Ben Hatke on Visual Storytelling, Fairytales, and Genre-Blending

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

Ben Hatke’s Mighty Jack duology takes readers on a wild adventure inspired by the fairytale character who climbs beanstalks and slays giants. The series comes to a close this fall with Mighty Jack and the Goblin King, which follows Jack and Lilly as they travel to a different realm to rescue Jack’s sister Maddy. We had the chance to chat with Hatke and ask him about his obsession with goblins, his thoughts on genre-blending, and more. Here’s what he had to say.

Reader beware: Minor spoilers ahead.

Bookish: In writing your series, which elements of “Jack and the Giant Killer” did you want to preserve and which did you want to get rid of?

Ben Hatke: I really just took the original concept—a young person trades something the family needs for some seeds—and ran with it. Some elements I kept, some elements I discarded. It was all a balancing act between the structure of the earlier tellings and the world that I wanted to build. The elements that I added tend to be things from my own life. Jack’s house, for instance, is modeled almost exactly after my own house. The treasure in the older stories becomes, in my tale, buried Civil War gold, because that’s the history of the Shenandoah Valley.

In the second book, they travel to a realm that has been usurped by giants. There are still fairytale elements, but I really just threw everything in a science fiction blender and focussed more on a good story than sticking to “Jack the Giant Killer.”

Bookish: In this series, you blend fantasy and science fiction without drawing a hard line between the two. Do you feel the two should be less separated in fiction?

BH: Well, I’m certainly not one for hard lines in general fiction. I think the line between science fiction and fantasy is more more about flavor than ingredients. I’d draw a sharper line between sci-fi/fantasy on one hand and speculative fiction on the other. In spec-fic you’re more concerned with spinning out an idea than with telling a good yarn (though you can certainly do both at once). That’s a difference in ingredients more than flavor. Anyway, the edges of genres are delightfully fuzzy and I always hesitate to define them.

Bookish: You’ve been working on this series since 2006—which character has changed the most?

BH: Oh, Maddy for sure. She started out as a goofy six-year-old. She had pigtails! It was just awful. She’s a much more fleshed out character now.

Bookish: You’ve said stories are the language of humankind, which is a beautiful sentiment because it isn’t limiting. Stories can be told in any language. They can be heard, read, seen, or felt. How does that idea connect to Maddy, who barely speaks at all and sometimes simply has speech bubbles appear with strange symbols in them?

BH: Stories are how we make sense of the world. The stories we tell ourselves and the stories we tell others help us explain ourselves to ourselves. We look at people in airports or on the street and say “I wonder what her story is” or “What’s that guy’s story?”

Visual stories transcend language. Silent films were amazing at this, and comics are too.

I’m intensely interested in storytelling through body language and Maddy, beyond my love for her as a character, always reminds me to tell without words.

Bookish: In the original tale, Jack is on his own, and your Jack declines help at first. But ultimately, this is the story of three characters who work together to save the day. Why did you want to have a larger cast surrounding Jack?

BH: Oh yes. Jack needs his friends! He needs them even, and most especially, when he doesn’t think he does. And really, the relationships in this book were much more interesting to me than the adventure. Or, rather, they’re all of a piece. In the first book Jack is really pulled in different directions emotionally. He’s pulled between his mom on the one hand, who wants him to be responsible. And there’s Maddy, on the other hand, who clearly benefits from the garden, despite the danger. Then there’s Lilly, this new outside influence. Lilly is a call to adventure. It’s all very confusing for poor Jack.

The second book is a more straightforward rescue mission, but it tests those bonds (I think) (I hope). In the second book Jack has sorted himself out a little more and has a single minded drive to bring his sister home. We do end up delving a lot more into Lilly and who she is and what she’s about.

Bookish: In this book, Lilly is crowned king, not queen. Was that an important distinction for you to make?

BH: It was the work of a moment, really. And it’s hard to talk about without going deeper into spoiler territory. The Goblin King wants to marry her and make her his queen. Instead Lilly fights and kills him. It didn’t seem quite right to me that she would still become the queen.

