The most important thing I took away from Neil Gaiman's talk at the War Memorial Auditorium last night is that he pauses mid-sentence to savor the faraway rumble of thunder, too.
The evening was wonderful, and I'm still flying high from the experience. 1,700 fans were treated to hilarious stories. He described how couples involved him in their marriage proposals. He told us about the gifts fans have given him (including the handmade paper that caused him not to write a much-anticipated short story). Best of all, he described the deeply personal experience that helped him understand what fans mean when we tell him that his books changed our lives.
He did a reading from The Ocean at the End of the Lane that no one else had yet heard him do--he'd promised himself that he would read it on this tour only during a good thunderstorm. The thunder obligingly rumbled most loudly during the scariest parts of the reading, and it truly felt magical.
His Q&A session was funny and flippant. His demeanor was very different than when I saw him eight years ago at the Los Angeles Book Fair. It was obvious that touring takes a lot out of him, and he did his best to maintain his patience with silly questions like, "What would you do if you realized you couldn't remember where you parked your car?"
Neil smoothly segued from the Q&A session to a reading of Fortunately, the Milk accompanied by a surprise guest--Bela Fleck! Neil and Bela became friends while recording an audiobook a while back--who knew?! Bela's banjo punctuated the story so perfectly, at times Keith and I both forgot that the music was being played live. They have a wonderful rapport.
We waited for four (yes, four!!!) hours to have Neil sign our books. Keith slept in my lap for part of that time. I was willing to go home, but Keith insisted that if I missed the signing, I'd regret it later. Smart, smart man. Greeting Neil face to face, hearing him say that I have a beautiful smile, shaking his hand(!), and having the chance to thank him for writing about something very important to me was absolutely priceless.
I'm so grateful to Neil for coming to Nashville, and to the hardworking staff at Parnassus Books who spent months planning and worked into the wee hours of the morning to make this event happen.