Writing the Ocean

I finished Neil Gaiman’s latest novel last night, in my second sitting with it. It was that kind of book, right from the start. Grabbed me, pulled me in, wrung me out, and didn’t let me go until it was done with me. I fell asleep afterward, my head filled with rags and worms and an endless tugging ocean.

He wrote it for his wife, and it feels like he wrote it for writers, for all of us, and with so much love.

I want to write like that, of course. I woke up this morning and wrote another 1300 words in my novel and they were nothing like that.

I read today that the Ocean’s signing tour is Gaiman’s last.

I am unspeakably sad about it. Right now, with the Ocean still flowing through me its current tugging longing to dissolve me… I’m ready to drop everything and head to California, just so I can meet him before he turns recluse. Alas, odds are that I never will have that honor. I’ll have to settle for video:

It’s good video. Good advice. Go do things. Read a lot. Lose your heart. Write. Write. Write.

“All writers have this vague hope that the elves will come in the night and finish things for you… They never do… You put one word after another like putting bricks in the wall…” or drops in an ocean…



4 thoughts on “Writing the Ocean

  1. I have a hate/love relationship with this guy. It’s complicated. It has nothing to do with jealousy. I guess I think he’s overblown and it’s hard for me to look past that. I view him with a sense of wry injustice and can’t help but think of, say, the Lev Grossmans of the world who seem less pretentious about the whole thing. Less pretentious = more deserving, you know. But I guess that’s just Neil’s personality, as that’s just Lev’s personality.

    It doesn’t help that I don’t really love his books either. They’re totally worthy of love, so I get it. They’re just not my thing. I shouldn’t say I have a hate/love relationship with him. I have a meh relationship with him. Every book I read I like less than the one before it because there’s so much overlap. Stardust > Anansi Boys > Neverworld > American Gods (which I couldn’t finish) > The Sandman (which I couldn’t finish) > The Graveyard Book (which I couldn’t finish)….

    His poem “Instructions,” which was made into a children’s book, is my favorite thing of his ever.

    Apparently I feel the need to dump my opinion of him on people who didn’t ask for it. I don’t mean this to be critical of your response, just to have a conversation. I’ve obviously thought a lot about this and WHAT ELSE WILL I DO WITH THE THOUGHTS.

  2. Oh, somewhere in there I read Good Omens. (Yes, I blatantly feel the need to say I’ve read a lot of his stuff to defend my opinion of him.) And I just now saw Ocean is pretty short, so maybe I will pick that up. I have a thing for short books. They seem more good-dense, and less of a waste of time if they aren’t. Plus I feel like Neil Gaiman is best for concepts, not for long insights into human nature, so short is better. Hence my loving “Instructions.”

  3. “Apparently I feel the need to dump my opinion of him on people who didn’t ask for it.”

    I asked your opinion when I decided to blog about it. :) I love to talk about books. Thank you for engaging with me.

    To be honest, I haven’t read much of Gaiman’s work. I read Stardust and loved it, and Anansi Boys and thought “meh.” I read a book of short stories and adored it. Then I listened to his writing advice and loved it. And then I picked this one up and loved it so much I could cry. Three out of four wins plus an out of the ballpark = love. For me.

    Carey just started reading Ocean and so far he’s kinda ‘meh’ on it, so maybe it’s just me, but I think this is a master work. It feels like going down the rabbit hole in the best possible way. And then coming back up again and feeling like the journey was so very worth it. It’s horror and fear and magic and grief and loss and beauty. To me, it is exactly the writer’s journey, made glamorous and mysterious and clear, all at once.

    I agree about short fiction. I think one of the reasons I love (good) youth fiction is that it is necessarily condensed and meaty. Adult fiction so often feels the need for heavy description, etc., that is not necessary to the story. I like there to be plenty left to speculate on, guess about, make up my own stories and interact with the book in that way. Ocean has plenty of that, too.

    Anyway, I also get what you’re saying about him being overblown. I can’t speak to that in his case by any means, since I’ve read so little of his. Certainly he’s popular. And I think Lev should be more well-known than he is, of course.

    Perhaps the disparity has to do with how Neil gives people more of what they want: Mystery, Magic. Lev offers a magic box as a gift, wrapped in mystery, but when you open it, inside is more reality, more sweat and tears and people being the dirty messy things that we are. I love this, and his books. But a lot of folks don’t want that in fiction.

    Where Lev removes the glamorous gloss over the world of magic, Neil does the opposite. Neil puts a glamorous shine on the world of reality, makes us feel like we’re better (or worse) than we are, more interesting. He pulls back the curtain on the world’s true magic just a bit, giving us enough of a glimpse to feel the mystery in our bones, to let it resonate in our lives.

    To put it another way, when I’m done reading Lev, I feel like “that was a good story. Glad it wasn’t me.” When I got done with Ocean, I felt like the story was about me, like I’m living inside it still.

    I’ll have to check out “Instructions.” :)

  4. “To me, it is exactly the writer’s journey, made glamorous and mysterious and clear, all at once.” Ah, see. I think this is why he’s so big in the artist community. I invariably don’t like things meant for that community. Or, if not “meant” for that community, touching on aspects about that community. I don’t mean to belittle a book by saying it’s “meant” for something.

    Wow. You really nailed the difference between Lev and Neil. And why I like Lev more. PS. Did I find you through Lev’s blog? I was thinking yesterday about how we even met up.

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