There’s a deeper discussion, of course, about the way we use gender in language, but I’m going to dodge that one for the moment.

Bookish: You’re very drawn (no pun intended) to goblins and seem set on redeeming their less-than-stellar public image in your works. What’s the allure?

BH: Yeah, what’s the deal with me and goblins? I’m still figuring that out! I like drawing goblins. I like thinking about goblins. I like the fact that they are little and weak and they only become formidable when they work together. I have this feeling that there’s a little bit of goblin in all of us. It’s that part of us that is grubby and small and awkward and also sort of owns it.

I really like goblins.

Bookish: If you were a mythical creature from one of your books, what would you be?

BH: Hard to say. I think I’ll let others decide.

Bookish: The machinery and pipes infringing on this formerly-green world reminded me of similar elements from the Lord of the Rings series. Can you tell us about why you wanted those two contrasting images?

BH: Like so many others, I’m deeply influenced by J.R.R. Tolkien’s stories. If you read those books early they never leave you. But beyond that, I think that this juxtaposition of the industrial and the organic is part of our modern consciousness now. It’s part of our story.

It’s an instantly relatable image, and it seemed to fit the story I was trying to tell. In that in-between realm, it’s the green growing things that make the links between the worlds. And the industrial encroachment is what breaks down those bonds and isolates the worlds.

…It’s a little heavy handed, maybe. In retrospect.

Bookish: There’s a lot of fun crossover in this series for fans of Little Robot and Zita the Spacegirl. Is this an inside nod to fans or a hint at a larger crossover?

BH: Some of those are just little winks, others are maybe a hint of things to come…

Bookish: Perhaps my most important question: Where can I find the seed packet that will give me one of those adorable little onion-heads?

BH: I’ve been scouring the flea markets, believe me. Let me know if you find anything!

Ben Hatke is the author and illustrator of the New York Times–bestselling Zita the Spacegirl trilogy, the picture books Julia’s House for Lost Creatures and Nobody Likes a Goblin, and the graphic novels Little Robot and Mighty Jack. He lives and works in the Shenandoah Valley with his wife and their boisterous pack of daughters.

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E. Lockhart on Antiheroes, Action Movies, and Genuine Fraud

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

Young adult readers who want a twisty tale that keeps them guessing won’t want to miss E. Lockhart’s Genuine Fraud. The novel starts with its protagonist on the run and slowly moves backwards to reveal an antihero who is always a step ahead of everyone around her. To celebrate the book’s publication, we chatted with Lockhart about the book’s narrative structure, the difference between villains and antiheroes, and action movies.

Bookish: Genuine Fraud moves backwards in time, slowly revealing Jule’s past and motivations. How did this format affect your writing and plotting process?

E. Lockhart: I love to write challenging structures. Many of my books play with narrative devices of one kind of another. We Were Liars has the two intersecting timelines with fairytale interstitials. For Genuine Fraud, I wrote the plot out forward in distinct beats, then reversed it. Then I rewrote it to make sense going backwards, which was quite a lot of rewriting.  Then I wrote the story going forward and revised it going backwards.

Bookish: One of the common themes in the book is that Jule is underestimated. She’s seen as being harmless, “just” a teenage girl, when in fact she’s strong, intelligent, and generally always two steps ahead of everyone around her. What inspired this theme?

EL: I always felt underestimated, both as a kid and as an adult. It’s a complicated and angry feeling that’s hard to act on. I think a lot of women feel this way.

Bookish: There’s an ongoing question in the book about whether a person is as bad as their worst actions. Jule could be easily viewed as an irredeemable character because of her actions. What do you think of her? Is she as bad as what she’s done?

EL: I love her because she represents what I might be capable of, laid bare. To me, she’s humanity. That’s why we love antiheroes—it’s not that we love to hate them; we love to hate villains. With antiheroes, it’s that we love the release of seeing them act out what’s inside us all.

Bookish: Friendship seems like the wrong word for what Imogen and Jule have; rather they seem inescapably drawn to each other. What elements were important to you when shaping their dynamic?

