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Daniel Handler
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Daniel Handler   Daniel Handler (a.k.a. Lemony Snicket) is the international bestselling author of A Series of Unfortunate Events, which have sold over 60 million copies and have been printed in over 40 languages. Daniel Handler was awarded the Colorado Children's Book Award, the Nevada Young Readers Award, the Nene Award, three IRA/CBC Children's Choice Awards, best book prize at the Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards, and a 2006 Quill Book Award. His books have also been adapted into a video game and a blockbuster movie staring Jim Carrey.

Buy Daniel Handler's Books at the following locations: (downloadable audio books) (independent bookstores)
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This episode originally aired on 01/28/2010 with the following authors:
Note: The following interview has been transcribed from The Author Hour radio show. Please excuse any typos, spelling and gramatical errors.

Interview with Daniel Handler

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Matthew Peterson: Hello everyone and welcome to The Author Hour: Your Guide to Fantastic Fiction, which can be found at Iím your host, Matthew Peterson, the author of the young adult science fantasy novel Paraworld Zero. Last week I had a dragon and creature episode with Dean Koontz, Christopher Paolini, R. L. Stine, and Todd McCaffrey. This weekís theme is magic, mystery, and zany worlds with Daniel Handler (also known as Lemony Snicket), Brandon Mull, Maria V. Snyder, and Obert Skye.

My first guest is Daniel Handler (who also writes as Lemony Snicket), the international bestselling author of A Series of Unfortunate Events, which has been printed in over 40 languages and has sold over 60 million books. He was awarded three International Readers Association Children's Choice Awards, best book prize at the Nickelodeonís Kids' Choice Awards, and a Quill Book Award. His series has also been adapted into a video game and a blockbuster movie starring Jim Carrey and Meryl Streep. Welcome to the show, Daniel.

Daniel Handler: Thank you. Itís a pleasure to be here.

Matthew Peterson: So The Basic Eight came out in 1999, the same year that The Bad Beginning came out. And then several more books came out back-to-back. What got you interested in writing in the first place?

Daniel Handler: Oh, gosh, in writing? Well, I canít remember a time when I didnít want to be a writer. I was a ravenous reader and since I could write I was making up stories, so . . . [laughs] it was a lack of any kind of other plan, I think, that lead me into writing. I wanted to be a writer when I was five, and then when I was 22, I graduated from college and then I still wanted to be a writer. And most people had put away foolish things in order to do something sensible.

Matthew Peterson: Yep.

Daniel Handler: But I just sat there.

Matthew Peterson: When I was a kid I told my dad I wanted to be a writer and he said, ďThatís great . . . as a hobby.Ē [laughs]

Daniel Handler: Oh yeah. My mother always said, ďYou can quit your very successful medical practice when your novel sells.Ē But I had no acumen to do anything else.

Matthew Peterson: Well, what was your reaction when you saw your books start to hit the New York Times bestseller list?

Daniel Handler: I was very, very shocked. A Series of Unfortunate Events appearing on the New York Times Bestseller list coincided with the creation of a New York Times Bestseller list for childrenís books. And so my publisher told me, ďOh, in a few weeks theyíre going to create this new bestseller list, but weíre afraid youíre not going to be on it and hereís why . . .Ē And then a few weeks later [laughs] it appeared and I think the first week I had four volumes on it.

Matthew Peterson: [laughs] Oh, man!

Daniel Handler: It was unbelievably shocking. It also coincided with my move out of New York back to San Francisco, my home town. And on the first night that I arrived in San Francisco I met some old friends for dinner at a restaurant and we were all excited I was back in town. And then I had this tremendous xerox copy of the New York Times Bestseller list, so it was an extremely giddy evening for me. And itís a giddiness thatís lasted almost ten years now.

Matthew Peterson: Oh, yeah, yeah! Well, for the two or three people out there who havenít read the books or seen the movie yet, give us a little brief overview of what A Series of Unfortunate Events is about?

Daniel Handler: Well, itís basically what it sounds like. Itís about terrible things happening over and over again to three orphans: Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire. Most of the terrible things that happen are caused by Count Olaf who is a vain and untalented actor but an extremely talented villain. So things get worse and worse and worse for them. Itís exactly the kind of book that I wanted to read when I was 10. I always was hoping that something more dreadful would happen, when I was reading any book, than invariably what did happen. I seemed to have finally made my 10-year-old self quite happy.

Matthew Peterson: Yes, yes. Well, I listened to the audio books. And itís a totally different experience to actually listen to it. Thereís some funny music, some singing in between some of the chapters. Itís very well done.

Daniel Handler: Yeah, that music is by Stephin Merritt of the pop band The Magnetic Fields.

Matthew Peterson: Ah, okay.

