Neil Gaiman can do a lot of things that seem magical. He's given us a glimpse into London Below, helped us understand the lives of gods in modern America, told us How to Talk to Girls at Parties, has mixed Sherlock Holmes with H.P. Lovecraft and has still managed to find time to write many children's stories.
But he can't jog in the Texas heat without melting.
"I remember the madness of deciding to jog in Dallas, to go for a run because I thought I would keep healthy, and having the slow feeling that I was getting cooked," Gaiman says in a phone interview ahead of his July 7 event at the Winspear Opera House. "I was like, 'This is an enormous mistake. I had just looked out my window and thought I would go for a run like you do anywhere else, and I feel like I have been put on a grill. By the time I get back to my hotel room, I will be grilled.' "
The beloved author, known for books such as American Gods (now a TV show), Coraline (now a movie) and the Sandman series of comics, spent a lot of time in Dallas a few years ago while his wife, musician Amanda Palmer, was mixing her album Theatre Is Evil in Oak Cliff. While she was out mixing music, he worked on The Ocean at the End of the Lane, a novel that he actually discovered was a novel (as opposed the the novella he had originally envisioned) in Dallas.
"Every night I would read [Amanda] what I had typed up in one of Dallas' little coffee shops that day, and at some point she would fall asleep. So the next morning I would say, 'What was the last thing I read that you remember?' She would tell me, and I would keep reading."
Gaiman will return to Dallas on July 7 for "An Evening With Neil Gaiman" at the Winspear Opera House. Beyond "probably" reading from his latest book, Norse Mythology, he has no firm plan for how the evening will go, preferring instead to shape the event with those in attendance. He loves walking out on stage with a stack of questions from the audience, he says, because it lets him know what they might be in the mood to hear.
"I will read favorite things," he says. "I'll read stories that I have not read before in Dallas. I will answer things, there will be poems, there will be all sorts of things. The best thing for me is that none of these two events are ever the same."
(If you see the word "poems" and begin to lose interest, fear not. As Gaiman has previously said of his collected works, "The poems come free with the stories." Besides, even people like myself who have little affinity for poetry can fall in love with The Day the Saucers Came and Instructions when Gaiman reads them.)
One thing that probably won't surprise any fan of Gaiman's work is that he enjoys Dallas when it's at its weirdest. "I love the oddness of Dallas," he says. "I remember we turned up at our hotel and there was a group of informal musicians who met there I think every Sunday afternoon, which is when we checked in. And they were just sitting around with guitars and things, and Amanda went and got her ukulele and sat in with them. At some point I came and sat down and we sang something unlikely, like 'Walk on the Wild Side,' and I remember thinking, 'This must be a very Dallas sort of thing, because it's never happened to me anywhere else in the world.'"
The last time Gaiman spoke in Dallas was also the last time he was on a traditional book signing tour. Fans waited for hours after his Majestic Theatre appearance just to get a couple of minutes (if not seconds) in front of the shaggy-haired author so their book could be signed. I know this from experience, because I was there as a fan.
When asked if he misses the those sorts of events, Gaiman says, "No, what I miss is the traditional tour of 20 years earlier." Those early events were more personal; in later years, he would often be up until the wee hours of the morning signing books for attendees. At one event, he said, he signed things from 3 p.m. to 3 a.m., only giving each fan enough time to tell him how to spell their name.
"And you're not even getting the moments of interaction with the people that are the joy of a signing tour," he says of those days. "The things that make it worthwhile are the people who need to say 'thank you' and then they lose their words, and they're just crying, and you give them a hug. Or the people who bring the baby who wouldn't exist if they hadn't met their wife or husband in line at some earlier signing. Those wonderful, magic human moments. You lose them when it gets too big.
"So, for me, events like this are a way of trying to not take myself off the stage altogether. Because I think that would be stupid, and I like people. I love reading stuff out loud. I like doing these things. What I don't like is signing from 8:00 until 3:00 in the morning."
More from Neil
Some other fun little details from our interview with Gaiman:
His first celebrity crush
"I think my first celebrity crush would either have been Carolyn Jones as Morticia in The Addams Family or Elizabeth Montgomery in Bewitched. It could honestly have been either, because they were on at about the same time and I would have been 6 or 7 years old and as far as I was concerned, I was watching the blueprint for what you wanted to grow up to love. Had I got either Morticia or Samantha Stephens I would have been perfectly happy. Unfortunately, both of them were married."
His guilty pleasure food
"The trouble with guilty pleasure foods is I love the idea of them, and then there's always I point where I go, 'Aha! I'm alone in the house! There's nobody here but me and I know there's half a gallon of ice cream in the fridge. I'll go eat a bunch of ice cream and nobody can stop me!' And then I eat a bunch of ice cream and I go, 'It's not really fun to eat like this. It ought to be, but it's kind of depressing.'
"The nearest thing I have to a guilty pleasure food is fancy, fancy sushi. And that's a guilty pleasure because it's expensive and it always feels silly, and when it's made perfectly it always feels like you're destroying a work of art by putting it in your mouth."
On why he agreed to read the Cheesecake Factory menu if enough money was raised for charity
"I think that it was barking mad.
"I loved the fact that there's Sara Benincasa, on Twitter, saying, 'I just went to the Cheesecake Factory. It has the longest menu in the world. Neil Gaiman's my favorite reader of things. If I could raise half a million dollars for his favorite charity, I wish he'd read the Cheesecake Factory menu.' I just saw that go by and said, 'If you can do that, I'm there.'"
[Note: The charity drive didn't reach its goal by its deadline, but it did exceed $100k in donations. Gaiman will read something short as a consolation prize, and the #NeilCake campaign still has support online.]
On what superpower he would like to have when he is inevitably hit by radiation
"I would really like to make deadlines stretchy. I would like to make time stretchy so I could just lean against the calendar and make a day that has nine days inside of it so I could get everything I need to do done."