The format was different than what I've experienced before with author talks. This time around, people could write questions down on a note card before the show. So he comes on stage, giving his usual "Hullo" we all know, holding a stack of maybe 300 note cards. The entire night is just him picking a card and answering it, going off on minor tangents when it suited him and digging deep into his personal experiences to share his world with ours. In that way it felt like we were having a conversation with him, or a very informal interview, in which he's simply talking to us, for us, about pretty much anything.
He even answered my question! I asked what I can say, as a bookseller, to parents that are set on not letting their kids read new and genre-filled books since they're forcing their kids to read arguably boring and uninteresting books (depending on the reader)? His answer ("Ah, parents," he says, and the audience laughs) was to handsell books with a passion so that maybe they'd allow something new to be tried. A good answer, of course.
He had various touching moments, from recounting how many women said Coraline inspired them as young girls to be brave, to speaking briefly about Terry Pratchett and writing Good Omens together. He had advice about writing and living a good life. He spoke of adventures he had even when he didn't realize they were adventures. He made us laugh, fall silent, and take in his every word in only the way his voice can as he pauses every now and then as if choosing his next word to make sure it is perfect.
He also read a few short stories from his new book, the anthology Trigger Warning, and a few pages from Good Omens and then told us which part Pratchett had contributed to. I was especially happy because he read the October Tale from A Calendar of Tales, which is my favorite. It is about a genie who appears for someone who does not want or need anything obtained through a wish, and is happy with their simply life and starts to befriend the perplexed djinn. (The whole Calendar can be read for free online.)
It was unlike anything I've experienced, and even if I see Gaiman speak again it will no be anything like that night. It was an evening filled with humorous, heartfelt, and truthful insight into his life and his books. What a fantastic way to start the month.
(PS, I recommend his books American Gods, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and his comic series The Sandman, for anyone interested in a starting point for his works. And then I recommend everything!)