Neil Gaiman
Craig Shaw Gardner

8,148 words
posted:  april 23,  1999

[The material below is an edited version of a
discussion held at MIT on March 18, 1999.]

The Challenges of Working Across Cultures: Mononoke Hime

Question: Neil, I heard that you were working on Mononoke Hime with Hayao. Did working with another storyteller from a completely foreign culture give you a new way of looking at our mythology? I know that he is working with Japanese mythology in a western context, did that prompt you to look at western mythology in a Japanese context?

Neil Gaiman: A couple of things have come out of working on Mononoke Hime, one of which is that I have actually started on a Japanese Sandman story for the tenth anniversary with an artist named Yoshei Takamano. I spent so much time reading up on Japanese mythology that I felt, "I want to do one of these." Mononoke Hime was fascinating.

I got a phone call last April from Harvey Weinstein at Miramax. He said, "We just bought a film called Mononoke Hime, which has broken every box office record ever made in Japan. It is an amazing cartoon. We are going to be bringing it out as a Miramax film, not as a Disney film. It's going into the cinemas as a PG-13 animated film because apart from a few gory moments there is really nothing in it that would rate an 'R'." So they came to me and asked, "Would you write the English script?"

When I asked to see the video, he said, "No, I don't want you to see it on a video screen; we'll fly you into Hollywood and we'll do a screening for you." So they flew me into Hollywood the next day. There I am sitting in this huge screening theater all alone, waiting there, when finally the projectionist asks me, "Can we start?" So they showed it to me and once I'd seen it I understood completely why they hadn't sent me a video. It has to be seen in the cinema, it is the most astonishing piece of animation I have ever seen.

So I volunteered fairly enthusiastically to do a draft of the script. They already had a literal translation, but that literal translation was very "Saturday-morning-cartoonish". So I went off to face two interesting problems one of which I think we have solved and the other I don't think we ever solved. Firstly, the storytelling is not western storytelling: it doesn't do the things that it needs to do -- especially in the last third of the film -- in order to satisfy a western audience. For example, I don't think I am giving anything away by saying that at the very end of the movie the young prince, who had left his village in the beginning of the story, says to the beautiful girl, who lives with the wolves, "You are going to stay in the forest and I am going off to this nearby town and maybe we'll see each other a bit."

At one point Miramax said to me, "How do we make this work for a western audience?" And I said, "Well you could persuade Mr. Miyazaki to shoot a scene where the prince rides off and then turns around and she says, "No, No! I'm coming with you!" But that just isn't there. A lot of the beats that western audiences would like aren't there and some of them we kind of filled in.

There a few parts where you really have no idea what is going on and I talked to the people at Studio Ghibli about this. I said, "There are points in the film where you do not give enough information and the viewer has no idea what is going on, and they said, "Yes that's because the Japanese love what we call the 'Huh?' Factor. They sit through a movie and they go, 'Huh?' I didn't get that. I'm going to go back and see it again!'"

Unfortunately a western audience confronted by the same thing will say, "Huh? I didn't get that. That was a dumb movie." So you have a sort of cultural divide going on. So we went in and filled in stuff in some places. But the other problem was that at the end of the day if I wrote a line that required the character to open his mouth three times and he only opened it twice, no matter how great a line it was it had to change.

It is a terrific cast: Claire Danes is San, Minnie Driver is Lady Aboshi, Billy Bob Thornton is Gigo the Monk, Billy Crudup is the hero, and of course Gillian Anderson is playing a giant wolf. I believe the release date is July 9th. We're just going back right now to re-record a couple of parts.

The whole experience was fascinating; it was absolutely great. I walked into my first big meeting after writing the script and said to them, "That was enormously fun. It was quite wonderful. Don't ever ask me to do anything like that ever again." You'd see me sitting there with my video watching a line over and over again, going, "What did they ..? oh oh, okay. And he's got to say, 'I'm never coming back' but all he is saying is 'oh oh oh'. And I'd go mad trying to figure out where I could fill in more explanation, or add more cultural references. For example, at one point our hero cuts off his hair, puts it down on an altar, and rides out of the city -- you need to know that this means he has renounced his identity, and has joined the dead. It is a little easier for the western viewer, if one of the characters clarifies this, so that is what I tried to do.


