Daniel Handler & Maira Kalman on Why We Broke Up

By Maryann Yin 

On Valentine’s Day, people remember both their favorite love stories and their most memorable breakup stories.

Lemony Snicket author Daniel Handler and celebrated illustrator Maira Kalman just published Why We Broke Up, a young adult novel about why a couple named Ed and Min ended their relationship. GalleyCat caught up with these creators to find out more.

Q: What was the inspiration behind Why We Broke Up?

Daniel Handler (DH): I asked Maira what she wanted to paint, and she said ‘Ordinary objects.’ There are two ways ordinary objects become magical: when infused with romantic memory, and when painted by Maria Kalman.

Q: Talk about how you came on board for this project.
Maira Kalman (MK): Daniel and i were walking around Budapest looking at things and he likes the way i look at insignificant things. And felt there was a story there.

Q: Describe the writing process for Why We Broke Up.
DH: Sitting in a café with headphones on, listening to Chopin and M83, hunched over a legal pad, staring at a list of objects and writing until it’s cocktail hour and time to go home.

Q: What’s the difference between creating art for an author versus creating art for a sole individual project?
MK: Hopefully nothing. Instincts should prevail. Unexpected solutions welcome.

Q: What’s the difference between writing for adults and children?
DH: When you write for adults, no one asks if maybe the subject matter is, you know, not appropriate for anyone of that age.

Q: Is there a difference between illustrating for adult books versus children’s books?
MK: Hopefully not. Somwhere between playful and pensive is a good place to be for all audiences.

Q: What are the challenges that arise when you write a picture book versus a children’s chapter book?
DH: Fewer words, fewer words.

Q: Talk about the collaboration process between you and an author, particularly Daniel Handler.
MK: Daniel is surprisingly funny. Who knew.

Q: Talk about the collaboration process between you and an illustrator, particularly Maira Kalman.
DH: I’d go over to Maira’s apartment with a list of things we had to accomplish, and we’d have coffee or tea and maybe a little cake. And yogurt, if she has any. We’d start to talk about one of the articles that Maira has taped up on her fridge, which reminds me of something I read a long time ago which Maira hasn’t read, but she has another book she was thinking of, and then we have some more coffee and I play the piano a little bit because it helps us think, and then we tell each other some things that happened to us or to people we know or to people the people we know know, and then we have some more coffee, and rats, it’s time to go home.

Q: What do you think is the best way to self-edit?
DH: Read the whole thing out loud and remember, mercilessly, that hardly anything is too short.

Q: How did you come up with the pseudonym Lemony Snicket?
DH: Once, while on the phone with a right-wing organization, I wanted to have some of their materials mailed to me but for obvious reasons did not want to be on their mailing list. When the woman on the phone asked me for my name, I thought, say another name, and opened my mouth and said ‘Lemony Snicket.’ There was a pause, during which I wondered who on Earth would be so foolish as to think that was a real name, and then the woman from the right-wing organization said, ‘Is that spelled how it sounds?’

Q: What’s next for you?
DH: A new Snicket series starts in the Fall, so you might as well leave town now.
MK: Proust classes. Curating a show for the Cooper-Hewitt.