Although I was on deadline writing a play, I took time out to go to Book Passage in Corte Madera to see Daniel Handler and Michelle Tea, who were reading from their newest books. I briefly considered blowing it off, since I’d just seen Daniel Handler at City Arts & Lectures and I’d seen Michelle Tea at a recent conference, but I decided to make the trek across the Richmond-San Rafael bridge.
And I’m so glad I went.
Before the event started, I made a quick trip to the restroom in Book Passage’s other building and saw Daniel Handler; his wife, Lisa Brown; their 11-year-old son; Michelle Tea; her partner/spouse; and their baby. They were all hanging out together, perusing and buying books. It was such a sweet literary scene.
Because the two authors are friends, their conversation was lighthearted and cozy. And it was entertaining because they are both extremely fun and interesting people. And Daniel Handler can make me laugh even with stories I’ve heard before. (In addition to seeing him in conversation with Michael Chabon in S.F., I also tuned in to KQED’s interview with him a few days ago. So I expected to hear some of the same material.)
Each of them read the part of their book that involved shoplifting, since they discovered that was a common thread. Handler read from We Are Pirates, his book for adults, and Tea read her memoir, How to Grow Up.
My favorite story was about Handler as a student at Lowell High in S.F. All students were required to take an aptitude test that asked what they wanted to be. Handler convinced a majority of his classmates to check the “other” box and write in “pirate.” It could have been simply a rather harmless prank, but apparently Lowell was being used to represent a huge number of teens across the nation. Imagine the bewilderment of test scorers who discover that a significant portion of our youth were hoping to become pirates. The principal yelled at him, and everyone had to take the test again.
During the Q&A, an audience member asked both Tea and Handler when they knew the wanted to be a writer. Tea knew from age five. Although writing was the first occupation he remembered aspiring to, Handler’s parents told him that when he was very young, he had a different dream: he wanted to be an old man who lived on a hill and dispense advice to those who sought it.
Someone asked how Handler came up with the name Lemony Snicket, his nom de plume for his children’s books. At one point when he was doing some research and needed right-wing material, he called an appropriate source, who asked him for his name. He suddenly realized that he didn’t want his real name to be associated with the material being sent, so he blurted out the first name he thought of—Lemony Snicket. And he liked it so much that when he needed a pen name, he adopted it.
My question, being the copyeditor, was what were they like as authors when they were edited. Did they demand last say on comma placement, or did they tend to take a copyeditor’s changes without fuss? Tea answered first, saying that she was no grammar expert and was happy to have a copyeditor go over her writing. Handler said he can get as uppity about commas as anyone, but he realizes that without copyeditors, he might end up sending a book to press in which he accidentally has a character enter a room twice.
I had already bought We Are Pirates, but I found two Lemony Snicket books that I did not yet own, so I bought those, which Handler stamped on behalf of Lemony Snicket. I wish I’d brought the book I’d bought by Michelle Tea so she could sign it, but I told her that I already had it at home.
It was totally worth taking time out from writing my play. Besides, I came back and pretty much finished it two days early!