The Dark Space

Mary Ann Rivers and Ruthie Knox

Published: June 1, 2015

Length: 240 pp., 12 text art illustrations

Print ISBN: 978–1–942083–00–9

EPUB ISBN: 978–1–942083–01–6

Kindle ISBN: 978-1-942083-05-4

The Dark Space is available from Brain Mill Press in a limited print edition of signed, numbered copies and as an ebook.

Print book buyers receive a the fine first edition as well as access to the ebook files in all formats. Ebook buyers receive access to MOBI (Kindle) and EPUB files, offered without DRM restrictions.

Unlike any New Adult romance I've read . . . The Dark Space is a story you won't soon forget.

—USA Today

Rivers and Knox will pull readers in with their wonderful writing style and interesting story about endings, beginnings, and finding yourself.

—Library Journal

As close to poetry as I've ever seen a romance novel get.

—Five-star Amazon reviewer

Lovely, lyrical, and unexpected.

—Five-star Amazon reviewer

The Dark Space is a story of intense sexual eroticism and incredible beauty. It is raw. It is primal. It is magic. It is a story that sinks into your bones and teases you and wraps you in colour and feeling.

—Tellulah Darling, author of Get Real

College senior Winnie Frederickson has accomplished nothing in four years but summa cum laude and the power of invisibility.

A professor’s kid, carelessly popular Cal Darling feels like he’s been going to college forever. If there’s anything left to learn, he’s not going to find it in the classroom.

The theater department’s “make-out class” is famously hard to get into, and what goes on between the twelve people who take it every spring is an annual topic of speculation. Winnie needs one more arts class to appear well-rounded for fellowships. Cal is just … bored.

The dark space – a class, a place, a state of mind – is ready for them both.

About the Authors

Mary Ann Rivers

Mary Ann Rivers has been wearing a groove in her library card since she was old enough for story time. She’s been writing almost as long—her first publication credit was in Highlights magazine.  She started writing and reading romance in the fifth grade once she stumbled on the rainbow of romance novel book spines in the library’s fiction stacks.

She was an English and music major and went on to earn her MFA in creative writing, publishing poetry in journals, and leading creative writing workshops for at-risk youth. With Ruthie Knox, she is the co-founder of Brain Mill Press.

Ruthie Knox

New York Times bestselling author Ruthie Knox has published over a dozen titles in adult contemporary romance and New Adult romance (writing as Robin York). Nominated for four RITA awards in her first two years as a published author, Ruthie has been translated into German, French, Italian, and Portuguese. Her New Adult novels Deeper and Harder made Library Journal’s best-of list for 2014, and Deeper was recognized by RT Book Reviews as the best New Adult title of last year.

About the Art

The Dark Space original photographThe Dark Space features beautiful original cover photography by Jishnu Guha. Jishnu shot the cover in Beloit, Wisconsin, with contact improvisational dancers and actors Santiago Quintana and Melina Montesino under the direction of Brain Mill Press staffer Marian Whitaker. The team worked together to capture an image of a couple engaged in the kind of improvisational movement featured in The Dark Space, and to evoke the story’s core themes of vulnerability, intimacy, and transformation. Book Beautiful designed the ebook cover and print spread.


About the Photographer

Jishnu GuhaJishnu Guha is a photographer, filmmaker, and visual effects animator who works in the field of digital storytelling through any combination of his three preferred mediums. He has worked as videographer/photographer for Beloit College and at Beloit Access Television Studios. He has written, directed, and produced three independent short films screened at festivals across the United States. He currently works as an independent artist in Bombay, India, where he collaborates with clients and fellow filmmakers and animators, both locally and in the United States.

The Fine First Edition

The Dark Space  is offered in an 6 x 6” square format printed on 80# paper with original cover and interior illustrations. It features a beautiful original cover with photography by Jishnu Guha.


The Dark Space text artThe Interior

The Dark Space interior layout features epigraphs from some of the most prominent voices in theater transformed into original text art by Book Beautiful. Sandra Williams of Williams Writing, Editing, and Design used this art and the cover to inspire a unique and attractive interior that reflects the novella’s spare, youthful narrative mood.


