Neil Gaiman is a Swiss Army Knife sci-fi-and-fantasy storytelling star: He’s successfully written comic books, adult novels, kids’ fiction, TV scripts, film scripts, and even songs for musicians, including his real-life fiancée Amanda Palmer. Now the author of The Sandman and Coraline is adding another notch on his C.V. as editor of The Best American Comics 2010 — or, as he has suggested calling it, “A Sampler: Some Really Good Comics, Including Extracts from Longer Stories We Thought Could Stand on Their Own.” Though Gaiman has become a prodigious member of the Twitterati, followed by about 1.5 million fans, we recently sat down with him and asked him to go long, very long: Instead of 140 characters, we’ve got over 25,000 in our latest Vulture Transcript, covering, well, just about everything: from selecting the best work in a golden age of comics to killing Batman, from reading Sandman on the iPad to being an accidental cyberbully.
It seemed as if there could have been a lot of hand-wringing and regret involved in putting together this volume of Best American Comics.
Huge amounts of hand-wringing and regret. There was that sort of horrible continuous feeling of, Oh, I’ve forgotten something. Of course, the moment the thing was handed in and absolutely there, I sort of looked around and starting going, “But, but, where was that? And why didn’t I put that in? And I would have loved to put this in … ” And sometimes I sort of looked back and figured out why I’d left things out. I would have loved to put something from Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson’s Beasts of Burden, for example, except that you know, the very short stories didn’t quite work in the year’s Best for me and the longer works, you couldn’t slice them.
And even with that, after I handed it all in, Matt [Madden] and Jessica [Abel, the series editors] were saying to me that it was much more story-driven than any of the previous Best American Comics and there was much more of an attempt by me to try and get somebody into the reading experience.
These felt very narrative in a way that a lot of the other collections haven’t. It also seems that this was such a challenge because comics have come to mean so many different things in the last couple of decades.
When I started writing comics in 1985, ‘86, I sort of had this vision of a golden age and it was absolutely Utopian. It had huge golden spires, and in it, comics were right up there with every other medium. You could do anything in comics that you could do in any other medium. And people understood that you could have biography, you could have some history, you could have reportage, you could have whimsy. All of this stuff was valid. And that Utopia did actually come ‘round. The fact that a lot of the comics creators are women felt wonderful. It used to be a boys’ club.
Many of them were probably inspired by you and Sandman.
Some of them. I saw a lovely quote from Lilli Carre, who did “The Lagoon,” saying that she was a Sandman fan growing up. I thought, Oh, that’s so good. Because I wouldn’t have looked at that and gone, “You were a Sandman fan.” I would think: Ah, you’re one of those Fantagraphics, Drawn and Quarterly kind of people.
I think, for me, the glory of it was when I did my very first graphic novel with Dave McKean, Dave’s dedication was, you know, “To my auntie. See, this is what I meant by comics.” And for me, 25 years on, what I love about this is being able to give this to somebody and say, “See, this is what I mean by comics.” It is not a genre. It is simply a medium. And it’s a medium that you can do anything with. I guess because stories drive me, what then fascinates me is what kinds of stories can you tell. There was no clever agenda. There was definitely no sitting there at the beginning with any other agenda than boxes and boxes that are coming in from Matt and Jessica, and I’m finding other stuff in my travels, as well. And I just wanted to pick out the good stuff. And sometimes Matt and Jessica would be fascinated because they’d send me an anthology and they’d have given marks to two or three stories they’d like, and I’d pick another one from that anthology.
There were several places where I would get really frustrated over the definition of American. Saying, well, why is this Brazilian cartoonist who’s being published in America allowed here, whereas this Swedish girl being published in this little American thing doesn’t count as American? As I said in the introduction, if I had my way, I would have declared all writers, artists, cartoonists, and possibly all publishers honorary Americans and just ended the matter there. There are claims that the comic strip is one of the great American art forms like jazz. And I actually don’t know if it’s true or not, and don’t care. You can point to the Germans, you can point to the English, and then you can go into that wonderful Scott McCloud madness of cave paintings and hieroglyphics, and what’s comics and what wasn’t comics, and it was all writing comics because, after all, the letter A only shows a bull’s head turned on its side, and so on and so forth. But it is this uniquely American art form that has somehow managed to infiltrate the world and then come back to us, which was one of the reasons that I loved sticking some of the more manga-influenced stuff in there — Scott Pilgrim, that wonderful sort of Godzilla-ry story. This is part of what we’re looking at right now — just sort of going, let me give you a cross-section of what was really cool in comics in 2010.
