Notes on Neil-HandlingI have acted as convention liaison to Neil Gaiman, or as Neil's personal assistant, at three conventions this year: Penguicon 2.0, Mythcon 35, and Noreascon Four (the 62nd Worldcon). At one point Neil said that if anyone needed to know how to take care of him, he would have them ask me. Seeing as how I might not have time to type things up if the question arises, and seeing as how this is all fresh in my mind right now, I have decided to offer some notes on "handling" Neil. I hope you find them helpful.
September 13, 2004
About NeilTo quote my good friend Cheryl Morgan, "Neil is a real sweetie with an infallible ability to make people happy." You will find him most pleasant to take care of, and very appreciative. I've heard him called gracious --he protested at the time, "I'm not gracious. Am I gracious?" As I told him then, and it is still true months later, I have never seen him be ungracious.
Neil is also very busy, and lots of people want to talk to him. Combine this with the fact that he's, well, a bit of a softie, and the net result is that you will need to be ready to rescue him from people, to shepherd him through the halls, and to keep at this diligently in order to get him to things on time.
TravelSpeaking of getting Neil places...
Neil only flies First Class, and he prefers to fly Northwest Airlines. Your convention should budget for his travel with this in mind.
Neil has a personal assistant, the "Fabulous" Lorraine Garland. You will be working with Lorraine if you are Neil's liaison. She is very easy to work with but, like all busy people, can sometimes use a reminder if there's a standing question she hasn't gotten to answering. She isn't purposefully ignoring you, she's just busy -- track your own deadlines and touch base with her by phone if necessary. Lorraine will help you plan Neil's travel and convention scheduling.
In some cases Neil's Northwest membership will automatically upgrade a Full Fare economy class ticket, and he would much rather have that than a budget First Class ticket, as it's a lot more changeable (he's always needing to change things). Definitely talk to Lorraine about travel plans and options before purchasing anything.
ScheduleYou should check with Lorraine, but generally it is best not to schedule Neil for program items before 11 am. He is a night owl, though, so he is usually willing to do evening events. At Penguicon he was co-auctioneer for a night-time CBLDF auction, at Mythcon he helped judge the Masquerade, and at Worldcon he was MC for the Hugo Awards; he's very flexible. He likes conventions -- go ahead and keep him busy.
Neil is a marvelous reader of his own work. Make sure you schedule a reading.
Also make sure that Lorraine gets copied on any e-mails to Neil about scheduling or arrangements. When the final schedule is drawn up, run it past her before it's finalized.
There is Neil's convention schedule, and then there is the rest of Neil's schedule. Members of the press as well as other people (scholars, etc.) will want to schedule interviews with him. He may want to schedule meals with friends and other types of meetings with relatives or professional associates who are in the area. Note going into the weekend where the available time slots are, and be prepared to write in some additional items.
If you're going to be really keen about it, check the program for people Neil might want to see and make sure he knows they're around.
For interviews it is best to locate a quiet room so that the interviewer can effectively tape record the interview. It is least stressful to get an idea of the options for this in advance. Get in touch with the Press Liaison for the convention so you know who each other are, and for a large convention consider doing a press conference. For most interviewers a twenty minute interview will be sufficient (do make sure Neil agrees to the interview). Some of these people will contact the convention in advance, so you can work with Lorraine on the best way to schedule them in.
If Neil needs to finish writing a speech or something during the convention, make sure you schedule in some time for that as well.
As Neil's convention liaison, you should take responsibility for getting him to his scheduled items on time. Familiarize yourself with the convention site in advance with building maps, and then walk around and make sure you know where everything is. Time how long it takes to get to the main meeting rooms from the green room and from Neil's room, then add two minutes. That's how long in advance you should start Neil moving from one of those places to a program item.
Neil is not generally absent-minded, but he can lose track of time. If you are with him, give him a verbal warning in advance of when he has to leave for a program item. If you are elsewhere, consider giving him a call. He can find his way to a room he's been to before but you should guide him anyplace for the first time. Also, anywhere he goes he will attract people to him like a magnet - he will always move more swiftly if he is accompanied than he will alone.
After a program item, even if he doesn't have to be somewhere immediately, do help him move out of the room so that the next program item can begin.
