On this episode of Recode Media with Peter Kafka, Neil Gaiman stops by to promote his new TV series “American Gods.” Along the way, Peter and Neil discuss VR, comics, movies, immigration and squeaky shoes. You don’t want to miss this one.
You can read some of the highlights from the interview at the link above, or listen to it in the audio player below. We’ve also provided a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.
Peter Kafka: Today’s show is sponsored by Mack Weldon. They make the most comfortable hoodies, sweatpants, underwear and socks you’ll ever wear. You can wear the socks wherever you want to go. You can wear them to interview the famous Neil Gaiman, so that’s what I did today.
Neil, what do you think of these? You’re a stylish guy, you can give an unvarnished opinion.
Neil Gaiman: I think they look a lot like socks.
They look exactly like socks because they are socks from Mack Weldon. They smell great. They’re made of naturally antimicrobial fiber. I pay for them with my own money. They’re easy for you to buy. You can go to mackweldon.com. You get 20 percent off your order with the promo code, recode. That’s mackweldon.com, promo code, recode. If for some reason you don’t like these socks, and you will like them, but if you don’t like them, you can hang on to them, tell Mack Weldon you would like your money back. They will send you your money back. Twenty percent off at mackweldon.com if you use the promo code, recode. That’s mackweldon.com, promo code, recode. Neil Gaiman says they look like socks, and he’s right.
Footwear is so peculiar. I pulled out, for this ... I’ve been on this wonderful two-day press junket for “American Gods.” I looked in my closet before I came down to New York, and there, right at the back, were a pair of lovely-looking boots that I had fond memories of. I remember buying them in about 2001, and ...
Did they fit?
They still fit.
My feet have not got fat.
Your feet have not gained weight?
Nope. And I thought, “Those are beautiful. Why are they sitting in the back of the closet? I will wear them,” so I pull them out, put them on, get in the car that takes me to New York, go to the hotel, go upstairs, and slowly remember why I put them in the back of the closet, as every step I take, they go, squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak.
They’re actually squeaky boots, okay. Then, I go to Twitter. I say, “People of Twitter, help me. I have squeaky boots,” and a lot of people came up with the same answer. They said, “Ah, put cornstarch in your squeaky boots, and they will not squeak.”
That’s what you use Twitter for, is to learn about foot care, shoe care.
Everything. I go to it with my questions. They said, “cornstarch,” so I said to the publicist, “Could you get me some cornstarch?” The next thing, he shows up with a small cup filled with cornstarch, and says, “Shall I send it to your room?” and I said, “Sure.” Now, up in my hotel room, obviously seriously troubling anybody from room service, this white powder.
They’ve seen worse.
I put the cornstarch into my boots yesterday, going, “This will now fix the squeak.” We go off en masse — a load of “American Gods” actors, producers and me — to the theater. We walk across New York. By the time I get there, it looks like I’m wearing white boots. All of the cornstarch has crept out through every sewing hole, through the eyes of the boots, and I’m wearing these white boots, which I’m now having to dust off, and now they still squeak. They just squeak differently because now they have a cornstarchy squeak.
They squeak differently, and now they look funny, so you need to tell Twitter about this.
I’m going to go back and complain, “Twitter, I want my money back.” Actually, I did not pay for the cornstarch.
All right, this has been “Shoe Talk with Neil Gaiman.” He’s here at Recode Media with Peter Kafka, that’s me. This is brought to you by Digital Media, which is a real company with a funny name.
Neil, as you may have guessed already, has a new show coming out, probably as you’re listening to this, on Starz called ...
Is it something about boots?
No, no. It’s called “American Gods.”
Oh my gosh. Yes it is.
Many of you who are listening to this know what “American Gods” is because it’s a very popular book. Some of you have not read the book, so Neil, tell us what the book and the show are about.
The book — which was written in 1999, 2000 and 2001, and published in June 2001 — and the show, which is coming up, are both about America. They’re both about a man named Shadow, who is in prison for a crime that he didn’t commit and has been looking forward to getting out and getting back together with his wife, Laura, who he loves very, very much. In a one-two sucker punch, he learns that he’s being let out a few days early, and he is being let out a few days early because his wife was killed in a car crash. He’s on his way back to his wife’s funeral when he meets a peculiar old grifter on a plane, who offers him a job.
