The mysterious and elusive children's book author Lemony Snicket has kept a low profile since he published the 13th and final book of "A Series of Unfortunate Events" in 2006. But he's planning to come to Long Island Oct. 23 to launch a new four-book series called "All the Wrong Questions."
While the "Unfortunate Events" books narrated the terrible tale of the Baudelaire orphans Violet, Klaus and Sunny, whose parents were killed in a fire and whose distant cousin, Count Olaf, plotted to murder the children to get his hands on their fortune, Snicket's new series will unveil the story of his own tween and teen years, during which he worked solving cases for the secret organization V.F.D.
"Who Could That Be At This Hour?" takes place in a town called Stain'd-by-the-Sea, where Snicket is helping to recover a stolen object that may not actually be stolen at all. As he did with the "Unfortunate Events" books, Snicket warns children not to actually read the book, as it is filled with sinister occurrences.
Snicket will appear at the Barnes & Noble in Carle Place Oct. 23, unless he thinks he's in too much danger, in which case he'll send his trusted representative, Daniel Handler. (See end of interview for more event details).
Newsday's Beth Whitehouse was fortunate enough to speak with him recently.
LS: Hello. It is I, Lemony Snicket.
BW: Well, hello! Let me first tell you I'm a big fan of yours because when my son was younger, the only books he enjoyed reading were your "Unfortunate Events" books.
LS: I'm sorry to hear that. You failed, I guess, as a mother. I'm sure you tried to do the best you could. That must be hard for you, to wake up every morning knowing that you failed that way. Do you find it hard to wake up in the morning?
BW: Not if I have something to look forward to, such as this interview.
LS: Ah, flattery. That's the usual tactic of a journalist, if I'm not mistaken.
BW: Let me just inform you that I'm taping this interview as well as taking notes.
LS: Because sometimes you want to wear a suspender and a belt.
BW: Exactly. Question No. 1. We on Long Island are quite honored that you decided to launch the first book of your new series here. Why did you pick us?
LS: Long Island seems to me like a very safe place. Sheltered, one might even say. It seems that people would be relatively safe from dangerous literature in a place like Long Island as opposed to say, Libya, where there's already trouble enough. I think that this book is inherently dangerous. I think people who get interested in it find themselves in the quicksand of mystery, and I think most people would consider quicksand dangerous. Wouldn't you consider quicksand and dangerous?
BW: Yes, I most certainly would.
LS: Have you ever been in any quicksand?
BW: No, in fact it's one of my nightmares to be sucked into quicksand and not be able to get out.
LS: Well, that's probably why you're on Long Island. Because it's relatively safe.
BW: Have you ever been in quicksand?
LS: I would say the sand I was in was medium-sand. I don't think it was entirely quick.
BW: But you managed to escape.
LS: In retrospect it does seem that obviously I escaped, because here I am not in quicksand.
BW: You are almost 13 in this book. Why did you decide to start at that age?
LS: I started like most people as an infant.
BW: I meant why did you decide to start the book at that age?
LS: Oh. Well, the book is about terrible things and sinister things that happened to me at that age. Had terrible and sinister things happened to me at a different age, I would write about that period. This particular case happened to happen when I was about 13.
BW: What age group do you think would most enjoy reading your story?
LS: It would have to be a tie for last between all the age groups. I guess infants possibly would enjoy it. Infants can't read, so they would just chew on it or something. And then there's toddlers, I think toddlers would be in danger of paper cuts. Then there's elementary school age children. Definitely not an audience for these kind of books. Then we have teenagers. Hopefully teenagers have avoided the usual pitfalls of depression and angst that follow the teenager years. But if they haven't, it will make it worse, and if they have avoided them, then the books might start them on such a spiral.
What would we say after teenager? Do we go right to adult? I guess it depends on your spiritual beliefs. For instance, if you're Jewish, then post bar mitzvah you're technically an adult. Adults have trouble enough and don't want to be interested in such things. Then we have senior citizens and I don't think the frail should be involved in reading Lemony Snicket. Not that all senior citizens are frail, mind you.
BW: So if it's your opinion that nobody should read this book, why did you write it?
LS: I think there's a lot of crucial information in the world that people don't necessarily have to read. A phone book for instance is crucial information, but no one curls up with the phone book, starts with the A's and reads it all the way through. Often it's important that there be a written record of sinister happenings, but that doesn't mean people should regard them as entertainment. I mean, you write for a newspaper. You know very well the value of writing about things that are happening even though hardly anyone might read them.
BW: You're a young gumshoe-style detective in this new series, working as an apprentice for a "chaperone." What exactly is a chaperone?
LS: You know what the word gumshoe means, but you don't know what chaperone means? (Reporter's note to readers: Gumshoe is slang for a detective.)
