Lake Effect

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Lake Effect is forthcoming from Pen Name Publishing in Spring 2018.

After the death of her fiance, Sophie Daniels is struggling to keep herself together. Painting is the only way she’s able to clear her head and stay grounded. For her, art isn’t a hobby, but a religion. With a semester away from finishing graduate school, she knows that, despite her loss, things are going to get better. In fact, her thesis advisor has even taken a special interest in her. Sophie’s convinced that she’s found the mentor that she’s been looking for. When he shows he’s interested in her in more than just a student/teacher way, she obliges him. Until his wife leaves him.

Sophie learns the hard way what happens when a man cannot take responsibility for his own actions.

Now she’s back to square one in pulling herself back together. She hasn’t just lost her fiancé anymore, though. She’s lost parts of herself she’s not sure she’ll ever get back: like her ability to create. Lake Effect is a raw exploration of human emotion and what it takes to save your own life. 

Lake Effect, a book club fiction, touches on grief, sexual violence, and coping with PTSD. It is complete at 72,000 words and will appeal to fans of Jodi Picoult, Lauren Groff, and Kate Tempest.

You can read the (original, un-edited) first five pages below:

1.

There was a stereotype that was associated with artists. At least with dead artists. They were mysterious, sexy, romantic in the way they painted the objects of their desires. They had their muses and women wanted to be their muses. Women wanted to be that object of desire, to be something other than a body that brought children into the world. They, too, wanted to be sexy. Being a muse was an elevation to immoral status: your eyes would look out from canvas, from photographs, for eternity.

Sophie wanted that. She wanted that eternity, but not with the man that wanted her to be his muse. Not with the man who’s text messages filled her phone, whose text messages could get him fired from his tenured position at her university. Being cut into tiny stars, being painted onto canvas, being printed out from a digital file, it was good. It was immortalizing. Sexy, even. But it wouldn’t give her the eternity she wanted.

What she had now was a quickly approaching thesis deadline. Staring at the canvas, she chewed on the end of the graphite pencil. There were suggestions of an idea sketched almost too light to see onto the canvas, but otherwise, she had nothing. The themes she wanted to convey had disintegrated, the ideas she had no more than the ashes of a life she’d no longer be able to live.

Picking up her phone, she sent a quick text to him. He’d have to help. It was his job.

He, her thesis advisor, was supposed to be pushing her to become a better artist. Instead, he was pushing moral boundaries that, until now, hadn’t gone past the suggestive text message. She wanted to split him, and herself, into equal parts so that she’d get everything she wanted from him: student and teacher; muse and artist; mistress and married man.

Sitting back against her couch, Sophie brought her knees up to her chin and continued to stare at the canvas. Her bare toes drummed against the cold wooden floor of her apartment. She could feel a draft coming in through the windows she’d forgotten to plastic wrap over before Buffalo’s unforgiving winter had set in. If only ideas leaked into her apartment the way cold air did.

The low double-buzz of a text message alert sent a fresh dose of adrenaline through her body. It was him, asking to come over.

He wanted to see the space where she worked.

Would rather meet you on campus, she sent back.

See you in our classroom.

Setting her phone back down, Sophie shook her head. She would have given him credit for trying to come over if he’d been a classmate, or an undergrad. If, whenever she saw him, he was ripe with testosterone and too much hope from watching too many pornos. But Franz wasn’t any of those things. And what she wanted right now wasn’t to be seduced in her apartment, but some direction so that she had half of a chance of actually graduating this semester. If it meant spending her night off back on campus, and that it would actually result in work being done, she’d do it.

Moving into the bathroom, she turned the faucet on, the water beginning to fill the claw-footed porcelain tub. Instead of trying to find something to wear, though, the phone distracted her, the ringing as distant as a memory, and she flinched. The last unexpected call had been one that broke her heart.

“Hey, are we still on for tonight? I tried texting you….” Jenna trailed off. Of course it had been Jenna. Despite the loud music in the background of the phone call, Sophie could hear how disappointed Jenna was.

“Shit. I’m so sorry. I completely forgot that we were supposed to meet up. Professor U said he’d help me, and it’s the only free night I have this week.”

“Right. Because he totally just wants to meet you to get work on your thesis done. At night. All alone on campus.”

Sophie thought about telling Jenna she turned down his offer to come over but thought better of it. Jenna, four years younger than Sophie, thought having an affair with a teacher was a rite of passage for college students. It would only fuel Jenna’s theory that Sophie was currently, or would be, having an affair with him.