Writing for Various Media

Terry Johnson: This is a question for both of you because you both have had a lot of experience with different media. I was wondering how you got involved from comic books to film to literature. Around here if you were working in the biomedical department and said, "I think I'll do a little archaeology," you'd get some strange looks. I was just hoping you'd have some comments.

Craig Shaw Gardner: Networking, being in the right place at the right time, and sometimes stumbling into things. I haven't done anywhere near as much as Neil has, but when you write something that people like and remember, they'll get you for something else.

Gaiman: I think accident has a lot to do with it, luck is a big one, and yes, if you tell a story that someone likes and remembers they are likely to come after you for something else. Working in comics made the leap into television and film very easy because people could see that I could tell stories in pictures with things moving around, while they might not make that assumption as easily from prose. How do these things happen? Neverwhere the TV series happened because I was an Arthur C. Clarke Award judge one year in England. It is an award given to the best SF book published in England that year, which means I had to read everything, which was kind of like aversion therapy for SF. I was a judge for two years, by the end of the second year that was it. (I will occasionally sneak back in and read a Gene Wolf novel and sneak back out.)

We were having a meeting of the judges in the Groucho Club (named for Groucho's line, "I wouldn't join a club who would have me for a member"). This was a meeting that forever spoiled any respect I might have had for any award, since I learned how awards are given. Some people feel very strongly about one book and some people feel just as strongly about another book, but it's the second choice book that nobody hates, which ends up getting the award.

At that end of that meeting, I turned around and there was Lenny Henry, an English actor and comedian whom some of you may know from Chef. Lenny and I had worked together in the past and he said, I am just starting a film company called "Crucial" and we've been talking to the BBC and they were saying that they wanted a fantasy series for the 1990s so I said, "Yeah." He said, "I've got an idea to set it among tribes of homeless people, do you want to think about it?"

I got home and wrote him a long fax saying that I don't really feel comfortable with the idea of tribes of homeless people on TV because I could make it seem really, really cool to be homeless. And I don't really feel comfortable with the idea of some 15 year-old girl from Liverpool running away to live on the streets of London, because she's seen how cool it is on the telly. So I said, "Let's take it as a metaphor. Let's follow the idea through of there being two Londons, and the idea of there being people who have fallen through the cracks of society, but let's take a step further into the realm of the impossible and that was "Neverwhere." So it's sort of by accident, it's sort of a matter of being good at one thing, and it's kind of like a confidence trick, you just hope they never catch on.


Working with the BBC

Christian Becklin: I have a question about Neverwhere, I heard there was some story about "The Great Beast of London," would you care to elaborate on that?

Gaiman: It was really interesting doing Neverwhere with the BBC. On the one hand they had no money so they were very content to film what I had written; on the other hand, they had no money. Not only did they have no money, but they had no money and they had an attitude: "We are the BBC and we know what we are doing." I would say, "I took five years to write these scripts; I constructed them so that they were meant to do certain things." And they would say, "No, we know what we are doing." And my favorite we-know-what-we-are-doing moment was "The Great Beast of London."

Now those of you who have read Neverwhere, the novel, know that the great beast of London is described as a giant boar, the size of a small elephant -- it is huge and hundreds of years old, with ancient spears and swords sticking out of it -- it is unkillable. So when we were constructing "Neverwhere" we figured that a huge chunk of the budget was going to go to this great beast. When I asked the director how he was planning on doing the great beast, he said, "Oh we're going to get a boar and we're going to go back and forth between that and an aminetronic." So a few days later I went back to the office and they said, "We've got some good news and some bad news." It turns out that all of the boars in England have been crossbred with pigs. There aren't any wild, nasty-looking boars in England.

We went up to this farm and we saw these fuzzy looking things that looked like they would do anything for a sticky-bun. "What was the good news?" They plunked down a Polaroid and said, "We've got Albert" and when I looked at it, it looked like a cow. They said, "It's an Angus Highland Bull." I said, "It's a cow and it is not very scary." They said, "You don't understand, what we are going to do is create a prosthetic mask for it so it will have tusks and spears coming out of it and you won't be able to tell what kind of animal it is, it will just look huge and malevolent and it will work, trust us, we are the BBC and we know what we are doing."

