Reading Recommendations and a Request for Help

Hi All!

I hope you’re enjoying your July. I’m trying, with marginal success, to stay calm, cool, and collected. I’ll get back to you next month on how that’s working.

I have gotten in some pretty great reading recently, at least. So if you’re casting about for something to read, here’s what I’ve been enjoying:

With the interest in reading works by black authors at a high, now is a great time to check out some great thrillers by black authors, featuring black characters. I just read a couple of books from Kevin Macklin’s Jon Dough series, about a drug dealer with a heart of gold who deals out vigilante justice on the side. Maybe it sounds a little off the wall, but “Certain Reprisal,” the book I just finished, has some very telling and prescient critiques of police violence. Plus the books are zippy, fast-paced thrillers that will keep you turning the pages to the end.

In a different but equally enjoyable vein I just finished “Take a Number” by Janet Dawson. The book came out in 1993, so it’s got some amusingly dated stuff in it about fax machines and pay phones (remember those days? What a blast from the past!), but at its heart it’s a complex, richly told mystery featuring a spunky female PI. If you like Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone series, you should definitely check out Dawson. Plus, in “Take a Number,” the heroine is dating a Navy officer named Alex, to my intense amusement!

(Spoiler alert!!!!!!

 

 

 

My heroine Rowena dates an ex-Navy officer named Alex.

 

 

 

Spoiler over).

 

What about you? Any great reads lately?

Okay, and in a slightly related vein, this is where I ask you for help. First of all, now that my newsletter is getting bigger, I’m setting up a separate ARC team. So if you’re interested in being an ARC reader/reviewer for me, please click here. You’ll get first crack at reading books before they’re released. You’re not obliged to leave reviews, but of course I would appreciate honest reviews, preferably left on at least two platforms since I’m in the process of expanding beyond Amazon.

Here’s that link again.

Second of all, I’m currently working on “Honor Court,” the next book in the Doctor Rowena Halley series. I’m planning for Rowena to go to Monterey, California over spring break. Unfortunately, I’ve never been to Monterey myself and even if my health permitted travel, the pandemic wouldn’t! So if you’ve ever been to Monterey, Monterey County, Carmel-by-the-Sea, the Defense Language Institute, or the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, send me your recommendations for landmarks I need to include in the book, and sights Rowena has to see. If I include something you sent me, I’ll give you a shoutout in the acknowledgements!

And now time for this week’s giveaway:

Mystery & Crime Book Cave July

Check out the Mystery and Crime giveaway on My Book Cave

Happy reading!

Sid

P.S. I normally listen to music when I write, and sometimes I incorporate the music into my writing. I just worked “Marching Bands of Manhattan” by Death Cab for Cutie into my current work in progress. Check it out below, and keep an eye out for it when the book comes out 🙂

Special Sneak Peek of “Winter Break”

Hi All!

It’s the hottest part of the summer in my neck of the woods, so I figured now was a perfect time to share a special sneak peek of my novella “Winter Break” with you!

“Winter Break” is one of the short stories and novellas I’ve been writing about Dima, my heroine’s Russian ex-fiance. The first one, “Summer Break,” is currently being given away as an exclusive bonus for preordering Trigger Warning. If you haven’t already gotten yourself a copy of “Summer Break,” you can preorder Trigger Warning for 99c and send me the proof of preorder to sidstark@sidstarkauthor.com, and I’ll send you “Summer Break.”

All the “Dima” stories are set in the Donbass, the war zone in Eastern Ukraine, where Dima was working as a war correspondent from 2014-16. In “Summer Break,” which takes place in June 2015, Dima discovers that a hit has been ordered against him. In “Winter Break,” which I’ll probably be giving away as a download bonus when Trigger Warning goes live, the plot thickens…So without further ado, here’s the first chapter!

Oh no, wait, I lied. There is some further ado. As is often the case in the Doctor Rowena Halley series, there’s a certain amount of bad language in this chapter. You’ve been warned!

1

Happy New Year!

