1) Mononoke's Disappointing Box Office - by RobertB-DC
Mr. Gaiman, after the time, effort, and research you put into the dub of Princess Mononoke, were you disappointed by the film's performance at the US box office? Do you feel that the film was mishandled by Miramax, or were US audiences not quite ready to have their expectations of animation stretched that far?
Not particularly disappointed, but then I've never equated sales, good or bad, with quality, and Princess Mononoke was pretty much the first ever attempt to release something like that into movie theatres in the US. I took much more pleasure in seeing how close we got to 100% at RottenTomatoes.com than I was ever bothered by its box office.
Do I think Miramax could have handled it better? Probably, in a lot of ways -- for example, there was some silliness in the beginning where, once I'd written five drafts of the script, each word having to be approved each time by Ghibli and Miramax, they gave my final draft to someone to make sure that the mouth movements matched the script, and then cut me out of the loop for six months. The person who did the mouth-flap draft didn't like my script, and rewrote it. His version was what was recorded, initially. They screened it. It was a disaster. Then they called me back in and let me work with the director, Jack Fletcher, and he and I went back and put as much of my original dialogue back in as we could, but it all had to be recorded fairly fast at this point. I was proud of the final product, but wished that I'd been included during the period when everything went wrong: it would have made things a lot easier, and we could have been polishing at the end rather than desperately fixing things.
Harvey Weinstein really wanted to trim it. It's a long film. If Ghibli had let him trim, Miramax might have gone much wider with the film, and more movie theatres might have taken a chance on it -- but then, the audience would have been (rightly) complaining about not having been shown the whole film, as it was made, and I'd probably now be answering questions on Slashdot about whether the restoration of the missing minutes on the DVD made up for losing them in the cinemas...
Having said all that, Miramax didn't throw it away: they released it into the "ten major markets", and if the audiences had come out for it, then its theatrical release would have got much wider. Probably best simply to view it as a step on the way to something...
2) The Balance of Collaboration - by buckhead_buddy
Do you find solo work (such as American Gods) to be more productive or pleasant for you than collaborative work (such as Good Omens)?
The graphic novel medium relies strongly on collaboration. Not only with artists and editors, but also to a limited extent with marketers, trademark lawyers, and even the "past continuity" of what others before you have written. Your persistence in this field seems like it could get to be almost hellish unless you drew very solid boundaries with your collaborators or you really enjoyed such chaos.
As a freelance programmer I struggle trying to find the appropriate balance of collaboration to satisfy and motivate. While your work is in a completely different field, I'm curious what thoughts, anecdotes, or advice you might have on keeping collaboration in balance.
I like being able to do both, really. The biggest difference is that I can enjoy the collaborative work, when it's done, more than I could ever enjoy, for example, a short story of mine. I'd never pick up a solo novel of mine to read for pleasure, whereas I've taken lots of pleasure from Sandman: ENDLESS NIGHTS.
There are tricks to collaboration, the biggest one of which is getting the best work from your collaborator by knowing what it is they do, and enjoying it, and bouncing off them.
In writing together, it's both of you having the same story or story voice in your heads. I'm a fairly good mimic, which also helps (it's still amusing to hear people tell me what parts of Good Omens I wrote or Terry wrote. Mostly, they're wrong.)
I suspect I learned more from writing American Gods, or from getting through solo screenplays, than I did from Good Omens or, say, the Beowulf I wrote with Roger Avary, because it's very easy to let your co-writer do a bit you're going to have problems with. But you learn more from getting through the bits you have problems with than you ever do sailing blithely across the parts that, for you, are easy.
Working with artists is a very different process to collaborating with other writers. It's a collaborative process, sure, but, for me anyway, knowing who's going to be drawing something is the first piece in the puzzle of what the story is going to be. I couldn't have made Stardust without Charles Vess, because it started as trying to think of something I wanted to see Charles draw. Given Charles's fondness for trees and faerie and the Victorian fairy illustrators, that was the way my mind went. It's not where my mind would have gone had I decided to do a project with, say, Geoff Darrow.
Occasionally it happens upside down -- I'll write something down and then need to find an illustrator. In this case I normally adopt Tactic #1, which is to say, ask Dave McKean if he wants to draw it. So far I've never had to figure out what Tactic #2 would be, as Dave drew the pictures for Coraline, for The Day I Swapped My Dad For Two Goldfish, and for The Wolves in the Walls. And he will be illustrating a book called Crazy Hair, my next children's book, using the computers he's currently using to animate the creatures and world in Mirror-mask, our film for Hensons.
Beyond that, I'm not really sure what you mean about collaborating in the graphic novel medium. Sure, you work with editors, letterers, publicists, agents, lawyers, publicity people, bookshop and comic shop owners, and, passively, with the people who were there before you. And yes, there's a certain amount of chaos, and yes, I do enjoy it.
