Ten Things about "Death and Douglas," My Kid’s Book About a Serial Killer

Death and Douglas hits one year old in about a month. And I don’t want to wait until its Halloween birthday to talk about it. So in lead up to that anniversary, I thought I’d give you some behind-the-pages bon mots about it. Besides, Douglas kind of won’t leave me alone. I keep thinking about the kid. So maybe this will exorcise him back to his funeral home bedroom.

1. Almost every surname in the book is taken from a funeral home in the various areas of the east coast where I’ve lived. Moss and Feaster, the two gravediggers in the story, were actually named after a single funeral home in Florida called Moss Feaster Funeral Home.

2. I started writing this book after reading Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. I was blown away by the first chapter of that story, how daring it was for a children’s book. But then the rest of the story seemed to retreat into a more conventional (if extremely well done) fantasy space. I wanted to know what it would be like if that first chapter was the direction of the entire book. So I tried to write it.

3. From first word written to publishing contract in my hand was about six years with three published books in between.

4. I deleted an entire character from the book in a very late draft that would have made the Ghastly Gang a foursome instead of a threesome. He was surprisingly easy to kill, which showed that he shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

5. I hope one day to have the opportunity to write more stories about Douglas. I have a whole quadrilogy about him in my head.

6. The grave with the window in it in Cowlmouth Cemetery is based on a real grave, that of Timothy Clark Smith in Evergreen Cemetery in New Haven, Vermont.

7. When I originally started writing the book, I tried my hardest to make it a supernatural story, but that just wouldn’t take, probably because it would have been put me in that same safer space as The Graveyard Book. But I still tried to give it the atmosphere of a supernatural story.

8. The book climaxes on Halloween across five chapters.

9. My idea for the book cover was a takeoff of this VHS cassette cover for the 1977 Rank/Bass animated version of The Hobbit. I saw Douglas in Bilbo’s place and the killer in Gandalf’s. My editor’s idea, which became the eventual cover, was 1,000 times better.

10. I believe that the best way to get certain types of kids hooked on reading is to let them find books that seem dangerous, that seem like their parents wouldn’t approve of, that seem to contain the mysteries of life that all the adults are hiding from them. I don’t want the book to actually be those things. Just seem like it as they’re reading it. I wanted Death and Douglas to be that kind of book. The kind that a kid might sneak-read by flashlight under their covers after dark. But really still be the kind of book that most parents probably wouldn’t have a problem with.