Dima hit the little “Send” arrow on WhatsApp before he could think better of it.

She won’t write back, he told himself. Surely after last time she won’t write back. She shouldn’t write back. But…I can’t not wish her a Happy New Year. It would be…uncouth.

His conscience told him that he had been uncouth, and worse than uncouth, on many previous occasions. Also, he had no business texting Inna, not even to wish her a Happy New Year, after what he had done.

He had meant it for the best, he really had. He was painfully aware of how many of his friends and former comrades-in-arms had made exactly the same excuse for their bad behavior, and here he was, repeating their mistakes. It was humbling to realize how much he was like everyone else, at least in this.

He hadn’t meant drive Inna away again. He had broken off their engagement right after New Year 2014. They had tentatively gotten back into contact in the spring of 2015, when he had impulsively reached out to her after Boris Nemtsov’s murder. Over the summer of 2015 he had vowed to himself that he’d get her back somehow or another, once his life was back in order and he could offer her something other than poverty and danger. But here it was—he checked his phone—12:02am on January 1st, 2016, and he was still broke, still in danger, and still separated from Inna. Worst of all, those were deliberate choices he had made.

“Kuznetsov! Hey, Kuznetsov!”

Dima looked up. Two very drunken men were bearing down on him from the other side of the Svobodnyi Donetsk (Free Donetsk) cafe, carrying a bottle of champagne and three glasses.

“You missed the toast! The Kremlin clocktower striking midnight! And now you’re sitting around by yourself! That’s no way to see in the New Year! You know what they say: How you see in the New Year is how you’ll spend it.”

“You’re right.” Dima put his phone in his pocket and stood up. “Don’t want to spend all of 2016 checking my phone, do I?” Don’t want to spend it in masochistic, destructive, pointless…His phone vibrated.

“Just a moment, guys,” he said, reaching into his pocket. “I have to get this.”

“That must be a hell of a story, Kuznetsov,” said Kirill Fainzilberg, the drunker of the two men. Like Dima, he was a journalist, although unlike Dima, he was in the good graces of both the Donetsk and Moscow governments.

“Or a hell of a woman,” said Rinat Mustafaev, the other man. He was only slightly drunk. He practiced, as he had explained to Dima on more than one inebriated occasion, a fluid, culturally appropriate form of Islam, one that permitted indulging in spirits, within acceptable limits.

“What are acceptable limits?” Dima had asked at one point.

“Don’t get so shit-faced you puke all over yourself and pass out in the gutter,” Rinat had explained. Dima had agreed that that seemed reasonable.

Tonight, in keeping with his fluid, culturally appropriate practice of Islam, Rinat was only wavering slightly, and was hardly slurring his speech at all. By the standards of the party they were at, that was practically stone-cold sober. The only person more sober than him was Dima. But sobriety hadn’t stopped him from sending that text.

“A woman?” Kirill grabbed at Dima’s phone. He missed it, staggering wildly and body-slamming Dima instead. “I didn’t know you had a woman. Is she cute? Does she put out easily? Why didn’t I know about her?”

“She’s not from around here,” Dima said, pulling Kirill upright and leaning him against the wall.

“Where is she from? Ooo, I bet she’s from Lvov or something, isn’t she? Or maybe one of those liberal students from Kiev. A hardcore pro-Western, anti-Russian, black-browed Ukrainian beauty. But secretly she thirsts for a real Russian man. ‘Fuck me, you Russian beast, fuck me hard, officer-style, lobster-style, harder, harder,’ she screams, and then when it’s over, she makes you promise not to tell anyone, doesn’t she?”

“You,” said Dima, “talk a lot of shit. I’d say it’s because you’re drunk, but you talk a lot of shit when you’re sober too.”

“A walking chronic case of verbal diarrhea, that’s him,” agreed Rinat cheerfully. “Come on, Kiryusha: let’s leave him. I think there’s someone from the LNR here; maybe you can get a story from him.”

“The LNR? But we’re in Donetsk,” slurred Kirill. “What’s someone from Lugansk doing here?”

