For those of you who don't know, Neil Gaiman is one of the greatest fantasy authors ever, alive or dead. He wrote Neverwhere, and American Gods, among many other novels. He's done film, and television, and just recently wrote one of the best Doctor Who episodes I've ever seen. He wrote the only comic that ever won a World Fantasy Award. In fact, it was Sandman that introduced me to Neil, and made me realize that comics could tell dark, powerful stories that could change a life, because Sandman completely changed mine.
He's my North Star. I think most writers have one author who claims the greatest influence over them. Neil Gaiman is mine. I've gotten over trying to become him. It's been long enough now that I'm comfortable becoming Dana Hunter. But this ship still steers by him: he's the one who taught me the power of myth, and that an atheist can still draw on these old stories to make something enormous without killing ye olde atheist cred. He taught me the value of humility without humiliation, and that power should be wielded very wisely the more powerful you become, and that treating your readers with kindness and respect is far preferable to bitching about how They Just Don't Get You, or taking them for granted.
In November 2001, I got on an airplane and went to Chicago despite everyone else's fear of flying, because he was at the Chicago Humanities Festival with Will Eisner and nothing on earth could have prevented me from going. There, he said the most valuable thing a writer has ever said:
Every time I try to go for the soft option and avoid writing something because it might upset someone somewhere, I hear those words. Then the only question is, "How do I want them shaken by this?" Fiction shouldn't be tame or safe or easy. That's not the fiction I want to read. That's not the fiction I want to write. And Neil Gaiman kept me from believing I had to write it."Being contentious is what you should be doing. You should be shaking people up."
So I might possibly get a chance to say hello to this North Star of a man. What does one say? I already told him one of the most important things: "Thank you. You've never disappointed me."
I think there's only one thing I could say:
"Neil, stop trying to give Steven Moffat all the credit for all the awesome in 'The Doctor's Wife.' And thanks for shaking me up."