Reviews are Dish Best Served Cold

Actually, a better title for this post would have been “Book comes out tomorrow. Book comes out tomorrow. Book comes out tomorrow. Book comes…” as long as you heard it in your head as if spoken by a very nervous and jittery author bouncing back and forth on the balls of his feet and chewing his fingernails.

So yeah. My book comes out tomorrow. And the reviews are trickling in.

Beyond the Doors lands in bookstores and online catalogs and on the doorsteps of those lucky enough and smart enough to have pre-ordered it. Both of you. I’m very nervous to see how this fares. I’m quite proud of it. I feel like it’s a good read and kids will like it. At the end of the day, that’s about all I can do. The rest is out of my hands.

One of the first things new writers are told is “Don’t Read Your Reviews!” Friends tell you this. Other authors tell you this. Agents and publishers tell you this. So naturally, you read all of your reviews. With Dr. Fell, that was rather easy, as it earned mainly positive reviews across the board. Enough so that the negative reviews could easily be discounted.

Beyond the Doors may well end up the same, as only a few reviews have come in, but this far, my book seems to be polarizing people. Some love it. They gush, they fawn, I blush. But some don’t. And that can be really anxiety-inducing. It is even more frustrating when I read a review and feel… well.. cheated.

Case in point. As of this moment, Beyond the Doors has 5 advanced reviews on Amazon from their Vine Customer Reviews. Two reviews gave it 5 stars.  One gave it 4 stars. Two give it 2 stars. Let me tell you, it sucks to read a 2-star review of your work. But what really gets me is the reasons these people give me 2-stars.

Again, Case in Point. One reviewer spends the review complaining that the adult characters were unrealistic. That no social worker would really act like that. That no one would be as loopy as the aunt. Then the reviewer says ” I haven’t read the Series of Unfortunate Events book that this apparently should be shelved near… it may be part of a genre that just rubs me the wrong way. Perhaps some other reviewer can give a review in that context.”

Seriously?

That’s like saying “I hate all Fantasy. Elves. Dwarves. Dragons. That stuff just isn’t real. So I give Lord of the Rings 2 stars.” I mean one of the reasons to compare Beyond the Doors with A Series of Unfortunate Events is the conceit that kids can’t rely on adults to solve their problems. I mean have you read the Unfortunate Events books? How many of those guardians are realistic?

It would be one thing if I had 100 reviews and this was an outlier. But right now I have 5. So it’s kinda prominent. And to make matters worse, the bit where the reviewer admits that maybe they aren’t the right person to review the book is below the fold, coming after they have already complained. So you have to actively click to read more of this review to see that.

The other 2-star review complains “Here’s yet another children’s story that villain-izes adults. The whole “ordinary kids vs big bad evil adults” theme in kid’s books is as tiring as zombies and apocalypses in sci fi. Having every adult evil grates on me. So, no likable adults in this book.”

First, almost all of the adults in my book are most definitely not evil. Just saying. Second, the review again dings me for writing a genre they don’t like. Does this mean that if this reviewer read World War Z (which is a much better book than movie), they would give it 2-stars also?

The reviewer also states “The kids in this story act like kids.” Which… uhm… OK.

I don’t mean to sound like a griping author who just wants to whine at bad reviews. I would simply hope that if folks are reviewing material, they at least know of what they speak. For example. I, for one, would not trust myself to review a cookbook. I do not cook. I do not read cookbooks. If I were given a cookbook to review, I would probably write something like “I tried to make this recipe, but it had four ingredients, which is way too many for me to handle. This book is lame.”

That would not be a fair review. I would be embarrassed to write it. The author of the cookbook would rightly be annoyed at me for bringing down their Amazon rating with an uninformed review and would probably think that I should stick to frozen dinners and quit pretending I have the faintest inkling of what I’m talking about.

*sigh*

Beyond that, however, the beauty of Beyond the Doors seems to be in the eye of the beholder. I have thus far seen three professional reviews of Beyond the Doors. 2 positive, 1 negative.

From the negative professional review (Kirkus): “The Rothbaum siblings’ character development is superficial.”

From one of the positive professional reviews (School Library Journal): “…the characters are well developed…”

There you have it. I have created well-developed characters whose development is superficial.

I’m going to go crawl into a hole now.

And read the next review that comes out.

8 Days Til Doors!

At this moment, there are 8 days left until we turn the calendar over to August. Seeing as how my second book, Beyond the Doors, will be published on August 1, this is kind of a big deal for me.

Also, not to be forgotten or left out, but the paperback of Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom will be released on the same day. Two releases on one day! That’s insane!