The job, which he winds up taking, throws Shadow into the middle of a battle, an oncoming battle, between all of the old gods, all of the things that people who have come to America over the years have brought with them and abandoned, whether it’s leprechauns, or the Golem, or things that people have believed in, come to America, as all of the people who are in America are the descendants of people who came here, or are people who came here, and also the new gods. The new gods are the things that demand our attention, that we give our time and our love and our attention to, whether it be the gods of podcast, or of those small glass and metal and plastic objects that we all stare at in rapt devotion.
One of the gods shows up as Lucille Ball, I guess, at a Walmart, right?
On a Walmart TV screen. As you may have guessed here, this is a mix of fantasy and science fiction and humor and allegory.
Horror and satire and sex and violence and ...
Everything is in there. At the time that I wrote it, I wanted to write a big enormous book with a lot of stuff in it. I wanted to write a great big, overstuffed book that was filled with things and filled with mad digressions.
This is ... I’ve watched the pilot and a little bit of the second episode. The only reason why I didn’t finish the rest is because I had to go to sleep, but it’s great. It’s sprawling. You can tell from the very beginning. It starts off with Vikings, right? Vikings, and slaughter, and there’s blood everywhere, and then we cut to a prison. There’s a lot ... It’s overstuffed. The screen is overstuffed. Did you imagine when you wrote this, “This is going to be a movie,” or “This will be an episodic show,” or “None of these things could be accomplished, this is going to only exist as a novel”?
I was ... it was, like I say, 1999 or 2000. I had just spent a couple of years writing a lot of movie scripts. I was very tired of writing movie scripts. I was very tired of movie-shaped stories, 120-page stories with beginnings and middles and ends, in which everything was there for a reason.
I wanted to write a big, sprawling thing that absolutely wasn’t movie-shaped, which meant that in the years that then followed, when I would get phone calls from famous directors that I’d actually heard of, who would say, “I want to turn this into a movie,” and I’d say, “Great,” and they’d say, “But I can’t figure out how you would do it because it’s too long and too sprawling, and if you throw away the stuff that makes it long and sprawling, it’s not ‘American Gods’ anymore.” I would go, “This is true,” and that would be the end of the conversation.
They wouldn’t write you a check and try to do it anyway? You’d just say no.
Nobody wrote me a check and tried to do it anyway, and I’m really glad, looking back on it, that they didn’t. At the time, the idea of making it for television as written would have been as likely as the idea of projecting it onto the moon for people every night. It just wasn’t ...
Because no one did stuff like that. In retrospect, if you rewind, when this book came out, it was probably around the time “The Sopranos” had come, or maybe “The Sopranos” had been out for a year or two, so the idea of doing these big, epic stories on TV was just starting to crop up.
It was just beginning to start to cross the public imagination. We had not yet quite got to the point where everybody was watching everything on DVD and binge-watching things was a thing, and we had not quite got then to the point where the Netflix-y idea of download-and-watch was happening.
Right, and the idea of taking a giant story like “Game of Thrones” and doing it, 13 episodes a year for many years to come, and getting a huge audience for a demanding thing that sprawled out in a bunch of directions, you couldn’t comprehend it. Now you can. At what point did someone say, either time or technology and consumption has caught up to this book? Or were you kicking it around?
It was an interesting thing. The point where it obviously looked like it was a TV thing, I think about 2011. We actually went to HBO with Tom Hanks’ company, Playtone, who had a deal with HBO, and said, “Let’s do it for you.” The exec at HBO who said, “Yes,” who got it and who loved it, moved on, which was sad because it meant that when we handed in a script, they were like ...
“No, that was that guy’s thing.”
“We don’t really get this,” exactly. It was just orphaned, and they didn’t quite get it. They were not ... which was fine. When you make something like “American Gods,” you go, “This is not going to be to everybody’s taste,” but you’re also not going to make it more to anybody’s taste by making it less like the thing that it is. You’re just going to have to lean into it.
You end up at Starz, which is now run by Chris Albrecht, who ran HBO when it was doing “The Sopranos” and all of those amazing shows. How involved are you, were you, in the creation of this thing?
