Kudzu and catastrophes: A slapstick scene from “Under Review”

Hello everyone, and happy June!

It’s getting pretty warm and summery here. The flowers are delightful. The humid heat is maybe a little less delightful–but at least the scent of magnolias is wafting through the air magnificently?

I’ve been working away at Under Review, the next book in the Doctor Rowena Halley series. It will probably be a few more months before it’s ready for release, but I’m currently at over 57,000 words in the first draft, so progress is being made. While you wait, I thought I’d offer up another little excerpt.

Actually, this is a fairly long excerpt, of almost 2,000 words. 

CONTENT WARNING! CONTAINS SWEARING!

Okay, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s get back to the excerpt. It’s a bit of a comic relief episode, with Rowena visiting her grandparents over fall break. Her parents have come back from their stint at Doctors Without Borders and have announced their intention of moving to a small town and building a tiny house out of reclaimed materials. John has dropped a bombshell, declaring that he actually has a serious girlfriend. But Rowena, meanwhile, continues to have personal and professional trouble, and it all seems to be connected one way or another with the private security and prison firm Security Solutions…

***

When I showed up that morning, John was already mowing the lawn and my mother was weeding the front garden bed. The sounds of vigorous sawing and hammering came from the back shed.

“It’s Bobby and your grandfather,” my grandmother told me when I got out of the car and nodded towards the noises. “They’re building some kind of prototype for something in the tiny house Bobby thinks he want to build. Or rather, I should say, your grandfather is building it.”

“No doubt.” My father liked to dream up designs. He was less good when it came to the actual physical implementation of them. I had occasionally seen him with a hammer in his hand in my childhood, but 90% of the time that had been thirty seconds before some kind of catastrophic accident that at best involved losing a thumbnail, and at worst meant a trip to the ER. The rest of us had learned to keep him away from tools of all sorts for everyone’s sake.

“He’s planning to hire a builder for the actual house, right?” I asked. “He’s not planning to build it himself?”

My mother, who’d gotten up from weeding and come over to us, sighed. “He wants to build it all with his own two hands,” she said. “And I do too, for that matter. It would be very rewarding, don’t you think? I don’t know if you remember the yurt, Rowena…”

“I remember,” I put in quickly. “That was awesome. But I thought you built it.”

“I did. Bobby just helped a little. And it turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself. But it gave him an itch to build his own home that he’s never been able to satisfy—until now.” She sighed again. “I can do some of the build for the house, but I can’t do everything. As it’s currently planned, it will involve welding, plumbing, electricity…all kinds of skillsets I don’t possess, and don’t feel like learning. But your father is now itching to take welding classes…”

She trailed off as my grandmother and I stared at her in horror. “I don’t think he’ll actually go through with it,” she added hastily. “You know how he is about that sort of thing. But it’s all he can think about right now. He wants to weld some kind of a bookshelf out of reclaimed steel, so he and your grandfather are putting together a wooden prototype right now.”

I tried to envision a bookshelf hand-welded from reclaimed steel by my father. The mind boggled. “What kind of an aesthetic are you going for?” I asked cautiously.

My mother sighed again. “Not Rust Belt Chic, at any rate. But you know how he is: you have to let him have his enthusiasms. Probably by next month he’ll have given up on the welding and settled for something more sensible.”

I nodded hopefully. It was true that my father, while prone to unwise enthusiasms, normally managed to see sense after a bit. He was, after all, extremely intelligent. He was also very competent in the areas where he was actually an expert. And he didn’t like to hurt people. So altogether, it was normally not too difficult to persuade him to take the more practical course. But he was very easily swept away.

There was a shout of pain and surprise, followed by a sudden cessation of hammering and then the sound of a pile of two-by-fours crashing down on the back shed’s concrete floor. My mother, grandmother, and I shared a look of concern.

John stopped the lawnmower and went sprinting into the shed. A minute later, he came back out, ushering our father along beside him. Who had, I noted with alarm, a bloody rag held up to his face.

“Bobby!” My mother went jogging over to check on him. I palmed my car keys, ready to make a quick dash to the local ER.

After a thorough examination, though, my mother declared it unnecessary. It was just a simple nosebleed, which under her ministrations quickly stopped bleeding. Somehow, my father explained once he could speak, he’d lost control of his hammer and it had flown back and hit him in the face, cracking his glasses but, my mother declared, doing nothing worse than bruising the rest of him.

“Well,” said my grandmother, once that had all been sorted out, “I do enjoy a little family excitement, I must say. Weena, darling, how do you feel about helping me put in some pansies?”

