Daniel Handler is the author of the brilliant and hilarious novels The Basic Eight, Watch Your Mouth and Adverbs. He sometimes plays the accordion for The Magnetic Fields. He also wrote the murder mystery The Composer Is Dead, which he originally performed with the San Francisco Symphony. Under the nom de guerre of Lemony Snicket, he penned a series of children's books about hapless orphans. Mr. Handler spent a number of years in New York, where he worked as an assistant to a literary agent and drank a lot of bourbon. He is presently quite successful. Coincidence? We think not.
You've said that you work simultaneously on fiction for children and adults. Is it challenging moving between voices? Did you find the Baudelaires creeping into your other work? Or, conversely, did you ever find yourself accidentally sending them on absinthe-fueled murder sprees?
As far as I can tell my fiction for adults and for children is driven by the same voice: unreliable, woolgathery, self-lacerating and romantic in spite of itself. I worry more about this creeping into my real life than anything else.
Living as a broke fiction writer in New York: totally overrated, or deeply formative?
Both, absolutely. I only survived those years by convincing myself that they would look glamorous and bohemian in retrospect. Sometimes they do but not often enough.
Your first novel was rejected thirty-seven times, according to your Wikipedia entry (in retrospect, the idea that The Basic Eight is "too dark" seems almost quaint). We wouldn't have rejected it, because it's awesome. Anyway, what kept you going before your unexpected success as Lemony Snicket? Were you ever tempted to throw in the towel as a writer?
I was sorely tempted but could not think up anything else to do. This is how it is for most writers I know - they soldiered on simply because there was no Plan B.
Maker's Mark. There are some fancy ones that are better, but I assume you're not asking "In the afterlife, what will be served?" but "What's the bourbon you have around the house at all times, so that you might make a Manhattan at a moment's notice?" and the answer is "Maker's Mark," or, as my son says, "the bourbon that looks like a candle."
Who's more fun at parties, Lemony or Daniel?
Mr. Snicket would be invited to more interesting parties - something in a lighthouse with a lot of cloak-and-dagger - but I'm better at making cocktails from whatever's available and suggesting parlor games when things get slow.
You've written very eloquently about the weirdness of suddenly having quite a lot of money. Has it changed your relationship to your fiction? Is it kind of amazing to now have things like making up your own symphony be an option?
It's changed my relationship to fiction in that when I used to visit bookstores I had to limit the amount of fiction I bought to what I could afford. Now I limit it to how much I can carry. (It is indeed amazing to work with a symphony orchestra, but that has less to do with money. The composer with whom I worked on The Composer Is Dead is probably the brokest person I know.)
Some books you've read lately that pleased you?
How's the pirate novel coming?
It was just rejected by a publisher, basically for being too dark. Funny how life goes.