Thursday, February 9, 2012


by Wendy Corsi Staub

My first novel, a young adult paranormal called SUMMER LIGHTNING, featured a ghost. My most recent young adult novels—a series called LILY DALE—featured many ghosts.

LILY DALE is, in fact, set in the real life spiritualist colony Lily Dale, New York, about 5 miles from my hometown. Like Las Vegas and Hollywood, Lily Dale is a town that mainly revolves around a single industry. Only here, it isn’t gambling or entertainment. It’s ghosts.

You can read more about Lily Dale—the place--here.

You can find out more about Lily Dale--the books--here.

I don’t always write about ghosts. I don’t even often write about ghosts. I’m best known as an adult suspense novelist, and most of my novels, while squarely falling into the thriller category, don’t have a hint of paranormal. That said, a ghostly visitor has crept into those books on occasion. IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE, one of my early adult thrillers, is also set in Lily Dale.

I’ve also written nineteen romance and chick lit novels under the pseudonym Wendy Markham, and, wouldn’t you know it? Ghosts have crept into a handful of those as well—even when I didn’t intend for it to happen. There I was, writing LOVE, SUBURBAN STYLE,

a perfectly upbeat contemporary novel about a woman who returns to her hometown to find herself living next door to her high school crush, and—Boo!

Not only did I realize that my heroine’s house was haunted, but I soon discovered that the ghost was a matchmaker with a very personal agenda. It didn’t become a dark, scary book after that. It was a light, upbeat, romantic romp, just as I’d originally set out to write. I certainly didn’t expect the spirited spirit to pop up. It just did.

It’s kind of like real life. There you are, going about your business, when suddenly…it happens.

What happens?

Something that can’t be explained…

Trick of the light? Old house settling? Ghostly visitor?

Maybe. Maybe not. All I know is that when I was growing up in Western New York, a stone’s throw away from Lily Dale, something very strange happened to me one night while I was babysitting at my aunt and uncle’s big old Victorian house around the corner form my own big old Victorian house. I was thirteen years old then, and very responsible—definitely responsible (or chicken) enough to make sure the front door was locked after I was alone with the kids.

After tucking my cousins into bed, I was sitting there watching TV (probably Mary Tyler Moore—how I loved, and wanted to be, Mary!). I had my back to the front door when I suddenly felt a draft.

Turning, I saw that the massive old front door—the door that I had dutifully locked—was somehow standing wide open. Rattled, I went over and slid the deadbolt, then fastened the chain.

I sat down again. A short time later, another chill, and I turned to see the door wide open again. I raced over and locked it. Then, heart pounding as I realized that I might just have locked myself and two small children into the house with a crazed killer, I called my parents.

My mom was dozing. My father was up watching a ballgame and not thrilled to be interrupted. Nor was he eager to come running to my rescue.

“You probably just forgot to lock the door,” he said above the sound of televised baseball announcers and a cheering crowd, and I could just see him standing there in our safe, unhaunted home wearing his boxer shorts, trying to stretch the curly telephone cord from the kitchen to the living room so that he could keep an eye on the TV.

“No, I’m positive it was locked! I locked it! Twice!”

“Then Michael and Katie are playing tricks on you.”

It wouldn’t be the first time my cousins did that. But something told me it wasn’t the case this time.

Sure enough, I went upstairs and found both kids sound asleep. I checked under the beds, in the closets, behind the shower curtain. Once I was sure no one was hiding on the second floor, I checked the entire first floor, and then the basement rec room. There, I grabbed a stick from the pool table and carried it back up to the living room with me to use as a weapon.

The door was still locked. I sat down again, clutching my pool stick and within minutes—you guessed it. The door opened wide again. I locked it again. Checked kids again—sound asleep. Called my father again.

Naturally, he still didn’t believe me. I didn't even know if I believed me. I mean, it was impossible, right, for a door to open itself? And in my father's defense, I might have been, prior to that evening, kind of a flighty, fanciful kid who, nose buried in a book, could be a tad forgetful or slapdash—or, perhaps, my budding author’s imagination might have, on occasion, shall we say…imagined things.

Plus, this was the mid-1970s in a small, safe town where we knew everyone—and my father was reasonably sure there were no crazed killers afoot that night. Plus, I’m sure the Yanks were tied with the Red Sox in the bottom of the ninth or something like that. I was on my own.

So there I sat clutching my pool stick, alone in the house (other than two sleeping kids and a ghost). I called my friend Bobby (you can ask him, he remembers to this day) and made him stay on the phone with me for a couple of hours. Every so often—never when I was watching--the door unlocked and opened itself.

At last, my aunt and uncle returned, and I told them what happened. They shrugged and laughed it off.

It wasn’t until years later, when I brought up the incident to my aunt, that she told me the same exact thing had happened to her—often!--when she was alone in the living room. Turned out, that house was notoriously haunted, and many people—it later seemed, everyone but me—knew about it.

“Why didn’t you tell me I wasn’t imagining things that night?” I asked my aunt.

“If you knew the truth, you’d never have babysat again, right?”

“Well…probably not.”

She told me that the ghost was harmless—a nice little lady ghost, my aunt believed, with a mischievous sense of humor.

Great. Just great. Ha. Funny.

That night had been a turning point, though, in my life. It was the first time I ever experienced firsthand something that couldn’t be explained.

