So I wake up at noon or so on July 11th. I panic. Have I missed the train I was supposed to take? I go downstairs and find directions telling me how to get into New York, including what train to take--the 3:31pm one. Okay. I figure out what to wear. Yes, I get gothy. I'm not going to apologize. Full-time goths alternately disturb and bore me, but I like the look. (So long as there aren't too many piercings.) And obviously, given the way I worship Neil Gaiman, I like some of the same things they do.
So there I am with my black lipstick, fishnet thigh-highs, ankh jewelry, black nail polish, and black short-sleeved shirt jacket, over...a cheerful green sundress with flowers on it. I don't do full goth outfits. Well, usually. I just can't bother with the makeup, and although I do own a lot of black clothing, I don't own enough to go all-out. Unless I'm dressing up as Death from Sandman.
Anyway, I fiddle around for a bit, figuring out what I'm going to bring. I decide on my copy of Sandman #75--it had already been signed by Charles Vess before I bought it. How neat it would be if I could get Neil to sign it? Very neat. Then I look at the time. Oh, lovely, I should have left already. I race out. As I approach the train station, the 3:31pm train pulls out on the tracks stretching above downtown. Oh. Lovely. Can I ever be on time for things? No. No, I cannot. I stalk around for a bit and angst. The next train is at 4:30. I catch this one, and the rest of the trip into the city goes without problem. Well, except for one thing. I turned right instead of left onto West 27th Street, and I ended up walking through the student housing of the Fashion Institute of Technology before I realized my mistake. Weird. Eerie. Very eerie. Don't go there. But why is my father's office in the fashion district of the city? I'm not sure I want to know the answer.
I meet up with Dad, we go to the Barnes and Noble on 18th Street. That was what the B&N website said to do, according to Dad. But the other places said Union Square. It turns out to be in the B&N in Union Square. Yeah, way to go on clarity, Barnes and Noble. The articles announcing the event were no work of genius, I'll tell you that. They didn't say much about what would be happening, just that it was the "East Coast launch" for Coraline, Neil's first "children's book." I had to check Neil's webjournal to make sure he'd actually be there.
We get to the Union Square Barnes and Noble about twenty minutes before the event starts. There are still a few goths trickling up the escalators to the fourth floor, but for the most part, every goth in New York City is packed around the stage-like area where Neil will end up. There are three hundred seats and more like eight hundred people. Dad told me later that, while wandering around the mystery section of the store waiting for the thing to start, he'd seen a bunch of people in a side room clustered around a guy in a black leather jacket. ("I knew it was Gaiman. Who else would wear a leather jacket in New York in July?") He'd considered going up to them and saying that if his daughter didn't get a good seat and her stuff signed, he'd call the fire department to report a violation: there were way too many people in that one fourth floor, and only two escalators (one going down). In retrospect, he says, he wishes he'd done it.
Only now do we find out that only the first three hundred people got tickets, which guarantee them a seat and a signing. Tickets? The scant information contained in the articles about this event said nothing about tickets. Apparently, I wouldn't even have gotten a ticket if I'd made the 3:31pm train. That's a small comfort.
Someone tells all the people who don't have tickets that they have a choice: watch the reading and the short questions-and-answers session from whatever vantage point they can find, or line up at the right in hopes of getting stuff signed, where they'll be able to hear Neil, but not see him. Pissed off, I stalk over to the side and squeeze my way to what will become the front of the line. Neil shows up; he walks in on the left, so those of us on the right get to see him mostly unobscured for a few moments before he's out of our view. Joy. Partway through the reading, I manage to edge into a spot where I can look directly at...the one column that is obscuring Neil's face. I can see his leather jacket. I can see the copy of Coraline he's reading from. I can see his hand when he makes a waving motion with it at one point during the reading. But I cannot see his face.
