Haunting Jasmine: The Inside Scoop On The Ghosts Of Dead Authors

Mainstream author Anjali Banerjee has bewitched us with her latest novel, Haunting Jasmine. RT Reviewer Victoria Frerichs praised the read saying, "The paranormal aspects of the novel are creative and fun." Learn how Banerjee brought several dead authors back to life to haunt her heroine Jasmine and don't miss a special deleted scene from the tale! 

In my new release, Haunting Jasmine, a harried L.A. businesswoman, Jasmine Mistry, newly divorced and still reeling from her ex-husband’s infidelity, returns home to the rainy Pacific Northwest island of her childhood to run her aunt Ruma’s bookstore for a month while her aunt is in India. Auntie Ruma conveniently fails to tell Jasmine that the bookstore is haunted by the ghosts of dead authors, who help Jasmine to slow down, reinvent herself, rediscover her love of reading, and fall in love with an enigmatic young stranger.

The spirits make cameo appearances throughout the book in various ways – sometimes moving objects, throwing books off shelves, talking to Jasmine, and more. I chose iconic authors – names that people would generally recognize in North America: Julia Child, Edgar Allan Poe, Jane Austen, and Beatrix Potter, for example.

I didn’t start off that way. I thought, which dead authors would I most like to meet? Sure, I love the famous writers whose images we instantly recognize, like Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) and Shakespeare.  But I also love obscure authors, or those not generally well-known to the American public. In early drafts of Haunting Jasmine, those lesser-known authors appear in the bookstore. In one scene, the spirit of Dhan Gopal Mukerji returns to speak to a lonely, 70-year-old Bengali woman named Uma, a recent immigrant who, after her husband passed away, left her life and friends behind in India and moved to America to live with her daughter. 

This is a common scenario these days. A single, senior parent – or perhaps both parents – immigrates to America rather late in life to live with children and/or grandchildren, who have already settled here. These new immigrants often deal with culture shock and loneliness, as they might be left alone to watch TV or read during the day while their families are at work or in school. In the early, deleted scenes in Haunting Jasmine, Dhan Gopal Mukerji’s spirit appears in the bookstore to soothe Uma and keep her company.

Why did I choose him? Few people know much about him. He was the only Indian ever to win the American Library Association’s prestigious Newbery Medal for his novel, Gayneck, the Story of a Pigeon (1927). Born in India in 1890, he emigrated to Japan to study in 1910, and after a short stay there, he boarded a boat for San Francisco, where he became a writer to support himself and finance his education. He was one of the first Indian students at the University of California at Berkeley, my alma mater. He wrote many other books, including the autobiography Caste and Outcast (1923). The details of his later life are unclear, but for various reasons, he became deeply unhappy and hanged himself on July 14, 1936, just after his forty-sixth birthday, in New York City. I wanted to talk to him, to learn more about his life. I felt that he would understand Uma’s feelings of isolation. He would return to offer her companionship. But in the end, I removed him from the novel. Why?

I would have felt compelled to explain his background, thus distracting readers from Jasmine’s story. Perhaps Dhan Gopal Mukerji needs a story all to himself.

But I still feel it’s important to make people aware of him and his work. I may resurrect him in a future book set in the haunted bookstore. I have to figure out how to do it in an interesting way.

Similarly, I wanted to resurrect Rumer Godden, the late British writer who spent many years living in India; Alexander Key, who wrote one of my favorite children’s books, The Magic Meadow (now out of print); and Paula Danziger, who wrote 30+ children’s books and called me at midnight to endorse my first novel, Maya Running, only a few weeks before she passed away.

In the end, I chose iconic authors so that readers would recognize them and I would not have to explain their personal histories – as fascinating as those backgrounds might be. Writers make these kinds of choices all the time, deleting scenes and rewriting them – sometimes a painful process. 
However, I believe readers would be interested in reading about these more, shall we say, unusual or off-the-beaten path dead authors, if I can find a way to bring them to life in a fascinating way and do them justice. 

Perhaps in another book, I’ll give them a voice.

- Anjali Banerjee

Enjoy This Deleted Scene From Haunting Jasmine:

The dapper Bengali man steps from the history room, his hair slicked back with the faint scent of coconut oil. He’s wearing the same old fashioned double breasted suit that he wore the last time I saw him.

I nod slightly, to acknowledge his presence, although I’m nearly sure I’m the only living person who can see him. I turn to Uma. “What sort of books are you looking for here? To help you?”

“I do love Tagore,” Uma says, paging through a book of his short stories. “He won the Nobel Prize, you know, many years ago. I wish more Americans knew about him.”

“Maybe you should join a book group here. You can suggest they read Tagore.”

Her eyes light up. “Book group? When is this book group?”

“Wednesday mornings, for starters.”

“Every week?”

“They meet every week to chat, but they discuss a book once a month.”

“I will try to come.” She nods her head sideways and smiles. A tiny forgotten leaf is stuck between her teeth – perhaps an herb. She doesn’t notice the dapper man, who stands at a polite distance, watching her intently, as if trying to see into her soul.

I knew Uma’s mother very well, when I was a young man, he tells me. Before Uma was born. Before I came to America.

“Is that so?” I know I sound skeptical. He must have lived in the early 1900s, nearly a century ago.

Uma glances at me sharply. “Yes, I will try, but my daughter may not want to drive.”

“I’m sorry, I was thinking aloud,” I say.

She resumes reading the book.

The dapper man is now standing beside me.

“I will take these,” Uma says, nodding toward the pile of books in her arms. She heads down the aisle toward the check-out register.

“Who are you?” I whisper to the man.

He doesn’t reply, but a book tumbles off the shelf, right in front of Uma. She stops but her hands are full.

I retrieve the book, an old hardcover children’s novel printed in yellow and blue: Gay Neck, the Story of a Pigeon by Dhan Gopal Mukerji.

I glance at the man. He nods. So he is the author of this obscure tome. He gestures toward Uma. I’m supposed to give her the book. But why? My heart pounds.

“This is for you.” I show her the book. “Uh, no charge.”

“For me?” She gazes at the cover as the other books slip from her arms and fall to the floor. She grabs the Mukerji novel with both hands, and her eyes fill with tears. “I haven’t seen this one in years."

Want to read more about Jasmine's experiences with the ghosts of authors in her aunt's bookstore? You can pick up your own copy of Haunting Jasmine in stores now!