June 17, 2021

Shutter Blog Tour: Excerpt

Author: Melissa Larsen
Genre: Mystery/Thriller/Horror
Release Date: June 15, 2021
Publisher: Berkley


A young woman agrees to star in a filmmaker’s latest project, but soon realizes the movie is not what she expected in this chilling debut novel.

In the wake of her father’s death, Betty Roux doesn’t allow herself to mourn. Instead, she pushes away her mother, breaks up with her boyfriend, and leaves everything behind to move to New York City. She doesn’t know what she wants, except to run.

When she’s offered the chance to play the leading role in mysterious indie filmmaker Anthony Marino’s new project, she jumps at the opportunity. For a month Betty will live in a cabin on a private island off the coast of Maine, with a five-person cast and crew. Her mother warns against it, but Betty is too drawn to the charismatic Anthony to say no.

Anthony gives her a new identity–Lola–and Betty tells herself that this is exactly what she’s been looking for. The chance to reinvent herself. That is, until they begin filming and she meets Sammy, the island’s caretaker, and Betty realizes just how little she knows about the movie and its director.

“Looking at you,” he says, replaying the short clip. “It’s like wandering into a labyrinth.”

“Thank you,” I say, though it sounds more like a question. I tear my eyes away from the camera, back up to his face.

All at once, the reality of this night hits me. I’m sitting in a restaurant in Brooklyn, talking to Anthony Marino. No, auditioning for Anthony Marino. And he thinks I’m beautiful. Like wandering into a labyrinth. I don’t know how I got here. But this is real, isn’t it? This is happening.

Without lifting his gaze from the screen, Anthony tells my video self, “This would be a commitment. This isn’t your usual film. It’s not a big‑budget sort of thing. It’s going to be an intimate shoot. We’ll live in my family’s cabin up north, for about a month. Maybe more, maybe less. And that’s where we’ll be filming, in the cabin. On the water. It’s just a small group of us—you, me, Ben, and Mads, the other actor. Mads Byrne. Well, you won’t have heard of him since you haven’t seen Reverence. Sof├Ča’s taking some days off work to join us for a bit, too. But this film is low‑key. No extra crew, just me and Ben working the set. Are you comfortable with that?”

I sit back, considering him. This is so fast. We haven’t done anything close to an audition. And I could believe, maybe, that he doesn’t care whether I tell him yes or no, because he’s been so casual about everything. He hasn’t asked for anything from me yet, no references, no monologue, nothing. But he’s looking at me too intently—his knuckles turning white around the camera—for this to be a spontaneous offer. Didn’t Ben say that Anthony was too picky? He could have anyone, that’s what he said. He’s delayed filming to search for just the right actress.

It seems he’s found one. Me.

I find myself saying yes before I can properly catch my breath. It doesn’t even sound like a word, yes, just an emotion jettisoned into the air.

“It’s a demanding project,” he tells me. “Most of it is pretty intuitive. But you’d have to be comfortable with some things. Nudity, for instance. Some violence.”

“Violence?” I feel another smile climb my cheeks, this one an imperfect reflection of my unease. How can there be violence when the film consists of just Mads Byrne and me? “What kind of violence? Like in a horror movie?”

He laughs. “Nothing like that. Arguments, shouting, you know, that kind of stuff.”

“Does it pay?”

“Of course.”

“How much?”

“Twenty thousand dollars.”

I try to stifle my gasp. What happened to the small budget? “That’s upon ‘signing.’” He crooks a finger in halfhearted air quotes. “And then another twenty thousand after we finish filming. Sound fair?”

Maybe there’s more to this than I understand. Forty thousand dollars? That’s a lot of money. A person will do a lot for that. A person will be expected to do a lot. And I know this should make me nervous. Everything about tonight should make me nervous. Suddenly, I wish I were older. Maybe then I would know how to handle this situation. I would know the right thing to say, the right thing to ask about this project, and why he’s so convinced I’m the one he wants, after such a short time together. I would know how to look at this man, and how to be looked at by him in turn. I wouldn’t be so overwhelmed.

But I’m not older. I’m just me. And no matter how much I know I should be, I’m not worried. This is like a dream come true, and I’m not going to question my impossibly good luck. I told people I wanted to be an actress in New York, and I meant it, even if it felt like a flimsy way of saying I wanted to figure out who I was, after Dad, as far away as possible from anything that re‑ minded me of him. Here is the opportunity to do exactly that. With Anthony Marino.

I suck out the dregs of my NorCal margarita through a pink straw. I don’t know why this drink is so region specific. Nothing of the tequila or lime reminds me of the wispy fog rolling off the cliffs, the soft, moist bark of redwood trees, the dusty roads. But the name is enough to transform it into home. I close my eyes on the last swallow. When I open them again, my mother’s voice and the images of my father hiking through the brush, out to the dazzling expanse of the Pacific, are replaced by Anthony’s eyes.

I nod—Yes, yes, I am comfortable with all that—but I can’t seem to find my voice yet.

He reaches for my wrist. “Are you sure?” he asks. “I’m not going to lie, I think you’re perfect for it. There’s something about you.” He motions to the camera between us. “Like I said, it’s impossible to look away from you. But a location shoot and the lead role are a lot to ask of an inexperienced actress. Do you have the energy for it?”

I nod again, once.

“I need to hear you say it,” he says, releasing my wrist. “Are you in, one hundred percent?”

I take his hand. He thinks for a second that I’m holding it, but I turn the gesture into a businessman’s handshake. His bones, as rigid as they look, bend a little in my grip. “Yes,” I hear myself say. “Of course.”

This is my new beginning. This is what I want. This is what I need.

Excerpted from SHUTTER by Melissa Larsen, published by Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2021 by Melissa Larsen 

Melissa Larsen has an M.F.A. from Columbia University and a B.A. from NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study. She has interned and worked extensively in publishing. She lives in San Francisco, and Shutter is her first novel.

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