“Strengthening the sacred ties of brotherhood and comradeship between the two glorious new republics, presumably,” said Rinat. “Come on: I know you’ve been trying to get an in with the LNR for weeks. Maybe now’s your chance.”

“So has Kuznetsov,” said Kirill. “He should come too.”

“He can make his own way over when he’s ready,” said Rinat, and shepherded Kirill away before he could do anything to annoy Dima further.

Dima finally looked at his phone. He had been telling himself since he had felt it vibrate that it was probably a source, his mother, his uncle—anyone other than Inna. Or if it was her, it was to tell him to fuck off and die and never speak to her again. Which was no more than he deserved.

Happy New Year to you too! said the message. How are you?

I’m fine, he wrote back. He tried to tell himself the sweat trickling down his sides was from the crush of the party and the half a glass of champagne he’d had earlier. Is it the New Year where you are yet?

Not yet, she texted. I’m in California. It’s only two in the afternoon here.

California? Why are you in California?

I’m visiting a friend.

I didn’t know you had any friends in California. Is this someone from grad school?

No. Even over text message he could feel her sudden reticence.

It’s him, isn’t it? he wrote.

Yes.

I wish you both a Happy New Year when it reaches California, Dima wrote, and put his phone back in his pocket. It vibrated with another message, but he went over to Rinat, Kirill, and the man they had cornered by the drinks table without checking it.

***

I hope you enjoyed it! Fun fact: Kirill Fainzilberg is named after Ilya Fainzilberg, one half of the Soviet comedy writing duo Ilf & Petrov. I sort of hint that Kirill is his grandson.

I will be back with more sneak peeks and updates on my progress in a couple of weeks, but in the meantime, check out the Mysteries with Humor contest currently going on at BookSweeps. The grand prize is an ereader and 30 free mysteries with humor!

Mysteries with Humor Giveaway

I’m Now Podcasting “Trigger Warning”

Hi All!

I hope you are all safe and healthy, and holding up as well as can be expected under lockdown. What special strategies are you using to stay sane?

My wild and wonderful semester is careening to a halt. We are all waiting with bated breath to see what the fall brings, but it only affects me somewhat, since I am supposed to be on research leave. My proposed project is on Anna Politkovskaya, whom I reference several times in the Doctor Rowena Halley series, so expect to hear regular updates about that.

Meanwhile, I’ve started working on the audiobook of Trigger Warning (preorder the ebook here for just 99c!). As with the previous books in the series, I’m planning to release it as a podcast first before putting it up for sale. You can currently listen to Episode 1 on SoundCloud, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, and TuneIn. If all goes well, I should be adding 1-2 episodes a week over the next few weeks.

Recording audiobooks is a ton of work, but I also find it very satisfying artistically. Originally I was against the idea of doing voices, but when people started telling me they liked it when I did voices, I got into it, and now try to do distinct voices with distinct accents and speech patterns for each character. I can’t say that I’m always 100% successful, but it’s fun–okay, incredibly difficult and frustrating, but in a fun way–and people seem to like it.

To increase the fun, I’m contemplating doing a little Kickstarter project in order to make audio versions of the short stories I’m writing from the perspective of Dima, Rowena’s Russian ex-fiance. Stay tuned for more updates, and in the meantime, if you’d like a free e-copy of “Summer Break,” the first of the shorts about Dima, email your proof of preorder of Trigger Warning to sidstark@sidstarkauthor.com.

Stay safe, everyone, and have a great weekend!

This week’s featured free book event is the Romantic Suspense and Mystery Book Giveaway:

Romantic Suspense and Mystery

How’s Lockdown Going? Plus Free Review Copies of “Campus Confidential”

Hi All!

I hope you are staying safe and well. Things continue to be crazy, don’t they? How is lockdown going for you? Got any crazy stories?

In my case, we’re now at the end of a very strange semester. Like most institutions of higher ed in the US, my university switched over to all-remote instruction in March, and we’ve been doing that ever since.