I spent the rest of the morning helping my grandmother put in her fall display of black and orange pansies. She liked to go all out for Halloween, including a themed flowerbed. As a child I’d thought it was hilarious. Now I wondered how she found the energy and enthusiasm. Then I wondered how I had gotten so much older and more jaded than my grandmother.

In the afternoon John and I attacked the kudzu that was constantly threatening to engulf the shed, the yard, and, if it had its way, the house. Our grandparents’ property backed up to a creek bottom that was infested with kudzu (along with snakes, ticks, chiggers, and other unsavory things). Several times a year the kudzu had to cut be back with all the brutality we could muster. John had already mown everything he could reach with the mower. Now we went after the rest of it with clippers and machetes.

“God damn,” said John, once we’d stripped all of it we could reach from the shed. He flapped the hem of his shirt, trying to get a little cool air onto his chest. “It gets worse every year. Maybe Grandma and Grandpa should try a flamethrower to burn the shit out of it.”

“And set the entire property on fire?” I eyed the expanse of kudzu strangling the trees along the property line. “I’ve heard goats work,” I said. “Goats and pigs. Maybe they should get a little herd of goats and pigs.”

“Plus, then you’d get bacon! I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Someday you’re going to think that’s funny.”

“I doubt it,” I said.

“You need to live a little, Ro!”

“Mmmmm.” I wiped some sweat off my forehead with my shirt and sized up the nearest kudzu-smothered tree. I was hot and tired and ready for a refreshing shower and a cool drink. On the other hand, I wasn’t at work, so that was a major positive.

“What do you think?” I asked John. “Should I do a career change and go into landscaping?”

“Nah.” He wiped sweat off his face too. “I’ve already looked into it. Thought about it as a possibility for once my twenty years are up and I leave the Marines. But the pay is shit. Plus you’d have to deal with rich assholes all the time.”

“That’s what I thought, too,” I said. “But I’ve still been entertaining it as a happy fantasy.”

John grinned. “We could do it as a family business. ‘Halley and Halley.’ You bring the charm and I’ll bring the muscles. We could specialize in…I don’t know…regenerative gardening or some shit like that. Is that a thing? It sounds like it should be a thing. It sounds like just the kind of shit the people putting in tiny houses made of reclaimed materials would eat up.”

“I’m sure it is,” I said. “And I’m sure other people have already thought of that and are moving rapidly into that niche.”

“Yeah. And I don’t think I’d actually be any good at it anyway. The only thing I know how to do in a garden is mow grass and whack back kudzu.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Not really a useful skillset, especially when goats can probably do it even better.”

John was attacking the kudzu at the base of the next tree. “Seems like I should have a better set of skills,” he said, his back to me. “Seems like I should be worth something after everything I’ve done.”

“Yeah,” I said. “You and me both.”

“But so far the only places I’ve found that might be interested in me are law enforcement and private security.”

“Uh-huh,” I said. “And if it’s something you are interested in, Brian Michaels has offered more than once to help out.” Brian Michaels was the chief of campus police at Crimson. His son had served under John’s command, and Brian had expressed his willingness to do whatever he could for the man who had straightened out his ne’er-do-well youngest son and, possibly, saved his life under fire.

“I should hit him up. I guess.” John didn’t sound very enthused. “And I’ve actually had someone from Security Solutions reach out to me. Aren’t they the folks who basically own Crimson?”

“More or less,” I said. “That’s proactive of them.”

“I got the feeling they were real proactive people.”

“Do you think you might take them up on it?” I asked cautiously. My heart sank at the thought of John taking up private soldiering in any form. But I also knew that he was right when he said he might not have a lot of other options. He was coming up very soon on his twenty years of service with the Marines, and was planning to leave then. Gung-ho as he’d always been, he was looking forward to getting out of the military.  But he didn’t know what he’d do next. Early forties was awfully young to retire, and he’d need some kind of an income to supplement his pension.

“Camila says she’ll cut off my balls if I do.”

“Well,” I said. “That settles it, then.” I tried to hide my surprise. Normally I’d expect John to respond to that kind of a statement by breaking off the relationship with extreme prejudice.

“Yeah. She’s had a few run-ins with them before, because of her law firm, and she pretty much spits with rage whenever their name comes up. She’s trying to get me to go to law school instead.”

I hoped that I was able to refrain from gaping like a fish. “Are you thinking about it?” I finally managed to ask.

“I’d never thought about it before. But once she suggested it, I started to think yeah, maybe I could be a lawyer. I mean, I’m no brain like you, Ro, but I’m not a complete idiot. I could probably get through law school. And there’s a lot of work that needs doing out there.”

