Can You Keep Up with Dr. Fell?

Greetings and salutations one and all!

In honor of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, Dr. Fell has chosen to give thanks that he has a better vocabulary than anyone! To prove it, he has created a dastardly, cruel, Wicked Word Search! Find glorious words such as rapscallions and whippersnappers hidden on the page! (Beware, as the answers are printed in the bottom right corner of the page. No peeking!)

Dr. Fell’s Wicked Word Search is available as a free download as both a PDF and a JPG.

drfellwordsearch-001

It’s the perfect activity for those cold, snowy (or just really cold), Winter afternoons spent lazily in front of the fire. Dazzle your friends! Confound your enemies! Defeat Dr. Fell!

Halloween Hysteria

Five more days until the 31st and that means I’m in overdrive getting everything ready and doing shows and parties and generally running around like a deranged chicken out for blood.

I still have two more shows at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery (tonight and Sunday), I’m visiting a local pre-school this morning to warp some toddler minds, and there are parties and readings and a zillion gloriously creepy things in the near-future. And the action never stops, because next weekend (Nov 3 and 4) I’m attending the Kid Lit Con in Hershey, PA as an author. I’ll be on a panel all about Middle Grade villains, and then hobbing and nobbing with folks at various other times of the weekend.

But aside from all the work, Halloween is just a ton of fun. I have been spending the past few days creating my yard. The key is always the lights, and we’ve added some this year. See, I live at the top of a steep driveway, and we need to really entice the kids to trek up to the house. Without a good display, some lazy kids would just look at the driveway and say “Forget it! That looks like exercise!”

I’ve got the graveyard out, and it’s lit with a red light from below and then highlighted by a pure bright white light from above. Various contraptions that are motion-sensitive. My famed rat-in-a-cage thingy. Body parts. Webs. The heartbeat. Jack-o-Lanterns. Anything else I can come up with. I’m thinking of creating a tableau of a dark form sitting at a table with a flaming jack-o-lantern for a head. Not 100% sure if I can pull it off, but it will be fun to try.

See, I have a reputation to uphold. For many years, a number of kids have said we are the scariest house. It warms the heart. ūüôā

What’s got me even more excited is looking forward to NEXT Halloween. Fingers crossed, but all the stuff I was supposed to do with Historic Hudson Valley this year ought to take flight next year. As well as a couple of other possibilities. Period adventures! Escape the Room! Classic, Gothic theater!

Meanwhile, I’ve read some great Middle Grade books of late. One of my favorites was The Lost Property Office, by James Hannibal.

A fun, magical story of a kid in modern-day London following in the footsteps of the Great Fire of London in 1666. There are secret societies, mystical powers, dastardly villains, daring escapes. It rocks. And the sequel (already pre-ordered) comes out… on Halloween! Wooo!!!

Two other Must-Read books which I have devoured recently are The Empty Grave and The Assassins Curse.

The Empty Grave is the fifth and (no!!!) final installment of Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood & Co. novels.

Product Details

I have been enamored of these books since I discovered them and each one has pushed the story and world forward in fantastic ways. The finale does not disappoint, except for the fact that it’s the finale.

The Assassin’s Curse is the third book in Kevin Sands’ Blackthorn Key series.

Product Details

These books take place in 1665 London and follow an apprentice apothecary as he solves centuries-old mysteries (which is a feat, since he’s in the 1600’s, so centuries-old means, like, the 1300’s!) and navigates 1665 Europe. The latest volume brings him from London to Paris. However, it has suddenly occurred to me that he will probably return to London soon, since I can’t imagine Mr. Sands won’t take advantage of a particularly famous event which took place in 1666. (See “Lost Property Office” above)

 

So there ya go. Three great MG books for you to go purchase. Only after you’ve purchased Beyond the Doors and Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom, of course. ūüôā

DOORS open in less than 7 weeks!

doors-cover

Beyond the Doors hits the brick and mortar bookshelves on August 1!

You can, of course, already pre-order it on Amazon should you feel the need. School Library Journal says of it: “the characters are well developed, the plot intriguing, and the pace well suited to middle grade readers. Minor characters add realism as well as laughs. VERDICT An entertaining romp.

