As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end -- and, in the case of Lemony Snicket, all unfortunate things must come to an end, too. After seven years and thirteen episodes, the much beloved A Series of Unfortunate Events books are drawing to a close. At least, that's what Snicket's "handler" Daniel Handler says.
But before getting to what promises to be "the most unfortunate event of all," it is first necessary to familiarize oneself with the mysterious man who created a mega-selling series of children's novels pivoting on the premise of placing young people in peril. According to his autobiography Lemony Snicket: the Unauthorized Autobiography, Snicket "grew up near the sea and currently lives beneath it. To his horror and dismay, he has no wife or children, only enemies, associates, and the occasional loyal manservant. His trial has been delayed, so he is free to continue researching and recording the tragic tales of the Baudelaire orphans." Hmmm. Perhaps an autobiography purporting that it may or may not be true isn't the best place to begin.
Instead, let us focus on Daniel Handler, the man who might actually be responsible for composing the Series of Unfortunate Events books according to certain skeptics (which include Handler, himself). Daniel Handler has been asked many times why anyone would want to make a career of chronicling the ghastly trials of a trio of ill-fated orphans. "When I was young, my favorite stories were not the sort of children's books that are constantly being thrust at you when you're little," he explained in an audio essay on Barnes & Noble.com. "I didn't like books where people played on a sports team and won a bunch of games, or went to summer camp and had a wonderful time. I really liked a book where a witch might cut a child's head off or a pack of angry dogs might burst through a door and terrorize a family. So, I guess it should not be surprising that when I turned to children's literature I tried to think of all sorts of interesting things to happen to small children, and all of these things were pretty dreadful."
Handler has long made it clear that his wildly popular series would be limited to thirteen installments. The Penultimate Peril: Book the Twelfth finds the much-beleaguered Baudelaire orphans "enjoying" a family vacation at a menacing hotel, and Handler is wrapping up his saga with The End: Book the Thirteenth, which promises to tie up all remaining threads in the story in an undoubtedly exciting manner.
However, the conclusion of his series is no indication that Handler plans on bringing his writing career to an end. He has also written adult-targeted titles under his own name, including his latest, Adverbs: A Novel. This exploration of love, which Publishers Weekly deemed "lovely" and "lilting," may forgo the trademark Lemony Snicket wry morbidity, but Handler ensures readers that the book isn't without its own unfortunate events. "It's a fairly miserable story, as any story about love will be," he says. "People try to find love -- some of them find it, some of them don't, some of them have an unhappy time even if they do find it -- but it is considerably more cheerful than any of my so-called children's books."
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Daniel Handler has a potentially embarrassing confession to make: he is an avowed accordion player. Handler says that when he told his parents about his decidedly uncool musical pursuits, they reacted "as if I had taken up heroin."
His interest in music does not end with the accordion. Close friend and leader of indie-rock band The Magnetic Fields Steven Merritt has written an original song for each audio book version of the Series of Unfortunate Events books. Merritt and Handler will be releasing a CD of all 13 "dreadful" songs when the final installment of the series is published in late 2006. Handler also lent his accordion-laying talents to The Magnetic Fields' critically acclaimed album 69 Love Songs.
Handler's persistence may rival that of the never-say-die Baudelaire orphans. His first novel, The Basic Eight, was rejected 37 times before it was finally published.
He enjoys the work of novelist Haruki Murakami so much that Handler devoted an entire essay to the subject in the plainly and guilelessly entitled Village Voice review, "I Love Murakami."
According to a former high school classmate writing in the local paper, Handler was "voted not only Class Clown, but also Best Actor, Chatterbox, and Teacher's Pet."
A few fun facts from our interview with Handler:
"I can cook anything."
"I know one very good card trick."
"I auditioned for an enormous role in the film Gigli."
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In the fall of 2006, author and Lemony Snicket representative Daniel Handler took some time out to answer some of our questions:
What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer?
I read Carson McCullers's Ballad of the Sad Café when I was in eighth grade. I already wanted to be a writer but it occurred to me for the first time that I might learn how to do this by re-reading books I loved and figuring out how they were made. I took extensive notes on the McCullers, which is pretty much how I do it today.