“Uh-huh,” I said, still trying to hide my shock. “You mean like…social-work kind of work?”

“It sounds stupid when you say it like that…”

“No, it doesn’t,” I put in quickly. “I think you’d do a great job of it, if that’s what you want to do.”

“I’m still thinking about it. Don’t tell anyone, okay? Not until I’ve thought about some more. But Camila thinks it would be great for both of us.”

“In that case, she might have a point,” I said. “And I’m sure you’d do great in law school. And I’d bet you’d make a great lawyer, too.” The thought had never occurred to me, either, but now that I considered it, I could totally see John as a hard-charging lawyer.

My phone pinged. I stopped attacking the kudzu to pull it out of my pocket.

Darling Inna, said the text. I really have a lot of questions about Security Solutions. Can we talk?

***

Gosh, what will happen next? To be honest, I don’t entirely know myself, since that’s about where I left off yesterday. So I guess we’ll all find out soon 🙂

In the meantime, happy reading!

Sid Stark

Very special sneak peek of “Under Review”!

Happy May Day!

I hope you’re doing well, and if you live in the regions currently experiencing our annual Pollenocalypse, it’s not bothering you too much. All part of the beauty of spring in the South…

My BIG news is that I have, finally, started on Under Review, the working title for the next Rowena book. If you recall, the last book, Total Immersion, ended on rather a downbeat note, and now I need to start the long climb back up to some kind of semi-happy ending to the series story arc. But, I have to be honest, the path does not look like it will be smooth 🙂

And so, for your reading pleasure, I’m including the first draft of Under Review in this email. But first, a quick reminder that the audiobook of the first four books (with three bonus novellas!) is currently on deep discount. For a limited time, it’s $1.99 on Apple, and 99c on B&NChirp, and Google Play

If you’ve already read or listened to the collection and you feel moved to leave a review, that would be very much appreciated! The universal link is here.And now, with a long drumroll, we have, hot off the presses, the world premiere of the first chapter of Under Review
1
Just when I thought my life couldn’t get any worse, Madison came back into it.

I was coming back from a physical therapy session for my busted-up left knee when I spotted someone sitting on the stairs leading up to my apartment entrance.

Jeez, she looks familiar, I thought. And then: Nah, it can’t be. It’s gotta be someone else who looks kind of like her.

I should have known better. On the radio, Bruce Springsteen was belting his heart out about feeling like being on a downbound train as I pulled into the closest parking spot I could find, which should have been a warning. But, like a moron, I ignored it, got blithely—as blithely as a woman with a brace and crutches can get—out of the car, and started hobbling towards the two long flights of stairs currently looming like Everest between me and my apartment.

“Hey, Professor H! Whoa! What happened to you? Were you, like, in an accident or something?”

“Madison! What the f—what are you doing here?”

She unfolded herself from her seat on the stairs and came over to me in the coltish lope I remembered from when she’d been my student two years ago. Her straight brown hair was just as lank as it had been when she’d been sleeping her way through Intermediate Russian. As she came up to me, she wiped her nose on a raggedy sleeve. So maybe she was still doing coke like she’d been then too. You’d think nearly dying from an overdose while being chased by angry mobsters would be sufficient reason to stay clean, especially when your dad was paying for the best rehab money could buy. But Madison, I suspected, had gotten bored, the way people like Madison always would, and drugs were the only way she had to bring a little excitement into her carefully curated, lovingly organized, unspeakably dull and meaningless life.

“I got into a big fight with my dad—big surprise, right?” She rolled her eyes. “But this time my mom turned on me too.” She swiped at her nose again. Her wrists were much too bony and frail where they poked out from the sleeves of her ratty hoodie. She hugged herself as if cold, despite being wildly overdressed for the heat radiating off the blacktop at 2:15 in an August afternoon. In Georgia.

“Here.” I fished a tissue out of my purse and handed it to her, unable to stand the sight of her wiping her nose with her filthy sleeve any longer. “Was it about drugs?” I asked. “Are you doing coke again?”

“Jeez, Professor H!” The outrage in her voice seemed unfeigned. “I thought you’d trust me, at least, even though my dumbass parents don’t. I said I’d go clean, and I did!”

“Then why is your nose running like a leaky faucet?”

She shrugged. “Allergies, I guess. It started as soon as I got on the bus, it got even worse once I got off the bus, and it’s been going non-stop ever since.”

“Okay,” I said. Georgia was notoriously bad for allergies, that was true. “But you look awful, Madison. You must be twenty pounds underweight. Drugs seem like the best explanation.”

