Friday, February 15, 2013

The Birthing of a Ghost

By Sue Ann Jaffarian 

How do I know if a story idea is better suited for short or long fiction?

Boy, I am not the person to ask about this. If I'd followed my gut several years ago, my very popular Ghost of Granny Apples series might not exist. 

Novella due out March 5th
It all started early one morning when I was chatting via e-mail with my then editor at Midnight Ink, Barbara Moore.  We were talking about paranormal stories and I mentioned that I had a cute idea for a short story about a cantankerous ghost who visits one of her descendants and makes a pest of herself – think Topper meets The Ghost Whisperer. It was just a simple story idea, not a mystery, that I had noodling around in my brain for a few years.  Originally it was an idea for an anthology that I’d been invited to contribute to but which never got off the ground.   

When Barbara wrote back that she wanted to hear more, I fleshed out the story line a bit, again not a mystery.  A minute later came another e-mail – she wanted to know more.  Okay, at this point I was out of material already set in my brain so I did what any writer would do, I made it up on the fly, quickly giving the ghost a back story, personality and purpose. She would be trying to find someone to exonerate her of a murder, I told Barb. And she’d be from someplace cool like Julian, California, during the gold rush days.

At this point I went to shower and get ready for the day. When I returned to my computer there was another message from Barb:  This is not a short story. This is a novel.  Okay, I told her, I guess it could be a cute stand alone.  No, she responded back, it’s a series. How soon can you get me a manuscript? 

And thus the Ghost of Granny Apples mystery series was born.  And Barb was right. Granny Apples wasn’t a short story, it was a full-blown mystery series which to date has three novels under its belt and more on the way. 

A day I'll never forget!
Last year I was able to move the series to Penguin/Berkley.  Penguin contracted with me for two more novels and two novellas.  The first novella, The Silent Ghost, will be released under the Penguin Specials banner on March 5th and will only be available in digital format.  The next novella will be out March 2014, and the first Berkley novel will be out April 2014. I’m currently hurtling towards its deadline.  It has a working title of Ghost of a Gamble. 

The Ghost of Granny Apples is also my most popular series, barely nudging out my Odelia Grey mystery series in sales. And when Ghost in the Polka Dot Bikini, the second book in the series, was listed as the Kindle Daily Deal, it shot to #1, edging out notable authors like John Grisham and Stephen King. It didn't stay there, of course, but it's still not too shabby for an idea that almost didn’t happen!  I am also pleased to say that the last novel released, Gem of a Ghost, was nominated as a Romantic Times Reviewers award.

And it all started with a short story idea that I was too dense to see as long fiction.  


The moral of this is two-fold: 1) don’t listen to me, I’m lost in a fog; and 2) listen to the people who know and don’t be afraid to bounce ideas off their heads. They might recognize a gem when you think you're holding a common rock.


Mark Baker said...

While I love Odelia, I do enjoy Granny as well. So glad this turned into a full on series and not just a short story.

Catriona McPherson said...

You do make me laugh. 'Tell me more'. 'Why, of course.' Longish pause while writer conjures "more" out of thin air and bravado. It's our equivalent of an actor saying she can tap dance and then going straight from the audition to the tap school, really, isn't it?

Meredith Cole said...

I know so many writers who wrote their first book thinking it was a standalone, and then were told it was the start of a series... Sometimes editors do know best! Great story, Sue Ann.

Reece said...

This post makes a great capper to the week's topic, Sue Ann. Now that was a little idea that definitely had legs.