Interview with Neil Gaiman, February 11, 1998.


David Roel: To start off with another stupid, meaningless question, who's your favorite Spice Girl?

Neil Gaiman: Um, let's see, they don't have an Old Spice, do they? I think probably Ginger Spice, just because she seems to enjoy having less talent than the others. There was that wonderful line in the New Yorker, where the guy was saying most people seem to grumble because the Spice Girls seem to have become immensely rich and immensely famous on the basis of absolutely no talent, whereas this guy's in awe of them, because they've become immensely rich and famous.

DR: That might be the philosophical point of them: that anybody can do this.

NG: Exactly. Girl Power! I think they're great. I love the fact that I have friends who agreed to appear in their movie, just so their kids could be photographed with the Spice Girls.

DR: I never thought of this before: they might be the music industry's answer to Image Comics.

(Transcript break.)

NG: I sometimes tend to think that nothing can replace actually hearing an author read their own work. It's wonderful for me to look down at a roomful of people, most of whom haven't been read to and enjoyed it since they were about six, and watch them just sitting rapt, listening to stories. It's great. As a writer and as an author, you write in your room, on your own, and you type stuff away, and maybe you will smile at a joke you've just written, but it's different to hear a roomful of people laughing at it.

Jose Carrubba: Neil, if you had your druthers, would you, if you knew you'd have an audience in any case, would you prefer to read aloud or merely to speak instead of write? Do you have any qualms about writing? What's your relationship to your writing and the solitude of it?

NG: I think you need the solitude sometimes for the magic to happen. There are the stories that you write where you know what you're doing from the word go, and you write it to the end, and it was done, and that I could have done to an audience, or whatever. But the ones I love are the stories where I don't quite know what happens, and then somewhere in there I do, between one word and the next, between one line and the next, between one letter and the next, I know what it's about, how it ends, where it has to go, and it follows it straight as a die all the way.

JC: So it has a certain spontaneity that you couldn't reproduce, necessarily, in the context of a group.

NG: Exactly. It's just that the magic is happening between you and the words, and the story takes over and runs itself, and that I love. There's no substitute for that. But it's also a lonely profession. Which is why I love varying it. I wrote an episode of Babylon 5, for the new season, and it was wonderful, partly playing with other people's characters, but also getting to come down to the set for a few days, and watching enormous amounts of money being spent, and all these actors and so forth, just doing the stuff that I'd made up. Enormously fun.

JC: Yeah, that's got to be gratifying.

DR: It's interesting that you're on this program, because Jose has developed an idea against the very concept of fiction. One time you asked me why I write fiction, you said, "If you have something to say to an audience, why not simply put it in an essay form, and just simply say it, why encode it?"

NG: I think there are two answers to that from my position, one of which is just that you sugar-coat the pill. It's a way of saying something without saying it. Fiction allows us to get into other people's heads.

JC: But Neil, do you feel a certain, perhaps, some conscience about the compromise that's entailed therein?

NG: Only to some extent, because at the end of the day, fiction allows you to get into somebody else's head, that's the magic of it. It's all very well to say in an essay, "Do not persecute somebody of a different skin color." That's one thing, but it's another thing to read a book in which the protagonist is a character of a skin color other than your own but is persecuted for it, and all of a sudden halfway through the book, you're going, "How dare they do this? How dare they?" Because it's you, and you're in there, and it's allowing you to actually take on somebody else's point of view.

DR: It's a visceral, emotional connection, rather than an intellectual one.

NG: And I think you need both, in order for anything to work in this world.

JC: I suppose I explore the compromises involved between the visceral, emotional connection, and a live, immediate...

NG: I find myself reminded of Abraham Lincoln's words to Harriet Beecher Stowe, when first he met her. She was the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, and it was during the Civil War, and he said, "So you're the little lady who started this war." There was a very real level on which all of the tracts and statements that had been made had none of the effect of Uncle Tom's Cabin.

JC: Well, clearly the power of the word is legion...

NG: I think it's the power of fiction that must not be underestimated. Because the power of the word, we know about that. But the power of fiction to change things, and to change people's attitudes is a remarkable one.


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