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Gaiman has won awards and been nominated for numerous honors, including the Carnegie Medal, the Newbery, the Hugo, and the World Fantasy Awards. Among his most recent accolades was a clever nod from his hometown of Portsmouth, England, where a street has been named after his latest book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane.
"I don't think he ever sets out to be a groundbreaker," Heifetz says of Gaiman's critical success. "I think he sets out to write the most interesting thing he possibly can in whatever area he is writing in. He's just not interested in retreading anyone else's ground ... or his own."
Gaiman owes a lot to his fans. Once shrugged off as merely goth kids who liked comics, they're now as diverse as the characters in his stories.
Gaiman spends a lot of time on Twitter forging relationships, albeit fleeting ones, with his nearly 1.9 million fans. He also regularly posts on his blog, answers questions on his Tumblr, and updates Facebook.
"I just tweeted at him," longtime fan Tania Richter says, showing off a photo from CONvergence of Gaiman's poster with googly eyes pasted on. "I'm hoping this'll get a retweet."
The line for the Twin Cities reading began queuing more than three hours before the event was supposed to start. The fans waited, patient but excited, in the July sun outside the school.
In the distant past, guys in this crowd were stereotypical comic-book dorks, and girls dressed like Death from The Sandman — all black, Eye of Horus curlicue drawn beneath one eye, and an ankh around the neck. That image has changed drastically.
On this particular day, the audience members vary from shades of Delirium with neon hair and a punk aesthetic to people escaping work while still in business casual. There's even a baby in attendance, not more than a few months old, being thrown in the air by its mother throughout the reading.
Like many of Gaiman's fans, Chris Proczko got hooked on the author during high school.
"Some friends gave me some Sandman comics, and I started reading them," he says while waiting in line. "Another one of my friends gave me Good Omens, and then Neverwhere, and it just kind of spiraled from that."
While some devotees revere Gaiman for his prose, others discovered him through his onscreen work.
"I have never read his books," Emily Sackett confesses after the reading. "He did a cameo on The Simpsons, which is like my favorite thing that ever happened. I love that episode, and I knew that before I knew anything about him."
Sackett's friend Emily Hoar began following Gaiman when she read Stardust. "He's just so interesting because he does everything," she says after talking with Sackett about his book and television work. "But he always tells good stories."
Karen Hanson hasn't acquainted her young children with Gaiman's work yet, but she hopes to do so soon.
"They're just getting old enough that I want to introduce them to his stuff."
Gaiman has now penned several popular chilren's books, but his eerie hit Coraline was originally slated to be a book for adults. Gaiman's eldest daughter, Holly, delighted in the macabre as a young child, and after a visit to the local bookstore — where he was greeted with blank stares — he decided to do something about it.
"I've only ever written two things for specific people going, 'I'm writing this story for someone that isn't me,'" Gaiman says. "In each case, they sort of grew and transformed and got out of hand."
"One of them was Coraline," Gaiman explains. "I started it for Holly; I finished it for Maddy."
The other story he wrote for someone became this summer's novel. Ocean began as a short story for his wife, a token of his love from across the Pacific while she recorded her infamous Kickstarter-funded album, Theater Is Evil.
"I was just going to send it over to Amanda from Florida where I was to Melbourne where she was, and I liked that. That will be short, and you know, she misses me," Gaiman pauses and smiles wryly. "She was making an album, so there wasn't a lot of missing going on. She was really busy." Another pause. "I missed her."
Palmer recounts the road to Ocean a little differently. The pressure to create art and the demands on both Gaiman's and Palmer's time has been rough, but the pair has found ways to make it work.
"It's funny because Neil and I have a lot of lines of communication, you know, Twitter and texting and email ... our blogs," Palmer says.
On Ocean's publication day, Palmer posted a revealing account on her blog of the way she saw the book come to life as well as some of the inner workings behind her marriage.
"I loved it, but I didn't get it at all," Palmer recalls of the time she heard Gaiman read the first draft of Ocean to her. "It wasn't until I was reading it through for the second time and mentioned something to Neil that indicated to him that I totally didn't get it. He had to spell it out to me, and then I got it."