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Daniel Handler, a.k.a. Lemony Snicket, gives young adult fiction a try

Meredith Heuer

WHO: Daniel Handler

WHAT: Handler is an author, although one who’s not as well known as his creation, Lemony Snicket, author of the wildly successful children’s books “A Series of Unfortunate Events.’’ Handler’s newest book, “Why We Broke Up,’’ is about a high school girl named Min and her relationship with Ed, a basketball star. The souvenirs from their time together are illustrated by Maira Kalman, who is accompanying Handler on his promotional tour, which comes to Wellesley Books on Saturday. The book is Handler’s first in the young adult category.

WHERE: Handler and Kalman will be at Wellesley Books, 82 Central St., Wellesley, at 4 p.m. Jan. 21. To reserve a seat, call 781-431-1160 or e-mail kidevents@wellesleybooks.com.


Q. How do you decide to write a young adult novel? Does the story lead you there, or do you say, “Geez, I’d like to write a YA book’’?

A. It would definitely be the story. I’m not really sure I understand what young adult literature is. A few years ago, I was on the committee for the National Book Award for children’s literature and most of what we read was marked as YA and it really had nothing in common, as far as I could tell, except that I was reading it all. Though I was interested in a story about people in high school and YA seems to be that distinction. I think that there’s actually quite a bit of speculation and confusion as to who reads books that are set in high school.

Q. If you’re writing about breakups and looking back on them, do you have to go back and say, “This is a little too adult’’ or “This isn’t real life’’? Or do you just write it and see where it lands?

A. Well, the changes I make to a book as I write it are to keep it true to the story or keep it true to the voice, but there’s certainly things that the narrator, who is a 17-year-old girl, would not say or do. But it’s not because of the rules about publishing books for YA, it’s just she wouldn’t do that. I mean, it was the same thing for “A Series of Unfortunate Events.’’ It wasn’t that I had a lot of hardcore heroin use in it and the publisher said, “No, we don’t do that for children’s literature.’’ It’s that the books take place in a world where no one is taking heroin.


Q. Have you ever taken a girl’s point of view before?

A. I have. In fact, my first novel, “The Basic Eight’’ - talk about differing times - is also from the point of view of a girl in high school. That novel was published for adults in 1999, and was even looked at by some editors who were publishing young adult fiction and they said they couldn’t possibly publish that kind of book for young people. And now I think it’s about to be reissued for young people. That’s why I find it more of an elusive category than anything else.

Q. Illustrator Maira Kalman is on tour with you. Usually it’s just the author on tour, so how did that come about?

A. Well, she’s an illustrator I like a lot and she and I had worked on a picture book together, “13 Words.’’ And then I asked her if she wanted to do another book and she said, “Yes,’’ and I asked her what she wanted to paint and she said, “small objects.’’ So the genesis of the book came from thinking about what story would contain many beautiful paintings of small objects. So it was much more collaborative than, I think, a bunch of other novels of that length that are illustrated. And also, it’s lonely on book tours, so the publisher [Little, Brown] was willing to send her around with me and she was willing to go. It’s a lot more fun.


Q. So when you were putting the book together were you bouncing things off each other or was she just going by your text?

A. No, we were bouncing stuff off each other. I mean, first I wrote it and then she illustrated it, but in terms of what would be illustrated and what would be in it, we bounced that around. She gave me a list of things she wanted to paint, and then I gave her a list of things that looked like they were going in the book, and then she would say, “The next time you’re in New York, let’s get together and talk about it,’’ and then we would go over to her place and drink a lot of coffee and we would get really hyper and talk about a million other things, and then we’d go for a walk and have a cocktail, and then say, “Oh my God, we forgot to talk about it,’’ and then we’d work it out in a hurry over e-mail. That was kind of the method we used.


Q. So she’d be good company on the road then.

A. Yes I’m definitely looking forward to it. Everyone should be blessed to have such problems, but it does get lonely on book tours, and I look forward to getting delayed in an airport with a friend rather than moodily reading poetry and wondering just how many martinis you can have before you get on a plane.

Interview has been condensed and edited. John A. Vitti can be reached at jvitti@globe.com.