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1. Book Review: Shade Me by Jennifer Brown

Title: Shade Me
Author: Jennifer Brown
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: When the popular girl is murdered, Nikki feels strangely drawn toward the case, even getting entangled with the girl's sexy older brother.

First Impressions: Meh. I know she's supposed to be Tough and Independent but she was awfully cagey with the cop for no reason. And the book treated synaesthesia like a superpower or something. Just weird and unsatisfying.

Later On: Generally I really like Jennifer Brown's stories. She focuses tightly on characters and character development, and how relationships grow and change, especially under the pressure of horrible situations.

This shift to a more plot-heavy mystery didn't work at all for me, especially since the things that were so strong in her other stories suffered for Plot Reasons. We never meet the murdered girl, but somehow Nikki felt a connection, even though her assessment of the murdered girl before she was murdered was decidedly negative. There was a romantic subplot and I know I was supposed to feel a connection to it and to the romantic lead (whose name I can't even remember), but I really didn't.

I know it's fashionable, especially in noir stories, to mistrust the police, but I couldn't figure out any earthly reason for her not to bring the cop in on her suspicions, even partially. He wasn't actively undermining her, gaslighting her, or at any time seemed to be one of the bad guys. In fact, he kept coming around to say, "Look, can I help? I'm doing this; this is my actual job and I'm really trying to do it here. I have information, do you have information?" And she would say no because . . . suspense?! It was unsatisfying.

Finally, my issue with the use of Nikki's synesthesia. Brown did acknowledge it as something that has given Nikki learning difficulties, but it also functioned as a magical signpost to Things That Were Important to the mystery, and a connection to the murdered girl, who (minor spoiler) had synesthesia herself.   But my understanding, which because I'm not a neuroscientist is not exactly thorough, is that synesthesia works differently for different people. How could the dead girl possibly have known what would jump out at Nikki and what wouldn't? Just a little too convenient.

I'll read Brown's next book, but only if it's not a noir mystery.

More: Kirkus Reviews
Disability in Kidlit on repackaging disabilities as superpowers, which is not always a bad thing, but annoyed me in this book

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2. Jeff Östberg

Jeff Östberg

From his editorial work to his personal projects, Jeff Östberg’s illustrations are inspired by his love for city life, music, and fashion. With soft color pallets and hints of graphic patterns, he strives to capture the essence of each of his subjects, characters that are often inspired by people he encounters in his everyday life in Stockholm.

Jeff Östberg

Jeff Östberg

Jeff Östberg

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Also worth viewing:

Marijke Buurlage
Andres Lozano
David Doran

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Thanks to this week's Sponsor // Vintage Fonts - 12 Font Families






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3. Waiting On Wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event that is hosted by Jill at   Breaking the Spine   and spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.       Kayla's choice for Waiting On Wednesday (Blog Manager for YABC) REPLICA by Lauren Oliver ~10/4/16 Author: Lauren Oliver Book: Hardcover, 544 pages Expected publication: October 4th...

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4. Looking for bravest moments (YA anthology)

Annick PressChildren’s publisher Annick Press (Canada) is seeking true stories of bravest moments for a YA non-fiction anthology. The format of the testimonial can be in one of many different mediums (prose, poetry, photography, illustration, etc.). Contact Robbie Patterson at robbiep@annickpress.com for full details.

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5. School Visits



Ever consider hosting an author visit with a thousand kids in the audience? It's a ton of fun and a little easier than you might think.
A few weeks back, I visited with the students of New Richmond, VA. Laura Ulrich and her diligent colleagues brought in every student from every district school to the high school auditorium throughout the day. I saw three groups of one-thousand students in grades K-5! So one day, three-thousand students! I gave everyone a high five or a handshake as they walked out. Some kids even demanded a hug.
I absolutely LOVE these opportunities. There is so much energy in a room like that. And give me a microphone and a screen to project sketches on, and you'll hear a pin drop.
Check out this great article about how it all went down:

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6. Haven't I seen you someplace before? More dueling covers of falling cutouts

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7. Building relationships and readers.

