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CONTACT: TOM SNEE
300 Plaza Centre One
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0010; fax (319) 384-0024
e-mail: tom-snee@uiowa.edu

Release: Dec. 17. 2002

UI Center for the Book publishes Lemony Snicket Christmas story

Lemony Snicket is one of the country's top-selling children's book authors, as his series of macabre children's books, "A Series of Unfortunate Events," has turned Snicket (a.k.a. Daniel Handler) into one of publishing's most prized commodities.

So which publisher will produce his next book? Monotreme Press, a small press operated out of the University of Iowa Center for the Book in Iowa City. The publication is being overseen by Chelsey Johnson, a former graduate student who graduated from the university's Writers' Workshop in 2002. Only 65 copies of the 18-page illustrated story are being published.

The story, "The Baby in the Manger," was actually written two years ago for the Washington Post, which commissioned Handler to write a Christmas story for publication. When the editors received the manuscript, however, they were in for a shock -- the story is a spoof of the Nativity, with Joseph as a costume designer, Mary as an herb specialist, and the baby Jesus kidnapped by the owners of the hotel where he was born. The Post's editors labeled the story too dark and "anti-family" for their newspaper and sent it back to Handler.

Which is where Johnson and the UI Center for the Book enter. Johnson is a longtime acquaintance of Handler, having met him about five years ago when he appeared as the guest accordionist with a band in which one of Johnson's friends played. She was taking a bookmaking class through the Center for the Book in the spring of 2002 and had a class assignment to create a small, handmade book using an original, unpublished manuscript. She called Handler and asked if he could offer anything.

Sure, he said, and sent her the manuscript for the story the Post rejected. She turned it into the book last spring, and publishing and binding were ongoing through the fall. Although only 65 copies have been printed, Johnson said a second printing may be possible.

Johnson, a native of Park Rapids, MN, is now living in New York City as a freelance writer and editor.

Johnson has not yet priced the book, but copies can be reserved by calling her at (917) 653-5467, or by emailing her at Monotreme@chelseyhotel.com.