EL: They look enough alike to share a passport, but that’s not their only connection. They’re both wrenching themselves away from their families of origin in dramatic ways.  They want to make new lives. They’re searching for new ways to define themselves in relation to men, to their bodies, to education, and to the world, generally.

Bookish: Jule views herself as an action hero, and she invents an origin story to fit her narrative. When her true origins are revealed, we learn that the reality she’s pulled herself out of is quite impressive. But for her it wasn’t enough. Why not?

EL: I often write about the desire to live a Big Life. To make a mark. Superhero stories and action movies tap into that desire, and that’s why I love them. So many stories about women in those action and superhero genres are written by men. Jule wants not only to live a big life, but to be the author of her own narrative.

Bookish: Jule references Erving Goffman’s The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, a sociology book that says people behave differently based on who they are around or the situation they are in. What were the challenges of writing a character who was constantly aware of her behavior and intentionally seeking to change it based on her situation?

EL: I think that mindset is something of a norm for anyone who isn’t a member of the dominant culture, and in the USA that includes anyone who isn’t a cisgendered white hetero Christian male. Jule is an exaggeration and dramatization of that experience for someone of her background.

Bookish: In your dedication, you write “Here is my heart with all its ugly tangles and splendid fury.” Those are powerful words. Can you share what this book means to you?

EL: It’s a very honest book, even though nothing in it ever actually happened. I took dark parts of myself and tried to share them in an entertaining way.

Bookish: Jule believes that there are powers that live in our bodies that never leave us. What are your powers?

EL: Jule is referencing things like playing the piano or martial arts—training to a point of mastery gives you access to a power that can stay with you your whole life. Me, I touch-type about 90 words a minute. Not a very sexy power, but I use it every day and it makes my life infinitely easier.

E. Lockhart wrote the New York Times bestseller We Were Liars and the upcoming Genuine Fraud, a psychological thriller. Her other books include Fly on the WallDramaramaThe Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, and the Ruby Oliver Quartet, which includes The Boyfriend ListThe Boy BookThe Treasure Map of Boys, and Real Live Boyfriends. She also wrote How to Be Bad with Sarah Mlynowski and Lauren Myracle. Visit her online at emilylockhart.com, and follow her on Twitter at @elockhart.

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Library Reads

LibraryReads List

October 2017

LibraryReads has announced the top ten books available in October that librarians across the country love. You can request or wish for the featured titles below on NetGalley right now, and view more information on the LibraryReads site.

If you are a librarian, you can nominate titles for the LibraryReads list via NetGalley – learn more here!

Additional LibraryReads titles:

The Last Mrs. Parrish, by Liv Constantine
(Harper, 9780062667571)

The Last Ballad: A Novel, by Wiley Cash
(William Morrow, 9780062313119)

We’re Going to Need More Wine: Stories That Are Funny, Complicated, and True, by Gabrielle Union
(Dey Street Books, 9780062693983)

Strange Weather: Four Short Novels, by Joe Hill
(William Morrow, 9780062663115)

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Book

Cover Love

We’ve rounded up covers we love, and we hope you will too. We’ve also gathered all of your cover votes from this month, and your most loved cover is…Renegades by Marissa Meyer!

Click on each cover to read the full description, request (or wish for) the title, and “Like” the cover if you haven’t already. If you’ve read these titles, don’t forget to share feedback with the publisher and with your friends & followers.

Tell us in the comments below which covers you’re loving right now &
they could be included in next month’s edition!

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Six Uplifting Books to Read If You’ve Had a Really Bad Year

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

Eva Woods spent a lot of time thinking about the concept of happiness when writing her new novel, Something Like Happy. The book tells the story of two women who are seeking joy in the midst of sadness, heartbreak, and tragedy. Like many of us readers, Woods turns to books when she’s feeling low. Here, she shares some of her favorite uplifting titles.

My new book, Something Like Happy, is the story of two unlikely friends who’ve hit crisis points in their lives and decide to see if the #100HappyDays social media challenge can make a difference when you’ve truly reached rock-bottom. At times of hardship in my own life, there are certain soothing, feel-good books I like to reach for as a comfort and aid. It’s not about escapism so much as facing the sadness head on and realizing there is happiness on the other side. Here are my go-to happy reads.