Every Friday for the last several months, members of the Los Angeles Police Department have been visiting library branches for a special program called Read Along. It was an honor and a privilege to join them this past Friday.
Officer Oseguera addressed the crowd before we got rolling. He gave an impassioned speech about his childhood and how police officers helped him in a time of need. He also spoke about the important role that the public library played in his upbringing. Through Read Along, officers are working on developing positive relationships with the youngest citizens in their neighborhoods while instilling a love of reading and literacy. It's awe-inspiring. They worked closely with the librarians to craft this endeavor, even putting themselves through the read-aloud training the library offers volunteers. (They knew a lame reading would tank the program.)
When I learned about the statistics of the area surrounding the library we were in, I was flabbergasted. About a 50% high school dropout rate and roughly 150 homicides per year. Makes you realize that public libraries aren't just a resource but a REFUGE for these kids. 
I traveled to LA just for the day because I wanted to see what they were doing first hand, and it left an indelible mark on me. Walden Pond Press brought two-hundred copies of Platypus Police Squad: Never Say Narwhal to gift to the young readers in attendance. The smiles on their faces as they were handed books will carry me for years to come.
Along with my publisher, Walden Pond Press, I've been encouraging libraries and police departments to work together though reading-aloud initiatives. The LAPD created their program contingently to our efforts, but I am so glad that we were able to link up. I've seen officers and librarians working together in various towns across the country, and I hope that you would consider building a similar setup in your public or school library. But where to start? Look for the link that I'll post in the comments section to help get you started. We created a brochure that offers tips and a reader's theater from Platypus Police Squad: The Frog Who Croaked.



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8. RIP Mell Lazarus

Mell Lazarus, the cartoonist behind such comcis page staples as Miss Peach and Momma has passed away at age 89. Lazasua was a past president of the NCS as well as a Rueben Award winner and an NCS Medal of Honor recipient. The National Cartoonists Society page has more information: Mell was beloved by all […]

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9. It's Disney Channel Movie Time!

Need something to do this weekend? Good news - the Disney Channel is having a marathon of their Original Movies all weekend long. So you can watch Alley Cats Strike (every word of which is mine, for better or worse), Quints (on which I share credit), and The Other Me (on which I did the final draft from fine work before mine)... plus a whole lot more, of course.

You should set those DVRs and enjoy some classics!

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10. Waiting On Wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event that is hosted by Jill at   Breaking the Spine   and spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.       Kayla's choice for Waiting On Wednesday (Blog Manager for YABC) REPLICA by Lauren Oliver ~10/4/16 Author: Lauren Oliver Book: Hardcover, 544 pages Expected publication: October 4th...

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11. Author Rosanne Parry on the Benefits of Reading Levels

The topic of reading levels is always contentious foGuest Bloggerr librarians, educators, booksellers, and authors. A recent article by author Sergio Ruzzier argued against the merits of using reading levels to determine which book is right for a child. In this guest post, author and bookseller Rosanne Parry offers her thoughts on why reading levels can be valuable, despite some of the drawbacks. Welcome, Rosanne!

Reading levels posted on trade fiction for children are a bit of a hot-button issue for those who work in the book world and periodically I hear calls for their complete abolition.  I agree that people use reading levels on books unwisely all the time. I believe that in general kids ought to have the widest possible access to the books they choose for themselves. I think there are many mistaken assumptions about what those reading levels mean. However there are useful purposes for reading levels on books.

I started my career as a teacher with a specialty in reading. I did most of my work with learning disabled students. If you are choosing books to use in school for instruction with children who are struggling, then keeping them within the parameters of a book that is just challenging enough but not too frustrating gives optimal progress toward reading fluency. An accurate reading level, manageable book length, accessible font, generous leading and kerning, and affordable price all help a teacher choose useful material for each student.

The temptation to make reading instruction leak over into at-home recreational reading is very strong for a highly motivated parent who is ashamed of a child’s low reading level or overly impressed with a high one. Sometimes this prompts a parent to steer their child away from high quality books that would be developmentally appropriate and captivating, and push them toward books that are decodable but outside the child’s emotional sphere and therefore not very engaging.

Most of the reading levels that publishers put on books are there as a shelving aid for booksellers, rather than a prescription for readers. They have almost nothing to do with the readability of the text and much more to do with the maturity of the content. To be perfectly honest, the vast majority of adult books are written at a 5th-6th grade reading level. The current literary fashion is toward a plain-spoken prose style and simple sentence structure.  This drives down the reading level of adult books. But it doesn’t make adult content in a book appropriate for children.

Here’s an example of where I think the publisher’s reading level is helpful. Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit is a short novel Anna and the Swallow Manabout a seven-year old girl. At first glance a bookseller might just toss it on the shelf with Clementine and Captain Underpants. Fortunately, the reading level says 7th grade and up (12+ years). It’s a story about the atrocities of WWII. The seven-year old girl is a fugitive on the run with an adult of dubious motives. She steals from battlefield corpses; she is raped; the ending is ambiguous and not particularly hopeful. It’s a stunning piece of writing and will likely be in the buzz come book award time and rightly so. Nevertheless it’s not a book that serves a second grader well. The reading level helps us get the book in the right spot in our store and because it’s at a discrepancy with the outward appearance of the book, it encourages us to read the whole book and figure out where to best recommend it.

