Novelist Helene Dunbar’s latest book, Prelude for Lost Souls, is her first fantasy project.
Novelist Helene Dunbar, a former Oak Parker, experienced an enlightening reader response to her fifth book, Prelude for Lost Souls, released in August as her first fantasy project. Although all her books have drawn favorable responses from fans, this one has garnered more requests for a sequel.
Dunbar, who focuses on works for young adults, has set Prelude in a town where the way of life involves communicating with people who have passed on, and she is glad to report that the sequel is finished and sent to her publisher, Sourcebooks.
“Fantasy readers just have seemed more hungry for new work, and I hope the upcoming book will satisfy that,” said Dunbar, who has qualified the “fantasy” label by describing the book as “contemporary fantasy” while also finding it draws “paranormal” and “magical realism” designations.
“These readers seem to finish books very quickly, and I was able to provide some early buyers with [souvenir] cards designed to represent my characters. That was really a bucket list item for me. You don’t really do that with contemporary stories [in general].”
The idea for Prelude for Lost Souls came while the author was watching the television program Mysteries at the Museum.
“They did a segment based on Lily Dale, N.Y., which is the oldest spiritualist community in the United States,” Dunbar explained. “Lily Dale is a gated community that closes its gates through most of the year but opens them in the summer.
“People go there to contact deceased relatives or loved ones. Everyone in town is a medium, and I thought it would be an amazing place to set a book. So I did.”
Dunbar’s main character is Dec Hampton, who has lived his whole life in St. Hilaire, the town Dunbar created. Dec has suffered the loss of his parents and wants to leave town before being convinced to continue the spiritualist tradition of his family.
Enlarging the plot is Dec’s best friend, Russ, who had moved to the town from Chicago, where he had never fit in because he hears ghosts. Dec and Russ get to know Annie, a young piano prodigy who comes into town after her train breaks down nearby and soon learns of linkage to townspeople.
“This latest book can be read at various levels,” Dunbar said. “If you’re somebody who has experienced grief or loss, there can be a much deeper read, which unfortunately is appropriate in these times.”
Dunbar, who was a teenager when she lost her own mother, has written about young people coping with loss throughout her earlier books. She has done research on the subject to provide insight into coping mechanisms.
“Writing about teens is a lot about figuring out what they want their future to look like,” explains Dunbar, who lives in Nashville with her husband and their 11-year-old daughter.
Dunbar, who attended Oak Park High School while being active in the synagogue community that became Congregation Beth Ahm, earned her bachelor’s degree from Kalamazoo College, where she majored in English with a theater concentration.
Before entering the world of fiction at the encouragement of a college roommate, she did freelance writing that took her to New York and Ireland. Her assignments have reached from drama criticism to an article about a woman imprisoned for killing her children. She also has done marketing for Women of Reform Judaism.
The author’s current day job, moved from office to home because of the pandemic, has her responsible for internal communications developed for a health care company.
Before the pandemic shutdown activities, Dunbar was planning a huge 80th birthday party for her dad, Harold Baker, who lives in Novi and works at Adat Shalom Synagogue. Instead, she traveled to Michigan for a small celebration.
Dunbar hopes that she soon will have reason to celebrate the transition of her fourth book, We Are Lost and Found, into a film. About the AIDS epidemic and with a Jewish character, the novel has been optioned by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s production company, Ill Kippers. Fans of Game of Thrones know Coster-Waldau as the character Jaime Lannister.
“Since I started having books published, I’m always changing gears,” Dunbar said. “I move among drafting something, revising something else and marketing.”