I spent three days grumbling about it, but they reassured me. So I went off to Australia to be the guest of honor at the Australian National convention and while I was away they filmed the Great Beast of London sequences so that when I returned the dailies were waiting for me.

I put in the first tape and everyone was screaming, "Oh NO! The great beast is COMING!" And then it came from around the corner and it was Albert, the cow. And not a brilliantly disguised cow by any means. You could see the little ring in his nose. You could see the shadow of the guy who was trying to lead it around the corner. And I phoned up the producer and said, "So what happened to the mask?" And he said, "Well, the make-up lady said that it was not actually her job union-wise to put masks on large, irate, animals and the props people said that they were not going to do it either. He may not look very scary on the screen, but when you got up real close to Albert, who did not like being in a sewer in London... ."

So I said, "what happened to all the swords and things that were supposed to be sticking out of the back?" And he said, "Look you really did not want to get close to that thing." So as it is I can't help feeling that one of the things that lets "Neverwhere" down as a TV series is the fact that you are building up this big tension -- "Oh No the Great Beast of London!" -- and Albert comes around the corner and they kill him. And you're thinking, "ohh, he was nice."

One of the reasons that I am thrilled to be doing it with Henson and Dimension films is just the idea that I get the Henson creature shop. So I hope that answers your question.


Future Projects

Question: Neil, I heard you speak in New York a few weeks ago and you mentioned a project you were working on with David Lynch. I was wondering if you had done anything further with it.

Gaiman: The David Lynch project will happen one day. It is something we have been talkiing about doing for two and a half years. We just have really bad timing. The times that I have been available to work on it he has been busy building a studio and various other things and the times that he has been available to work on it I've been writing a movie. The good news for David Lynch fans is that he is starting a new TV series called Mulholland Drive, which was planned years ago to be the Twin Peaks spin-off -- the one where the Sherilyn Fenn character was going to come to LA and get involved in the night side of LA and obviously it's not going to be Sherilyn Fenn anymore, but that is what he is currently in up to his eyeballs. Which is why we are not working on our project, but one day we will.

Richlin Powell: We have heard a lot about Neverwhere and now you are also coming out with this wonderful Japanese animation. Is there anything else that you have worked on that is going to be coming out either in video or in radio play format stateside?

Gaiman: Well let's see, Stardust just came out with a novel which is The Fairy Story and Stardust has just been bought by Miramax -- we just closed the deal two days ago. That's actually going to be interesting, because I am executive producing it and I am writing it. So if anybody mucks it up it is going to be me.

The Sandman movie on the other hand, is not anything I have any control over, I don't control the rights. It's horrible. They have been doing these drafts of the script and they have been getting worse and worse and they have fired anybody who did have a clue.

The last draft of the script had the Sandman stripped of his powers by giant electro-magnets underneath New York, all by the machinations of his good-looking brother, the Corinthian, because he is the Lord of Good Dreams. His first line of dialogue is, "Ah-ha, foolish mortals, as if your puny weapons could hurt me, the mighty Lord of Dreams, the Sandman." And after that it got worse. That was just page 3. It is dreadful. I haven't read all of it, I read up to page 14 and felt sick and stopped reading.

I later read a plot summary on the "Ain't it Cool News" Website where I discovered it was about their having to fight or do something before the millenium. I mean it was complete attatash. Luckily he has his two good right fists or one left one, the love of a good woman, and he wins his kingdom back. Anyway they have thrown that one away and hired a new writer and I just hope it never happens.

There may be a chance of a "Death" movie, we don't know. We'd have to spring "Death" out from Warners over to one of the places that actually understands what it's about. "Mononoke" will be first thing to happen, "Neverwhere," the movie, will be the next -- the script is all written we are just waiting for a couple of people to sort out their producing deals. You may think that the Hollywood art form is the movie, but you would be wrong. The Hollywood art form is the deal. Movies are just things that happen because people made deals. If you did not make a movie occasionally there would be no point in having the deal. You all think I am being funny, but it is sad and it is true.