The Dark Space preorder bonus giftThe Bonus Gift

Readers who preordered The Dark Space received, along with their copies of the novel, a unique 4 x 6” letterpress print of the book’s signature epigraph, the Sanford Meisner quotation “You’re Enough,” created by Kristin Joiner of 622 Press and blind printed (“debossed”) on 110-pound 100% cotton Crane Papers Lettra.


Kristin JoinerAbout the Letterpress Operator

Kristin Joiner first discovered letterpress in college and acquired her own press — an 1882 Pearl Old Style she calls Bess — on Craigslist six years ago. She produces limited-edition prints, greeting cards, invitations, and other custom work on 100% recycled cotton paper with oil-based inks and vintage wood and lead type. Formerly operating in Madison, Wisconsin, Kristin recently chose love and relocated to Bermuda with her boyfriend. You can find her work at and on Etsy at


The Dark Space

by Mary Ann Rivers and Ruthie Knox

© 2015. All rights reserved.

 The Book

Find in yourself those human things that are universal.


It is impossible that you will believe everything in this story, even though all of it is true.

Even though all of it means that right now, I am smiling up at her while she smiles down at me, her face incandescent. This is the only word I can even think of, looking at her, feeling her—incandescent.

I’m gripping her hips while she takes me inside of her, and she is glowing. I think I’m glowing, too.

I wonder if the light we’re making will show up in the pictures our friend Sarah is taking. The shutter is snapping and whirring, and I hope so. I hope everyone in the whole world will look at these pictures and see everything. I hope I will look at these pictures fifty years from now and think, We were like a thousand fucking candles together.

Her laugh tastes like it always does. Her skin.


Use what you know. Don’t worry about what you don’t know.


I didn’t plan to sign up for the class.

I was an economics major, which is practical, but I also wanted to be Phi Beta Kappa, so even though the college I went to has no core curriculum, I had to take a few credits in every area—humanities, social sciences, science, and the arts.

I didn’t plan to sign up for the class, but I needed eight credits in the arts, and I took the prerequisite my second year. You can’t get in to Contact Improv unless you’ve taken the prerequisite. So I did. But I didn’t plan to take the class.

Not exactly. I just sidled my advisor around to suggesting it. Recommending it, even.

“Because you seemed to enjoy that theater class,” he said.

“Because you might benefit from greater ease in social situations,” he suggested.

“Because it helps sometimes, in life, to learn to pretend you feel something different from what you’re really feeling.”

This last, I’m sure, because I look like a small and terrified mouse. And I mean that not in the adorable way—Oh, I have mousy brown hair and precious tiny hands!—but truly. My rodenty face, my pale blinking eyes, my flat short hair and skin the blue of skim milk. They unsettle people.

I’d spent my whole life learning how not to unsettle people, until I became the sort of person who’s barely visible at all. That girl who sits on the mid-back-left side of your classroom, whose name you don’t know. The student at the coffee shop who you know you’ve served before, lots of times, even though you never remember her order.

I didn’t plan to take Contact Improv, because from the first moment I read the course description in the online catalog, the very notion of such a class unsettled me.



When I looked around at the people trickling into the auditorium, sitting in the theater’s seats as far away from each other as possible, I thought, I have known these people my whole fucking life.

That’s what happens when you’re a professor’s kid—your whole circadian rhythm is juiced by the academic calendar. As a matter of fact, you realize, at some horrifying point, that you were fucking conceived and born on school breaks. Count back from my spring break birthday, and there’s my parents, partying over the three-day Fourth of July weekend.

My daycare was the space under my dad’s keyhole desk, in his basement office.

The first nipple under my shaking, underage palm belonged to a dark-eyed undergraduate. When she asked, You really go here? I could truthfully answer, even as my high school trig homework burned a hole in my Jansport, Yeah, I’ve been going here forever.

I’ve been waiting to graduate, literally, since I can fucking remember. ’Cause that’s the deal, it’s always been the deal, I can do whatever it is I want, no pushback, as long as I “take advantage” of the free college education offered to faculty’s kids.


