"Dissent is the highest form of patriotism."
Howard Zinn, August 24, 1922-January 27, 2010
"Dissent is the highest form of patriotism."
Howard Zinn, August 24, 1922-January 27, 2010
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.
Dear Ones! Flush with the glow of last week's victory, let us not forget that these nasty shenanigans have gone on for a long time, and Bloomsbury is certainly not alone in the deviltry of its practices. This kind of insidious and often difficult-to-recognize racism (well, difficult for white people, anyway) extends far beyond the publishing industry; even really famous people are not immune.
Lots of people asked us whether or not we thought Bloomsbury "did this on purpose." We would've loved to be a fly on the wall of the editorial meeting that happened after Ari's letter started circulating the internets; but the truth is, we don't know, and ultimately, it doesn't matter. What counts here is not intention but effect, and the effect is, in essence, the publishing industry telling people of color yet again that their faces don't deserve to be on the covers of books.
Well, that's a bunch of bullshit. It is so, so awesome that enough people speaking out last week caused a real change in the world. But! a battle is not the war, dear ones, and we still have a long way to go. Rest not your vigil! Slacken not your determination! Be fierce, be angry, be heard!
What most folks don't know about Rosa Parks is that she spent her entire life as an activist before the moment came when she refused to give up her seat on that bus and altered the course of history. You never know when you'll have a chance to make a difference, Author-friends. Even something as small as committing to reading more books by people of color matters; but we are always recruiting for the People's Army of Hell Yes if you are interested. You just let us know.
And so! ONWARD! LET US BE AN UNSTOPPABLE FORCE OF REVOLUTION!
On an unrelated note, we all saw this yesterday, did we not? All we can say is THANK GOD SOMEONE IS TAKING A STAND AGAINST THIS HORROR. As you know, Author-friends, what's wrong with America today is SMALL CHILDREN USING THE DICTIONARY. WE looked up "fuck" on a WEEKLY BASIS as a small child and LOOK HOW WE TURNED OUT. Hateful and deranged, Author-friends, hateful and deranged. Though it is too late for us, we can only hope that the Rejectionists of the future will be spared the festival of depravity that is our wretched, profligate, ostentatious, slovenly, amoral, lugubrious, indigent, misanthropic, dictionary-induced life. No matter if the entire rest of the world thinks America is a nation of morons! To be great is to be misunderstood! MORALITY WILL PREVAIL!
Have you ever wondered what your guardian angel has to tell you?
We have not ever even wondered if we HAVE a guardian angel, or how to locate this esteemed entity, but thank you for asking.
How would your life change if you discovered your Totem Animal?
We already know our Totem Animal; it's the seagull (loud, eats anything, likes the seashore, sort of awkward).
What if you were being chased by a crazed drug cartel through the jungles of South America?
Um, move to France, probably? Wow. You're right, we'll definitely have to think about that one.
Do you have the key to unlocking the secrets of other dimensions?
Oh, Author-friend, we have enough trouble navigating THIS dimension, but we appreciate your concern.
Do you want to inaugurate the New Year by meeting a literary character that can star in a series of potential chapter books that encourage her to find her true destiny as she is helped by a shaman and a werewolf?
No. We would, however, be super excited to have some more of the Secretary of the Navy's $200 champagne, with which to recall our New Year's Eve, if you have any.
Have you ever lost hold of reality?
Um, we are possibly not the person you should be asking this question.
What would you decide if the lives of millions depended on you but to save them would mean giving up your own life?
Depends on which millions. We don't like very many people, and we have a vastly inflated sense of our own importance, so we would probably go with mass destruction.
What would you do if you were told your whole life that your parents were murdered when you were just a baby, only to find out years later that their graves are are empty and the funeral was a hoax?
Shit! We would be PISSED!
What happens when a spark between two people leads to obsession, an unyielding desire that ultimately will destroy the lives of everyone involved and turn deepest love to darkest hate while sowing the seeds of vengeance?
Wait, what? Is this about gardening?
What happens when a group of morally loose drug-using twentysomething musicians decide to ditch their small town and take a last-second road trip?
A bunch of really dumb stuff we don't want to read about?
Have you ever wondered what would have happened if the flying saucer that landed in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947 was part of an alien seeding project and there were alien fetuses on board that are currently being held by the U.S. Government?
