Children’s literature author talks about book, alter ego

AddThis

For years, author Daniel Handler has been entertaining readers of all ages with his darkly humorous “A Series of Unfortunate Events” books, written under his more commonly known pen name: Lemony Snicket. To celebrate the release of his new book, “13 Words,” Mr. Snicket will be at BookPeople signing copies of his book.

The Daily Texan spoke with the man behind the melancholic Lemony Snicket about his new book, alternate identities and the state of children’s literature today.

The Daily Texan: Let me ask you about your alter ego, Lemony Snicket. What’s the protocol for managing the “Lemony identity?” When do you identify yourself as Lemony, and when do you go by Daniel Handler?

Daniel Handler: In my experience, it is never helpful for anyone, least of all me, to introduce themselves as Lemony Snicket. In the unlikely case that you are believed, you are immediately in trouble. It’s a similar situation when you introduce yourself as Daniel Handler, but in my case, it has the slim distinction of being the truth.

DT: To what degree do you take on Lemony’s character, and how separate is he from your everyday, “normal” self? Is there a difference in style and tone when you’re writing as Lemony, and does he have a separate voice?

DH: The central difference between myself and Mr. Snicket is not our voices or styles but in our circumstances. I am in almost fantastically lucky ones — circumstances in which my own digressionary and free-floating, off-the-cuff, over-read philosophizing does not necessarily make things worse. Mr. Snicket’s circumstances, on the other hand, are very desperate. I wish him luck.

DT: Your latest children’s book, “13 Words,” examines 13 very important words like “bird,” “cake” and “haberdashery.” How did you — or rather, Lemony — decide on what the 13 most important words are? The significance of the word “cake” is obvious, of course.

DH: I find it hard to believe that anyone who finds “obvious” the significance of cake is then suddenly mystified by “haberdashery.” I will add only that this book was written specifically for Ms. Kalman, the illustrator, so it was crucial to use words that are crucial to her.

DT: What kind of writing were you doing when you were in college, and how would you say your writing has changed since then?

DH: In college, I was mostly a poet. My poems kept getting longer and more prose-y. This evolution has continued. I would only add that a disproportionate number of poems concerned a young woman who is no longer in my ken.

DT: What do you feel about the current state of children’s literature, and how do you think children’s lit is shaping and has shaped the literary world?

DH: Children’s literature, at the moment, is quite inventive and yet has its feet on the ground. It is like many children in that way. I wouldn’t want all of literature to follow its example — I’d hate to see experimental fiction come down to earth, for example — but it seems like a good spot for the genre right now. Children’s literature has always had an enormous effect on readers and writers, though in the past decade or so, this effect has been made more public. As with anything made more public, there are advantages and disadvantages to this, but that’s a question best debated among children’s literature’s practitioners, preferably at a bar.

DT: Who are your biggest writing influences, in general and in terms of children’s authors? What kind of affect do those influences have on your writing style?

DH: I have stolen the most from Edward Gorey, Zilpha Keatley Snyder, Roald Dahl, Lorrie Moore, Vladimir Nabokov, William Maxwell and Mary Robison, and I’m currently circling Raymond Chandler and Louis Couperus.

DT: So far, Lemony Snicket has written strictly children’s books. Do you think he may one day expand into books for adults or teenagers?

DH: I think teenagers and adults read enough Lemony Snicket without Mr. Snicket writing something specifically for them.

DT: Finally, I can’t let you go without asking a few questions about “A Series of Unfortunate Events.” How did it feel when you finally let “A Series of Unfortunate Events” go after 13 books? Did you feel sad, relieved, liberated?

DH: I knew from the start that the series would expire at Volume 13, so I saw the end coming with a mixture of sadness, joy, regret and enthusiasm, as I hope to greet my own expiration when it comes. As with anything close to you when it dies, one is haunted, by figures flickering on a screen and in one’s head.