“Books were safer than other people anyway.”

That’s a line from Neil Gaiman’s newest book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It’s a quote from the seven-year-old who narrates the book. I love this quote because there have been times that it has rang true for me as well. But let’s start from the beginning of this story…

A couple of months ago, I discovered that Neil Gaiman was going to be doing a book signing here in Phoenix for the new book that he had coming out on June 18. I also discovered that he was saying it would be his last book tour. Now, up until this point, I had only read part of one Neil Gaiman book ever. I had started American Gods a couple of years ago, but never finished it. (I have a bad habit of doing that, starting books and not finishing them. I wish I didn’t.) But I had heard good things and wanted to read more. He’s a pretty iconic writer in this age, and I couldn’t pass up the change to meet him, hear him speak, and get my books of his signed. (I still have American Gods as well as Neverwhere, which I had yet to start.) Plus his new book looked interesting and you had to purchase it to get a ticket to the signing. So I snagged a book and two tickets to the signing while I could.

The book came out on June 18, and the signing wasn’t until June 26, so I ended up buying the book on my Kindle as well, since I wanted to keep the hardcover, soon-to-be-signed version in good condition. I started reading it at lunch the day of the signing. But more about that in a later blog post. I’ll tell you about the signing first.

I ended up still having my extra ticket to it, but managed the day of to get my friend Tom to go with me. I got there early and waited in the Arizona heat to pick up my tickets and book as well as a free CD of Evelyn Evelyn, a work of Amanda Palmer, Neil’s wife. Then while waiting in line for the doors to open, I plopped myself in the grass and read some more of the book on my Kindle. I finally got in, and Tom got there, and we spent a while listening to Neil read from two of his books (he really is a great reader) and answer a few questions from the fans before starting the signing.

I have no idea how late the signing ended up going, but my guess is pretty late. The guy is just really popular. Each person that got tickets to the event was placed into a letter group depending on when they purchased their ticket. The groups went from A to Z, then after group Z came group AA and so on. The groups went all the way up to group GG and each group had about 40 people in it. Yikes! There were food trucks there, and Tom and I grabbed some awesomely different hot dogs from Short Leash Dogs before heading back inside to wait for our group letter to be called. We were in group M. Once we finally got in line, it moved rather quickly and we only spent a few seconds with Neil while he signed our books. It would be fun to have a conversation with him – he seems so interesting, and very nice too. We left around 11:00 pm.

One of my favorite things about this signing, as well as other signings I’ve been to, such as George R. R. Martin, is watching or talking to the people there. It’s always an interesting group, and one that fascinates me. I counted at least five people at the Neil Gaiman sighting that had blue hair. And when I went to the George R. R. Martin signing, I got into some great conversations with people there. The one thing all these people seem to have in common is that they geek out over these authors. And a lot of them tend to be what I think of as “fringe” kind of people. Our American society has an ideal… your typical American citizen that does typical American things. I mean, I’m highly generalizing here, obviously, but society seems to breed people who are very mainstream… into sports, watch TV and movies, work a 9-to-5 job in an office… etc, etc. And while the people at these signings may do those things, they may very well also be into science fiction or role-playing games or other things that people tend to geek out over. And I actually kind of love it. I’m not even sure what it is. Maybe it’s the ability to unabashedly be yourself, to allow yourself to really be into something that you like and be excited about it and not ashamed, even if it’s not something that “normal people” are into. These kind of people find it fine to look different (hence the blue hair) and not fit into typical societal ideals. And I like that. I like it because when people aren’t afraid to be different, they tend to accept pretty much everyone else the way they are too. Which just seems to lead to a friendly atmosphere of people that are passionate about what they are interested in and are totally open to having conversations about it with just about anyone. I fit in with people like that.

I don’t really have a conclusion to the story, only my own observations about people, society, and myself that I took from it. And when I started this post, I was going to talk more about The Ocean at the End of the Lane and what I’ve gotten so far from that, but everything kind of evolved and it’s become such a long post now that I think I’ll save that for another time. In the meantime… feel free to go be weird.