Sometimes we decide to ignore the reading level on a book. When we got Symphony for the City of the Dead by M.T. Anderson last year, we opted to ignore the grade level recommendations and shelve it in adult history where our avid World War II buffs and professional musicians were most likely to find it. It would be less work for the bookseller to shelve all of an author’s work in one spot. But if the author is Ursula LeGuin or Suzanne Collins or Neil Gaiman, the reader is better served by having the adult, young adult, middle grade, and chapter books shelved in separate areas.

Reading levels are one tool among many a bookseller can use. Even in a small bookshop we get in hundreds of new books a week in addition to the classics we always carry. There’s no way even a cohort of dozens of booksellers can analyze every book we carry. So I’m glad there’s a reading level marker that we can use or ignore as we see fit. I’d love for it to be in a magical ink that only a bookseller can see, but until then, part of a booksellers job is to help anxious parents feel good about the quality of books their child is choosing and help them anticipate other books that will give their family joy.


Rosanne ParryAbout Rosanne Parry:  Rosanne Parry is the author for four middle grade novels from Random House, including her most recent title, The Turn of the Tide. She has been an elementary teacher and is now a part-time book monger at the legacy indie bookstore Annie Blooms. She also teaches children’s and YA literature in the Masters in Book Publishing program at Portland State University. She lives in Portland, Oregon and writes in a treehouse in her back yard.  You can find out more about her online here.


Further Reading:
Lexile: A Bookseller’s Best Friend or Worst Enemy?

5 Strategies to Help Parents Navigate Lexile

7 Strategies to Help Booksellers and Librarians Navigate Lexile

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12. ‘Beauty’ by Alice Lemma

Graduation film made by Alice Lemma at Sheridan College.

The post ‘Beauty’ by Alice Lemma appeared first on Cartoon Brew.

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13. Author Top Five--Twinned Enchantment with L.E. Sterling, Plus Giveaway!

Today's AUTHOR TOP FIVE comes from L.E. Sterling, and because True Born, the story of Lucinda Fox, whose twin sister Margot gets kidnapped in a plague-ridden world, the author decided to write her post about the magic of twins!     First meet L.E. Sterling! L.E. Sterling had an early obsession with sci-fi,...

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14. A Child of Books

  Arriving on bookshelves in September (Candlewick) will be Oliver Jeffers’s and Sam Winston’s A Child of Books, and today I’ve got a little sneak peek. First, they have created one of those newfangled book trailer dealios (to be exact) for the book, which is above. (It’s always fun to hear that Belfast accent.) Also, […]

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15. It's Live!! Cover Reveal: Dessert First by Dean Gloster + Giveaway (US/Canada)

Hi, YABCers! Today we're super excited to celebrate the new cover reveal for DESSERT FIRST by Dean Gloster, releasing September 18, 2016 from Merit Press. Before we get to the cover, here's a note from Dean: Hi, YABC, and welcome to the cover reveal of DESSERT FIRST! The cover design is...

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16. Poetry contest with $1500 first prize

PRISM InternationalPRISM International invites entries for the inaugural Pacific Spirit Poetry Prize. First prize: $1500 grand prize ($600 runner-up, $400 2nd runner-up. Up to three poems per entry (100 lines max per poem). Entry fees: $35-$45 (includes subscription). Deadline: October 15, 2016.

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17. Report: Shocking new Captain America is not “a clone, imposter, mind control” or someone else (SPOILERS)

cap_e048th_lgIt's a big week for comics news! While Rebirth has been grabbing a lot of headlines, Marvel has made its own noise with a SHOCKING TWIST FOR A BELOVED CHARACTER. Nothing will be the same ever again! This spoiler involves Captain America and the comic book CAPTAIN AMERICA STEVE ROGERS #1, on sale today. And here it is!

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18. The shady lowlands


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19. PEARL by Deirdre Riordan Hall | Something to Think About

Review by Krista PEARL by Deirdre Riordan HallPaperback: 352 pagesPublisher: Skyscape (March 1, 2016)Language: EnglishGoodreads | Amazon Run fast and run far, unless you’re fearless. Unless you’re courageous. I’m not, but I’d like to be. Pearl Jaeger is seventeen and homeless after drugs, poverty, and addiction unraveled the life she shared with JJ, her formerly glamorous rock star mother.