A lot of people are very unhappy about it, although many understand the necessity. For me, it wasn’t that bad, although it was a fair amount of extra work. It seems like the pandemic has split professions into two groups: those that have a lot less work, and those that have a lot more work. Teaching mainly seems to have fallen into the latter camp. Fortunately for those of us in higher ed, we have the best of both worlds: we continue to be employed, but can work from the safety from our own homes. Sadly, many others are not so lucky.

What will happen to higher ed going forward, however, is anyone’s guess. Long-running systemic problems such as declining enrollment, rising debt, and increasing stratification between senior administration and junior flunkies are coming to an acute head because of the pandemic, and there’s a good chance that a lot of institutions won’t survive the next few years. And, pessimistically, I am guessing that a lot of Less Commonly Taught Language programs won’t survive, even if their parent institutions do. Trivial, trifling programs such as Russian are often first on the chopping block when budget cuts get pushed through.

So you know what that means! More fodder for my stories! Since I’m a few years behind current events in my story timeline, I don’t know yet when/if I’ll be able to fit in the pandemic, but I’m sincerely hoping I manage it. The Meet/Zoom/WebEx/FaceTime meetings alone are priceless. And if I don’t squeeze in a few scenes in which senior faculty try and fail to do basic arithmetic, I shall be very sad. (News flash: 18 divided by 6 is 3. Funny how often the times table turns up in real life).

I’ve been pretty busy with the end of this crazy semester, but I have managed to put my books up on other retail sites as part of my strategy of “going wide” and distributing on all platforms–including libraries!

I’m still waiting for the books to show up in Overdrive and Bibliotheca (the library systems), but in the meantime I *am* trying to get reviews up on other platforms. So if you’ve read Campus Confidential in the past and feel moved to leave a review, it would be most appreciated! Reviews left anywhere are very welcome, but I’m particularly looking to get them on non-Amazon sites like Apple, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.

And if you haven’t read Campus Confidential yet but you’d like to, just reply to this post or send me an email at sidstark@sidstarkauthor.com, and I’ll send you a free review copy!

Well, that’s about it for this week. Stay safe, everyone, and happy reading.

And now for this week’s giveaway:

Gripping Reads

Check out the Gripping Reads Giveaway on Bookfunnel!

It’s a Brave New Remote World

Hi All!

I hope you are all doing well and staying safe. It’s a crazy, crazy world out there right now, isn’t it? My thoughts go out to all of you, especially those of you living in Italy, Spain, New York, and New Orleans.

I’m pretty much in lockdown here–which is not that different from my regular lifestyle, except that I’m teaching remotely instead of in person. Those of us with chronic health conditions are welcoming everyone else into our world, with only a little bit of side eye.

Ah yes, remote teaching…the world of education, as I’m sure many of you are aware, has just undergone a massive sea change. What will come of it, other than a bunch of extremely frazzled teachers? Too soon to tell. There’s a prediction that this will lead to a huge move away from residential colleges to online degrees. Of course, we’ve had those predictions before and it hasn’t happened yet, so who knows?

What we *can* be sure of is that there is much fodder for fiction here! I’m not quite ready to start working it into my own fiction, but I am definitely taking notes. Expect hilarious hijinks in the medium future…

I don’t really have a good segue from there to my standard plug to preorder my upcoming release, Trigger Warning (currently just 99c on preorder!), so I won’t bother to finesse it. Other than to say that if you send me your proof of preorder (email me at sidstark@sidstarkauthor.com), I’ll send you a link to a free short story set in Donetsk in the summer of 2015, which might take your mind off your troubles for a bit. I’m also most of the way through a draft of a novella that will be a follow-up to Trigger Warningso I’ll keep you posted on how that goes.

The universal preorder link is here.

Stay safe, everyone, and keep your sense of humor!

This week’s selection of giveaways

Sneak peek promo banner

Want to get the goods before the competition does? Check out the Sneak Peek Giveaway!

Notorious Criminals Crime Giveaway

Find some new crime fiction in the Notorious Criminals Crime Giveaway!