But then, that's true for most people in any artistic field. You don't exist in a vacuum. Art's always a dialogue with those who went before, and with the other people out there in your field, and with those who make what you do happen (Composers need orchestras, and grants, and, sometimes, movies-or-games. And lawyers. And agents. Anyone involved in making a movie depends on hundreds of other people for -- well, everything, really.) You have to learn to play well with others, even if it's not your natural temperament. And, unless you're a dedicated hermit and mystery of the James Tiptree Jr persuasion, you will have to deal with practically as many people as a solo novelist -- copy editors and editors and publicists and agents and lawyers and Bookshop managers and so forth... Although you may have lots of down time while you're away and writing, during which people leave you alone.
3) I know I should be asking about you and your work - by rgoer
So I love every word I've read from your pen, but presently I'm in the middle of a dry spell--and the way I figure, if you're going to seek advice, seek advice from one you admire, right? So, are there any authors out there right now you can't get enough of? Anybody you're reading that you feel nobody should miss? Fiction, nonfiction, a decent biography you've read lately? Do you even have time to get a good read in with all the hustle and bustle of just being Neil Gaiman?
I don't get as much reading time as I want, and I miss it very much.
But I still read.
When you start writing fiction, you start reading less fiction. Not sure why this is, but it's true.
Personally, I tend to read indiscriminately until I get obsessed by something. My current obsession, which may or may not turn into fiction at some point, is the Jack Benny radio show, so there's an awful lot of reading about that and about American Radio going on.
Books I've enjoyed over the last few months (off the top of my head, and from a quick glance to the shelf immediately to my right) would include:
The Power of Babel - A Natural History of Language by John McWhorter. Great book about Language, although every country I went to on my recent book tours I'd quote an interesting fact about their language from the book, and someone would say "Well, yes... but it's not quite like that..."
The Knight by Gene Wolfe. One of my favourite American authors just wrote a medeival fantasy with giants and dragons and suchlike, and made a genre I thought was dead clamber out of the grave. Lovely book.
Peter Straub -- Lost Boy Lost Girl. Straub writing horror fiction, or detective fiction, or serial killer fiction, or a ghost story. Or, quite possibly, a mainstream novel about wishfulfillment in the face of tragic loss.
The Penguin Book of Modern African Poetry
Wislawa Szymborska -- Nothing Twice: Selected Poems
No Sleep Till Canvey Island: The Great Pub Rock Revolution by Will Birch -- well-researched book about a period I sort-of knew about. Mostly enjoyable for the way it follows events: British Pub Rock (and Stiff Records, and perhaps the UK version of Punk) can be traced back to the meeting of a hippy film editor with plans for a "Pleasure Dome" and a con-man...
The Turk by Tom Standage -- I'd always wondered about the eighteenth century chess-playing automata...
Essential Acker -- the Selected Writings of Kathy Acker
Tragically I Was An Only Twin -- The Complete Peter Cook edited by William Cook
Things That Never Happen -- Short stores of M. John Harrison (incidentally, Mike Harrison's novel "LIGHT" was, to my mind, the best SF novel of the last five years. An astonishing piece of work.)
I'm looking forward to the new David Quammen book, The Monster of God -- his natural history writing is always enormously pleasurable, and to the new Martin Millar novel "The Lonely Werewolf Girl".
I try and mention books I enjoy on my journal at www.neilgaiman.com, although I've noticed that when I say nice things about books on my journal, they tend to turn up as blurbs on the back of the books some months later...
4) Abandoned ideas - by Anonymous Coward on 01:26 PM September 22nd, 2003
Neil, I vaguely recall from the Neverwhere DVD that the germ of the idea was the homeless of London, but that you were wary of glamorizing something that really is not glamorous. In your Talk of the Nation interview, the serial-killer convention was brought up, and I got the feeling you were uncomfortable with something so dark being glamorized.
I wonder if there have been any project ideas that you've left by the roadside because you felt the result would hold something unfortunate up for admiration.
There was a Sandman story I wanted to write, which would have been a heartbreaker, and would have been about the dreams and hopes of an unborn baby, who was, for whatever reason, never going to be born. I didn't write it because I could imagine it being thrust in front of some pregnant teenager who didn't want to be pregnant to make her change her mind about what she was going to do.
The world of unplanned pregnancy is difficult enough in America; I didn't want to make it harder for someone having a hard time than it already is.
5) That forgotten god from American Gods - by Torinaga-Sama
Okay, this has been driving my wife and I CRAZY. The god in American Gods that you can't remember after you talk to him. Was that modeled after an existing god or did you make that up yourself?
I believe you even stumped the internet on that one.
You'll have to remind me which character you're talking about.