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20. Memory of Light: Francisco X. Stork



Just finished The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork. The exploration of depression is honest and may give words as well as hope to those within the condition. Learning to exist in the midst of the trial is displayed with a tender compassion.

Watch for Vicky's story of crisis and recovery. It may help you find your own memory of light or assist another along the path beside you.

The Memory of Light
by Francisco X. Stork
Arthur A. Levine Books, Scholastic, 2016
Edited by Cheryl Klein

LorieAnncard2010small.jpg image by readergirlz


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21. 770 Pounds of Dreams for His Students

FirstBook at Mary Bethune Elementary School, Atlanta, Georgia

It started with one spelling word. “Beach.”

Malik Ray, a first-time second grade teacher in Atlanta, GA, taught his students their new spelling words by projecting a photo and having students guess the word before putting it in their notebooks.

On this day, Malik displayed a photo of the sand, a palm tree, a little beach ball and the ocean. The classroom went silent. Not one student guessed the word.

They couldn’t recognize the sand; they didn’t know the water was the ocean. They had never seen a tree with what they called “arms.” They did recognize the ball.

This was when Malik realized that his students had never seen a beach. They had never been outside of the Vine City neighborhood where they resided. His students didn’t have what Malik calls “vision” – the ability to see past where they are now and imagine a different life.

But when 770 pounds of books from First Book arrived at their school, that changed.

Malik classroom photo“When the books arrived, I thought, ‘Here are 770 pounds of experience for your children. They are going to dream 770 pounds of dreams,’” says Malik.

Now when they read about faraway places and unfamiliar characters, they ask questions like “How is her hair that way?” “Why do their parents do that when mine do this?”

Students that were reading at a pre-k level when they entered his classroom are now reading chapter books. Their reading assessment scores have improved. They are ready to enter third grade.

And they’ve started to dream.

“We’ve starting to talk about their future in a whole new way,” explains Malik. “Rather than saying ‘I want to be a beautician like my aunt,’ we talk about owning a beauty salon. I want them to be able to dream. These books have given my kids hope.”

Malik Ray’s classroom was able to receive books through First Book’s partnership with Wipro Ltd., a global information technology, consulting and business process services company. If you work with children in need, you can access books and resources for your classroom through the First Book Marketplace.

The post 770 Pounds of Dreams for His Students appeared first on First Book Blog.

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22. J. Bears Wilson’s face gets all screwed up when he’s...


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23. the dutch republic


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24. Deep Point of View

What is deep of point of view and how do you write it?

https://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/2016/03/09/introducing-deep-pov-wth-is-it-can-we-buy-some-on-amazon/
https://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/2016/03/13/getting-in-character-deep-pov-part-two/
https://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/2016/03/16/want-a-page-turner-you-need-deep-pov/

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25. Flogometer for E.G.—are you compelled to turn the page?

Submissions Invited. If you’d like a fresh look at your opening chapter or prologue, please email your submission to me re the directions at the bottom of this post.


The Flogometer challenge: can you craft a first page that compels me to turn to the next page? Caveat: Please keep in mind that this is entirely subjective.

Note: all the Flogometer posts are here.

What's a first page in publishingland? In a properly formatted novel manuscript (double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 12-point type, etc.) there should be about 16 or 17 lines on the first page (first pages of chapters/prologues start about 1/3 of the way down the page). Directions for submissions are below—they include a request to post the rest of the chapter, but that’s optional.

A word about the line-editing in these posts: it’s “one-pass” editing, and I don’t try to address everything, which is why I appreciate the comments from the FtQ tribe. In a paid edit, I go through each manuscript three times.

Mastering front 100WshadowBefore you rip into today’s submission, consider this checklist of first-page ingredients from my book, Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling. While it's not a requirement that all of these elements must be on the first page, they can be, and I think you have the best chance of hooking a reader if they are.

Download a free PDF copy here.

Were I you, I'd examine my first page in the light of this list before submitting to the Flogometer. I use it on my own work.

A First-page Checklist

  • It begins engaging the reader with the character
  • Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
  • The character desires something.
  • The character does something.
  • There’s enough of a setting to orient the reader as to where things are happening.
  • It happens in the NOW of the story.
  • Backstory? What backstory? We’re in the NOW of the story.
  • Set-up? What set-up? We’re in the NOW of the story.
  • What happens raises a story question.

Caveat: a strong first-person voice with the right content can raise powerful story questions and create page turns without doing all of the above. A recent submission worked wonderfully well and didn't deal with five of the things in the checklist.

