BookExpo 2017: A Fortunate Stage Talk: Neil Patrick Harris and Lemony Snicket

Harris, Harris & Snicket

Daniel Handler (more widely known by his pen name, Lemony Snicket) and actor Neil Patrick Harris of How I Met Your Mother fame discussed their new books (coming from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers), working together on Netflix's A Series of Unfortunate Events and the magic of children's literature at the Javits Center on Friday afternoon. Their conversation was moderated by Chris Harris, writer and executive producer for How I Met Your Mother. Chris--whose first children's book, I'm Just No Good at Rhyming and Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-Ups, illustrated by Lane Smith, will be published by Little, Brown in September--introduced the two guests by saying, "Of the three people on this stage, I am the fifth most famous."

Chris Harris started the conversation off by having Neil Patrick Harris and Lemony Snicket discuss the wildly popular Netflix show, in which Neil plays the evil (and often disguised) Count Olaf and works closely with Snicket (Goldfish Ghost), who writes for the show. "My hat is off to him," Snicket said of Neil's work playing a character who regularly fails at hiding in plain sight, "it's very exhausting." What's difficult, Neil said, is that "it's Olaf playing the characters and he's a really bad actor." But it was buoying to Neil to hear Snicket convey approval: "It's nice that you're positive about it. I'm always thinking that you're thinking that every choice is a disaster."

Currently filming season two of the series, Neil expressed his great appreciation for Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events, saying that he loves the books because they take place in another world without being fantastical. Neil's forthcoming middle grade book, The Magic Misfits (illustrated by Lissy Marlin; November 2017), is about kids who "like a certain aspect of magic and they feel like they're misfits because of it." It was important to him, Neil said, that the magic be practical so that readers could accomplish the same feats as the characters; story-related magic tricks will be interspersed throughout the text in every book of what will be a four-part series.

Snicket's new book for children, The Bad Mood and the Stick (illustrated by Matthew Forsythe), will be published October 2017. "It's about a bad mood and a stick," Snicket said. When asked to elaborate, he said he had wondered "where does a bad mood go when it's not on you?" The book explores what happens to that mood (and that stick) and how "pushing it on to someone else can be delightful."

The three talked about collaboration, with both Chris and Neil declaring that writing a book is much, much harder than writing a show: "With television," Chris said, "if it doesn't work, I can point the finger in any direction," but when writing a book all on your own, the only person to blame is yourself. Snicket declared that the beauty of Chris's new book of poems for children lies in the unexpected--none of the poems rhyme or follow a pattern exactly as a reader might expect. "I'm the master of disappointing," Chris said of this compliment. They also discussed the magic of children's books--coming back to this topic several times over the course of the hour--both in content and as books as figurative escapes. "Literature is both a trick and magical," said Handler. "I know I'm on the subway and yet, because I'm reading, I'm in Tokyo."

When finally it came time to wrap up the discussion, Chris asked the crowd, "Does anyone have any questions, comments, criticisms? We'll take anything."

"No we won't!" exclaimed Handler, "We'll take questions." --Siân Gaetano

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