Well heck, who doesn’t love an entertaining romp?

One odd thing I’ve noticed is how the passage of time seems bent or warped depending on how I look at upcoming events. I have a bunch of stuff going on in July that even today still seems far away. Yet it also feels like the publication of Beyond the Doors is right around the corner. And yet, all that stuff that feels like it’s so far away has to come and go before the thing right around the corner can happen.

Where’s a TARDIS when you need one?

While you all wait with baited breath and hook for Beyond the Doors, here are a few good MG reads I’ve encountered recently.

Product Details¬†Ghostly Echoes is the third of William Ritter’s Jackaby novels. Jackaby is a paranormal investigator in New England in the early 1800s. The series is written in first person from the POV of his new assistant, Abigail Rook. The whole series is a great read, and it does some interesting things with the whole “paranormal investigator” concept. But book three takes the series in a totally new direction. I was a bit taken aback at the unexpected shift, but by the end I was loving it and can’t wait for #4.

Product Details¬†Heap House is the first book in Edward Carey’s Iremonger trilogy and it is deliciously weird. It takes place… well… there’s maybe, sort of, a Victorian vibe about it. There’s this house, mansion really, located all alone in the middle of massive piles of garbage. The garbage is added to the heaps from nearby London continuously, and the Iremongers who live in the house (the ‘Heap House’ if you will) are all totally and utterly rich and bizarre and they all carry their birth objects around with them and that doesn’t even begin to describe the mad insanity which doth run amok on the pages. Think Roald Dahl meets Lemony Snicket meets Tim Burton with an obvious Danny Elfman score. It rocks.

Product Details¬†Motley Education follows the adventures of a young girl who can talk to ghosts, but only to three of them. She’s at a school where everybody has some sort of talent, manipulating the world around them as it were. What sets this book apart from all the other “school of magic kids” books is that it is steeped in Norse mythology. It’s fun to really get a chance to explode Yggdrasil and take it seriously, as opposed to how it comes off in the Riorden books. There’s also a nice element of spooky in Motley Education, which makes for a fun read.

 

Books I’ve Read Recently

Aloha!

I read a lot of Middle Grade speculative fiction. This is not because I have difficulty with big words, mind you, but rather because I happen to write Middle Grade speculative fiction and it’s always good to keep an eye on what the competition is doing.

Right now I’m reading Trenton Lee Stewart’s The Secret Keepers.

Product Details

This is the guy who wrote The Mysterious Benedict Society, which is a great book and you should read it but we’re not talking about it so I won’t even link to it. ¬†The Secret Keepers tells the tale of a young boy who climbs up a wall and discovers something. That something sends him on an adventure filled with mystery, danger, backstories, legends, and municipality corruption–if that’s a term.

Stewart wrote four Benedict Society books, and so this is a nice shift into a new world for him. It’s written in a style of hyper-reality, where things almost feel like they could be happening in our world, but something is just a little bit… off.¬†I love those kinds of worlds, and in fact both Dr. Fell and this August’s Beyond the Doors (have you pre-ordered your copy yet?) live in hyper-reality worlds of their own.

The book has kept me interested and guessing and involved, which is to say I haven’t given up on it and shoved it aside (which I do more and more these days). So at the moment (I’m about 2/3 of the way through) I would recommend it.

Before Secret Keepers, I dug my claws into Peter Lerangis’s Seven Wonders series. I read the first book, ¬†The Colossus Rises, and was working on the second, Lost in Bablyon, when I ran out of steam.

Product DetailsProduct Details

The basic idea behind the series is that a kid discovers he is a long lost descendant of Atlantis. Because of this, he has a strange gene in his body which, when he turns 13, gives him superpowers. However, when he turns 14, the gene will kill him. The only way to stop this is to go out with three other 13-year-old Atlantis descendants and find 7 Magic Thingies. For whatever reason, before Atlantis was destroyed, the Atlanteans took the 7 Magic Thingies and used them to create the Seven Wonders of the World. Even though only one of those (the Great Pyramid of Giza) remains standing, the team of super 13-year-olds must find all seven. One per book.

