A little trick of the trade among 21st-century journalists: Shortly before calling your interview subjects, check for any new doings on their social media accounts.
In this case, Neil Gaiman is tweeting about his wife’s bum.
Just seconds before our appointed interview time, Gaiman, the “rock star” fantasy/sci-fi/horror author and comics writer, is sharing with his 1.7 million Twitter followers the embarrassment of having just sent a digital image of his real-rock-star wife’s rump to an in-law. The intimate photo of Amanda Palmer, Gaiman tells me, “was not intended to go to her mum,” who was quite a good sport about the whole slip.
The big reveal here, however, is not about Palmer’s dorsal curves but rather entirely about Gaiman’s prefrontal cortex. As the author and I begin our interview, he is able, with total acuity and eloquence, to track twin conversations: one with me, and one with those 1.7 million followers, whose own stories of intimate familial embarrassment he is now merrily reading and re-tweeting.
Is it any wonder that the British-born Gaiman can so often seem like the busiest literary man in America? The best-selling author might have Hugo and Newbery and Carnegie and Nebula and Bram Stoker medals, but this is impressive in its own right: He is a world-class mental multitasker.
To that groaning shelf of honors, Gaiman will officially add the Mason Award, to be presented at a George Mason University ceremony Friday night as part of the 14th annual Fall for the Book Festival running across the region through Sunday (the event, co-hosted by the City of Fairfax, is a mix of workshops, meet-and-greets and presentations). Amid his wall-to-wall schedule, geared toward a raft of creative projects coming next year, Gaiman is taking time to come to Virginia largely because of a previous Mason honoree.
“Stephen King is why a writer like me can have a career,” Gaiman says of last year’s recipient of the award, which recognizes “authors who have made extraordinary contributions to bringing literature to a wide reading public.”
“King is a popular author who has changed the face of the culture,” Gaiman says by phone, as I see him fire off a tweet. “I will never be a popular mainstream writer, but I look at [King] and think: How wonderful you’re mainstream.”
Gaiman says that King is deftly able to be as popular “as hamburgers and pizza. I’m a sushi writer. But more and more people enjoy sushi. I think of myself as having this barking mad glorious career listing all this I’m doing” in King’s wake.
“This” includes his book “Fortunately, the Milk” (illustrated by Skottie Young), due next year — “for readers 8 to 14, and funny adults.” “It’s the silliest book I’ve written,” says the author of “The Graveyard Book” and “Coraline” (the latter was adapted into an Oscar-nominated animated film). “It’s dinosaurs on spaceships and Aztec ponies and aliens and volcano gods and piranhas.”
In his early 50s, Gaiman the multitasker seems to be at full creative gallop. Next summer brings his new book for adults, “The Ocean at the End of the Lane,” then the spinoff miniseries of his landmark graphic-novel epic, “Sandman.” (“If I’d kept going with ‘Sandman’ [after 1996], I’d get up in the morning and dread it. But I love coming back to it 15 years later.”)
After critical and fan acclaim the first time out, he is writing a second episode of the BBC’s “Doctor Who,” due for broadcast, he said, in 2013 — the same year that HBO is scheduled to begin airing its adaptation of his sci-fi novel “American Gods.”
Gaiman is also teaming with a longtime friend, highly regarded designer Chip Kidd, for a new book based on the viral “Make Good Art” commencement speech he gave in May to Philadelphia’s University of the Arts. As he tells me this, he makes more good tweets.
While in the Washington area, Gaiman also hopes to drop by 826DC, the newest 826 Valencia-spawned writing-services youth center started by Dave Eggers (a previous Mason Award winner). To benefit 826DC, Gaiman has contributed to an upcoming short-story collection.
Gaiman’s one regret about the Fall for the Book Festival is that he’ll miss by two days his good friend Michael Chabon, the Pulitzer-winning, Maryland-bred author who Sunday will receive the event’s Fairfax Prize. It was at Chabon’s house in early 2011, in fact, that Gaiman and Palmer were married. And a snapshot from those improvised nuptials went up on Gaiman’s social media platforms.
That one, Palmer’s delighted mum was intended to see.