I was there, going out with Stephanie Burke and Craig Cegielski from FremantleMedia, who were at our studio. We went and talked to a few networks. I think meeting No. 2 with Starz, and we went, “It’s going to be there.” Then, flying out to Toronto and meeting Bryan Fuller, and saying to Bryan, “I think we’d be really interested in you adapting and show-running ‘American Gods.’” Bryan said exactly the right thing, which was, “Look, I don’t know how I’d do this, but I love the book, and I’d want the things that I loved in the book to be on the screen.”
Then do you say, “Great. It’s yours,” and walk away, or do you stay hands-on the entire way?
No, I’ve been very hands-on. I like being hands-on.
That’s part of ... when you’re selling this, you say, “I want to be involved in this. This isn’t going to be something where I’m going to hand over my work to you, and you go do with it what you will.”
You know, I’ve watched too many friends of mine get hurt too many times by going, “I have written a book, or a comic, or I’ve created a thing, and now I’m giving it to these people to adapt. It’s nothing to do with me.” My book, or comic, or whatever, is the pristine thing, and they’re going off and doing something. Then, they do something, and the people are like ...
“Oh, that’s not my thing.”
“I don’t really like that thing that they did,” and it gets horrible. From my perspective, it’s like, “Look, if you’re adapting one of my stories, yes, I want to be an executive producer, and yes, I want that to be a real thing. Yes, I want to see drafts of the script. I want to give you input, and I love doing that. I think it’s better.
John Cameron Mitchell, who did “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” has made a film adapted from a short story of mine called “How to Talk to Girls at Parties,” which is basically punks and aliens in a Romeo and Juliet story in 1977 South London. It’s wonderful. We’re going to Cannes with it. It’s in the Cannes Film Festival, and then it’ll come out, I guess, probably toward the end of this year.
For that, I was there all of the way through. I was saying, “Okay, if you’re going to adapt the short story, the short story becomes the first act, you need this, and this kind of thing that happened in the second act.” I had long conversations with the screenwriter. I worked with John. I gave feedback, I argued, I gave it my blessing.
You want your hands all over it, and you’re in the great position where you can demand that and get it, which is great.
I also want people to make fantastic things.
That’s the other thing, because I’m very clear on what I do and what they did. What I’m there for is to help. Every now and again, I think there was one time with “American Gods” where they sent me the script and I said, “You need to change that, you can’t do that,” and they were like, “No, no, no, no, no, we think it’s going to happen for this reason.”
What was the point?
I’m not going to tell you.
You won’t spoil it.
It’s actually in Episode One, toward the end. They said, “Well, we want this to happen.” I’m like, “Okay, if you do that, I will write a suicide note explaining that it is your fault, and I will go step in front of a bus because you can’t …” They’re like, “Are you that serious?” I’m like, “Kind of, I am,” and they’re like, “Great,” and they took it out.
You win. You’re still here talking to us, you won.
I’m still here. That scene is not in there. The other night, they came over and said, “You know, you were right.” I’m like, “Yeah, I know that I was right,” but I knew that I was right because I’d spent 20 years living with these characters, and they didn’t know them that well yet.
This is a book you started writing in the late ’90s. You started making the TV show a couple of years ago, it comes out now, and it is about immigration, in large part?
Race is forefront. There is a lynching scene at the end of the first episode. The beginning of the second episode, it starts off on a slave ship, so obviously there is some timely stuff going on here. Do you figure that would’ve been timely no matter what?
The weird thing for me is that when I wrote the book, I did not see any of this stuff as controversial. When I wrote the book, I thought, okay, this is an immigrant country. Some of the people came here, their ancestors came here 20,000 years ago from Siberia, crossing the Bering Straights and stuff. Some people came here 400 years ago, and some people wanted to come here, and some people were sent as prisoners, sent as slaves ...
Right, there’s no question mark at the end of it, it’s a full stop.
That one’s a full stop. This is an immigrant country, and furthermore, I don’t think it’s contentious or controversial to be pro Statue of Liberty, and the poem thereon. You’re going, “I think that is part of the American psyche, the American dream,” nor did it think it was, in any way, controversial or laudable to go, “I am writing a novel about immigration in America, therefore I am going to have a lot of people in my book of different races because there are a lot of different races in America. I will make a mixed-race hero, A) for plot reasons and B) because he embodies America.” That all seemed to me to be very ...
