Paul Elwork, the 38-year-old author of The Girl Who Would Speak for the Dead (Putnam/Amy Einhorn Books), read Carl Sagan's Broca's Brain (Random House, 1979) when he was in high school and was intrigued by the story of the Fox sisters, who founded the "spiritualist movement" in the 19th century.

"They fooled so many people, even toured Europe, and became destitute (sort of like rock stars)," Elwork explains. "Years later, one of the sisters made a confession in front of a theater audience, even demonstrating how the trick was done. The true believers didn't accept the confession. All of this said a lot to me about how belief operates."

In Elwork's fictionalized version of the story, 13-year-old twins fake an ability to contact the spirit world in 1925, only to have death work its way into their lives.

Elwork began the novel in 1997, while still an undergraduate (he holds a bachelor's degree from Temple University and a Master's in English from Arcadia University). He worked on it "in starts and stops," he says, and published a novella focused on the same story with Casperian Books in Sacramento, Calif. Eventually, writer M.J. Rose introduced Elwork to Dan Lazar, who became his agent and showed the novella to Amy Einhorn, publisher of her eponymous imprint at Putnam.

Einhorn recalls, "It was a novella. But it was also damn good." She and Elwork worked together to expand the story, and the resulting work has earned blurbs from the likes of Scott Smith.