Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thirdly, this is the story, and I'm writing it.

Last night I had the fabulous experience of listening to Daniel Handler, who is more commonly known as Lemony Snicket. I'm please to say he was easily the best author speaker I've heard. I'm not please to say, however, that I discovered I am older than him by a few months. Him and his 60 million books . . . but I digress.

The event was a fundraiser sponsored by Ogden School District. Every year they host a dinner with an author as the speaker. Most people have to pay big bucks to get a seat, but I just had to know someone whose mother was on the board of the sponsoring foundation.

The dinner was unfortunate. I mean, it was a themed dinner based on the unfortunate events. It was quite delicious. Cucumber soup, roast pork, cornmeal raisin stuffing, veggies, lemony cake, mmmm mmmmm.

Daniel Handler spoke for over an hour, then took questions for 20 minutes. Then he sign books for what I'm assuming was a least a couple hours afterward. We made it close to the front of the line. He spoke individually to each person in line, calling us by name, making jokes, and being charming in the oddest ways possible.

My favorite Daniel Handler moments/ideas:

  • His first book (not from the Series) was rejected 37 times. Thirty-seven. Wow. I know this is not unusual--that many authors keep trying rejection after rejection. But a number like 37 is unfathomable to me.
  • While he was waiting to find a publisher, an editor suggested he write children's fiction. He scoffed at the idea, because his first book was about a teenage girl who killed her boyfriend--not exactly suitable for young minds. And so he spewed forth an off-the-wall idea about three newly orphaned children and all the horrible things that happen to them. It was, of course, all in jest. The next day the editor called to ask him to write it.
  • His favorite fan letter came from a girl who told him, "I get curious when things happen." He does too, so he always makes sure things happen in his books.
  • Somebody left a cell phone on the podium where he was speaking. It rang during his speech. "This isn't part of the show," he said. And then he answered it. Unfortunately, the caller did not speak to him. So he looked at the phone and said, "How charming, it has a 'dismiss' button." He pressed it and said, "I fully expect that tomorrow this person's boss will knock on his office door and say, 'I'm sorry to inform you Mr. Handler has dismissed you.'" Oh, so funny.
  • One of Mr. Handler's favorite phrases he read in a book when he was a child was something like, "Thirdly, this is the story, and I'm writing it." Of course it was preceded by a first and second point, but young Daniel used to quote it frequently on its own. If he had an argument with his parents, he would use this quote to stop the argument and get his way. Of course it never worked.
  • During Q & A time, the fortunate children of rich parents who are yet living lined up to ask Mr. Handler questions. He clearly warned them that they would be disappointed with his answers. Despite the constant laughter of the audience, he didn't even crack a smile. The kids LOVED this. (My kids didn't get to go because they are neither fortunate nor are they children of rich parents.) Some of my favorites:
  • Q: Who is Beatrice? A: The person who all the books are dedicated to. *blank, silent stare down between questioner and Mr. Handler* Dismissed.
  • Q: Which character in the series is most like you? A: *after a moment of chin rubbing* Lemony Snicket.
  • Q: Where did you get VFD? A: Wow, you credit me with a lot, don't you? It's like before I wrote the series, there were only 23 letters, but then I came up with three more. I'm a genius!
  • Q: Who is your favorite character in the series? A: *after a moment of chin rubbing* Lemony Snicket.
  • Q: *new speaker, her first question* Thirdly, are they going to make a second movie of the series? *after the laughter died down* A: They tell me yes, but I don't believe them.
  • During the book signing part, Mr. Handler spoke to everyone individually. When it was my turn, I wanted him to sign the book to Emma, Kate and Jane. "And this is . . . you?" he asked. I told him they're my daughters. "I'm sensing an Austen theme here," he said. I told him that no, there was not an intentional theme in choosing the names of my daughters. "So they weren't all born in Austin, Texas?"

As a hopefully some-day-in-the-future author, I was inspired by Daniel Handler. His wit was quick, sharp and entertaining, but the thing that stood out to me most was that he is, without fail, true to the stories he wants to tell. He writes the stories he wants to write, and if people want to read them, that's great. If they don't, he'll still write. Today I'm taking a moment to consider my personal integrity to the stories I write.

And I'm still laughing.



Melissa J. Cunningham said...

I'm wondering why I didn't get a phone call to go with you! It sounds absolutely wonderful!!!!

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