Neil Gaiman seems to be obsessed with "Daisy Bell," a song from 1892. The antiquated tune pops up like a resurgent weed in several of his short stories and novels. During a phone conversation from his home in Minneapolis, he tries to suss out its significance.
"When I was a kid and my grandparents were babysitting me and an opportunity to sing would come along, they'd sing me 'Daisy, Daisy,'" he says. "And it would seem to me some sort of weird, barking-mad song.... I suppose just the idea that there still was a little more promiscuity with musical tradition in the U.K., and you get songs that haven't really died out."
According to him, family was not just the inspiration for his new novel, Anansi Boys; it's what the book is all about.
"Like all novelists, I borrow bits of things from everybody.... Part of the fun and the magic of fiction is that if you get it sort of specific and odd enough, sometimes it can become very general. At the end of the day, it is a novel about family. It's a novel about the embarrassment of families, and the nightmare of families, and how to find families."
Despite the fact that the two books share a common character, Gaiman insists that Anansi Boys is not a followup to his 2001 multiple-award-winning tome American Gods.
"It's not a sequel at all," says the author, who appears at the Tattered Cover LoDo on Tuesday, September 27. "If anything, it's sort of the other way round. I came up with the idea of a Nancy book almost ten years ago, but I didn't quite know what I was doing with it. Then I thought it through, and I was also very aware that my favorite character in the book, which was Mr. Nancy, was going to die on page one. So when I came to write American Gods, I sort of borrowed a character from a book I hadn't yet written as a guest star. But they are very, very different books. American Gods is a big, thick, serious, meaningful, solid, award-winning sort of novel. And Anansi Boys is a screwball comedy that's a love story with ghosts and magic and birds and weird stuff in it."
Born and raised in England, Gaiman cut his journalistic teeth in the 1980s writing for the British versions of skin mags Penthouse and Knave. His DC Comics series Sandman brought him unexpected cult fame and accolade in the '90s. He has since charged ahead, penning internationally acclaimed novels, poetry and short stories, TV, radio and screenplays, children's books, even a syndicated blog on his website, www.neilgaiman.com. Another recent project, MirrorMask, is a "family fantasy" film that Gaiman wrote. It was produced by the Jim Henson Company and is scheduled to be released this month.
In addition to his innumerable projects, Gaiman is a vociferous advocate of First Amendment rights, donating time and publications to benefit anti-censorship organizations such as the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.
Speaking on the subject, he cites the recent Denver Public Library Spanish-language book dispute: "So we have a racist organization that is out to try and find inappropriate Spanish-language books and stop them. And you have the head of the library, who apparently seems to be, in a remarkable fit of cowardice, breaking all the library rules and ripping stuff off the shelves. But I do think in something like that, common sense tends to reassert. Because what happens then is people start making fun of the head of the library.
"The point about libraries is they're places where you make it fun to read," he continues. "We should try to give people the idea that books are pleasurable; they're wonderful; they're cool."
That's a tune we can all carry.