I remember a year ago when I was nervously counting down the hours (“only 423 hours til release!”). I was certain Dr. Fell would debut on the New York Times Best-Seller List. I was full of that “new author” confidence. The sky was the limit. The book was great, I’d gotten a lot of great reviews, how could this possibly not climb the charts? I asked my publisher how big the initial printing was, then scoffed, well aware that I’d be in a third or fourth printing in a month.

Then reality set in.

Now here I am, waiting patiently for my second book to arrive. In many ways, it is like when the second child comes. You know what the reality of the situation holds. Sleepless nights. Constant diaper changes and feedings. Projectile vomiting. You’re thrilled, of course, to welcome your second child into the world, but be honest, how many of you have even half as many baby pictures or digital rolls of film for your second child as you do for your first?

I am well aware that my book will almost certainly NOT debut on the New York Times Best-Seller List. I will NOT be getting a call from Oprah because she’s made it the Oprah Book Club book (is that still a thing?). Random House will not be taking out a full-page ad or putting up a billboard in Times Square advertising my book.

If this is going to sell, I’m going to have to bust my patootie.

(By the way, if you’ve ever wondered if Spellchecker knows the word patootie… it doesn’t)

I call the stores to arrange in-store visits. I arrange to get myself ‘invited’ to book festivals. I beg people to write about the book, blog about the book, tell their friends to go and buy the book. I’m nervous. I’m excited. If I think about it too much, I’ll be sick.

Will it do as well as Dr. Fell has done? Better? Worse? And will Dr. Fell being in paperback suddenly push sales into a higher gear? Time will tell.

But you should definitely go and buy both of them right now. 🙂

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Driving the Kiddies Mad

I write Middle Grade horror.

I enjoy saying this, but often find that simple sentence requires an explanation. First, not everyone knows what Middle Grade means, so I inform them that it refers to young readers generally between the ages of 8 and 12. Then I have to again explain that I write horror for that age group. At which point, whoever I’m talking with usually says something like:

“Oh. Like the Goosebumps books. Got it.”

At which point I pull out my hair.

I dig the Goosebumps books, don’t get me wrong. But that’s not what I write. I like a little madness with my horror. I like a touch of dementia. Monsters. Tentacles. Horrific possibilities beyond time and space.

You know. Lovecraft.

When my soon-to-be editor read my first book, Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom, she commented, among other things, that she really liked the Lovecraftian aspect of it. I was tickled pink. It told me she was the right editor for me, because she GOT it.

Make no mistake, Cthulhu does not make an appearance in my book. The children do not visit Innsmouth. R’lyeh does not rise from the depths of the oceans. And frankly, there aren’t really any tentacles to speak of. Which is what made her comment all the more special. Because for my money, that’s not what Lovecraft is about.

Lovecraft is about learning the forbidden truth and discovering it is much worse than you thought. Lovecraft is coming to the end of the book and in some ways, the characters wish they’d never started on this journey in the first place. Lovecraft is Be Careful What You Wish For.

One of the best Lovecraft books I’ve read recently was actually not written by Lovecraft, but by Stephen King. His Revival is beyond chilling, and the end… oh sweet Lord in Heaven the END!!!!

We teach our children to be brave, reach for the stars, believe in themselves. That anything is possible. But what if it isn’t? That, to me, is horror. It’s one thing to know the house is haunted. It’s another to learn that it’s haunted by your twin brother who was killed at birth so you would survive. In short, it’s not the WHAT, it’s the WHY.

That’s what I try to bring to my books. The WHAT in Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom is mega-creepy, but the WHY is horrible.

My second book, Beyond the Doors (available everywhere August 1!), stays true to this concept. You learn the WHAT long before you learn the WHY.

I think children need to understand that motive matters. In fiction, in life, in everything. And so in my small way, I feel that I’m doing my part to prepare the next generation to be better-informed citizens.

And if a few of them go insane along the way, that’s a plus.

When Good Books Are Frustrating

I’m reading a good book right now.

Product DetailsHeap House by Edward Carey (who also illustrates it) is weird, bizarre, creepy, odd, fantastical, grimy, and weird. Have I mentioned weird?

It is also a slow read. Every word matters. Every description is a clue. Nothing is throw aside, or added just for the sake of being added. You have to read this baby page by page.

This is a quality of a good book, no question. But it’s also kind of frustrating. Because I’m spending a lot of time reading this book. I want to, it’s time well spent, but I’m not reading anything else while I’m reading this. And I’ve been reading this for a couple of weeks now.