Yeah, that’s it. It really is a sampler. And it’s a sampler in that my best is not going to be your best. You know, I saw one review so far on Amazon.com and somebody was saying nice things about Asterios Polyp, and I thought, Oh that’s wonderful. I didn’t know whether Asterios Polyp was going to work for somebody in a chunk and it did.
In your introduction, you brought up Scott McCloud and admitted that you feel that you were wrong in your predictions about web comics.
What do you think of the state of web comics? And what do you think about the iPad and tablet computers and what kind of impact they may have on comics?
I think the iPad redefines everything. Let me start from personal and then go general. I’m turning 50 in a few weeks’ time, and when I started doing the reading for this book, I went: Oh my God, I have lost my ability to read comics. Why am I no longer enjoying this? I’m not in the comics, this is terrible, these are weird, and having a really bad experience. And it was about four days in on that that I thought, Hang on, and went down to the drugstore and bought the cheapest pair of giant magnifying reading glasses and brought them home and started reading them like this and going, oh actually it’s not the comics. It’s the fact that my eyesight is no longer comfortable with tiny lettering and word balloons. And that simply fascinated me. And fascinated me because I realized that technology is normally driven by the young, and leaves the old and my generation on the sidelines going, “We don’t know what we think about this.” Except the Kindle and Kindle technology, which is absolutely being discovered by my age and up from people who are going, “You mean I don’t have to buy large-print books? I can just set the font wherever I like? This is great.” And all these people you expect to be going, “I do not want this modern newfangled thing,” are going, “I have a house full of books I can’t read anymore. This thing is magic.”
When I was handed my first iPad, the friend who showed it to me said, “Look at this,” and promptly showed me my Eternals story for Marvel on the iPad. I loved, was shocked, delighted, and amazed by the fact that the first best seller that DC comics had on the iPad was Sandman No. 1. Just sort of going, this is a comic I wrote 23 years ago, and you’ve got this new technology, and it’s here right now. I think they’re brilliant. I really do. And I think that I do not have the allegiance to paper that I ought to. Perhaps I don’t have the allegiance to paper that I ought to because anybody who invests in The Absolute Sandman, all four volumes, is now carrying 40 pounds of paper and cardboard around with them. And they hurt and they complain, “Oh, I feel guilty.” And I look at it and go, you’re not getting anything that is quantitatively or qualitatively better than the experience you’d be getting on an iPad, where you can enlarge the pages, you can move it around, it’s following the eye, and you can flip the pages. By the same token, I’m loving the fact that the Kindle software on my little iPod touch and the Kindle software on my Nexus phone talk to each other, which is the equivalent of having fairies that run around behind me inserting bookmarks in random copies of books that are at wherever I need them to be. It doesn’t matter what I was reading it on, when I pick it up, it’s on the page that I’m on.
It does seem as if web comics have been much more the province of individual creators and that the business opportunity seems to be with iPad. It seems as if the big players see that as more of a potential for publishing.
But it levels the playing field. Everything about the web has been about leveling the playing field. Yeah, it’s why Scott was right in Reinventing Comics, and why it’s a terrible book. Because it’s a manifesto. It’s not a book. It’s a manifesto to something that doesn’t exist yet, and, furthermore, his solution is wrong, which is you can micro-monetize this stuff. But the basic gist of the manifesto is simply: The moment you’re on the web, you don’t have to publish the book, you don’t have to get the book into Barnes & Noble, you don’t have to pay for ink and paper and the office costs of somebody to promote it. And all of that is true. You are absolutely playing on a flat field with somebody who has millions of dollars of marketing behind them. Occasionally it shows up on things like YouTube, as well, you know, less than it used to. These days, if something is incredibly cool and wonderful and it goes viral, it’s probably because millions of dollars have been spent to make it go viral. But then again, you’ll get something like the double rainbow sent by everybody because it touches some kind of chord.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe is excerpted in this collection. Did you see Scott Pilgrim vs. the World?