It’s a solid idea. It has Atlantis, which is always fun. It has super powers, which are always cool. It has the Seven Wonders of the World, which are great to be able to name because it impresses people a ton when I recite all seven. I liked the first book enough to race out to the bookstore to buy the second while I was on Christmas vacation. But somewhere along the way in the middle of the second book I found myself drifting. The plot just sort of goes all over the place, and really took the series (in book 2, no less) into a totally different world. It didn’t have as much of the magic that made the first one really good, so I gave up. Too many books to read to spend time on one I’m not absolutely enamored with.

That said, I don’t want this to sound negative. I really did enjoy the first book. And for all I know, the other books in the series recapture what I liked about the series. So I would recommend the first one and if you dig it and dive into the second, you may well end up reading a seven book series that you really like.

Got a good Middle Grade speculative fiction book you think I should read? Let me know! I’ll pick it up!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also By…

This week marked another milestone for me; the ARCs (Advance Reader’s Copy) for my next book, Beyond the Doors, arrived on my doorstep!

I’ve been so heavily focused on spreading the word about Dr. Fell, that I completely forgot these were coming. I’m actually not allowed to share images of them with the public yet (that’ll come in early December), so you’ll have to take my word that they’re real.

About a year ago I received the ARCs for Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom. Opening the box and seeing my work come to life for the first time was a huge moment for me. This week was no different, even though it’s my second book. I opened the box, and suddenly the book was real.

The world is so digital these days. I write my story on my computer. I email or share files with readers. I edit on my computer, sometimes working on files that folks have commented upon electronically. Eventually, I send it to my Awesome Agent over email, who reads it electronically and sends it on to Excellent Editor as a word file or a pdf or whatever secret proprietary digital format agents and editors use. From there it is read, reread, sent back to me for edits, returned, reread, sent to different departments, reread, reedited, spellchecked, and so on. All digitally.

It’s not until this moment, when the box of physical copies arrive at my door, that it becomes a physical thing to me.

And you want to know the best part? The part that brought a true smile to my lips?

The “Also by David Neilsen” page.

True, there is only one book listed on that page, but just having an “Also by…” page is remarkable. Exciting. It gives me a warm glow in my lower intestine (I’m quoting Matilda).

I’m very excited about Beyond the Doors, and can’t wait to share the cover image and other art with you, and then, on August 1, 2017, share with you all the tragic, wondrous, crazy world of the Rothbaum children.

I think you’re going to like it.

Movie Adaptations Can Be Better Than the Book

Yesterday, it was announced the Nickelodeon has started production on a new TV movie based on Chris Grabenstien’s best-selling MG book, Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library.

I congratulated Chris (a prince of an author who deserves all the success he can get his grubby little hands on and more), and managed to do so even with flames of jealousy shooting out of my eyes and ears. If you haven’t read Escape.. or it’s sequel, Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics, you must. Go now. Order them from Amazon or purchase them from your local bookstore. They are fun and clever and intelligent and cool. That Nickelodeon chose to adapt the first one into a TV movie is not a shocker as it is eminently filmable. It will quite probably be a great film and I will set my DVR to record it when it airs.

It won’t be as good as the book.

It is a tried and true cliche that the movie is never as good as the book. This is true even when the movies are great, such as most of the Harry Potter movies. They are genuinely fantastic movies. The books are better.

But once in a blue moon a movie comes around that’s better than the book. I know that sounds sacrilegious, but it’s true. In my experience, there’s generally one of two reasons for this:

  • The movie cut the fat out of the story.

Remember that old John Grisham movie, The Client? It starred Susan Sarandon and Tommy Lee Jones and was about a kid who witnessed something and then learned a secret that everybody wanted to know–FBI, Mafia, the neighborhood ice cream man, everybody. The entire book hinges on whether the kid will tell the secret to the good guys. You know he will, there’s no possible way he doesn’t. And you go through hundreds of pages of the kid waffling back and forth and getting in and out of jams on his way to finally do what he could have done in the first few chapters.

