Who is Joan Conning Afman?
I am a former art teacher–K-12 in Hartford, CT; retired to Florida and taught for 7 years as an adjunct at Northwood University in West Palm. I could have gone either way–journalism or art, but I fell in love with art at an early age (when I used to skip Girl Scouts and visit the museum across the street!), so that was my career choice. My mother, an English teacher, used to tell me, “But–I think you could write!”–and so in retirement, I met the right people, got connected with the right sources and began to write. I also edit free-lance and for Wings-epress, which I thoroughly enjoy. My life in sunny Florida is busy and fun! The Jim Walsh character in my novel is based on–Jim Walsh, my very special friend.
I have four grown children and six grandchildren, and am inordinately proud of each one of them.
A little more about Joan Conning Afman
What inspired you to write your current novel?
- Several years ago, visiting my daughter in New Hampshire, we took the kids to visit Mystery Hill. It immediately intrigued me;from the actual photograph in the gift shop of a misty form floating over a rock formation, to the altar stone with its cut grove around the edge, to the myriad of small stone buildings, walls, tunnels and open spaces. I bought a book, “America’s Stonehenge” by David Goudward and learned that many strange incidents had been reported happening there over the centuries–eerie screams, laughter, visions. They also know that the stone structures there are at least two-thousand years old–but Indians did not build in stone–so who built the site so long ago is still a mystery. I have used a lot of David’s material to give “Sacrifice at Mystery Hill” an authentic feeling–and he says it does!
Is there a hidden message in your story and if so what is it?
- The message I have in several of my books is that I would like people to think more about what ‘reality’ really is. Is reincarnation a fact? What about these psychic abilities some people seem to have? How can you feel an instant attraction–or hatred–or fear–for another person if you have never met before? What about Stephen Hawkings’ theories of parallel worlds? I have tried to keep my mind open all my life, and have had so many ‘interesting’ experiences that I just cannot rationally explain. That’s what I put into my stories.
What makes your novel unique? Why should I buy it?
- My novel is based at an actual site, which anyone can go visit, and many of the weird events that have happened there, as well as possible history, and local New Hampshire flavor are included.
How long did it take you to write the novel verses revising it?
- I wrote this in one year with the support of my critique group. We call ourselves the Wednesday Writers and try to meet every Wednesday afternoon to listen to each other’s offerings, and offer support and suggestions to make it better. I did hardly any revisions; whatever the publisher’s editor suggested, I did. Her main concern was that she didn’t understand why Thomas could not remember his previous existence, so I had to make that clearer.
Which two mainstream authors would you say your work most closely resembles and why?
- I like to think my ideas are sort of like the writing of Dean Koontz, where strange things happen to ordinary people. That’s like my life–and I started paying attention early. I also like to take a contemporary view of things, sort of like Jodi Picaoult, but I like to get humor into my writing also. For example, in “Sacrifice at Mystery Hill” Ivy, the grandmother, is very funny. You’ll like her!
What is your favorite quote?
- “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost
- Alternately, I like Yogi Bera’s, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
Describe yourself in three words.
Smart, Bohemian and broke. Oh–quirky, maybe.
Short summary of Sacrifice at Mystery Hill
Thomas and Chloe had loved each other before, in a long-ago life they no longer remember. He has waited eons for her return. Now she’s back and somehow he must find the courage to protect her from the evil that has pursued her for two-thousand years.
As college students, Thomas and Chloe feel an instant attraction to each other, and fall in love. Some of their friends and classmates have joined a faux-Druid group which meets at a mini-Stonehenge off campus. Almost against their will, Thomas and Chloe are drawn into this group, and find that getting put is much harder than getting in. Their unlikely help comes from Chloe’s perceptive
art professor, Jim Walsh, and Thomas’ quirky, margarita-making grandmother, Ivy, who possesses psychic powers of her own, and seems to know a lot more about a lot of things than she should.
The battle for Chloe’s life begins at the junior college at Midstate, and continues with unexpected twists and turns, ending up at Mystery Hill, often called America’s Stonehenge, where human sacrifices have happened before.