Saint Maybe

Saint Maybe is a beautiful, quirky story of how a family manages not to break after a terrible tragedy, but bends and adapts instead, welcoming in new members and sharing the love. It’s a wonderful tale of guilt and sadness giving way to hope and joy. I cried my eyes out when reading it. The Accidental Tourist is another great Anne Tyler book about loss and hope.

Rachel’s Holiday

This is a book about addiction, self-destructiveness, denial, and pain, but it’s written with humor, lightness, and love. The author draws on her own experiences with addiction, and the book pulls off an incredibly clever feat of unreliable narration, all while celebrating family, friends, and forgiveness. As comforting as a big bubble bath.

The Secret Garden

In the darkest times, sometimes only children’s books will do. This classic story of two lonely, neglected cousins in a spooky house has it all:  mystery, sadness, joy, and an uplifting ending that sees the barren garden (both literal and metaphorical) return to life. Angry, spoiled orphan Mary Lennox is a heroine we can all relate to.

Eat, Pray, Love

A bit of a cliché this one, but I’ve read it several times at crisis moments, turning to it again after my own divorce and finding it uncannily resonant. If you ever need permission to go a little wild and let yourself be sad and crazy and eat a lot of ice cream, this book gives it, with warmth and understanding.

Between Silk and Cyanide

I recently read this riveting memoir of life in the Special Operations Executive during World War II, and I highly recommend it if you ever need reminding of just how brave and noble we can be in the face of great tyranny. It’s also very funny and really brings home the fact that the people behind these amazing feats were just humans like the rest of us, complete with office squabbles, black market tea, love affairs, etc.

A God in Ruins

I love all of Kate Atkinson’s books (Case Histories is another favorite), but this tale of a wartime pilot had me in tears, thinking about the impact of our lives on others. Again, there’s lots of stirring wartime bravery and suffering, and it’s told with a fascinating structure that really makes you think about what we leave behind.

Eva Woods was born in Ireland but now resides in London and has published two women’s fiction novels with Mira UK and also writes crime fiction for Hodder UK as Claire McGowan. In addition to writing novels, she teaches creative writing and has written for GlamourYou magazine, the Guardian, the Dublin Herald, and more. Something Like Happy marks her North American debut.

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Happy Birthday, Authors!: A Look at Writers Born in September

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

Do you share a birthday with your favorite author? Here, we take a look at novelists, poets, journalists, and other writers born during the month of September.

September 1
Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875)

September 2
Allen Drury (1918)

September 3
Sarah Orne Jewett (1849)

September 4
Richard Wright (1908)

September 5
Ward Just (1935)

September 6
Robert M. Pirsig (1928)

September 7
Dame Edith Sitwell (1887)
Joe Klein (1946)

September 8
Frédéric Mistral (1830)
Ann Beattie (1947)

September 9
Leo Tolstoy (1828)
Sonia Sanchez (1934)

September 10
H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) (1886)
Mary Oliver (1935)
Stephen Jay Gould (1941)

September 11
O. Henry (1862)
D.H. Lawrence (1885)

September 12
H.L. Mencken (1880)
Michael Ondaatje (1943)

September 13
Sherwood Anderson (1876)
Roald Dahl (1916)
Adrienne Kennedy (1931)

September 14
Robert McCloskey (1914)
Kate Millett (1934)
John Steptoe (1950)

September 15
James Fenimore Cooper (1789)
Agatha Christie (1890)

September 16
Francis Parkman (1823)
John Knowles (1926)
Henry Louis Gates Jr. (1950)

September 17
William Carlos Williams (1883)
Ken Kesey (1935)

September 18
Samuel Johnson (1709)

September 19
William Golding (1911)

September 20
Upton Sinclair (1878)
Donald Hall (1928)

September 21
H.G. Wells (1866)
Fannie Flagg (1944)
Stephen King (1947)
Marsha Norman (1947)

September 22
Fay Weldon (1931)

September 24
Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825)
Wilson Rawls (1913)
Alexis De Veaux (1948)

September 25
William Faulkner (1897)
bell hooks (1952)

September 26
T.S. Eliot (1888)
Jane Smiley (1949)

September 27
Joyce Johnson (1935)
Mark Vinz (1942)

September 28
Kate Douglas Wiggin (1856)
Elmer Rice (1892)

September 29
Miguel de Cervantes (1547)

September 30
J. I. M. Stewart (1906)
Truman Capote (1924)

Know of an author who should be on this list? Leave a comment and let us know!