The movie told pretty much the same story, except that since it’s a two-hour movie, there isn’t time to have the kid agonize over his decision. So he pretty much makes the right choice right away and we race into the climax. It’s much tighter and doesn’t make the kid out to be the wishy-washy dork he is in the book. It’s better.

  • The movie was nothing like the book.

How to Train Your Dragon is a great movie. I’m a fan of the book, as well. But for my money, the movie’s better. It’s also wildly different.¬†If you’ve only seen the movie, then you know Toothless as the sleek, black, powerful dragon who Hiccup finds and manages to tame and ride. In the books, Toothless is a tiny, whiny, dragon that rides around in Hiccup’s shirt and complains a lot. I saw the movie before reading the book, so when I met Toothless in the book, I was utterly stunned.

Of course, in these cases, the comparable quality of the two isn’t always a consensus. There are some people who will hold a dagger to your throat until you agree with them that the The Shining was a better movie than book, and others who would shove that dagger into their own throat before ever agreeing to such a travesty of a statement.

Now I will admit that in my book (so to speak), this is rare. The book usually IS better than the movie, if only because books allow you to go deeper into the characters and world than you ever can in the 90 minutes you generally get in a film. But usually is not never. It can happen.

I doubt it’ll happen with the Lemoncello film, because the book is awesome (no fat) and I doubt they’re going to suddenly decide Mr. Lemoncello should be a talking penguin or the library needs to eat the kids (Ooo! Love that idea!). I expect it will be a more or less faithful adaptation, will make for a pretty good film, and hopefully convince viewers to go and pick up the book–which is still better.

 

In a World…

(For best results, you should hear the title read in a deep, resonating, Don Lafontaine-ish voice in your head)

I’m big on worlds. Creating them, exploring them, trying to figure them out, discovering all the little nooks and crannies they contain. When a writer creates a good world, he or she gives us a place to plant our feet and get comfortable. When he or she fails at this task, the story is generally a lost cause.

The first rule of writing (besides not talking about writing–because it bores people) is that there are no rules. You want to write a story about a lip-reading cat that chews gum and shoots lasers from its ears? Go right ahead. That sounds awesome. Just know that once you’ve set the rules of your world, you need to stick to them. If the cat shoots lasers from its ears for the entire book, and then once shoots lasers from the tip of its tail for no particular reason, you’re cheating. And the reader knows.

My favorite example of this in movies is with the original 1989 Batman movie with Micheal Keaton and Jack Nicholson. There’s a scene in the build-up to the end where Batman comes flying down the street in the heavily-armored Batplane shooting everything is sight. He is nigh-invulnerable. Then Joker steps into the middle of the street. Batman fires his high-tech, multi-pulse, computer-targeted cannons at the guy standing still in the middle of the street and misses. Then the Joker pulls a handgun out of his pants, fires once, and brings down the Batplane.

Lame!

The rules of the movie were pretty simple. Batman has a ton of high-tech gadgets that blow everything away. The Batplane should not have been brought down by anything less than an anti-aircraft missile. Joker was caught in the cross-hairs. He should be dead. End of story. We can all go home about 15 minutes early.

My rant against 1989’s Batman (which overall is a pretty fun movie) aside, my point is you build your world, you stick with it. So make it good.

I take a lot of time in my writing building my world. I want it to resonate, be interesting, yet also work for the story. If I need a cat to shoot lasers out of his tail at the end, then I mention up front that she has that ability, but chooses to use her ears because her tail is sensitive.

I am very excited about the world I’ve created in Beyond the Doors. I kinda think it’s something new (though really, nothing is new anymore, right? How many actors have played Batman now?). I did a lot of crossing the t’s and dotting the I’s. Really trying to make the world a singular experience that does all I need and allows for many more adventures should the need or desire arrive.

Book Three also has a cool world, and one that, quite honestly, I’m chomping at the bit to return to. There are so many wonderful stories to tell!