A short excerpt of Sacrifice at Mystery Hill
Because he was a ghost, Thomas Thornton, which had been his name in his eighteenth century reincarnation, was able to move right through the rocks, to slide through the small spaces between them with ease, even through the stone ‘speaking tube which led to the hollow space under the sacrificial altar. This was his favorite place to rest, snuggled up to the moss and decayed leaves that formed a soft bed for him. It smelled a little like death, too, musty and old and coppery, like blood, but it was a scent he had grown to love. It was also the place where she had died, so he felt closest to her there.
He had waited for her for centuries. Her death had been hard—and many souls who endured such a primitive and painful death were reluctant to return, but eventually they all did. After all, they had destinies to work out before they could go on to the next stage of existence, and so not coming back was not an option. The Coordinator, one of the Great Beings who tracked the journeys of all the souls, had told Thomas he would let him know when it was time. He, too, had his karma to work out before he could go on to the next level. His destiny was to overcome to cowardice of that long ago primitive life when he could have saved her, but hadn’t.
~ * ~
It was the day of the summer solstice. The men of the tribe gathered at the four-foot -tall stone, carved in the shape of a leaning pyramid, to watch the sun rise precisely behind its pointed crest. In silence, they bowed to the god of summer, of crops to come, of the harvest , and walked in single file to where they sacrifice would be offered.
The chief, resplendent in his beaded ritual clothing, rich, wolf cloak,, and feathered headdress looked around the gathering. “If one man is willing to take her to wife and leave the tribe, she will be spared. Will anyone take her?” His curved sword glittered in the sun as he lifted it above the woman bound to the altar stone.
The chief was his father whom he dared not offend, and a man and a woman driven from the tribe to survive on their own faced certain death. There was no way out for him, for her, and for the child she carried within.
Frozen to the earth, his tongue numb and his heart dead, he had watched as the blade descended. Her scream of agony, blessedly brief, pierced the morning air. The chief carved her heart from her body and held it aloft on the tip of his sword. The tribe prostrated themselves as the chief intoned the blessing upon them. Thomas, who was Achak in that incarnation, felt his soul bleed into the dirt.
~ * ~
He stretched, and his long arms and legs passed through the edges of the shield-shaped altar. He didn’t understand why the so-called ’experts’, who had swarmed over this particular collection of rocks for several centuries, trying to figure out who had built it–and for what purpose–had so much trouble believing that this stone had been used for human sacrifice. Wasn’t it obvious, with its curved groove around the edge, where the blood collected and ran down into the collection pit at the base of the stone? For wine, one of the archaeological experts had concluded, but his theory was quickly discarded when a similar rock was found in nearby Massachusetts that had a carving of a human form stretched out on the altar stone. This conclusion shouldn’t haven’t been so difficult to come by.
Thomas heard the sound of small boys in the distance. He sighed. They would use the sacred altar stone as a picnic table, of course, and their noisy chatter and activity would prevent any sleep he hoped to get, just to pass the time until she returned. Well, they were still a long way away. He would doze until then, and if they were particularly obnoxious, maybe have some fun with them.
Thomas blinked back to consciousness as the beer can clinked down on the stone above him. The boys were older than he’d envisioned; eleven, twelve maybe, but still much too young to be drinking beer.
“Hey,” Brendan called to the others, “think I could build a fire for the hotdogs here?” Thomas turned his head to look at him. Short for his age, he had a mop of too long straw-colored hair and a round, freckled face. When the other boys didn’t answer, he called again, “Mike! Glenn! How about I built the fire here?”
“Sure.” the taller, skinny one named Glenn shouted back. “It’ll take a while to get going, so we can do the sacrifice first.
For the first time Thomas noticed the blue denim backpack Mike had tossed on the ground.
The backpack wriggled. There was something alive in there.
Thomas clasped his hands on his chest as a heaviness descended on his heart. The boys had brought a helpless animal they intended to sacrifice—somebody’s pet cat, or a beloved puppy? Although he had seen this happen countless times over the centuries, he never got used to it. Melancholy covered him like a cold blanket. Would mankind, starting with boykind, never tire of making the innocent suffer?
“Nah–Bunny can wait. I’m hungry now.”
Thomas studied Mike, who seemed to be the leader of the group. He was a handsome kid, with a look of intelligence cast across his features. Auburn hair, river-water-colored eyes; gray like the Spiket River which flowed past Mystery Hill and eventually dumped itself into the Merrimack.
