Sorry for the day’s delay, blame #Pitchwars brain.
They rip, they tear, they feed, and you never come back again.
Here’s how last year’s Gypsy Cob Music Festival should have gone. Lenora “Lenny” Ragno was supposed to rock her duet with her long-time crush, Jeb, during the open-mic competition. Then, swept up in the glow of success, he’d finally kiss her. Instead, Lenny choked on stage and spent the whole year dodging him online. And avoiding playing her fiddle in public. She thought her worst nightmare was behind her, but she was way wrong.
Now, she’s back at Gypsy Cob where avoiding a public performance is about as impossible as hiding from Jeb. She thinks facing him will be the scariest part of the festival, but when one of their friends talks everyone into trying astral projection, Lenny catches the eye of a demonic entity that marks her as its own.
Whenever it wants, the demon can pluck Lenny from her reality and transport her to a hellish between-world, haunted by its countless, gruesome victims. If she doesn’t want to become one of them, she must discover the nature of the demon’s hold on her and remove it. But how can she defeat a literal demon when she can’t even get over her personal ones?
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What was your inspiration for writing this book?
The inspiration really came because I had to pee in the middle of the night. Not what you were expecting, right? So, there I was, camping on Martha’s Vineyard with my husband, and I had to pee in the middle of the night. For anyone who’s ever camped, you know that the bathrooms are never conveniently located. To reach it, I had a bit of a walk, and the fastest route was through a playground. So, there I am, wee hours of the night (no pun intended), and it’s all cold and misty. And I’m in this playground, and I think: If those swings start moving right now, I’m so out of here.
Lucky for me, that didn’t happen, but once I was safely back in my tent, I decided I’d write a story about a haunted playground someday. The other major inspiration is a blue grass festival we like to attend. The layout, the campgrounds, the pirate truck, even the creek behind the clearing in the woods—it’s all inspired by that festival.
As for the astral projection, that came from the fact that I read and enjoyed a YA about astral projection back in my teen-aged days. I often start my books with the question: what would I want to read? (Or, what did I like to read back in the day?)
Put that all together, add in a little romance, and you’ve got BROKEN CHORDS.
What about your musical inspiration?
Ah, yes. Many bands show up in BROKEN CHORDS, including some of my favorites: The Greencards, Nikel Creek, and Crooked Still. Fans of these folks will definitely pick up on some references in the book. One traditional folk song, in particular, was a huge inspiration. It’s called Wind and Rain. I did some research on this song, and it turns out, there have been versions of this—in song and in poem form—for hundreds of years. It dates back to mid-seventeenth century and its origins are the UK. It’s had different names, including The Two Sisters and Twa Sisters, but every version includes the story about how one sister killed the other. In most versions, including the one in my book, the older sister kills her younger and yellow-haired sister out of jealousy over her having landed beau. Creepy for sure. And, in all versions—creepiest of all—the murdered sister’s body is turned into a fiddle! I can’t remember if I decided to use this song first OR if I decided Lenny was a fiddle player first, but needless to say, it all came together so beautifully (or, perhaps the best words is horrifyingly).
That’s one of those questions I can’t exactly answer. I just love it. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been totally fascinated by scary stuff. I do believe that my very first short story was about a haunted house. I wrote that in 2nd grade for a classroom assignment. Needless to say, my mother received a call. My relationship with the frightening, creepy, and macabre was quite love-hate in those early days. In other words, I was a chicken. I’d read scary stories (SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK comes to mind), but I was totally afraid to watch scary movies until I was around twelve. But, once I did, I was hooked.
And paranormal horror is my favorite. I like to describe BROKEN CHORDS as POLTERGEIST meets INSIDIOUS at a music festival. Maybe that comes from some of the ghost stories told by members of my family (I still have nightmares about my grandmother’s attic and that house has been out of the family for seven years).
How do you meld the supernatural with the human?
Lenny’s story is not only one of surviving a paranormal/demonic attack, it’s also about facing fear and trust and so many other things?
Ah, yes. But that’s what I love the most about really good horror, fantasy too. These kinds of books allow us to explore all sorts of things but under the guise of other. I will be honest, I’m not much of a drama fan. Partly, that’s because my work as a psychologist is drama enough, but also because it’s just too much in your face. But, when you throw in horror or a speculative element, now I can go to those deep emotional places without feeling swamped. It’s like how I hide my dog’s pill in some sliced turkey. You can hide the tough human experiences within stories with speculative elements.
In BROKEN CHORDS, we get to see Lenny face all sorts of things: fear and phobia (like, legit stage fright), she learns how to trust others, and, perhaps her biggest journey, she learns to trust herself.
Jeb’s voice ebbed and flowed, his fear growing and sending out seedlings of dread to take root in my own chest. He must have woken the entire camp by now. I fumbled open my tent flap, stumbled outside, and zipped the flap shut with trembling hands. When I turned around, I knew immediately why no one put a stop to Jeb’s calls.
He wasn’t in the normal world anymore.
Neither was I.
Despite not asking for it, something twisted and bitter in this universe had bestowed it anyway. We’d been transported to the astral plane.
The world was bathed in dark beauty, like velvety gauze or some tranquil digital camera filter, making everything hazy and wavery with dim blue-white light. I could actually see the air – or matter or ether or whatever it was – that made up the world around me. When I waved my hand, contrails showed its swishing progress long after I’d ceased movement. Like, whatever I was made of in this form could interact with the very construction material holding this universe together. Or, maybe whatever I was made of in this form was the very construction material of this universe.
“Oh God,” I whispered.
That meant, behind me, within the tent I’d just fled, my body lay prone. Not in sleep, and not a trance. Not dead, but not really alive either.
An empty shell.
I stared at the dark green vinyl before finally getting up the nerve to look inside. My body lay on my air mattress, curled up as if I were merely sleeping. My chest rose and fell as my organs responded to signals from the most primitive part of my brain, which kept the basic functions of human life online even though the system user had abandoned the controls.
I breathed in time with my body. I wasn’t sure if I was really moving air around in my spectral form, but the reflex to carry out the action was strong, and it still felt soothing when I blew what might be nothing out of lungs that probably weren’t there anyway. I took another deep, fake breath and closed my eyes. My brain attempted to point out the ridiculousness of this – how I still felt normal even though I was nothing but a ghost now. A spasm of laughter escaped my throat, but I swallowed it down. If I let my mind think too hard about things like where? and what? and how?, I’d crack. Game over.
Instead, I chanted Jeb’s mantra: “Just go with it.” Then I turned to face the astral plane.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jessica Bayliss is a clinical psychologist by day and a writer all the time. She has been a lover ghost tales and horror since her days scanning VHS rental shelves—admittedly with eyes half-averted from the gory covers. She also loves to eat, cook, and exercise—in that order—and is a firm believer that coffee makes the world a better place.
Look for her upcoming release, TEN AFTER CLOSING (Sky Pony Press, spring 2018). For more information about Jessica and about PsychWRITE, her series of courses and workshops for writers, visit: http://www.JessicaBaylissWrites.com.
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