Odd, I thought I remembered everyone in there. Ah well. Memory's a funny thing...
6) As a Brit living in the US I feel very aware of... - by
....how you tailor your writing to which side of the Atlantic your intended audience is on. When I read Neverwhere it was the US edition and clearly contained language and explanations that would seem a little inappropriate to readers in the UK. Do you carry out your own 'translations' of your books? What differences do you see between American and British audiences to which you need to adapt? And how involved are you in the translations to other languages and hence cultures?
I try to stay on top of the US and the UK editions of books (sometimes I fail). Neverwhere needed quite some work for the US readership, which I did 98% of, and the other 2% was done without my knowledge. (For example -- I kept the word "flat" for where Richard lived, in my US version. It's not a universally common US word, but it's comprehensible. The US editors unilaterally decided to change the word to "apartment" and did a universal find-and-replace, and in the bound galleys that were sent to reviewers there were people who believed the Earth was apartment and people started to say things apartmently.)
I'll happily change words when they mean different things -- a pavement in the UK is what an American would call the sidewalk, while the pavement in the US is what Brit would regard as the road. If I have a girl bleeding on the pavement in the US edition, the meaning has changed, so I'm happy to move her to the sidewalk.
A phrase like "It's all a bit of a pantomime," would mean something very different in the US to the UK -- and not in a way that would make a reader stop and realise that English Panto is a long way from "mime".
The first time it happened was with Terry Pratchett, when the US editor wanted us to explain things like Firelighters and English Currency in Good Omens, but we had so much fun with all the extra footnotes and things they crept back into the UK edition. So the Gollancz first edition hardback has fewer footnotes and a slightly darker plot than the current paperback versions on either side of the Atlantic. There were other differences -- Terry changed my Cheers joke to a Golden Girls joke, because he didn't watch Cheers but quite liked the Golden Girls, and I changed my demons dance like the English band in the Eurovision Song Contest line to one about demons dancing like a white band on Soul Train because I suspected Eurovision Song Contests gags might not play in Des Moines.
Stardust I worked hard to keep the same -- even down to the spelling of grey. The UK edition of American Gods isn't the same as the US edition -- partly because I got the galley proofs back a week apart and I was fairly punctilious about making sure that the US version contained as few anglicisms as possible, but much less bothered if the occasional stray "car park" instead of "parking lot" crept into the UK text.
As for other countries -- I'll answer questions from the translators, but with the exception of the French, I'm not up enough in any other language to have any idea of whether or not it's a decent translation, so I'll rely on reader feedback. (Mostly it's pretty good. I keep hearing that the Spanish version of American Gods is a fairly problematic book, though.)
A lot of the time the translators are the unsung heroes, as they take enormous pleasure in pointing out to me when I meet them in person and find myself apologising for hinging so much of American Gods on the several meanings of the word "trunk", or starting all the names of the Endless with D.
I can be fairly certain that when I win awards in other countries for the fiction I owe my translators a great deal.
7) Small Gods and American Gods - by brandonY
Neil, You and Terry Pratchett are two of my favorite authors, but aside from Good Omens, I never noticed much of a cross-over between any of your books. However, when American Gods came out, I couldn't help noticing that the portrayal of its gods and goddesses was very similar to Pratchett's portrayal of gods in Small Gods, another classic. Is this more than a coincidence?
Well, it's also very similar to my portrayal of gods and goddesses in Sandman, which predates Small Gods. But it's not coincidence, although Small Gods is one of the few Terry Pratchett books I've still not read (because I figured one day I'd write a book about gods, and I tend to avoid things in territory I plan to visit. It's easier that way).
Terry and I have very similar worldviews on a lot of things. When I lived in the UK we'd chat on the phone most days, whether we were writing Good Omens or not, talking about plot and about characters and about fiction. Often the conversations would begin with Terry asking "Which one of these two things is funnier...?" and me going "Well, you know, you could do both. What if you...?" While I was finishing American Gods I went to Sweden where Terry and I were guests at the Gothenberg book fair, and Terry wound up unravelling a knotty plot point in American Gods for me on the train, again by listening to me talk about the alternatives and then saying "But you could do both, you know..." and explaining how.
8) Coraline and the writing process for YA novels. - by A Big Gnu Thrush
What led you to write the young adult novel Coraline? Was the writing process for Coraline fundamentally different than some of your other works? How did you control the prose to achieve a balance between richness of language and accessibility to your younger audience?
I have two daughters. I started Coraline for Holly, when she was about 6 years old, in 1991. (She's now 18.) Mostly I wanted to write a story I thought she'd enjoy.
