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A Man, A Book, A Theater

I never told you about my Ann Arbor trip, did I? Bad blogger. Fail.

When Neil Gaiman announced that he was doing his last-ever US book tour, I decided I should probably go to a reading before my chance to do so went away forever. Not that I really think it will - he'll do something that's not called a book tour, I'm sure. But hey, I had time, there was a tour stop that was relatively close (it was Michigan or... Louisville? Lexington? something in Kentucky), and it all seemed like a good idea at the time.

I decided, since everyone always says Ann Arbor is such a fantastic city, to go a day early, spend Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning wandering town, go to the reading Sunday night, and drive home Monday morning. Except... when I bought the ticket and booked the hotel room, it was April or so. By the time the weekend rolled around, it was most definitely summer. And hot. And humid. And really no fun to be outside.

But hey, it's not like I had anything better to do. So I saw most of downtown Ann Arbor, which is very cute when it's not boiling hot outside, with art galleries and little shops and way too much football gear for sale (not that I get to say anything, I live in Columbus). After dinner, I decided I'd had enough weather for the day, and went to the movies :-) White House Down is exactly what you expect: Channing Tatum's audition to be the next John McClane. Which would probably be more fun than the last Die Hard movie... anyways.

Despite wanting to sleep in on Sunday, I didn't... wide awake at 6:30. So I got up, had breakfast at Zingerman's (delicious), and sort of wandered between the hotel and downtown for the day. Have breakfast, go back to hotel for a bit. Have lunch downtown at Jolly Pumpkin Brewery, go back to the hotel and watch HBO. Finally go downtown for real, find Dawn Treader Books, spend an hour browsing old sci-fi novels. That bookstore is amazing. If you're ever in Ann Arbor, you should go. It's basically across the street from the Michigan Theater.

Early dinner and a quick coffee, and it was time to find out if they'd let us into the theater yet for the reading. They were indeed doing so, and I picked up my copy of the book that came with the ticket (The Ocean at the End of the Lane), and found my seat. I'd felt all smart about getting a balcony seat with a good view, which was great for the reading... not so great for later in the night. But we'll get to that.

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Of course, being in your seat on time is problematic when the guest of honor has been stuck at the San Francisco airport because of the Asiana crash the day before. Thanks to Twitter, we were of course all aware of that - as the guy running the theater said "you probably already know this, but... he's still on the plane." Props to the staff at the Michigan Theater though - they entertained us with old interview recordings and readings (I forgot how much I love "Chivalry"), and after all, we'd all been given a book to read already :-)

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I think it was 7ish or so by the time Neil got to Ann Arbor. The reading was of course lovely, even if I'd already heard some audiobook samples from the same chapters - he's seriously good at reading stories. The Q&A was highly entertaining - usually the questions get selected before he comes on stage, but, well, no time for that. So he had a stack of cards with questions submitted by attendees, and just picked some as he came across them. ("I sort of like this terrifying randomness!") It was fantastic. We also got to hear him read a bit from Fortunately, the Milk, the new kids' book coming out in September. Favorite line: "Sir... you're a stegosaurus." So much fun.

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And then, the signing. Keep in mind... there were probably 2000 people in the theater. So, they dismissed people in sections. And this is when my seat selection became an obvious mistake. I was going to be there for a while.

A while... became getting in line at 1:30am. Yes, 6.5 hours after Neil came on stage, 7.5 hours after the event was supposed to have started. Good lord... this is the first time I've done that math. Neil Gaiman has some dedicated fans.

The funny thing was... nobody complained. I mean, there was some grumbling and friendly mocking every time they announced that Neil had pre-signed some books, if people had to leave but at least wanted a signed copy (at first, people actually seemed to take them up on that offer, but by the time 11pm rolled around, I don't think anyone was willing to give up anymore). We all started laughing hysterically when the house lights came on completely and somebody started vacuuming the floor around midnight. But really, we just hung out with people we'd never met before, some people would offer to run out and get water and snacks for the group around them, people ordered pizza... it was a bit like a very tired party. And the mood kept staying level, and excited, and friendly, and patient... it was fantastic to see, and some of the staff actually commented on how well-behaved everyone was. I guess this is what you get when you get dedicated fannish book nerds all crammed into one building :-)

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Like I said, I finally got in line at 1:30am, and my book signed at just about 2am. The cool thing about Neil Gaiman (and a lot of people have said this already) is that even when he has to be dead tired and wanting to do nothing more than go home and sleep, he'll make sure each and every person at that signing table feels like they're the most important person in the world for those 30 seconds. You get eye contact, if you're me and totally suck at making conversation, he'll compliment your t-shirt (Yes, I wore a Doctor Who shirt. Most compliments I've ever gotten on an outfit.), and you'll never feel rushed to let him get to the next person. It's really impressive, and I think a big part of why people feel so connected to his work. I know I went home wanting to buy all of the stuff I don't already own (and still might - I do have an Amazon gift card to burn).

And then I drove back to the hotel (never have I been happier to spend money on a hotel room) and crashed... until I woke up at 6:30am and couldn't get back to sleep. Obviously my body clock hates me. I swear the only reasons I made it home without dying were sugar, caffeine, and pure stubbornness. That drive was awful. But it was ok, because I met Neil Gaiman, and it was totally worth it :-)



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