I didn’t, and desperately wanted to. Occasionally, I have really bad luck going backwards and forwards across the Atlantic. Particularly bad luck in terms of when things are being released. Because people stagger Atlantic releases and they don’t come out at the same time, I managed to be over here before the day it came out and planned to go with my daughter — it was her birthday, we decided to put it off — and I went off to the U.K., where it wasn’t. I was really interested in it, but found myself just interested in it as an Edgar Wright movie, not interested in it as a Scott Pilgrim movie. But then I really tend to be not interested in comics movies as comics movies.
Why is that?
I think because the media are different. You can point to some really good comics-inspired movies. Ghost World. Road to Perdition. The really good ones people forget are comics-inspired. Probably my favorite of all of them — up to a point — is the Harvey Pekar movie.
Which I loved until I got bored with it. And I loved it, and I loved it, and I loved it, and then sort of three-quarters of the way through the movie, I suddenly went, you know, I know all this. For me, that first two minutes of the kids trick-or-treating and “What are you meant to be?” “I’m Superman.” “I’m Wonder Woman.” “What are you?” “I’m Harvey Pekar.” That was all I wanted. It’s a glorious movie and it’s trying very hard to be as interesting as the comic and, actually, it’s not. I prefer the comic. Ghost World is a really interesting movie. I kind of prefer the comic. I guess it’s a lot like people who make films of your favorite novels. Very often you’re not in a hurry to see it. And very often you go into it knowing that the book-to-film experience is either going to be a lesser experience or a really different one. And every now and then you’ll see something like The Silence of the Lambs, which somehow gets it right. Or Rosemary’s Baby. Where it’s as good, and it feels and tastes like the thing and it’s a movie, and it gives you whatever you felt in your heart reading the book and you’re experiencing it onscreen. But mostly you don’t. And even when you get a good one — Coraline is probably a lovely example of that. You know, I love the movie. It’s a great movie. I would never mind if anybody who loved the book told me that they weren’t going to see the movie because they loved the book. In the same way that I never mind when somebody who tells me that they loved the Stardust movie but didn’t like the book, which occasionally happens. Because the book is different from the film and there are things in the film that are just great fun and wonderful romps that aren’t in the book at all.
Everywhere you go, speculation about adaptations of your work follows you.
People always want to know about Death: The High Cost of Living.
Well, that one is mad. We kept almost getting it together, you know, like somebody climbing up the edge of a well. You’re an inch or two away from the top, and then you fall to the bottom and suddenly the film company isn’t there anymore or whatever. We just set it up again at a Warner-related company and everything was all ready. It was weird, though. If you had asked me in March of this year about Death, I would have told you that I thought it was pretty definitely dead. And if you’d asked me in April, I would have been thrilled and happy and said, “No, no, no, it’s absolutely on. And then in June, July, the new powers that be at DC and Warner basically closed everything down.
So everything got closed down for reevaluation to decide what it was, to decide if they were making it or not. And Death is one of those things that’s been closed down. So, whether or not it will come back to life, I don’t know. Death seems amazingly hard to kill. And the truth is I will be happy either way. It was one of those things where I really wanted to make a Death movie because I knew that for me, the tone of voice was the most important thing about the movie. I didn’t want somebody to make a bad Death movie anymore than I want anybody to make a bad Sandman movie or TV series or whatever. So that’s the bit that’s important to me: Is it any good?
I’m lucky in that the money doesn’t matter. Actually, I say that as if that’s something that I’ve got now, but the money never mattered. On things like that, it was always the art. Back in 1992, I was sent in to have a meeting at Warner Bros. with Lisa Henson, who was a VP of production there, about a Sandman movie. I sat down and she said, “Well what do you want us to do?” And I said, “Well, would you mind not doing it? Because I’m working on the comic and it’s going really well, and it will be really messy.” And she said, “In all the years I’ve worked here, nobody’s come into this office and asked me not to make a movie before.” And I said, “Well I’m asking you not to make the movie.” And they didn’t, and I was incredibly relieved. It’s so easy with comics to get it wrong. And it’s also very easy for a bad movie to replace a good comic in the public mind. You know, The League of Extraordinary Gentleman. Howard the Duck.
There’s some retro-nostalgia love out there for Howard the Duck.
No, there isn’t. I do not believe that. It’s there and it goes away the moment you watch it. You can feel it in your heart and then you see that dwarf in the duck suit clomping around and you go, “Aaaaaaaaaah … ”
Now that Spider-Man is on Broadway, maybe Death could be on Broadway?
You know, Death would probably — you know, I love the idea of the Sandman on Broadway. A Sandman musical, I would go for that.