What are your favorite books, and what makes them special to you?Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov -- This novel is the high-water mark of the English language, but what makes it special to me is its unreliable, hilariously dark narrator, who taught me how to construct a first-person.
Anagrams by Lorrie Moore -- Ingeniously structured. Sad. Funny. I've stolen so much from this novel, and hope that the author doesn't mind.
The Black Brook by Tom Drury -- I read this whenever I'm sick, blue or bored. It makes me hold my sides with laughter. If I could write dialog like Drury, I'd be a very, very happy man.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami -- This book is a reminder of all things fiction can be: heartbreaking, ambitious, smart, wondrous and wide as the world.
Why Did I Ever by Mary Robison -- Don't even ask.
Time Will Darken It by William Maxwell -- A beautiful love story written by one of our most overlooked writers. Each time I read this, I think it's about something else.
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville -- What does one say to recommend Moby-Dick? Just read it. It's not really that long when you think about it, and the big secret is that it's funny and -- here's where your old English teacher was wrong -- it's not an allegory about God. It's making fun of allegories about God.
30 Pieces of a Novel by Stephen Dixon -- Dixon captures the way people -- maybe men? -- think better than any writer I know.
Nora Jane: A Life in Stories by Ellen Gilchrist -- One day I started to write Ellen Gilchrist a fan letter all about how much I like this book, but it suddenly occurred to me that I was afraid she'd think I was creepy.
The Bears' Famous Invasion of Sicily by Dino Buzzati -- I read this book when I was seven and immediately reread it. You may find it interesting to know that it's about a bunch of bears who invade Sicily. Also, there is a list of characters at the beginning, and some of the characters -- like, for instance, the werewolf -- do not appear in the book itself.
The Complete Poems 1927-1979 by Elizabeth Bishop -- Everyone should read more poetry. It's not hard. Just purchase this book and keep it on your bed-stand and read one poem every couple of days and watch your life get better.
What are some of your favorite films, and what makes them unforgettable to you?Auntie Mame -- Because I watched it every year as a child and I still see something new each time.
Saboteur -- For its odd, normal, concise and woolgathery imagination.
Stranger Than Paradise -- Because it inspired me to have a style.
Moon Over Miami -- For its utter immorality and its xylophone solo.
The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg -- For its candy-colored tearjerkiness.
L'Aventurera -- Because it is the greatest film ever made in the history of the world, ever.
What types of music do you like? Is there any particular kind you like to listen to when you're writing?
When writing I listen to melodramatic Russian classical music, early electronic experimental music, Indian ragas and nearly anything by Sun Ra. When I have writer's block I listen to the Flying Lizards. This leaves the rest of my time for indie pop.
If you had a book club, what would it be reading?
I've been trying to start a "Dive Bar Proust Club," in which we would meet each month in a different dive bar and discuss Proust. The responses "Do we have to meet in dive bars?" or "Do we have to read Proust?" are automatic disqualifications from membership.
What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
I like to give people novels I think they would like, on no particular occasion -- just when we're in a bookstore together. I like to receive reference books on my birthday.
Do you have any special writing rituals? For example, what do you have on your desk when you're writing?
I flip unsharpened pencils all over the place, letting them roll all over my desk and into obscure corners of the floor. I originally used sharpened pencils but I switched after too many graphite-filled scars.
What are you working on now?
A book about pirates.
Many writers are hardly "overnight success" stories. How long did it take for you to get where you are today? Any rejection-slip horror stories or inspirational anecdotes?
My first novel took almost six years to sell and was rejected 37 times in the interim, and then finally sold for the smallest amount of money my literary agent had ever negotiated for a work of fiction.
If you could choose one new writer to be "discovered," who would it be -- and why?
Chris Adrian's recent novel The Children's Hospital is one of those books that is not only brilliant, but just the sort of thing I think the entire world would love, if only everyone heard about it.
What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
Steal paper from work.
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