What it’s like to a be a seriously famous author (Or, my night with Neil Gaiman)

ImageI’ve just had a glimpse of the most incredible rock star writer: Neil Gaiman signing probably 2000 books in the hands of some 1400 people till 2:40am.  After talking on stage to the assembled crowd for an hour and a half before that.

Perhaps more incredibly, many of those 1400 people patiently (for the most part) waited for hours in a hot theater.  Most of them immersed in the pages of Gaiman’s new book, the reason he’s on the road, The Ocean at the End of the Lane (which just debuted on the NY Times bestseller list at #1.  Of course.)

I’ve been in the orbit of Stephen King when people chase him down the street.  Seen the mobs form around Matt Groening, while he kindly signed every last book or piece of paper put in front of him, without evident fear of being squished.  A couple years ago, I helped 6500 people file through a line that snaked through several levels of the Nokia Theater to get two seconds in front of, and a signature from, Tina Fey.

Just a few weeks ago, 1400 people jammed the same theater to see Phil Jackson.  They were into it, Lakers gear and all, but it didn’t feel….religious.  Sacred.

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Row by row, they approached the stage.

“You don’t think we’re all here just cause this guy wrote a couple books that got made into movies and TV shows, do you?” explained one fan as I helped her flap the books to the correct pages in order to keep the assembly line going.  (There were at least 8 other people involved in this carefully orchestrated operation, including someone whose job it was to hand Gaiman the correct pen for the item at hand.  Collection of Sandman comics?  The silver sharpie.  The new book?  A fountain pen.  And so on.)

Me, I had absolutely no idea who Neil Gaiman was until my boyfriend told me he was going to be doing this event for his speaker series, Live Talks LA.  (“You’re not the demographic,” one goth staffer at the theater sniffed at me, but, while there was a detectable geek-goth look evident, I was impressed by the diverse age and racial makeup of the crowd.)

Image“The most famous writer you’ve never heard of,” he told me.

Not anymore.  I studied up on Gaiman’s backstory, guiltily read a precious signed galley of this coveted book before the fans, and proceeded to wear exactly the wrong shoes to stand in for 10-plus hours–even though Ted warned me we’d be there late.

The fact that rock star writer Gaiman is married to an actual rock star, Amanda Palmer, adds to the mystique.  The two live on Twitter, where any schmo can read along as they correspond with each other, Neil’s grown kids and an assorted cast of characters as well as fans.

Right now, Amanda’s on tour herself, and she sent along several hundred CDs of a band she just produced, to be handed out as freebies.

“Amanda sent these for you,” I told people, as we gave handed them out to the crowds, as if Amanda had personally phoned me up and shipped em to me.

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Pre-show book-signing in the green room. People waited in line to get the signature face to face, rather than trading in for one of these so they could leave early.

What makes someone so famous that people are willing to drive for hours, sit in the baking heat outdoors to get inside a venue, sit for hours waiting to have a chance to drop off home-baked cookies, show off their Gaiman-inspired tattoos, and get a signature or two? Clearly, attentiveness to one’s fans is a factor.  He’s so hot, he doesn’t have to minister to his fans.

Perhaps the even more interesting and unanswerable question is: How do you get to be that famous in the first place?  It doesn’t hurt to write stuff that’s good, time and again.  And surely it helps to look as many of them in the eye, let them wax poetic, and respond, “Thanks.”

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