Absent-Minded Ramblings

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


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.

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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.

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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.








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!


“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.


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.


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.

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.