The Halo Effect
by Pamela Crane
Excerpt from Chapter 4
Pushing his glasses up his pointed nose, Allen Michaels diverted his stare from the front row beauty and glanced down at a collection of story synopsis ideas as he waited for the last of the students to arrive. His month in Westfield had confirmed it; Westfield provided the perfect setting for his next screenplay, a suspense thriller. He knew from skyrocketing box office sales that audiences loved small-town murder mysteries and he was determined to deliver.
A tremble overcame his clamped hands and he hastily wiped moisture from his clammy palms onto his Dockers. Self-consciously straightening his collar, he checked to make sure his attire was in place – an obsessive habit since youth.
His nerves were getting the best of him this morning, but that could be a combination of the breakfast sausage he’d eaten and his body’s sluggish adjustment to the climate. But getting acclimated to the northeastern winter wasn’t the only thing on his mind; he had a class to teach.
The last of the students drifted in. Allen inhaled and formulated each word in his head before he spoke. He paced across the room, examining the pairs of intense eyes peering up at him. He drew a blank. Stage fright.
“Welcome, class.” It took every ounce of strength to push the words past his chapped lips. His world had been turned upside down in the past six months. I shouldn’t have come here. But after all that had happened, he also knew this was the perfect diversion from the paparazzi. He could lay low, get a fresh perspective, and start over. Maybe get a good story out of it as well. He would take it day by day.
As his thoughts threatened to smother him, the strain in his shoulders crept up into his skull. Reality was harsh, and the fragile thread that held him together in front of this roomful of strangers weakened. He knew he had to get through these few weeks unscathed. So he shook off the discomfort that swept over him and proceeded with the class.
“My name is Allen Michaels.” He looked over his glasses at the group before him. “So you all want to be screenplay writers?”
That was easy enough.
A pause, then a mumble of affirmations rose around the room.
“Well, you’ve come to the right place. I’m a writer, director, producer … and now your teacher. I’m going to help you make your dreams come true. To begin, I want each of you to write out a single word that expresses why you want to be a writer.”
He waited for the shuffle of bags and whine of opening zippers to die down, then studied their contemplative faces. So eager. So brimming with enthusiasm. It reminded him of his own beginnings, and how similar circumstances had led him to this very moment.
The possibility of a teaching venture first came to him several months back. Needing a break from Los Angeles and the bitter memories associated with the place, he decided to take a brief sabbatical. It was no big deal being uprooted like this; he’d been drifting around for years, moving from one city to the next, shifting from one life into another.
However, this time was different. It wasn’t his usual step up to bigger and better; he had grown accustomed to certain luxuries, and under normal circumstances he’d be searching out a location that would accommodate his trendy lifestyle of fancy restaurants and regular pampering. But his latest emergency had afforded him no such time. The weight of Los Angeles and its insatiable press suffocated him, and he knew if he didn’t get out soon, he would choke. All he needed was a few weeks. Just some time to regroup.
After considering options for passing the time, he liked the idea of lecturing. He thrived in front of an attentive audience, once he got over the jitters. So the next order of business was where. Far enough away to leave the past behind.
Though he rarely frequented the east coast, he warmed up to the thought as things got rocky with his ex-wife. That, along with all the right doors opening, led him to Westfield, New York.
His one-room rental from elderly Mrs. Ellsworth was sparsely furnished, and he required nothing more than the basic necessities to avoid cluttering his newly minimalist life. Arriving in New York with little more than a suitcase and carry-on, the man appeared anything but extravagant, with the exception of the brand new Mercedes E-320 that he rented upon stepping onto New York soil.
Snowflakes drifted outside his classroom window. The crystallized distraction invited his eyes to scan the parking lot beyond. His shiny black Mercedes with beige leather interior – his only noteworthy symbol of success – was already covered in a dusting of snow and salty residue. He made a mental note to check on snow tires later. A cough from the back row signaled that the students were finished.
“So let’s hear some of the responses. Just shout them out,” Allen said with a dramatic flair of his hand.
“Money,” a blond girl initiated.
Ah, but the love of money is the root of all evil.
“Fame,” said another.
And fame can turn on you at any moment.
Work is always work, my friend.
And then the golden ticket answer. It was as if he had heard himself say it, or think it, but it came from the front row corner.
“Now that’s an answer, class. Passion. You could do anything for fortune and fame, but writing is about passion. And I’m going to help you cultivate that passion. Since this is a beginners’ course, we’re going to start with the basics. In order to begin, you must know your voice. What makes you tick? What inspires you? What are your darkest secrets?” He paused for a moment, watching the thoughtful expressions on the students’ faces as they leaned in. He proceeded with an air of confidence.
“Before we dive into screenplays, I want each of you to listen up. This is not for the weak of heart. If you don’t live and breathe and eat and sleep this, you aren’t going to make it. If you aren’t ready to commit your all, I want you to leave now. Get up and leave.” He pointed to the door.
Pairs of curious eyes met others’ around the room. They appeared either scared of the crazy man ordering them to leave or wondering if he was serious, but nobody moved.
“Alright, that settles it. We’re all in,” he said with a clap of his hands. “Now, I want to see your heart. Each of you will write a page about yourself. Harness your energy and put in on paper. Get as personal and real as you can.” He felt the momentum. Everything was clicking.
“Tell me why you think you have what it takes to make it in this field.” His material flooded him in one memorized tidal wave. It felt good to view the admiring gazes of so many. He congratulated himself on the idea of hosting a writing class. Not only would it put some money in his emptying pockets – a result of a creative drought and lawsuit-happy ex – but the ego boost would be worth it.
“Does anyone have any questions so far?” As if on cue, several hands shot up around the room. Allen addressed a scruffy kid in the back row.
