It's a big year for Neil Gaiman's American Gods. There's a fancy anniversary edition, "updated and expanded with the author's preferred text." There's the promise of a big-budget TV adaptation. And most of all, a long-awaited sequel on the way.
So we were excited to be able to talk to Gaiman about the tenth anniversary of his novel. How has a bumpy decade for America affected the series? What gods and what characters might appear in later books? And are those six seasons of television going to come from? Here's what he told us.
Top image via NelsonPray on Deviant Art.
In American Gods, you're writing about these things that are completely out of our day-to-day experiences — like Mr. Wednesday, an old Norse God, walking into Shadow's life — and it's with a completely straight face. How do you achieve that matter-of-fact tone with this material?
Well, the matter-of-fact tone was definitely there from the beginning. I knew that, in order for the story to work, it was just going to have to have this very shocked affect. Probably some of that was going to be the idea of Shadow as a character. He's spent three years in prison, he has come out of prison to tragedy, and tragedy such that he has shut down. Everything that happens emotionally in his life is just — dial it down to zero.
For me, American Gods was a way to write about the immigrant experience, the experience of what it means to come to America. So, it was a way of giving almost equal weight to everything and everything that I felt was interesting and everything I felt was strange. I love that there was stuff in American Gods that I made up that people assume is true. But so much of the stuff that people assumed was a remarkable feat of the imagination, things like the House on the Rock or even the Midwestern custom of driving cars out onto frozen lakes and taking bets on when the lake would melt enough for the car to go through and plunge to the bottom, that's all absolutely just observation. I just thought [that stuff] was strange when I came out to live in America, and so put it into the book.
The book's epigraph comes from a work by folklorist Richard Dorson. Did you do much theoretical reading on folklore and mythology and legends while you were working on the book?
I kind of researched it all upside down. I had a lifetime of reading about gods. Six or seven years of trying to understand America, during which I read the Dorson books and things like that, everything I could about America. So when I came to write American Gods, it was as if I'd spent the previous forty years researching it anyway.
Most research consisted of getting in a car and driving places, seeing if things were there, running into things and going, "Ok, this is made for my book. I don't think I'd even heard of Rock City, but I was driving from up near Minneapolis down to Florida, doing the backroads, and started passing signs and thought, "This is really interesting." There was a fair amount of that. Places like Cairo, Illinois — I'd been interested in and read about and was fascinated by the idea that you had parts of Illinois named after places in ancient Egypt. You had this idea of the Ohio River and Mississippi Delta, these deltas gave you an area that resembled Egypt, and I thought, "Well, you could put Egyptian gods there." But actually going and seeing it and going through the town museum and going, "Oh my gosh, this place is this sad, strange ghost town," that came out of research that was going on the road.
In the 10 years since the book was published, you've become famous for this close relationship with your fanbase online, and you have a reputation as being very internet savvy. If you were writing the book today, do you think that would change the way you think about these new gods, like the god of the web?
I think the character of the technical kid is very much a 1999ish sort of character. It's not that people don't recognize him now. But I'm starting to look right now at what I want to do and how I'm going to approach another volume of American Gods. I think it's time for that story, for me to think about continuing it. And one of the places things are definitely changing is the internet. But I think the overall theme, which is that these new gods are incredibly transient, has probably accelerated with the internet.
I'm fascinated with the speed with which sometimes television feels like its going the way of the dodo. Five years ago or seven years ago, the gods of Myspace were proud and tall and looking out at the world and going, "Nothing can defeat us." Right now, if you've got 50 cents in your pocket and want to take Myspace away in a fire sale — it's forgotten. It's a god of yesterday.
I love doing the blogging stuff, the social media. I'm astonished that Twitter has lasted as long and as well as it has. I definitely felt like it was a very, very transient social media thing when I started playing with it, and these days I'm looking around and I've got 1.6 million people following me and it's incredibly useful for anything I want to do. Although it has its downside. I'll announce tickets for these reading events I'm doing for the tour and suddenly, I think right now all but one of the gigs are sold out. And that's not actually a good thing, because one of the reasons you go on tours like this is you figure there are people who probably wouldn't have read your books otherwise or probably wouldn't have known who you were who could go, "Oh, he's in town, let's go and see him."