Gray, mysterious, not giving up its secrets. Who had sailed up it, eons ago, and stayed around long enough to build this site? Nobody had ever come up with a definitive answer, as to its beginnings.
Thomas allowed himself to feel a surge of disappointment in Mike. Such a boy should show traits of kindness, not cruelty.
Brendan’s fire flared up sooner than he anticipated. While the boy fed it sticks and dried weeds, all three boys opened cans of beer and drank them, with exaggerated signs of enjoyment. Thomas remembered very well that beer was an acquired taste, and very seldom did anybody really like it at first.
Glenn looked around. “Where are the ’dogs’?”
“I’ve got ’em.” Brendan tossed the stick with which he’d been tending the fire onto the ground, and walked back toward the altar stone where they’d all dumped their bags. He picked up one, fished around inside and brought out a package of franks, and a half dozen hot dog rolls wrapped in plastic. He turned and grinned at the others. “I didn’t forget the mustard and relish either.” He laid two jars on the altar.
The boys scrambled to find suitable sticks. Each jammed his hot dogs on the prongs and toasted two at once. When they were crisp and crackling, they stuck them in their buns, added the embellishments, snapped open new cans of beer, and settled down on the altar stone to eat.
The captive animal squealed and struggled inside the bag. The squeal told Thomas the victim was a rabbit.
“Shut up, Lindsey,” Brendan snapped and aimed a kick at the bag.
The other two boys laughed, Mike the loudest. “You just wish it was your sister.”
The rabbit yelped, but didn’t move again.
Anger surged through Thomas. Okay, these guys deserved a lesson. He knew he wasn’t supposed to interact with humans, or do anything to interfere with their progress, or lack of it, but he had a soft heart as well as a steel-strong sense of justice, which he had developed over the centuries. And…well, sometimes he did pull a prank on deserving humans, just because he could.
He floated up through the rock and settled down, legs crossed Indian style, among the three boys. Mike looked around him and shivered. “You get a blast of cold air just now?”
Thomas knew the other two felt his presence also, but they blustered their way out of it. “Hey, Mikey, you think there’s a ghost here?”
All three laughed, jostled and poked each other, nearly pushing Brendan off the rock.
Thomas picked up Glenn’s second hot dog and raised it to his mouth. He always enjoyed these displays of his invisible presence, because, although humans thought that ghosts could not interact with material objects, that simply was not true. It always disconcerted them to the max.
Maybe disconcerted was too mild a word.
Glenn watched his hotdog rise in the air. “Arghhh!” he yelled, making a grab for it.
Thomas moved it out of his way, easily avoiding his grasp.He took a bite of the frank. All three boys stared goggle-eyed at the hotdog, which suddenly lost a quarter of itself and disappeared into the air.
The boys scrambled off the rock, their dogs and beer cans spewing in many directions at once. Thomas took another bite, and another portion of Glenn’s hotdog vanished.
The boys watched, frozen to the spot.
As the last bite of the dog and roll disappeared, the boys turned and ran, leaving their leftovers behind them. Thomas poured out the remaining beer and watched the amber liquid run down the grooves in the rock, where generations of innocent blood had run before. As the blood had, it dripped into the hole in the ground which had once held the receiving vessel. He smiled to himself as he heard the boys racing away through the woods, tree branches swishing in the wind, twigs snapping under their feet.
Thomas swirled himself around the bag which held the rabbit. He oozed himself inside it and widened the knot. The rabbit trembled, but as soon as Thomas made the opening wide enough, it squeezed out, and sat looking around at the rocks and trees.
“I know you’re a domesticated bunny,” Thomas told him, “but being loose in the woods is a lot better than the fate that was waiting for you. Come on. I’ll show you a safe place.” He guided the shaking rabbit to a tunnel under some of the rocks, where he would be safe for the time being.
The long summer afternoon waned. Thomas sighed, his longing for the one he had loved for centuries surging through him again. He had everything arranged. He would protect her this time, and no one would be able to stop him. When would she come back?
Other books by Joan Conning Afman:
THE LAST TIME WE WERE HERE
VACATION FROM LOVE
THE CHEETAH PRINCESS
BUY THE BOOK:
Barnes and Noble
You can follow Joan at/on: