Winning the highest honor for children's literature is changing Neil Gaiman's image from cult favorite to celebrity author. And it's making him think twice before he Tweets.
Before winning the John Newbery Medal in 2009 for his best-selling novel "The Graveyard Book," Gaiman said readers had found him on their own.
"I went from being something that was everybody's secret, private thing to being this huge kind of strange public thing," Gaiman said.
And his burgeoning fame means Gaiman has found he needs to be careful what he says on Twitter, where he has nearly 1.5 million followers. He once had to delete and apologize for a grumpy post after a friend told him it would look like bullying.
Dressed in his daily uniform of black pants, black T-shirt and black boots (and, Gaiman said at the risk of oversharing, black underwear and socks), the British-born author of fantasy, science fiction, horror — and children's books such as "Coraline" — relaxes with a cup of tea in his writing gazebo on a balmy spring afternoon. Bees dance among the white plum-tree blossoms outside Gaiman's towering home in western Wisconsin, outside Minneapolis.
But there are macabre touches in this bucolic scene. A small gargoyle sits among nodding daffodils. A "zombie arm" thrusts up near a gravestone. On Gaiman's desk sits one of his four Bram Stoker Awards presented by the Horror Writers Association, an award shaped like a haunted house with crawling creatures.
Despite all that, Gaiman, 49, said he's "not a horror aficionado."
"I'm probably more like a cook who uses horror as a herb or as a condiment. I love tossing in something that will send a little frisson of something or other up someone's spine. But I don't want to live there a year writing a book."
While "The Graveyard Book" is set in a cemetery, where an orphaned boy is raised by ghosts after his family is murdered, Gaiman said it's really a book about life and leaving home. His latest book "Instructions," is a poem about how to survive a fairy tale. It has charming illustrations by Charles Vess and hits bookstores Tuesday.
Gaiman and Vess first teamed up 20 years ago on the "Sandman" comic book series. Sandman No. 19, "A Midsummer Night's Dream," written by Gaiman and illustrated by Vess, won a World Fantasy Award in 1991, an unprecedented feat for a comic book. The two also collaborated on the novel "Stardust" and the 2009 children's book "Blueberry Girl."
"The better the writer you're working with as an artist, the better your art will be," Vess said from his studio in Abingdon, Va. "It will pull things out of you as an artist you hadn't thought of before."
And after living for 17 years in Wisconsin, Gaiman says he's worried about losing his ability to find things strange in America.
"I'm thinking maybe I should now go to Finland or somewhere for a few years, just to get that sense of the alien back," Gaiman said. "You know you've been in the Midwest too long when the idea of somebody deep-frying cheese curds is not strange."
On the Net:
HarperCollins Children's Books: http://harpercollinschildrens.com
Neil Gaiman: http://www.neilgaiman.com
Neil Gaiman's website for young readers: http://www.mousecircus.com
Green Man Press: http://www.greenmanpress.com