If you're a regular reader of noted comic book and novel author Neil Gaiman's blog, you know he's been going back and forth to China a bit recently -- sometimes for a month at a stretch. It wasn't a vacation. Since summer of 2007, Neil's been traveling around China, "by car and coach and train and foot," gathering material for a book, which now has a title, "Monkey and Me: China and the Journey to the West," and a tentative due date of fall 2009.
William Morrow, an imprint of Harper Collins, announced today that "Monkey and Me" is actually the first of three nonfiction books Neil's writing for them -- and that this book will be published in English and Chinese. (The as-yet-untitled second and third books will focus on subjects explored on his blog).
"What it is," Neil told us, "is that when I went to China, one of the things that every single Chinese person would talk to me about, once they realized that I was a writer or that I liked fantasy or whatever, is the 'Journey to the West,' which is a very famous Chinese story about a Buddhist priest, accompanied by a monkey, a sort of pig monster, and something called Sandy (Sh? Wùjìng), who was a cannibalistic water demon who reformed, and how they trekked off together, battling monsters and strange animals on the way to India, to bring back the Buddhist scrolls to China, going along the Silk Road."
That story has fascinated Neil since he was a child, and when he left China, he thought he might like to re-create some of Monkey's journey, investigate the people he'd find along the way, walking through the Silk Road, and write a book about what happens.
"I always loved travel books as a kind of genre," he told us. "There's something fun about watching someone get into trouble and having awful disasters that makes you happen when you read it. And I thought, 'I could be that person getting into trouble and having those disasters! And it would be funny! I'm very good at disasters."
So Neil embarked on the journey, crossing China in the footsteps of a real and mythical seventh century monk. So far, he's been stranded in the middle of nowhere, had a man try to sell him a human elbow, and ridden on an open truck through Hong Kong with dragon dancers. That broken finger he had during the book signings for his "Graveyard Book" tour? Broken in China halfway down a mountain. He's got a ton of stories from the trip, and he thought, why not use them?
"I've been blogging for seven or eight years, and I was a journalist when I started out, before I wrote fiction," Neil told us, "and I almost never get to be a journalist anymore. [Ed note: Neil's last nonfiction book was 1988's "Don't Panic: The Official Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Companion."] Every now and then I'll do an interview. Three or four years ago, I interviewed Gorillaz. The band, not actually gorillas. They don't talk. And I think it will be fun and interesting and nice to be a journalist for a little bit and by the time that's done, I can take refuge in fiction and start making things up again."
Are you interested in reading Gaiman's latest non-fiction book series? Would you rather he stick to fiction? That's what those comments are there for, folks!