Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket, spoke to fans of all ages Nov. 18 at Blaine County’s newly renovated
Community Campus Auditorium Wood River High School Performing Arts Theater. A successful writer of adult and children’s fiction that has been translated into 40 languages, Handler is most well known for his 13 novels titled A Series of Unfortunate Events about the misadventures of the Baudelaire orphans.
The books are written under the pen name Lemony Snicket, which Handler said he devised off-the-cuff while answering phones at a job in the Computer Science Department of the City College of San Francisco, a phrase that rolls off Handler’s tongue as easily as the words in his books are read out loud by a parent.
To open his talk, Handler reviewed a local news story about a hit-and-run accident involving a Chevy Camaro and a box of beer—an incident in which no one got hurt. The story sounded promising from the lede, but it failed to provide the real elements of gothic novels of which Handler is a fan.
“More is the pity that no one is writing them,” Handler said.
It was one of the few critiques Handler had of contemporary literature during his lecture, which he presented as a story that wove together his path to writing successful fiction with events in his real life. Handler said he regularly sent letters to editors at small newspapers lambasting proponents of various mundane issues. He would open the letters with “How dare you,” and sign them, “Lemony Snicket.”
Though Handler has seen much success since the 1998 publication of his debut novel, The Basic Eight, he said he misses the scorn he had as a child, something that prompted him to throw books at the wall when they dissatisfied him, seemed too moralistic or when nothing interesting happened.
In fact, Handler keeps a picture frame on his desk with the saying “remember to brood,” a reminder that has served him well by all accounts.
One particularly compelling story Handler told was about his grandmother, who transferred the family fortune into a handful of diamonds that she stowed in the heel of her shoe, a plan that allowed the family—including Handler’s father—to escape Nazi persecution by emigrating to the United States in 1938.
Many rousing questions were asked at the close of the evening.
One included: “Why does it say on the back of your books not to read them?
Handler replied: "These books should have a warning. It is sensible to warn people away from terrible things.”
When asked what the most unfortunate event was in Handler’s life, there was a long pause before he answered:
“Two things come to mind,” he said.
One was about having seen a man drown and the other was about stepping into a bowl of oatmeal in his stocking feet. After the lecture he said it was a hard question because it makes you think of things you would rather not think about.
Handler gave a disappointing response (groans were audible) to the question “Who is Beatrice?” the person to whom Handler’s books are dedicated.
“You were promised answers, not satisfactory answers,” he said, stirring laughter from the crowd, which lined up to the back of the auditorium for a book signing.
Handler put a library stamp in each book, then signed and dated as if he was the librarian.
“To Sam with admiration and dread,” Handler wrote in one boy’s book.