Daniel Handler: I sit in with that pop band on accordion from time to time and I asked him to write a song for each volume of A Series of Unfortunate Events, which he did, along with some kind of incidental music and then all that music was collected and released when the final volume was released on an album called The Tragic Treasury.

Matthew Peterson: So some of the accordion is actually you playing?

Daniel Handler: Thatís right.

Matthew Peterson: Ha, ha!

Daniel Handler: Iím a self-taught accordionist. Never had a lesson in my life.

Matthew Peterson: Never had a lesson, huh? Iím a self-taught harmonic . . .uh . . . playing the harmonica, I donít know what you call it, harmonicist? [laughs]

Daniel Handler: [laughs]

Matthew Peterson: Well, thatís a very unique instrument, Iíll tell you that.

Daniel Handler: Itís a wonderful back-up career to have, if youíre trying to make it in fiction.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

Daniel Handler: You can always lean on your accordion skills.

Matthew Peterson: Well, the last book came out just a few years ago: The End. What was it like after writing all those books, having just major success, even a movie.... What was it like writing the final book?

Daniel Handler: It was a bitter sweet experience. Iíd had the ending in mind the whole time I was writing and so it was very strange to actually reach this place that Iíd dreamed up in my head almost a decade previously. So it was very shocking. [laughs]

Matthew Peterson: Did you have a lot of pressure from people saying, ďYou gotta really make this a happy ending. Theyíve had so many horrible experiences, youíve got to turn this around.Ē Did you have some pressure?

Daniel Handler: Maybe some pressure from readers. Certainly people wrote me and suggested that I at last give the Baudelaireís some peace and quiet. But I didnít have any pressure ever from my publisher about the content of the books or anything like that.

Matthew Peterson: Oh.

Daniel Handler: I told them at the outset that it was going to be nothing but dreadful, and they believed me.

Matthew Peterson: [laughs] Do you ever expect any more books in the Baudelaire orphan world?

Daniel Handler: Well, in their world perhaps. Iím at work on a new series now that has some overlaps with the story of the Baudelaireís but itís also an entirely different story.

Matthew Peterson: Not with the same characters, the Baudelaire orphans?

Daniel Handler: Yeah. The new series is still kind of fetal at this moment, and so I donít talk about it for fear of bad luck.

Matthew Peterson: Yep, yep.

Daniel Handler: It takes place in the same world, but not always the same people.

Matthew Peterson: Well, the movie came out and was a great success as well. I mean, you had Jim Carrey there as Count Olaf. What was your impression of the movie?

Daniel Handler: Well I worked on the movie for quite some time. I was hired to write nine drafts of the screenplay and then I was fired.

Matthew Peterson: Nine drafts? [laughs]

Daniel Handler: Nine drafts. [laughs] So the movie took five years to make and so it was a long process, and as one can imagine things ranged from giddy happiness to absolute despair. But overall it was a worthwhile experience for me, certainly. I have a policy about never saying anything mean about a movie that bought me a house.

Matthew Peterson: Oh, yeah, yeah. It was a . . .

Daniel Handler: I actually feel the same way about people. If you bought me a house I would say, ďI donít care what you say about Mr. Peterson. I say heís a nice guy.Ē

Matthew Peterson: Well, good. [laughs] What about like a matchbox house or something like that? Something small?

Daniel Handler: A matchbox house, in which to keep my match boxes?

Matthew Peterson: [laughs] Oh, yeah.

Daniel Handler: Or made of matches?

Matthew Peterson: Either one.

Daniel Handler: [laughs] Iíd have to see it first. I donít like to move into houses until Iíve looked them over.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah, highly flammable, though, if itís made out of matches, though.

Daniel Handler: Yeah, I suppose that would be true.

Matthew Peterson: So you spent like five years on all these drafts. Is there any possibility of a sequel? Sequel of the movie?

Daniel Handler: Well, theyíre working on a sequel. At the rate at which they make movies, theyíre right on schedule. Although, itís already been five years since the movie was released. So supposedly theyíre working on another one. I donít think itís time yet to get in line.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. Theyíd have to get probably new kids. Theyíre probably going to have kids themselves by the time it comes out. [laughs]

Daniel Handler: Oh, yeah. Those children are all in their 50's by now.

Matthew Peterson: Yep.

Daniel Handler: The young actor, Liam Aiken, who played Klaus Baudelaire actually had his growth spurt and his voice change while shooting the movie.

Matthew Peterson: Oh.

Daniel Handler: And so [laughs] by the end of filming, Violet would have to stand on something to appear taller than him.

Matthew Peterson: Oh, thatís funny. Iím a little boy. [makes voice crack]

Daniel Handler: [laughs]

Matthew Peterson: That is funny. Well, youíve written some other books as well that have come out since that series like Adverbs, which is not a kidís book; itís kind of a love story with adults.

