So yeah--I know Neil Gaiman is a hero for a lot of people. But attending his book signing in Phoenix crystallized (at least for me) some reasons why.
For starters, he's been on a non-stop book tour of epic proportions the last few weeks. He doesn't finish in until mid-July (and he's going to Canada too). His last blog post even has the phrase "Tired Neil"--and that was before he left the UK.
Every night he signs a truckload of books. Literally. Like at least two-semi's worth. At the event I attended, each group of 40 people were assigned a letter of the alphabet. And there are two go-rounds of alphabets--so when it reached Z, it started again with AA. So let's see--26 letters of the alphabet times 40, plus double equals--Holy Crap. Especially for people who have more than one book for him to sign. (And that doesn't count the 800 some odd books he signs before the event starts.)
So when my letter rolled, around -- S -- I saw the tired Neil. It was pushing midnight--and the reading had started at six. I knew I was adding to the problem--in my defense, I had a copy of GOOD OMENS, already signed by Terry Pratchett, and awaiting Mr. Gaiman's signature. And this had been a thorn in my craw for quite a few years--I wasn't able to see Terry Pratchett in person, and had to get a signed copy online--for the mere reason that my former library wouldn't let me take the time (even though I'd had ample vacation built up) to see him in person.
As I approached the table, I was informed only one dedication per group of books, which meant my name wouldn't be added to the GOOD OMENS inscription. Understandable. So I left the dedication to a friend (you'll know who you are when the book arrives on your doorstep) and the first thing I stupidly said to tired Neil was, "I'm not [Insert Name of Friend Here]." The poor man faltered a bit, and I explained that the dedication wasn't for me, but for someone else who couldn't attend. He kept going, and drew a star on the page (perhaps to spruce the monotony of having to write his name over and over). And then I explained how the library I'd worked at didn't let me see Terry Pratchett--and with a wry grin, he said, "Damn them." Thorn in craw officially removed.
I went on to say how delightful the event was--and thanked him for his time. With the gentlest sincerity, he replied, "Well, thank you for coming."
So, I'm 100% certain he will remember none of this. But in those brief moments, he shined a light into my drab little world that will shine brightly for months (and years) to come. All in the midst of the truckload of work he'd been given.
Not every author will take the personal time for their adoring fans. But Neil Gaiman is definitely one who will. And for that, he should be commended. His #1 spot on the NYT list should be ample accolade, I hope--but I think he deserves even more.