So far, 2009 has been kind to Neil Gaiman. The English-born author, who lives outside Minneapolis, already had a cult following for his comic series, “The Sandman,” and fantasy novels such as “American Gods.”
Earlier this year, the animated film adaptation of Gaiman’s YA novel “Coraline” was released to critical and commercial success. And he was awarded the prestigious Newbery Medal for “The Graveyard Book,” his spooky and touching story of a boy raised by ghosts.
Last week Gaiman released “Blueberry Girl” (HarperCollins, $17.99), a collaboration with illustrator Charles Vess. “Blueberry Girl” is a prayer - addressed to “ladies of light and ladies of darkness and ladies of never you mind” - for the health and happiness of a little girl.
We spoke with Gaiman by telephone about his moment in the spotlight.
Q. Did you anticipate that “Coraline” would be a hit with audiences?
A. I figured it was going to be like “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” which didn’t really find its audience but then stuck around forever and became a success in retrospect. I was completely wrong on that! Three weeks in and we’d made $61 million.
Q. Then you go and win the Newbery Medal.
A. I was in a hotel suite in Los Angeles after a press junket for “Coraline.” At midnight, I climbed into my bubble bath, chatted to a friend on the phone, read The New Yorker. Round about 3:30, I put the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door and went to sleep. Roughly one hour and 40 minutes later, the phone rang - my assistant. I woke up enough to establish that nobody had died, and 10 minutes later I’ve got people on the phone telling me, “You’ve won the Newbery Award.” Had I been expecting anything like this, I would have got a good night’s sleep.
Q. Were you surprised to get an award from the children’s division of the American Library Association? The folks who shush you?
A. You know, they get this rep, and it’s not fair. Time and again you look out and the ones on the front lines for freedom of speech turn out to be people like children’s librarians.
Q. Still, “The Graveyard Book” might not be an obvious choice - a story that opens with a family knifed to death.
A. It’s a book about life and death, a book about the value of life. It includes some death in it. It needs to - otherwise the story wouldn’t matter.
Q. How did you come to write “Blueberry Girl”?
A. I got a phone call from Tori Amos, one of my best friends, and she said, “I’m having my baby on such and such a date. Would you write some sort of little prayer or poem for her?” So I wrote “Blueberry Girl.” I had it handwritten out by a friend to hang by her bed, and I put up his practice copy on my filing cabinet. People would come in and they’d read it and say, “Could I have a copy of that?” Time went by and I was having to make more and more copies of this thing. Finally I said to Charles Vess, “This is getting silly, let’s bring it out so I can stop copying it out all the time.”
Q. It looks like a children’s book, but it’s really for mothers.
A. If there were lots of books out there like it, there wouldn’t be any need for it. But there aren’t. I’m glad that we’ve done one. And there aren’t any knifings in it.