Daniel Handler Gets Real in New Memoir: 'If You're Not Scared, You're Not Really Writing' (Exclusive)

The "Series of Unfortunate Events" author, who is also known as Lemony Snicket, reveals mental illness and his path to art in his new book, out now

<p>Meredith Heuer; Liveright Publishing</p> Daniel Handler and his new book

Meredith Heuer; Liveright Publishing

Daniel Handler and his new book

Even if readers don’t know Daniel Handler’s name, they’re likely at least passably familiar with his alter ego, Lemony Snicket. Since 1999, the author has introduced generations of readers to the delightfully depressing world of the Baudelaire orphans. The 13-book series has sparked a movie, a TV series, a video game and countless imaginations.

Now, Handler’s new memoir And Then? And Then? What Else?, out May 21 from Liveright Publishing, lets readers into a new kind of world than they've come to expect from Handler: His own.

“I think to a certain extent if you're not scared, you're not really writing,” says the author, when asked how he feels about the book coming out.

<p>Liveright Publishing</p> Daniel Handler's new book

Liveright Publishing

Daniel Handler's new book

“Previously, people have suggested that I write a memoir, and all I could think of was books with, ‘Chapter one, I am born. Chapter 187, what I had for lunch last week,’” he adds. “And so I didn't want to write a book like that, but as soon as I saw that the book could be guided by the literature that I love, that was interesting to me.”

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True to form, the book explores Handler’s own experience with a mysterious mental illness that gave him hallucinations, his sexuality and path toward becoming a writer, as well as lots of cultural exploration, stories and tasty literary tidbits along the way. The book's format fits with the way the author, and people in general, gather material from the world around them by living in it, he explains.

“A favorite topic of conversation at a dinner party is to hear from people what they remember or scared them when they were young that really, really kept scaring them,” Handler says. “A little scene in a movie that they were not old enough for or a trailer or something strange on a cover of a book or anything like that.”

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Looking back at his own books, it was easy for Handler to see how “some couplet in a pop song or some little anecdote that somebody says, some little comic strip” found their way into his work. “And just the idea that our minds pick these things up and then oftentimes you end up using them in some way you're hardly aware of, it's interesting to me.”

Even though the Series of Unfortunate Events universe has found quite an array of followers — his books have been translated into 41 languages and sold over 60 million copies worldwide — Handler hasn’t lost the nervous feeling that putting work out there instills in just about all creatives.

Joe Lederer/Netflix A still from 'A Series of Unfortunate Events,' based on Handler's series by the same name
Joe Lederer/Netflix A still from 'A Series of Unfortunate Events,' based on Handler's series by the same name

“There's always a moment where the publisher will say to me, ‘Okay, this is it. We're drawing up the drawbridge. There's nothing else you can change. Are you ready?’ Handler muses. He admits that he tells them he is, but he isn't always sure."I say, ‘Yeah, absolutely, it's great.’ And then usually about 10 minutes later I think, ‘Oh no, I should have changed this part.’"

One of the toughest parts of the writing process for Handler is knowing when to let his work go out into the world, even if it isn't flawless in his mind.

"I just have to do a self-hypnosis of, ‘Remember it was the best you could do at the time. Time marches on,’” he explains. “I just have to know that that is, for me at least, part of the process of being a writer is to still struggle with work that I did and still try to figure out if it's as good as I want it to be.”

<p>Duhamel/Paramount/Kobal/Shutterstock</p> Emily Browning, Jim Carrey and Liam Aiken in the movie version of 'A Series Of Unfortunate Events'


Emily Browning, Jim Carrey and Liam Aiken in the movie version of 'A Series Of Unfortunate Events'

The fact that this book tells his own mental health journey for the first time adds another layer to that, too. But Handler says he’s gratified by early responses he’s gotten from sharing his story.

“I think I just hit a point where I felt ready to talk about it,” he says. “I've already heard from several people who have said, ‘This really was important to me. I've been through this and I've been through something similar, and I never knew anyone had anything like this, and thank you so much for telling me.’ So that feels worthwhile to me.”

He hopes that the book finds readers who fall in love with it just like they have with his Lemony Snicket creations.

“You can have that feeling that the reality of the book is more pressing to you, more immediate than the actual world,” Handlers explains. “You can think, ‘I can't wait to be done with the stupid stuff that I'm doing so I can go back and reopen the book and see how it is.’ …I just think that ought to be a kind of goal for every writer because it's such a powerful experience.”

And Then? And Then? What Else? is out May 21 from Liveright Publishing Corporation.

If you or someone you know needs mental health help, text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to be connected to a certified crisis counselor.

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