In my attic, I have my TO READ bookcase. It is only three shelves tall, but it is full. With books lying on their sides on top of the books on the shelves and books piled on top of books on top of the bookcase, which more or less constitutes a fourth shelf. I also have satellite collections of TO READ books on a shelf in the living room, as well as on a shelf in another room. In all, there are probably upwards of 100 books on my current TO READ shelves.

I’m not reading any of them right now.

Some of these books, I know, I will never read. Every so often, I go through my TO READ shelves and quietly, solemnly, remove books that have simply been pushed so far down the list that I’d have to live to be 237 to get to them. This is a sad day for me, because I’m sure these are all really good books. But I have had to face the fact that I am mortal. Some day, I will die. At that time, I will cease being able to read books. Therefore, I only have a finite amount of time to read books left in my life. I hate to waste that time.

Which is why Heap House is so frustrating. I want to read it. I am enjoying the book immensely. But I am also well aware of how many other books I will never read because I’m spending so much time reading this one. And if I get anxious, if I get impatient, if I try to skim through a section–I’m lost. I have to go back and re-read whatever I skimmed. Which takes up even more time.

So damn you, Edward Carey! Damn you for writing such an odd, weird, strange, cool, freaky, weird book that I must read but at a glacially pace.

And damn you for getting me to purchase books two and three of the series.

DOORS open in less than 7 weeks!

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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.

 

Beyond the Doors News!

My second book, Beyond the Doors, comes out in less than five months! (Have you pre-ordered your copy yet?) Five months may seem like a long time, but in the world of publishing, it’s the blink of an eye. A slow blink, but a blink.

So even while I shove copies of Dr. Fell in front of anyone with a pair of eyes and most of those with only one, I’m already prepping for the Beyond the Doors roll-out.

  1. I wrote a guest post for a site that is going to do something Beyond the Doors-related at the end of this month.
  2. I have officially signed on to record the audiobook next month! Woo!
  3. Working on another, final, this-is-the-last-round-we-pinky-swear of edits.

The edits are an interesting situation. I mean the book is done. Done, done, done. And now not done. Two things came up.

First, they have decided that I do something too cruel to one of the characters and I must dial it back so that children don’t run into the forest screaming in misery and horror.

Second, I need to change every description of a particular character.

Me: “Why do I need to do this?”

Them: “Because his description doesn’t match the art.”

Me: “Well, the description came first. Shouldn’t the art change?”

Them: “Art is expensive. You are not.”

And so one character is getting an upgrade. Lucky guy.

It’s fun going back into Beyond the Doors, reading bits of it as I edit. A bit like reintroducing myself to an old friend. All kidding aside, the final art looks fantastic, and really compliments the story well, and I’m very fond of these characters.

I can’t wait to introduce them to you.

Dr. Fell the Musical?

I recently saw my kids in a production of Mary Poppins Jr. at our local middle school. The director is a long-time friend with whom I’ve worked a few times. Each summer, he runs a ‘camp’ which is really a large musical production with a massive cast (including my kids) and live band and what not. Two years ago he did Les Miserables. Last year it was Into the Woods. So I asked him what he’s planning on doing this summer. He didn’t know. Hadn’t decided.

Then he asked me how things were going with my book. I lamented how there are still people out there who haven’t bought it (I don’t understand what’s keeping you, the link to purchase it on Amazon is right here), and so on and so forth. Then he says the magic words.

“Ever think of turning it into a play?”

I have had many pie-in-the-sky dreams regarding the future of Dr. Fell. A movie, yes, of course. Trading cards, why not? Soft, fuzzy, plush Dr. Fells? Absolutely! A line of purple Dr. Fell top hats? Bring it on!

But I’d never before thought about turning it into a play.

My director friend was only half-kidding. He went on to say it could be made for kids to preform, or perhaps for adults to preform for kids. He’s always looking for plays to direct with all of the different schools he works at. He can only direct Annie and/or The Phantom Tollbooth so many times.

The idea now lodged in my head, I went home. The idea churned and churned. Why not? Why not turn Dr. Fell into a play? And that’s when it hit me. Not a play.

A musical.

Songs started jumping out at me. An opening number, a finale, lots of ensemble numbers, different solos for different characters. Before I knew what I was doing, I grabbed a copy of the book (I seem to have a few lying around) and started outlining which bits I’d keep and where the songs would fit in. All the while, I kept telling myself that this is crazy and silly and pointless.

And yet I do not stop.

It’s only been a few days, but I’ve got the opening number written and have begun piecing together the script. Who knows?

Dr. Fell The Musical may be coming to a theater near you.

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fantastic Beasts and Where it Goes

Thanksgiving weekend is the unofficial start of the holiday movie season. So I have done my duty and seen two films this weekend, Moana and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Moana was awesome. Just really, really great. Go see it. It’s funny, visually stunning, uplifting, empowering, moving, you name it.