Not really. We do like the X-Files. The early ones are SO SCARY, you remember that super creepy one where Scully finds that underground room full of lepers?
Will their plan stay a secret?
Shouldn't YOU know? It's YOUR book.
Why do we define our lives by our failures and shortcomings?
We actually define our life by a metastasizing collection of black faux-PVC leggings worn as pants and our new 1992 Cure Wish tour shirt, OMG THANK YOU UNIVERSE for leaving this delightful item for us to discover at Beacon's Closet.
How’re you doing, honey?
Fine. And now we REALLY don't want to read your book, douchebag.
Well! Lots of times people ask us for writing advices. Honestly, we haven't got any. Our Process: stare out window, check email 34,564 times, look at fashion blogs, plan out how we will spend our first Advance, whine to Support Team re: staggering lack of Rejectionist talent/complete failure as human being/general hideousness of visage, write one sentence, feed cat, repeat. This patented system proves effective about 50% of the time; the other 50% we give up and have a whisky. You can certainly give our method a try, but we don't necessarily recommend it.
So! why don't you try asking someone a little more, um, functional. LIKE YOURSELVES. Relentlessly clever Author-friend/fiancée CKHB has a fabulous mini-series of posts on writing. You should probably wallpaper your home with INTERN 's supremely excellent NaNoReVisMo series. Here is Author-friend Lydia Sharp's take on rules of fiction and why it's okay to break them. Here is a very nice post on criticism from Author-friend Ink, to whom we may or may not have also proposed marriage, we cannot actually remember, and you know you are getting a little ahead of yourself when you cannot even keep TRACK of your fiancé/es, but really being married to us would be, like, WAY MORE than a full-time job, just ask our poor long-suffering Support Team who is not even so unfortunate as to be contractually bound to our person, so it seems only fair to divide the labor, and anyway that hasn't got anything to do with writing, does it. Whooooeeee.
Finally, here is an entry on ehow.com titled How to Have Awesome Writing ("Learn to have awesome writing and be the writer that you dream you can be." Difficulty: Moderate). We hope you find this item as delightful as we did.
What about you, little moppets? What's YOUR favorite writing advices?
BLOOMSBURY REDOES COVER WHOOOOOOOOO. Thanks Ed Anon for posting the link.
P.S. This is hilarious, though. And this is awesome, and we are very pleased someone has said it for us already, because JESUS CHRIST PEOPLE LET'S GET IT TOGETHER WE ARE GETTING A LITTLE TIRED OVER HERE, we are trying to WRITE A BOOK and it is VERY DISTRACTING when our fellow white people keep FUCKING UP ALL OVER THE PLACE.
Martin Luther King Jr., photographed by Alabama police following his February 1956 arrest during the Montgomery bus boycotts.
When we ask Negroes to abide by the law, let us also declare that the white man does not abide by law in the ghettos. Day in and day out he violates welfare laws to deprive the poor of their meager allotments; he flagrantly violates building codes and regulations; his police make a mockery of law; he violates laws on equal employment and education and the provisions of civil services. The slums are the handiwork of a vicious system of the white society; Negroes live in them, but they do not make them, any more than a prisoner makes a prison.
The Trumpet of Conscience, 1967
Last week the lovely Moonrat posted on what kinds of stories it's okay for writers to tell. We followed the comments with great interest, and noticed a fairly significant presence of white writers interested in/wondering how to write characters of color. Well! We have VERY STRONG opinions on this subject (us? strong opinions? who would have guessed?!?!?!) but! we're not going to share them!
Or, not exactly. What we ARE going to do is direct you to a number of fabulous posts by writers of color on this VERY TOPIC. First, the amazing and wildly brilliant writer Nisi Shawl on Transracial Writing for the Sincere. Second, the equally amazing Neesha Meminger on Writing Characters of Color. Here is the very fantastic Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on the dangers of a single story. There are more excellent links in this interview with debut author Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich at Reading in Color (scroll down for the links, but the interview is great too).
Finally, may we also direct your attention to Justine Larbalestier, a white YA author who writes characters of color, on the advantages white writers writing about characters of color have that people of color writing those same characters do not.
As ever, fellow white folks, DO YOUR HOMEWORK. A great place to start is by reading MORE BOOKS BY PEOPLE OF COLOR. And also by hanging out on the many excellent blogs by writers of color, including supreme genius/interview alumnus Carleen Brice and the very smart ladies over at Color Online.
UPDATE: Please also check out this excellent post and the ensuing conversation in the comments. The entire conversation is amazing but there's a discussion about halfway down that focuses on this topic in particular. Thanks to Neesha Meminger for the link.
It's 1948, and Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins is a black war veteran drinking in his buddy's bar, wondering how he's going to make his next mortgage payment. Enter vicious greaseball De Witt Albright, a creepy white man par excellence who has an ostensibly simple request: find the lovely miss Daphne Monet, a blonde with a penchant for black men. Against his better judgment, Easy acquiesces, and mayhem ensues.
How we have managed to overlook Walter Mosley until this year, we have no idea; although in retrospect the oversight seems almost criminal (no pun intended). Like the best of his American noir predecessors, he's a master creator of terse tough men who understand the laws of the street, but in his capable hands the crime novel becomes something far more than a thriller. Mosley's unerring dissections of race and class lend a depth to his work that we'd be hard-pressed to find in any other contemporary crime writer--or any other writer, for that matter. Devil in a Blue Dress is a masterwork, and Mosley's magnificent depictions of 1940s Los Angeles's sleazy underbelly more than give our beloved Chandler a run for his money. We can't wait to get our hot little hands on everything Mosley's ever written.
Nattering on about all the coke you did while you were a stockbroker is not the same thing as "a blistering satire of the corporate world." Even if you are penning this screed in prison, whilst serving out your sentence for divesting helpless old ladies of their pensions. Sorry! We present this item with kittens, so as to soften the blow.
1. Went to see Daybreakers. First 15 minutes: AMAZING. Rest of movie: So dumb we were shouting things at the screen periodically (along with everyone else in the movie theater, so it's not like we were annoying anyone, we promise). During the movie we found ourself thinking, "But this is EXACTLY like when we get an incredible, smart, funny query for something with a genius premise (see a scary, awesome preview for a post-apocalyptic vampires movie) and request the ms with great joy (go see the movie in the theater on opening night because we are so excited) and the first five pages (fifteen minutes) are mindblowing and then suddenly everything goes to shit and we are left wondering if the remainder of the manuscript (movie) is even written (filmed) by the same PERSON, it is so asinine, and we notice more and more plot flaws (plot flaws) and really irredeemable problems (seriously, has Ethan Hawke WASHED HIS HAIR since filming Reality Bites? and also WHY DON'T THE HUMANS JUST GO ON THEIR SUPER PERILOUS MISSIONS DURING THE DAYTIME WHEN THE VAMPIRES ARE ASLEEP? and also DO THEY NOT HAVE BRAS IN 2019? IS A BRA SO HARD TO COME BY IN A WORLD THAT STILL CLEARLY PROVIDES MAKEUP, SHAMPOO, AND LAUNDRY DETERGENT? BECAUSE REALLY WHAT THAT LOOKS LIKE IS A PROLONGED GRATUITOUS BOOB SHOT, GENTLEMEN)" and then we realized we were thinking about query letters while at the movies OMG OUR LIFE IS QUERIES.
2. On the subway home sat across from a young gentleman explaining the plot of his novel-in-progress to his date ("So there's a serial killer, and the cops are chasing him from city to city, and they can't catch him and all the police in all the major US cities are banding together to catch this guy and then the twist is that the SERIAL KILLER IS A LION THAT ESCAPED FROM THE ZOO") and then we realized that we were, like, being queried on the subway, basically, and OMG OUR LIFE IS QUERIES.
3. Went running. Didn't think about queries. Accidentally ended up in the middle of a parade.
1. "Bowl" and "Bowel" (See: "Only she has the power to use the magical Bowel of N'Irthrymia, filled with the Water of Clear Seeing")
2. "Shah" and "Shaw" (See: "Mortimer must fight the evil Shaw of Iran to the death before his terrorist plot to take over the Western World comes to fruition")
3. "Chick Lit" and "Chiclet" (See: "My novel falls into the genre of Chiclet")
4. "Heroin" and "Heroine" (See: "I think you will love my heroin as much as I do")
5. "Feat" and "Feet" (See: "Will his extraordinary feet be enough to save his people?")
And finally: One's interest is "piqued," one "peeks" around a corner, and a "peak" is found atop a mountain. One "pores" over a manuscript to be sure it is free of error, whilst "pouring" the Assistant a much-needed drink.
For what it's worth, we cut y'all a lot of slack in the typo department. Contrary to popular belief, we are also human. But do give proofreading a try in the New Year.
Beloved interview alumnus Kevin Sampsell reads a short story from his collection Beautiful Blemish. You can also check out his best-books-of-2009 recommendations at the Huffington Post (we can wholeheartedly second the recommendation of Theo Ellsworth's Capacity, which will blow the roof off your brain). Yay Kevin!
Ummm, so, no offense to our dearly beloved Support Team and the various (okay, numerous) other persons to whom we have offered our hand in marriage over the brief course of our blogging career; but the author of what is possibly the best font joke in the entire history of the universe is our new future husband. By author we mean Mr. Berta, not Papyrus. Thanks to Author-friend Shirin Dubbin for the link! You're totes invited to the wedding.
1. Do not fuck with the Assistant. Do not even THINK of fucking with the Assistant. Do not send the Agent emails insisting the Assistant has rejected you because s/he is a moron, is underage, cannot read, or could not recognize a work of Great Literature if someone hit her/him in the face with it. The Assistant is, in all probability, much smarter, much more widely read, and WAY cuter than you. Be polite.
2. Do not submit your book unless it is finished. By "finished" we mean "in this very moment of the here and now."
3. No one is fooled by obsequiousness in this office. But a little charm goes a loooooooong way.
4. The Assistant would prefer not to receive photographs of you: in the nude, on vacation, on your deathbed, next to a picture of an international supermodel/Leonardo DiCaprio with the suggestion that s/he should portray you in the film version of your life. The Assistant is also not interested in photographs of Princess Diana even if they prove JFK killed her, but thank you anyway.
5. Do not send the Assistant your tired, your poor, your huddled masses. The Assistant is not Ellis Island. The Assistant isn't interested unless it's GOOD.
6. It ain't the Assistant's fault no one is publishing you, honey.
7. FOR GOD'S SAKE USE A NORMAL FONT AND BY NORMAL WE DO NOT MEAN WINGDINGS
8. It is the Assistant's job to
crush your dreams/spit on your hopes/make you cry pass good things on to the Agent. It is not the Assistant's job to tell you how to write a book, dole out the milk of human kindness, or hold your little Author-hands. Don't ask.
9. Certainly you may buck the conventions of the query letter if your work is too amazing/revolutionary/brilliant to be summarized. Why don't you also try applying for jobs without a résumé, using only your psychic powers. Let us know how that works out for you.
10. Don't write your query letter from the point of view of your main character. Just don't. It never works. Especially if your main character is a SERIAL KILLER CONFIDENTIAL TO THAT DUDE IF YOU EVER EMAIL US AGAIN WE ARE SENDING YOUR HOME ADDRESS TO THE POLICE.
We have had a very pleasing vacance, and now return to you in fine fettle, ready to tear apart your uninspired literary efforts with renewed vigor! Huzzah for us! And you thought we were a terror LAST year!
Over our Winter Vacation we: read not one, not two, but FIVE Scandinavian crime novels (why are Scandinavians so much better at writing crime novels than anyone else? Especially when there is hardly any crime in Scandinavia?), entered the lottery for the New York marathon (!!), consumed approximately six cubic feet of gingerbread, went to the New York City Ballet's Nutcracker (which succeeded in evoking a childlike sense of wonder in even our embittered person), saw the Truly Amazing Power Duo of Jim and Karen Shepard read in a fancy Soho loft (many kisses to our dearest Chérie L'Ecrivain for smuggling us into this Exclusive Event!), weathered our first New York blizzard, drank mimosas with a Famous Children's Book Author, firmed up our Resolutions, and attended a New Year's party at the home of the former Secretary of the Navy. You think we are making that last one up, but we aren't. New York is a CRAZY TOWN, dear goslings!
How about you, Author-friends??? What delightful activities did you engage in? Is everyone ready for an Inspired Decade? Are we working HARD on our little books? HMMMM?