“Hey!” She stopped wiping her nose to give me a bright smile. “Can’t a girl have an eating disorder without getting sh—without getting a bunch of hassle over it?”

“No,” I said.

“Anyway,” she said, giving me another bright smile. “You’re one to talk, Professor H. You used to be super skinny back at TLASC, like you had an eating disorder or something too. And now you’re on crutches. Looks like you’re the one who needs to, like, practice some self-care or something.”

I resisted the urge to argue back that I hadn’t been unhealthily thin back in New Jersey, and that I hadn’t gained any weight since then. Well, not any appreciable weight. But I had the irritating feeling that she was dead right on both counts. I had been flirting with anorexia and overtraining until my knee nightmare had begun and I had had to stop running. Now I was finding myself surreptitiously checking my fly before going out in public to make sure the zipper hadn’t unzipped from the press of my expanding abdominal flesh.If pride and poverty hadn’t been such large stumbling blocks for me, I would have bought a new, larger wardrobe over the summer. But since pride and poverty both featured heavily in my decision-making process, I was still squeezing into the same three outfits I’d been wearing for close to half a decade now, and telling myself that getting serious about that diet would be good for my bottom line in both senses of the word.

“Probably we both need to practice some self-care,” I said, striving for just the right balance of patience, diplomacy, and conspiratorial cheerfulness in my voice.

“Yeah, whatevs,” said Madison. I guessed I had failed to hit that perfect balance I had been striving for. “So, your apartment’s, like, up at the top of the stairs, huh? Want some help getting up there? Can I carry something for you?”

“Um,” I said. “I guess. You still haven’t told me why you’re here.”

“I…” She hugged herself again, now looking distinctly frail and scared and much younger than—I calculated quickly—twenty-one. “I told you. I got into a big fight with my parents. Like, a really big fight. And then”—she looked away and scuffed the toe of her dirty sneaker on the sidewalk—“I, like, left. Like, I, like, I guess I kinda…ran away. Can you run away if you’re no longer a minor?” she asked, looking up again, her usual cockiness returning.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t think so. Not exactly. But…your parents are probably looking for you, aren’t they?”

“Nah.” She wrinkled up her nose. “They said they were done with me. ‘Course, they say that kind of sh—stuff all the time. But this time I think they really meant it.”

“In my experience,” I said, “parents say all kinds of sh—stuff all the time without really meaning it. We need to tell them where you are.”

“No!” She actually took a step back at the idea. “No! They really…I really…and I don’t know who they are anymore! They’re not who I thought they are, Professor H, they really aren’t! Turns out they’ve been keeping all kinds of sh—secrets from me all along. ‘Specially my mom. Turns out I never knew who she really was. And, like, I mean that literally. Like, she kept all kinds of sh—stuff about our family secret, and now I don’t know who she is, I don’t know who I am…and, and, what I found out was so bad, I couldn’t, I couldn’t…”

Her skinny shoulders were starting to shake. “Hey,” I said. “Hey, it’s okay. We’ll get it sorted out. Let’s go inside and sit down and get something cold to drink, and we’ll get it sorted out. But first of all, let me just send a quick text to your dad that you’re safe. I’m sure he’s worried sick about you.”

“Hah!” said Madison.

“Well, at least it might keep me from getting sued for kidnapping or something,” I said.

“Yeah.” She was brightening up, recovering her composure. “He’s such a d—such a jerk he’d probably do something like that.”

“Mmm,” I said. I didn’t actually have such a low opinion of Erik Johnson, Madison’s father, but I was already starting to worry about the legal implications of having a former student and known drug user show up unannounced at my apartment, apparently on the run from her parents.

I carefully organized myself and my crutches, and pulled out my phone. Erik Johnson was still in my contacts. I’d just send him a quick text, then get me and Madison out of this sweltering heat and into the blessed AC, and come up with a plan that would solve everything, or at least get Madison off my hands.

A text notification was already up on my screen. I had a flash of paranoia, sure it was Erik Johnson telling me he knew about Madison and demanding to know why I was hiding her from him. But no. The message was in Russian, not English.

Dearest Inna, it read. Mama and I have an appointment with the American embassy for our visas ))))) Normally the wait time is 6-8 months, but because of her health they say they might be able to expedite it. And she has already spoken with a specialist at that clinic in Atlanta. We may be with you very soon )))) Hugs, Dima.
What could possibly happen next? Frankly, I only have the vaguest idea. I guess we’ll find out 🙂

Here are those links again to the discounted audiobook:
Apple
B&N
Chirp
Google Play

Happy reading!

Sid Stark

Huge discount on audiobook boxed set!

Hi Everyone!

