Tabitha King has taken an unfinished manuscript by her friend, horror writer Michael McDowell, who died in 1999, and written Candles Burning, a Southern gothic that simmers with secrets, ghosts and the memorable voice of Calliope "Calley" Dakin, a seven-year-old girl who can hear the dead.

How did this collaboration come about?

It was out of the blue. My foreign rights agent called and said my name had come up to finish the work. I was very surprised. I didn't know that Michael had left work unfinished when he died. After I had seen the material, I got very excited about it and said I'd try. It really felt like a gift from Michael.

How much of the novel had he completed?

Michael left a good bit of manuscript. The story reflects the family unhappiness he experienced growing up in Alabama. The child uncertain of its status in its family was a theme he often used in his work. It was clear that he was uncertain about the ending.

How long did it take you to finish Candles Burning?

About a year. I live with somebody [Stephen King] who writes a lot faster than me, so I tend to feel I'm a very slow writer.

Does he know you're doing this interview on a cellphone?

He doesn't use a cellphone unless he absolutely has to!

Are you considering a sequel?

There's probably another novel in Calley's adult years. There are ideas in Candles Burningthat I'm interested in exploring further.

What are you working on now?

I'm playing with a story, a new novel. One thing I've absorbed from my husband, though, is you don't talk about what you're working on. Talk makes it go away.

Part of the allure of the ghosts in Candles Burning is that you can't trust what they say.

When Calley hears her dead grandmother's voice, she realizes that ghosts can lie—that whatever you are in life you are in death as well.

Do you believe in ghosts?

I've never had any personal visitations. On the other hand, I've read a lot of books by authors who are dead. And that could be a way of "meeting ghost people." Fiction is one of the ways we encode messages for the future. We encode what we've found out, what we've imagined, and we pass it along.