BW: I don't exactly understand how you mean "chaperone" in your book. It seems like she is your boss, or your mentor.
LS: A chaperone is a supposedly responsible adult who keeps you out of trouble.
BW: Would you describe your chaperone, S. Theodora Markson, that way?
LS: Well, I would say that she's not a very good chaperone. She wasn't good for me and she wasn't good in general. But a lot of adults are like that.
BW: You mention in this first book the "secret organization" that you work for and your "unusual education." Will we find out more about each in the following books?
LS: Well, the secret organization I think is already chronicled at horrific and redundant length in "A Series of Unfortunate Events."
BW: Since you mention "A Series of Unfortunate Events," your new book hints that you might have a romantic encounter with Ellington Feint in the future, but your "Unfortunate Events" books are dedicated to your late wife Beatrice. Will we meet Beatrice and learn the story of your courtship?
LS: Beatrice was my true love but not my wife. I appreciate you having such optimistic hopes for affairs of the human heart. There's a great difference between a spouse and a true love. I suppose it depends on how you define romantic encounters, but in general I like to keep my personal life to myself. Will we meet Beatrice in any of the following books? I hope that readers of this book won't read any further books.
BW: OK. But if they did?
LS: If they did, they would be upset.
LS: Because of the many sinister details and heartbreaking moments that are chronicled.
BW: I assume you are trying not to answer the question of whether we will meet Beatrice.
LS: I think you should assume that, definitely.
BW: You seem to have retained your affinity -- a word which here means a natural liking -- for using complicated vocabulary words and defining them for the reader. Why do you do that?
LS: I suppose I consider myself to be something of a glyptotheca of rhetoric. (Reporter's note to readers: Glyptotheca means a building devoted to works of sculpture.)
BW: Many of your loyal readers believe you are related to the evil Count Olaf. Are we going to --
LS: Many of my loyal readers believe me related to a notorious villain? That's upsetting. That doesn't speak much for loyalty, don't you think? "Loyal supporters of Napoleon found him as ugly as sin." That's the very picture of disloyalty.
BW: OK, then let's say that many of your readers believe you to be related to Count Olaf.
LS: Many of my disloyal readers.
BW: Will he or any of the Baudelaires appear in any of your future "All the Wrong Questions" books?
LS: If by the Baudelaires you mean Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire, they of course weren't born when I was around 13. It would be impossible for them to appear. It was even before they were zygotes.
BW: Could you explain what zygote means for our young readers?
LS: I can't imagine that any young reader who knows glyptotheca would then be confused by zygote. Zygote is a nice word though, because it's very easy to look up in the dictionary. It's right near the back. (Reporter's note to readers: A zygote here means a fertilized human egg.)
BW: So will we meet any of the Baudelaires' ancestors?
LS: I guess that depends on what you mean by ancestors and meet. Some people argue we are all part of a large family of man. And then there's always the question of whether you're actually meeting someone when you're reading a book. If I said to you, "Have you ever met Franklin Delano Roosevelt?" you wouldn't say, "Oh yes, I read that biography of him."
BW: Will we read about them?
LS: I hope not.
BW: OK, we're back to that. Because we're not supposed to read the books?
LS: In my opinion, one shouldn't.
BW: How do you manage to remember all these details from your childhood? Did you keep a journal?
LS: These books were written shortly after my childhood and they're just being published now. I'm a big believer of writing things down. As I'm sure I don't have to explain to a reporter. You're a big believer of writing things down that are already being recorded.
BW: That's because I don't trust the tape recorder. You, as a gumshoe, should realize that gadgets don't always work the way they're supposed to.
LS: I would say hardly ever.
BW: Do you recommend that children keep records of their own childhoods in case they one day want to write their story?
LS: I would recommend that children and adults write down anything interesting that is happening around them. Often with children what is happening around you is more interesting than what is happening to you. I would advise anyone to get good at eavesdropping and note taking. Those are two very important skills.
BW: Can you describe Stain'd-by-the-Sea for your readers who have not yet picked up the book?
BW: Any other words?
LS: Well, it's not a word, but I would say a phrase would be "lacking a sea." That's S-E-A of course. I guess it's also lacking a C as in the letter C, but that's not much of a description in terms of a town. "What is New York City like?" "Oh, it doesn't have the letter V in it." That won't help you.
BW: What time period does this book take place in? There's no cellphone when you need one, and the journalist types on a typewriter, not a laptop.
LS: I type on a typewriter.
LS: Because if I tried to make my letters with a pen, I don't think I could do as neat a job.
BW: But what about a laptop?
LS: I often keep the typewriter on my laptop.
BW: Don't you think a laptop would be easier to use?
