Absent-Minded Ramblings

Introducing: Beyond the Doors

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

Here is the cover of Beyond the Doors!

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“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!

Dealing With Ghosts

I recently finished Claire Legrand’s The Year of Shadows, and it got me thinking about ghosts.

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The book deals with a little girl who meets a bunch of ghosts (obviously) who live in an old symphony hall. There’s quite a bit more to it than that, of course, and I recommend the book for MG readers looking for a nice, moody, atmospheric chill.

Legrand’s ghosts are very interesting. They don’t really have shape, but sort of form themselves into shape when they concentrate. They have a smattering of their memories from life, but not much. They are individual characters, with individual personalities.

As opposed to the Shades, which are sort of Legrand’s boogie-men and behave more like what some would call a poltergeist.

The ghost story is one of the foundations of horror, of course, and ghosts have been depicted as all sorts of things from creepy forms lurking in the night to foppish, jovial, nearly-headless buffoons (I’m looking at you, Nick). Sometimes they can speak, sometimes they can’t. Sometimes they can move physical objects, sometimes they can’t. Sometimes they are full characters, other times a ghastly prop.

Yet they’re all ghosts.

Authors use ghosts all the time, but whenever they use them as more than a brief mention, there’s this need too explain the rules. “Sure, you know what ghosts are, but this is what MY ghosts are like.”

It’s fascinating. Authors don’t generally need to do that with other creatures. You see a vampire walking down the street, you know it’s going to suck blood, shy away from the sun, and have very pale eyes. There can be minor variations, such as if they fly or not or… well.. they sparkle (whatever), but by and large a vampire is a vampire is a vampire. It became a vampire by getting bit by another vampire, and they make fresh new vampires by biting non-vampires.

Not ghosts. Why is that? At the heart of it all, ghosts are supposedly spirits of people who used to be alive. But how they became ghosts is always up in the air. As I have mentioned before, one of my current favorite MG ghost series of Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood & Co. (I recently devoured the fourth and latest volume, The Creeping ShadowIn the Lockwood books, ghosts are the danger, but generally without personality or character. They are the symptom of the evil for the most part, and much of the series is being spent trying to uncover the true evil. But one touch from a ghost and you die. Not so in The Year of Shadows, in which the little girl is touched by ghosts all the time, or in Harry Potter, where the ghosts tend to walk through Harry when he’s not looking.

All of this is to say that if you’re planning on using ghosts, be prepared to explain them. Readers have been inundated with all sort of different ghostly rules that no two people will have the same idea of what and who your ghost is unless you tell them. So be warned.

Just don’t make them all sparkly.

Feeling Loopy

Time travel is tricky.

Writing a story that allows characters to move through time opens up all sorts of nasty paradox doors and ‘what ifs?’ and plot holes and it can be a bear to get it right.

This week, I saw the film Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children. I read the book when it was first released, but I will be honest and say I don’t really remember much about it. What I do remember was thinking that it was an interesting world created by the author but that there didn’t seem to be much story in there.

People who have read the book much more recently than I and have sen the movie have said that the movie takes a massive left turn away from the book about half-way through. From what I remember, I can almost understand that, because you’d want the cool set-up of the world, but you’d need to shoe-horn a stronger narrative into a 2-hour film.

If you have not yet seen the movie or read the book and plan to do either, I suggest you stop reading, because I’m so totally going to do SPOILERS because of what I want to discuss. I know this means both of my readers will now stop reading and I’ll be left talking to myself, but so be it. This has been gnawing at me and I want to get it out.

SPOILER ALERT

You’ve been warned.

I have issues with how the movie dealt with time. I do not recall if the book did this in a similar way, so the book may well not have these problems. But the movie does.

The basic story involves a kid in 2016 who finds a ‘Loop’ of repeating time from 1943 on an island in which live Miss Peregrine and her peculiar children. He travels from 2016 to 1943 through a cave, hangs out, then travels back through the cave and back into 2016. Simple enough. I can buy that there’s this magic portal that lets you into The Loop and that when you leave, the portal spits you back out into the time period from which you originally entered. Like it has a psychic memory of when you went in to refer to when it lets you out. Fair enough.

But let’s examine this a bit more. At one point, we are told that Miss Peregrine frown on her children discussing the outside world. For them, it is always one particular day in 1943. Their bodies do not age.

But they remember.

They know they’re in a loop. They know what happened yesterday in the loop, even though it’s now the same day. It’s a bit like Groundhog Day, if you will. So they know that they have been living in 1943 for over 70 years and are still children. Add to that, the fact that at one point some of the kids leave 1943 to enter 2016 to get the boy. So we know they can leave the loop if they want. However, we learn that if they remain in the future, their bodies will quickly age the intervening years. So If they stay in 2016, they will age 73 years in a matter of days (it’s not made clear how long the process would take).

Right now, this still sort of works. Their Loop is on an island. Self-contained. But then…

Their Loop isn’t reset. Time moves forward. But they are still in 1943. It is just the next day in 1943. So they leave the island. They are now in the rest of the world, but in 1943. OK. This opens up the possibility that one of the kids could go through the cave and pop up in 2016, get some sort of technology or important information or something, then go back through the cave into 1943, then sail off the island in the rest of the 1943 world and ‘invent’ the technology 50 years early. They can change the trajectory of history. This is the first thing that popped into my head, yet it is never even mentioned in the film.

Fine. That’s not actually my biggest issue.