Gardner: Peter Garrison has a brilliant career ahead of him. After The Changling War the next one in the hopper is The Sorcerer's Gun, and the third one in the series is called, The Magic Dead and they will all be coming out incredibly soon. Because I have to finish The Magic Dead very quickly.

Gaiman: Did you pick Peter Garrison because it is next to Gardner on the bookshelf?

Gardner: Yes, other people picked "Peter Garrison." I came up with a number of wonderful pseudonyms that had to do with my family and stuff like that, but they said, "No,no, it has to be next to Gardner on the bookshelf."

Gaiman: Right now I am working on a really, really, really scary children's book called Caroline. It was meant to be finished in September and it's not. Writing this book is like walking towards the horizon, whenever I think I am at least half way through it something happens and I realize, "Oh no! It's longer." It's a children's book about a little girl named Caroline who lives in a flat in a big old house that has been converted into flats so there is one door in their dining room that opens onto a brick wall. And one day she opens the door and there is no brick wall, there is a corridor and she goes down it and she finds herself back in the flat except that it's not quite her own flat. Waiting for her in the kitchen is her other mother who has long, white fingers that are always moving and big, black buttons for eyes and her other mother wants Caroline to stay with her forever. That's the story I am currently writing and it's very scary and it's for little girls and I should be finished with it very soon, I hope.

The Creative Appropriation of Other Works

Mark Cotton: Throughout a lot of your work you have touched upon or done some retellings of stories that we are all familiar with from Shakespeare to Nordsmith to Satan, I was wondering if there was a particular favorite that you had?

Gaiman: Of all of the myth things probably my favorite was Sandman: 50, The Arabian Nights. Just because not only did I get to do that wonderful Richard Burton, fractured, Karah-meets-the-King-James-Bible-on-a-bad-night-while-drunk kind of prose, but also I got to use it to say something. I got to say things about the nature of myth, the nature of story, and the nature of story now, so I was very proud of myself with that one.

I love myth, I love using myth, I love working with myth, I love writing with myth. With Sandman I had to be very careful that it didn't become the "Myth of the Month Club" because people were forever coming up to me and saying: "You haven't done Hawaiian myths yet." "When are you going to do the Australian dream time?" And I'd say, "When I have something cool and important to say that requires that particular myth as a vehicle."

The Joy of Chivalry is a story where on the one hand you have a wonderful eruption of King Arthur's Court -- this knight on a quest into this little old lady's living room and it's lovely. He knocks on her door, saying, "I'm on a quest for the Holy Grail is it here?" and she says, "Well, do you have any identification?" And then he finds it there on her mantelpiece. But the core of the story, and the thing that makes it work is the old lady herself and her rejection of the fountain of youth and understanding why she makes that decision. That's what makes that story more than just Monty Python and the Holy Grail meets modern England. So to answer your question, my favorite is always whichever one I am working on right now and right now it is my Japanese stuff. But in general, I just like making stuff up.


Checking References

Jessie Cox: I know you are creators, but obviously you are also sort of scavengers drawing on all these things from different cultures and different ideas. I was wondering when you are writing these stories, when you draw on these things and make references, how do you decide to form them, do you go back and check them? I can picture Mr. Gardner pulling out little reels of old B movies in his attic and watching them.

Gaiman: The only stuff I'll ever check on the whole is historical stuff. If I am writing a historical story I will double check all my dates, I will double check all my locations, I will double check all my quotes . Because suspension of disbelief is such a fragile thing and it pops so easily. Take a marvelous book by a wonderful storyteller The Enubis Gates by Tim Powers as an example. It's a terrific book, but popped for me three-quarters of the way through when someone is transported back in time to 17th century London, and asks for directions and somebody answers, "It's a couple of blocks down that way." For most American readers that may be fine, but if you're English where the concept of a city block has still not caught on let alone in the 17th century! It was a good enough book that it survived that for me, but it is particularly the historical stuff that pops so easily.

