The dark night returns for Neil Gaiman

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

Palmer later wrote about that exact moment, "For a second, a split second, I was a Neil Gaiman fan. And I was a fan because he'd tricked me, and he'd tricked me without knowing, and I'd heard rumors that he does that, but I thought I was immune."

She takes pains to make clear she has never approached Gaiman from the perspective of a fan.

"I think the most important thing about falling in love with him or being able to fall in love with him is that I wasn't even remotely a Neil Gaiman fan," she says on the phone. "I didn't have any preconceived, worshipful notion of what he was like."

A mutual friend introduced Palmer and Gaiman, which led to her asking the writer to pen captions for her Who Killed Amanda Palmer book of photographs. Both were with other people at the time, but the chemistry between them was undeniable.

"He fell in love with me first," Palmer says. "And then he planted himself firmly in a chair, firmly in my periphery, telling me that he was perfectly happy to wait years and years and years to date me."

Eventually, she found herself intrigued by the man she readily describes as "sort of reclusive, but also super social, very smart, funny, sensitive, but also emotionally withdrawn."

Having lived alone most of her adult life, Palmer notes at age 37 that she and Gaiman have worked hard to make their lives in Cambridge, Massachussetts, comfortable.

"The cohabitating has not been easy," she says, attributing some of the difficulties to their respective needs to make art and run their businesses from inside the home. "Neil has gotten used to a totally different kind of family style, where he lives in a household with kids running around."

The two have dealt with grueling tour schedules that keep them apart for months at a stretch throughout their time as a couple; however, during their downtime, "the best way for us to connect with each other is just to have a lot of sex," Palmer admits with a laugh.

"Colliding our two lifestyles is hilarious and so fantastic because we just take such totally different approaches to how one enters and exits a room," says Palmer before adding that they're now on the hunt for a new home in New York.

Gaiman is at the tail end of his tour, and it's taking its toll.

In the days just before the Minnesota tour stop, Heifetz says, "We were just hoping nothing would go wrong,"

But a series of unfortunate events began with the tragic Asiana Airlines crash, a long-delayed flight to Detroit, lost bags, and 1,700 people to sign for until the wee hours of the morning at a late event in Ann Arbor before flying into Minneapolis.

"I don't know what he was going on," Heifetz marvels. "Fumes, I guess. I was exhausted. It was really kind of shattering."

Onstage, there's the distinct sense that Gaiman is performing a routine that he's done day after day, but it comes with the territory. You can see he's rehearsed his stories. He has an arsenal of tales ready to tell at the drop of a hat. He knows what his audiences will laugh at, and he has the timing down.

The crowd shrugs off the signs of Gaiman's travel-weariness and hangs on his every word. He speaks for more than an hour before taking a short break to regroup, then commences signing for a group of hundreds and subsequently boards a tour bus into the night. He says he will wave hello to his house in Wisconsin on the way to the next stop in Chicago.

Since the early 1990s, Gaiman has made his home in a self-described Addams Family-style house about an hour outside of Minneapolis. In recent years, the property has garnered attention for his honeybees, his writing shed, and the giant snow creatures his friends build in the yard. While Gaiman now spends a fair amount of time on the road and in Cambridge with Palmer, he still considers the place a home base of sorts.

For good reason, too, since the Midwest has crept into Gaiman's stories little by little over the years.

"I know that it affected the stories. I would see things, and I would meet people, and I would talk to people, and I would try to make sense of it," he says of his time in and around Minnesota.

The vibrant Renaissance fair in The Wake, the final chapters of The Sandman, is based on the Minnesota Renaissance Festival. Much of American Gods takes place throughout the Midwest, from roadside attractions like the House on the Rock to small Wisconsin towns. Harsh Midwestern winters taught Gaiman lessons in what real cold could be, which was so vividly described in American Gods with one character's ill-fated trip out on a frigid winter day in Wisconsin.

"I lived in England, I figured that water got white and fluffy and fell from the sky," Gaiman says. "All the clever things we learn to do in this part of the world ... you walk outside, you breathe in, the hairs on your nose freeze, you go, 'Oh, it's below zero.' You walk outside, you cough with pain a couple times, you go, 'Oh, it must be about minus 25.'"

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