If you are interested in interviews where people say smart things and cover interesting topics, then you’ve come to the wrong place. You don’t want to read this interview — you don’t. It might be the most terrible interview you’ve ever read.
An enormous thanks to Daniel Handler, AKA Lemony Snicket, for speaking with us this month for our October Scarefest. Daniel Handler is author of the novels The Basic Eight, Watch Your Mouth, Adverbs, and, with Maira Kalman, Why We Broke Up. His novel, We Are Pirates publishes in the spring of 2015. As Lemony Snicket, he has written the best-selling series All The Wrong Questions as well as A Series of Unfortunate Events, which has sold more than 60 million copies, and was the basis of a feature film starring Jim Carrey. Most recently he was the titular editor for Best American Non-Required Reading 2014 and will host the National Book Awards this November. You can learn more about Daniel Handler and Lemony Snicket, here.
As a publication that focuses on new and emerging writers, our readership is always interested in hearing how the writers that they admire got their start. Can you talk about your beginning? Specifically The Basic Eight and the start of The Lemony Snicket books?
I had just graduated from college and stayed on campus for almost a year working in the basement of the restored mansion at Wesleyan University where they gave poetry readings and things like that. So in exchange for keeping an eye on the place, and laying out catered food and coffee and cleaning up, I had free rent. I worked on a novel that I ended up throwing away, then I moved to San Francisco, which was my hometown, and I began a series of office jobs that paid the most amount of money for the least amount of time so I could work on The Basic Eight. I didn’t know anything about anything in terms of publishing.
It was entirely new and not only was it new to me it was new to anyone I knew — I didn’t know anyone who was doing it. I would read these kinds of magazines that are helping you to be a writer and that always felt to me kind of like scams. I couldn’t put my finger on it. They’re focused mostly on genre writing and the kind of a quasi-professional writing as opposed to artistic writing. I wish there were a nicer way to put it because I have nothing against any of it, I just didn’t think that’s what I was doing.
Part One: Daniel Handler On His Start as a Writer:
“I was working on a mock-gothic novel I was calling A Series of Unfortunate Events. And it wasn’t for children and it wasn’t about children. It wasn’t working at all. That was kind of a terrible time because I had this novel that wasn’t selling and I had maybe 100 pages of a novel that wasn’t working. Even I knew it wasn’t working. As opposed to The Basic Eight, which I thought worked fine but which no publisher had bid on yet. So that was really terrible to think that I was getting worse as a writer. You know, less sellable.”
Part Two: Daniel Handler On Writing For Kids:
“I was trying to do kind of gothic oversized things that were happening to adults over and over and over again and it just became this sick joke.”
“It’s just that the world is complicated and you can’t make a really clear rule about it. That the Baudelaires end up choosing to light a hotel on fire in order to serve as a signal is a terrible choice. And every kid kind of knows that. They know that the rule isn’t hard fast, and yet we pretend that it is, which is weird.”
Part Three: Daniel Handler On His Next Novel:
“We Are Pirates is about some teenage girls and some old people in a retirement home who would both like to get away from the surveillance of their very narrowed and surveilled worlds; they’d like to escape and they’d like to escape somewhere off the map and do something forbidden. And they do and it’s terrible. The moral is: there is no place outside the world. We’re all in it. So you can escape from your own circumstances, but then you’re invading someone else’s.”