Would you really go for that?
Yes. Weird and wonderful things come by. Some of them go away again and some of them hover. There’s a filmmaker who was also a ballerina, and for years every time I see her she talks to me about her idea of doing Black Orchid, the comic book Dave McKean and I did, as a ballet. And I just love the idea of these black-and-white sets and these color people moving through them and stripping it down to ballet. I don’t go to the ballet, but I would go to that.
I think you’ve said in the past that you’re really reluctant to go back and work in mainstream comics again, but you did do that to close out Detective Comics.
I did, and I did my Metamorpho thing.
Oh, that’s right.
And actually it was one of the things that was marked on the list of potential things we’d have put into the book. But I thought, (a) I can’t do that, and (b) What I loved about Wednesday Comics was the hugeness, and I knew that the hugeness wouldn’t be there, even if you folded it on its side or something. So the idea of putting that or any of those wonderful oversize Wednesday Comics into it. So yes, but I did: I killed Batman. It was fun. I’m sorry.
No, it was a lovely experience. Is there anything else you’d come of out semi-comic-retirement to work on?
There’s always something. We do live in a world in which, at any point that I felt like it, I could pick up the phone and call Joe Quesada or call Dan DiDio and say, “You know, can I have Dr. Strange for six months?” Or: “Can I do a Superman series?” Or Wonder Woman or the Phantom Stranger or whatever. I’m not saying it will never happen. There are so many things that I want to write before I’m done. And I’m getting that first kind of weird inkling now, just the idea that this thing is finite. For me, the glory of my first 25 years as a writer was I could put things off as long as I wanted. Now I’m definitely starting to look at things and go, you know, I’ve got this book to write, I’ve got that book to write, I’ve got this project to do, and I’ve got that project to do, and there’s this and there’s that, and they will all take a certain amount of time. And then there are some mad projects: There’s a theater thing I’m working on right now with Stephin Merritt.
Who did the Coraline musical.
He did do the Coraline musical. I’ve loved his work since the Magnetic Fields — actually, I’ve loved him since the Gothic Archies. There are things that I want to do, so I’m simply less likely. Had we got world enough and time, or in a world in which I could clone myself and be about twelve different people, I can absolutely see one of them going the Grant Morrison route and just saying, “Okay, I am going to do six months on every comic that I have ever liked.” And in some ways what works about the Batman, the Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader is its strength and its weakness. Its strength is: I want to take everything I love about Batman and then go and squeeze it down so small. It’s just so ridiculously compact and you get these tiny, tiny three-panel stories, and you get the fifties butting with the eighties butting with Batman of the future, butting with me telling an imaginary Catwoman story, or a story about how Alfred was really the joker. All of that kind of stuff. It was like my way of saying, okay, I want to write 30 years’ worth of Batman. I’d like to be writer on Batman for 30 years. I’d like to be Denny O’Neil and here’s that thing squeezed really thin and given to you with love. And I would love that if there were infinite time or infinite me. I would love to phone DC and just say, “Would you mind giving me twelve months on Hawkman?
That would be awesome.
It would make me happy. He can fly and he has goofy old weapons, and he has big wings, and he works in a museum and I’m there.
In the midst of all this, because you are so busy, you also manage to be this really prolific tweeter. You have a huge Internet presence.
Yes. Oh, tweeting prolifically is the most easy thing in the world. Tweeting prolifically is like somebody saying, “Boy, you’re a really good walker around,” you know. It’s not really hard.
But you have been involved in it a lot. American Gods was selected for the One Book, One Twitter project, you’ve been part of some Twitter auctions for charity. You’ve really made a lot of use of that platform.
I guess I have. I have this wonderful, slightly awkward relationship with Twitter, especially because my immediate tendency whenever I run into anything interesting on the web that I like is to go, “Look, look, look, there’s a cool thing.” And what tends to happen if I go, “Look, look, look there’s this cool thing,” is I get lots of notes from people that it doesn’t work.
Because you crashed the server.
Because 5,000 people clicked on it within half a second and the server is now dead. And I never learn. Or I’ll learn for a week and then I’ll forget, and I’ll suddenly go, look at this cool thing.
So you’re sort of leaving a trail of Internet destruction everywhere you go.
I need to go and check, but I’m either 400 followers or 4,000 away from 1.5 million.
