Neil Gaiman is exhausted.
The beloved fantasy author (Good Omens, American Gods) and sometime screenwriter (Mirrormask, Beowulf) has spent the last week on a whirlwind press tour to promote the new stop-motion adaptation of his novel Coraline. The Toronto leg of the trip follows hard on the heels of the Los Angeles press junket.
That would have been tiring enough, but he also had to make a quick trip from L.A. to New York last week when his young-adult novel The Graveyard Book won the American Library Association's Newbery Medal, necessitating a second round of interviews and TV appearances.
And because he's established a reputation as an author who's always answerable to his readers - literally - he's been covering the whole thing via his blog and his Twitter feed.
Before we sit down in the interview suite at the Park Hyatt, he has to dash back to his room to post a message inviting Toronto fans to a rush line for that night's Coraline screening.
But now, visibly worn, Gaiman is thinking about paring down his online presence.
"I'm definitely toying with the idea of getting monastic," he explains.
"I really enjoyed going away to China for five weeks and doing this research trip and not blogging. And not blogging was really easy, because there's the Great Firewall of China. I couldn't get to my blog and I couldn't see what was happening on my blog. If something would cross my path where I knew that it needed to be mentioned on the blog, I could just send it to one of my Web guys. But basically, the blog wasn't tended for five weeks, and it was really nice. I found myself experiencing things quite differently. I stopped trying to rapidly process them: ‘How am I going to tell this story as a chapter in a book, rather than as a blog thing?'"
Between the Coraline promo tour and the Newbery Medal, Gaiman's been blogging (and Twittering) his fingers off, trying to document the experience in short, sharp observational bursts. As he explains it, the whole thing is under control - barely.
"Ten days ago, I decided to Twitter the junket and Twitter through the premiere. Then the Newbery happened and suddenly I found myself Twittering it. I hadn't initially announced that I was Twittering, so my first week or two of doing that was great, because I was just Twittering friends, and the only people who were following me were friends. Now 17,000, 18,000 people are following me, and they're growing by about 800, 900 people a day. And I'm starting to feel like, ‘Oh my god, this is a garden I'm going to have to tend.'
"On the other hand, we don't know that the cinema is going to be full for this screening tonight. And I said, ‘Why don't you let me put a thing up on Twitter that tells people to be here at 6:45: "We promise nothing but we may be able to get some of you in, and we can fill any empty seats."' That's the kind of cool thing it's nice to do for fans, and there's no way the communication tools existed to do it even a couple of years ago."
Coraline is animator Henry Selick's stop-motion adaptation of Gaiman's 2002 novel about a little girl who discovers an alternate universe behind a door in her family's new home. The film is a remarkably deft translation of the novel's blend of whimsy and darkness, but it's all Selick's vision. Well, mostly.
"I had maybe three huge pieces of input," Gaiman explains, "and a couple of tiny ones. The biggest thing I did when I finished the book in first draft - before Dave McKean's illustrations were done, before any of that kind of stuff - was send it to Henry Selick. I'd seen a film called Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas and had noticed who made it, and understood enough about the process to go, ‘This is Henry's movie!' So that was the first big thing I did.
The second big thing he did came after Selick's option had run out.
"The book came out and became a bestseller, and lots of people wanted it. Henry and [executive producer] Bill Mechanic needed a free extension to their option at a time when nobody whose job it was to advise me wanted me to give it to them, and they were all sort of pointing at the Disneys of the world," says Gaiman. "I said, ‘No, I'm sticking with Henry.' So Henry got a free option for about nine months, which actually turned out to be what they needed to get it made.
"And then, when he was making it, I said, ‘Okay, Henry, you're going to cast French and Saunders as Miss Spink and Miss Forcible.' He'd seen Ab Fab, but he didn't even really know who Dawn French was. So I said, ‘You are casting these women, and you trust me on this.' And he said, ‘I trust you.' Those were the three big things I did. Of everything I did, those were important. And every now and then I'd get to do little things."
Gaiman was also impressed by Selick's willingness to cast voice actors who best captured the essence of the characters rather than going for big names to pump up a marquee. It's not like there weren't opportunities.
"I will not name them, but they were Ladies Who Had Oscars - for the part of Mother and the Other Mother," Gaiman says. "When he called me and said, ‘I've got Teri Hatcher,' I was a bit surprised. And then I heard the part and went, ‘Oh my god, she's an A-lister!' I hadn't known how good she was or how much she could do until I heard that."
Selick's instincts seem to be paying off. Audiences at those preview screenings are responding enthusiastically, and Gaiman is delighted to see people, both young and old, enjoying his story in this new context.
"Kids see it as an adventure," he says. "It's adults who find it scary. I felt like the Jonas Brothers after the screening in L.A., because all these 11-year-olds were coming out with their eyes shining, these little girls. I asked, ‘Was it scary?' One of them said, ‘Well, it was, but in a good way.'"