Yeah. It’s not controversial, and I don’t think we thought it was controversial when we were writing the scripts, and I don’t think anybody thought it was really controversial when we were shooting it.
Cut to 2017.
Suddenly, I’m describing the show ... There was a point where I was describing the show to ... I was on the Empire Film Awards red carpet and somebody put a microphone in my face, and I told them a little bit about the show, and I said, “You know, things have changed. We did not think this stuff was controversial, but now we seem to be occupying political territory. We’re willing to take that, but we didn’t choose it to be.” The headline, when it was published was, “Neil Gaiman, author of ‘American Gods,’ slams Donald Trump.”
I thought, “I didn’t slam Donald Trump.” If I wanted to slam Donald Trump and talk about what a peculiar, narcissistic, ineffectual joke he is, I could’ve done, but I didn’t. I don’t even think I mentioned the poor man’s name.
That’s the headline for this podcast episode.
Oh, dear God.
“Donald Trump is an ineffectual joke, says Neil Gaiman.”
Then, there were all of these comments from people underneath saying, “We’re going to be boycotting this show.” And I’m going, A) you’re not actually going to be boycotting it. Technically, what you’re going to be doing is not watching it. It’s something people have been doing with television shows for a long time. You can boycott it if you want (not watch it). You probably wouldn’t have liked it much anyway, but there is that thing of going, well okay, so we are now in this peculiar role where Vanity Fair put a thing up the other day saying, “‘American Gods’ is going to be the most political show of 2017,” and I’m not going to argue with that.
I’m incredibly proud of the beginning of Episode Two with Mr. Nancy on the slave ship. I think we say big important things, but I wish that we were in a world in which saying those big important things ...
Was received wisdom and you could move on.
It was just received wisdom, of course.
Yep. We should point out that outside of the U.S., you can watch the show as well, right? It’s on Starz, which is primarily a U.S. subscription service.
In the U.S., you can watch it on Starz.
You’ve got to pay for that.
You can pay for that, but there are different ways to pay for it. You can download the Starz app and watch it. You can do ... There’s a Starz add-on to Amazon Prime to watch it. If you are incredibly cheap and grumpy, you could wait until week eight, because it’s going to come out over eight weeks, and then when you get to week eight, you could take a free Starz week where you can sign up and ...
This is not part of the Starz talking points, right?
Yeah, they don’t like it.
They would rather you subscribe for two months.
You could do that free week and watch it. There are ways to watch it without having to pirate it. If you’re outside America, you can watch it in pretty much every territory in the world on Amazon Prime Video, which is also something that nobody ... Amazon Prime Video has not actually got around to telling all of these countries that Amazon Prime Video has been there since December, so I go on Twitter, and people say, “How can I watch ‘American Gods’?” and I say, “Starz in America, or around the rest of the world, Amazon Prime Video,” and they go, “But I’m in Australia.”
Maybe you can send Jeff Bezos a bill for services rendered. Say, “Look, I’ve been marketing your service for you. You guys could cut me a check.”
I actually have mentioned to Jeff that I’m now doing Amazon Prime Video promotional work, and he was not abashed. He just laughed.
Speaking of sponsors, we’re going to hear from some of our awesome sponsors right now and be back with Neil Gaiman.
We’re back with Neil Gaiman. We were just doing promotion work for Jeff Bezos because Jeff needs free labor.
He needs the money.
This is pretty cool. This is your first big TV project? Is that right?
Big, yeah. I did a TV series for the BBC in the ’90s, called Neverwhere, which ... the heart was in the right place. I think the original scripts were pretty good, but then the machine to make that did not exist at that time. The people and the ways to shoot it didn’t exist at that time. What should have been 45-minute-long episodes shot on film were turned into 28-minute episodes on video, and it was all a bit clunky.
Some of your work has been turned into movies. I think most people are familiar with “Coraline.”
“Coraline,” “Stardust,” things like the “Beowulf” movie.
You’re best known — or you’ve made your bones as — a comic book author originally. We’re in this era now where every single comic book hero is now a franchise, or they’re being pushed into multiple movies with multiple characters. Every movie is a comic book. Your work is not part of this wave, at least not right now.
It isn’t, although ...
