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WV poet laureate looks forward to meeting Neil Gaiman at book festival

Writer Neil Gaiman attends the Spotlight on Neil Gaiman panel on Day 5 of Comic-Con International on Sunday, July 21, 2013, in San Diego. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Marc Harshman, West Virginia’s poet laureate, hasn’t read everything Neil Gaiman has written — but he’s read most of it.

“Most of his major novels, as well as his three collections of short stories,” Harshman said. Like a lot of fans, though, he discovered Gaiman through comic books and graphic novels.

By just about every measurement, Gaiman — who will speak at the West Virginia Book Festival on Friday night — is a wildly successful author. He’s not exactly a household name, but his work is everywhere.

Over the last 30 years, he’s written everything, from novels like “American Gods” and “The Ocean at the End of the Lane,” to comic books and graphic novels, including the much beloved “Sandman” series for DC Comics.

“It just knocked my socks off,” Harshman said of “Sandman.” “I’d never encountered anything quite like it.”

Harshman will interview Gaiman at 7 p.m. on Friday on stage at the Charleston Civic Center Coliseum. Gaiman will also answer questions from fans.

The poet said Gaiman’s comics felt new to him. “It’s a mixture of mythology and superhero-type characters, high literature, horror and fantasy,” he said. “It’s all blended together in a way that is fascinating.”

Harshman also thought Gaiman was just a fine writer.

“There’s not a wasted sentence,” he said.

A few of Gaiman’s books and stories have been turned into films, among them “Stardust” and “Coraline.” He’s also written for television. He wrote the BBC miniseries “Neverwhere” (based on his book of the same title), penned an episode of “Babylon 5,” and won a Hugo Award for one of two episodes he wrote for the international sci-fi hit “Doctor Who.”

On Friday, Harshman will act as a kind of host and intermediary for the author, asking questions, and perhaps leading a discussion with Gaiman about topics fans might be interested in.

“He prefers to be in conversation with someone on a stage,” Harshman said. “We’ll simply sit on stage in a couple of chairs and chat.”

It will lend the event some structure and maybe give the appearance a less formal feel than a public address, he said. Afterwards, audience members can submit written questions for consideration.

Gaiman prefers the question and answer format.

In a recent interview with West Virginia Public Broadcasting, Gaiman said, “It would be easy to get up and give a talk, or the same talk, over and over again. It’s so much more fun for me to find out what people want to know and answer those questions, because they’re always different.”

“I love it when people ask questions, I love getting questions on cards, that’s always fun, because at that point you can look at them and you go, ‘Oh, there’s two dozen people here who want to know about ‘Doctor Who’.”

Harshman said he was looking forward to meeting Gaiman, too.

“He doesn’t do that many [public] appearances,” Harshman said. “My hat is off to all the people involved who did all the work to get him to speak at the resurrected West Virginia Book Festival.”

Harshman said he plans to ask the author a little about how some of his novels were created and try to get him to talk about his writing process.

“I might ask him about where he sees the future of his writing,” he said. “We might talk about what it’s like for him to be a new father.”

Gaiman’s wife, Amanda Palmer, gave birth to the couple’s first child in September.

Harshman said he also remembered reading Gaiman’s reflections on some of his mentors, the people who inspired him and helped him find his way as a writer.

“I’d love hear him talk more about that,” he said.

The event, like all of the West Virginia Book Festival, is free and open to the public.

Gaiman will not hold a public signing at the festival, but will sign 500 books — including “American Gods,” “The Ocean at the End of the Lane,” “Trigger Warning” and “The Sleeper and the Spindle” — for people to buy at Friday’s event.

Tickets to buy the signed books will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis — one ticket per person — in the Civic Center lobby, starting at 5 p.m. and continuing until 7 p.m. or until the tickets are gone. After the event, people with tickets will be able to buy their signed books at the Books-A-Million table at the Civic Center.

Reach Bill Lynch at, 304-348-5195 or follow @LostHwys on Twitter

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