The story of how Jessica Verday came to write The Hollow, the first in her paranormal teen trilogy—and her publishing debut—sounds like a scene from the novel in itself.

“This is going to sound like it was in a dream, but it wasn’t,” she explains during our interview at Davis-Kidd Booksellers in Nashville. “I was waiting to fall asleep in January of 2006, when all of a sudden I heard this girl speak. She said something, and I couldn’t hear her name clearly. All I could hear was the ‘b’ sound in the middle of the name. The line she said was intriguing and it got me very interested in her story.”

When describing the experience to her husband, he guessed that the girl’s name might be “Abbey.” Verday knew that he was right.

“As soon as I knew her name—and this is going to sound very odd, very strange—suddenly this flood of information came. What if this girl liked to make perfumes? Could I set it in Sleepy Hollow? What if she hung out in cemeteries?”

Verday listened to her character. “Most people would think it was weird, but I loved ghost stories growing up, and to me it just seemed very natural,” she says. “I thought, I’m supposed to write this down—I never thought, this is weird, I’m hearing voices in my head. I thought it was very natural. I thought these characters clearly have a story to tell, so I started writing.”

After a bad start on the computer—she re-wrote the first chapter three times—Verday tried writing by hand. “I got out the notebook and the pen, and it just flew from there. Once I started it was clear that this was the way the story was meant to come out.”

Although she loved reading everything from Newbery winners to R.L. Stine when she was growing up, Verday did not anticipate being a professional writer. “I wasn’t the type of person who said in elementary or high school that ‘I’m going to write a book,’” she says, although she did dabble in short stories about haunted houses and girl detectives.

Verday’s mother worked as a church secretary in Allentown, Pennsylvania. “I spent my time in a church cemetery,” Verday says of her childhood. “When I finished the book, I was like: I wrote about this girl who hangs out in a cemetery. That was what I did growing up, and that apparently influenced me more than I knew.”

Verday had a “childhood filled with books.” She also had family problems, and a few weeks before her 16th birthday, she ran away from home. She took a Greyhound bus to Austin, Texas, and married her boyfriend a few weeks later.

“Luckily it’s worked out very well,” she says. “We’ve been happily married for 11 years.”

When Verday was 17, she and her husband took another Greyhound to Nashville. They lived in a hotel for six months and worked long shifts to “pretty much just get on our feet,” she says. They eventually moved into an apartment, and Verday had a string of different jobs—many of which have influenced her writing. Perhaps the most interesting was her stint as a phone psychic, which lasted for a week.

“I know that’s going to come up again,” she says. “I have a story where I know I’m going to write about someone who’s involved in tarot card readings, and that was one of the things they taught me how to do.”

Thirteen notebooks and 15 pens after first hearing Abbey’s voice, Verday finished The Hollow in the summer of 2007. She got positive responses from agents, and in early 2008 she signed a three-book deal with Simon Pulse.

Each chapter of The Hollow begins with an excerpt from Washington Irving’s legend, and a large portion of the novel takes place in the Sleepy Hollow cemetery. When she decided on her setting, Verday took a trip to Sleepy Hollow, New York. She toured the real Sleepy Hollow cemetery and took hundreds of pictures. Although there are paranormal elements in her novel, Verday wanted to make her setting “founded in reality as much as possible.”

The novel begins after Abbey’s best friend, Kristin, has disappeared, presumed dead. After an empty casket is buried, Abbey meets Caspian at Kristin’s grave. The two feel a strong connection to each other, and Abbey and Caspian continue to see each other at the cemetery. He won’t give Abbey his contact information or tell her about his past, however—even as Abbey begins to rely on him while she copes with her friend’s death. Although Verday writes convincingly about real emotions—grief, loneliness, teen love—the novel contains plenty of spooky scenes (one involving the Headless Horseman).

As readers will discover, book one ends with many unanswered questions, especially when it comes to the man in Kristin’s life. “In book two you’ll find out who he is,” says Verday. “He’s a fun character—he had a lot of surprises for me.”

The second and third books in the trilogy will be released in the fall of 2010 and 2011. The tentative title for book two is The Haunted. Verday won’t reveal the title for book three, although she does hope to continue with the “H” theme. She did admit that she has an idea for how the trilogy will be perceived by readers: “Book one is questions, book two is answers and book three is choices.”

After so many ups and downs, Verday is content with her life as a full-time writer in Goodlettsville, Tennessee. “It is so amazing to get to put words on a paper, and then they are put on someone’s shelf and someone will read them. It is fantastic to be able to say that this is my job.”

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