Lemony Snicket Gets Persnickety With P'Dish
Today marks the launch of "13 Words," the newest book by Lemony Snicket, the enigmatic author of the bestselling 13-volume melodrama, "A Series of Unfortunate Events." The vocabulary-based storybook, with painted illustrations by artist Maira Kalman, is a departure for Snicket -- frankly, it would be a departure for anyone -- aimed at a younger audience than his previous works. It tells the story of a depressed bird and the dog who tries to cheer her up. At the same time, the book introduces readers to words like "despondent," "haberdasher," and "panache." ParentDish chatted with Lemony Snicket about "13 Words."
ParentDish: The "13" is self-explanatory, but why "Words?"
Lemony Snicket: There are 13 words that I feel deserve more publicity than they generally get. You don't see any press about despondency, for example. Maira Kalman and I discussed the possibility of giving these words some much-needed attention.
PD: One of your words is "dog."
LS: One can't really argue that "dog" is underutilized, but it's certainly not thought about in the way it should be. These words are either underutilized or under-explored. There's a certain sadness and elegance that I and Ms. Kalman see in the words. Once your attention is called to it, you can then begin to feel more elegance. And more sad.
PD: What was it like for someone as secretive as yourself to work so closely with an illustrator?
LS: Maira Kalman is as charming as can be. She's an excellent cook, a snappy dresser, a great walker. She's a generally excellent flaneur. Or whatever the female form of flaneur is. I don't mean to imply she's a man. Basically, her sensibilities match mine. We would take long walks, looking at the world and eating things in it.
PD: Picture books are inherently aimed at younger children than those you usually write for. Why the switch in audiences?
LS: Younger children are more easily befuddled, and therefore less likely to continue reading my work. I'm doing my part to dissuade people from reading anything with which I am associated.
PD: You made it clear that you wrote "A Series of Unfortunate Events" to reveal the story of the Baudelaire orphans, with which you had some personal involvement. Now that that's story has been told, why continue writing books at all?
LS: Just as my job in writing that series was to bring attention to the history of the Baudelaires, which was hidden and shrouded in mystery, my job here is to illuminate words that are less on the front burner of people's brains than they ought to be. My hope is that, as a result of reading this book, more people will be using the word "despondent," say. I cancel out the emotional damage I do by doing literary good. So, with 13 words ... Let's see. I may need a calculator to work out that last bit. I'm not sure about the exact conversion rate involved.
PD: Well, you've got a lot of misery to erase. Where do you go from here? More picture books?
LS: I am working on a picture book about the dark. It's called "The Dark." And I'm doing research for a new series for older children that is about more experiences from my own life; it takes place at a time before the Baudelaire children were born.
PD: Is there a chance we'll see any more of Dog and Bird, the protagonists of 13 Words?
LS: Well, I hope that day in the book wasn't the only day of their lives.
PD: Is Maira Kalman involved in any these projects?
LS: While I would love to work with her again someday, she is busy right now, as she has unfortunately agreed to work with Daniel Handler on a book for teenagers.
PD: Sorry to hear that.
LS: It is a sad and confusing world.
PD: Can I ask your opinion of the "Unfortunate Events" movie?
LS: Are you asking my opinion of the movie?
LS: The film compressed a great deal of misery, contained in three volumes of my work, into a film of average length, which was in theaters for a couple of months. Whether or not you enjoy the film depends on whether you're the kind of person who rips a bandage right off or peels it off slowly. If you prefer slow suffering, you're probably more of a book reader. If you're a rip-it-off-quickly type, you might be a film fan. Although, last night I watched a film by Cecil B. DeMille, so I can definitively say that watching a film can be slow suffering sometimes, too.
PD: Okay. Those are all the questions I have for you right now.
LS: Good. Those are all the answers I have for you.
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.