AutographingNeil Gaiman attracts huge numbers of people to his autographing sessions. Be prepared for crowd control, meaning you should provide an orderly way for people to line up without disrupting traffic, especially if there are other authors signing at the same time. The actual number of people who show up depends on how many people are at the convention. Plan on an hour or two for a small convention, three to four hours for a medium size convention, and for a really big convention like a Worldcon or Comic-con, accept that you cannot accommodate everyone who wants to get something signed, and plan to give out tickets or otherwise limit how many people will stand in line. What you want to avoid is to have hundreds of people wait for over an hour to find out they can't get their stuff signed that day. Neil can sign books for 100 to 150 people in an hour, so consider that when planning. (Of course, if Neil doesn't want to sign for four hours, or whatever, you can cut any signing off at any length.) It's also better to have him do multiple autographing sessions throughout the weekend so that people who are only there for one day or who might have scheduling conflicts with one session can attend another. If possible, reserve the autographing space for longer than you think you will need it in case the session runs overtime.
An autographing session will go faster if there is someone to assist Neil in opening books to the right page, taking pictures of him with fans, and enforcing item limits. If someone comes up with a stack of many comic books and starts taking them out of their plastic, remind them there is an item limit and they should go back to the end of the line to have further items beyond that limit signed. It also helps to have someone go along the line encouraging people to take things out of the plastic before they reach the front of the line.
A typical limit is three items per person. Neil can always choose to waive this limit under certain circumstances for particular people.
It is good to have some water available for Neil to drink; if the signing is longer than an hour, have him take a break in the middle to stand up and take a drink, but don't put the drink on the table --water and books don't mix well.
People will come up to Neil throughout the convention and ask him to sign things. You don't need to chase these people away, but don't hesitate to diplomatically pull him away from them if necessary in order to maintain his schedule.
Pens and other SuppliesNeil usually provides his own pens, but it's good to be prepared to procure replacements.
Most often I have seen him sign books with a fountain pen, using brown ink (filling the pen from a bottle). For most comic books, CD covers, and some books he generally switches to a silver pen. The best kind of silver pens are the ones with a calligraphic tip that you have to shake to get started. Those can be purchased at any book and art supply store. In a pinch he can use a silver Sharpie, but he says those run out more quickly.
A black Sharpie is also useful for some comic books and for signing t-shirts and random objects. Since these are so generally handy, I suggest you carry one with you.
High-quality rollerball pens or gel pens are also nice to have around. At Worldcon Neil switched to these because his fountain pen wasn't working well.
After an autographing session, Neil should wipe down his hands with alcohol wipes. If he doesn't have these with him, you can get them at any pharmacy. This keeps him from getting sick from shaking everyone's hand. It is helpful to put some of these in your pocket, which he also usually does, so they are convenient.
Breath mints are another good thing to have on hand. That's not to suggest Neil needs these, but he does use them habitually.
FoodNeil is allergic to wheat. So don't assume you can feed him sandwiches, pizza or pasta. He'll eat most other things, though. Also you can make him sandwiches if you get wheatless bread. Whole Foods carries a wheatless rye bread that he likes (it may be in the frozen section and should be purchased ahead of time). Contact the green room staff and let them know this in advance. Also inform the hotel if they are providing any catering, like a banquet.
It is good to feed your Neil regularly. Note that if he has breakfast around 10 he won't really be hungry for lunch until 2 or so. Snacks are good. (Lorraine once suggested it's best not to let him get hungry. I've seen him eat a sandwich half an hour before a banquet because he just couldn't wait that long...) Good snacks include cheese, rice cakes and tuna salad, cheese, and fruit. Yes, I know I listed cheese twice. Small lumps of protein are good (to quote Neil).
A prime thing to know is that Neil likes sushi. He really, really likes sushi, and will happily eat it every day. Do some research into the best sushi options in the area and put their phone numbers in your cell phone for ease of making reservations and ordering take-out.
Small food note: Neil can generally eat shrimp but it does make his throat close up some so don't feed it to him before he has a speaking engagement.
DrinkNeil is British. He likes tea. He likes tea made by pouring boiling hot water over the tea. Most American tea services just use heated water, not boiling. Encourage your green room to provide an electric pot or kettle that will boil water for tea for him. He likes a breakfast tea in the morning, with something in it (milk, preferably) to make it white. With sushi he likes green tea, and I have seen him drink various herbal teas in the afternoon and evening, generally with honey. He also drinks hot chocolate.
Most of the time, Neil just drinks water. When he's speaking, he'll tend to drink one or two cups of water an hour. Provide him with room temperature water rather than ice water for this; it's better for the throat and voice.
For an evening drink, Neil might take a glass of wine or single malt Scotch. He collects nice wines at home so a choice vintage might make a good gift for him. In Scotch he prefers something like Oban but when options were few I've seen him order Glenlivet, with a single ice cube in it.