Right now I’m reading the fourth book in a series set in one of the best worlds I’ve seen created. Jonathan Stroud’s The Creeping Shadow, Book Four of the Lockwood & Co. series.

I have loved every one of these Lockwood & Co. novels, and find myself racing through the book, marveling at the intricate world Stroud created. Frankly, I’m jealous. It’s just so ridiculously cool. The basic concept is that it is modern day England, except that at some point about 50 years ago or so, ghosts started coming out of the woodwork. Their touch can kill. But only children can see them. So teams of children are hired to rid haunted places of their ghosts. What’s not to love?

Win Free Copies of Dr. Fell!

Did you know you had not one, but TWO chances to win a free copy of my book, Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom? It’s true!

Fandom Monthly Magazine¬†¬†and YA Books Central are each hosting giveaways on their sites–literally giving my book away!

My advice to you is to take advantage of their foolishness before they realize what they’re doing. Hurry! They’re bound to find out eventually.

In other news, I’m trying to decide what to write next. Do I write something new or go back into one of my preexisting worlds? I sway back and forth in my mind, with a number of different projects vying for attention. There are pros and cons to each approach.

Something New

Pro: I love new things. Exploring a new universe. Meeting new characters. Creating new adventures.

Con: I’ve put a lot of work into the worlds of Dr. Fell, Beyond the Doors, and Book Three. Now I’m gonna go and do it all over again?

Pro: My imagination gets to run wild. What interests me today? A forest of rotting trees? Schools filled with slime? THE Dr. Edward Virgil Ignatius Lance?

Con: Each new book is one more book between a current title and its sequel. What if people lose interest in Dr. Fell or one of my other titles before I get around to a sequel?

Return to One of My Preexisting Worlds

Pro: A return to an old friend. I love my characters, I’m excited to play with them again.

Con: What if I write a sequel, then learn the publisher isn’t interested in a sequel? Is that time and work wasted?

Pro: Dr. Fell has more adventures in him. Book Three is specifically set up for sequels. Strike while the iron is hot!

Con:¬†The danger of unconsciously writing the same book over again. It worked once, what if I end up creating the same thing and fooling myself into thinking it’s different?

Not the world’s biggest dilemma, I know. But it’s where my mind’s at.

Thought you’d want to know.

New Title for Book Two!

So a couple of months ago I announced the title of my second MG book (due out next August). It was… Doors!

Except now it’s not. The new-and-improved, pretty-much-official, title of the book is now:

Beyond the Doors

The adventure of the Rothbaum children begins August 1, 2017!

I’ve seen some of the preliminary art for the book and it is fantastic.When I’m given the OK, I’ll share some of it with everyone.

In other news, Awesome Agent just gave his thumbs-up to my next book, which is now moving on to the next step of the creative process–sending it to Excellent Editor and crossing our fingers. I’m very excited about Book Three–which, unlike Beyond the Doors, has a ready-made title attached to it that shall be revealed in due time. As it is early in the process, there is very little I can say about it.

But I will say it involves a young girl, horrific mayhem, random, localized wind events, and a giant eyeball.

That out of the way, I want to mention a few really great books I’ve been reading. First up is The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands.

Set in 1665 London, this fantastic mystery follows a young apothecary’s apprentice into a world of mystery, clues, codes, and danger. I highly, highly recommend it. I was actually very excited because I finished it and thought to myself, ¬†“I wonder if there’s a sequel? I hope there’s a sequel. There must be a sequel!” So I looked. There’s a sequel. It was published three days ago, on September 6th.

Kismet!

Next up is a really fun story set in 1892 New England. Jackaby, by William Ritter.

A young woman, scandalously on her own, begins working for R.F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained. Ritter builds a great cast of characters and a fun world in which to settle in and enjoy. There are two others in the series, so I’ll be getting those soon.

The third book I finished recently is R.L. Lafevers’ Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos.

This one is set in 1906 London and follows young Theodosia, who has basically grown up in the museum where both of her parents work, specifically in the Ancient Egyptian wing. She can ‘see’ curses on all the artifacts her mother brings back from various digs and does what she can to dis-spell them along with her cat, Isis. Then, of course, she falls into a massive plot that could destroy the world and she, and she alone, can save us all. This was published in 2008, so there are a number of addition adventures of Theodosia which I shall need to explore.