 

Living in Interesting Times

Hi All!

I hope everyone is safe and sound and at home. We live in interesting times, do we not? Of course, so do most people. If you’re feeling apprehensive/panicky/outraged at how everyone’s losing their dang minds, maybe now is the time to watch my favorite inspirational speech of all time:

There are other forces at work besides the will of evil.

The good news, from my point of view, is that my university, like many other universities around the country, has mandated a switch to remote learning for an indefinite period into the future. This is good because proactive closing of schools is supposed to be one of the most effective measures you can take to stop the spread of disease. It’s a little irritating for those of us who had our disability accommodations request to study or teach remotely denied because it just “didn’t meet our rigorous standards” or was a “hardship” for our programs, but it is an amusing lesson in karma, I suppose.

It is my sincere hope that in a few weeks we’ll all look back on this and wonder what the big fuss was about. Successful contagion-containment measures always look like overkill. And that’s okay. Better to be safe than sorry.

Meanwhile, for those of us who do mainly intellectual/creative labor, perhaps being trapped at home will bring about a tremendous burst of productivity! As someone who’s mainly trapped at home all the time, I can testify that there’s nothing like it for getting your creative/intellectual work done.

For example, Alexander Pushkin, Russia’s most beloved writer, had one of his most famous bursts of inspiration and productivity while under quarantine at a family estate in the country, as cholera ravaged Russia. He was untouched by it, and wrote some of his most magnificent works, including the wonderful A Feast in Time of Plague. If you’re casting about for something to do while in self-isolation, maybe check it out! Get the entire collection of his Little Tragedies! See what wonderful things can come of quarantine, alongside all the bad stuff.

This also, of course, seems like a great time to plug my own writing, so as a reminder, Trigger Warning, book 4 in the Doctor Rowena Halley series, is currently on pre-order. I’m in the process of transitioning everything to “wide,” meaning available on all stores, not just Amazon, so the link for Trigger Warning is a universal link that will take you to your preferred store.

Trigger Warning Cover 4.5 Small

Currently trialing yet another cover.

And if you preorder Trigger Warning now (it’s just 99c!) and send me your proof of preorder, I’ll send you an exclusive short story, completely free! What’s not to like? Email me your proof of preorder to sidstark@sidstarkauthor.com or reply to this post, and I’ll send you the link for Summer Break, a little side story set in the war zone in the Donbass.

Stay safe, everyone!

And last but not least, here are this week’s selection of giveaways:

Sneak peek promo banner

Check out the Sneak Peek Giveaway to get an exclusive preview of upcoming releases

The Art of Murder

Get an armful of murder mysteries in the Art of Murder Giveaway!

Preorder “Trigger Warning” and Get an Exclusive Free Story

Hi everyone! Happy March!

In Russia it’s the first day of spring. Feels a lot more spring-like here in North Carolina, however, than I imagine it does in Russia. Wherever you are, I hope you’re enjoying the changing seasons.

I have another short and to the point post today: Trigger Warning is on preorder! For 99c! I’ve decided to “go wide” with the series, so it’s available at most major retailers (Google Play is being a little slow, but it should appear there soon). The universal link is here.

And, as a special exclusive treat, I’ve written a short story that I’ll be giving away just to people who preorder Trigger Warning. Just send me your proof of preorder to sidstark@sidstarkauthor.com and I’ll send you a link to download your copy of “Summer Break,” a short story from Dima’s point of view.

Happy reading, everyone!

This week’s selection of free books is The Art of Murder giveaway on Bookfunnel

The Art of Murder

Get a Very Early ARC of “Trigger Warning”!

Hello everyone!

Well, it’s practically sort of wintry here right now, with temperatures below freezing. This is after a bunch of 60-degree days in December and January, and an actual tornado last week. Luckily it didn’t get too close, but any sort of tornado event anywhere within a three-county area knocks me out pretty good. One of the side effects of my health issues is that I appear to have become a weather witch. Who knew?? Has anyone else experienced a sudden ability to read the weather like this? The researcher in me is fascinated by this.

