Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Neil Gaiman, Storytelling and the World Weird Web

Warning to the folks who come here looking for bicycle stories. There is very little bicycle content in this long, strange, true tale. But, for better or worse, this is the main place I tell stories on the internet and I think this is a tale worth telling, if only so someone (myself perhaps) can point to it from some other place and remember how odd the world was in 2012.

At some point in my life I became aware of Neil Gaiman. I'd see his books in bookstores and I'm sure I picked up at least one and read the back cover, but I didn't buy the book then. Sometime later, I recall being on a bike ride with Mark Vande Kamp, one of our rides where we talk of a good many things, and Mark mentions Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman. "It's very good," Mark says, "I think you'd really like it." The book makes its way onto my mental list along with hundreds of others. My brain is full of unread books. It is large, it contains multitudes.

In one of my 6 Books in a Backpack sessions last year I get a copy of "Good Omens" a collaboration of Neal Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. Again, I don't get around to reading the book. My physical collection of unread books is not as large as my mental collection, but it is still large and contains multitudes. Pratchett is another fellow who is still on my "I've heard good things, I should read his stuff" list.

Somewhere along the line, I start following Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself) on Twitter. I still have not read any of his books, but I read his tweets. Neil tweets that an episode of the Simpsons in which he appears as a character is available for view online. I basically stopped watching TV several years ago so I'd have more time to read books, but I always enjoyed the Simpsons, so I watch "The Book Job". It is clever & fun but it doesn't make me think "Oh man, I have to read this guy's stuff right now."

A few weeks ago Neil tweets something like "Hey the 10th Anniversary Edition of American Gods is $2 for the next day or so on the Kindle." I download it. Then we get hit with a big snow and ice storm here in Issaquah and our power is knocked out. The streets are icy & no power means the bike shop is closed and I'm not going to work. I read American Gods by headlamp on my Kindle. Neil describes his book as being a long piece of prose with something wrong with it, but I can't quite figure out what that thing is. My overall reaction is "Dammmnnn that was good."

Our local library has Kindle downloads so I download Anansi Boys. More fun than American Godswith a lighter story. I like it better in some ways, but American Gods seems like the better book.

Next from the library, M Is for Magic. Holy crap, this man can sure write a short story. Somebody do a DNA test because I'm pretty sure Ray Bradbury is this fellow's father.

One of the stories in M Is for Magic is something that becomes the core Neil's novel The Graveyard Book. All of the copies of The Graveyard Book are checked out of the library and I don't even pause for a second before downloading it at full price full price from Amazon. It was that or Neverwhere and The Graveyard Book is a bit cheaper. And I want to see where the story goes.

While I'm reading The Graveyard Book, Neil tweets something like "Hey Amazon just knocked the price of Neverwhere to three bucks on the Kindle." Again, zero hesitation. Neil and Amazon get my money.

I finish The Graveyard Book. It's my new favorite. I immediately buy another Kindle copy for Christine. So glad to send Neil some more of my money, glad to find a book that makes me go "Christine will love this." It is, as I tell her, "a sweet, wonderful, dark tale that begins with pretty much an entire family being knife murdered."

Authors get most of their readers through word of mouth and I've become a big mouth fan of Neil Gaiman. My friends are getting the "Whoa, you should read this guy's stuff" raves from me. Yeah, I know I'm late to this party, but I don't care. Think of this blog post as more of that rave.

Now here's where the story gets weird and pays off in a weird way. If you've been keeping score, my Gaiman fandom up to this point in my story has cost me a grand total of about $21 plus some tax ($2 for American Gods, $16 for two copies of The Graveyard Book, and $3 for Neverwhere). The enjoyment I've gotten from these works, plus the others I've gotten from the library is far, far greater than the meager sum I've paid.

But we live in a very, very weird world. On a much smaller scale than Mr. Gaiman, I also tell stories and I don't tell them nearly as well. And I mostly write non-fiction but I do a bit of fiction now and then and it almost always involves bicycles. And I've got a story now that will be something, not this story but another one that you'll get to read another day and it involves bicycles and graveyards. And I think it is a story worth telling and it is what it is in part because of Mr. Gaiman's odd stories. So I'm getting value there as well.

But that's not the weird part. The weird thing is how that $21 has already come more than come back to me in just plain old, crass American dollars. And as @neilhimself will tell you, the American Dollar is one of the American Gods.

I'm an Amazon affiliate and if somebody buys something from Amazon after following a link on my blog or something I've tweeted, Amazon knows I sent you. Amazon knows a really spooky number of things. Amazon doesn't charge you more but I get a small percentage of the purchase price as a referral fee. depending on the item it may only be 1.5% or as much as 10%. In the case of books & ebooks, it's usually 6 or 7%.

So a few days after Neil's tweet about Neverwhere, I notice it's still at the low price. I tweet:

Neverwhere by @neilhimself is still only $2.99 on the Kindle. A great price for some really great writing. amzn.to/zGrvSs

If any of the 1600 or so people who follow me on twitter follow that link and buy the book, I'll make a few cents. I'm happy to spread the word about a good book and if I make a little money in the process, that's fine too.

@neilhimself noticed my tweet and retweeted it to his 1.6 million followers. It only takes a small percentage of 1.6 million people to buy something for it to be noticeable. Amazon tells me that at least some of those people didn't already have a copy of Neverwhere.

And that, my friends, is how you sell books in the 21st century. In that one click, Mr. Gaiman has paid for every book of his I'll probably ever buy. And I have this strange, true story to tell you.

By the way, I'm reading Neverwhere now. It's fabulous.

Keep em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah, WA USA

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