The kids need to save someone who has been captured and taken into another Loop somewhere else. This Loop is new, created in 2016, so it loops a day from 2016. In order to rescue their friend, the kids in 1943 sail to the entrance of the 2016 Loop and enter the 2016 Loop from 1943.

This shouldn’t be possible.

The new Loop was created in 2016. The kids arrive in 1943. The Loop didn’t exist then. The portal to the Loop didn’t exist in 1943. They shouldn’t be able to rescue their friend. I don’t know if this is in the book or not, but it was a huge hole for me, and nearly took me out of the story.

Later, they return through the new portal from Loop 2016 to Real World 1943. But Boy remains in Loop 2016, which closes and becomes Real World 2016. Then he decides to rejoin the kids, but doesn’t know where they might be now. However, he knows where they were on that day in 1943, so he starts travelling backwards through Loops until he can enter real time at a date and time before 1943 and live his life in the past until it is naturally 1943, when he then goes to where he knows they will be and rejoins them. An instant for them, a year or so for him.

That bit is complicated, but it can be made to work without breaking any rules. What he needs to do is first find a Loop that has been in continual existence from creation up to now (2016). Let’s say it’s a 1970 Loop. He enters the 1970 Loop, then instead of going back through the portal, he travels 1970 until he finds a Loop created earlier that is still in existence in 1970. Let’s say 1950. So he travels into the 1950 Loop. Again he travels the world, this time in 1950, until he finds an even earlier Loop. He finds a 1942 Loop. Enters 1942 from 1950. Then travels the world and waits. Eventually, 1942 become 1943 (years have a way of doing that) and he can rush back and rejoin the kids who have just reentered 1943 from 2016.

So in theory, the Boy’s journey to rejoin the kids is doable by the rules of the world. But you still come up against the biggest issue, the 2016 Loop should not have existed in 1943.

Also, not to go all Inception on this, but Boy is now living in a Loop in a Loop in a Loop. Or something like that. We are left to assume that the kids go somewhere and a new 1943 Loop is created. So let’s say they’re there for 5 years. 1943 in Loop time, 1948 in real time. When he leaves the Loop, is he in 1948, or does the act of leaving any Loop restart him and he pops up in 2016?

And can he step out of his new 1943 Loop into real time and alter the course of history? He knows what’s going to happen for the next 70+ years. Can he lay down a series of Vegas sports bets and become a multi-millionaire? Can he go to Florida in 2000 and explain how butterfly ballots work to the 3,000+ people who meant to vote for Gore but ended up voting for Buchanan because they got confused, thereby flipping that state and the 2000 election to Gore?

A super villain could do some serious damage with access to Loops.

What do you think? Did I miss something?

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.

 

Teach the Children Well

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am pleased to announce that I’ve opened the doors on my school visits programs and am officially available for bookings.

Putting together the programs has been a lot of fun, and I’m excited to bring them to schools across the known world and present them to real live children, as opposed to the various stuffed animals I’ve been practicing my presentations on.

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Cthulhu was especially engrossed by my presentations.

You can get all the details over on my School Visits page, but the upshot is that I’ve crafted programs for both large, auditorium audiences as well as smaller, classroom-sized engagements. Each program is designed around my own areas of expertise and experience, and each has been proven to be highly educational and entertaining–at least none of the stuffed animals have complained so far.

I really am excited to get out to schools and meet with students. I’ve already done a lot of visits to schools as a storyteller, particularly with my American Revolution program, but this will be the first time I’ll be visiting as an author. Before I was just an oddly-dressed guy showing up at their school, but now the students may have read my book and know my work. That’s very exciting.

 

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?

Dr. Fell Blog Tour Blog Post Round-up

According to WordPress, I didn’t blog all of August.

WordPress is wrong.

Last month was the Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom Blog Tour, and I wrote a number of posts which you will want to read. So I’ve decided to make things easy for you and list them below. Think of this as the ‘Greatest Hits’ blog post of the tour.

August 1- Site: My Brain on Books

In this first post, entitled “One Writer’s Journey or How a Comic Actor Got a Book Deal Writing Children’s Horror,” I chronicle the wacky turn of events that led to my book deal.

August 6 – Site: Books 4 Your Kids

This post, “A Picture is Worth 46,000 Words,” tells the story of how I came up with the idea for Dr. Fell based on a single illustration from children’s illustrator Trina Schart Hyman.

August 8 – Site: Middle Grade Ninja

The title of this post is “The Horrors of Writing Middle Grade Horror or Why Books Aimed at Children Can’t Be Awash in Blood.” It basically deals with the difficulty of writing scary stuff without sending a generation of children screaming into the hills.

August 11 – Site: Seraphina Reads

For this post, I discuss “The Creepy House at the End of the Street” and how it shaped my childhood. Meaning how it left me emotionally scarred for the majority of my life.

August 21 – Site: Word Spelunking

I do not think I have ever been asked to write something as truly off-the-wall as I was for this site. The result, “Dr. Fell and the Cupcakes of Doom,” re-imagines most of the major characters in the book as cupcakes. You read that right. Cupcakes.

August 23 – Site: The Book Wars

“My Inspirations” discusses a few of the literary inspirations for Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom, specifically Roald Dahl and H.P. Lovecraft.

August 28 – Site: Carina’s Books

In “A Little Bit of Scary” I document how I, a writer of both adult and children’s horror, am really a big scaredy-cat. My terror of terror began at a young age, followed me through life, and haunts me to this day.

So there you go. Seven blog posts to whet your appetite for many more. Enjoy!