The Big Idea: Greg van Eekhout
Is death truly the end? Not for the kids in The Ghost Job! Author Greg van Eekhout is bringing you a tale from beyond the grave(s) of his main characters who aren’t letting a little death stop them. Follow along in his Big Idea to see just how this “haunting” idea formed.
GREG VAN EEKHOUT:
The elevator pitch for The Ghost Job goes something like this: Four young ghosts pull heists in hopes of finding a supernatural artifact that can restore them to life. The most promising of these is a device called the Redeemer, owned and operated by a rich necromancer who holds souls hostage for ransom. But a book isn’t always about a big idea. Sometimes a book is more like a rolling katamari gathering up a bunch of small-to-medium ideas. Then you identify the biggest or best of those ideas and declare it the Big Idea.
I’m pretty sure that’s how I came up with The Ghost Job, my latest middle-grade novel. (Middle grade is a marketing term referring books pitched to readers aged 8 to 12, which is confusing because here in the US we have middle school, which is generally for kids 11-14, so I usually refer to my books as all ages.)
Ghosts are perfect thieves. Maybe that’s the big idea. Think about it. Ghosts move silently. They don’t need doors or windows because they can pass through walls. They don’t show up on cameras (really, they don’t, I don’t care what Discovery Channel tells you) and even if they did, what are the cops going to do, arrest them at a séance?
They only moved the headstones. Eerie old houses and cemeteries with creeping ivy and grasping leafless trees are fun, but hauntings can happen anywhere, even in warm, sunny places. Maybe that’s the big idea. Here in San Diego, we’ve got Pioneer Park, a pleasant community patch in an affluent neighborhood that was a graveyard until the city pulled up the headstones, chucked them into a ravine, left the bodies under the green grass, and installed a playground. For real, this happened. In The Ghost Job, the 19th and early 20th-century ghosts of Pioneer Park remain with their graves and serve to demonstrate the strength of community ties, even among the dead.
(We’ve got another desecrated cemetery in town upon which now sits a Hunter Steakhouse, but I didn’t put it in my book because I think all Hunter Steakhouses are weird for one reason or another.)
Everybody hurts, take comfort in your friends. Maybe this is biggest idea in The Ghost Job, but it doesn’t sound as fun as “ghosts pull off heists.” Still, I think it’s an important truth. Laughter in the company of friends is one of the most powerful balms I know for just about any difficult emotion. Almost immediately after an explosion propels my characters into the afterlife, one of them cracks a joke. It’s not even a good joke, but it signals to my newly minted ghosts that things are going to be okay. They’re not alone. They have each other. And as long as that’s so, they have hope.
The book also features ghostly superpowers, cars that drive themselves into the sea, roller coaster enthusiasts who continue to enjoy the ride that killed them, and a good dog who doesn’t care if you’re alive or dead as long as he gets tummy rubs. (The dog doesn’t die.)
For me, the real idea was to write a fun book with occasional moments of emotional heft, one with a premise both grim and hopeful, and one that leaves young people feeling that, with the right kind of help, they can handle anything. It may not be the biggest idea, and it’s certainly not the most original, but it’s the driving engine at the core of the katamari.