Well, it’s April, the flowers are in bloom, The Pollening is happening here in my part of the world, students and teachers are beginning the great Pre-Finals Meltdown, the war in Ukraine is still dragging on…so a pretty typical spring, I guess. 

I was hoping to have some news about more progress on the next Rowena book, but between my day job demands and my uncertainty about how the current geopolitical situation is going to shake out, I haven’t had the time or the heart. Hopefully this summer.

But in the meantime, I do have news of a HUGE discount on the audiobook boxed set of the Doctor Rowena Halley series, book 1-4.

The audiobook collection is currently $1.99 on Apple, and 99c on Chirp and Google Play! This is a limited-time discount for Q2, so grab it now if you want to take advantage of it.

That’s about all the news I have for the moment, other than–fun heads-up for those of you who’ve already read/listened to Campus Confidential–I am plotting on how to bring back the infamous Madison for the next book in the series! I’ve been letting her lie dormant for the past couple of books, but I really need to bring her back, don’t you think?

All the best, and happy reading!

Sid Stark

What I’ve been loving lately

Hey Everyone! 

It’s been a little while since I last emailed, I know. Long enough for the weather to go from early autumn to something decidedly wintry. We even had a time change! 

I’ve been really busy with teaching the past few weeks, so I haven’t had much time to devote to Dr. Rowena & Co. But don’t worry! I’m busily thinking about the next book in the series, tentatively titled Under Review. As soon as I have any concrete news about it (which may be a while), you will be the first to know! 

Meanwhile, I have managed to fit in a little bit of reading for fun, although not as much as I’d like, of course. I’ve been enjoying the heck out of the Skip Langdon and Rebecca Schwartz mystery series, both by Julie Smith. The Skip Langdon series leans more towards gritty noir (and is set in New Orleans–always a good choice!), while the Rebecca Schwartz series is a bit more cozy, but they’re both engaging reads featuring smart female misfits as their main characters. Highly recommend if you’re looking for a new heroine to check out. 

What about you? What have you been reading lately? Any great recommendations? 

Oh, and I’m also participating in a the Mystery Giveaway on Bookfunnel this month. Check it out here if you’d like to pick up a few more free mysteries!

Send me those book recommendations, and happy reading!
Sid Stark

Dive into Total Immersion!

Hi All!

Exciting news! Total Immersion is now live! You can grab your copy through this universal link here. And of course, reviews are always super appreciated.

But that’s not all! In celebration of the release, I’ve made Trigger Warning free for a limited time. Here’s the universal link to grab it.

Total Immersion was a bit of a hard write for me, for a variety of reasons. I knew where the series as a whole needed to go, and that the action in this particular book would be key, but it was difficult to actually write that action. It was also difficult to figure out what I wanted the “small story” of just that particular book to be. The whole series has an overarching “big story” that I’m pretty certain on, but the “small story” of each book undergoes a lot of changes before and during the writing process. 

I’ve also found myself gravitating towards a detail-rich writing style that requires a fair amount of background work, especially when the story is set somewhere that’s real but that I don’t know really well. There’s a lot of time spent talking to people and looking at Google Maps and Google Earth. It’s interesting, but not smooth or quick.

Anyway, I’m very pleased with the end result, which as always came out much stranger and richer than what I had been thinking of going in. I hope you like it, and here are those links again:

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Apple

Barnes & Noble

Google Play

Kobo

Geotargetted universal link

Happy reading!

Sid Stark

Special Sneak Peek of “Total Immersion”! Plus audiobook deals on @NookBN

Hello All!

I hope you’re enjoying your June, wherever you are, and staying safe from the new Delta variant of the virus. We are truly living through interesting times.

I’ve got an excerpt from Total Immersion, my upcoming release, for your reading pleasure, but first a quick reminder that the audiobooks of Campus Confidential and Permanent Position are both deeply discounted on NookApple, and Google Play. They’re also in Nook’s Mystery & Thriller Indie Deals and Romance Indie Deals, so check those out before they expire at the end of June!

And if that’s not enough deals for you, check out the Thrillers for Free ebook giveaway on Bookfunnel!

And now for that promised excerpt. This is Chapter 10 of the story that I initially titled Summer Intensive but then later tentatively decided to call Total Immersion. Several of you have already weighed in, but if you have a preference for the title, let me know! It’s a long novella/short novel of about 45,000 words set over a single weekend in the summer following the end of Honor Court, book 5 in the Doctor Rowena Halley series.