And it applies just as readily to non-ficton as it does to fiction. If you are writing a non-fiction book and there comes moment when your reader says, "you're wrong" you will lose that reader forever. I picked up a book of poetry criticism recently by Tom Dish, who is a fine and brilliant writer, but I did not get any farther than page 4 where he said, "Ah and this is a Baskerville Hound, significant for not barking in the nighttime." No, actually it was the dog in "Silver Blaze" that did not bark in the nighttime, the Baskerville dog did bark that was the whole point. And while it may otherwise have been a brilliant work of literary criticism, I neglected to continue reading.

Gardner: I think that most of the stuff that I come up with is unfortunately bubbling constantly in my unconscious. In the last series that I wrote, The Dragon Circle, I actually based the dragon on eastern mythology and I based a lot of my mythology on the Pacific Rim cultures. So in that case I did a whole bunch of research because I wanted everything to fit in properly. But for the most part especially when I am dealing with bad B movies, that is stuff I have lived with and watched all too much of.

Writers on Writing

Sierra Black: Obviously at this point you are both very famous and successful writers, but I think it is safe to assume that at one point you weren't and I was wondering if you had any words of advice or hope for those of us who are still sort of aspiring.

Gaiman: You don't write to become rich and famous there are so many easier ways. Over dinner Mike was asking me how my career took shape, how did I get to where I am? When I was young and convinced of my own genius, I was convinced that if I ever got to this point it would be due to sheer native brilliance, but looking back on it I think it was luck, fortune and the fact that I was telling the stories that I like to tell. Mostly I write the stories that I write because I like to read them and nobody else is writing them. So I write them and fortunately there are other people out there who want to read them too. I am just lucky that there are hundreds of thousands of people who like to read them, because I wouldn't change the stories if there were only 5,000.

Gardner: I write because I can't not write.

Gaiman: Well there is nothing else that I am any good at.

Gardner: Yes, that's it! I haven't held a real job in 15 years. I am unemployable! And when you write what you really feel, readers know when you are being genuine. You can't write for markets that you are not really familiar with, it shows. Write what you read, write what you love, and then you should get published (we hope)

Question: I'm in a position where I am trying to be on my way to be where Craig and Neil are now; I'm going to have to move over a little later. I have published about a dozen short stories, sold a few more, and am working on a novel and the thing is I have read a few collections of Sandman and it blows me away and I say, "My God this is really incredible, I wish I could do that!" But at the same time I realize that although it would be nice to emulate a certain level of success what you really need to do is find the stories that you are passionate about and tell those and then figure out where the audience is.

I publish mostly in Analog Magazine it may not be the most popular thing in the award ballots, but it is the venue for those types of stories that I love to read and they are the types of stories that I love to tell. As much I would like to do something mythological or humorous, I am not very good at that and it isn't really where my passion lies. You have to be careful not to mix up the desire for some sort of fan with the desire to tell the stories that you love to tell.

Gaiman: The other thing that I would like to add is that you might not actually be the writer that you think you're going to be. Growing up, I always knew that I would be a writer, but I was convinced that I was going to be a Science Fiction writer. You know, sort of Larry Niven-ish or Heinlein-ish, that was what I'd grow up to be. I don't know why I thought that.

What is bizarre, looking back on it, I have never written that kind of SF ever. But if you had asked me at age 17 what I wanted to do I would have said, "I want to write SF" So I was lucky to have found my voice. And I was doubly lucky because Sandman was a monthly comic. When I got that gig I had only published a grand total of 5 or 6 stories in my lifetime. I had been working as a journalist but I really didn't know if I could write a story every month.

One of reasons I came up with the idea of Sandman was because I thought "Okay this will be a machine to tell stories with. I can do anything from the beginning of time and I can work in different genres." But the necessity of coming up with a new story every month taught me an incredible amount and after I had written enough it also taught me what kind of writer I was. All of a sudden -- somewhere around Sandman 10 when I had been doing it for about a year, I started to find my own voice. All of a sudden the lines that had been written by me couldn't have been written by anyone else. That came from necessity.

Sierra Black: What I was really asking was, how you developed from being a young and early writer to someone who could successfully write books and series, epic stuff like that?

Gardner: Trial and error and being too stubborn to stop. Actually I had a great deal of success during the writers group. Because one of the things about writing is that it is a horribly lonely thing to do. You really don't get any feedback when you are sending out those first short stories. The first time you receive anything hand-written at the bottom of a rejection letter is Nirvana: "Good heavens they noticed me!" So I actually started selling my stories on a regular basis when I joined a writers group in the area. And all of us became published writers. I would greatly recommend something like that for really good honest feedback.