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Leigh Bardugo on Wonder Woman: “I Just Want to See Her Smash the Patriarchy”

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

The summer of 2017 turned Bookish’s editor into a ride-or-die Diana fan, and Leigh Bardugo’s Wonder Woman: Warbringer played a significant role in that transformation. The novel tells Wonder Woman’s origin story, introducing readers to a young girl eager to prove herself and earn her place on Themyscira. She’s given the opportunity to do just that when she encounters Alia, a teenage girl and the personification of the Warbringer, destined to bring the world to blood and ruin. We had the chance to catch up with Bardugo at BookExpo America to talk about female friendships, writing kindness, and why the world needs Wonder Woman now more than ever.

Bookish: Diana is a hero in every way, but a lot of the characters in your other novels exist in a gray area. What was it like to write a character who is so defined by her desire to always do good?

Leigh Bardugo: It was an absolute joy. I was really worried when I went in because it was so essential to me that Diana not seem false and not be presented as a paragon. Just because you’re good and kind doesn’t mean you don’t have flaws or weaknesses or fears or that sometimes you don’t make poor choices, which she does.

When I wrote Six of Crows, depending on what section I was working on, sometimes I’d come out of Kaz’s POV and I would just be exhausted and sad and worried about humanity. Then I would write Diana and I would think, “All right, maybe we’re all going to be okay.” There’s a level of optimism that goes along with her character, and kindness. To me, it’s more about her being kind and compassionate than just being good. That is actually much more wonderful to write than I expected.

Bookish: When writing Diana’s origin story, what was one element of her original tales that you were excited to play with and one element that you decided to get rid of?

LB: I loved writing about the Amazons and putting my own spin on the mythology of Themyscira. I’ll admit I didn’t have any interest in writing about Steve Trevor. I was really charmed by his portrayal in the film, but I wanted this story to focus on the women.

Bookish: Diana, Nim, and Alia are a fantastic trio. They not only celebrate the importance of female friendships, but they showcase that there are many ways to be strong. How did you go about crafting their dynamic?

LB: I’ve written a short story set in our world, but this was very different for me. I spent a lot of time thinking about the way those relationships would be forged and how they would function. In crafting these characters, I was trying to keep them as authentic as possible. I had some wonderful readers who really helped me to work through some of the trickier issues they were dealing with.

It was important to me that even though Diana is the hero of the story, that Alia was a hero too. I wanted all of them to have opportunities to show what they’re made of and to show that feminism doesn’t belong to one person. Feminism doesn’t belong to one kind of person and adventure doesn’t belong to one kind of person. Magic, superpowers, all of those stories don’t belong to one kind of person.

I’m honestly a little heartbroken that I’m never going to write about these characters again. I’m not used to that. I’m used to writing a series or at least being able to say, “Well, maybe I’ll make it a series later.” Leaving them behind is so hard. There are so many stories for that group of characters that I would love to tell.

Bookish: The novel is infused with a lot of humor, both wit and physical comedy—Diana tossing the Lasso of Truth in a Duane Reade bag really sticks out to me. As a writer, how do you find that balance between comedy and the chaos of the world ending?

LB: I think if you only give the reader angst and intensity, the negative emotions start to lose their impact. The reader becomes desensitized. But if I’ve made you laugh and gotten you to let down your guard, it’s going to hurt that much more when I break your heart. (That sound you hear is me cackling.) The balance is one that really emerges in revision, fine-tuning the emotional turns and language so that the funny and tragic moments all get their due.

