Absent-Minded Ramblings

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. 🙂

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. 🙂

Time For Some Halloween Fun!

Halloween season is upon us, and I could not be more giddy.

I have a slew of events and projects over the next six weeks that will be fun and crazy and creepy and awesome. It all starts this weekend with the 4th Annual Warner Library Headless Halloween Mini-Golf event. All day, on Saturday, September 23, the hallowed halls of our venerable library are turned into 19 holes of mini-golf awesomeness!


I’ve overseen this glorious event since its inception and am blown away with what the other builders come up with. That skull opens and closes its mouth!

Friday, September 29, I begin my unofficial residency at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery by hosting an original murder mystery event: Murder at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. Someone is going to die and everyone is a suspect! Even you! Be warned, tickets are very limited!

The next day, Saturday, September 30, I’ll be back at the cemetery presenting Dark Dahl – Roald Dahl’s Creepy Tales at 5:00 and then again at 7:30.

On Thursday, October 5, I’ll be doing a reading of my latest Middle Grade novel, Beyond the Doors at the Warner Library in Tarrytown at 7:00.

Saturday, October 7, will find me spending the day at the Collingswood Book Festival in Collingswood, New Jersey.

Then on Monday, October 9, I’ll be back at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery for two performances of An Evening With Edgar Allan Poe. Shows are at 5:00 and 7:30.

I will be appearing at the Barnes & Nobles in Yonkers, NY on Friday, October 13 (Friday the 13th!) for a reading and signing at 6:30.

The next day, Saturday, October 14, is the annual Sleepy Hollow Street Fair in Sleepy Hollow, NY. I’ll have a booth with books and goodies so come on by!

And that takes us through the first half of October! There’s plenty more in the second half, including an exciting new project I’ve been working all year on with Historic Hudson Valley that I hope to be able to announce soon.

Happy Halloween!

From Providence to Nashville

The Cons are coming! The Cons are coming!

Cons, in this case, is short for Conventions. Or Book Festivals. Big events where people show up and do stuff. Like hold interesting discussions and autograph copies of their books.

This past weekend, I was once again a guest of the Necronomicon Providence, held every 2 years in Providence, R.I. It is a festival of all things ‘Weird Fiction’ and is inspired by the work of Providence’s own H. P. Lovecraft. I performed two of my one-man shows at the festival–my version of H.P. Lovecraft’s Call of Cthulhu and an original show that mixes the horrors of Lovecraft with the witty, upper-class farce of… witty, upper-class farces… called Horace Whitley and the Unspeakable Horror.

Both shows went well (my Call of Cthulhu was standing-room only), and I had the good fortune to be given an opening act, which was this fantastic Canadian magician named James Harrison who did a fun, mind-bending routine before each of my shows. I also spent time in the vendor’s room signing and meeting folks from all over the country and world.

This weekend, I’m off to Nashville for the Killer Nashville conference. I will be participating on three panels:

Friday 8/25 9:40am — They’re Real: How to Write Fantasy Thrillers & Mysteries

Friday 8/25 2:20pm — From Seuss to Potter, Kids Love to Read: Writing Picture Books to Chapter Adventures

Saturday 8/26 2:00pm — Coming of Age: How to write Young Adult Mysteries & Thrillers

I’ve also been given a number of different signing slots for each panel, so if you’re in Nashville this weekend, come on by!

While I’m very excited for all three panels, I’m particularly excited for the “From Seuss to Potter” panel because one of my co-panelists will be Chris Grabenstein, who is a great guy and has been instrumental to my career (and whom I’ve been stalking for a couple of years now).

Beyond Nashville I’ve got another one in October and one in November, with more on the way. These Book Festivals and Conventions are a lot of fun, a great chance to meet people, share my work with them, and get free swag!

What more could you ask for?

The Stars Are Right Again!

This weekend, I will be in Providence, Rhode Island as part of the 2017 Necronomicon.

What is the Necronomicon? Aside from a dark book of evil? So glad you asked.

It’s a convention to celebration of Weird Fiction. Much of my work exists in this hybrid world–often seen as a mash-up of science fiction and horror. The Grandfather of Weird Fiction was H. P. Lovecraft, and H. P. Lovecraft was from Providence, Rhode Island. So… that explains that.

While I will be there Friday afternoon and all day Saturday in the Dealer’s Room meeting, greeting, signing books (both my Lovecraftian-inspired, traditionally-published Middle Grade books and my very Lovecraftian-inspired, self-published works of insanity), and being a general ray of joyous light, my main contribution to the festival will be my performances.

I will be performing twice at the festival, once on Friday evening, and once late Saturday night. On Friday, I will be debuting a new one-man show entitled “Horace Whitley and the Unimaginable Horror.” Saturday night, I will be presenting my fan-favorite show, “H. P. Lovecraft’s Call of Cthulhu.” Both shows are open to the general public as well as convention-goers, so if you happen to live in and/or around the Providence area, you should swing by and catch a show!

You can find out more information about my performances on their website.

And if you happen to be in Providence this weekend, come say hi!

You Should Totally Buy My New Book!

On the one hand, I’m incredibly excited to announce the publishing of my second Middle Grade novel, Beyond the Doors. It is an exciting, mysterious, humorous, creepy tale of four temporary orphans, one slightly-odd (OK, really-odd) aunt, a bunch of doors, and whole new worlds to explore.

On the other hand, I’m totally nervous because I have this new book out and now it’s my job to sell it.

I had rather hoped having a second book out would make it easier. Everyone who know me because of how awesome my first book would be and they would be lining up to purchase the new one. Banging down my door. Throwing money at me.


I posted it to all the Facebook Groups I’m in. Which is, like, three. I’ve tweeted about it. I’m blogging about it (in case you didn’t notice). There was an email blast. Other than that…?

I’ve got one, possibly two in-store appearances next month. A couple of book festivals later this month and some others planned for later in the year. I’m trying to get invited to others. Trying to do other appearances. Trying to do anything to get myself out there. School visits. Begging on street corners. Anything.

The importance of my efforts cannot be understated. I AM the marketing plan for the book. And if I don’t sell books, I will not get any more published. Pressure. And yet, I’m horrible at self-marketing. I always feel like I’m being obnoxious. My imagination runs wild when I even think about putting myself out there.

“Hi. I’ve got this new book and it’s really good and-”

“What is WRONG with you? Why are you bothering me? What do I care about your STUPID book?”

“Uhm… it’s a Middle Grade adventure/horror story that’s funny and-”

“That makes NO sense! What is it? Fit it into an easy-to-understand genre! Is it horror? Why are you writing horror for little kids? Are you totally deranged?”

“Uhm… so… it would be really cool if you bought a copy. Or two. You know. If you have any friends. It makes a good gift.”

“You are ever BENEATH me! I reject you totally!”

You get the idea.

And yet, if I do nothing, then I fail. The book isn’t going to sell itself. Mainly because nobody knows it even exists. So they have to know. But it isn’t easy to just slip it into conversation.

“You know, it is just crazy what is going on in Washington D.C. these days. Oh, and by the way, did you know I wrote a new book aimed at kids ages 8-13?”

I have told friends. I have asked friends to tell friends. I have asked friends to blackmail other people to make them buy it. I am now asking you to buy it. And to tell others to buy it. I feel cheap in doing so, but I’m pretty sure that’s what I’m supposed to do.

And possibly what I’m supposed to feel.

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.”


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.


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. 🙂

doors-cover                  drfell-cover

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!


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.