Lemony Snicket is a real person ... more or less.
As anyone who has read his celebrated tales will deduce, the author-narrator is a wizard with language and uses this skill to relay his obsession with dark, twisted themes. His accounts of the Baudelaire orphans in "A Series of Unfortunate Events" have sold more than 27 million copies in 39 languages. Currently, the film version (starring Jim Carrey) of these "children's stories" is No. 1 at the box office.
It's been a good year for Mr. Snicket -- and for author Daniel Handler.
Calling from his hometown of San Francisco, Handler is learning that his alter ego may have the marquee name, but when it comes to interviews the 34-year-old writer is the one responsible for indulging the media.
Q: Usually only superheroes have an alter ego. When does a writer warrant one?
A: All the time. The number of writers who use the name they were not given seems often to only dwarf writers who use their actual names. I suppose because writers like to make things up -- hopefully not journalists -- but writers like to make things up, and so a name would be one more thing to make up.
Q: But isn't there a difference between a pseudonym and an alter ego?
A: I would admit it's something of a gray area. With the movie for example, when a movie does something like this they're very interested in making sure they own all the rights to all the characters. And we couldn't give them all the rights to all the characters, because one of the characters is more or less me. It was very exciting for the lawyers involved, because it was finally an issue that had never come up.
Q: Did you fear Jim Carrey would turn "Lemony Snicket's" into a JIM CARREY MOVIE, which would somehow take away from the nature of the books?
A: I'm puzzled by the notion that a movie would in some way take away something from the books. People who are interested in the unfettered vision of the author should turn to the books. People who are interested in an interpretation of that story should come to the screen. I can't imagine one would cast Jim Carrey then hope desperately he wouldn't add anything to the film. He certainly made Count Olaf his own kind of villain, which in some ways is different from the Count Olaf in the books. But I don't think that diminishes the books in any way.
Q: I assume when you envisioned the narration, you normally hear your own voice. Is it comfortable now hearing Jude Law be the narrator?
A: My wife finds it very comfortable. For a while there was talk that it was going to be my silhouette and only the voice of Jude Law, and my wife was very upset about that. She said that she'd not been lighting novena candles and praying to an altar for the personality of Jude Law and the body of her husband. It was actually the opposite she was looking for.
Q: Was Hollywood apprehensive about the dark themes of the books?
A: The thing with Hollywood is it's not really an entity. It's really a whole bunch of people, many of whom are insecure. So there was much discussion on every single point of the movie, and then hundreds of other points that aren't in the movie at all. Certainly the darker aspects were a source of enthusiasm for some and worry for others.
Q: What is the first movie you remember going to see?
A: The first movie I ever saw in a theater was "Bambi" -- speaking of dark themes.
Q: What was your last job before going full time into writing?
A: Failed writer (laughs). I moved to New York a few years before I got published, and I didn't really have a job. I just had a bunch of tiny little piecemeal jobs. So my last full-time job was writing for Japanese radio shows. And writing would really be a dramatic term because I was mostly saying, "And that was The Gin Blossoms, and here's Alanis Morissette."
Q: What's the worst experience you ever had during a book signing?
A: A number of nasty parents, I guess. Sometimes there'll be two nasty parents in a row, and they'll have two extra books to sign for children who aren't there. And this has really happened 10 times, (and it turns into) a sort of ghastly auction of misery to get me to write a special message -- which I'm always happy to do. But they're always pushing one another and saying, "It's my son's friend, and he's in the hospital." And the other one says, "Oh well, my daughter's friend is also in the hospital, and she has cancer." Then the first one will say, "Well this boy has cancer, and the treatment has made him blind." It's this horrible one-upsmanship.
Q: Can you tell me what is in a Lemony Snicket cocktail?
A: There have been many variations, but the original was a great deal of lemons, some bitters and Australian white rum -- which is only because there was a bottle of Australian white rum in the house when we were inventing it. I'm not normally much of a rum drinker, so when somebody makes one now it's generally with gin.
Q: Did they serve those at the film's rap party?
A: The people who made the movie didn't like the cocktail, I remember. So I think they devised their own Lemony Snicket cocktail. I've had a number of cocktails called Lemony Snicket and a number of desserts called Lemony Snicket, and I've met a great number of cats named Lemony Snicket. I think the name has eclipsed certain recipes. So you can tell your readers if you have a bunch of lemons lying around and liquor of any sort, they can for sure make a Lemony Snicket. That will be a great relief to the people of Lawrence.