Looking back at these three, all of which I enjoyed, I am struck by the fact that they are all historical fiction. I never would have thought that I was attracted to historical fiction, and I did not set out to find such, but I have really enjoyed entering these past worlds. Perhaps I’ll find a time period in which to write a book of my own someday. A few come to mind. I mean nasty things have happened all through history, right? Which should I confine the horror to our own modern day?

What Makes a Book Middle Grade?

In less than 3 months (August 9, to be exact), my debut novel, Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom (currently the number 3,603,655th best-selling book on Amazon.com!) will be published. It will be published as a Middle Grade novel, or MG as they say in the industry.

Next year, my follow up book, Doors, will be released. Also as an MG title.

So that makes me an MG author. Wooo!!!

Who are the MG readers? Well, supposedly, they are children ages 8-12 or grades 3-6 who are beyond simple chapter books but aren’t yet ready to read about how the world has come to an end because the sparkly vampire and the innocent teenage girl can’t find love during the zombie apocalypse.

Does that mean that if you’re not between the ages of 8-12 you can’t read an MG novel? No, of course not. Anyone can read them.¬†The first few Harry Potter books are considered MG titles. But then he grows up and likes girls and the books turn into 900-page YA novels.

Over time, I have unearthed what I thought were some of the unwritten rules on what makes an MG novel.

  1. The main characters are generally between 10-12 years old.
  2. There is no love story. No girlfriends or boyfriends. Basically, no puberty.
  3. No swearing. That should be obvious.
  4. If there is any sort of violence it is not graphic or gratuitous in any way.
  5. Good guys should win, or at least not lose (bad guys can survive/get away to help set-up sequels).

There are other rules for the basic sub-genres, but these have long guided my steps into the MG world. But now I have a dilemma.

I have a book. It is a good book. It was my first novel and it got me my Awesome Agent. Awesome Agent loved it and sent it around and got positive feedback. But nobody bought it. We couldn’t exactly figure out why until one publisher clued us in, saying in essence:

“We don’t know if this is Middle Grade or YA and we’re not sure how we’d market it.”

I took a look back at my list of five rules, and yeah, the book does break two of them. Specifically, the main characters were more like 14 years old and there is a minor love interest, though nothing that is ever truly explored.

So OK, maybe the book is meant to be YA. Except, well, no. Here are, near as I can tell, some rules for YA novels.

  1. Characters should be in High School.
  2. There should be unrequited love stirring the heart strings and quite possibly results in inappropriate behavior.
  3. Bad things can happen to everyone, including having important characters die.
  4. You can swear a little bit. The minor stuff. Not the biggies.
  5. The book should be set in a dystopian future where animals have evolved to feed on human flesh.

Aside from the evolving animals (which I think is more of a guideline than a rule), my book sort of fits. Except I don’t really swear. And my book doesn’t have a teenage girl pining over either a vampire, werewolf, or zombie. So it’s not really, YA.

It’s in between.

Now realize that the entire MG category was created to give publishers somewhere to stash the books that landed in between Children’s and YA. So where do you put the books that squeeze in between YA and MG?

As it so happens, there is an excellent example of exactly this sort of book. The Percy Jackson series. He starts out in High School. There is no real love interest. There is no swearing. There is no graphic or gratuitous violence. To be honest, the entire Rick Riorden cannon is made up of Middle Grade books starring High School kids. Which shouldn’t be possible.

So where do you stick him? Because wherever you stick him, that’s where my beloved first book resides. See, I tried to re-write it for Middle Grade, but when the characters get that young, the events of the story just don’t make sense. It is not believable that a 10 year-old would have the adventure my main character enjoys.¬†So if the characters need to be in high school, does that mean I need to adjust the book to make it YA? By adding a stronger love story? More violence? More angst? If I do that, the book loses a lot of what makes it fun in the first place.

You see my dilemma. If anyone out there has any ideas, I’m all ears.