“No, it’s really nothing like that. He’s just helping me with my thesis project.”

“Shouldn’t that be almost done by now?” Jenna asked.

“Yeah, but it’s not. I’m completely blocked. I have no idea what I’m doing.”

Sophie shook her head as she rolled her eyes and turned off the faucet of the tub. The holidays had been hard enough. Even at the end of January, she was still feeling the lingering disappointment and it left her feeling unfocused, and unmotivated. She was months away from graduating with her MFA and had nothing to show for it.

“All right, fine,” Jenna said. “But come over after? I could really use your help with this essay. I’m really late with grad school applications.”

“It’ll probably be late.”

“Yeah but I’ll still be up. Just text.”

“Okay. See you.”

Finishing getting ready, Sophie tucked the near-empty canvas under her arm and left her apartment. While she was the apartment right above the dance studio, the rest of the four-story building was filled with what she would expect from the newly-hip Elmwood Village: an older couple, whose cooking always made her stomach growl, a medical student who spent a lot of his time at hospitals, and a few friends who lived together and liked to stumble home from the various bars either down Elmwood Avenue or in Allentown.

Elmwood Village was the jewel that sat on the edge of Delaware Park, with the Albright Knox Art Gallery acting as the gatehouse to the village. The side streets, so much like the one her house was on, offered a darker, quieter option than the main thoroughfare provided. It was in the shadows of the too-large oak trees that Sophie had heard whispers of violence and danger — the things no one wanted potential residents to know about. When the cops came, their sirens were muted and, if you watched the news the next day, you never heard what happened. Sophie had seen the bright blue light bouncing off of her curtains before, but she’d never bothered to investigate further.

Living on the main street, Elmwood Avenue, had been out of Sophie’s price range for a few years now. Here, Victorian mansions and old churches had been converted to music shops and high-end lofts, to bookstores and coffee shops. Locally owned restaurants and microbreweries tucked themselves between the old houses, and lit up the strip with bright signs and candlelit patios.

Getting into her car, a small silver Jetta, she made the drive to campus. Since she only lived a few blocks south, the drive was quick. As she drove, she passed those bars the village was known for, and it was those bars that Sophie wanted to imbibe in tonight instead of going back to campus. A quick stop off for a shot of liquid courage wouldn’t be a bad idea, and maybe she’d meet some cute stranger in a dark corner. Sorry professor, she would say, I’ll have to come play another night. But as much as she wanted a reason not to go through with this, she knew there was a bigger part of her that wanted to see what would happen tonight.

Finally parked, canvas re-clutched under her arm, she jogged up to the main door of the art building, and then up to the studio he told her to meet him. The rest of the building was silent and dark except for the red thrown onto the walls and windows by the emergency exit signs. Despite knowing the building by heart, the darkness amplified her anxiety. Her hands shook from nerves, from excitement, from the endless possibilities that lingered in the heavy winter air. No one ever thought about humidity when they thought of winter, especially in Buffalo. Tonight was an exception to that rule as the threat of snow filled the thick layer of purple clouds, their nearness to the orange glow of the street lamps throwing strange colors across the dark hallway of the building she walked through.

Pushing open the door to the studio, she was surprised to see such a transformation from when she had been there earlier that day. A chaise, normally used for models, had been placed in the center of the room and the tables students sat at had been pushed aside. Small candles had been placed around the room. On one of the tables sat a bottle of wine, red, and two glasses. It had been the exact scenario Sophie wanted to avoid.

“Well, Ms. Daniels,” Franz smiled, candlelight throwing harsh shadows across his face.

“You made it.”

“As I said I would.”

“Can I take your coat?” He took a step towards her and she was able to get a better look at him. Franz was not classically handsome, his features too large, nose round and jaw edge sharp, traits she knew to be Eastern European. His dark hair was in short waves around the base of his neck and the top button of his shirt was undone, showing a small amount of the white t-shirt under it. His sleeves were rolled up, tips of his fingers already dark with charcoal.

“I’ll hang it up. Thank you.”

If she had mistaken what he wanted this meeting to be about, that idea now faded as she heard the unmistakable sound of the pop of a cork as she draped her coat over a chair at the edge of the room. She knew now that bringing the canvas had been a naive girl’s hope. Nothing good happened at night. Turning back towards him, she watched him pour out a small glass of wine and accepted it as he raised it towards her.