On July 10th, my favorite author, Neil Gaiman, came to Nashville during his latest (and last, he claims) book-signing tour. He is promoting his newest book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, across the country, and the War Memorial Auditorium was one of the final stops on the tour.
For Father’s Day, my wife surprised me with tickets. I had mentioned the signing to her a few months ago, and she knew me well enough to know that I would probably just procrastinate and put off buying them. It’s something I do often; I will come across something I really want, something that excites me to my core, then I will talk myself out of it because the thought of actually experiencing it makes me nervous and possibly even a little sick to my stomach.
I know, I’m weird. A lot of people remind me on a daily basis.
But since she bought the tickets for me, I had no excuse not to go. I’m lucky to have a woman at my side who practically forces me to do the things she knows I will enjoy. That may have even been in our vows, hidden somewhere between the lines.
Our seats were not the best, but I didn’t care all that much. I could still hear the amusing anecdotes and stories behind the stories, even if Neil Gaiman’s face was obscured 90 percent of the time by a towering stack of speakers. He answered questions submitted by audience members (“How do you take your tea?” one asked. He deadpanned, “Orally.”), and he read a selection from his latest novel enhanced by the deep rumblings of a Tennessee thunderstorm. He also read an excerpt from a children’s book coming out this fall entitled Fortunately, The Milk, accompanied onstage by Nashville native Bela Fleck
So what do you do when you come face to face with one of your idols?
You thank him.
The attendant handed him the book, complete with a Post-It note on the inside cover inscribed with my name in all capital letters. (A rather ingenious move on their part—no misspellings, no misheard or misunderstood names.) He nodded to me as I approached the table. He then addressed the book with my name, his signature, and a single additional word: “Dream.”
He placed the signed book in my hand, and I simply said, “Thank you.”
“You’re very welcome,” he replied.
Sure, he probably thought I was just thanking him for the autograph. And maybe, in that moment, I was. But I was also thanking him for other things. I was thanking him for the body of work he had created. I was thanking him for the stories he had dreamed up and cast out into the world—stories that eventually inspired me to tell my own. I was thanking him for this speech. In short, I was thanking him for doing what he did, and for doing it so well.
As I write this, I have dozens of unwritten stories in my head, along with a handful that exist in some kind of tangible form in one place or another. One will be finished in the next few days, a 14,000-word novelette that is probably one of my most personal stories to date.
Neil Gaiman is one of the reasons I decided to become a writer. His work showed me how powerful words, ideas, and stories can be. Meeting him tonight and hearing him speak of the power that all these made-up stories can possess has been more than inspiring; it’s been invigorating.
Thank you, Neil. For everything.
(And also . . . thank you for signing my book.)