Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Origin story

This interview with noted author and accordionist Daniel Handler is well worth reading all the way through, but I thought I'd highlight this part.

Wired: Speaking of politics, the name Lemony Snicket actually came out of politics, in a way. Can you tell us about that?

Handler: [laughs] I don’t know if that counts as coming out of politics, but I was researching my first novel for adults, which is called The Basic Eight, which is about a girl in high school who kills a boy in high school, and part of it is about the media uproar that follows, and I was interested in cultural commentary, and I began to contact groups that like to appear on TV and state their opinion on things they don’t know about. A lot of those groups are conservative, and I was on the phone with a conservative organization and I wanted their materials sent to me, but I had a sudden thought that I shouldn’t be on their mailing list permanently, and so the woman on the phone asked me my name and I just said the first thing that came into my head, which was “Lemony Snicket,” which was not a name that I’d ever heard before or ever thought of before.

And I thought to myself — during the pause that followed on the phone — I thought, “That was a really terrible name to say. Out of all the fake names you could have given, that’s the least believable one.” And then she just said, “Is that spelled how it sounds?” And I said, “Yes,” and I said, “Read that back to me,” because I had no idea how it sounded like it was spelled. And that was the first time that the name Lemony Snicket existed, and I began to use it for various pseudonymous, prankish things.

I was in my early 20s, and a friend of mine made me some Lemony Snicket business cards for my birthday, and I used to give them out at bars, and I used to write long, rambling letters to the editors of newspapers and sign them “Lemony Snicket.” And so then years later when I started writing for children, it occurred to me that it would be fun to write them and publish them under the name of the narrator rather than the name of the author. And then I had this name lying around gathering dust. So I guess it had its roots in politics, slightly. I don’t know if making fun of right-wingers when you’re in your early 20s really can count as a political movement. [laughs]

The instinct to not get tons of junk mail from angry conservatives is a good one, perhaps part of a larger survival instinct. I never had any idea that it could give rise to something like Lemony Snicket, though.

EDITED so that the paragraphs don't all smoosh together.


susan said...

That was a great article. He really does appear to be a pretty relaxed character, doesn't he? I liked it that he sometimes plays accordion at his book signings.

Baiting conservatives is a dangerous game - the name on short notice was a brilliant choice.

Ben said...

Yeah, I like him a lot. He seems to have a kind of similar personality to Edward Gorey. Although Gorey was famously asexual and Handler is married. I get the feeling people assume both were/are gay.

But yeah, it was a great improvisation. Much better than the John Doe-ish pseud most of us would have come up with.