Gaiman: A good writers group is worth its weight in gold. I remember going to the Milford SF writers group in 1986 and I was sitting next to people like Lisa Tuttle and critics, John Klute and Gwyneth Jones, and writers like Rachel Pollock. Everyone brought one story and we all read the stories and then did the criticism. I very rapidly realized that the stories that I read were not the stories that they had read and furthermore, they were right and I was wrong. That was a real eye-opener for me to see how much you could put into a story and how much you could take out of a story.

Again the main thing on how you get from being broke and unknown to being moderately well-known and reasonably affluent is stubborness, stupidity, and having a day job. My day job was being a journalist which was the best possible day job for a writer because you learn two enormously important things: the first is how to write under deadline, even if you are in a room full of people shouting, if you have to get it done by 3 o'clock you get it done by 3 o'clock. And the other -- somebody like Ray Bradbury once said something like, you have a million words of crap in you and you have to get them out before you get to the good stuff -- and it was as good a way as any to get the crap out.


Writers vs. Readers

Michael Macaffey: I have read editorials in magazine where they say that they are hoping to discover the next batch of great writers, but I have also heard published authors like Alan Steele say that the world needs more readers and fewer writers. So I guess there is a deadly balancing act that needs to occur for a healthy literary business; I am coming from the perspective of someone who hopes someday to be published what is your position on this whole balancing act?

Gaiman: I think writers are wonderful because writers read. It is not like there are two species. Do we need more readers? Yes! The last survey said that the book buying population of America was only 2-1/2% of the population. That leaves you with 97 1/2% do not buy books and you look at the numbers of books that get sold and what it takes to be a successful book and it is not very many compared to the population. So, yes we need more readers, but of course we need more writers as well! We need as many wonderful writers as we can get.

I still haven't made my mind up about the whole World Wide Web, but I think that the fact that people can put their stories up there and get feedback is terrific. Yes, for heaven's sake write and read and read and write!

Gardner: As one writer, I know I always buy far too many books. I am always looking and I never have time to read them. I read a lot, but never enough! There is all this fascinating stuff out there.

The reading population of the US is very small, but it is pretty constant. There has always been the same number of readers out there. And there has always been the same number of readers of Science Fiction. The population as a whole is growing so the reader base is growing slowly, but since there are far more books being published now the attention gets divided more.


Writers as Readers

Eric Royce: Both of you are masterful storytellers in your own right and I was wondering who were some of your favorite storytellers or what are some of your favorite stories?

Gardner: I always hate this question because it varies. Things that spring to mind are both historical and current. Currently Peter Straub is doing wonderful stuff. In terms of what inspired me, well when I was growing up in fabulous Greece, NY, someone bequeathed their entire collection of "Galaxys" to the local library so I was able to read Robert Sheckley and Philip K. Dick and a lot of really interesting people from the 50s and 60s who influenced me greatly as did the writers from Unknown Worlds: Theodore Sturgeon and C.M Kornbluth and all those people. Actually my Funny Fantasy owes a lot to them and to L. Sprague DeCamp.

Gaiman: Living right now, Jonathan Carroll is an astonishing storyteller, and John M. Fort, Gene Wolf, whom I mentioned before. Dead writers? Actually R. A.Lafferty isn't quite dead, he is still hanging on, and he is one of the true originals and probably somebody who will be discovered in 20 years. I think that it is sad and interesting that they just re-discovered Aphraim Davidson. The Aphraim Davidson Treasury is now out there. Read the short stories and ignore the rather sanctimonious introductions before each one that say, "He was a genius and nobody knew..." He was, and we didn't.

Currently, I am reading something that I picked up accidently because the translation was done by Arthur Machon, who is a writer that I love. I started reading it and discovered that these were not the real translations so I went and got the real translations which are much better. But I am reading The Memoirs of Casanova which I would recommend to anyone who wants to know anything about storytelling Absolutely fascinating stuff -- it's thousands and thousands of pages and it is absolutely gripping. But read it in the new translation and not the Arthur Machon translation.

