By Bianca Schulze, The Children’s Book Review
Published: May 16, 2013
Daniel Handler, an author, screenwriter, and downright talented accordionist, is best known for his work under the pen name Lemony Snicket. From A Series of Unfortunate Events to Who Could That Be at That Hour?, middle grade readers are more than familiar with his dark and humouros tales. And thanks to the wonderful pairing with award-winning illustrator Jon Klassen, younger readers can now get in on some Snicket reading action with the bestselling picture book The Dark. In response to our questions about this wonderful new book, Handler serves us with his quirky humor and an entertaining interview. Enjoy!
Bianca Schulze: In a recent ‘NY Times’ interview you were asked:
“A Series of Unfortunate Events had to be pretty scary to a lot of children. What scared you as a kid?
I was scared of a lot. I had an attic bedroom, and I was scared that there were tall trees that someone could climb up and from the tops of the trees leap onto the window.”
Daniel Handler: Show me a person who does not remember what they were afraid of when they were small, and I will show you a liar.
BS: How did you select Jon Klassen to be the illustrator? And why not a certain Lisa Brown, who you may or may not be related to and who is also a wonderful illustrator? Perhaps the two of you (Lisa Brown) will collaborate on something in the future?
DH: This book began with Mr. Klassen’s artwork, but my wife and I have collaborated on a number of projects and will surely do so again. It wouldn’t have been sporting to steal Mr. Klassen’s artwork and give it to my wife, just as I don’t ask Mr. Klassen to spoon with me. Not too often.
BS: The illustrative work by the ever-so-talented Jon Klassen perfectly captures the essence of the attic bedroom and collectively you both tackle the universal childhood fear of darkness with sincere clarity. Did you discuss your childhood fears and the depths of where your story originated from with Mr. Klassen before he began illustrating?
DH: The Dark began as a drawing by Mr. Klassen of a boy standing at the top of the stairs. Instantly I knew what the story would be. So Mr. Klassen and I were immediately on the same page, as it were.
BS: How do you imagine Jon Klassen would respond if asked: Describe your experience illustrating a book for Lemony Snicket?
DH: “I was constantly intimidated by his good looks.”
BS: I attended one of your recent school visits for your The Dark tour with a wonderful group of elementary students. During the visit it became clear that you have a talent for connecting with your audience. What life experiences do you think enable you to talk and perform so comfortably with large audiences of children? And how do you decide whether you’ll present as Daniel Handler or Lemony Snicket? Do you ever find yourself feeling confused as to who you actually are?
DH: When the first Snicket books were coming out, I was told that I needed to figure out some sort of presentation, and the publisher had me stand in the back of an auditorium or two and watch the presentations of other authors. I thought they were screamingly dull, and afterwards one of the authors told me that her goal was to remove the mystery from writing. I thought, why? Why remove such an alluring mystery. In contrast, and in opposition to such nonsense, I try to increase the mystery. Mr. Snicket never shows up. It is clear to the audience that I am lying, but they can’t believe someone is standing in front of them telling such lies and getting away with it. And that, of course, is literature.
BS: How does your writing process differ when creating a picture book manuscript versus a chapter book?
DH: Well, a picture book is much shorter. So first you write a draft and then you take a hatchet to the draft, and then finally you have a text that might work. Then once the illustrator gets going, you must toss more of the text overboard. With a chapter book, you must toss text overboard too, but not because of the illustrations.
BS: Let’s quickly touch on All the Wrong Questions. What lessons did you learn from creating A Series of Unfortunate Events that have helped shape your new series? And have you been happy with your fan feedback, so far?
DH: A Series Of Unfortunate Events was born out of a love of gothic literature, in which the plot is melodramatic and seemingly spun out of nowhere. Part of the pleasure of writing it was dropping one shoe and knowing I’d have to make up a second shoe, some volumes later. All The Wrong Questions, on the other hand, is out of the noir tradition, in which everything is threaded together admidst great paranoia. I’ve had to do a lot more planning ahead, which is a different kind of pleasure. As the cannibal said to the dinner guest, so far people seem to like it.
BS: Out of sheer curiosity, what led to your personal philosophy of “Never refuse a breath mint?” Surely there has to be a good story behind that. Maybe even a picture book?
DH: Common sense led to such a rule. When you are offered something, consider various reasons, aside from untargeted generosity, that the offer has been made. I can’t imagine a book made out of this until scratch ‘n sniff technology improves.
Add this book to your collection: The Dark
For more information on Lemony Snicket, visit: https://www.lemonysnicket.com