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A quick scan of the venues on author Neil Gaiman's latest book tour reveals the usual suspects: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland and Phoenix.

In Dallas a few weeks ago, a line of adoring fans wrapped around the block.

And then there's Santa Rosa, where the Brit fantasy writer will give a reading and sign at least several thousand books in a high school auditorium this weekend.

So how did Copperfield's Books pull it off?

"We pitched the heck out of it," said Copperfield's bookseller and former events coordinator Joanna Robinson.

In a heartfelt plea to publisher HarperCollins, Robinson pointed out that not only were many of the Copperfield's staff die-hard Gaiman fans and that this would be "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" for local fans, but she also added a personal touch.

"I talked about how his author event in Brooklyn, back when 'Coraline' first came out, was the very first author event I ever went to, and it was how I got started doing author events in general."

Whatever she said, it worked. When tickets went on sale in April, the event sold out in a few weeks.

"We were getting tons of calls immediately," said Copperfield's bookseller and Web coordinator Terra Emerson.

It should come as no surprise that the No. 1 New York Times best-selling author of graphic novels ("The Sandman"), novels ("Stardust" and "American Gods"), novellas ("Coraline"), children's books ("The Graveyard Book") and multiple short story collections has a devoted worldwide following that transcends genre.

Touring with his first adult novel in eight years, "The Ocean at the End of the Lane," Gaiman is calling this his "Last U.S. Signing Tour," although some have speculated this might be on par with a Rolling Stones "final tour." Even Gaiman has alluded to an occasional "ninja signing" here and there in the future.

Aside from his writing, which often unfolds in elaborate self-contained mythologies, part of his allure is the black-clad rock-star enigma he has cultivated over the years. Being married to Dresden Dolls singer Amanda Palmer is merely a trivial aside.

"He sort of slouches in with his black leather and his scruff, and you know this isn't going to be your usual tweed-jacket author reading," said Robinson. "No elbow patches, no pipes. It's black leather and black jeans. I swear it's the same pair of black jeans he's had for years."

So easily selling out a 1,000-seat venue in weeks is hardly unusual. But what is somewhat notable is the number of people arriving from out-of-state this weekend for a glimpse of Gaiman in Santa Rosa.

When Scottsdale, Ariz., fans Richard Pennock and his wife discovered Gaiman was reading in nearby Phoenix while they were on vacation, they decided to hop in their car and drive 24 hours round-trip to see him in Santa Rosa.

"I'm not really like a book groupie, so this is unusual," Pennock said. "Part of it is the connection he makes. He's sort of like the Goth kid you had in class in school and you were sort of interested to see what his take on things is."

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Pennock, a CVS Pharmacy project manager, was first turned on to "Neverwhere" in a book club back in 1993. He later introduced his wife to Gaiman, and she now teaches "The Graveyard Book" to her sixth-grade class every Halloween. She'll bring her copy to get it signed, and Pennock is bringing his "ancient and tattered copy" of "Good Omens."

"I think it's a great opportunity to see him in person and not have the image of 'this is a special person on a pedestal,'" he said. "It's an opportunity to remove some of the spectre of his being unapproachable or reclusive."

Likewise, Lorraine de'Dannan is driving 1,500 miles round-trip from Salt Lake City to see her favorite author read for the first time. When she says "I've read everything he's written," that's only the start.

It turns out she has read "Stardust" at least 10 times. She has made it through "American Gods" more than 10 times, and she has read "Neverwhere" closer to 20 times.

Once Gaiman announced his close-out Last U.S. Signing Tour, "that was reason enough to finally drive to see him in person," she said.

Her first Gaiman experience was back in 1996 when she picked up "Good Omen," which Gaiman co-wrote with Terry Pratchett.

So after driving 750 miles to see him, once she's standing in line to get her books signed, what will she say?

"I have no idea. I'm not usually the type to go out and meet people, so this would be a first for me. When I was younger, in my teenage years, I was in Piers Anthony's fan book club. That's the closest I've ever been to this."

Closer to home, longtime fan Matt Converse, who recently moved from Houston to Santa Rosa to work in IT at Kistler Vineyards, first saw Gaiman read at a bookstore in Austin, Tex., nearly a decade ago.

"I'm a fan of Neil as a human being as well as a fan of his work," he said. "He has this very amiable, very approachable, grounded personality. You can't help but like the guy."

On Saturday, he's bringing a copy of his favorite short story collection ("Angels and Visitations") that he has kept shrink-wrapped for years, waiting for this day, along with a few complimentary bottles of wine from his employer.

"I was invited to a friend's housewarming party that same night and I had to tell them I couldn't go because they had scheduled it on the same day as my one shot at Neil's last signing tour," Converse said. "When I told them this was my last chance, they said, 'Oh no no, you should go to that instead.'"

<em>Bay Area freelancer John Beck writes about entertainment for The Press Democrat. You can reach him at 280-8014, john@sideshowvideo.com and follow on Twitter @becksay.</em>

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