It’s 4,000. Maybe.
4,000 sounds about right, which will probably turn up within the next few weeks. The weirdest thing about that, though, of course, is if I stop Twittering completely, then the number of people following me shoots up. If I’m actually Twittering, enough people go, “Does he ever fucking shut up?” and they leave.
Do you subscribe to Qwitter so that you can see who quits you on a daily basis?
No. I’ve never bothered with that. The only people I ever get irritated with are the ones who announce, using my Twitter handle, that they are no longer following me and why. Because I figure the way that Twitter works, you’re absolutely allowed to just go, “Oh, I don’t think I want to follow him anymore. Too much noise.” I would happily go in and prune my list. I’ve got 650 people I’m following. The truth is there’s at least 100 people I put on there who I no longer remember why I’m following or who they are. I would delete them, except that I’d probably break their hearts so I leave them on there. I don’t mind, but announcing that you’re doing it — I just block them. Should they change their minds … On the basis that that was incredibly rude. It has a rudeness to it, you know. It’s the equivalent to walking over to the host to say, “I’m leaving the party early. I’m afraid I really didn’t like it very much.” No, that’s bad manners. What you do at that point is you say, “Thank you for having me,” and you leave, possibly muttering something about the babysitter.
What I find interesting, though, is that you were involved in the Choose Privacy Week this year, so you’re not unconcerned with what happens online even though you sort of have this ubiquity.
The ubiquity I apologize for. No, I’m fascinated by it. I think that, for me, what Choose Privacy was all about, was the guy whose hookup was streamed and who committed suicide. I was having a conversation with a journalist the other night who was interviewing me about creativity in middle age — it’s an interesting thing to be interviewed about — and we started talking about the fact that our kids listen to a lot of the same music that we do. Because music has become so flat and because there’s, you know, 50 years of it available on the web, and because you don’t actually always know when the music you like was recorded — you just know that you like it, here’s something and it’s fun — that music no longer becomes the cultural divide that it used to be. And she was saying, well, actually, there’s no cultural divisions between us and the 18-year-olds today. But I think probably there are, and I think the biggest one is that our generation is the one saying to the 17-year-olds, “Do not put yourself naked up on the web. Do not write about blow jobs, do not stream sex, do not put that stuff there because there are employers and so on and so forth, and because this is private, this is not public.” And the truth is that this generation in 30 years’ time are going to be the people hiring and firing and the high-school principals are going to have gone through that, too. It is going to be in a world in which the nature of the private and the public will have changed. The idea that, you know, we’ll live in a world in which people may actually elect to either name their kids John Smith or name them Zaphod Beeblebrox to make them either findable by Google or invisible on Google.
There’s stuff that I’m still trying to make sense of. I’m fascinated watching the fact that I have a fiancée whose public and private boundaries are absolutely different to mine. If she was completely out of the public eye and did not blog, she would have one kind of privacy. As it is, she now tends to be much more private about stuff that she would have been much more public about. You know, the Amanda Palmer of before she and I were a couple not only thought nothing of, but positively delighted in doing a giant horror story of the day her sponge had to be extracted. You know, she’s in the emergency room going into toxic shock with the nurse having to get out the sponge — and I don’t think she’d do that now. And she wouldn’t do that now because at that point, her boyfriend then was absolutely anonymous and it had no knock-on effect for anybody except her. If she was going through that now, she probably wouldn’t do it. I say that. Well, I suspect that … So you are forever negotiating, on the web, public and private, in a way that you genuinely weren’t even five years ago, even ten years ago.
It seems very much motivated by a concern for young people. I mean, you are a prolific children’s book writer and young-adult-literature writer.
It seems like you’re always very concerned with fearless children, being brave, having adventures, and being smart. Those seem to be very common themes for you.
Yeah, they are, aren’t they? That’s very good.
So it seems that a lot of your concerns in terms of privacy are very much motivated by trying to get young people to take these things seriously.
A lot of this is trying to give them information. There is that point where, you know, there are some of those strange conversations that I’ve had over the years that still echo. Sitting there with my son who was 14 or 15, having spotted an inappropriate Google search from him. Probably back in the days almost before Google, where he now works. “Hi, Mike!” And sort of saying to him, “You know, the truth is if you head over into the basement, there are boxes and boxes over in that corner of soft-core men’s magazines that I used to have film reviews and things in the eighties which you are welcome to go and peruse at your leisure.”