Also, if you think about it, the same checklist should apply to the page where you introduce an antagonist.


E.G. sends the prologue and first chapter for The Tchaikovsky. The rest of the submission follows the break.

Prologue:

Mary Ferguson was upset. She did not like driving at night alone. Perhaps that’s why she did something uncharacteristic, and picked up the stranded stranger. She was on Hwy 195 headed for Tallahassee and her family home. She should have spent the evening at her sister’s in Campbell but they got into an all too familiar brouhaha over the raising of children in a modern society and Mary stormed out into the night. Mary is a middle school teacher and considers herself a progressive thinker while she regards her sister as a foaming-at-the-mouth conservative when it came to the education of the young. The argument centered on something to do with ‘Common Core’, though Mary could not recall any of the specifics.

Now Mary was in her late model car, miles from home, and it was pitch black ahead. She was grateful for the nearly full moon low now on the horizon shining through the trees. Driving at night always made Mary nervous but the moon’s silver light somehow added a sense of warmth to the blackness. She turned on the player on her dash and forwarded the CD to Cohen’s song, ‘The Future’. Cohn whispered the song with a voice filled with gravel. But the quiet rhythm made the drive easier – ‘love’s the only engine of survival’.

The lyrics are weird and shocking; wonder what they really mean, Mary thought with a smile. She beat the steering wheel in time to the chorus and tried to relax.

‘Thank God the weather is mild,’ she said out loud as she stared down the dark road (snip)

Were you compelled to turn the prologue's first page?

Chapter 1:

Susan Wei was a very sound sleeper. Her husband John constantly teased her about it. ‘If a huge quake struck Dover, Mass. you would roll over and sleep right through it’, he would say to her with a laugh. That’s why it was so unusual that something very faint and far away, barely audible, had awakened her.

Suddenly Susan blinked several times in the dark and opened her eyes wide. She lay still in her super King bed and tried to identify what had disturbed her sleep. She lay in the dark and listened to the sounds of her large dark house. There was nothing. Except for some moonlight slipping through her heavy curtains leaving streaks of pale light on the floor, the master suite was black and silent.

Perhaps it was just a dream or a sound from outside. Not likely, she thought. She could not recall any dreams that disturbed her and the house was very well insulated. Even the gardeners with their blowers only sounded like a distant hum in the late morning when they did their work. Although she was still groggy, she was certain the weird sound had originated inside the house. Susan sat up in the bed and strained to hear any noises. There was nothing.

The house was an elegant fourteen room mansion with several adjacent buildings on a large estate. It was a matter of pride for the Wei family, a visible sight of John’s success in America. The estate was well protected with motion sensors along the perimeter brick wall, and (snip)

Were you compelled to turn the chapter's first page?

The writing is sound, though it does need a little editorial help on punctuation. And there are little hints of overwriting ahead in phrases such as “her late model car.” But it’s good enough to generate page turns if viable story questions are raised.

But are they? The prologue tries to draw us in with a woman alone picking up a stranger at night—but it doesn’t show us that, it just tells us that and then the narrative wanders off into backstory and setup. Ultimately, what happens in the prologue’s first page is that a woman is driving and listens to music.

In the first chapter, the only hint of something unusual is that a woman is wakened by a faint noise even though she’s a sound sleeper. That’s it. What happens is that a woman wakes up. Then we learn all about the mansion she lives in. Much later, at the end of the chapter, is something that would get me to turn the page—the woman finds her pre-teen daughter, naked in the solarium, playing a violin and dancing. But will a reader ever get there? I’m thinking that’s the place to start this story.

Your thoughts?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

Email the following in an attachment (.doc, .docx, or .rtf preferred, no PDFs):

  1. your title
  2. your complete 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter
  3. Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ.
  4. Note: I’m adding a copyright notice for the writer at the end of the post. I’ll use just the first name unless I’m told I can use the full name.
  5. Also, please tell me if it’s okay to post the rest of the chapter so people can turn the page.
  6. And, optionally, include your permission to use it as an example in a book on writing craft if that's okay.
  7. If you’re in a hurry, I’ve done “private floggings,” $50 for a first chapter.
  8. If you rewrite while you wait for your turn, it’s okay with me to update the submission.

Were I you, I'd examine my first page in the light of the first-page checklist before submitting to the Flogometer.

Flogging the Quill © 2016 Ray Rhamey, prologue and chapter © 2016 by Kevan

 

Continued:

. . . ahead. The air was not typically heavy as was expected in Florida, even in early spring, and there was a chill in the night air tonight - but the sky was clear.