James Branch Campbell is a wonderful storyteller almost forgetton, ditto for Lord Dunstony. There is a lady called Hope Merlies who wrote a book called Blood in the Midst which is a wonderful book almost impossible to find. Somebody, in the mistaken belief that it is in the public domain, has put it up on the Web and while I do not approve of anything in copyright being up on the Web, this one is out there. Go unzip it and read it, it is wonderful.

Gardner: You can hardly ever go wrong reading the early Ballantyne Adult Fantasy series. Lynn Carter was a wonderful editor.

Gaiman: It is one of the most interesting things about fantasy writers of my generation, if you talk to any of us you'll find that the Lynn Carter edited, Ballantyne Adult Fantasy line which lasted from 1971 to 1973 is profoundly important. Writers like Ernest Bramah, all of these completely forgotten writers of amazing brilliance, who were dragged back into print by Lynn Carter sometimes without clearing the rights. Anyone read Ernest Bramah?

Gardner: I talked to Lynn Carter and he said that the Kai Lung was the worst selling book, but those stories are just wonderful -- actually they are the template for the Number 10 OX books which then won the World Fantasy award

Gaiman: Yeah Barry Hewitt's books are terrific books, but they are not as terrific as all that if you have read the Kai Lung books which came first.

G. K. Chesterton another wonderful story teller. I cannot recommend a book like The Man Who Was Thursday highly enough.


Writers and Their Readers

Question: I am the founder of the small denominational order of Loose Change and what I have done with this Website is play with the mythologies of the people I know. I have also been interested in the recursion between the story that somebody tells and the myth that people adopt in their daily lives. I am not as familiar with Mr. Gardner's work, but whether you are aware of it or not, Mr. Gaiman, The Endless have actually become godforms for quite a number of people. They actually use them the way that cultists would use angels and things like that.

I am sure that both of you have had interactions with fans that tend to take things a step further, so I was wondering how it is for you to find these people who have taken your fiction and made it a part of their daily lives?

Gaiman: I suppose the most honest answer is "It has nothing to do with me." I have been astonishingly lucky, I have nice fans. Clive Barker's fans slash their wrists and ask him to sign in their blood and present him with severed cat's heads and things. And Stephen King's fans turn up in his attic claiming to have bombs. But my fans are really nice people and tend to be astonishingly well-balanced too, which seems to be kind of unfair, but they are. They tend to be reasonably sensible.

I think most of the ones who do incorporate The Endless into their own personal mythologies, do it because The Endless are anthropomorphic personifications of things which it is very helpful sometimes to be able to anthropomorphically personify. I created death as the kind of death that I would like. At that moment when I am looking down at this wrecked body, I want somebody sensible and kind of nice to say, "You know you really should have looked both ways before crossing that street." And not some skeleton who is going to make me feel creepy. I want somebody who is good at this, somebody who has obviously being doing this for a long time. So I created Death and that's who she is and what she does.

Without getting too weird about this, I'll say that there was definitely a sense with all seven of them that I wasn't so much inventing them as I was discovering them. As if I was carving them out of blocks of marble in which they had been waiting the whole time. But also they are useful -- they are nice ways to think about things and if they help, I think that is great.

The only time that I was ever really troubled and worried about any of this stuff was in early 1991. Sandman 19, Midsummer Night's Dream had just come out and I got a phone call from my editor, Karen Berger saying, "Look we just had a suicide. Someone just killed himself and they found a copy of the Sandman on the body and a suicide note signed, 'The Sandman.' We discovered this because a bunch of police came down to the local comic book store with TV cameras. You may well have caused a suicide." And this seemed very strange to me since I could not imagine anyone having just read Sandman 19 and then killing themselves. Okay yes, this is a dark, strange, occult thing. It's like what? Charlie Vess's fairies in Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream, I don't think so. But I had had a really bad weekend so I thought, what if I did? What if something I wrote something sent somebody over the edge? Eventually the conclusion I came to was that I am a responsible creator.