You’re not doing Avenger characters.
Although, amusingly ... Amusingly may be the wrong word ... Although, I take enormous pleasure in the fact that the tiniest spinoff from “Sandman” has been turned into a TV show that is doing incredibly well, which is “Lucifer” on Fox.
Ah, I didn’t realize.
Which is a character that I created in “Sandman.”
Did you get paid for that?
I hope one day they will, yes.
One day. They’ll get around to it.
What’s the best way to describe the comic book work you did? The point I was getting to was some of your characters in comic books do wear tights, but generally, it’s a different kind of comic book and a different kind of comic book hero. Sometimes it’s described as a graphic novel. It’s more mature. How do we distinguish the work you’ve done in comics versus traditional DC/Marvel stuff?
I used to explain to people that I wrote comics for grown-ups, because if I said I wrote adult comics, they thought it was a different kind of thing entirely.
With naked people.
I did a lot of comics for grown-ups. The one I was most famous for was “Sandman,” which I was enormously proud of.
I assume someone has come to you and said, “We’re going to make a Sandman movie,” because they’ve ... If they’re making an Ant Man movie, then presumably they’ve tried Sandman.
I was 26 when I signed my deal with DC Comics for “Sandman,” which left them owning everything, and I knew what I was getting into. It was one of those things of going, “Okay, there is a judgment call to be made here.”
I’m doing work for someone, and I don’t own this work.
I don’t own this. This thing that I’ve created, I do not own, but this gives me a platform to get what I’m going to do out into the world and that platform is important to me. Now, if I’d owned “Sandman,” would there have been a Sandman movie, probably a good one, out by now? Yeah. Would there be a Sandman TV series going on right now? Yeah, probably.
Do you go watch an Avengers movie or Superman vs. Batman and go, “It’d be fun to have one of these giant things made for $100 million with my name on it.”
No, I don’t. I don’t ... I’m very lucky. I get to do what I want. I get to make up all of these stories. The ones I control get to be movies or TV, and I get to get there by working with people who I like, and that’s the important thing for me. “American Gods,” I get to work with Bryan Fuller and Michael Green. I like those men. They are smart, good writers, and we get on well together.
Fortunately, “The Milk,” a lovely, goofy children’s book that I wrote a few years ago, I’m working on that right now with Edgar Wright, who made “Hot Fuzz” and “Shaun of the Dead” and has got a new film coming out pretty soon called “Baby Driver,” which just looks amazing.
Yeah, yeah. I’ve seen the previews.
Edgar and I have been working for a couple of years on it, and we now have a screenwriter, and it’s going to be this glorious, giant, mad, animated movie. The fun of doing that is the idea of let’s make a great movie. It’s not let’s make a giant, $150 million thing.
What do think of that kind of film, leaving aside your authorship and control? Do you think those are great movies? Those have a place in the world? Do you go, eh, that’s not really something I want to see that much of?
I think everything ... I love that they exist. I worry that ... I think the last one that I really loved was probably the first Avengers movie, just because I felt like, oh, okay this really does what it says on the can. It sets everything up, it does ...
It gets what a comic book is and isn’t.
It tastes like a comic book movie in an absolutely glorious sort of way, but I’ve always found the movies, in some way, to be a bit of a distraction. In comics, I tend to love comics.
Right, so this is not a snootiness issue where you’re above comics. You’ve made your bones in comics. You love comics.
I love comics. A lot of the time, what I love best about comics is that they’re comics. That’s just me. I have puzzled people over the years because I’ve been saying for, what, almost 30 years now, since the first people talked about Sandman movies, that I would rather see no Sandman movie ever made than a bad Sandman movie. They’d go, “Yeah, but even a bad Sandman movie could be huge, and it will be hundreds of millions of dollars, and you would be so rich, and we’d sell so many comics.”
I was like, “Yeah, but I just don’t ...” I’m really proud of the comic. “The Sandman,” you’ve got basically about 13 or 14 graphic novels, books, that you can settle down with, and I’m really proud of them. I’m proud of what I did. I’m proud of what my collaborators and I did, and I don’t want to make that less.
You got into comics ... You broke in, what, mid ’80s?
Yeah, ’86 or ’87.
