Sometimes Sundays feel like a lifestyle commercial, and this is one of them: pajamas, coffee, a smoothie in a wedding-gift glass, my wife at one end of the couch with the crossword, and me giggling at something she said. The couch, maybe, or the coffee, or something invisible like investments or a dot-com: They could sell anything with this. We’re both white and happy. We haven’t had a lifestyle commercial morning in several weekends due to a heap of deadlines: Lisa is an art director and had some free-lance layouts somebody needed right away, and I had a book overdue. Our past few weekends, we were scurrying around the apartment making each other look at things: Is this done? Laundry piled up; we left takeout cartons open on the counter so we could sneak back for a few bites. Now our first drafts are done and we are relaxed enough to feel as languid as catalog snapshots. I have a pile of CDs I’ve been waiting to play when it got a little calmer around our apartment.
The overdue book is called The Ersatz Elevator. In it, the Baudelaire children—Violet, Klaus, and Sunny—are adopted by a loathsome nouveau-riche couple who organize an auction. The auctioneer calls himself Gunther, but is really Count Olaf in disguise, and has two of the kidnapped Quagmire Triplets locked in a cage at the bottom of a secret passageway. If you can’t follow this, you probably haven’t read the five books that precede it in “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” a collection of children’s books I write under the name Lemony Snicket. In each book, the three Baudelaires encounter a number of unpleasantries that I can’t believe a large corporation like HarperCollins believes is suitable for young people. I first pitched the idea to my pal and now editor Susan Rich, over sidecars at a small dark bar. The idea was something of a joke; after writing my first novel, The Basic Eight, under my own name I had an urge to write a mock-gothic novel—you know, a mysterious stranger, an innocent damsel, a bog, somebody locked in the attic, the whole bit. I had just tossed this idea out when Susan called and told me about her new job. She owed me some sidecars after I helped her drown her sorrows when she got sacked from her old job. Sidecars taste like candy: brandy, Cointreau, and lime juice, and the small dark bar liked to add a dusting of sugar around the rim of the glass. All that candy in the dark made the gothic novel turn into something for children: dark, dark books, as dark as the books I wanted to read, but could never find, when I was 11 and finally turned to Agatha Christie and V.C. Andrews rather than the fluff the librarians suggested. The small dark bar is now closed and the mock-gothic novel is now a projected 13-book series, the sixth installment of which was absolutely, I mean absolutely, Daniel, please please please give it to us, or else the illustrator won’t possibly have enough time, please please please won’t you please finish it by Friday. And I did, Seders and all. Now it’s Sunday and Susan is reading it over the weekend. Truman Capote said that finishing a book is like taking a child out to the backyard and shooting it in the head, but I like kids. There’s a little postpartum, but mostly I want to hear all about his first day at school. A nagging feeling about something in Chapter 5 makes me think that little Johnny might get his ass kicked, or maybe the queasiness in my stomach is only what comes from having too much matzo.
In the afternoon, the queasiness returns when I’m checking the galley proofs for the British publication of The Basic Eight. They’ve assured me that all the typos have been weeded out, but on the first page my mother’s name in the acknowledgements is spelled “324” instead of “Sandra.”