But magical powers are not the topic of this email–Advance Review Copies of Trigger Warning are! You can get an e-copy of it on Bookfunnel here.

It’s still cover-less, since the vote that many of you so kindly participated in the other week returned an almost exact 30/30/30 split between the three covers. So I’m going to have to do some more testing with them. But in the meantime, I thought I’d start letting my most dedicated readers have first crack at the (coverless) book itself. You’ll have plenty of time to read it and, if you feel moved, leave a review on Goodreads, because I’ve tentatively set the release date for the first week of September.

I decided to set the release date so far out for several reasons. One is that I’m also working on my academic non-fiction book, and I’m hoping to wrap up the revisions by the end of this semester. Another is that I’m planning to “go wide” with my books and release them on all retailers instead of just Amazon. This means that they will no longer be available on KU, which is a bummer, but on the flip side, anyone can request them through their local library. And, of course, I’m always happy to send readers free review copies 🙂 But it will take a little while to get everything up and running on all the retail and library sites.

The third reason I’m waiting so long is because I’m hoping to get A) the next book in the series (tentatively titled Honor Court) finished by then so that I can release them in rapid succession, and B) I’m planning to write a series of short stories from Dima’s point of view that interweave with Rowena’s main storyline. They will be available as exclusive preorder or download bonuses, so stay tuned for that! But it will take me a little while to get them all written and edited.

But enough about future hopes and dreams! Once again, if you would like to get an ARC of Trigger Warning, the link is here. It’s on a restricted list so it should ask you to provide your email address again in order to have access to it. If you have any problems with it, just let me know at sidstark@sidstarkauthor.com and I can email your the files directly.

A note about the content: A major topic in the book is gun violence in schools. This is something that I care about deeply. Not only is it something that all teachers have to consider these days–my friends and I have discussed our plans for what we would do in the event of a shooting more than once–but in the past two years there have been fatal shootings both at my BA alma mater and at the college where I currently teach. There have also been multiple fatal off-campus shootings of students at my PhD alma mater. The one at my BA alma mater was a typical “school shooting,” while the one at my current campus was the result of gang violence, but in both cases young people were gunned down by other young people who strolled onto campus and into a school event with loaded firearms.

If you find this upsetting–YOU SHOULD! Channel those strong emotions into political action.

So Trigger Warning takes on the topic of gun violence, as well as bullying and incel culture. A lot of it, as usual, is based on my own experiences and those of my friends, colleagues, and students. It’s fiction, but it’s the type of realist, partially autobiographical fiction that Toril Moi has identified as a trend towards what she defines as modern existential character-based fiction.

That’s a fancy way to say that it’s supposed to feel super-real to the reader, while dealing with “big issues” questions. So like all of my books, Trigger Warning has its dark moments. But also like all of my books, it also has a lot of comedy (I’m going for a chiaroscuro effect), and very little on-camera violence or gore. So you can go into it knowing that some difficult questions might be asked, but there is not going to be a high body count or explicit scenes of violence. Explicit language, yes :), explicit scenes of killing or torture, no.

Wow, that was a lot of writing! We probably all need to get on with our days, so without any further ado, here’s that link again to the Trigger Warning ARC.

And here’s this week’s selection of giveaways!

Listen to Books in 2020

There’s just a few more days of the Listen to Books in 2020 giveaway!

And check out the Short Story Suspense Promo, going on all this month!

Vote on the Cover for “Trigger Warning”!

Hey Everyone!

This post will be short and sweet. I’ve got some rough mock-ups of potential covers for Trigger Warning, book 4 in the Doctor Rowena Halley series, and I want you to vote on your favorite! You can vote by responding to this post or by visiting my Facebook page and commenting on the covers there. Or you can always email me at sidstark@sidstarkauthor.com. As always, thanks for your input!

  1. Trigger Warning Mock Cover 1
  2. Trigger Warning Mock Cover 2
  3. Trigger Warning Mock Cover 3

And here’s this week’s selection of giveaways!

