Author Interview: David Neilsen

Today, I have the marvelous David Neilsen, author of Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom. Check out my review to learn my thoughts on this new book!


How did you come up with the idea for Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom?

The idea for the book came from an illustration by the late children’s illustrator Trina Schart Hyman. It had been hanging on the wall of my in-laws’ for years before I ever really looked at it.  It shows a man in a suit and top hat leering down at a little girl, who looks back at him suspiciously. The man has a large basket strapped to his back out of which are sticking various arms, legs, and heads of little children. It’s labelled “Dr. Fell” and Hyman drew it when asked to create an image from her favorite fable or fairy tale. Curious, I looked up Dr. Fell online and discovered the four-line poem written in 1680 which I’ve included at the beginning of my book.

I loved the picture, and right away all sorts of questions jumped into my head. Who is this guy? What is he doing? What happens when he comes to town? The story began to take form when I went about answering these questions.


I see there a lot of illustrations in this book, how closely did you get to work with the illustrator Will Terry and what was that process like?

Quite often the illustrator and author never meet face to face, and although I have not met Will, we communicated through my editor to finalize the art. When I saw the examples from his portfolio early on, I was absolutely comfortable with my book in his hands. I got to see a large sampling of his prior work, and felt it had a wonderfully mischievous touch to it that would work with my story. The first thing he did was a pencil sketch of what would become the cover. When I saw it, I knew the book was in good hands. It was obvious he’d read it and got it. I felt it perfectly captured the story. Over time, as I was shown sketches of the interior illustrations, my confidence in Mr. Terry’s vision of the book only grew.  At one point, through my publisher, we discussed whether or not Dr. Fell wore glasses (he does not) and Will did some sketches to explore that.

David, taken from his website

How long have you been writing and what was your journey like to become published?

I suppose on one hand I’ve always been writing. When I was 10, a friend and I challenged each other to finish a book. I wrote a 10-chapter, 20-page book about a spy organization saving the world. I’ve always loved to write, even though my main focus for a long time was acting. I went to college for theater, and came out ready to be a movie star. Things didn’t quite come out that way, and the next thing I knew I was writing screenplays. The highlight of that portion of my career was when I sold a TV pilot to 20th Century Fox that was never made.

Since then I have been a freelance writer, journalist, and have written a number of short stories.  About five or six years ago, I decided to try writing a book again. After a few stops and starts, I had a finished manuscript of which I was very proud. It made its way to an agent, who liked it enough to sign me. That book has yet to sell, but the second book I gave the agent was Dr. Fell, which he was able to sell within a few months.

So the answer to your original question is either “all my life” or “about five or six years” depending on how you want to look at it.

How does it feel to have your first book out in the world?

It feels amazing and a bit surreal. It didn’t really kick in until recently, when a shipment of my finished book in hardback showed up at my door. I opened the box and just looked at them, thinking, “Wow. I wrote these.” My wife saw the book and said, “I guess this is really happening.”  I have enormous feelings of accomplishment and pride. The next out-of-body moment for me will be the first time I walk into a store and find my book on the shelf.


My work on the book is done, has been done for quite a while, and now it’s just going to be out there. However it does–if people like it or not–is sort of out of my control now. I just sit back and cross my fingers and hope kids enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

What are you working on next?

This is a far more complex question than I would have thought a year ago. A couple of months ago, I was congratulating another author on a book of his that had just come out. He laughed and said that the publisher had had to send him a copy so he could reread it and remember it, because he was three books ahead and had already written the sequel so didn’t remember what had happened in the one that had just been released.

Next August, Crown Books for Young Readers will publish my second book, a spooky, mysterious story tentatively titled Doors. It is not connected with Dr. Fell in any way, but is a completely new world which I’m very excited to share with readers. That book is written, edited, turned in, done. I have also written a third book, not connected to either of the first two, that I’m in the midst of editing. I’ve also got a sequel to Dr. Fell all set up in my head, so I’m getting ready to write that. And then there’s my initial book that has yet to sell that I still absolutely love. I’m planning on tackling it with a revision that will hopefully make it more likely to be picked up.

So to answer your question: a bunch of stuff. 🙂

Thank you David for answering my questions, I’m so excited to be sharing your first published book with my readers!

We hope you’re enjoying the blog tour for David Neilsen’s Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom! In case you missed yesterday’s post, head over to Books4YourKids to check it out. The tour continues tomorrow on Middle Grade Ninja.



Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.