Daniel Handler: Yeah, I was writing for adults under my own name all along, which passed deliciously under the radar. Adverbs is the most recent one, and itís about a bunch of people in love, about different kinds of love. And Iíve just finished a new novel that is about pirates.

Matthew Peterson: Okay. Whatís a date of that one coming out?

Daniel Handler: Itís suspected it will come out sometime in 2010, but again, you know, publishing is a mysterious business.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

Daniel Handler: More mysterious and sinister than what happens to the Baudelaire orphans is what happens in the halls of publishing . . .

Matthew Peterson: [both laugh]

Daniel Handler: Assuming there are still publishers next year, adhering to the schedule, I suspect it will come out next year.

Matthew Peterson: [laughs] Yeah, the world might end in 2012, you know.

Daniel Handler: Thatís what . . . [laughs]

Matthew Peterson: [laughs] Gotta get it before 2012.

Daniel Handler: The world might end in 2012, but publishing may end even sooner.

Matthew Peterson: Yep. [laughs] Well, is there anything you can tell us about the pirate book?

Daniel Handler: It is about an attempt by people living in the present day to become pirates in the classical mode in the waters in the San Francisco Bay. And it is not a very successful attempt.

Matthew Peterson: Ahh. Is this book for adults or for children?

Daniel Handler: It is for adults.

Matthew Peterson: It is for adults, okay. Well, thatís great. I saw a little video online of The Composer is Dead.

Daniel Handler: Mmm.

Matthew Peterson: And I thought that was very interesting. Doesnít the book itself come with the CD?

Daniel Handler: Well, The Composer is Dead began life as a project commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony. Itís a work for a narrator and an orchestra. The music is by a composer named Nathaniel Stooky with whom I went to high school. So he and I literally ran into each other on the street years later. And I had become a writer and he had become a composer and we decided to collaborate. So it started out as this work for a narrator and orchestra. Itís been performed all over the world by different symphony orchestras. Sometimes with me as the narrator and more often with other people. And then it graduated into a recording by the San Francisco Symphony, and then the recording is tucked into the back of a picture book that Harper Collins put out last year.

Matthew Peterson: Okay. Yeah, I saw that and it was really interesting. And the video I saw, you were there, and there was an orchestra behind you. And you were reading the book.

Daniel Handler: Yeah. Itís great fun to travel around and rehearse with these symphony orchestras, particularly because the piece basically makes fun of symphony orchestras. So we try to offend at least one musician wherever we bring the piece.

Matthew Peterson: [laughs] That is funny. Do you do very many visits, like school visits and library visits or things like that?

Daniel Handler: Oh, absolutely, yeah.

Matthew Peterson: You do. When you go to school visits, do you go as the Lemony Snicket character or as yourself, Daniel Handler?

Daniel Handler: Well, Lemony Snicket is always scheduled to show up, but he has never made it.

Matthew Peterson: Ohhh.

Daniel Handler: And so I am always sent in his place.

Matthew Peterson: [laughs]

Daniel Handler: Kind of bewildered and clearly dishonest. But it is my experience that children at school are used to an adult standing up and lying to them, so theyíre not shocked by it.

Matthew Peterson: [laughs] That is funny. Do you have any fun experiences of when you go in front of schools? Any like, ďOh, we want Lemony! We want Lemony!Ē

Daniel Handler: No, it is generally the parents who are the first to believe that something has gone wrong. Whereas the children find me just as disreputable as an author, and so theyíre kind of equally entertained. Iíve had very few complaints from children but a number of complaints from kind of uppity parents.

Matthew Peterson: Iíve heard some interesting stories about the Lemony Snicket persona, why you picked that character. What were some of your reasons for getting this Lemony Snicket pseudo-name?

Daniel Handler: Well, as I was writing the books, the books had this unreliable narrator, and I just thought it would be fun to publish the books under the name of the narrator rather than under the name of the author because I was a fairly uninteresting person writing childrenís books, whereas Lemony Snicket has a life that is full of intrigue and adventure. And one of the things that I have always loved about books when I was a child was just the shear mystery of them. That it was often a story that you didnít know if it was true or not. And I wanted to try and recapture some of that old mystery.

Matthew Peterson: Well, unfortunately itís time for a break. Unfortunately. [laughs]

Daniel Handler: Iím sorry to hear that. As it unfortunate that surely you must savor a break from time to time.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. Well, Iíve been speaking with Daniel Handler (also known as Lemony Snicket), the international bestselling author of A Series of Unfortunate Events. Thank you so much for being on the show today, Daniel.

Daniel Handler: Oh sure. My pleasure.

Matthew Peterson: Alright, make sure you visit to listen to Danielís bonus question. Stick around. Iíve got Brandon Mull coming up next, followed by Maria V. Snyder and Obert Skye.

  Read or Listen to the extra questions that didn't make it onto the live show.  

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