I had a hard time finding a good excerpt, since pretty much the entire story is a massive spoiler for the cliffhanger at the end of Honor Court. But this chapter seemed safe enough. Well, actually, there is a bit of a spoiler, so proceed at your own risk 🙂

To set the scene, the action takes place in Monterey, CA, where Rowena is spending the summer teaching at the civilian language institute. She’s living with her boyfriend Alex, who works at the DLI, the military language institute there. But things are, as is so often the case, more fraught than they should be. Not only has their relationship hit a rocky patch, but someone has gone missing under alarming circumstances. Will they manage to resolve everything in time???…

***

10

Alex left, slamming the sticky door behind him so hard that the dishes rattled on the shelves. The front—and only—door to his apartment didn’t quite fit in the frame, so it required a good hard slam, and sometimes considerable shaking, jiggling, and prayers for mercy, to get it to shut enough to be able to shoot the deadbolt.

I shot the deadbolt. The door was still quivering in my hand. Alex must be even more worked up than I’d thought.

I went over to the kitchen/dining room table and sat down. What was that noise? The dishes—all two plates and two bowls that Alex owned—were still rattling on their shelves. Jeez. This place was even more ramshackle than I’d thought.

My legs were quivering. What was this? I was tired, sure, but I didn’t think I was this tired. Was I sick? What was that noise? Oh my God! Was I having aural hallucinations because I was having a stroke? No, wait. It was just a train…I wasn’t in Indiana. There weren’t any trains here…it must be a plane. We were right by Monterey Regional Airport. But planes didn’t make the ground shake like this…not unless they were about to crash right into you.

I looked up at the ceiling in terror, as if I could see right through it to the plane plummeting straight at my head. The table was shaking under my hand. It must be just outside the house…it didn’t sound like a plane.

The shaking and the deep rumbling I felt as much as heard stopped. I looked around in frantic confusion. Then I felt like an idiot. It had been an earthquake. Just an earthquake. The San Andreas fault ran through Monterey County, along with several smaller faults. By California standards, it wasn’t a particularly active fault zone, and the chances of half the town cracking off and falling into the bay were apparently small. But minor quakes weren’t uncommon. We’d already had one this summer. I just wasn’t used to them, and hadn’t thought this might be one. But it had to have been.

I brushed something off my face, then looked up again. Dust fell squarely into my eyes, sending me scurrying off to the bathroom to flush them out with cold water.

As I was bent over the sink, splashing my face with water, a soft paw reached out from behind the toilet and touched my ankle, making me shriek and jump, spraying water everywhere. I don’t know why. It was Fevronia, my tan long-haired rescue cat, whom I’d brought with me for the summer. Reaching out from hiding places and placing a paw on my ankle was one of her favorite hobbies. But it still made me leap like a gaffed salmon every time.

“I guess the earthquake didn’t freak you out too much,” I said, and reached down to pet her. Fevronia pinned back her ears, hissed at me, and darted off to the bedroom. At least she hadn’t drawn blood.

When I came back into the dining room, I saw that a small crack had opened up where the wall met the ceiling. Dust and bits of plasterboard were drifting down onto the table.

What do I do? Is the whole place about to come down around my ears? I watched the crack for a couple of minutes. It didn’t get any bigger, and after a while dust stopped floating down onto the table. We were probably safe enough. I’d point it out to Alex when he got back, and he’d probably notify the landlord, and the landlord would probably ignore it, and I’d be out of here by Sunday anyway and it wouldn’t be my problem. Meanwhile, I couldn’t use this as an excuse to get out of searching for Erin.

I wiped down the table. Then, unable to delay it any longer, I got out my phone and called Frank.

***

So there you have it! Stay tuned for more developments. I’m hoping to have the book available by the end of the summer.

Meanwhile, here are those links again:

Barnes & Noble Mystery and Thriller Indie Deals

Barnes & Noble Romance Indie Deals

Bookfunnel Thrillers for Free

Happy reading!

Sid Stark

Free ebooks, discount audiobooks, and more

Happy June!

Wow! Here we are, halfway through the year already. How did that happen?

It’s been a bit of a crazy week for me, between June advising, a nasty chemical exposure from the worksite next door, wild weather, and so on and so forth. Perhaps I will look back on it someday and feel like I’ve really grown as a person because of it. 

Meanwhile, I’ve got various exciting things to announce. First of all, I’ve finished a first draft of book #6 in the Doctor Rowena Halley series. I originally titled it Summer Intensive but now I’m contemplating calling it Total Immersion. If you have a preference for one over the other, let me know! And sneak peeks should be coming soon, so stay tuned for that.

