MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota (AP) -- Cemeteries don't scare Neil Gaiman. Far from it. The best-selling author of horror and fantasy fables finds them "incredibly peaceful places."
Neil Gaiman poses in a comfortable place -- a cemetery. "There's something marvelously restful," he says.
"I love going to graveyards. I love going to graveyards not because they're spooky, but because there's something marvelously restful. You know, you've got all these headstones. They have these wonderful little messages on them," Gaiman says.
Gaiman's new novel, "The Graveyard Book," takes place in a cemetery, where an orphaned boy is raised by a vampire, a werewolf and a witch. The seed for the idea was planted some 25 years ago, Gaiman says, when he was living in his native England and would take his young son Michael to ride his tricycle in a nearby cemetery, since there was no real garden or yard at home.
Inspiration struck. Gaiman thought he could write a book similar to Rudyard Kipling's classic "The Jungle Book," about a child adopted by wild animals. Instead, Gaiman would write about a child "who is adopted by dead people and taught all the things that dead people know."
After more than two decades of starts and stops, Gaiman finally finished "The Graveyard Book" last year. To kick off publication, Gaiman launched a U.S. tour last week, reading a chapter of the eight-chapter book in each city (one long chapter will be split in two). Video of each reading will be posted the next day on Gaiman's new, kid-friendly Web site, www.mousecircus.com, where fans can view it for free. When Gaiman wraps up the tour Wednesday in St. Paul, he will have read the entire 312-page book.
"The Graveyard Book" is a metaphor for life, family and leaving home, Gaiman says. The book opens with a baby boy escaping an assassin who has massacred his parents and older sister. The boy totters to a decrepit cemetery, where he's adopted by ghosts, christened Nobody Owens (Bod for short) and given the Freedom of the Graveyard.
"Essentially, the world of the graveyard is this glorious extended family," says Gaiman, who chose a British cemetery as the book's setting so Bod could interact with historic characters.
"The great thing about having an English cemetery is I could go back a very, very, very long way. And in America you go back 250 years (in a cemetery) and then suddenly you've got a few dead Indians and then you don't have anybody at all, unless you decide to set it up in Maine or somewhere and sneak in some Vikings."
Gaiman, 47, says it took him so long to write "The Graveyard Book" because he kept putting off the idea until he became a better writer. In the meantime, he honed his skills with the "Sandman" comic-book series and novels such as "Good Omens" (with Terry Pratchett), "Stardust" and "American Gods."
The first chapter he wrote -- Chapter 4, "The Witch's Headstone" -- came about when Gaiman grew bored on family vacation. His daughter Maddy, then about 11, paused from her swimming to ask Gaiman what he was writing. Gaiman read her the chapter's beginning.
"And then she said, 'What happens next?' And so I kept going," Gaiman recalls.
It took Gaiman about a year to finish the seven remaining chapters, squeezing them in between whirlwind movie promotional tours for "Beowulf" (Gaiman co-wrote the screenplay with Roger Avary, co-writer of "Pulp Fiction") and "Stardust," which both came out in 2007.
"Graveyard Book" editor Elise Howard, senior vice president and associate publisher for fiction at HarperCollins, says Gaiman can easily straddle the worlds of children's and adult fiction. His children's books include "The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish" (1997), "Coraline" (2002) and "The Wolves in the Walls" (2003).
While more writers are turning to children's books, Howard said, "What's notable about Neil is he did it long ago and not because there was a big trend."
An animated movie of "Coraline," about a girl who steps into a parallel world, is set for release next February, starring Dakota Fanning as the voice of Coraline. Director Henry Selick uses the stop-motion animation techniques on "Coraline" that he did on "The Nightmare Before Christmas" and "James and the Giant Peach."
Gaiman has high hopes for the movie.
"If Henry Selick has a choice between doing something really cool that he likes and doing whatever the commercial thing is, he's actually going for the cool thing he likes, which makes me incredibly happy," Gaiman says.