Mary had put on her high beams in case a deer or some other animal came onto the road. There was no sign of approaching traffic for miles. It was the long shaft of light from her headlights that allowed her to see the man walking on the lonely country road well ahead.

2

He was slowly walking just to the right of center on the asphalt as if he were out for an evening stroll without a care. As she slowed to a crawl and passed him, she glanced over to see if he was a hitchhiker but he gave no signal of acknowledgement.

He was tall, well dressed, clean and fit. He was not at all an unkempt homeless, or a drifter, not like some lost collegiate looking for a ride, or even a stranded motorist with a gas can looking for service. She considered just going on. After all, he had a nice warm trench coat and did not appear in any distress. But Mary knew this part of the road well; she had driven it many times, and there was nothing for miles in both directions.

“What is he doing out here so late at night?” she whispered to herself.

Mary never picked up hitchhikers and rarely stopped for stranded motorists. It simply was too dangerous for a woman alone, especially late at night. But for reasons not clear, Mary slowed her car and pulled over. She watched in her side mirror as the tall man approach in no particular hurry.

‘He certainly seems sure that I won’t just take off, the way he’s walking,’ she thought as she studied him in her rear view mirror.

Finally he approached the passenger window, “You seem to be stranded out here. Do you want a ride to the next town? Did your car break down?” Mary prattled on a bit nervous as he leaned forward at her open window.

“I would like to ride with you, thank you,” answered the tall man. Only a pleasant smile showed through the darkness.

He spoke softly and made no move to enter without invitation; it quieted Mary. The smile was disarming and he waited as she pushed the button to unlock the door. He saw the large overnight bag and purse on her front seat. Mary had originally planned to stay with her sister but hadn’t bothered to bring her things in from the car. It provided her a fast exit after the latest argument. The tall man pushed the front seat forward without disturbing the bag and climbed into the back behind the passenger seat.

Mary considered this for a moment and then somehow rationalized that she was safe since he was in full view in the rear view mirror.

“You’re fortunate. I don’t usually pick up strangers, especially at night. What are you doing out here so late?

“Quite right, I am fortunate you came by. We are both far from home. As for me, I received a message that I will meet with someone soon and that meeting will lead me to difficulties. Walking in the night air clears my mind on what I must do.”

“If it leads to difficulties, why not just avoid the meeting,” asked Mary with a frown?

“Some dangers are unavoidable. In any event, I must have lost track of time and found myself out too far. I had turned back when you came by. I would have had an all-night journey if you hadn’t stopped.”

The man was pleasant and made small talk easily. But Mary sensed he really did not need to chat, so there were moments of uncomfortable silence. He sat in the shadows in the back seat and studied the moonlit landscape during the silence. Then there would be a flurry of comments and questions and a few entertaining anecdotes laced with humor and pop culture. Mary found the man amiable and pleasant.

She remembered the music CD and asked, “What type of music do you like? I prefer country myself but I have a lot of different discs here. Do you like the modern singers?”

“I enjoy various modern age poets – Stewart, Charles, Andrews, Collins and Cohen, though too much of what we hear today is variations on rhythmic chants.”

Mary was about to mention that she had Cohen - but he spoke up.

“The moderns are lyrists reciting words to a beat, not like the classical singers. Mindful of when we sang around fires thousands of years ago. That’s why my favorites are full orchestral instrumentals written by dead composers. I believe that music should be mathematical, exact and visceral. The old masters were much more in tune with our higher spirit – more challenging than a simple beat.”

Mary was not sure what he meant so she fell to silence again.

Nearly an hour passed quickly and Mary had learned little more about the man. He was obviously well educated and comfortable talking about many subjects. Mary guessed he was a professional man but she never got an opportunity to press him about his background; he deflected all such talk back to the driver. Mary on the other hand found herself talking at length about herself, her irritating sister and her views of current events; the tall man was a good listener. As they were approaching a major intersection on the country road, Mary offered to turn. Then something strange happened. The tall man asked Mary a personal question.

3

 “Tell me Mary, do you believe in a second coming?”

The question was so unexpected, so casual and inappropriate with the conversation to this point that Mary was not sure she had heard it correctly.

When he repeated the question, she cleared her throat and answered while watching him in the shadows behind her, “Well, if we’re talking religion here, I must confess, I am not a very religious person. I really don’t think about such things.”

Mary came to a stop at the intersection and turned her head to the back seat to ask if he wanted her to turn. The tall man had vanished.

