Monday, September 8, 2008

The Daniel Handler Interview (Cameo by Howard Junker)

Daniel Handler is the author of The Basic Eight, Watch Your Mouth and Adverbs and also occasionally plays the accordion with The Magnetic Fields. His alter ego Lemony Snicket has written a series of books for children titled the Unfortunate Events. We sat down to talk before Handler was a participant (with Lynn Breedlove) in Michelle Tea’s Radar Salon Series at the Three Dollar Bill Café where you can get a decent Caesar Salad for under five dollars. Daniel answered my questions and gave me updates on the characters in the Unfortunate Events series. This interview would have been damn near impossible without the kind folks of

Sona Avakian: So you’re Daniel Handler?
Daniel Handler: Yes.
SA: Or you’re Lemony Snicket.
DH: Yes
SA:Or you’re his representative.
DH: Yes.
SA: You’re both. All three.
DH: Well it depends on how you look at it I guess.
SA: I saw a little clip on the Internet on YouTube of you doing a pitch for Obama. Is it true though, that Lemony Snicket is campaigning for McCain?
DH: No, I haven’t heard that. I can’t think of anyone decent and noble who would campaign for McCain.
SA: So Snicket is not campaigning for McCain.
DH: No, that much I know.
SA: That is so good to know. Now, about Beatrice, how close were you to Beatrice?
DH: Me? Not very close at all.
SA: Do you happen to know which First Lady she most admired?
DH: Which First Lady she admired?
SA: Yeah, it’s a political blog, so . . . Bess Truman?
DH: I am so far away from that question. Well I would guess Dolly Madison because she had unusual relationships with men in power and so did Dolly Madison. But whethether or not Dolly was technically a first lady is always open for debate.
SA: Why do you say that?
DH: She wasn’t married to James Madison. I think she was his niece. But she was the first lady in that she was the hostess of the White House.
SA: I think we can call her the First Lady.
DH: I think Madison was the only bachelor.
SA: No, That was Buchanan. I know that from ‘Welcome Back Kotter.’ I think Dolly Madison was the one who carried the stuff out of the burning White House.
DH: Then James Madison was a widower. Most of what I know of Dolly Madison is from the work of Miss Manners who is either Judith Martin or the representative of Miss Manners depending on how you look at it.
SA: Are the Baudelaire kids okay?
DH: Last I heard. I mean okay is kind of a relative term.
SA: Yeah, okay could just mean in perpetual . . . sleep.
DH: Right.
SA: An eleven-year-old girl recently said to me, “When you are reading Lemony Snicket book, the words on the page are like magnets to the eyes." Did Snicket intend to write books that are magnets to kids eyes?
DH: That’s such a difficult metaphor to unpack. That’s why I like it that’s a talented eleven-year-old girl.
SA: Isn’t she though?
DH: Because I’m sure that magnets don’t have any affect on the eyes.
SA: Unless they’re magnetic.
DH: Or metal.

Suddenly I’m aware that someone has been shouting my name and ‘Caesar Salad’ for a quite a while.
SA: [To the counter] I think that was my salad! I’ll be there in a minute.
DH: I don’t think anything is going to happen to that salad.
SA: I hope not.
DH: So the question was did he intend for them to be magnetic? I think the magnetism could be attribute to the same kind of magnetism when there’s a car wreck or a really embarrassing moment on television that you can’t stop looking at. That wouldn’t necessarily mean they’re magnetic or appropriate for your age.
SA: If the conflict of good versus evil finally resolves itself, what do you think will happen to the state of literature?
DH: I think if conflict between good and evil resolves itself, we’ll have so much on minds that I don’t think the state of literature will make the top one hundred thousand even among the literary fanatics.
SA: That sounds like you’re thinking evil is going to triumph. I was sort of hoping for the other way around.
DH: I think it was Borges who said that heaven is a kind of library.

At this point silver haired man wearing a pastel apricot sweater came into the café and caught Daniel’s eye. Daniel waved.
SA: Is that your Dad?
DH: No, that’s Howard Junker of ZYZZYVA Magazine.
Howard Junker made his way through the crowded café to our table.
HJ (to me): Were you at the gym at Koret this morning?
SA: Me? No. I was not at the gym at Koret this morning.
HJ: Okay, I’m Howard Junker. May I join you?
SA: Sure.
DH: Yes of course.
SA: Nice to meet you.
Howard sits down.
DH: We were just doing a brief interview.
SA: Esme Squalor? Can you give us an update on her life?
DH: An update on her life?
SA: Yeah, how’s she’s doing?
DH: Well Esme Squalor strikes me as the kind of person who would say she’s doing well regardless of how she’s doing. So out of loyalty to her own worldview, I would have to say she’s doing well.
Howard gets up to leave.
SA: Sorry Howard.
HJ: May I take a picture of you guys? I’ll take it from far away.

Then kind young man employed by The Three Dollar Bill Cafe brought my salad to the table. I really should’ve tipped better.

SA: So who’s going to show up at the Makeout Room? Daniel Handler or Snicket?
DH: For me the most important thing about the Makeout room is that I’ve heard it’s where Prince plays his after-shows, whenever he’s in town so the question about the Makeout room from my point of view, is if Prince is going to play?
SA: What is the relationship between Lemony Snicket and Count Olaf?
DH: Nemeses.
SA: They’re nemeses to each other? Is that the correct plural, nemeses?
DH: I’m pretty sure.
SA: I hope most people don’t have more than one.
SA: Do you remember this? I've been avoiding ice cream cones.

DH: It was a promotional set of magnets released by Harper Collins in 1999, and you are encouraged to take the magnets apart.
SA: No, I would never do that. I think this is going to be worth money on eBay someday.
DH: Maybe someday.
SA: The foresight I had to purchase this at Clean Well Lighted.
DH: In 1999? [Clue that Prince will be at the next Progressive Reading.]
SA: I think it was 2001. [Clue that he might not.]

Then Daniel looked at my sheet of paper where I had scribbled some questions.
SA: I’m not going to ask you all of these. I have to save some for the Q&A. Michelle said.
DH: I wasn’t looking at them.
He was. Probably begging for the end and I really didn’t want to take up too much of his time, Howard Junker waiting to talk with him and all.
SA: So Interview officially over. Will you sign my book?

We chatted for a few minutes about these topics: Daniel’s first appearance at The Progressive Reading Series, JT Leroy (he never shows up!), and Manhattan hipsters before Daniel excused himself to go talk to Howard Junker and I dug into my salad.

Daniel Handler will be at the Progressive Reading Series on September 20th. Also hitting the stage during the course of the night will be Aimee Bender, Jane Ganahl, Glen David Gold, Katie Crouch, Mariel a la Mode and maybe Prince.