You mention in the intro to the anniversary edition that you did a book signing at the World Trade Center Borders shortly before 9/11. How do you think the events of the last decade will inform the story as you continue it?
Some of it actually put it off. For example, I think had the events of 9/11 not happened, I might well have begun another American Gods book a lot earlier. But there was definitely that feeling of, "I need to see what happens here. I need to see how this affects the country." And I don't ever want to write a book just for the purpose of writing a book. I like writing a book when I have something to say or something that I want to figure out for myself. Now feels like the right kind of time.
Although, time in American Gods is weird. Although dates are never actually stated, the events of American Gods probably occur in 2000 and while I suspect that I will cheerfully write American Gods II and set it absolutely in 2011, the events will probably have occurred only four or five years after the events of the first book. People will have to cope with that.
Well, I guess god time is different from mortal time.
I guess. And I'm pretty used to dealing with comic book time, which is also kind of strange and impossible. It was weird when I was doing Sandman, because I was trying to make it happen in real time, but I discovered that if you actually try and do it in real time, it means if you are doing a storyline that takes sixteen months to come out but actually is occurring over the period of a week, it's sixteen months ago at the end of that week. We were about four years behind when we finished.
Obviously, everyone is really excited about the show and its being six seasons long. Do you have any definite plans or ideas you're excited about?
We want to keep as much of the book in as possible, because that's what everybody fell in love with. I don't know how much I can say. My whole thing is trying not say anything until everyone is cast, you've got a pilot that's been filmed that everybody loves and you've got a go-date. Talking too much about things is, I think, always foolish. I will say that currently the plan is basically the book American Gods is the first season. We have many plans beyond that, but the book will be the first season.
So in that case maybe you'll be doing a number of new books?
Well, there's an awful lot more plot, and there's an awful lot more that I never got into that book. People come and say, "Well what about Anansi Boys?" And I go, "Well, that's not actually part of American Gods," even though one of the characters in it. It's sort of upside down. I borrowed Mr. Nancy from a book I hadn't written yet. Really Mr. Nancy from Anansi Boys makes a special guest-starring role. It shares a character.
But there is also the story "Monarch of the Glen," which was published in Fragile Things. That's got Shadow in it.
Do you think Mr. Smith and Mr. Alice from Fragile Things might make an appearance in further stories?
I hope so! It's one of those weird things where the next thing I always planned to do and life was always too full and there was too much going on, but I always wanted to do was another two novellas with Shadow in the UK. And I think Mr. Smith and Mr. Alice probably would have been in one. They probably wouldn't have been in both of them, but they might have cropped up in one. They are such a strange couple. I'm sure that one day I will write a story for them.
The central tension in American Gods is between these old, forgotten gods and the new modern gods. Given that he's very much present in the American psyche and also showed up in Sandman, would you ever have the Devil crop up?
Yes, absolutely. You have a bunch of different American devils and so much of what drives things in the American Gods world is the world of belief. And a lot of people in America believe in the devil or a devil. It wouldn't surprise me at all if he showed up. Although how he shows up and what he actually does is quite possibly rather different than what people would expect.
Is there a particular figure or deity you find interested you would like to include in further stories? Maybe someone who just didn't quite make the cut in the first book?
I didn't get any Greek and Roman gods in, because at the time I couldn't convince myself there was any particular reason to bring Greek and Roman gods in. Now, a few years ago I read about the discovery of some ancient Roman coins in the mud of the Ohio River, and they're definitely ancient Roman coins. There are differences of belief as to whether they were coins that somebody hid there and they got lost or whether they date back 2,000 years. But I don't need any kind of proof on this. All I need is to be able to point to something in the way I could point to the Egyptian stuff. Now I have something that I can hold onto and go, "Well, there is a case now for ancient Romans knocking around America which gives me the whole panoply of Roman gods, too."
Having said that, the other reason I never used them was at the time I felt they were overused, and I like the idea of using ones that were a little bit underused and was proud of myself for having done so.