Afghanistan's strangest gift to one U.S. soldier: an awareness of the dead in our midst

A soldier comes home from Afghanistan with a strange gift — she can see ghosts. How did Deborah Coates' Wide Open manage to win a three-book deal with Tor?

Here's how Publishers Marketplace describes Coates' first book, which convinced Tor to ante up for her whole trilogy:

Deborah Coates's WIDE OPEN, in which a woman has one week of compassionate leave home on her family's South Dakota ranch to solve her sister's murder — with only the dubious help of the ghosts she has been able to see ever since her near-death injuries in Afghanistan.

We were intrigued by the idea of a soldier who's gained the ability to see ghosts, and who uses this to solve murders. We asked Coates to tell us more, and here's what she said:

The books are what I'd call contemporary rural fantasy novels with a strong urban fantasy sensibility. It's not a trilogy - each of the three books will be complete in themselves, but the characters and their relationships will develop over the three books. As well, there will be a few overarching story elements. I think of them like mystery novels where the main mystery wraps up in each book, but where the characters' stories continue over the course of several novels.

In the first book, WIDE OPEN, Hallie Michaels is a soldier in Afghanistan who 'died' in a roadside ambush, was revived by medics and can now see ghosts. At the beginning of the novel, she's received word that her sister has died back in South Dakota and Hallie has come home on a ten-day compassionate leave to attend her funeral. Though the sheriff has declared it suicide, Hallie's convinced this can't be the case and is determined to use the brief time she has to find out what really happened. Her sister's ghost is now following her and she keeps running into a young deputy sheriff who seems to turn up exactly where he's most not wanted.

So what was it about this manuscript that caught Tor's interest? Says Coates:

If I had to say, I'd say that Tor liked the writing (they've called them 'literary urban fantasy'), the characters and their development over the course of the novel, and the strong sense of place.

Top image: Chris Hondros/Getty Images.