The story of Beyond the Doors, which is my second novel, begins with the story of Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom, which is my first novel. I wrote Dr. Fell, handed it over to my agent, and was in the midst of sitting back and calmly waiting for him to work his magic when he calls me out of the blue in the middle of the day.
“David, it’s your agent,” he said. “Why do you think I’m calling you out of the blue in the middle of the day?”
My jaw dropped. My stomach dropped. I almost dropped. An honest-to-goodness mainstream publisher wanted to publish my novel. I danced a little jig. But my agent had another surprise in store.
“They want a two-book deal,” he announced.
Two books! Holy guacamole! That’s twice as many as one! “They want a sequel already?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “They want something new.”
I stopped jigging.
It seemed my new publisher wanted me to pitch ideas for a second book to them. They wanted a selection from which to choose. No problem. As it turns out, I already had three different projects in one state of completion or another. One even had over 40 pages written already. I sat down and wrote brief summaries for all three books, then added a synopsis for an idea for a sequel to Dr. Fell which had popped into my head. Satisfied, I passed the four pitches by my agent.
“Do another one,” he commanded. “Five is a better number than four.”
While unable to dispute the fact that five is a better number than four, the sad truth was I didn’t have a fifth idea. No other project was more than a couple of un-fleshed-out notes on a Word doc. I struggled with this for a bit, but finally settled on an old idea. It was just an image, really. Some kids standing in a big, empty, round room in the center of which stands this bizarre machine that has a plain, wooden door hooked up to it for some reason. A bunch of other plain, wooden doors are scattered around the floor.
That was it. I had no idea where the doors went. I had no idea why the kids were there. I had absolutely nothing but a single image. So I described that image and sent in my five pitches.
I think we all know which one they chose.
When my agent first told me they’d gone with “Doors” I thought he was joking. I laughed. Then I realized he wasn’t joking. I cried. Seriously? Doors? I didn’t even have a catchy title. I was literally just calling it “Doors.”
And thus, the adventure began.
The first thing I had to do was answer all the questions the single image in my head inspired. Starting with “Why is someone hooking up doors to this machine?” I came away with dozens of possibilities: some halfway decent, others truly horrid. At one point I entertained the thought that the doors led to some sort of intergalactic refrigerator.
That idea didn’t last long.
Eventually, however, I hit upon my solution. Avocados! Yes! Of course! It was all about the avocados
I should hasten to point out that my book is not, in any way, about avocados. I am using the word avocados as a placeholder for the true concept behind the story because I do not want to spoil the book for anyone. The question of what’s going on with all these doors is central to the book, and despite far too many book reviewers who seem determined to ruin it for everyone (I shake my fist at you all!), I maintain hope that some of you, at least, will be surprised.
The next question to answer was who were to be my main characters? Specifically, how many children? I didn’t want to do three, because Dr. Fell has three main characters and I didn’t want to pigeonhole myself as a writer who only writes books with three main characters. One or two main characters seemed uninteresting to me. Since zero was out of the question, I landed on four.
The Rothbaum children quickly took shape. Their world began to come to life around them. All was well. Until it wasn’t. I suddenly noticed the pages were coming slower and slower, and I was rewriting what I’d written the day before on a daily basis.
I was stuck.
I told my editor this fact and I suggested I move on to one of the other four pitches. My editor slapped me in the face (figuratively) and told me to get back to work. I got back to work. The story progressed in small spurts. My heart wasn’t in it. At the same time, a new story idea jumped on top of me. I loved it. It was awesome. I wrote about 50 pages of it and gave it to my editor, basically saying “Hey! Let’s do this instead!”
Face slap. Back to work.
When I’d first been given my deadline, I’d laughed. Dr. Fell had taken half that time to write, so of course I’d make this deadline. Now, however, I began to worry I wouldn’t finish a first draft of the book in time. Panic ensued. There was much tearing out of hair.
But then something happened that is hard for me to describe. Basically, I fell in love with the story. The new-found love came upon me suddenly. I’d pushed my way through another chapter, gone to bed, and woken up excited. I sat down and quickly burned out two chapters in a day. Suddenly, everything fit. I read what I’d written already and found that I really liked it. I really enjoyed playing with the avocados! There was so much in this story for me to explore!
Maybe the writing gods smiled upon me while I slept. Maybe a brain cell fired a certain synapse in a certain way at a certain time. But from that point on, I wrote with the innocent glee of a young child opening up a Birthday present. Each chapter I wrote was something new and exciting, and I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. I surprised myself and was both writer and reader--living the story in real time as I wrote it, and doing a lot of giggling along the way.
As I said at the top, I don’t recommend this particular writing process to anyone. It’s not nice to fight with your book. But when you have something worthwhile, you would do well to follow where it leads.
Because you never know when you’re going to find your avocados.
David Neilsen is the author of odd, weird, supernatural, and occasionally slightly disturbing stories. His debut novel, Doctor Fell and the Playground of Doom, was published by Crown Books for Kids (a division of Random House) in August of 2016. His next book, Beyond the Doors, will be published August 1, 2017. David is based next door to Sleepy Hollow, NY and also works as a professional storyteller up and down the Hudson River Valley. His one-man performances based on the work of H.P. Lovecraft have sent many screaming into the hills in search of their sanity while his education school presentations have inspired hundreds of Middle Grade-aged children. Learn all you could ever hope to learn about David and his work by visiting his website at https://david-neilsen.com/. He is not a ninja.
When a family disaster forces the four Rothbaum children to live with their aunt Gladys, 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.
Strangest of all are the doors—there are none. Every doorway is a wide-open passageway—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.