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.
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.
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?”
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?