After making his mark as a film and TV actor, screenwriter and songwriter, Jason Segel now adds middle-grade novelist to his impressive list of credits. Segel wrote Nightmares! with Kirsten Miller, author of the Kiki Strike and the Eternal Ones series. Due from Delacorte on September 9, the novel launches a trilogy based on the first movie script that Segel, now 34, wrote when he was in his early 20s.

In Nightmares!, Charlie’s father marries a woman the boy is convinced is a witch. After his worst nightmares start to come true, he has to face his fears to save his town. “I had terrible nightmares as a child, and I found that films like The Goonies and Labyrinth really helped remind me that there’s still magic in the world, and that helped me face my own fears,” Segel told PW. “I hope my book helps kids realize that as well. I think when kids reach the age of eight or 10, the fact that they have responsibilities – and will for the rest of their lives – suddenly hits them, and that can be scary. I want to let kids know that you can use nightmares to learn to cope with fears, and can work through nightmares to make them your dreams.”

Segel was anxious to shape his original movie script into a novel. “One thing I’ve learned through my work [as writer] on the The Muppets movies, is that a child’s imagination is more powerful than anything you can put on a screen,” he observed. “So I really wanted to put this story into book form.”

In a more dreamlike than nightmarish twist, Segel and Miller are both represented by William Morris Endeavor – he by Erin Malone and she by Suzanne Gluck – and their respective agents paved the way for the collaboration. “Jason read my books and we spent some time together,” explained Miller. “We discovered that we both have the same fondness for fourth-grade humor and hit it off right away. I found Charlie and his brother to be very compelling characters, and I was very touched by their relationship – and knew I wanted to put it on the page.”

Segel’s meticulous scriptwriting gave Miller a good starting point. She noted that the structure of the story “was entirely complete, with all three acts perfectly paced,” and that “Jason’s dialogue is phenomenal – he can say more in five words than I can in 500.” Miller likens her role in Nightmares! to one very familiar in Segel’s career sphere: “It was as if the script was already in place, and I came in as director,” she said. “I added a lot of the world in which Charlie lived – descriptions of the town and the characters’ houses – everything one would get from a director rather than a scriptwriter. My forte was building the world, while Jason brought to the novel so much charm, humor, and wonderfully crazy characters. It was a great complementary match.”

An Auspicious Rendezvous

Krista Marino, executive editor of Delacorte Press, jumped at the chance to meet Segel and hear about his book project when she received a call from Gluck saying that he was in New York meeting with publishers. “Everyone who knows and loves Jason’s work wants to meet him, and I was anxious to see what he had up his sleeve,” she said. “Knowing that he’d written the screenplays for The Muppets and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, I was well aware of how good he is getting to the heart of humans and communicating the truth of life.”

In person, Segel was every bit as charming and substantive as Marino had anticipated. “He came in with Kirsten, and talked about how important books are to him, and it was clear to me that this was more than just a celebrity writing a book or recycling material,” she observed. Segel’s personality – as well as his novel’s realistic family dynamics and focus on the universal experience of coping with nightmares – won over Marino and her colleagues at Random House.

“After we met with him, we all realized that Jason is a 12-year-old – in a very good way,” she said. “Of course he is obviously a savvy man, but he’s not embarrassed that he loves puppets – and that he can still go to that magical place. He’s not scared of baring his soul, and it was clear that he and Kirsten, with her kind of dark sense of humor, was a great coauthor for Jason. We all knew immediately that we loved the whole package.”

Segel and Miller both report smooth sailing on their Nightmares! creative journey. “From the very beginning, we were in constant contact, even though we didn’t sit side by side,” Miller reported. “We saw each other quite a bit, and connected by phone and e-mail – it was a combination of everything. It was a nice way of working, and having the same sense of humor helped a lot!”

“I’ve found in my career that collaboration is the key to success for me, and I was grateful to be able to work with Kirsten,” Segel added. “She writes beautifully, and knew exactly how to translate this script into a book. I had shelved the script for a long time, and I was happy to have the opportunity to rework it with her, and to finally see it as a novel.”

Nightmares! by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller, illus. by Kevin Kwasny. Delacorte, $16.99 Sept. ISBN 978-0-385-74425-6