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Gaiman gives writing advice

Steven Nalley

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After Thursday’s event at the Bama Theatre, a few students got another chance to hear Neil Gaiman read and answer questions about writing one last time before the author of “American Gods,” “Coraline” and other best-sellers left Alabama.

Creative Campus held a session with Gaiman for Master’s of Fine Arts students in creative writing on Friday at Smith Hall.

The session was not limited exclusively to MFA students or to students studying creative writing. Claire Norell, a senior majoring in anthropology, attended the session. Norell said it was a privilege to see Gaiman in a more intimate setting than the Bama Theatre.

“It’s one of those things where I can’t believe I’m this close,” Norell said after the event. “It was awesome. He’s been one of my literary heroes for years.”

Gaiman read from the seventh chapter of his 2009 Newberry Medal-winning book, “The Graveyard Book.” He said he got the idea when he was 25 years old when he took his son to a graveyard, where he thought it would be safer for him to ride his tricycle.

“I thought, ‘He looks absolutely at home now,’” Gaiman said. “I thought, ‘I could do a book about a kid who grows up in a graveyard.’ It was the easiest, simplest idea for a book I’d ever had, but I said, ‘No. This is a better idea, and I’m a writer. I’ll get better, and then I’ll get back to this.’”

Gaiman gave students advice on how to improve their writing. He said it helped him to write the first drafts of his stories by hand because having to type the draft afterward forces him to look at the draft again and makes him want to cut nonessential things out.

“Making more work for yourself, you learn some economy,” Gaiman said. “I tell myself that I should write as if I’m paying them [readers] by the word.”

Gaiman referred to a lecture he gave at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he explained the difference between genre fiction and real literature. He said genre fiction is like hardcore pornography and musicals in that all three have certain things people expect from them, whether it’s sex, music or clichéd tropes, and the plot exists only to keep these expected events from happening nonstop.

“That’s sort of how you can tell whether it’s genre, whether it’s a cowboy novel or a novel with cowboys,” Gaiman said.

Leigh Hunnicutt, a senior majoring in Spanish, said she appreciated the advice Gaiman gave, especially when he said writers should finish their unfinished novels.

“That’s half the hard drive on my computer right there, is unfinished novels,” Hunnicutt said. “I thought it was amazing that he was able to come here.”

Alexis Clark, coordinator with Creative Campus, said the session was one part of the overall success of Gaiman’s visit to Alabama.

“I feel like the two days’ worth of events in the book of Creative Campus success level is at the top of what we’ve done,” Clark said. “It emphasized collaborative partnerships because none of this would have been possible with just us, and it brought the best and brightest in a field to the best and brightest in Alabama.”

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Gaiman gives writing advice