Start Something New Banner

This is the last week for the Start Something New Audiobook Shorts giveaway!

International Mysteries and Thrillers

Want to start the year off with an international adventure? Check out the International Mysteries & Thrillers giveaways.

A Thrilling Experience

Get your thrill on with the Thrilling Experience giveaway!

Another Sneak Peek of “Trigger Warning”!

Hi Everyone!

I am slowly, more slowly than I was initially expecting, making my way through the revisions of Trigger Warning, book 4 in the Doctor Rowena Halley series. I’ve been slowed down by my work on books for my other pen name, my academic writing, the beginning of the new semester–it’s so pesky the way you’re expected to show up and teach classes regularly–and my own rather slow revision process.

One of my rounds of revisions is to read the entire book out loud. This is prior to making the actual audiobook, although it did give me the idea of making audiobooks. But it’s a pretty slow stage, even if, in my opinion, an essential one, especially if I’m trying to preserve my already-strained voice–again, that pesky teaching!

Listen to Books in 2020

Speaking of audio, you can get free samples of my books and many others in the Listen to Books in 2020 giveaway on Bookfunnel.

However, I do expect to have e-ARCs of Trigger Warning ready sometime this spring, and of course, you will be the first to know! Meanwhile, here’s a quick excerpt:

3

I got up from the table and, with all eyes focused on me, made my way past the woman from food service, who was staring ahead impassively like she was a hair’s breadth away from snapping and calling all these assholes on their pretentious bullshit, and Tanika Scott, who gave me a smile that was probably supposed to be encouraging but came out as stricken, and left the basement. Even though I tried to close it soundlessly, the door slammed behind me. Good thing I wasn’t being disruptive by texting silently.

I checked my phone as soon as I was out the door. Three more texts had come from Dima while I’d been sitting there getting lectured on sensitivity and consideration. I figured this was as good a reason as any to go all the way outside and get out of the oppressive basement for a while, so I did.

By the time I got out onto the sidewalk, a fourth text had come from Dima. A shell fragment had lightly grazed his shoulder, he said, but it was absolutely nothing to worry about. He’d been bandaged up and pumped full of antibiotics, and was already back out on the front lines. Best of all, it was his left shoulder.

Now I’m balanced, he wrote. A wound on my left shoulder to counterbalance the one to my right hand.

I don’t think that’s a good kind of balance, I replied. While covering the battle for the Donetsk Airport in December, Dima had gotten three fingers on his right hand snapped by Ukrainian forces who thought he was a separatist, not a journalist. Luckily he’d convinced them of his journalistic bona fides before the torture had gone any further. He’d even gotten an interview with Dmytro Yarosh, the leader of the paramilitary Right Sektor, out of the bargain, so he considered it all worth it. I was less sure.

No worries! he texted. Like I said, it’ll heal by the wedding. Meanwhile, not sure whether to stay here around Mariupol, go up to Donetsk city, or check out Stanitsa Luganskaya. There’s so much action I’m spoilt for choice!

How long have you been on the front? I texted back.

Oh, you know how it is.

Yes, I do. How long have you been on the front without a break?

You know I can’t go home.

I know. Dima’s home was Moscow, but he wasn’t welcome there anymore.

You can go to Kiev, I pointed out.

True. I was there just…well, I guess it was six months ago, at least. No, more. Before New Year’s. I came out here to greet the New Year with my comrades, and I guess I haven’t left since.

That’s eight months on the front! After another year already. You need to take a break. At least go to Kiev for a few days. Or maybe you could go somewhere else. Have you done anything about Israeli citizenship?

Dima’s maternal grandmother had been Jewish, so there was a chance that he might qualify for Israeli citizenship. It was something he’d talked about on and off for years, but never actually done anything about. Dima might write blistering diatribes against the corruption poisoning the Russian Federation, but the homemade tattoo over his heart that read “Russians Don’t Surrender” was the real expression of his one true faith. I suspected that the only way to get him to renounce his Russian citizenship would be to pry it from his cold, dead fingers.