Bookish: We’re in a moment when Wonder Woman, as a character, is going through a period of rebirth. For years the name seemed to evoke the idea of a woman who manages to juggle a lot of responsibilities, rather than the heroine herself. What do you think it is about her story or about this period in history that is bringing her back into focus?

LB: Maybe because we need her. Maybe because we need her and because this is a great time to see a woman in an action film. We’ve seen more and more of that, and I would love to see even more diverse women in those roles, not just white women. But I think we also need a story of a woman who comes from Themyscira, who comes from a place where peace is a value, who comes from a place where compassion and kindness are values and where being strong is awesome and kicking ass is a delight. I love writing it so much, but those fundamental principles matter so much more now. And we’re all much more aware of that. I don’t know why, because we’ve all been waiting so long.

I wrote an essay about this for Last Night, a Superhero Saved My Life. I loved Wonder Woman as a kid and I stopped loving her as I got older and began to understand who I was as a girl and as a woman in the world. It wasn’t until later that I came back to her. I feel like in some ways all of us are reclaiming her and saying “I don’t care if she’s wearing straps. I don’t care if she’s wearing heels. I just want to see her smash the patriarchy.”

Bookish: Mortal women have a chance to join the Amazons if they call out the name of a goddess in their last moments. Do you know who you’d cry out for?

LB: Hera, Athena, Demeter, Artemis, Hestia, and Aphrodite. They’re my pantheon. But I don’t belong on Themyscira. Too much cardio.

Leigh Bardugo is the #1 New York Times bestselling and USA Today bestselling author of Six of CrowsCrooked Kingdom, and the Shadow and Bone Trilogy. She is the first author in the DC Icons Series, where the DC Comics super hero icons are written by megastar young adult authors. Forthcoming books include Batman by Marie Lu, Catwoman by Sarah J. Maas, and Superman by Matt de la Peña.

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IndieNext

Indie Next List

October edition

The American Booksellers Association has announced the selections for the October Indie Next list, drawn from the recommendations of indie booksellers throughout the US. You can request many of these titles on NetGalley right now, and view more information on the ABA site

If you are a bookseller, you can nominate titles for the Indie Next list via NetGalley, and receive special access to new galleys via the Digital White Box program. Sign up today!

Additional Indie Next titles:

Her Body and Other Parties: Stories, by Carmen Maria Machado
(Graywolf Press, 9781555977887)

The Last Ballad: A Novel, by Wiley Cash
(William Morrow, 9780062313119)

The Twelve-Mile Straight: A Novel, by Eleanor Henderson
(Ecco, 9780062422088)

Going Into Town: A Love Letter to New York, by Roz Chast
(Bloomsbury USA, 9781620403211)

Caroline: Little House, Revisited, by Sarah Miller
(William Morrow, 9780062685346)

Forest Dark: A Novel, by Nicole Krauss
(Harper, 9780062430991)

Five-Carat Soul, by James McBride
(Riverhead Books, 9780735216693)

Logical Family: A Memoir, by Armistead Maupin
(Harper, 9780062391223)

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Daniel Handler on Romance, Sexuality, and Getting Over Quotation Marks

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

You may know Daniel Handler by another name: Lemony Snicket, the author of the Series of Unfortunate Events books. When he isn’t writing about the Baudelaire siblings, Handler is penning adult and young adult novels under his given name. We were lucky enough to catch up with Handler at BookExpo America to chat with him about his new novel, All the Dirty PartsIn it, a high schooler named Cole experiences firsthand the complexity of the “uncomplicated” relationship. Check out our conversation with Handler below.

Bookish: This story is, as the title suggests, is a love story in pieces—what the reader has is literally all the dirty parts. How do you think the story would have been different if the other parts had been included?

Daniel Handler: Well, I don’t think it’s possible to write the whole story of everything, and part of what this book came out of was the way in which sexuality is ignored or pushed aside in so much literature. And that’s a really big part of it—it’s part of the anxiety, and the desire, and the joy, and the anger and sorrow of young relationships. Not that we grow out of it later or anything.