Second of all, the audiobooks of Campus Confidential and Permanent Position have been chosen for promos at various retailers for June is Audiobook Month events. Campus Confidential is currently 99c on Google Play and Barnes & Noble, and $1.99 on ApplePermanent Position is currently $1.99 at the same stores (link to Apple here, GP here, and B&N here). AND Barnes & Noble is featuring both books in their June is Audiobook Month promos: check out the indie romance audiobook promo here and the indie mystery & thriller audiobook promo here.

I’m a big audiobook and podcast listener myself, and I’ve recently gotten into the Gangster Capitalism podcast. Seasons 1 & 3 are all about real-life crime and corruption at US universities, so if that’s something you’re interested in, or you just want to stoke your outrage, you should check it out! I have so many thoughts about it, but the main one is the incredibly corrupting effects of money on education, and the problems we’ve created by linking education with class and wealth in ways that have had all sorts of fallout. If you listen to the podcast, I’d love to hear what you think!

Finally, I’m participating this month in the Thrillers for FREE giveaway. Dozens of free thrillers, all available for immediate download! So if you want to stock up, check it out here.

Here are those links again:

B&N Mystery & Thriller Indie Deals 

B&N Romance Indie Deals

Thrillers for Free

Happy reading!

Sid Stark

Got reading or listening recommendations?

Hello!

Goodness, is it Memorial Day weekend already? Wow! Wherever you are, I hope you’re having a pleasant and safe weekend.

I’ve got an action-packed newsletter today, so I’ll dive right in. First of all, the audiobook of Honor Court is now up an all major storefronts. If you want to get it at a deep discount, you can buy it direct from me for $4.99. It will be delivered via Bookfunnel and you can listen to it on the free Bookfunnel app or download the MP3s and listen to them on the app of your choice. You can also rent it for 99c on Soundwise.

It’s also now available on Audible, KoboChirp, and all the other major stores (universal link here). Most of the stores are offering some kind of a discount on it right now. You can also get it on Scribd, and of course you can listen to it for free by requesting it from your local library!

Although I’ve been busy with a lot of research reading, I have managed to do some “fun” reading too. I just finished Nobody’s ChildBook 5 in the Jeri Howard series by Janet Dawson. The series is from the 90s, when badass women sleuths had their heyday…I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to fall into curmudgeonly nostalgia there. But seriously, don’t let the age of the series put you off. The books are page turners, with a tough female PI investigating cases on the mean streets of San Francisco and dealing with social issues that have only become more relevant 25 years later.

What about you? Do you have any reading recommendations? Let me know!

In writing news, I’m most of the way through the first draft of book 6 in the Doctor Rowena Halley series. Since I ended Book 5 on a cliffhanger, I knew I needed to get started on Book 6 pronto, but, frankly, I’ve been dealing with some burnout or writer’s block or something. I needed a little break from the series in order to figure out what happens next, since that ending to Honor Court came out of nowhere. I took a few months off to write something for my other pen name. Then I still didn’t know what to do.

Oh no! I kept worrying. I’ve got to get this project started! But how? HOW?

As I was fretting over this, YouTube started playing Florence + the Machine videos for me (I often have YouTube on while I write). The video for “Shake it Out” whispered something to my subconscious. 

I’ve always liked that particular video, with its fin de siecle aesthetic. Since Rowena’s research is on a Silver Age (early 20th century) author, this video speaks to that ethos and that general feeling. So after watching it, I felt like I was ready to start writing.

My original conception was to have Florence + the Machine songs running through the story as a repeating motif. I do have some scenes where Florence + the Machine songs play a role (although not “Shake it Out,” funnily enough), but things started to morph once the writing got underway, as they do.

From Florence + the Machine I found myself moving on to Miranda Lambert. At the moment, “Gunpowder and Lead” is part of an important plot twist (spoiler alert!).

Since the story is still in first draft stage, I can’t promise that the song will remain in the final version, but here’s hoping!

At that point I thought I’d figured everything out. Then YouTube started playing Fleetwood Mac songs for me, reigniting my love for what, let’s be honest, has to be one of the greatest pop bands of all time. At the moment, I have this feeling that the song “Gypsy” is somehow significant to the story.

I still don’t know exactly how I’ll be working the song into the story. Maybe I won’t. I keep discovering that whatever triggers the original moment of inspiration often needs to be considerably reworked, or even discarded entirely, during the actual writing process. So I can’t promise that “Gypsy” will actually appear in the finished product, but I’ve been listening to it a lot as I write the final scenes.

That’s where we are now! I’ll be sure to let you know as soon as there’s more news about the next book, so stay tuned for sneak peeks and other fun stuff! 

Meanwhile, I’d love to hear what you’re listening to. Send me your listening recommendations!

