In a nice cat’s-cradle of connections, Handler is friends with Decemberists lead singer Colin Meloy, whose significant other is artist Carson Ellis, who’s illustrating the next Lemony Snicket book (The Composer Is Dead). So the Powell’s Books in Beaverton arranged a joint appearance by Handler and Meloy tonight, with Ellis watching from the sidelines enjoying the appearance with the rest of us.
Handler read from his latest novel Adverbs, a series of connected love stories with potentially unreliable narrators. This is one of his books for adults, as are the other books Handler publishes under his own name. He read a scene where a man breaks up with his girlfriend and then immediately falls in love with his taxi driver, who has a last name which “looked like somebody had just dropped their forearm onto the typewriter keyboard.”
Handler has a rather booming voice, with an accent which sounds aristocratic, though not from any obvious region that I can place. Meloy is much more soft-spoken, befitting his geek-rock persona (but the geeks can get the girls; Carson’s cute, in a kind of Kari-from-Mythbusters way), and they initially seemed an odd pair, but friendship is full of odd pairs. And they’re comfortable with each other. Meloy asked questions of Handler. Tidbits from that talk and the Q&A with the audience that followed:
* Handler told of the origin of the name Lemony Snicket, which he used in jokingly cross letters to the editor that he’d write to tiny San Francisco neighborhood newspapers. “I’d pick the most innocuous story and complain about it. I made sure each letter began with ‘How dare you!’”
* He said Adverbs was partly inspired by his friends telling him outlandish stories of falling in and out of love. He mentioned how he’s been happily married “forever” and had not had that sort of drama in his dating life, so he could write about it with some distance and clarity. In fact, an early draft of Adverbs reached about a thousand pages, but he cut it mercilessly…including cutting out most of the inspired-by-real-life stories, because they were too outlandish for an already outlandish book.
* He suggested that anyone wanting to write a long novel (more than 300 pages) should get a permit to do so. “You could still write a long book. You’d need to ask permission, but anyone could get it. Like a gun permit!” When Meloy later mentioned that he currently is reading Susanna Clarke’s behemoth fantasy novel Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Handler added “That would’ve needed the permit.”
* He poked loving fun at his home of San Francisco, which he described as having a civic pride in its preparations for, and a simultaneously fatalistic attitude towards, the likelihood of a giant earthquake leveling it again. He’d followed an official suggestion to store three days’ worth of water in his basement, but then another official suggestion came out: be ready to leave your home after an earthquake, because it might be unsafe due to gas leaks. “I need to have three days’ worth of water on my person at all times,” he sort of ranted. This came up because he explained that Adverbs features a volcano in San Francisco, because when he was in grade school, he thought there was one. (“Maybe I misread a map. That can happen in fifth grade.”)
* Dear Lord: Someone’s written Baudelaire erotica. Said Handler: “They’d keyed off one line in one of the books, which was ‘They stayed up all night worrying,’ and asked ‘Well, what else were they doing?’”
Handler signed books after that, often acting mock-stern with the kids who had Snicket books for him to sign. (Snicket is kind of stern, after all. In the past, by the way, Handler used to go to schools who were hosting a visit by “the real Lemony Snicket!,” and he would tell the children that he was sorry, but Mr. Snicket was unavailable due to some complication in his dangerous research, but that he was there in Mr. Snicket’s stead. Sometimes, he’d refuse to acknowledge publicly that he’d written the Series of Unfortunate Events books at all.)
At my request, Handler signed my copy of Adverbs to Alicia. He also indulged me as I half-spoke, half-stammered through a few questions (yes, I got a little tongue-tied). I told him I imagined what might be neat to happen following the events of the last SoUE novel (The End) – I’ll say no more, to avoid spoilers – and he seemed to find my idea amusing. I then asked me if he’d ever imagined what it’d be like to write from the POV of the Baudelaire orphans, and he said he’d considered it. There are always possibilities (Spock said), but of course he couldn’t promise anything. But no matter what he writes next, I’ll read it. I also admitted to him that “I’d gotten emotional” at the end of The End. “It’s nice to know it has that effect,” Handler said.
* * *
Oh, and another thing: When we lined up to get books signed, I had what my dad would call “a great-good idea.” After I talked with Handler, I returned to the line, but when I got near the front again I detoured to Colin Meloy and introduced myself. “I’m a fan of a fan,” I said. “Have you heard of Caitlin R. Kiernan?” Meloy hadn’t. I described her work quickly (“It’s dark fantasy…Imagine if H.P. Lovecraft and Ray Bradbury somehow had a kid”), said that Kiernan was a big fan of the Decemberists, and suggested that he might like her work.
I then went over to the proper section and picked out some of it: a new copy of her latest novel Daughter of Hounds, and a used copy of Low Red Moon, which leads into DoH. I bought the books, then walked to where Meloy had gone to chat with friends of his, and handed the books to him. He was happily surprised. He asked if the title Low Red Moon was from the Belly song; I blanked on the answer (I’m not up on that band), but he opened the book and found that Belly song quoted as an epigraph. He thanked me, we shook hands, and I headed off to get much-needed food and fluid for my parched throat.
I gave gifts. Yay me! (As I told my folks tonight, “I'm glad that not only do I have money, but that I've reminded myself that I can use it. And gift-giving is a good way to use it.”)
P.S. I informed Caitlin herself that Meloy now possesses some of her work. Her response: “Those are the two I'd have picked. Thanks, Chris. I'm going to go have some sort of fan girl meltdown now…”