It took quite some time for Mary to recover. She screamed and cried out, sat with the doors locked, and continuously looked inside the car. Finally, she calmed herself and gathered her courage and exited. There was a chill in the air and Mary shivered as she walked around the car and looked up and down the roads in all directions. She even called out and checked under the car. Certain that she was all alone, she finally resumed her drive to Tallahassee. She glanced at the CD player on the dash but Cohen’s guttural whispers and apocalyptic rants would only heightened her anxiety; she decided to drive in silence, constantly checking the rear mirror.

The incident had so affected the woman, she repeated accounts of her road adventure to her friends and relatives - anyone really who would listen and possibly give her some answers. A few days later, a reporter from a local newspaper called to interview Mary for a human interest piece to appear in a local paper. It wasn’t clear how the reporter got wind of the story; the local pastor who had listened to her story may have called the reporter, or maybe a friend. But the reporter was very nice and did not question Mary’s veracity. She wrote a reasonably concise and accurate article about Mary. This prompted more people to contact Mary. Some people even claimed similar encounters and wanted to share their own experiences. Mary was surprised how many times strange occurrences happened to random people. Within a month, a young neighbor helped her connect to social media and Mary was suddenly a ‘friend’ of people all around the country. Mary regarded almost everything that had happened as a result of the incident on the road as very positive. But it wasn’t all good. Some people wrote nasty notes, accused her of being a drunk, or tried to contact her with complaints about why she had an experience for which she was clearly not worthy.

There were some unexpected changes that came to Mary as a result of the incident. First, she began to attend the local church regularly. She was uncomfortable to participate in the singing and ceremony. But sitting in the church and reading passages from the Bible gave her some undefined solace. She also enjoyed the pastor’s sermons.

Then there was that psychologist from Boston with the strange name. He called her after reading about her and introduced himself as a researcher of strange phenomena; trying to apply science to unexplained occurrences. He asked her if she would be willing to take some tests. After a long telephone conversation, Mary agreed to take the tests.

Chapter 1 – Susan Wei, March 3

Susan Wei was a very sound sleeper. Her husband John constantly teased her about it. ‘If a huge quake struck Dover, Mass. you would roll over and sleep right through it’, he would say to her with a laugh. That’s why it was so unusual that something very faint and far away, barely audible, had awakened her.

Suddenly Susan blinked several times in the dark and opened her eyes wide. She lay still in her super King bed and tried to identify what had disturbed her sleep. She lay in the dark and listened to the sounds of her large dark house. There was nothing. Except for some moonlight slipping through her heavy curtains leaving streaks of pale light on the floor, the master suite was black and silent.

Perhaps it was just a dream or a sound from outside. Not likely, she thought. She could not recall any dreams that disturbed her and the house was very well insulated. Even the gardeners with their blowers only sounded like a distant hum in the late morning when they did their work. Although she was still groggy, she was certain the weird sound had originated inside the house. Susan sat up in the bed and strained to hear any noises. There was nothing.

The house was an elegant fourteen room mansion with several adjacent buildings on a large estate. It was a matter of pride for the Wei family, a visible sight of John’s success in America. The estate was well protected with motion sensors along the perimeter brick wall, and  a state-of-the-art security system designed to prevent unexpected entry. One of the security panels had been installed in the master bedroom on the opposite wall near the door. Susan was fully awake now and could see a faint red dot that indicated the security system was on with no alarm.

She quickly reviewed who was in the house possibly wandering around in the dark downstairs. John, her husband was away on a trip to Asia. He was due to return late in the week. She was alone in the master bedroom suite.

Grandfather was at the other end of the hall. He never left his room during the night. There was no need. He had everything he might need in his own suite of rooms: a sitting area with a desk, his wall shelves filled with books; there was even a small refrigerator in the corner for late night snacks and drinks, and his own toilet and bath. He would not hobble about the house in the dark banging his cane on all the furniture. She was sure it was not grandfather that she heard.

Camille and Fernando, the elderly couple who had been the family housekeepers for years lived in their own small cottage behind the main house. They served as cook, housekeeper, chauffeur and major domo. Both knew the security codes to enter the house after dark in case of an emergency. But why would they come in and not rouse her immediately? Neither one would wander about in the dark.

This was early March in Massachusetts; no house guests were visiting at this time of the year. Her extended family and John’s friends only came in the summer.

The only other person in the big house was her daughter, Jin, down the hall. But Jin suffered from narcolepsy and would not waken without a lot of effort. In the past few months the sleep disorder had gotten so bad, the family hired a child psychiatrist to help the girl. Each morning Susan often would shake Jin violently to get her out of bed to go to school. Susan couldn’t remember the last time her eleven year old got up in the middle of the night on her own.