HotelNeil will want a non-smoking room with a king-size bed. His room should be on a quiet floor, preferably convenient to programming and the green room. He will use high-speed Internet access if available. Some hotels provide daily coupons with codes or somesuch for their Internet access -- if this is the case, make sure he has sufficient supply.
If possible, talk to your conchair and hotel liaison about being listed on Neil's room or otherwise introduced to the hotel staff. This will simplify matters if Neil loses his hotel key or there are any hotel issues. It is easiest to carry a copy of his room key with you. This is handy not only if Neil loses his own key, but also because it allows you to drop things off in the room or go and fetch things for him.
Part of the reason you might need to drop things off is because people are constantly giving things to Neil. Books, stuffed animals, awards... be prepared to carry things for him. I've seen him try to sign books standing up while holding three Locus Awards, a stack of certificates and two books -- it is very rewarding to rescue him from these sorts of situations, and he will appreciate having you help him keep track of getting things back to the room and headed home with him.
I should not have to point out that this is a position of trust and you should respect his privacy, but I will anyway because it's important.
ClothingNeil wears primarily black (generally jeans, t-shirt, and leather jacket with optional sunglasses). If your convention is producing a t-shirt and would like to give him one, he will appreciate it if you make him a black version (if the t-shirt design is not already on black). Color design on black is fine. Neil wears a size medium or large t-shirt.
Neil's shoe size is 10 US / 9 UK. I have no idea why you might want to know that, but there you are.
If there is some fancy occasion such that Neil has to dress in clothes other than those to which he is accustomed, I suggest you check well in advance of the event to make sure he has all necessary accessories.
Procedures and TipsNeil will prefer it if you get his convention registration materials for him. Go through his packet and make sure you put any schedule stickers or ribbons that are provided on his badge, so it is ready to wear.
If there is any information that you think Neil should have, compile it for him and send it to him in advance, preferably as text inline in e-mail. Then print it and give him a copy when he arrives.
If you would like to know what Neil has going on in the rest of his life before your convention, read his online Journal.
Regarding his schedule, what I have done at each convention is make myself a single page reference sheet. This has his schedule on it, with rooms, whatever part of his travel information I might need to know, and useful phone numbers, generally of committee members and perhaps people who want to see Neil over the weekend. Sushi restaurants, Northwest Airlines (1-800-225-2525), and other handy numbers can go on there. I lay out his schedule so that there are spaces on the page wherever there are gaps in the schedule. This piece of paper then becomes my brain -- as items are added to the schedule throughout the weekend, they get written in to this master schedule. Additional information gets noted on the back of the page. Doing this means you really have only one thing to keep track of -- keep it in a consistent and safe place.
For Worldcon I was not always with Neil and his schedule was the most complex of any event we've done together. I emailed him the expanded version if his schedule and he kept a printout in his pocket as well. I therefore updated his copy of the schedule as well as mine throughout the weekend.
A cell phone is an extremely useful gadget for a Neil-handler. I would not recommend doing it without one, in fact. Neil uses cell phones a lot and so do most people who will want to meet with him. It is very handy to swap phone numbers and then lock in or alter schedules by phone as more information becomes available.
At two out of three conventions where I have assisted Neil, he has needed to print something during the convention. Conventions usually have a printer or two on the premises (check at the con office, or in Ops, for a sign shop, or wherever the con newsletter is produced). They will no doubt be happy to help you print off Neil's speech or readings or whatever. The typical way of moving something from Neil's computer to be printed is to have him e-mail it to you, so it helps if the computer attached to the printer has an Internet connection and you have remotely retrievable e-mail like web-based mail. He may not need this, but it's good to know how to proceed in case he does.
Speaking of something he might not need but will appreciate, at Penguicon we had a certified Massage Therapist on staff in the green room (along with her massage chair). A three-hour autographing session is really quite physically stressful, and it was a delight to be able to offer Neil a professional massage at the end of that day.
As I started out by saying, Neil is a pleasure to assist. He is very sweet and his fans are also very nice, so you should not have a hard time at all. In fact, I expect you will have a lot of fun. Other people will be quite jealous. To quote a comment from my Livejournal post-Mythcon:
>I was assisting Neil Gaiman.So enjoy yourself! (And try not to get killed.)
And if you have any questions I haven't covered here, write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or ask Lorraine, or just ask Neil. He's very nice. That's really the whole point of this document. He's nice, and we like him a lot -- so please take good care of him.
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