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For author, not an unfortunate turn

Daniel Handler says completing the popular series of Snicket books is just another sign that he's -- yikes! -- growing up.

October 13, 2006|Susan Salter Reynolds | Times Staff Writer

Daniel Handler -- or, as he is more commonly known, Lemony Snicket -- giggles a lot. Reached by telephone at New York's Four Seasons Hotel, he seems to be enjoying the tour for the 13th and final volume in his bestselling "A Series of Unfortunate Events" -- appropriately titled "The End."

Who wouldn't? Handler spends his days meeting grateful readers and his nights playing accordion with singer-songwriter Stephin Merritt at several joint publicity events for "The End" and Merritt's new CD, "The Tragic Treasury: Songs From 'A Series of Unfortunate Events.' " "I end up getting more work done when I'm on tour," he says, referring to his tendency to eavesdrop and take notes. "I start a new notebook with every tour, and I'm already on Page 12."

Handler, who has written two adult novels and a collection of stories in addition to his Snicket books, has a dark literary subconscious; echoes of J.D. Salinger, Edgar Allan Poe and Gustave Flaubert bubble up frequently in his work. Although he dislikes the moralizing in contemporary children's literature, "The End" has strong messages on the perils of peer pressure, the importance of rocking the boat and the impossibility of ever finding a truly safe place in the world. "I'm wary of morals," he acknowledges, "but I have no problem with themes." The books in "A Series of Unfortunate Events" have sold more than 50 million copies combined, yet Handler seems oddly unruffled by the prospect of moving on. His father escaped Nazi Germany before World War II, so he was raised "with a sense of history and the differences between safety and fleeing. People of my religion have a refined sense of when it's time to leave." If he has any doubts about finishing the series, they have less to do with anxiety than with habit, "because I've been taking mental notes for it for so long." Handler met a butcher recently and found himself regretting that he would never get his characters, the Baudelaires, into a slaughterhouse.

What about Handler's own journey to adulthood? The author, who is 36, married his college sweetheart, children's book illustrator Lisa Brown. They live in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district and have a 3-year-old son named Otto. "I was having breakfast with a friend the other day," Handler says, "and we were talking about some mutual friends, a couple who were breaking up. I realized that from now on all breakups would be sad; no more shimmer of gossip, no more 'Let's raise our glasses to change.' It would all be sordid and sad."

Handler realized that he had become an adult when he and his wife attended their first parent council meeting at the slightly "glamorous" preschool they chose for their son.

"I couldn't believe I was a parent and not a student," he laughs.

Handler is now working on a pirate novel for adults; he also is thinking about writing a book on religious fundamentalism that would take the form of a conversation between himself and a religious fundamentalist, although he admits it has been hard to find a collaborator. He will continue to write children's books, just not about the Baudelaires.

Did he have a particular child in mind when he wrote the series, the way Lewis Carroll imagined Alice for "The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland"? He says he's "not at all like Lewis Carroll, but I suppose I pictured myself as a child."

As for his son, "Otto's pretty much done with board books. He's not the gentlest of readers, physically. But he does use books -- and I find this kind of creepy -- to make himself feel better. If he falls down, he'll run to the shelf to get a book we can read to him."

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