Saturday, October 29, 2005

Author: Lemony Snicket

Julia Null Smith has a "real" interview with the mysterious author Lemony Snicket. He (or perhaps his "representative," Daniel Handler) is appearing at the Texas Book Festival today. The humor and wiliness of Snicket and Handler's answers illustrate the genius behind this series.

I asked Handler if Snicket will respond to the boring sorts of questions about influences and work habits that enterprising newspaper writers like to ask. "He'll answer, but he may not answer in the way you expect him to," Handler replied.

And indeed, he didn't. When asked about his extraordinary output -- a book every six months, on average -- Snicket replied, "Well, if you devote your life to uncovering the details of a previously overlooked case, then you have to devote your life to it. It comes at a great cost to my safety and social life. I am grateful to you for complimenting my work."

When asked specific questions about the story itself, such as a query about the evil VFD organization (an acronym that might stand for Valley of Four Drafts, Volunteers Fighting Disease, Village of Fowl Devotees, or, my personal favorite, Very Foul Dogs), Snicket dodged them with practiced skill: "The VFD is something about which people should not ask, lest they find themselves in danger."

But you were a member, yes?

"I don't think I should confirm or deny my membership in any secret society, partly because the punishment for crime in Texas is so severe, and I need to tread very carefully."

Can you tell us about the tattoo of the eye you and all members of the VFD allegedly have on your ankles?

"I also don't believe I should answer any questions about my intimate personal appearance. I haven't asked you any questions about your tattoos, have I? Or, actually, since you live in Texas, you might have a brand."

It was quite a performance, all this playing-to-the-balcony, booming-voiced theater. As is, indeed, all of the Snicket series. Count Olaf, for instance, is an actor by trade, and his first attempt to steal the Baudelaires' fortune happens literally on stage. In the eighth book, "The Hostile Hospital," Snicket laments, "I feel as if my whole life has been nothing but a dismal play, presented just for someone else's amusement, and that the playwright who invented my cruel twist of fate is somewhere far above me, laughing and laughing at his creation."
Snicket may not be laughing, but he sure seems to be having fun -- and neatly dodging dull questions about where he gets his ideas or what his influences might be. Asked if readers will find closure in the final book, he replied, "The best way to find closure is to leave the book closed. If you never open the books at all, then you will be quite satisfied with them."

For those who have already tasted the delicious dissatisfaction of the "Unfortunate Events" books, Snicket's Austin appearance this morning will surely be another fine piece of theater -- even if he sends his "representative," Daniel Handler. "I have every hope of making my Austin appearance," Snicket said, "though events beyond my control have conspired to keep me out of Texas before."

What sort of events?

"Everything from large beasts to Homeland Security."

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