This is, I think, if I remember correctly, “Dark Knight” was a thing. This was the real dark Batman work. Alan Moore was doing work, so the idea of taking comics seriously was becoming a thing again, or was becoming a thing. Is that what attracted you to comics, or did you like the pure, pulpy comic and wanted to do something else with it?
I think what seduced me was Alan Moore’s work.
Most famously made “The Watchmen.”
This was even before “Watchmen.” It was Alan’s work on a comic called “Swamp Thing.”
I remember looking at it and going ... I remember thinking, when I was in my early teens, that you should be able to do comics that were as good as any other medium. Somewhere in my late teens I decided that had been me being stupid, but here is Alan, and he is doing stuff that is as well written as any literature out there, as well paced and as well told as any movie has dialogue, as good as anything going on the stage, as deep and smart — and it’s a comic.
It just happens to be a comic and has comic book characters, and is a comic.
I went, “Okay, I want to do that.” This was that thing that I wanted to do. I want to do this.
Do you think if you were that age now, and you looked at the media landscape in 2017, do you think comics would have that same appeal? Or would you go, “Oh, there’s just so many more things I could play with. The comic book is inherently interesting, but let me go do ... I don’t know, make videos instead”?
I don’t know. If I were 19 or 20 right now, I would be probably, if I could, messing around with the virtual reality stuff. I did an event, “An Evening with Neil Gaiman,” a reading and talk in Seattle a few weeks ago, which actually was where I ran into Jeff Bezos because he and his family were in the audience. They came backstage afterwards.
It’s pretty cool, by the way, when Jeff Bezos comes to your event.
Instead of going to the Jeff Bezos event.
It is, and it was thrilling. Jeff is very ... I love having him in an audience because he has the loudest laugh of any human being ...
He’s got that very particular laugh, which is not a stunt.
Oh, no. That’s how he laughs. If you have him laughing in your audience, half the battle is already won. After the show, I had some guys show me what’s going on in VR. They put the headset on me, and I had half an hour of absolutely cutting-edge VR stuff.
Did it blow you away?
It blew me away, but it also made me ... They were like, “Do you want to do something like this?” and I said, “No, actually I don’t,” because I will come to this with a 56-year-old head and a lot of ideas about the ways that other things are done, and what is going to make this an amazing art form ...
It will be someone who comes to it with a blank screen, and creates a new language for it.
Yeah, it’s the people who don’t try and go, “Ah, this is how we did it in movies,” or, “This is how we did it in comics,” or, “This is how you do it in books,” or, “How we did it in video games.” No, this is going to be its own thing.
Your brain ... There’s a little part of your brain, which is going, “This is not real,” and then everything else in your brain, which is going, “Yeah, we understand you, part of the brain that says this is not real, but, by the way, I cannot take a step forward and fall off this 500-foot building as I’m on the edge of a skyscraper.”
Because my body is overruling my brain, or some combination of that. We’re already at the wave where there has been this enormous interest in VR, and a lot of money poured into it, and a lot of hype, I think, and then the counteraction, which is people saying, “I don’t love it, and I don’t want to wear the helmet, and maybe it’s good for games, but I’m not going to watch something for two hours with that.” But you think someone’s going to sort this out over time?
I think it’s going to become its own thing. I was absolutely fascinated by the ability to sculpt things in VR. People were making art and sculptures, and things that do not exist in the real world. Although, theoretically, I guess, a 3-D printer could take that thing and recreate it, only they’d have to figure out how you could recreate ... They made me, as a gift, a Sandman with stars for eyes, and stars in his cloak, and it was the most amazing thing, and I got to walk around him and look at him, and he was a piece of art that they made for me, that did not exist. I thought, “That’s going to be a thing,” VR galleries, stuff that there is no reason for it to exist in the real world, but that does not mean it does not exist.
You’re comfortable with technology, you’ve been blogging for a while, you’ve got a big Twitter following. Are you still trying to navigate what stuff ... how you want to live in a digital world versus traditional ink and paper, and how your media should be consumed, whether people should be reading a book or looking at it on the screen?
You know, the battle in “American Gods,” between the old gods and the new gods, the old ways and the ways of technology, is a battle that goes on inside me and inside my head every day.
It seems like your natural bias is toward the older stuff, and that the new stuff is ...
