Wendy Corsi Staub|
Back in 1992, New York Times bestselling suspense author Wendy Corsi Staub launched her career with a paranormal YA suspense novel SUMMER LIGHTNING (Harper), which won an RWA Rita award. Since then, she has published more than 70 books for adults and young readers under her own name and several pseudonyms, including her USA Today bestselling alter ego Wendy Markham. In 2008, she has released five original titles including the New York Times bestseller DYING BREATH, and in April, she received the Romantic Times Career Achievement Award in Suspense.
Now Wendy returns to her roots with a new hardcover YA paranormal series, LILY DALE, with four titles from Walker Books so far: AWAKENING (9/07), BELIEVING (5/08), the upcoming CONNECTING (12/08), and 2009's DISCOVERING.
Your new YA series is set in a real town populated by mediums. What moved you to write about it?
Everyone loves a ghost story! And what better place to set one? I grew up in upstate New York just a few miles away from Lily Dale, a gated Victorian-era town that was the birthplace of spiritualism back in the 1800s. Today, people come from all over the world during the two month summer “season” when the mediums are officially in residence in gingerbread cottages on a picturesque lake. The place is charged with a unique energy, in part because emotions tend to run high among the visitors, most of whom are bereaved and seeking connection with their lost loved ones, at an emotional crossroads and looking for psychic counseling, or seriously ill and in need of alternative healing. From the time I was a little girl, I was fascinated by the mediums in Lily Dale. I always thought it would be a wonderful place to set a ghost story. I first wrote about it a few years back, in my adult suspense novel IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE (Kensington 2002). That book generated more reader mail than any other, and struck a chord with teenagers in particular.
Tell us about the plot for the new series.
LILY DALE's central character is a teenaged girl named Calla. Having just lost her mother, she is reunited with her estranged maternal grandmother when her father sends her for a visit. Once there, she learns that her mother's hometown is not only populated by people who can speak to the dead, but that her grandmother is one of them. Soon enough, strange things begin happening to Calla herself, who comes to realize that she, too, has inherited the gift—or curse, depending on how you look at it.
I have made a name for myself writing page-turning suspense, so I have included plenty of twists and turns in these books, and there is a central mystery running through each one. The messages and visions Calla receives from the spirit world indicate that her mother's death might not have been an accident. By the end of book one, she decides to stay in “the Dale,” as it is called by the locals, to find out more—and because she feels oddly more at home here than she ever has anywhere else.
The wonderful thing about the real Lily Dale is that it's an ordinary, extraordinary town. Neighbors gossip across backyard fences as readily as they chat with dead people only they can see. Children's extracurricular activities might include sailing lessons on the lake or past life regression classes in the Medium's League building. I love the way Lily Dale's residents take what they do in stride—and the loving spirit in which they do it. This is not a commercial, flashy place filled with cons. The mediums, who must pass stringent tests before they can become registered in Lily Dale, are there because they want to help people and because they are truly spiritual.
The town itself is more or less a character in the series. And I tried to capture its unique brand of quirkiness through a series of three-dimensional, multi-generational characters, from Calla's grandmother to the kids she befriends to the pair of polar opposite guys in the love triangle that develops as the series goes on.
How did you conduct your research?
Back before my adult suspense novel set in Lily Dale was released, I was able to go there incognito for readings with various mediums, to sort of test the waters and see what happened. This was at a time in my life when I had just lost several people close to me—my grandparents, my mother-in-law, and a close friend who died suddenly. I was impressed that they all came through pretty unmistakably via various mediums over a year or two of research.
After IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE, I learned that the mediums not only had read the book—but loved and lauded it. Extraordinarily—because they tend not to freely discuss with “outsiders” what it is that they do—many of them have since reached out to me to offer their help and support with future paranormal projects. I'm more or less a “hometown” girl, even though I now live in the New York City area. So I was able to go back and interview the mediums, sit in on classes they taught, and have even done some joint publicity with them. I now count one medium in particular, Dr. Lauren Thibadeaux, as a good friend.
So—are you a believer? Do you think people can actually talk to the dead? I was a skeptic going in, being a nice Catholic girl at heart. And I do believe that there are charlatans out there in the world. But look, most religions are based on things you can't see or prove—and spiritualism is an actual religion. I'm not here to tell you whether it's real or not; I can only tell you my own experiences. I have to say that I have seen many Lily Dale mediums do things that defy traditional explanation, and that they have known things—about me, about my family and relationships—that no one could possibly know. They've given so much detail that there's no way they could be “cold reading”—fishing for confirmation. I lost my mom a few years ago, not long after I began working on the series, and I have since received some messages via the mediums that have brought me comfort, if nothing else.
What is the spookiest thing that happened to you while researching the series?
I was invited to sit in on a beginning mediumship class on a blustery night last winter. My husband insisted on going with me because he didn't want me driving there on my own at night—it really is isolated and deserted off-season. When we got there, my shy guy was sort of dragged into the class—much to his mortification—and then we were both talked into participating in the exercises.
We were supposed to meditate on an unseen question and ask the spirit world to provide the answer. I shocked myself by finding vivid visions in my head and giving a fairly accurate reading. But my husband shocked absolutely everyone, most of all himself, by giving a dead-on reply, right down to spelling out something that was written on a folded sheet of paper he hadn't seen. Now I tease him that he may have a new career to fall back on!
I heard the series was optioned for television.
Yes, it's been exciting to meet with producers and networks here in New York and in L.A. to discuss bringing Lily Dale to television. I'm looking forward to taking it to the next step—but I've learned not to hold my breath in this fickle industry!
Where can readers who are interested learn more about the real Lily Dale?
They can visit the official website at LilyDaleAssembly.com or come see my personal collection of Lily Dale photographs on my website at WendyCorsiStaubCommunity.com.
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