Daniel Handler Has Not Abandoned Lemony Snicket
(a New York Times interview)
Six years after publishing the final book of “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” you’ve revived the Lemony Snicket character for a new series, which begins with the novel “Who Could That Be at This Hour?” Are you going back on any resolutions to abandon your characters forever?
I always knew he’d come back. I mean, I was ready to abandon the Baudelaire orphans, but I wasn’t ready to abandon Lemony Snicket.
"A Series of Unfortunate Events” had to be pretty scary to a lot of children. What scared you as a kid?
I was scared of a lot. I had an attic bedroom, and I was scared that there were tall trees that someone could climb up and from the tops of the trees leap onto the window.
Leaping on the windows, not through them?
They were considerate demons. They didn’t want to make a mess of a perfectly good window. They just wanted to get me.
I remember being petrified that Ayatollah Khomeini would arrive outside my window on a scaffold.
You have to wonder if dictators muse about how scary they are to certain young generations. Nowadays, with social networking, you could actually just name somebody. That would be terrifying if you were a dictator and you said, “There’s no one I hate more than such and such,” an 11-year-old in Lincoln, Neb.
You’ve been open about both your wealth and support of liberal causes. David Koch once suggested to me that he liked to contribute to specific things because it allowed him, and not the federal government, to decide where his money would go. Do you feel similarly?
No. In fact a lot of the money I give away feels like amends for not having more of my income tax go to those kinds of things. When I support an arts organization or clinics for women, I think I’m making amends. What can I say? I’m grateful that my philosophy is not in line with one of the Koch brothers.
J. K. Rowling was the first writer to make the Forbes billionaire list. Does any part of you blame Brad Silberling, who directed the 2004 “Lemony Snicket” film, which wasn’t a big hit and spawned no sequels, for the fact you haven’t joined her?
You imagine I have complaints about my financial status? Wow. I never thought I would be a writer who made any money. It honestly has never occurred to me that I should be mad at Brad Silberling. He’s a sweetheart of a man, so the idea that you would be mad at him really for anything feels like getting dressed up in a suit of armor and attacking a plate of whipped cream.
You were fired as the film’s screenwriter after writing eight drafts of a script. What was it like visiting the set after that?
My clearest memory was visiting the set in a shutdown aircraft factory in Southern California, where they were building the lake. They said, “Here, you can help us make a decision.” They led me into this room where they had kind of giant casserole dishes of water and different squares of cement painted different shades of gray, and they said, “We’re trying to decide what shade of gray to paint the bottom of the lake.” It was the most boring thing I’d ever looked at in my life.
This is the best job they can offer the originator of the project? Picking the color of the lake bottom?
Oh, they weren’t letting me pick the color, they were just continuing on with their day, and I got to watch.
Did it make you bitter, getting canned?
No, not really. After I was fired, I bought a drink for everybody in the Burbank airport lounge. There weren’t very many people, so it wasn’t as generous a gesture as it might have been. But I said, “I just got fired from Paramount Pictures, drinks on me.” And one of the other people at the bar said, “I was fired by Paramount Pictures a few years ago.” So that felt good.
Any idea whom you might like to have adapt this new series into a film?
I don’t know. The trouble is that I see so many more old movies than I do new movies. When I worked on the Snicket movie, they would say, “Who do you think would be good for Count Olaf?” And I would say, “James Mason.” And they would say: “James Mason is dead and dead a long time. That is not a helpful thing to say.”