The dark night returns for Neil Gaiman

On the eve of Sandman: Overture, the writer talks about his life and his work

On a sweltering July day at Jefferson High School in Bloomington, a lanky twentysomething walks out of the packed school auditorium with her friend. She hugs a book close to her chest and clutches a small blue trinket with the words "Police Box" inscribed on it. Her voice quivers, "Oh my gaaahhhd. We met him."

She isn't squealing about a musician, a movie star, or the stuff of heartthrob posters. He's an author.

Backstage in a dressing room, Neil Gaiman prepares for a long evening, signing hundreds of books before they're carted out to the main lobby to be sold. He finally emerges and excuses himself, "Just a moment, then we can start." He strides over to a majestic White German Shepherd gazing at him and holds her tight for a full minute. She wags her tail.

Clad in a suit jacket, collarless shirt, slacks, and well-worn Chelsea boots — all the shade of starless night — Gaiman is notorious for his all-black wardrobe. He ruffles his nearly jet-black mop often, which almost matches his outfit, but for a few wisps of silver at his temples.

Gaiman's team has carved a sliver of time into his schedule for only one interview in Minneapolis. He speaks candidly and sips a cup of tea that's steaming into his bleary eyes. Time runs over on the chat not once, but twice, and Gaiman politely waves away his assistant with a perfect curve of a smile. "No," he says. "We have time."

Gaiman turns 53 this year and will see more projects come to fruition than many writers see in an entire career.

He started 2013 with the release of his children's book Chu's Day before collaborating with BlackBerry on "A Calendar of Tales," a work of fiction based on Twitter-sourced ideas for short stories and illustrations, one for every month of the year. Gaiman followed up with a joint literary and musical performance with his wife, Amanda Palmer, in the spring. His second Doctor Who episode premiered to rave reviews soon after. His book, Neverwhere, became a radio play starring Benedict Cumberbatch and James McAvoy on the BBC.

In June, he released his first novel for adults in eight years, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and embarked on his final U.S. signing tour. This fall, Gaiman's new children's book, Fortunately, the Milk, hits bookstores, and he also just announced that he's working on a video game.

Rumors of an HBO series based on his 2001 novel American Gods are circling, but Gaiman and his camp refuse to disclose any details. "It hasn't been greenlit, but it's still very much in the planning stages," says his literary agent of more than 20 years, Merrilee Heifetz.

The piece de resistance for longtime Gaiman fans will be the highly anticipated prequel to his graphic novel masterpiece, The Sandman. Celebrating the 25th anniversary of the seminal comic-book series that catapulted him to cult stardom, Gaiman will revisit the titular character and reveal what led to his capture in the first book.

Slated for release at the end of October, "one issue is all written and finished and being drawn," Gaiman says. "A second issue exists in handwriting in two notebooks, and is waiting for me to stop moving so I can type it all out."

While Gaiman has had a quarter-century to think about this story, it also means the pressure's on.

"I think I like writing things best when nobody's waiting for them, nobody expects them, and nobody knows what they're going to get," he says. "There's definitely a kind of weird feeling, like 10 to 15 million people are looking over my shoulder going, 'This has got to be good.'"

Even though he has remained tight-lipped about the prequel, Gaiman notes that hints were dropped in the original issues (numbers 8 and 42 for the diehards).

As a teenager, Neil Gaiman wrote down a list of dreams he wanted to chase.

Decades later, in his "Make Good Art" commencement address at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Gaiman recalls the checklist and his progress. Gaiman never graduated from college, nor did he attempt to start, but he fed his desire for the written word by becoming a journalist.

After several years of freelancing for various publications, he managed to score a book deal for a biography on, of all things, Duran Duran, and another about Douglas Adams, the writer of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

While his publishers were auctioning off the Adams book, Gaiman met literary agent Merrilee Heifetz and asked her to represent his comic books.

"Back then, comic books were not a big business at all," Heifetz recalls, saying that it was somewhat of a literary ghetto in the late 1980s.

But when Gaiman told her he also planned on writing novels, she was sold.

Decades later, Heifetz describes the feeling she gets every time she reads Gaiman's new work.

"There's a wonderful thing that happens when you're an agent," she says. "You get that book, and you read it and you just think... 'Oh my god, I'm one of the first people to read this, and this is going to make history.'"

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