Sometimes the unexpected happens. I had a different book originally slated for review this upcoming weekend. Then my husband told me of a flyer at our local university that advertised a book reading and signing by a children’s book author whose books we both liked: Daniel Handler (otherwise known as Lemony Snicket), author of The Unfortunate Events series. Needless to say, my plans changed.
Stay tuned this week for trivia about the Unfortunate Event books and the series’ author. By week’s end, I will also post information gleaned from and photos taken of Daniel Handler’s local visit. Of course, on Sunday, you can expect a review of at least the first book: The Bad Beginning. I’m looking forward to rereading it, but hope to also have time to finish the series. Save the dates: June 18-19!
The Fun Stuff
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Arguably Daniel Handler’s most famous works are his Unfortunate Events series written for children under the name of Lemony Snicket. To honor this audience, I have collected some fun trivia that I discovered by searching for online interviews with Daniel Handler.
Favorite books as a kid: Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl, The Blue Osbick by Edward Gorey, and The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder.
Most liked subject in school: English
Most disliked subject in school: Physical education. Says Handler, “In physical education all we had to do was run around in the circle! Then we had those Presidential Fitness Tests where the President decreed that we had to do a certain number of push-ups and sit-ups. That really made me hate Ronald Reagan.”
Favorite Halloween costume: An octopus costume with a bunch of extra legs that had fishing wire in between them so he could move them all at once.
Most disgusting food ever eaten: Rotten shark in Iceland! Says Handler, “It was the worst thing I’ve ever eaten! It felt like cheese and tasted like rotten fish!”
Most boring thing in the world: Folding laundry.
Alternative job to being a writer: English
You can read more fun stuff about Daniel Hander at Time for Kids Specials.
The Serious Stuff
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Besides his Unfortunate Events series for children, Daniel Handler has also written four books for adults. To honor this audience, I have collected some serious tidbits that I discovered by searching for online interviews with Daniel Handler.
Early writings: By the time Handler was in college, he was writing a lot of poetry that was being published in “tiny journals and was winning little student prizes.” This was probably the first time that he began to think of himself as a writer who was producing work that was of merit.Handler still sometimes writes poems, but doesn’t do anything with them. According to Handler in this interview in About Creativity: When he was in college, his poems started getting longer and longer and more and more narrative. A poetry professor of his told him gently that there was actually a tradition of long, non-line-based narrative poetry called “prose” and “There is this thing you can do in which you don’t have to worry that your sentences are long and that you seem to be telling a story.”
Before the Snicket books: He answered phones, sold books, wrote for radio, read manuscripts for a literary agent, played cocktail piano, and reviewed films.
If not for the Snicket books: He’d be in the same boat as most writers: teaching, freelancing, and depending upon the occasional grant. According to Handler in this interview in Something Jewish: “My parents tell a story that when I was five years old I said I wanted to be a philosopher that lived on top of a hill and would give out advice to anybody who climbed up there. I don’t have a memory of that but if so that was the only other career I ever considered.”
The Unfortunate Events Series
Now that I have shared some information about Daniel Handler, I’ll move onto background to his Unfortunate Events books themselves. In doing my research this week for my daily teasers, I sure learned plenty that I didn’t know. What about you?
Inspiration for using a “non de plume”: Robert Benchley used to give a monologue about a bumbling assistant treasurer forced to deliver the speech his boss–absent through illness–had planned to give, even though he hardly understands a word of it.
Inspiration for the series: At a publisher’s party, Canadian editor Susan Rich, urged Daniel Handler to think about writing for children. She insisted and he kept procrastinating, reluctant to consider children’s fiction, because his only idea was too dark. He agreed to meet her at a bar to discuss it. She liked it right away.
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Inspiration for the warnings against reading them: Daniel Handler felt the books would be a disaster if published, because they were so dark and dreadful. When Susan Rich said they had got to put something on the back of the book that would make someone want to pick it up, Handler took a walk round the neighborhood, passed a pharmacy and saw all the bottles in the window with warning labels on them, and that was the turning point.
Approach for the series: Handler is a big outliner and note-taker, meaning he worked out many events in advance but also left room to improvise. According to an interview at About Creativity, he didn’t want A Series of Unfortunate Events to feel “like a coloring book that I had to fill in for the next few years”.
Songs for the audio recordings: A friend of Handler wrote a song for each of the Unfortunate Events books. You can hear the songs at the end of the audio recordings of the books. On the audio recordings, Handler play accordion and some other cool instruments like bug boxes.
To round off my teasers this week for the Unfortunate Events series, I will look at Daniel Handler as a writer. Below is some information about his writing process. Check back tomorrow for a late post about a local book signing and then on Sunday for my review of the first few books in the Unfortunate Events series.
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He works at his Monday through Friday, about 9 AM to about 3 PM, after which he takes a walk. Says Handler, “My day isn’t haphazard, but one can never predict how long it will take until a manuscript is worth reading, let alone until a manuscript is a book. A good part of writing well is writing lousily.
He writes and rewrites for about six hours. He has stacks of notes on what he plans to rework into the text itself, and will consult those notes while typing into a computer or writing into a legal pad, and then he types into the computer what he wrote on the legal pad. While he thinks he tosses unsharpened pencils around the room and eats a lot of raw carrots. He listen to music more or less constantly–for the pirate novel, it’s a lot of classical music from the Romantic era, as it has the kind of swashbuckling dazzle that he desires.
Drafts: There is no such thing as a “complete” draft. He will add to pages, then subtract, then let his wife read them, then subtract again, and perhaps then someone from the publishing industry will read them.
Advice for kids who want to be writers?: Always carry a notebook. And learn how to eavesdrop on conversations and not be caught. To do that, drop something over by the door and bend over to pick it up. Also, pretend that you are not listening. Like if you were at the movies, you can eavesdrop on the person sitting next to you, but you have to stare out into space to pretend that there is no way you could be listening.