It’s hard to keep a stealthy sleuth down – witness Lemony Snicket’s forthcoming return to Stain’d-By-The-Sea, the shadowy setting of his All the Wrong Questions series of “autobiographical” mysteries. Next April Fools’ Day, Little, Brown will release File Under: 13 Suspicious Incidents, a collection of 13 noir mini-mysteries illustrated by Seth, who also provides the art for All the Wrong Questions. But the author will keep himself busy in the meantime – maybe. He kicked off an 11-city promotional tour for All the Wrong Questions 2: “When Did You See Her Last?” on the book’s October 15 pub date, but in true Snicket fashion he may well shirk his responsibilities and leave some of the touring to his trusty representative, Daniel Handler. Only time will tell.
The author’s fans will appreciate his slyly evasive answer to a query about what inspired him to write a collection of mini-mysteries set in the same world as All the Wrong Questions: “A lifelong appreciation of Donald J. Sobol [creator of the Encyclopedia Brown series] along with the sneaking suspicion that while the large boulders of treachery were rolling around Lemony Snicket in Stain’d-By-The-Sea, there were dastardly pebbles rattling alongside.”
After writing the full-length All the Wrong Questions mysteries, was it a challenge to set up and solve File Under: 13’s brief mysteries in so few pages? “It is said that a novel is a love affair and a short story is a kiss in the dark from a stranger,” said Snicket. “I’ve never been good at a kiss in the dark from a stranger, so as with hopeless romantics I stumbled a few times in my embraces.”
|Three preliminary sketches for File Under: 13 Suspicious Incidents, due out next spring. Click image to see a larger version.|
Though kisses weren’t involved, it was in a dimly lighted spot that Handler had the anything-but-unfortunate encounter that eventually set him on his Lemony Snicket publishing path. At a 1996 party hosted by Handler’s agent, Charlotte Sheedy, he and Susan Rich, at the time an associate editor at Simon & Schuster (whose then boyfriend, now husband, Josh Greenhut, was Sheedy’s assistant), found themselves “talking in a corner, drinking copious amounts of free wine,” recalled Rich. “Daniel said, ‘You should circulate and find an author you’ll work with someday,’ and I said, ‘You should circulate and find an editor you’ll work with someday.’ ”
The Not-so-Bad Beginning
A friendship ensued, and Rich, recognizing that she and Handler “shared a literary sensibility, especially when it came to children’s books,” contacted the author after she was laid off from Simon & Schuster and landed an editorial job at HarperCollins in 1997. “One of the first assignments that my boss Ginee Seo had for me was to acquire a new middle-grade series,” said Rich. “And I called my favorite unpublished author to ask, ‘Don’t you want to write a middle-grade series for me?’ and he said, ‘No.’ ”
Yet within a few weeks, Handler invited Rich to meet him for a drink and proposed a series about three orphaned children to whom nothing but terrible things happen. Rich liked what she heard, and A Series of Unfortunate Events was unleashed on the world. The series’ 13 installments, published between 1999 and 2006, have sold more than 60 million copies worldwide.
After she and Handler together found a new publishing home with Little, Brown (when Rich, in her words, “was reorganized out of HarperCollins in 2009”), the author took a turn from the gothic to the noir with All the Wrong Questions. Snicket fans appear to have welcomed this thematic segue. Published in October 2012, the series’ first book, “Who Could That Be at This Hour?” received four starred reviews, spent 21 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, and currently has one million copies in print.
Does Snicket think he'll continue writing in the noir genre beyond All the Wrong Questions and File Under: 13? Again, the author rises to the occasion: “Heroes stumbling their way down a murky moral path while all the world around them schemes and back-stabs? Who could possibly want to read such a thing and where should we go for gimlets while we wait for the proofreader to be done?”
Rich is accompanying Snicket on some of the stops on his – or Handler’s? – tour for “When Did You See Her Last?”, which has a 750,000-copy first printing. “Some events have presold more than 750 tickets,” she said, “and it’s great to see generations of Lemony Snicket readers come out – middle-grade readers holding copies of All the Wrong Questions books and older, gothy readers holding copies of A Series of Unfortunate Events.”
Asked what he most looks forward to and most dreads about his tour, the author has a ready answer: “I look forward to, ‘My mother doesn’t like your books, but I do.’ I dread, ‘Due to inclement weather, we’d like to ask you to hang around the gate for another hour.’ ”
When Did You See Her Last? by Lemony Snicket. Little, Brown, $16 Oct. ISBN 978-0-316-123051-1
File Under: 13 Suspicious Incidents by Lemony Snicket. Little, Brown, $12 Apr. 2014 ISBN 978-0-316-28403-5