Author of A Series of Unfortunate Events, Daniel Handler, has recently published three collections of poetry through his once-off, independent publishing company Per Diem Press. The idea for the press came about as a result of the per diem payments accumulated by Handler while on the set of the Netflix adaptation of A Series of Unfortunate Events. Handler did not spend the money he was given per day to cover expenses while on set, and so he decided to use what came to a significant amount, in order to publish an unknown poet.
The competition ran last year, and received no less than 1,200 entries, the standard of which was so high that Handler was unable to select just one winner. Last month, the three winning chapbooks, jurassic desire by Rohan Chhetri, first one thing, then the other by Elizabeth Clark Wessel, and ‘”fish walking” & other bedtime stories for my wife’ by Anissa White, were published.
We caught up with Daniel Handler to talk about Per Diem Press, his admiration for the winning authors, the best advice he’s ever received and more…
You’re famous for your novels, especially A Series of Unfortunate Events. With Per Diem Press, what made you choose to publish poetry over prose?
I started out writing poetry, and even since floating over to prose, carry a mad, blazing candle for verse and its practioners. Some chapbooks seemed the way to go.
Initially, the intention was to publish a chapbook by a single poet, but this changed to three, Rohan Chhetri, Arisa White and Elizabeth Clarke Wessel. What made you change your mind?
I loved these three chapbooks too much to choose just one.
What about these poets really stood out to you?
Chhetri’s poems are like tiny sharp pinholes exposing a bright strobe of a world just under the one we’re wandering around. Wessel’s give me more the feeling of the first time you hear a pop song so good that the chorus seems inevitable even before you hear it, so you’re already singing along. And the work of Arisa White is like a new species of turtle first recorded when it appeared on your breakfast table, so now the whole day is new and strange.
How long did it take you to read all 1,200 entries?
Forever. I would take three or four with me and sit in a cafe, then come home and read a few more. But if you read too many chapbooks in a row you get very wiggy. One has to pace oneself.
Have you thought about publishing a collection of your own poetry?
To the great relief of the nation I will publicly state that the little poetry of mine extant is not enough to fill a book, let alone good enough to publish.
Per Diem Press came about as a result of the expense money you were given while on the set of the Netflix adaptation of A Series of Unfortunate Events. How did you find the experience of watching your work come to life?
Very strange. I spent a long time in a few rooms, including my own dining room, working with other people through laughter and argument to adapt my own work, and then stood in a few enormous cavernous warehouses in which hundreds of people were hurrying about and I was utterly extraneous.
Did you intentionally write the Series of Unfortunate Events to show children that just because someone is an adult, does not necessarily mean they are trustworthy?
Children know this already.
Which Baudelaire child would you say you are most like?
Each of them are far more admirable and capable than I am, but I do confess I identify a little bit with Lemony Snicket.
Are there any other books you have written that you would like to see adapted?
Any of them would be interesting, I think, and occasionally one of the many adaptations in progress threatens to actually exist.
You’re known for your unique writer’s voice. Is this something you worked on developing over time, or something that has always come naturally to you?
I try not to think about such things. An interesting story, a striking method of telling it – these are the best one can hope for, as a reader or a writer.
Per Diem Press was a really great example of a successful author using their platform to help and elevate other writers. Did you receive any advice or votes of confidence early in your career from established authors that helped or encouraged you?
My mentor Kit Reed was endlessly encouraging while also being scrupulously honest, but most of my literary advice prior to being published came from imaginary conversations with authors I admired.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received, on writing or otherwise?
“Just write it down then.”
What’s the best advice you could give?
“Don’t envy people you don’t admire.”
For more information on Per Diem Press, visit their website!