lot of money, which seemed sort of wrong to me. But maybe it was worth it, just to get shot of him. Five, an inventor, an entrepreneur. She invented the stuffed muffin, trademark, and started the stuffed muffin chain.
GAIMANI used to like them when I was a kid, but you can get kind of sick of stuffed muffins for every meal, especially because mommy used us a guinea pigs. The complete turkey dinner Christmas stuffed muffin was the worst. But she sold out her interest in the stuffed muffin chain about five years ago to start work on my mom's colored bubbles. Not actually trademark yet.
REHMFantastic. And that came to you? You just went with it. What it tells me, as I talk with you, and you recount these bits that come into your head from conversations, is how superb a listener you are. And whether that might be a piece of advice you would offer to young Garrett.
GAIMANI think it's a piece of advice I would offer to anybody who wants to be a writer. Listen to people. Listen to the way they talk. I was incredibly lucky, because as a very young man, I wound up, although I wanted in my heart to write fiction, I was, I became a journalist. And I became the kind of journalist who would do interviews with people. And then have to play back the tapes and I'd realize I had 6,000 words worth of interview and I wanted to somehow get it all into 2,000 words worth of magazine article.
GAIMANSo, I get very -- I would become obsessed with speech patterns and how to reproduce speech patterns while still squeezing what people said into the smallest amount of time. And listening to how people actually talk, as opposed to the way they talk on television, on movies. Talk in books is incredibly useful to you. You watch them start a sentence, and then stop and go back. You watch them hesitate, you watch them change course on the way. And the more you can do that, the more you can listen to people, and the more you can eavesdrop, sitting in a Starbucks.
GAIMANAnd just listening to the conversations at nearby tables or being on a Greyhound bus and listening to kids in the seat in front of you is a wonderful, wonderful thing.
REHMLet's go to Kate in Detroit, Michigan. You're on the air.
KATEHello, good morning.
KATEHi. I'm a schoolteacher of 18 brilliant, extraordinary kids who are aged eight and nine. And some of them are tilted in their wonderment toward the grotesque and funny and interesting. Science fiction kinds of thinking. And I was wondering if you had any suggestions for an entrée onto the slippery slope of science fiction for those kinds of kids.
GAIMANYou know, there are -- Diane is holding up my books for me.
GAIMANBut, you know, let us take my books as a given. Let's recommend some other wonderful writers. Madeleine L'Engle's "A Wrinkle In Time" is a great science fiction book for kids. There's an author named Diana Wynne Jones, who wrote magic, fantasy and weird stuff. And she wanders between fantasy and science fiction, but anything by Diana is absolutely worthwhile. And I think, right now, when they get a little bit older, there are people like Cory Doctorow, whose book, "Little Brother," is a wonderful sort of big brother, 1984, but for kids.
GAIMANWhat I think is marvelous, though, is there's so much good stuff for young readers right now. And young readers who like weird genre type stuff. It's out there and it's on the shelves.
REHMI hope that helps. And I really would, very definitely, recommend Neil Gaiman's illustrated book, "The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains." And you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. Let's go now to Robert in Birmingham, Alabama. Hi, you're on the air.
ROBERTI'm doing fine, Diane. Thanks. And two quick things, Diane. Because I just absolutely adore you. Number one, thank you so much for being, for making accessible to the masses of people who listen to you, the most complicated of subjects around the world.
ROBERTThank you for that. And secondly, your husband must have been an extraordinary man to be able to share you with the world.
ROBERTAnd that being said, my question is, there was something about (unintelligible) on certain literature. I, as a person of African descent, certainly believe that there should be an advisory on certain literatures. In terms of being able to decode it. Because great writings like your author has there, these things are translated into movies and things like that. And then we get an Academy Award situation where it's lily white. And so I'm very, very concerned that I really think some of these things do -- if I'm an African person reading this literature, that somehow gets translated as being universal.
ROBERTIt's Euroversal. So, I really think that a proviser (sp?) should be put his literature, because it inferiorizes so many people around the world.
GAIMANYou know, I think, I would agree with you on, up to a point on that. I think the most important thing is to insist, as we were talking earlier about control of movies as an author, and one of the big things for me is being absolutely clear on race in books translating to race in movies. I wrote a novel called "Anansi Boys." In which all of the lead characters are of African descent. Most of them are Anglo-Caribbean. And I was approached shortly after it came out and hit the best seller list by a major Hollywood director and producer, saying we want to turn this into a movie.
GAIMANAnd I said great. And they said, obviously, we're going to make the lead characters white. And I said no, I'm not selling it to you. And I -- you know, and they were going, no, but you don't understand. Black people, it wouldn't work, and maybe white people, and I'm like no.
GAIMANGo away. I'm not selling it to you. And with my novel, "American Gods," which we're currently adapting for television, the only thing that I absolutely held the line on is to make sure that everybody understands that any people of color in the book are going to be people of color on the screen.
REHMI have one last quick question. And I hope for a quick answer. Is there a line you would not cross for children's literature?
GAIMANYes, and I had to discover that when I was writing my last novel, "Ocean at the End of the Lane." And figure out for myself whether it was for children or for adults. And I decided it was for adults because I was not convinced that it offered hope. And I want all children's literature that I write to have hope in it.
REHMNeil Gaiman. His newest collection of short fictions, poems, and what he calls disturbances, is titled, "Trigger Warning." What a great pleasure to talk with you.
GAIMANSuch an honor to be here, Diane.
REHMThank you. And thanks all, for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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