Susan slipped on her embroidered Chinese silken robe and checked the nightstand clock. It was 2:17 AM. She opened her bedroom door to the hallway with apprehension. Susan decided not to turn on the lights since this would dazzle her vision. With her night vision and the moonlight, she could easily see her way. She looked along the banister down the hall.

The house was a classic Georgian with all sleeping quarters on the second floor wrapped around the outer wall and all living and utilitarian areas were on the first floor. She tiptoed down the hall clinging to the oversized banister trying to control her breathing. She glanced over the railing to the large entry area below. There was nothing moving. At the end of the hall, even in the dark she could see that grandfather’s door was closed but her daughter’s door was open. Susan pushed the girl’s door open and put on the light. When her eyes adjusted, she could see that her daughter was not in bed.

A terrible fear gripped Susan Wei. Her daughter had been so erratic lately; it was almost as if she was undergoing a transformation. The narcolepsy was the latest medical problem in a series of bizarre episodes. Now Susan feared that the daughter was wandering the house in the dark, perhaps sleepwalking.

She forced herself to wait until her night vision returned and Susan now worked her way down the curved broad staircase to the spacious entrance hall of the house. From here one could go in all compass directions. She checked the huge front double doors to the entry. They were locked. The woman listened and now could hear something ephemeral but melodic coming from the back of the house. It was music – someone was softly playing music in the middle of the night.

Susan proceeded through the salon and then on to the large solarium which took up the opposite corner of the house. The music was obvious now, still not very loud, and still not clear. Someone was playing a violin at the far corner of the house. The stringed instrument made a faint, solemn and fearfully melancholy sound in the darkness. A bright moon was out and all the shadows seemed to move with the woman as she carefully made her way. This section of the house was completely isolated from the rest once the heavy French doors were close. The solarium was where the family entertained summer guests. It opened onto the gardens in the back for barbeque parties and cocktails at sunset. Paneled windows along two walls faced the gardens and the skylight took up half the sloped roof that intersected with one wall. When one stood in the solarium, ornate glass and large windows surrounded guests on all sides.

Susan was filled with trepidation but still did not turn on any lights. She continued in the dark, extending her hands to avoid furniture. When she came to the cut glass doors leading to the solarium, she could see a moving figure spackled in the glass and moving rhythmically around the center of the room. The violin music was soft and mellow now. The music was coming clearly from within, the melody now easy to identify. It was something Jin played often. She was a prodigy on most string instruments and had talent well beyond her years.

Susan carefully turned the knob and slowly opened the door. It was the Tchaikovsky, the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s only violin concerto. It was the movement always labeled the quiet movement; the soft and nostalgic melody that was the so-called melancholy theme of the famous concerto. Susan had heard her daughter practice it a thousand times.

There in the middle of the solarium she could make out in the moonlight that was streaming in from above, a slender pale lanky figure twirling with a violin at her chin, drawing across the strings with a bow and playing the melody, softly, precisely. It was Jin, her daughter, naked, twirling, bending, straightening and playing - her pale skin glowing in the light of the three-quarter moon that was sending daggers of light through the oversized skylight. The uncomfortable pale light that illuminated the huge room, the wall to floor glass windows and the music added to the eeriness of the scene.

The young girl would intermittently twirl, stop, bend, and straightened as she played the melody. There was no orchestral background, no recording as accompaniment, only the violin. But she played the violin with such skill and control; it seemed more than just a single instrument. She was playing the movement flawlessly, beautifully, as she spun in the soft light on small bare feet. She looked like some exotic, gossamer covered fairy brought out of hiding by a magic musical spell, dancing in the pale moon light. Her slender underdeveloped young body was marble white. It was a scene from some ancient bizarre fantasy tale with Susan’s daughter cast as the principal.

Susan stepped forward, wide eyed and terrified. Her daughter, eyes shut tight, had a bizarre twisted smile fixed on her face disturbed only when she would grimace as she stroked the violin. It was as if she was performing for an unseen critic and the possibility of any flaws would bring pain and suffering.

Susan glanced back and forth fully expecting another presence. Despite the fact that there was no one else in the solarium other than mother and daughter, Susan could not shake a sudden feeling of malevolence, a free-flowing hostility there, moving along the glass room. She dared not speak aloud her worst fear but the fear was real, ‘The ghost is stronger now and my Jin has become a willing partner.’

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