Last night I attended En Garde!, a delightfully casual conversation about books and writing between Neil Gaiman (Coraline) and Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events). The two giants of Kids’ Lit met on stage at the stunning BAM Howard Gilman Opera House for a packed audience. Gaiman and Handler have known each other for years, and evidently get along swimmingly. Gaiman's brilliant British reserve and earnest embarrassment worked like a sprinkling of sea salt on caramel with Handler's fast-talking, American, self-deprecating wit. The jabs and jokes were practically non-stop, leaving the audience in stitches for a large portion of the evening. (Yes, that’s an intentional Other-Mother pun.) A few of the many topics discussed were Cadbury Creme Eggs, Reykjavik, phallic fencing innuendos, gas masks, their wives, and the on-going existence of magic and mystery in everyday life.
There were, however, a few more serious moments, especially when they spoke about their deep respect for the intellect of children, something I find very evident in both their writing. Handler also spoke briefly about his recent highly offensive off-the-cuff remark when introducing Jacqueline Woodson (Brown Girl Dreaming) at the National Book Awards. Much has been written about it, so I won’t add anything else here but to say that although I felt his remorse was sincere, unfortunately it could never erase the comment, or it’s disturbance.
Gaiman and Handler ended the night on an inspiring note, with three pieces of advice to aspiring writers:
1. Finish something.
2. There is ALWAYS room for new amazing characters in Children's Literature.
3. Don't think about the market. Write the story you care about. And write it well.
It was an incredible event, I only wish it could have lasted longer. The hour and a half flew by so fast that when it was over I felt a little let down – in fact, I felt very much like Coraline when she returned home through the magic tunnel to discover that the doorway had reverted back into a brick wall.
But I guess that’s what talented storytellers do best; always leave us wanting more.