Neil Gaiman will decide what he’ll read at show when he gets to Austin

11:09 a.m. Monday, July 3, 2017 Insight and Books
Author Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods” has been made into a series for the Starz network. Contributed by Beowulf Sheehan

Neil Gaiman isn’t afraid to let things get dark.

He never has been.

His writing has a way of working its way into you and sticking there, of making you feel uncomfortable and perhaps a little sad, but like you’re a better person for having read it, or maybe you can at least understand the world a little better.

That’s how his last appearance in Austin felt. Walking out of the Long Center on that night in November 2015, just after a series of coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris, felt like walking out of a particularly intense therapy session: lighter, but also somehow heavier at the same time.

In light of the attacks, on that night, Gaiman opened by reading his essay “Credo,” which he’d written earlier that year as a particularly poignant message about freedom of speech (it has since been beautifully and hauntingly illustrated by Chris Riddell several times over). During a phone call in June, he called that night in Austin one of the darkest appearances he’s ever made.

“What I remember of Austin is that it was really dark in a really good way,” Gaiman said. “Normally, they’re really funny and good-natured.”

He promises his Thursday appearance at the Long Center will be “more fun,” but the dark may be where Gaiman exists best: His twisted pseudo-fantasy novel “American Gods” was recently adapted into a television show by Starz, and while its moments of humor and silliness are refreshing, the show mostly leaves the watcher bewildered, yet still hungrily pressing the “watch next episode” button.

“It’s like watching your kid going off to college,” Gaiman said. “Your kid has been living at home with you and has been doing the things that you said, and they’ve been your baby, and suddenly your kid has gone off to college and come home with not one but several inappropriate partners and interesting tattoos and several piercings, and you’re not entirely sure but you think they might even be slightly drunk, but it’s still your child and you love it very much. It feels a bit like that.”

In “American Gods,” Gaiman weaves the classic Americana novel with tales of modern-day gods and goddesses. Recently, however, he made the foray into adapting the mythology of the great Norse god Odin and his son Thor and his trickster brother, Loki. He said he was asked to write the book (“Norse Mythology,” which was released in March) and it took him about four years to write it.

“I don’t know if you have a relative who knits,” Gaiman said. “The kind of relative who knits often has it in her bag or his bag and will pull it out when nothing else was going on. (‘Norse Mythology’) was my knitting. I would pull it out when I’d finished a script or finished a thing.”

For a book written mostly in between other projects, “Norse Mythology” remains one of the best-selling books of the year. Knowing Gaiman’s reputation for reading bits and pieces of a variety of his writing, parts of those stories will surely be read Thursday night. But unlike many writers, Gaiman doesn’t do typical book tours, where he shows up at a bookstore or venue and reads a chapter of his latest work. He likes to pick and choose what he’s reading based on his feelings that day, or based on questions he receives from the audience. It’s something that makes his appearances — as promised in the event description — “fun and odd and not like any other evening with Neil Gaiman.”

“Over the last couple of years I’ve definitely become much more enamored at just getting questions, getting written questions, getting them handed to me before I go on stage and then just taking my cue from there,” Gaiman said. “What I love about doing events like this is spontaneity. I love the fact that I will turn up, I will probably decide what I’m going to be reading that day. The downside of that, of course, is it means I have to carry a bunch more books than I would if I knew what I was reading.”

View full experience