Just read them for the articles?
[Laughs.] My attitude on it was you are not going to find any images in there that you will wish you had never seen. If you go looking on the web, you may well find yourself with things that you really wish were not in your head. And things that have been seen can never be unseen, or not entirely.
There’s weird issues of privacy that I’m having, not with my kids, but with kids who are friends of mine, my godkids, kids I’ve known since they were born. I have a small Facebook account which basically exists just to keep in touch with my kids and a few friends, and there are kids that I’m friends with who are now turning 16 or 17, and who I’m suddenly learning more in their regular update thing about their sex lives than I’m actually comfortable knowing. And I’m going, I have no idea what the etiquette is here. Should I be unfriending these people? Not because I do not like them, but because I’m going, actually, this is your territory, I should not be here, and anyway, in my head, you’re 12, and this is kinda weird.
But it does absolutely fascinate me, and I just think the impact of the web, and the impact of the web on our emotions, cannot be underestimated. And the way that cyberbullying can lead somebody to suicide. Watching the occasional Internet game of let’s-all-jump-on-this-person, and watching the madness of the Internet, the way that it actually allows and occasionally rewards the anonymous. You know, I have a whole crew of mad haters who are one lady in Los Angeles, under lots and lots of names, who goes around cutting and pasting the same stuff, and can never remember which one she was last time. I go, you’re a mad lady, and you pretend to be dozens of people. And there are a few people who occasionally glance at the web who probably assume that you are lots of people, and it’s just one sad person. That’s the nature of the web, as well. I don’t really know how we got into a giant monologue on the web, but we did, so, it is true there’s nothing on the web you won’t find in real life, and that’s true. The flipside of that is things that can hurt you in real life can also hurt you on the web. An evil e-mail can ruin your day. You know, last year, or about eight months ago, there was a point where somebody said something I thought was really tacky about me, and I posted a grumpy tweet. And people started coming in by the thousands and defending me, and a very wise friend of mine said, “Neil, that’s bullying.” And I suddenly went, “Oh, fuck, you’re right,” and deleted my tweet and apologized. And it was bullying. It was bullying because it’s not actually a level playing field. I can get angry, and if I get angry and upset, fifteen thousand people may get upset on my behalf. That’s great if you’re somebody who’s been screwed by a big company and they’ve stolen your design and I happen to tweet about it. And I wake up the next morning and it’s hitting the newspapers, and actually the company has pledged to fix it, and things are going well. My ten thousand people then expands into millions of people across the web, and that’s great. If you’re one person who posted a thoughtless or a mean or even just something that I disagreed with, and I mobilize such hordes — it’s bullying, because it’s not equal. It’s the equivalent of getting into an argument with the federal government. They win.
I want to go back to this distinction or collapse of the boundaries between older generations and younger generations, because young-adult fiction and literature seems to be having quite a moment now. Sales are way up, adults seem to be really into Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games or, of course, Harry Potter, Twilight. Adults seem to be very hungry for —
Things with stories.
You just answered my question. Where is that coming from?
I think it’s just things with stories: Things with stories became incredibly unfashionable for kids. There was a point in the eighties and nineties when young-adult literature was being driven by the opinions of some teachers and some librarians, who were of the opinion that young-adult literature should be wholesome and informative and nutritious, like stone-ground wheat or whatever. I was in England back then and you’d get these books for review, and they’re all about this 15-year-old boy who lived in this tower block in London, and his older brother was using drugs, probably heroin. But there was a teacher who believed in him, and even though things weren’t going very well, it was kind of bleak and miserable, but because the teacher believed in him, maybe by the end he was going to be okay, we sort of hoped … And if I read that book once, I must have read it 30 times, and I didn’t like it any better any of those times. But that was the book, and it wasn’t a story. It didn’t keep you turning the pages. You didn’t want to know what happened. Adult literature rarely goes through exactly the same kind of doldrums, in that there are always genres, and those genres, of whatever kind, including the contemporary realist novel, that are there for the kind of reader who likes them. So if that’s the kind of thing you like, you can go and find it.
I think story is so important. For me, I don’t think I’m ever going to be one of those great Stephen King–y kind of, “Oh my God, I have to turn the page, I can’t wait to find out what happens next” writers because I’m not built that way. I love doing that with literature, but I love doing lots of other things, too. And I’m going to wander off on interesting tangents …