When I wrote Why We Broke Up, it was the first time when I went out to talk about the book that there was a big gender imbalance in my audience. It had always been kind of 50-50, and this time it was like 95% women. And that’s also, in adolescence, when many boys fall off of pleasure reading altogether. I did not fall off of pleasure reading when I was in adolescence. I started looking at what I read, what I really liked, and I saw that it had a really strong sexual streak in it. It was high-minded literature, but like, The Unbearable Lightness of Being is a really powerful work when you’re 15. If you go back and read it, you realize that it’s full of threesomes, and you just think about what was interesting to you. So I was thinking about what segment of the population was falling off of reading.

That was a long way of not answering the question. How would it be different? It’d be longer.

Bookish: All the Dirty Parts is being billed as a companion novel to Why We Broke Up. Could you talk about how you see these two novels as being in conversation with each other?

DH: I think that Why We Broke Up is extremely romantic, and comes to sexuality through romance and that All the Dirty Parts is kind of the opposite—it comes to romance through sexuality. Certainly you can look at that as being gendered—that’s part of our own gender dysfunction around relationships, particularly when we’re young: Boys need to be nice to girls in order to get laid, and girls need to give it up to be girlfriends. So I thought about the ways those overlap: boys’ desire for romance and girls’ desire for sexuality, and how both those things are divisive.

Bookish: All the Dirty Parts reminded me of Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth. Both are explicit books about men whose lives are more or less ruled by sex. What drew you to this form as a vehicle for the story?

DH: It was actually the form that I found when I started thinking about books that are more fragmentary by Mary Robison, and Jenny Offill, and Maggie Nelson, and all these writers who are doing things in little, small parts. I got interested in that, and that kind of matching, not only the way sex can work in the imagination, but also the kind of fragmented, text-based conversations. It began to seem like the right vehicle to write a book in which those issues could be explored.

Why We Broke Up, for instance, is a long, written letter. That’s a very romantic idea, but it’s not realistic that you’d write a book-length letter to your ex-boyfriend. It’s not feasible.

I did a bunch of things I never thought I would do. I thought I would never write a fragmentary book. I like it a lot but I didn’t think it was my jam. I used to rant against books that had no quotation marks in them—I was kind of like, “Sorry, that’s how we do things.” But the way so many people communicate now, between talking and talking on the phone and emailing and texting and whatever else—it’s all kind of in the loam and I didn’t want to make any kind of division within that. In the book you often can’t tell when the characters are in the same room and when they’re not, and I like that.

Bookish: In this book, as in your Series of Unfortunate Events books, adults are unhelpful at best. The effect is that the younger characters are the only ones whose motives and actions make sense. Can you talk about why you write younger and older characters so differently?

DH: I think I’ve always done that. In my first book, The Basic Eight, there’s a high school girl and her parents are completely absent from the book and horrible things are happening. I think that it’s a major part of adolescence, that compartmentalization. You go to school or wherever you go and you’re in this huge thing that’s happening with people your own age and then you go home, and you’re a kid. I think even now that I’m a parent of an adolescent, and I meet so many parents of adolescents, I see that same division going on all the time. Even if you’re really close and you sit around the breakfast table and you talk about things, there’s still a whole world that’s happening that’s completely out of your hands. I eavesdrop on a lot of teenagers on public transportation and I have such a memory of being on the same public transportation–I grew up in San Francisco and I live there–literally the same buses, and I don’t remember anyone older than I am ever being on those buses and now, sure enough, I’m completely invisible when I’m there.

Bookish: You write in the book, about uncomplicated sex, that if you can’t see the complication, you’re probably it. This seems like the central realization for Cole over the course of the novel, and it emerges slowly. Why do you think this is such an important epiphany for him?

DH: Because I think the sex in his world is being un-compartmentalized. It has nothing to do with his friends, even as one of his friends becomes sexually involved with him. It has nothing to do with the way he spends his time—it’s something that he sneaks off to do. To realize that it’s all part of the world that we’re in is a big maturation process.

