This is a text I received from my friend Kathy on Monday night – “I have had a Neil Gaiman spotting. He’s wearing black.” And then, a few seconds later, this text came in – “I’m standing right next to him texting you.” Perhaps I would have gotten the full thrill of this if I had gotten the messages then, instead of three hours later, but still . . . my friend was standing next to Neil Gaiman.

This fact might have also been more striking if she and I hadn’t both been at Washington College in Chestertown, MD for the express purpose of hearing him speak . . . but still, she was standing near Neil Gaiman.

During the course of the evening he talked about this very idea of fame, about what makes us giddy to be near some people. He discussed that he’s at a “new level of fame” now – “I guess I have to do the Stephen Colbert show,” he said (I thought – “Yeah, that’s real torture, alright.). . . . But he seemed so gracious about it. Aware of his celebrity but also very human.

I have to admit I didn’t expect this. Perhaps it’s a testament to my own cynicism, but I expected him to be a royal A– (Note – no problems with swearing for me, but I’d hate to have someone Google Neil Gaiman and find his name and the word “a–” in the same search – that could be bad for my writing career.) Instead, he was charming and kind and utterly patient with the long line of students waiting to ask questions.

He also read a chapter from The Graveyard Book, and while I had been largely lukewarm to his writing before (Stardust just didn’t do it for me), I found his text and his reading voice to be absolutely engaging. What a fascinating concept to have a baby raised in a graveyard. Good stuff that.

My friend Kathy, bookstore maven that she is, got more of the skinny on this famous man when the bookstore manager who helped organize the event told her that Gaiman only turned down one “real” job in this live – to work for Penthouse UK. (Okay, so now when people Google Gaiman they’re going to get my blog with his name and the word “penthouse” – let’s hope they think “big apartment”). He turned down this gig – so the rumor mill tells me – because he didn’t want to be tied down or roped into a structure that didn’t give him complete freedom in his writing. Man, that sounds good doesn’t it – absolutely discretionary time to write. Wow!

So this reading, in addition to putting me within two degrees of separation from one of the most popular and best writers of our time, taught me a few things – one, there’s nothing better than listening to a writer read in the open air of a warm night; two, it pays to be kind, even when you don’t have to; three, Neil Gaiman deserves another read from me; and four, my friend Kathy is brazen and beautiful in her willingness to text me into her proximity with this writer.

Take a look at these images from the reading. They give you a bit of the flavor.

P.S. I started reading the Anasi Boys, and so far, so good.