Okay, first of all, I'd like to say that in the first draft of this post, I was at 1,300 words when I decided it was getting too long and I started over to condense it.
As Filipino book readers, we rarely ever get a chance to see or meet our favorite foreign authors. So it was a joy to find out that Neil Gaiman is having an event at El Centro, Subic Bay. There was going to be a book reading, Q&A, and book signing. Awesome.
It was a 9 AM event (morning, not so awesome). We were told that the drive to Subic is about 2 to 3 hours long. That meant that we had to leave about four hours before the event, you know, allocating for time to get lost like we always do. Estimated time of departure, 5 AM. The problem with that is that Friday night, I got back home from the office around midnight, five hours before we have to leave. When I got home, I ate dinner, planned the trip, and looked at updates on the approaching typhoon. When I looked at the clock again, it was already 3:30 AM. We have to leave in 90 minutes. Sleeping and then getting back up in an hour is just going to make me feel miserable. So I decided to stay up.
By the time we left, it was already 20 hours since I last slept. I was tired. We got to Subic Bay with no problems. We got there an hour early. It had been announced that only the first 100 people would be guaranteed to get a book signed. I didn't expect to be part of that hundred as the last time Neil was here, several people had started lining up four to five hours before the actual event. But when we got there, we were told that we were in the first hundred. Great! I guess the fact that it was a paid event and it was in Subic made it inaccessible to a lot of his fans. We later found out that some people had actually started lining up at 12:30 am. I'm pretty sure those are the Sandman fans.
They started letting people in. Two huge guys in blood red shirts with 'Security' printed on it were patting down everyone. They had a bomb sniffing dog there too. When we got in, they tagged us with stickers on our chest. We were labeled Mrs. 85 and Mr. 86. Yey! As part of the tickets, we also got a signed copy of the Beowulf Script Book written by Neil Gaiman himself and Roger Avary. I also purchased a hardbound copy of Interworld for Neil to sign. We were then ushered to our designated seats. Very organized. After a few minutes, a guy comes up to the stage and says, "Hi, I'm a gay man but not the Gaiman you came here to see". The crowd gives a polite laugh. He then proceeds to tell us that if we wanted a dedication on our book, we should write it down on a Post-It together with our name. Then, right when I was thinking people could take advantage of that, someone raised their hand and asked, "You mean he'll write anything we want?" The guy said yes, and only instructed people to be brief. Wow, I thought. Lots of damage can be done with a brief signed message.
1. *blank* gets everything when I die.
2. I have sold my soul to *blank*
3. I disinherit all my kids and adopt *blank*
4. I stole all my stories from *blank*
5. *blank* is the Forgotten God in American Gods.
6. *blank*'s break-up with Delight turned her into Delirium.
Imagine all those ending with Neil's signature.
So, Neil comes up on stage to loud applause. He starts the event with an introduction to the book he was currently writing, The Graveyard Book, and reads us the first chapter. The only problem during the reading was that I was really tired. There were a couple of times that I nodded off for a second or two. I hope he didn't see me. It wasn't that I was bored. It was a situation where the spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak. Anyway, I loved what I heard and I'm looking forward to picking up a copy. Transcript of the talk and a recording of the reading can be found here (courtesy of Charles Tan).
I think the bit he wanted to do most was address the audience. This is the second time that Neil has come to the Philippines. The first time was two years ago, through the efforts of Fully Booked (So thank you Fully Booked. You guys are pricey but you have a great selection). After that last visit, he felt that there was a lot of talent here in the Philippines that needed an outlet to showcase their work. So he initiated talks with Fully Booked and organized a graphic novel and writing contest. So there was a contest and there are already winners. One of the reasons for him coming here was to launch the book containing the works of the winners from the last competition and to judge the entries for this year's event. This makes me admire the man more. He's giving a lot of his time to nurture Filipino artists and give them a shot at making a career out of their passion.
We line up for the book signing. After maybe half an hour, the wife and I are close to our turn. I run everything down in my mind. Camera, check. Books, check. Post-it, check. Then, I stand beside him. He says 'hello', takes the Post-It to read my name and then pauses. I had written down 'Echu'. He doesn't know how to pronounce it. He shakes it off, and starts writing down my name on the book and the dedication. I had written down 'Finish things.' He writes it down as 'Echu! Finish things!' and signs it. So now I had a mandate from Neil Gaiman to finish what I'm writing. What I had asked him to write came from the talk he gave before the signing. He tells us that aspiring writers often ask him what advice he can give them. His response is 'Write'. I understand what he means. A lot of people say they dream of being a writer but don't actually work on it. Write. No one is going to come up to you and give you a contract out of the blue. Write, send it in and try again. Okay, what if I already am writing? His response to that is "Finish it." Right. Guilty as charged. I have tried to write before, had ideas for a story, but haven't seen them through. Only a couple of pages have ever gone down to paper. So that's what I asked him to write as a dedication. After signing it, he hands the book back to me and I said 'Thank you Neil', very casually that I surprised myself. And he said, "You're very welcome". Then I got a picture taken with him. Lovely.
We get down from the stage, and sit down. Done. We look over our books. Show each other what he had written down. Now, we begin to feel the weight of the day and what we had to do to get back home. Too much. Let's get something to eat first. We had lunch in Jollibee. We were in Subic Bay and we had lunch in Jollibee. People go up here for weekend retreats and we eat at Jollibee. Why would we do that? Well, we were already too tired to make a decision where to eat or look for a good place. So we just went with our default place. Yes I know, we're not ten year olds, but hey, what can say, I love their chicken and palabok. After lunch, we looked at each other. We're in Subic. People come up here for weekend getaways. They have duty free shops. Nah, let's just go home.
Driving home was terrible. At this point, I haven't had sleep for almost thirty hours and I had three hours of driving to look forward to. Doubted if we could make it back. Discussed staying. Too expensive, can't afford it. We decide to push on. Started driving back, but I was struggling to stay awake. Micro slept a couple of times. It was getting too dangerous. An hour and a half into it, we stopped at gas station. I napped for ten minutes. I felt better, but still terrible. We start again. Doing better this time, I stopped nodding off and just felt like hell. Sped through the highway at an average of hundred miles an hour (which is the legal speed limit). I'm guessing though, my speedometer is broken. Twelve hours after we left for Subic, we were back home.
After 100 miles of driving, 36 hours with no sleep, and 6 hours on the wheel, I was exhausted and brain functions were minimal. But still, I was grateful for the day.
Right. So the second draft wasn't short either. Hey, can't say I didn't try.