After writing “Smile” and “Sisters,” which were based on her own life, Raina Telgemeier has published “Ghosts,” a work of fiction. (Marion Vitus)

In Raina Telgemeier’s new graphic novel, “Ghosts,” Catrina doesn’t want to deal with the ghosts in her new California town. When her younger sister, Maya, runs off to speak to one, Catrina — nicknamed Cat — must find her.

At the National Book Festival on September 24, Telgemeier will talk about the book and how she created it. It’s a project that has been in her mind for a long time.

More than eight years ago, she went to a Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, celebration. It’s a “tradition that’s celebrated in Mexico and throughout the world,” Telgemeier explains in the back of her book. At the beginning of November every year, people honor their dead. They dress up, build small altars and light candles. Her character Cat goes to one of those celebrations.

The fog and windswept trees of Northern California were also inspirations. Telgemeier grew up in that part of the country and now lives there, in San Francisco. The land looks hauntingly beautiful, she said in an email interview. It sets the perfect mood for a book about ghosts.

Telgemeier’s best-known books, “Smile” and “Sisters,” were based on her life. But “Ghosts” is a work of fiction.

The exuberant little sister, Maya, has cystic fibrosis. This disease affects breathing and digestion. People are born with it, and it gets worse over time. Maya wants to talk to a ghost because she has some important questions about life and death. But Cat doesn’t know whether that is the best way to help her sister. She’s not sure she believes in ghosts, even though a new friend, Carlos, insists that he has seen them.

Words and pictures

Because a graphic novel combines words — usually dialogue — and pictures, Telgemeier starts with a loose outline of the story and then figures out what dialogue will go on every page.

“It’s really rough and sketchy,” she said, “but it lets me ‘see’ the pacing and timing and flow of the story.”

Only after she has revised that text and her editor has provided feedback does Telgemeier begin the final artwork. And she does it the old-fashioned way, with pencil and ink on thick drawing paper, along with “lots of erasing.” In the final stage, she works with colorist Braden Lamb to add the coloring digitally.

Telgemeier, who is 39, has been curious about comics since she was a kid. She loved reading the comics in the Sunday newspaper. She loved thinking about the way that words and pictures came together to tell a story.

When she was 10 years old, Telgemeier started creating her own comics.

“The characters were fictional, but they resembled me and my family,” she said.

In middle school, Telgemeier kept a “comics diary.” She recorded her days in comic-strip form.

“Nobody saw them,” she said, “because they were really personal!”

Kids interested in creating their own comics and graphic novels might “start small,” Telgemeier said. Begin with a comic strip, a comics diary or a one-to-three-page short story. Over time, you will learn to hone “art and writing and character and world-building skills,” she said.

That’s how Telgemeier started. Gradually her stories grew. Now she’s creating graphic novels, such as “Ghosts,” that are a whopping 240 pages long.

Meet the author

What: Raina Telgemeier will be on the Main Stage at the National Book Festival.

Where: Washington Convention Center, 801 Mount Pleasant Place NW, Washington.

When: September 24, 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.; book signing 4 to 5 p.m.

How much: Free.

For ages: 8 and older.

More information: A parent can visit for details about the festival, which runs from 8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.