All the best, and happy reading,

Sid

Free and discount audiobooks!

Hello All!

How is it May already? How the time does fly, especially when you’re keeping busy!

The good news is that I’m continuing to recover from my COVID vaccine. It left me with some pretty significant joint/muscle pain and all-over fatigue that did get a little better every day after the shot but still has been lingering on for weeks. I thought it was gone, but a recent weather change brought it back a bit. Still much better than actually getting COVID, but not fun. Even so, I hope you’ve all been able to get vaccinated, or will be able to soon. It certainly makes me feel better about going out and about now, inasmuch as I can. I even had a tiny outdoor gathering with other people outside of my household recently, which was a lot of fun.

The even better news is that I’ve been hard at work on my audio projects. I finished the audio for Honor Court, which required some redoing, and recorded and edited the audio for the companion novella Spring Break as well. It’s been uploaded onto Audible but that could take a while–like several months–to go live. So in meantime, Honor Court plus Spring Break are available direct from me for a very low price! Yes, indeed. I keep hearing about selling direct, so I thought I’d dip my toes in it. 

What, you ask, is selling direct and why should I care? Basically, selling direct is when an author sets up their own store front and you buy directly from them instead of via Amazon or Apple or whatever. The benefit for both parties is that the author keeps a much higher percentage of royalties. So I can, for example, sell you the audiobook of Honor Court for $4.99 and make as much or more money as if you bought it from Audible at full price. My storefront is still a work in progress, but I’m slowly rolling it out.

So, with that in mind, there are currently two options for snagging the audiobook of Honor Court (with Spring Break as a bonus!).

  1. Buy it from my Payhip store for $4.99. It will be delivered via Bookfunnel, and you will have the option of listening to it on the free Bookfunnel app or downloading the MP3 files to have for yourself forever. I’ve used the Bookfunnel audio app and it’s pretty decent. They also have good tech support.
  2. Rent it (yes, RENT IT!) for 99c on Soundwise. You can listen to it on the free Soundwise app. I listened to it all the way through on Soundwise and I found the app serviceable, although not as slick as Bookfunnel’s app. Still, you can’t beat the price.

And if that isn’t enough, I’ve also put the audio version of Trigger Warning up on YouTube for free! You can listen to it here. And while it’s free for you, every view and listen helps me out 🙂 

So that’s about it for the moment. The animals and I are enjoying the flowers but fighting the pollen. I’ve even had some lovely roses come out already 🙂

I hope you have lots of flowers wherever you are, as well as lots of delightful literature.

All the best,

Sid Stark

Foreign Exchange is up on YouTube! Plus reading recommendations :)

Hello Everyone!

I hope you’re doing well. I’m slowly regaining my strength after getting my COVID shot a couple of weeks ago. Vaccines tend to knock me down pretty good, and this has been the roughest so far. As one of my friends (also dealing with a Lyme flare after getting vaccinated) said, “If this is the vaccine, I’d hate to have actual COVID!

Anyway, hopefully I have plenty of antibodies now, and can focus on other things. And I have been focusing on other things. I re-recorded Foreign Exchange, the prequel novella to the Doctor Rowena Halley series. The first recording was done with GarageBand, and the quality is…not of the best. And I’ve started doing character voices and accents since then. So I re-recorded it, and posted it on YouTube. You can listen to it for free here

Foreign Exchange is set in Moscow, in the winter of 2013-14. It shows some of the backstory between Rowena, my heroine, and her ex-fiance Dima. In Campus Confidential, the first book in the series, she mentions Dima and how he broke up with her and is refusing to have anything to do with her. Foreign Exchange shows how that happens–and sets up a lot of the intrigue and double-dealing that Dima, an investigative journalist and member of the Russian opposition, is poking around in. While it’s fictional, it’s inspired by a lot of real-world crime and corruption.

I’m hoping to have it up on Bookfunnel soon, but in the meantime, if you want to listen to it on YouTube, here’s that link again. It’s completely free (other than the time it takes), and listening, liking, and subscribing all help me out a lot! I’m hoping to put up several of my books on YouTube, although so far it’s been a fairly slow project. 

I’ve also been enjoying some other humorous/satirical mysteries set on college campuses. I recently listened to the audiobook of The Case of the Defunct Adjunct, which is too funny! My favorite line? “Of course it’s not personal! For it to be personal, they’d [senior administration] have to think of him as a person.”

And I read Ivy is a Weed earlier this spring. Written by a former university PR person, it alternates hilarious descriptions of university inner workings with a murder mystery.

What about you? Have you read anything interesting recently? Let me know!

Happy reading!

Sid Stark