I showed the first few chapters to an editor, Richard Evans, at Gollancz, who liked it but thought that it was unpublishable, as I was writing a book aimed at both children and adults. I was writing the book in my own time. Then, in 1992, I moved to America and ran out of "my own time". I wrote about 6 pages between 1992 and 1998, when I persuaded Jennifer Hershey at Avon Books to give me a contract to finish it. She didn't know what it was, no more than I did, but it wasn't a contract for a lot of money, and we figurted we'd sort out whether it would be published as an adult or a children's book when the book was finished.
I went back to it, but I still didn't have a lot of time, so I started writing it in a notebook, beside my bed, and instead of reading before I went to sleep, I'd write fifty or a hundred words of Coraline instead.
And then I wrote it in snatched moments here and there -- a bit on a railway train, a bit on the Comic Book Legal Defence Fund Cruise, and completed it about a decade after I'd started it.
In terms of style, I knew the style I wanted to write it in from page one, which was the only way it survived such an odd way of being written. It's a narrative voice I think of as Classic English Children's Book, although I'd be hard-pressed to find a specific book which sounds like it, except for Clement Freud's wonderful novel "Grimble", which I seem to keep failing to persuade publishers to bring back into print. I wanted a style that was very clean and straightforward, and in which there was room for things to mean more than they literally meant.
9) Sandman the Movie - by ajs
You commented at MIT (BTW: wonderful reading of a great short-story) that you didn't want to see Sandman the Movie made at this point because of the horrible treatment it had been given (I think the last draft script you had read contained, "Puny humans, your bullets cannot harm me!")
With the change in attitude toward comics in Hollywood, have you considered pressing the issue again? Also, have you considered talking to Hollywood's most successful comic book geek (Jess Whedon) about his getting behind the project? I would be stunned if he wasn't interested, though I'm sure the Firefly movie is sucking down a good chunk of his time....
I love reading at MIT.
The good news on Sandman is that it's currently been taken out of the hands of the producers who've led it down the Road to Nowhere for the last 8 years. Currently Paul Levitz at DC Comics and I are trying to figure out what to do with it.
In a perfect world, a director who has the same kind of passion for the material that Peter Jackson had for LOTR, or Sam Raimi had for Spider-Man will come along and sweep everyone up in his wake.
I suspect that Joss Whedon's probably got his plate filled with his own projects.
10 & 10A)
Journal - by greenfield
You have a journal online at www.neilgaiman.com. What kind of an impact has your journal had on your interactions with the public? What thoughts do you have regarding online journals (aka weblogs) in general?
Re: Journal - by burrows
William Gibson just stopped blogging [williamgibsonbooks.com], stating that informal blog/journal writing gets in the way of writing fiction.
Is there a conflict for you between maintaining your journal and writing fiction? How do you manage your time / ideas / approach, in order to stay active in both?
I've enormously enjoyed the immediacy of having the blog. In some ways it sort of bypasses established promotional and advertising systems. It means that, for example, if I'm giving a talk or doing a signing, many of the people who would have wanted to know this, know it. So while Steve Martin and I were both headlining at New York Is Book Country, and his face was on the ad material, mine was the talk that sold out. And if he had a blog, and blog readers, and so on, like I do, his would have sold out as well. It also means that I have several hundred thousand people cheerfully being some kind of a knowledge pool, for when I need to know things (especially techie things, which are always very mysterious to me) and more questions always being sent in than I could ever answer.
I also like the oddness of the way it exists apart from me - that there are people who wouldn't dream of reading my fiction, but who know that the blog is mostly interesting and funny.
I'm fascinated by what I leave out. Some months ago a cat I'd had for a decade and raised from a kitten was killed, and I didn't put anything up about it on the journal, mostly because I was upset and really didn't want lots of friendly messages of sympathy at that point (it's not that I'll leave out bad things. But that thing felt private, so it stayed off the blog.)
I'm not sure that there's a conflict between journalling and writing fiction. (I'm not sure that there's not.) The big picture problems with doing the journal are more to do with writing in general. I'm a writer: time that I spend writing is time I know I'm working.
And that's not always true -- if I've spent a couple of hours on a journal entry it's probably increased the amount of happiness in the world, but it hasn't got any book written. So there's that. And there's the novel thing as well -- part of the oddness of writing a novel is the way that you start seeing the world through your novel, using the novel almost as a lens, so any observations, thoughts, ponderings, whatever, tend to be put into the novel, which is a good thing.
I'm often hesitant to re-use things I've already put into the journal (although sharp-eyed journal readers noticed some dancing paper dolls in Venice showing up in Sandman: Endless Nights).
It's quite possible that the next time I want to write a novel I'll stop blogging, or, more likely, cut back enormously -- possibly only allow myself to blog if I've I've made my word count, or only post on Sundays, or something equally as mundane. Because the journal's well over quarter of a million words long already. And that's not a book...