Daniel Handler sounds like a very happy man when you talk to him on the phone, which is odd and slightly unsettling because he is a modern master of misery, a purveyor -- the word purveyor here means someone who sells things, like a shopkeeper -- of punishment, a writer of wrongs.

Daniel Handler is Lemony Snicket, and he's a very busy man these days. Busy because he is touring the country telling millions of kids not to read "The Penultimate Peril," book the 12th of his highly successful, deeply disturbing "Series of Unfortunate Events." But he found time to talk to KidsPost's Tracy Grant about fractions, bad penmanship and books that kids really should be reading.

What happens in Book 12 and is it any happier than the others?

[The Baudelaires] spend much of the book in a hotel, so I imagine you know what that's like. Happiness is a comparative term. The ending could be seen as happier than some and less happy than others.

Will the series really end at 13 books?

Yes. There will be only 13. So we're 12/13ths of the way through -- in case you're not good at fractions.

When you started the series did you have it all mapped out?

I knew basically where it was going to end, but I didn't know how it would get there.

What do you say to people who ask why you've written books where such horrible things happen to kids?

I say, "Dear Lord, what's that behind you?" Then I run away. [He laughs.] I'm puzzled why someone would want to read a book that told the reader that everything was going to be okay as long as you behave well. That has not been my experience and I suspect it's not the experience of people in the Washington area.

Who is Lemony Snicket?

It's a name I used on a fairly regular basis when I was young and wrote nonsensical letters to . . . newspapers and magazines. So when I had the idea to publish the books under the name of the narrator rather than the author, I had [the name] sitting around gathering dust.

What was the first thing you remember writing?

My family has a story I wrote when I was 7 about an egg. . . . I honestly don't remember a time when I didn't want to be a writer.

It has been more than a year since "The Grim Grotto" came out. What took you so long to write another book?

I could say that my dog ate it. [The new book] is something of a longer book [353 pages]. They keep getting longer and longer, not unlike hair. But also like hair, I think the 13th volume will be a bit shorter. Because hair grows for a while and then, after a long time, you start to lose it.

Since you don't recommend that kids read your books, what would you recommend they read?

My favorite book as a child was "The Bears' Famous Invasion of Sicily." It tells the story of some noble bears who invade Sicily and learn power corrupts. . . . I'd also recommend "The Headless Cupid" by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. It's about a family who moves into a house and begins to believe there's a poltergeist, but it turns out to be something else.

Daniel Handler happily plays the role of afflicted author Lemony Snicket.