One more semester, the most worthless piece of paper I can think of is in my back pocket, and Los Angeles is a road trip away. All the sun and aimlessness I can possibly muster will burn away the nine-month calendar in my brain like it was one of those forty-pound disfiguring tumors.

I’ll be free.

I’ll make movies, I’ll learn to surf, I’ll untie bikinis, I’ll work at a diner, I’ll share a shitty apartment with five other aimless dudes, I’ll wake up stoned on a beach at five in the morning, I’ll sell celebrity home maps, I’ll have to hock my car and take the bus and get my bike stolen ten times.

That’s what I was thinking when I looked at everyone on the first day of Contact Improv.

That, and the fact that I would probably make out with, grope, cuddle, smell, and taste every single one of them before the class was finished in the spring.

That guy, with the hipster chops—I was gonna feel those all over my face. That red-headed girl—I fucking hoped that girl was in the class and not just talking to a friend—I’d have signed up twice to practice stage kissing with her. The dude who recorded synth in his dorm all the time, the girl who had a sleeve of a pin-up zombie, the one who had folded herself in half in her theater seat, her knees under her pointy chin, her short hair sticking up in back like she slept on it.

Might as well, I thought, when I clicked on and added the course to my registration cart. I’ll kiss ’em all goodbye.



Here is what I knew about kissing before Contact Improv: nothing.

A kind of nothing.

Because there are different kinds of nothing—a fact that no one ever tells you. There are different ways to be weightless, a dozen methods of entering a room invisibly, a hundred strategies for never drawing attention to yourself.

I am an expert in nothing. If I had written my senior thesis on nothing, instead of the economics of microcredit, I would have noted, first, that nothing has texture and heft.

Nothing has the nap of a discarded velveteen couch. It’s soft as a kitten in one direction, but when you pet it the other way it releases the musty smell of storage, and it feels stiff and unpleasant against your hand.

What I knew about kissing was that you put your mouth against another person’s mouth, and something happened.

You breathed through your nose and pushed your tongues around. Somehow you knew how much to push, and when, and how to keep spit from draining down your chin. Or you kissed like in the movies, clutching each other’s faces while the camera spinning around you mirrored the spinning in your heart, the dizzy-light wonder of feeling wanted.

All of this I learned from books and movies, magazines and Internet clips. But what I knew about kissing before Contact Improv was nothing.

The advantage of nothingness and expert invisibility is that I can learn, and I can see.

That first day, sitting on the stage in what Maggie called our “share circle,” a term I rolled my eyes at—then—I saw five males, five females, plus me.

What I learned from this observation is that there was something about this class that held some incentive for males. The male-to-female ratio of Contact Improv was nearly equal, and this was rarely the case on our small liberal arts campus.

Small liberal arts campuses are for women and men who somehow believe they are exceptions to the dominant culture. But of course are not.

What I saw was that the males were on one side of the share circle, and the females were on the other.

What I learned was that this meant that everyone’s insouciant posture and witty introductions meant nothing.


Maybe most of them would have known, if I had asked them, how to kiss, but they did not know—then—if what they really wanted to do was kiss each other. For credit.

What I saw, when I said my name to the group, Winnie Frederickson, was Maggie’s large blue eyes connect with mine for a longer-than-normal time, and before she looked away she looked at me again, looked at my entire body sitting on the floor of the stage.

What I learned was that I would not be permitted to be invisible.

My expertise at nothingness would not help me here.

This professor, who introduced herself as “Maggie,” who was very obviously not wearing a bra under her leotard and whose feet were bare at the hems of her sweatpants, saw me.

That meant everyone else saw me, too.

I learned this when Cal, the Classics professor’s kid, nudged my thigh with his knee and whispered, “Maybe teacher’s found her pet. Whatcha think?”

Then I saw his blush when I looked right back at him, fully something, fully weighted by the gravity of the stage floor, fully visible, and said—did not whisper—“I think this time, it’s not you.”

I don’t know what he saw.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This