Wendy Webb believes in ghosts. By the time readers finish her new haunting novel, The Fate of Mercy Alban, they will too.
There’s a strong sense of place in your writing. Lake Michigan in your debut novel, The Tale of Halcyon Crane, and Lake Superior in The Fate of Mercy Alban are both almost characters. Was this conscious on your part?
The thing that inspires me to think up a story is the place; most specifically, the house. When I go into or see an old house, I wonder, what could happen there? What secrets are lurking around every corner? The first time I walked through Glensheen [a Jacobean-style mansion in Duluth built between 1905-1908 that is now a tourist attraction], I thought, what could happen in a big house like this, a rich family with secrets, on a big lake? There is a lot of magic around Lake Superior, and that tends to flow into my storytelling. People around here think Lake Superior is alive; I don’t doubt that. This all inspired The Fate of Mercy Alban.
How did a journalist who’s been trained to deal with facts and is an editor at a regional lifestyle magazine come to write ghost stories?
I’ve always been drawn to the paranormal. I love ghost stories; I love spine-tingling books and movies; anything with a mystery or paranormal element. It’s a guilty pleasure. Especially being a journalist, I love being able to escape into that world. But I don’t want the novels I write to be too out there: I want it to seem like you are just going along in your regular life and then all of a sudden you see something that’s magical or strange or not really there.
Do you believe in ghosts?
In my heart of hearts, I feel that’s real, that it could happen, and it has happened to people. It’s happened to me. One of the best things I’ve found at my readings is that people tell me of their own experiences: they’re very important stories to them. It’s always like, ‘when this person I loved so much died, this happened afterwards.’ It’s not like we’re just talking about the weather. It’s important stuff. I feel privileged to have heard all these stories. I don’t know why people are so afraid of ghosts, because that’s proof that there’s something beyond.
What writer has had the greatest influence on you?
Madeleine L’Engle. When I was about 13 years old, I read A Wrinkle in Time. When I closed that book, I thought, this is what I want to do for a living. I don’t know if it’s through that book that I became a writer or if I was a writer first and then that just sparked it. And I think I like to have paranormal and spookiness in my novels because she did in hers.