LS: Oh, you mean a computer. I thought you meant the top of my lap. No, I don't think a laptop would be easier to use. How often does it do something which annoys or surprises you? Seventy-five times a day, wouldn't you say?
BW: I am a fan of Moxie Mallahan in this book because she is a reporter like me. Do you have a favorite character in the book, aside from yourself of course?
LS: I like that you would assume [laughs] that my favorite character would be myself. It isn't. I think my favorite character is laced with a certain amount of regret and bitterness because out of all the people chronicled in the book there's one of them who is murdered. Not in the volume that is shortly to be published, but in one of the other volumes. I think of that character, and then I get upset about the fact that they're murdered.
BW: So one of these people in this book, one is going to die in the future?
LS: Well, all of us are going to die in the future. But one of them is murdered over the course of the four book series.
BW: Wow. This is the first piece of information you've divulged. Does the murder happen in the second book?
LS: Doesn't a murder begin when it's plotted? You and I plot to kill someone, but we don't do it until next year.
BW: You are supposed to write one more book of the series each year. But in your "Unfortunate Events" series, your 13 books start to get longer and longer and take longer and longer to be published. Do you think you'll be able to stick to the schedule?
LS: Well as I said, the books were written in some form earlier, so it's something of an easier task. But of course I'm almost constantly in danger, and something could happen to me, and then the books could be unlikely to be published.
BW: You're still constantly in danger?
LS: I think all of us are in one way or another. I know it doesn't sound that way when you're in Long Island, but the world is actually a very dangerous place.
BW: Why are you so elusive? How come you're always photographed from the back?
LS: I've come to regard that as more or less my most flattering side. But I guess the truth is that I prefer not to be recognized. I just think it's safer that way. It would be a pain to be playing contract bridge with some friends at an outside table in a city square and have someone say, "You, you ruined my life." Readers of my books who have not yet succumbed to a coma may come and say, "I remember when I was a happy person, and then I picked up a book by Lemony Snicket." This way they don't think of confronting me, because they don't recognize me.
BW: Lemony Snicket plays bridge? Is that one of your hobbies?
LS: I like it. And yourself?
BW: I'm sticking to mah-jongg.
LS: Oh really. I've been interested in mah-jongg. I purchased a mah-jongg set recently, but I haven't learned all the rules.
BW: Really? Lemony Snicket playing mah-jongg? It seems out of character.
LS: You think mah-jongg is out of character?
BW: I think a lot of women play mah-jongg.
LS: And you don't think I want to meet a lot of women?
BW: That's a good point. But we diverge.
LS: I think you might mean digress.
BW: Yes, I need your vocabulary help here. I meant digress. Thank you. (Reporter's note: Diverge means to turn aside from a path. Digress means to wander away from the main topic when speaking or writing.) Are you going to attend the Long Island event, or are you planning to send your usual representative, Daniel Handler?
LS: Well, I'm planning to appear, but many, many times it is impossible.
BW: Why do you send Daniel Handler?
LS: He seems talented and fairly good looking.
BW: Why did you pick Seth to illustrate this book?
LS: I think he's spectacularly talented. I was reading "Poetry" magazine as I very often do and I saw a drawing of his on the cover that depicted an extremely lonely looking town. And I thought, "They're going to publish these books about my times in an extremely lonely town and I wonder if Seth would be interested in becoming the illustrator?" He said yes. And now his entire career is running off the rails.
BW: I hope that I myself am not asking "All the Wrong Questions." Is there a question I should be asking that I didn't? Please feel free to suggest one and respond to it.
LS: How about, "Would you mind terribly if we never mentioned your books again?"
BW: OK. Would you mind terribly if we never mentioned your books again?
LS: No, I would not mind. How about a question about the books that hasn't been asked. There's that.
BW: OK, what?
LS: Is there a secret to be found in the end papers of this book?
BW: What do you mean the "end papers"?
LS: When you look in a hardcover book, there's paper on the opposite of the front cover and the back cover, those are called end papers. You can ask that question if you like.
BW: The paper with all the drawings of octopi?
LS: Yes. Is there a secret hidden in the end papers? The answer is "Maybe."
BW: Now I'm going to spending hours looking at these pages trying to figure it out.
LS: Well, I'm sorry. That's why I said it wasn't a question you should have asked, but a question you didn't ask.
WHATLemony Snicket (or his representative, Daniel Handler) does a presentation and book signing for "Who Could That Be at This Hour?" (Little, Brown, $15.99)
WHEN | WHERE 7 p.m. Oct. 23 (wristbands given out beginning at 9 a.m. Oct. 23) at Barnes & Noble, 91 Old Country Rd., Carle Place
INFO Price of book, must be purchased at the store; 516-741-9850; bn.com