Lemony Snicket comes to Fort Couch

Published Oct 30, 2013 at 6:40 am (Updated Oct 29, 2013 at 4:30 pm)

Literary character Lemony Snicket is an unusual and dark figment of author Dan Handler’s imagination. As Handler spoke to a group of excited students in the library of the Fort Couch Middle School in the Upper St. Clair School District on Oct. 25, the readers of his series of books learned Lemony Snicket is a great deal like Handler, and vice versa.

For a number of years, Handler kept his identity as the author clouded in secrecy, said librarian Mary Grace Kelly. And although Handler has written a number of books without Lemony Snicket as the narrator, he is best known for his 13-book series “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” geared to those in grades 4 to 8. With Lemony Snicket as the narrator, the books follow the adventures of three orphans being raised by their Uncle Olaf and what happens to them, hence the unfortunate events.

The students love the adventures, as do teachers.

“He uses vocabulary that is pretty complex without the kids knowing,” Kelly said after the hour-long lecture. “The vocabulary is very advanced.”

While Handler visited Fort Couch Middle School, the encounter was broadcast live to six additional schools in the Pittsburgh area, including Keystone Oaks. Each district was given the chance to have students ask a question to Handler. Eryn Morgan, the marketing manager for the Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures, acted as moderator and was often the brunt of Handler’s comments.

Handler told the students he always liked coming to Pittsburgh because it fits his personality, dark and with “churning rivers.”

“Walking in desolate places is good,” he said, adding he enjoyed walking what he called “the lonely halls” of the middle school.

When asked by a student from Keystone Oaks if his imagination was stimulate by places he visited or if the locations in the series were made up, Handler said he enjoys desolate locations.

The Lemony Snicket series took him eight years to write.

“I was raising a child and that takes time,” Handler said in his usual deadpan tone. “At least a couple of hours a day.”

The series was made into a movie in 2004 staring Jim Carey, Meryl Streep and Jude Law. Handler said he was affiliated with the movie, but was fired. He did not elaborate and one doesn’t know if he was telling the truth or, like some of the series locations, just making it up. As for the movie, Handler said he was fascinated that instead of shooting scenes at a natural lake, one was built inside an air craft factory building. And as for Jim Carey, Handler told the students, “Jim Carey is a nervous man.”

As he spoke with the students, laughter was heard not only among the Fort Couch students, but those on the screen from the other districts.

He answered “I think of terrible things all of the time. A happy ending is tiresome as you can see it coming. Terrible things seem interesting,”.

A students from the Moon Township district asked when Handler knew he wanted to be a writer.

“My whole like I wanted to be a writer and I carried a notebook and would write things down I thought could be interesting,” he replied. Handler continues to carry a small notebook where he makes reference to people, places or things that appeal to him.

In his early years, Handler said he would staple pieces of paper together to make a notebook. In college, he studied literature.

A Fort Couch student asked Handler’s favorite part of being an author. “The blank paper,” he said. “I start to write and it’s like a snowy field no one has walked on.”

As to why the popular Lemony Snicket series reached 13 books, he said 13 seemed like a nice round number. A baker’s dozen of misery.

For the budding writers, Handler suggested carrying a notebook, like he does, and “eaves drop a lot.”

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