But it wouldn’t be the last. (More about that in the next blog!)

From that point on, I grew more and more intrigued by Lily Dale, “the town that talks to the dead,” which happened to be just a few miles down Route 60. My family had often gone for Sunday drives along the lake there, and I found the Victorian setting incredibly atmospheric. Now I wanted to know more about it. Was it really haunted? Was there such thing as ghosts? Could they communicate with people?

I had known for years by that time that I wanted to become a writer, but after that ghostly incident as a thirteen year-old babysitter, I knew that one day I'd write about ghosts—and about Lily Dale, too.

How about you? Do you believe in ghosts? Or have you ever experienced something that had no easy explanation?


Jordan Dane said...

Babysitting ALONE would've creeped me out. That whole open door thing would've been overkill. Uber scary.

I've been on ghost hunts before. A great way to jack with your adrenaline. And once, while I was writing a particularly gut wrenching scene in my first suspense book, I had to break from it to do laundry. That alone is spooky weird for me--CHOOSING laundry--but I found myself calling my cats "Cosas Finas," a term of endearment that my grandfather used to call his grandkids when we were little. I hadn't heard that nickname for decades, but since my grandfather was the writer in our family, I figured he was with me that day and that's how he let me know it. That name - Cosas Finas - in Spanish means "fine things" & is now the name of my corporation, in honor of him.

Wendy Corsi Staub said...

Jordan...I love that! It's more warm and fuzzy than spooky...just the way I like my ghosts! :-) On the night before my mother-in-law died, my husband woke up in the wee hours sobbing--he said he kept hearing his grandfather (my mother-in-law's dad, who had died two years earlier) calling out to her, but not by her name--by the pet name he had for her when she was a little girl. It's a Yiddish phrase I can't remember but it popped into my husband's head--or dreams--out of nowhere, and it was frightening that night, but he later was comforted when he realized it meant his grandfather was waiting for her.

Jordan Dane said...

*shiver* chills, Wendy. You know the scariest thing about ghosts for me is--they can see me naked.

Just sayin'

Wendy Corsi Staub said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wendy Corsi Staub said...

Jordan...exactly!! Which is why I snatched this book off a shelf years ago, couldn't wait to read the answer: DO DEAD PEOPLE WATCH YOU SHOWER?
(I removed the post above because I was trying to link to the book title but it showed up as gibberish!)

Jennie said...

Your conversation is so interesting! Wen, while on a tour of my house built in 1901 (first time buyers) I sincerely asked.... "are there any ghosts"? The prior owner replied... "not that we know of"! That sealed the deal for me!

Jordan Dane said...

The gibberish is the literal html link but blogger doesnt make posting a link easy because of spam control.

That book title is great. Ha!

Anita Grace Howard said...

Wendy, this post ROCKED!! Why couldn't I have grown up somewhere atmospheric with an interesting history? ;) Maybe that's why I became a writer, because life was so boring I had to make up some fun. Hee.

And EEK on the ghostly happenings while babysitting! Go you w/the big bad pool stick. You'd make a great heroine for a YA, I'm thinking. ;)

Jennifer Archer said...

Now I want to go to Lily Dale! How cool is that? A town devoted to ghosts. Wendy, ghosts showed up a a time or two unexpectedly in my women's fiction novels. I really loved writing THROUGH HER EYES, where the ghost could be more of a focus. Great post!

Allyson Rae said...

Oh my gosh...creepiest story ever. I've never had any weird experiences, but I'm a chicken so I don't think I woulld have handled it well. I love creepy things, but I can't deal alone, for sure.
And would you believe that I live in Cassadaga and have never actually been to Lily Dale? We drive by all the time, but I've never actually gone in...always wanted to though. Of course, I'd need a buddy. ;)

Karen said...

My flowershop is in a big house that was built in the 1800's right on the railroad tracks in Summerville, SC. We have had so many instances with our ghost. I believe him to be someone related to the railroad. I know it's a man because I have heard heavy footsteps. He does not like change. When I start redoing displays at the shop and making changes, he starts acting up. I put in some rentals, a large farm table, antique china, large iron candlesticks with these beautiful blue candles in them. Got everything setup and went back to the workroom. The minute I got down there I heard ding, ding, clank, clank, sound of candles hitting the china. Go back up front, candles are laying on the table on the china. Stand them back up, go back to workroom, same thing happens again. This went on several times. I finally got some florist cling (like a sticky gum) and clinged in the candles. Still happened, by now candles are broken they have fallen so many times. I finally threw up my hands and said you win, I'll leave them out. He was fine after that!

Carol Tanzman said...

When I was in high school, one of my best friends lived in a house built in the 1800's (the rest of lived in tract houses). And--no surprise--a ghost lived there. Rattled the pots and dropped things...I was there once when it happened. The family was like, "oh, it's just our ghost" and went on about their business... which kind of made me less freaked out than if I'd been ALONE babysitting!!!

Wendy Corsi Staub said...

I loved reading all of your spooky experiences...and enjoyed the matter-of-fact, good-naturedness of it all. A haunting doesn't always have to be a "dark and stormy night" experience! And have you stayed away for so long?!

Allyson Rae said...

I have no idea, but now I have every intention of rectifying this in the summer. I'm sure I've got some brave friend I can bring along to protect me. ;)