My natural bias is always toward the older stuff. There is that part of me where ... At one point, somebody says, “Yeah, you’re selling oranges from a barrel at the side of the road, and we’re a bright new shopping mall.” I go, “I think I’d rather buy my oranges from a barrel at the side of the road at the end of the day.”
Shopping malls can get old, but they’re also incredibly useful. If I didn’t have Twitter, I wouldn’t have learned that I was meant to put cornstarch in my shoes.
It seems like that was not the best advice.
It didn’t work. Okay.
There’s a downside. There’s multiple downsides of Twitter.
There are, mostly the fact that it looks like I have snowed wherever I go.
You’re comfortable expressing that. You’re not worried about, well, I’ve got to keep all of my thoughts in my head, and those only need to come out on a page ... If you get an idea, you’re going to express it digitally, or you’re happy to do that.
I don’t think I’ve ever felt that I’ve lost a novel by blogging it, but, on the other hand, what I genuinely do miss is boredom.
Empty time, dead time more than downtime. Some of the best things that I’ve ever come up with have been because I’m sitting in an empty railway station, and I have nothing to read, and I do not have any access to any methods of entertainment, so I’m sitting there, and I’m entertaining myself, or I’m at a gig, or ... I like bad theater. I like bad theater because if it gets bad enough ...
Your brain goes somewhere else.
My brain just leaves. My body is still there, and I can’t pull out my phone or do anything, but I can go off and start thinking things.
I think about this a lot. I’ve got kids now, and we’re responsible parents, so they don’t have screens all of the time, but if we get on a plane, they get screens. They don’t have that dead time, and there’s never going to be a time where they’re waiting for someone to pick them up for an hour and they’ve got to scratch things in the dirt. I think, like you said, those are times where you can use your brain. Then I think, I’m probably just romanticizing that, and that was probably really boring, pretty unpleasant.
Yes, but it’s also where I could list some of my best short stories and ideas for you and go, and I know this would not have happened if I had been entertained because I wouldn’t eventually do that weird thing.
Where do you get ideas from? You get them from daydreaming. You get them from putting two things together that weren’t together before. You’re sitting there and you’re going, “Okay, so I’m on this subway, and I wonder who on this subway is a serial killer.” You’re looking around, and then you’re going, so okay, there’s an electronic buzz, and now we’re on the moon, and it’s just the people in this subway car, or not the moon now. Let’s make it a weird outer space jungle, so who’s going to actually be useful, and who’s going to ... How is this going to work? Maybe we’re going to break into two factions. Who’s in faction one? You just start building stories.
Right, and you’re not going to get that epiphany if you’ve got your nose in Twitter.
If you’ve got your nose in Twitter, or even if you’re just reading the paper.
Yeah, all right, so you’re in the same pro-boredom camp that I am, although I’m glad that my kids don’t have to go through it entirely.
I’ll put it this way, I’m glad that I have a screen to stick in front of these kids on a car trip.
I think that is a fair thing. The alternative is coming up with games of “I Spy” that can last for months.
Yeah, they only want to do “I Spy” for a minute or two.
All right, so before we make this a full-on dad blog, we should end it, so you guys can go watch “American Gods.” It’s great. It’s very fun, and I think you’re done promoting it, right? You’re talked out?
I’m pretty much talked out. I think this is my antepenultimate interview, a word that I never get to use very much.
I don’t even know what it means.
Antepenultimate, it’s the one before the one before last.
Okay, so rest up. Go figure out your shoe thing.
Yeah, we fly today. I will trail cornstarch onto a plane, fly to LA, and tomorrow night is the premiere.
Neil, you know this as well as I, but you should not bring the cornstarch shoes through TSA. They’re going to stop you.
The rest of you, I’m offering my other travel advice via Twitter. You can go check me out there. Thanks again, Neil, for joining us. Go check out “American Gods” on Starz.
Oh, Ben, come on up here real quick. Some of the loyal listeners remember Ben from previous episodes. Say hi, Ben.
Ben, what’s your favorite Neil Gaiman book?
Fortunately, “The Milk.”
Do you want to give us a synopsis of the book?
No, thank you.
Okay, go get your own plot synopsis from someone else’s kid. Thanks, Ben. Thanks again, Neil.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.