Bookish: This book subverts the trope that women are the ones to “catch feelings” in a relationship—in your book, it’s the male partner who does. Why did you make that decision?

DH: It just seemed like the way the story was heading, I guess. I like to be surprised when I’m reading a book, so when I’m writing a book, I think about what would be surprising. I try to avoid the pitfalls of cliché and particularly with gender, it’s so easy to see when you’re planning a book how deep those clichés are and how easy it is to fall into them.

Bookish: What’s next for you?

DH: I have a picture book coming out in the fall. And then I’m finishing an adult novel and a Snicket book, so I’ll continue to keep one foot on each side of the seesaw I guess.

Daniel Handler is the author of six novels. As Lemony Snicket, he is responsible for numerous books for children. His books have sold more than 70 million copies and have been translated into 40 languages, and have been adapted for screen and stage. His first play, Imaginary Comforts, or The Story of the Ghost of the Dead Rabbit, will be produced this fall at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. He lives in San Francisco with the illustrator Lisa Brown, to whom he is married and with whom he has collaborated on several books, and one son.

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Claire Messud’s Favorite Books About Female Friendships

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

Claire Messud’s latest novel, The Burning Girl, explores the aftermath of broken friendship. At the start of seventh grade, Cassie Burnes ditches Julia Robinson in favor of boys, alcohol, and drugs. Julia, our narrator, is heartbroken that her longtime best friend is suddenly becoming a stranger. Over the course of the year, Cassie begins to spiral and Julia wonders just where the girl she used to know went. In honor of the book’s publication, Messud put together a list of her favorite books that explore complex female friendships.

The Girls of Slender Means

Muriel Spark turns her sharp wit and keen eye upon the residents of the May of Teck Club, a residence for single young women at the end of the Second World War. She captures their foibles and passions, their subtlest dynamics, and their buoyant, youthful frivolity. But as with The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, another of Spark’s masterpieces about girls and women, there is darkness behind the bright facades, and a strong dose of tragedy in the comedy.

Two Serious Ladies

The inimitable Jane Bowles wrote just one novel (in addition to a bunch of short stories and a single play): It’s a brilliant but eccentric double narrative about two women, Miss Goering and Mrs. Copperfield, linked by friendship, but living out their separate stories in different places—a farmhouse on Long Island and what’s supposed to be a holiday in Panama, chiefly—surrounded by unlikely new companions. Bowles, like Muriel Spark, is a tragicomic genius; the novel is an existentialist exploration of what it might mean, for each of these two women, to live authentically, which proves a challenging project.

How Should a Person Be?

Sheila Heti’s “novel from life” about the author as a young woman/artist figuring herself out is, like Bowles’ fiction, an existential undertaking. Central to the work and perhaps most memorable in it is the intense friendship between Sheila and her artist friend Margaux: two creative women who love and respect one another, working in different disciplines, honest even in their less appealing attributes, attempting to articulate what their work is and why it matters, as well as their ambitions/pretensions/illusions about that work.

Cat’s Eye

This remains for me one of the most intimately powerful novels about the complications of girls’ friendship and how the dynamics unfold over time. Elaine Risley, an artist, recalls her often painful childhood relationships with Grace, Carol, and the charismatic but venomous Cordelia. Her story will surely strike a chord with many female readers. Margaret Atwood deploys her remarkable ability to evoke the uncanny and the sinister, and the novel is, like Cordelia herself, haunting.

Neapolitan Novels

This gripping tetralogy about the lifelong friendship between Lenù and Lila, two working class girls from Naples, by now needs no introduction. Its portrayal of the pain and rivalrous complication of the girls’ intimacy is as affecting as its depiction of their abiding loyalty and love; and Elena Ferrante’s great triumph lies in her ability to weave into the women’s personal stories many of the broader social themes of their times—political, social, philosophical, and literary. If not always an elegant stylist, Ferrante is a remarkable storyteller, and these books are enormously compelling.

Claire Messud is a recipient of Guggenheim and Radcliffe Fellowships and the Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Author of six previous works of fiction including her most recent novel, The Burning Girl, she lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her family.

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