Author Clones, Alive and Well

Alison Morris - September 11, 2008

Several months ago I did a complete double-take when a galley arrived at our store for a novel called How the Solider Repairs the Gramophone by Sasa Stanisic (Grove Press, June 2008). The cover showed a man on a beach, playing the accordion. But the man wasn’t/isn’t just any man. It’s Daniel Handler, a.k.a. Lemony Snicket. I recognized him immediately, but no information on the galley explained how or why his picture came to be on the cover, so I momentarily doubted myself. STILL, I thought, it just HAD to be Daniel Handler, a.k.a. Lemony Snicket. But… what if it wasn’t? What if it’s his doppleganger? Or a clone? Or just some guy who happens to look EXACTLY like him?

I was especially intrigued by this odd "sighting" because I’d seen Daniel Handler’s doppleganger once before, at a bus stop in Watertown, Massachusetts. It’s possible, of course, that it was, in fact, the real Daniel Handler I saw at that bus stop but the chances are soooooo absurdly thin that I believe it was his doppleganger. Or possibly a clone. OR some guy who looked EXACTLY like him (as best I could tell from my car as I drove by) waiting for the bus just a couple blocks from my apartment.

I have since learned that YES, indeed that IS Daniel Handler on the cover of that novel (though probably not at the bus stop), and that (here’s the best part) his appearance there is a complete coincidence, which I think is extremely funny. (The funniest bit is Daniel’s response to the question of whether or not he minded his photo appearing on the cover of the book.)

A few years ago Daniel apparently asked a photographer friend to take some photos of him but as he didn’t have much extra cash to punt her way at the time, he told her she could sell the images as stock photographs, which she did. The German publisher of Stanisic’s book just happened to pick one of THOSE photos for their edition of this book (with no idea as to the identity of the man in the picture), and Grove Press (who didn’t recognize Daniel either until a reader asked why he was on the cover of the book) liked it enough to want to use it too.

As remarkable and funny as that coincidence is, think how much more bizarre it might have been (for Daniel at least) if that WASN’T Daniel Handler on the cover of that book. Suppose it was a guy (maybe the one from the bus stop near my house) who just happened to look like Daniel Handler and who (okay, maybe this is less likely…) just happened to play the accordion too.

This possibility springs to mind namely because when I lived in New Hampshire I experienced a moment of complete awe and disbelief when it appeared (briefly, at least) that I was taking a tango class with Philip Pullman. SERIOUSLY. The first night of my tango class I walked through the door and spotted a man who was an absolute dead ringer for the author of The Amber Spyglass, which had just landed at bookstores everywhere, one of them The Dartmouth Bookstore, where I was then a children’s book buyer and where I’d seen Philip Pullman’s face staring back at me from many an Amber Spyglass promotional brochure. And now, here he was learning the basic steps of the tango, right across the room from me!!!

Of course, it wasn’t really Philip Pullman in my class. I knew it wasn’t. It couldn’t be. Philip Pullman lives in England, not New Hampshire. But knowing that didn’t stop me from staring at this guy who looked. EXACTLY. like him! It was so distracting! I could barely pay attention to the steps we were learning, because I was so bowled over by this man’s resemblance to one of my favorite authors. I glanced over at him so often that I worried that his very friendly-looking wife would notice and try to jump me in the parking lot after class, but thankfully she didn’t.

What she DID do, a week later, was completely validate my first week’s behavior. I had shown up for our second class with an Amber Spyglass promotional brochure in hand, awkwardly introduced myself to the two of them, and humbly apologized if they’d noticed me staring the week before (which they hadn’t). I explained about this hugely popular, truly remarkable trilogy of books and the fame of its author, then showed them the photo of the REAL Philip Pullman, at which point the look-a-like’s wife remarked, "Oh my gosh… You DO look exactly like him!" (score one for the bookseller) as he sat beside her shaking his head in recognition and disbelief. I then joked that maybe he’d want to come sign books at our store sometime (Philip Pullman’s books, of course)? We all laughed, he said he’d have to read His Dark Materials, I learned the couple’s names, and from then on we were good tango class friends. It was a relief to no longer have to think of them as "the other Philip Pullman, and wife," because that had just felt… creepy.

AND THEN IT HAPPENED TO ME! Yep. I was mistaken for a big-name children’s book author. But there were some odd steps that happened before I was out and out confused with her. The first was soon after I’d moved to Boston, when I was getting my hair cut at a new salon. During my first visit, Elena, my stylist, told me she had a client who looked a lot like me. She added that this was doubly odd because the woman also had a job in the children’s book business, working for a publisher, though Elena couldn’t remember which one. A few appointments later I arrive at the salon a bit early and see a woman sitting in Elena’s chair who looks VERY familiar to me, though I can’t initially figure out why or how. After she leaves Elena says, "That’s the client you remind me of!" I wrack my brain until eventually it comes me: the woman is Kara LaReau, then Kate DiCamillo’s editor at Candlewick, whom I’d met once before. When I saw Kara again at some book function or other we laughed about the coincidence.

In 2003, about a year after I was told I resembled Kate DiCamillo’s editor, I went to Bologna, where at a party Karen Lotz, president and publisher of Candlewick, introduced me to a British publisher who did a double-take when she saw me. Looking at Karen and sounding a bit befuddled she said, "Kate’s sister?" Karen and I exchanged a look of bewilderment and then the woman asked me directly, "Are you Kate DiCamillo’s sister??" After a pause Karen and I both laughed, awkwardly. "No!" I said, "Sorry." The woman shook her head, saying, "Wow… You just look so much like her…" Five months later, Kate and Kara and I laughed over this growing string of coincidences when Kate was touring to promote her newest novel, The Tale of Despereaux (soon to be a movie) and doing an event with our store. In my copy of Despereaux Kate wrote, "To Alison, from whom I was separated at birth."

Fast forward four years, during which time a few other people remarked that I looked like Kate. I’m at BEA in 2007, attending the ABC "New Voices" luncheon, when a VERY enthusiastic bookseller comes over to me and exclaims, "OHMYGOSH, HOW AAAARE YOU??!" ver
excitedly. I smile and tell her I’m fine and ask how she is, all the while thinking, "Who is this woman? I’ve seen her before, but… Did we talk at BEA last year? I know she’s a bookseller, but I don’t know her name… Should I know her name??" "It’s SO good to see you!" she says, and I’m still floundering but trying to play along out of politeness and the certainty that I’ve forgotten some delightful conversation of a year ago that I should surely have remembered judging from how nice this woman is being to me. Then she says, "I saw your new book Great Joy!! It is SO WONDERFUL!!!" and suddenly the meaning of our exchange shifts into focus. "Oh… I’m so sorry," I stammer awkwardly. "But… I’m not actually Kate DiCamillo." I’m relieved when this lovely but mistaken bookseller registers no embarrassment, just laughs and says, "OHMYGOSH, you look EXACTLY like her!! That is SO FUNNY!" 

She says the same thing another time or two when we cross paths at other parties or functions during the convention. When Kate winds up signing books a few tables down from Gareth at the show and her line is cut off about the same time as his, I sidle over to her, and fill her in on the latest case of mistaken identity, and the two of us laugh about it. Again.

We took this (slightly blurry) picture that day, of the two of us looking either very much alike or not at all similar, depending on whom you ask.

I promise you, though, that if you see Kate DiCamillo’s photograph in the jacket of any of her books or in any of her promotional materials, you are actually seeing a picture of Kate. Not me. And photos of Daniel Handler are really photos of Daniel Handler.

When you see a picture of Philip Pullman, though…? I suppose it’s POSSIBLE you’re just seeing a guy from New Hampshire.

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