Fantastic Beasts was good. For my money, not as good as Moana, but good. I could go on about what I liked and didn’t like, things I thought could have been done better, things that were done really well, but I’d rather talk about what I think is going to happen next.

SPOILER ALERT–If you haven’t seen Fantastic Beasts and are planning on doing so, do not keep reading, as I’ll be discussing some of the secrets of the movie below.

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I’M SERIOUS–TOTAL SPOILER ALERT–LAST WARNING

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OK, here’s what we know. There are going to be five movies. Newt is going to be in most, if not all, of them, but may not be the main character in all of them. The series will take us through the Great Wizarding War where Grindelwald and his minions play the part of Voldemort and the Death Eaters and take on the Wizarding World. It will end in 1945 with the epic duel between Grindelwald and Dumbledore.

What else do we know? Well, how about the fact revealed by J.K. Rowling that Dumbledore was gay and had a relationship with Grindelwald? Which will make that final battle even more intense.

We know that Credence did not die in FB, and he will return in FB2 as an evil wizard. Also, Leta Lestrange (grandmother? great grandmother? of Beatrix Lestrange) will appear in FB2 as an evil wizard. Newt was once in love with Leta, so there’s some lovely tension there as well.

We’ve been told FB2 takes place in Paris. Are we going to get a different setting for each movie? Grindelwald’s fortress is supposedly in Switzerland, so will FB5 take place there?

Dumbledore has already been mentioned as being one of Newt’s teachers at Hogwarts, so he’s in the picture and will eventually be making an appearance, especially if he’s to fall in love/duel Grindelwald in the end. But will anyone else show up that we know?

From a time-line perspective, we could certainly meet a very young Tom Riddle. If Chamber of Secrets (2002) took place 50 years after Tom Riddle first opened the Chamber, that means he was at Hogwarts in 1952. He has to be at least 11 to be in Hogwarts. So in 1945 he is at least 6., possibly older. If Tom was in his final year at Hogwarts when he opened the Chamber, then he’d be a First Year in 1945.

Also, we know at least two other professors who were at Hogwarts in 1952. McGonagall was in the Tom Riddle flashbacks in Chamber of Secrets, and we know that Slughorn explained the concept of the Horcruxes to him from a flashback in Half-Blood Prince. So there’s no reason young versions of those two couldn’t make an appearance.

Something at the end of FB5 where Grindelwald passes on the torch of evil to Tom Riddle?

One thing FB didn’t do was give us any glimpse at any other wizardry schools. Hogwarts is mentioned, as is the American version whose name I forget, but we don’t visit. I would say it is entirely possible that we won’t visit any schools in this series, except that we know Dumbledore is already a teacher. If he’s to play a part in the series, then it stands to reason we’ll at least visit Hogwarts to meet him.

One of the joys of the HP series was watching Harry, Ron, and Hermione grow up. Well in FB, the main characters are already grown up. But we don’t know where they came from. We don’t know what Newt’s childhood was like, though he hinted that he wasn’t popular. Also, he was expelled from Hogwarts (against Dumbledore’s advice) and yet still has his wand. Hagrid lost his when he was expelled, so why didn’t Newt? I assume we’ll find out.

FB pretty much stands on its own as a film: disaster averted, true villain captured, Newt heading home. I suppose if the film isn’t a huge success, Warner Bros. can cut their losses and stop at one. But as it has already made over $100 million after one week, they’ll greenlight the others and we’ll hopefully dive into the larger story that was truly only hinted at in this one.

I, for one, am excited to see where it goes.

 

 

 

Introducing: Beyond the Doors

My second book is officially available for pre-order on Amazon!

Here is the cover of Beyond the Doors!

doors-cover

“When a family disaster forces the four Rothbaum children to live with their Aunt Gladys–a relative they’d never met–they immediately know there is something strange about their new home.

The crazy, circular house looks like it stepped out of a scary movie. The front entrance is a four-story-tall drawbridge. And the only food in Aunt Gladys’s kitchen is an endless supply of Honey Nut Oat Blast Ring-a-Dings cereal and some milk in the fridge.

Strangest of all are the doors–there are none. Every doorway is completely empty and wide-open–even the bathroom! Who lives in a house with no doors?

Their unease only grows when Aunt Gladys disappears for long stretches of time, leaving them alone to explore the strange house. When they discover just what Aunt Gladys has been doing with all her doors, the shocked siblings embark on an adventure that changes everything they believe about their family and the world.”

I’m really excited about Beyond the Doors, and think you’re all gonna love it.

Coming August 1, 2017!