Not yet, he texted back. Someone I know in Kiev said he’d look into it for me, but I haven’t heard anything about it yet.

I ground my teeth a little. What about American citizenship? I texted. You could probably qualify for political asylum.

Still trying to get your stars and stripes on me, Inna? ))))) Actually, no fooling, I did ask about that the last time I was in Kiev. They told me officially maybe, but they told me unofficially I’d need to do something like marry a native-born American citizen to be sure.

I stared at the phone for a long time. Was it the heat of an August morning in Georgia making me feel sick, or was it a rush of crazy emotion at those words? I wanted to laugh, cry, vomit, kiss someone, and punch someone in the face all at once.

You know that would be easy enough to organize, I texted back.

Really? Who’d you have in mind for the bride? ))))) Kim Kardashian? ))))))

Is that who you want? I meant to add some smiley faces to help keep the tone light and joking, but my hands were clumsy on the phone, and I accidentally sent the text instead.

No thanks. Armenians are nice to look at, but I’ve never wanted to marry one )))) I’m afraid there’s only one American woman I’ve ever considered worth a second glance, Inna, and that’s you.

Why was my heart beating so fast? I must have gone soft after a few years up North, and now I was getting heatstroke from a little warmth and sunlight. It wasn’t even that hot yet.

This might not be the best moment, and I don’t…I erased that text, started another one, erased that one, tried again, erased that one too, and went back to my original words. This might not be the best moment to say this, and I don’t want you to feel, I don’t know, awkward or obliged, but you know that if you ever need an American bride in order to get an American passport, that can be arranged.

There was an excruciating eternity of waiting before Dima’s next text came through.

Are you offering? ))))

Of course, if that’s what you need.

There was another excruciating eternity of waiting.

Oh, Innochka. My little Decembrist’s wife. Don’t waste yourself on me, Innochka, my silly little girl. Aren’t you still with that American? What’s his name?

Alex. Yes. But we’re not married. We’re not even engaged. It’s just a…thing.

Does he know that?

I don’t know.

Is he a good man?

Yes.

Better than me?

Different.

That means he’s better. And I hope he is. Because I want you to marry him.

Who are you, my father? Do you also have a dowry you’re prepared to offer along with my hand and heart to the first suitable suitor?

))))) Still as witty as ever, Inna )))) But no fooling, Innochka, if he’s a good man, you should marry him. Didn’t you just turn thirty-five? You’re not getting any younger, and old age is not a pleasure, especially when you’re alone.

And what about you?

Let me take care of myself, Inna.

You don’t seem capable of taking care of yourself. You just got hit by a shell!

A shell fragment. If it had been a direct hit, I’d be smeared from here to Rostov ))))

You know what I mean! You say you can take care of yourself, but you’re not doing a very good job of it. For the love of Christ, Dima, go see a surgeon about this wound. And take at least a little break from the front. Go to Kiev, go to Lvov, go to wherever the hell you want, just get out of the Donbass for a while. At least until your shoulder heals.

I obey, Comrade General!!!! )))))

Naughty boy!

You know it ))))) Wait: aren’t you supposed to be at work? Some kind of training?

They kicked me out for texting.

They kicked you out for texting?!??! What is this, a strict regime of freedom deprivation? Are they going to send you to do corrective labor next?!?

So it seems. But with a paycheck.

A paycheck—that’s good. Get back in there and earn it!

I obey, Comrade General!

Akh, Inna, what am I going to do with you? ))))) Look, I have to go. My phone’s about to die. Try not to get into trouble, okay?

I’ll promise if you will, I wrote. But there was no reply.

***

I hope you enjoyed it! And here are a few more giveaways:

Foreign Exchange Cover Small

Did that excerpt want to make you find out more about Dima? You can read a bit about the backstory between him and Rowena in Foreign Exchange. Grab it and many other free suspense stories in the Short Story Suspense Promo.

International Mysteries and Thrillers

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