He reads the third chapter of Coraline. It's definitely good. I haven't read the book yet--I'm saving it. Going to finish Tad Williams's Sea of Silver Light first and get Otherland over with; if I pause to read something by Gaiman I'll never be able to make myself finish something by Williams. Hell, it was difficult going back to Sea after I'd merely reread Gaiman's wonderful short story "Murder Mysteries." Anyway, back to the reading. Neil has a wonderful speaking voice, a storyteller's voice. And yeah, yeah, he's got a great accent--still English enough to sound damn cool to my American ears, but Americanized enough by now that it doesn't distract me from the content of what he's reading.
After the reading, he answers a few questions. Someone asks him what he meant with the quote "Writers are liars." This is one of my own favorite quotes ever; I use it in a lot of stuff. (Yes, I give credit to Neil Gaiman for it when I use it.) Neil answers essentially as I expected him to. I would put his answer down here, but I have the worst memory for detail on the planet. I have never in my life perfectly remembered even a significant fragment of a conversation. I do remember a few things he said (although not exactly; no doubt I am a few words off).
"What it means is, don't trust us." (The beginning of his reply to that question. This one might even be exact.)
Writing uses "the same set of skills that you used to convince your teacher that [something], or that a rabid dog really had eaten your homework." (Yeah, I know, really helpful.)
Later, he was asked about what which of his characters were most like him, that sort of thing. Eventually he got to the point of talking about "stealing" events from his own life as jumping-off points for stories. "We steal, too. Not only do we lie, we steal." He added, though, that trying to say which bits of his stories had actually happened would be like pointing at a mosaic and saying, "All the red bits are true. They really happened."
He talked a bit longer, then, at maybe 6:45 or so, got to signing. Apparently he likes to take his time on signings. (Much later, we--the waiting, ticketless fans--were informed, fretfully, that if it had been any other author, everybody would've gotten their stuff signed already.) So we're told, "If you don't have a ticket, go line up at the right wall and if we have time you'll get your stuff signed." The time ticks by. We are given periodic updates: "Well, there are still 250 ticketholders to go. You'll have to wait a long time." Okay. I don't mind waiting. This is Neil Gaiman. "It's taking a very long time, and Barnes and Noble closes at eleven. You might not get anything signed. There are pre-signed copies of Coraline if you want them." Okay. I wait. "You probably won't get anything signed. It's taking too long, and we close at eleven." Why don't you stay open? asks one fan who's been to several signings before. He says that the usual way things go is this: it takes forever, the store makes nervous noises, the store stays open way late, and eventually everyone gets their stuff signed. "Oh, Barnes and Noble can't do that," we're told. "It's too disruptive. There are 125 employees here. We'd have to pay overtime for all of them! We'd have to do all kinds of things! It'd be a mess!" They can't make a mess for an exceedingly popular cult author who has begun to flirt occasionally with the mainstream. Oh no. Not a chance. They are special. And they certainly couldn't have bothered to learn about how long Neil's signings tend to take beforehand. They couldn't even have bothered to tell the non-ticketholders flat out that they wouldn't get stuff signed, in order to spare them the trouble of waiting hopefully for hours. In fact, they had to tell these people to move over to the side and waste their chance to actually see Neil as he spoke, because this way they would get a signature. Which none of them got.
Eventually we get told we're going to have to clear out; Barnes and Noble will be staying open late (oh, the horror!) just to accommodate those lucky fans who do have a ticket. Amy Burton, Neil's publicist, swings by. She's really apologetic about the whole mess. It's not her fault, or Neil's, for that matter. Most of the original crowd is gone by now, and she gets the addresses of those of us who are still there. She says she'll see if she can get something special sent to us to help make up for the fact that we waited for hours and got nothing in return. Stay tuned for whether she actually manages to get anything sent to us.
So finally, Barnes and Noble kicks us out. I get one of the pre-signed copies of Coraline. Dad and I get something to eat at Penn Station, because we've hung around in Barnes and Noble from before 6:00 to past 10:00 waiting for something I never got, and then we go home.
I got to hear Neil speak, and I got that pre-signed book. It wasn't a total loss. But damn, I'm still pissed off at Barnes and Noble.