I create as responsibly as I can. Anyone who would kill himself after reading Sandman 19 would have killed himself after watching Married With Children or reading the Bible. This is too weird. And later it actually turned out that it was a murder, it wasn't a suicide. A guy called Ed Houseneck murdered his lover and tried to make it look like an occult and satanic murder by leaving a copy of Sandman, which neither of them had read! It turned out they were X-men fans. And the guy hung himself when the police found out and he left sort of an apology. So that is the nearest that I have come to worrying about that stuff. On the whole I don't. I figure my job is to make up stories and other people can incorporate them into their lives if they want to. And they are free not to. You'd be astonished at the number of them who don't.

Gardner: Yes I think that any writer tries to write moral fiction, fiction that we believe in, fiction that at some level reflects our values. But beyond that you just have to let it go, you can't really be responsible. People are going to react to it in all kinds of different and fascinating ways and you just don't know. I have friend, F. Paul Wilson, who wrote a very nice book called The Keep and from that they made one of the most dreadful movies ever made, but he's not responsible for that. I think it is the same thing with those people who take your stuff and put it on Websites. It is flattering, but you are not responsible for it.


Interactive Media: Comic Books on the Web and Cinema

John Evans: Speaking of Websites and comicbooks, there is the one Website called "Impro-manga" which is "Improvisational Manga." Manga, of course, is Japanese for comic so it is these people writing comics which are sort of inspired by Japanese comics. What happens is every week somebody signs up to write and draw five or ten pages and they can do whatever they want with the story and it is up there for everyone to read. I was wondering if you had any thoughts on whether this is the next wave or just an evolutionary dead-end?

Gaiman: It's neither; it's an interesting artifact.

Gardner: Yeah it's cool! Whether it will lead to anything I don't know. One of the big problems with the World Wide Web is that you can't make any money from most of these things.

Andrew Brooks: A lot of people are jumping on the band wagon -- Douglas Adams just released a computer game, on the other hand, interactive movies have been roundly disliked by test subjects despite what Professor Negroponti might have us think. Do you guys think that the kind of stories that you like to tell could be told in an interactive format and would you like to, or do you plan to involve the audience in a manner like that or is it not possible?

Gaiman: I have said "No" when asked a couple of times to write interactive movies because the joy of storytelling as far as I'm concerned is that I am in control. I don't want you to have the option of turning left down that corridor and then miss the whole thing. The whole computer game thing is fascinating and in gaming you are only giving people the illusion of interactivity and the illusion of free will. But anybody who has ever played the original Hitchhiker's game knows there is one path through that game and that's the path you will take.

What has happend to me uniformly is that lovely people come to me and say all the right things, tell me how much they want me to work on a CD-ROM thing, I say yes, I put four months work into it, they go bankrupt. This has happened with such regularity that I now hesitate when approached by nice people and I say, "No, no you don't want me to happen to your company! Let me tell you about the last company that wanted to do a Sandman game." But then as I understand it most CD-Rom companies go bankrupt anyway so it may not have anything to do with me. I think it is a wonderful medium and if I ever find one that promises not to go bankrupt long enough, I may work on one. But I think the important thing about computer games is that it offers only the illusion of interactivity rather than the actual thing.

Gardner: I think computer games are just in their infancy and we are going to get a lot more interesting things going on there. I think that the interactive movie thing strikes me like 3D -- it's the sort of thing that people do once or twice and then it is gone, because after a while, it is essentially boring. Isn't it done by audience vote? What if you wanted to go one way and everyone else voted to go another way? That would be incredibly frustrating!

Gaiman: The trouble with interactive movies is that the choices are always stupid. You are limited to: do you go left down the corridor? or do you go right down the corridor? You never have the option of: do you throw it all in, cash in your savings bond and go live in the south of France?


The End

Moderator: Well, our speakers have been going at it for two and a half hours. Do you have any closing comments or remarks?

Gardner: Don't you think we've said it all?

Gaiman: You do a comment; I'll do a remark.

Gardner:OK: Read my books, read Peter's books, read Neil's books, buy all of our books -- frankly, I really think you need to read fanstasy novels in order to cope with the real world and that's basically it.

Gaiman: I'll end with not even a remark, but a T-shirt that I was given a couple of years ago: "Join a proud minority: Read Books"

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