“Can you tell us about Hollywood? What is the industry like?”
Allen’s mind rumbled through a variety of answers. How should he answer? With the truth? That Hollywood had been both his single best friend and his worst enemy? It embodied the injection of his next high, but the subsequent low would hit rock bottom.
Hollywood was full of plastic people and fake smiles, but it was home nonetheless. It was where he felt fulfilled. Yet it had rejected him the moment he took one wrong step. His love affair with the entertainment industry fed on having a big name in a small world. Hollywood devoured people then spit them out. And for some strange reason, he gravitated toward it … needed it.
He was the Allen Michaels. He was the epitome of success, but had achieved that at a price. For Hollywood was laden with media vultures who knew how to dig up old wounds and tear them open. The glare of their spotlight illuminated any darkness. And now his name, smeared with past sins, was ruined.
Lucky for him, pop culture news managed to skirt around the remote town of Westfield.
No, he wouldn’t tell them the truth. Instead he would tell them what they wanted to hear. That the fame and fortune was gratifying, but it also required hard work and creativity. That it’s a tough market, but worth the blood, sweat, and tears. And boy were there a lot of tears.
Settling on the first words that took form, he answered, “It’s everything everyone wants, but only a few are cut out for it. And much of it is about who you know. I’ve spent the last thirty years perfecting my work, networking, and building a name for myself. So before any of you think you can waltz in and claim your fame, you need to refine your craft. That is what I’m here to do for you. And perhaps one day I’ll be your ticket to success.”
Like golden honey dripping from his lips, he knew they’d eat everything he fed them. He gave a satisfied smirk at his own cleverness.
“Moving on … I’m passing out your syllabus.”
A couple of papers fluttered to the floor as he shuffled them from his desk into his hands. He clumsily bent to pick them up, only to lose several more in the exchange. An overeager student … the woman from the front row … beat him to the loose papers on the floor, and he let her.
Watching her tend to his mess, Allen almost caught his breath when she looked up at him from her crouched position. She has the face of an angel. She had captivated him when she first walked in, but up close she was even more beautiful.
When she had collected the last of the papers, he leaned in. The fresh scent of her hair lured him closer. His gaze fell upon the attractive curves of her body then upward to the most innocent green eyes he had ever seen.
“Why thank you. What’s your name, young lady?”
“Haley Montgomery, sir,” she replied with a shy grin. Her voice was sweet and tender.
Haley Montgomery … what a beautiful name. “Thank you, Haley. And please call me Allen.”
She retrieved the last of the fallen pages and shoveled them into his arms. They momentarily stood eye-to-eye while he absorbed her glowing radiance. Dark hair complemented her emerald eyes. Based on her appearance, she looked to be half his age, but this woman gleamed with childlike playfulness. At the same time something about her expressed deep maturity – the type of maturity that would cause her to appreciate someone with his life experience.
Gently brushing past him, she headed back to her seat. When they bumped arms in passing, she flashed him an apologetic smile. A warm sensation spread through his body. A peace seemed to surround her; somehow her presence made him feel secure.
He had to admit, her magnetism caught him off-guard. Though he had come to this town defensive and elusive, this woman’s genuine kindness crumbled his wall with one momentary grin. Was there something else behind that smile?
It was subtle, yet inviting. His ice blue eyes followed her as she sat down … her body movement was graceful and fluid.
Soft curls fell into her face and she pulled the strands away with manicured fingers.
How he wished he could be those fingertips caressing that cheek! Shakespearean poetry cascaded through his thoughts. Everything about her intrigued him, but something specifically beckoned him to approach her … something that he couldn’t quite put his finger on.
For the next few moments she unknowingly held his intent gaze. He watched her read the syllabus, wondering if her thoughts clung to him as his did to her. Did she imagine tenderly tracing the outline of his face? Or running her fingers through his hair? The thought splashed over him that perhaps she noticed him as more than a teacher.
The moment ended all too soon as his internal query was interrupted by a cleared throat from the back row. There was no time for contemplation as several blank expressions waited for further instruction.
“Let’s outline the details of the first assignment …” and as he resumed talking, his attention never left the green-eyed beauty in the front row.
She was exactly what he had been looking for. And if she didn’t yet know it, she’d know it soon enough.
The Halo Effect
Genre: Romantic Thriller
Publisher: Lachesis Publishing
Number of pages: 248
Word Count: 76,500
Cover Artist: Laura Givens
Book Trailer: http://youtu.be/e01c82VMbEI
It started with a glance. And ended with a nightmare.
Small-town girl Haley Montgomery meets two men who will change her life forever—the handsome Marc Vincetti whom she falls head-over-heels for, and the big-time Hollywood producer Allen Michaels who has the power to turn her screenplay into a movie and a ticket to a better future.
It seems as though life couldn't get any better—until things take a decidedly dark turn when Haley spots Marc with his former high school sweetheart and Allen develops a consuming obsession with her.
As Haley is faced with a choice between love and fame, Marc becomes the target of a stalker and Haley's life is thrown into a tailspin. Suddenly everything she thought she knew about Marc and Allen is completely wrong—and Haley's life will never be the same again…
About the Author:
Pamela Crane is a North Carolinian writer of the psychological thriller The Halo Effect and wannabe psychologist, though most people just think she needs to see one. She’s a member of the ACFW and EFA, and has been involved in the ECPA, Christy Awards, and Romance Writers of America. Along with delving into people’s minds—or being the subject of their research—she enjoys being a wife to her best friend, mom, and riding her proud Arabian horse, when he lets her. She has a passion for adventure, and her hopes are to keep earning enough from her writing to travel the world in search of some good story material.