ARUN RATH, HOST:
Trigger warning is a phrase coming up more frequently on college campuses these days. The trigger warning appears when a reading or discussion might trigger a traumatic memory that someone prefer to avoid. Neil Gaiman thought it was the perfect title for his new collection of stories and poems. He says that while he appreciates the compassion behind trigger warnings, if they'd been around when was a kid, the Neil Gaiman we know wouldn't exist.
NEIL GAIMAN: I was the kind of kid who read everything. And, you know, when you read everything, you wind up reading short stories or stories that just you shouldn't probably have read yet and the kinds of things that gave me nightmares. I remember a short story by a man called Charles Berkin about a father who realizes that his missing daughter was turned into a circus freak by a mad professor who kidnapped children and turned them into horrible freaks using surgical means. And it just rocked my world.
You know, at 9, I thought the world was safe. And the idea that people could come in and just take you away from circuses and turn you into speechless golden-eyed creatures that would gaze imploringly at your parents if they ever came past and there was no hope. That was one that absolutely shook me. It gave me nightmares. It disturbed me. But I look back now and I go, well, I'm the person I am because I read that. Would I change it? I don't think I would.
RATH: You know, there are a lot of great stories in here that kind of take you to strange and unexpected places. I was surprised the one that maybe stayed with me the most is a very subtle story. It's called "The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury." This is a story about - from a first-person point of view about a man who is forgetting.
GAIMAN: I wanted to write a story for Ray Bradbury for his 90th birthday. And I started just thinking, well, what if - what if I'd forgotten Ray? What if I could sort of remember his stories but I'd forgotten him? What if I'd forgotten his name? And what if forgetting his name meant more than that - that the act of forgetting him meant that perhaps he was becoming forgotten by the world? That all led me into the idea of just writing a monologue, essentially, by a man who forgot Ray Bradbury and was just desperately trying to remember him.
RATH: In this collection, this is the second time you've written a story with Shadow, the protagonist from "American Gods." And I get a sense there're probably stands out there thinking just stop teasing us. Give us a full-length "American Gods II" already.
GAIMAN: And I sympathize with them. I empathize with them. And I am a terrible writer. I'm a terrible - like a bad writer, because I get distracted. And I go and do things that seem like they're going to be fun. And very often they are. And then I look around and I have all these people going this thing you liked, why aren't you doing a sequel to it? And I'm going, well, because I had other stuff I wanted to do and it seemed like fun.
I wanted to write "The Graveyard Book" and I wanted to write "Coraline" and I wanted to go and write a short story and perform it around the world with a string quartet starting at the Sydney Opera House and doing Carnegie Hall. It seemed like a great idea and I loved doing it. But you're right, I haven't actually written that novel yet. I will. I really will.
RATH: You note that usually short story collections or collections like this have some sort of a unifying theme. And you apologize for the fact that this doesn't have a unifying theme. You say it's kind of a hodgepodge. But I would maybe put to you that there's a theme of fiction overtaking reality or dreams doing that - and also it seems like this idea of forgetting and memory.
GAIMAN: I think that's true. In some ways, it's me tipping my hat both to the human imaginative facility - the fact that we can imagine - and it's also a way of trying to celebrate aspects of and creatures of and people of the imagination that I've loved, which is why it contains a Sherlock Holmes short story, which is why it has a tribute to Bradbury in there, which is why it has a Jack Vance story. There are things in there that are just ways of tipping my hat to things and fictions and acts of imaging that I have loved.
RATH: That's Neil Gaiman, author of so much - novels, stories, comic books, poetry. His new collection of short fiction is called "Trigger Warning." Neil Gaiman, thank you very much.
GAIMAN: Oh, thank you. That was so much fun.
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