The OF Blog: I attended the July 10 Neil Gaiman book signing in Nashville

Thursday, July 11, 2013

I attended the July 10 Neil Gaiman book signing in Nashville

Back in April, I learned that Neil Gaiman was undertaking what he was calling his last book signing tour.  Out of idle curiosity, I checked the tour dates, expecting to see only Northeastern, Pacific Coast, and a smattering of Midwest stops with the Southern states excluded.  After all, this tends to be the norm when it comes to book signings, as for some reason those who arrange such things seem to think that Southern cities seem to be less desirable locales to visits.  It is something that has baffled me for years now, not just because I am a Nashville-area native but because it is strange that the nation's third-largest publishing city (more than just music or religious tracts) is overlooked so much outside of the annual Southern Festival of Books, which do draw several famous authors (including Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Junot Díaz in 2012).  But lo and behold, I was half-shocked to see that Nashville (along with Lexington, KY) were listed as tour stops!  A few minutes later, I was putting down $40 ($30 book/ticket, taxes, and a small donation to Humanities Tennessee) for a ticket to the July 10 signing. 

The events leading up to the signing were rather mundane.  Drove into town, parked about 15 minutes before the doors were to open, walked two blocks to War Memorial Auditorium, picked up my reserved copy (my second; I had bought another on release day back in June), and glanced at the very long line (it wrapped around the building, going about a block around and then doubled back to the steps leading up to the main entrance/book pick-up/sales section) and decided that I would rather sit in the shade on the other side of the stairs and wait for the line to clear before I would line up and get a seat in the back/balcony.  After twenty-five minutes of the line moving relatively quick, the end finally was in sight and I lined up.  A bit better than those first die-hards who apparently lined up around 9 AM to get premium seating.

By the time I was seated, it was a little past 5:30 PM.  Below is a panoramic pic I took with my iPhone of the crowd (about 4/5 full at that time).  Not that bad of a seat, even though it was far enough away that people on the stage were a bit too blurry for a clear pic to be taken.  Should note that the seating capacity was said at one point to be ~1700 and by the time that Gaiman came on stage around 6:20 PM, virtually all of the seats (with a rare exception being the one to my right - I had an aisle seat) being full.

Panoramic view of the balcony crowd and the stage.

Gaiman spoke for about 75 minutes.  There were a few things that occurred here that he said he had never done on any of his previous stops.  The first was the choice of passage read.  As he was getting ready to choose a passage, a distinct clap of thunder could be heard outside.  He said he had promised himself that if he ever heard thunder when readying for the passage reading that he would forgo reading from the first three chapters and instead read from a passage around the midway point of the book that used thunder and lightning to underscore the scary qualities of the event at hand.  Having read the passage beforehand, it was a delight to listen to Gaiman narrate it, as his voice is particularly suited to the narrative.

After reading for roughly 30 minutes or so, Gaiman answered several questions that audience members had submitted prior to the reading.  Some of them were rather funny (such as his answering of a question regarding why sex features so prominently in his adult novels), but a few, such as the one dealing with his father, were rather touching.  But the best question was the final one, when he was asked what musician would he dine with here in Nashville if he had the chance.  While many around me were murmuring that he would probably answer that with his wife, Amanda Palmer, Gaiman surprised the crowd by noting that the musician he had in mind was on hand tonight.  The curtains to the audience left of the stage opened and none other than famed banjo player Bela Fleck came out to accompany Gaiman on a reading he decided to do for the first time here, from a children's story that he has recently written.  Below is a blurry pic of the two on stage:

Bela Fleck performing while Gaiman reads from an upcoming children's work.
After the reading/performance (Fleck's banjo playing made the narration even better), there was a break for about 15-20 minutes before the staff began calling people down to the signing line.  Instead of going by sections like most would have expected, section/row numbers/letters were called.  This led to some bemused audience members cheering or booing when their rows were called.  During the 90 minute wait between the start of the signing and my row being called (I would say between those who left before the signing began and those who had gone before that roughly 1/2 of the auditorium had been cleared), the staff arranged for a local cover band/human beat box group (I couldn't catch their full name, but it was something "Symphony") that had recently appeared on one of those Idol/America's Got Talent-type shows to perform a series of covers ranging from Otis Redding to Dexy's Midnight Runners.  Not bad waiting-time entertainment, although I would have loved to have heard more of Fleck's excellent banjo picking. 

Around 9:30 PM, my row (everyone else in it had left after the reading, though) was called and I went downstairs and waited in line for another 20 minutes until I reached Gaiman's table.  During that time, I was informed that while Gaiman would sign all of the The Ocean at the End of the Lane books and one other, only one of those books could be personalized.  Since I had planned on one of the books being an early birthday gift for someone dear to me, I contented myself with getting Gaiman's signature on my contributor's copy of The Weird.

Gaiman's signature inside my contributor's copy of The Weird.
When Gaiman saw the book, he remarked that it was the first time (maybe only on this tour?) that anyone had asked him to sign this anthology.  Since time was brief, I replied that I thought I'd get more authors from it to sign it whenever possible (Jeff VanderMeer was the first).  A few other pleasantries were exchanged about the book and then I was on my way out into the cooler night (heat index was around 100°F at 5 PM) and on my way home.  Enjoyed the entire presentation greatly, with only the vague regret that I couldn't have chatted longer with Gaiman, as he was very affable even though it was obvious that he was tired from the weeks of travel.  First single-author book signing I've been to since I attended the George R.R. Martin one in Nashville back in November 2005 and hopefully there will be more authors who will visit Nashville in the near future outside of the Southern Festival of Books (before any in the area mention it, I am now aware of Salon 615 and may attend some of those events in the near future once my evenings are free again).

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