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Politician forced to apologize to Gaiman, but Neil: What’s up with the tiny desk?

May 10, 2011

Neil Gaiman and his amazing Lilliputian writing desk.

A politician has been scolded by his Mom for calling fantasy writer Neil Gaiman a “pencil-necked little weasel,” a story too tasty to pass up even though its “use-by” date was probably last week sometime. But what I want to know is why Gaiman writes on a desk scarcely bigger than a TV tray?

You probably remember the initial story, in which Matt Dean, the Republican Leader of the Minnesota House of Representatives, got all huffy during committee hearings last week over a $45,000 fee paid to Gaiman for a four-hour library appearance in April of last year.

The event got its share of negative publicity at the time, with Gaiman explaining that he sets his fee high so that fewer groups will ask him to speak and he will have more time for writing. Grumbling continued for a time, but the issue seemed pretty much out of momentum.

Gaiman, who writes novels for children (Coraline) and adults (American Gods) as well as comic books (The Sandman) and movies (Stardust), went back to the business of being one of the most beloved authors on this particular planet.

Last week, however, during a hearing to reduce funding for public radio and other cultural institutions, Dean attacked Gaiman, “who I hate,” calling him “a pencil-necked weasel who stole $45,000 from the state of Minnesota.”

My, may, the Republicans up in the Big Woods are feeling a big heady these days, aren’t they? Unfortunately, in their zeal to stamp what must be Tea Party rhetoric on everything in sight they not only common sense to the winds but also any grasp of traditional free-market conservatism.

First, common sense: A politician should know better than to charge into a war of words with a writer — especially one nimble enough to command a $45,000 speaking fee from a public library. To his immense credit –and everyone should take note of this time-honored tactic — Gaiman embraced the epithet warmly, writing a blog post entitled “The Opinions of a Pencil-necked Weasel-thief.”

“I like ‘pencil-necked weasel. It has ‘pencil’ in it. Pencils are good things. You can draw or write things with pencils. I think it’s what you call someone when you’re worried that using a long word like ‘intellectual’ may have too many syllables. It’s not something that people who have serious, important things to say call other people.”

Gaiman allows as how he does not so much like being called a “thief,” then niftily deconstructs Dean’s rhetorical misuse of the concept. Among the four explanations Gaiman considers for why Dean might have accused him of stealing, all cleverly rendered, it’s the fourth that most interests me:

“He’s against the principles of the Free Market,” Gaiman speculates of Dean, “and feels that governments should regulate how much people are paid to talk in public.”

Let me say here that I think it’s unseemly for an author to charge a public library $45,000 for a talk, even if he has good reasons, and can be witty and disarming about it. But it’s not immoral, unethical or illegal. On the contrary, it’s good old-fashioned American capitalism,  charging what the market would bear.

I just love the way conservatives tout their principles — whether it’s the free market, or how abortion is wrong, or how social services like Medicaid take money out of the pockets of the deserving and use it for the benefit of deadbeats — right up until the moment they need those services, or those rights, or, as in the case of Dean, they want to score points with voters or other politicians.

“I don’t like the idea that a politician is telling people that charging a market wage for their services is stealing,” writes Gaiman — and what true conservative can disagree? He also calls on Minnesota readers to “tell Matt Dean what you think of this kind of bullying schoolyard nonsense from someone who’s meant to be representing you. Honestly, it makes you all look bad.”

Apparently Dean’s Mom agreed and chastised her son, who issued an apology. “”She was very angry this morning and always taught me not to be a name caller,” he told Minnesota Public Radio. “And I shouldn’t have done it, and I apologize.” But he still says Gaiman shouldn’t have taken the 45 grand. So there.

Now about that desk: Gaiman famously writes in a gazebo built specially for the purpose at his home outside Minneapolis. You

Gaiman's gazebo: Where the magic happens.

look at a picture of the writing gazebo and you think, “Damn. I could write bestsellers, too, if I had that thing.” Maybe so, maybe so, but I defintely could not write on that cramped desk inside.

“Neil,” I want to say, “your income is probably somewhere between Stephen King’s and J.K. Rowling’s. Treat yourself to a desk that doesn’t look like it came out of a box from Target!” But I won’t. Because obviously the damned thing is working for him.

You never know what circumstances a writer will find congenial to writing, especially one as prolific as Gaiman. Not long ago I saw a picture of Stephen King’s workspace in Maine. It looked like the office of a small-town insurance executive.

So enjoy that desk, Neil. Keep on writing. One of my daughters just discovered you, and she’s eager for the next book.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. PJ Parrish permalink
    May 10, 2011 2:01 pm

    You might get a kick out of a feature the Guardian in the UK runs called Writers Rooms. They “profile” the offices of various living and dead writers with cool pix. Jane Austin wrote on a tiny tea table barely big enough to hold paper and quill pen.

    Here’s the link:

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      May 10, 2011 6:27 pm

      I love the Guardian’s books coverage, even when, as sometimes happens, I think they’re full of beef and poppycock.

  2. Candice Simmons permalink
    May 10, 2011 2:49 pm

    I agree with you, Chauncey Mabe. Capitalism is Capitalism, no matter what side of the ailse you are on.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      May 10, 2011 6:28 pm

      Thank you, ma’am. Like a stopped watch, I am right not once but at least twice each day.

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