See a Sneak Peek of My Current Work in Progress!

Hi everyone! Hope you’re having a fabulous Fourth of July holiday. Alas, since my household contains a particularly nervous Chihuahua with Addison’s disease, the Fourth is the most awfulest of all awful holidays around here, but I’m glad to say that all of us made it through with no obvious long-term damage.

I’ve been hard at work on Trigger Warning, book 3 in the Doctor Rowena Halley series, and am now about 47,000 words in (that’s about halfway through your standard novel, if you’re curious). So I thought I’d share a sneak peek (did I spell that right? I have a block about the peek vs peak difference. At least I normally know when it should be pique) of it. Be advised that it is from the first draft of an uncompleted manuscript, so it’s in pretty rough shape and will probably change between now and when ARCs go out, let alone the actual release, but I thought it might be a fun thing anyway.

But first! If you haven’t gotten an ARC of Book 2, Permanent Position, you can snap one up in the “Fierce Feminist Fiction” giveaway on StoryOrigin right now.

Feminist Fiction Banner

And if you want to get an ARC of “Summer Session,” a novella that’s book 2.5 in the series, you can grab one in the “It’s a Family Affair” giveaway on BookFunnel.

Family Affair Header

And now, without further ado, the first chapter of Trigger Warning:

 

It’s really depressing how even small pieces of good fortune are followed so often by their reverse.

I had plenty of opportunities to contemplate this universal truth as I sat, stood, and walked through the intermidable orientation process for my new job at Crimson College. I had spent all of the spring semester trying to get this job, and all summer making plans for what I would do when I started it. But now that I was finally here, I was hoping that this portion of the job, at least, would be over. And the future wasn’t looking too good either.

In marked contrast to my previous faculty jobs, which had been notable largely for their professional neglect, my current position as a VAP (Visiting Assistant Professor) of Russian involved a multiday onboarding process. Over the previous two days I, along with the largest and most contingent-heavy group of new faculty in Crimson College’s history, had toured the campus and the dorms, done several exquisitely humiliating team-building exercises, and attended lectures and orientation sessions on the library, IT facilities, campus security, and the zeitgeist of the current crop of undergrads. Which was apparently stressed out. We were given several  training sessions on how to recognize drug abuse, binge drinking, suicidal ideation, and potential warnings that a student was about to flip out and commit a mass shooting. As part of that, campus police did a short session on what to do during an active shooter event, from which I gathered that if anyone did come strolling into your classroom with their finger pressed down on the trigger of an AR-15, you were well and truly fucked.

“Nothing,” we were assured by several different deans, “like that is going to happen at Crimson, of course, but it’s always better to be prepared. Everyone is very happy here. The worst we have to deal with is the Gang of Six.”

The first dean who brought up the Gang of Six then skipped on merrily to talking about town and gown outreach without seeming to notice the excited murmer that went through everyone at the sound of this intriguing name. The second dean who mentioned it hastily corrected himself and refused to answer any questions about it. By the time it came up again, during the session with campus police, everyone was burning with curiosity, and when the particularly mousy-looking dean who had dropped the name tried to pretend that she hadn’t said anything about it, several of the new faculty members insisted, actually almost raising their voices, that we be informed what was going on.

“It’s an anonymous group with an anonymous website,” said the chief of the campus police force, when the mousy dean gulped and refused to say anything more. “We’re keeping an eye on them.”

“Are they making death threats? Planning mass shootings?” demanded several voices at once.

The mousy dean gulped again.

“No,” said the chief of police. I had the impression that he was having a hard time not snorting or rolling his eyes. “They,’re, uh, how shall I put this, writing blog posts about social justice issues. We have no reason to believe that they pose any threat of violence at all. But they’ve expressed some, uh, discontent with certain aspects of campus life, so the college administration has decided to keep an eye on them. We always get a few unhappy customers—the Men’s Protection Alliance has been blathering on for months now—but they never actually cause trouble.”

This led to a fierce debate amongst the incoming faculty about the ethics of monitoring student groups and student social media activity, and for a moment it looked like a shouting match might break out between someone from the B School (business) and someone from English, until the police chief broke it up and told everyone we needed to finish the training session on active shooters, because we’d be really sorry if we didn’t and something happened in one of our classes.

That had been followed up yesterday evening with an outdoor picnic where we had hobnobbed with two fresh new deans, the Provost, and the President. That had been so much fun I had seriously considered bursting into tears afterwards, and wondered why I had ever agreed to take this job. Oh right, because I needed the money.

Now, at quarter past eight in the morning, I was pushing my way through the Georgia August heat in search of Lee 032, where the mandatory diversity and inclusion training was scheduled to be held.

I had parked in the designated new faculty parking area on the far side of the athletics center and hoofed it past the tennis courts, around the outdoor track and the football practice field, over the beach volleyball area, filling my shoes with sand in the process, past several dorms, and across the back quad to Lee, the main administrative building. Which may or may not have been named after Robert E. Lee. The college was cagey on that subject.

Sweat was trickling down my sides, soaking my bra and panties, by the time I found an open entrance to Lee. The chill of the air conditioning hitting my wet clothes was welcome at first. By the time I had circled the first floor twice and found the stairs to the basement, where Lee 032 was housed, I was feeling distinctly chilled. And I still had four more hours in here to go.

Lee 032 was a windowless basement space that looked kind of like a church rec room. Round tables, laid with tableclothes in Crimson College colors (crimson and cream, a combo that looked sort of but not exactly like Harvard’s), had been set out around the room.

“There are name tags and place cards.” A woman in a uniform-y non-uniform of a crimson blouse and cream pencil skirt stopped me at the door. Her name tag said Tanika Scott, Assistant Dean of Faculty Development. She looked at a table diagram in her hand. “What’s your last name?”

“Halley,” I told her. “Rowena Halley. Russian.”

“Goodness! That’s not something you hear every day. Welcome to Crimson, Rowena. Here’s your name tag. You’re at table four. Over there.”

I took the name tag and followed her pointing finger to a table in the back corner of the room. The back corner was fine with me. Maybe I could catch a brief nap or at least check my email while I was there.

Another woman was already sitting there, scrolling through her phone. She was tall and fit and looked about my age, so mid-thirties, and had weathered skin and dark blonde hair that had been cut in a very short pixie that flirted with the boundary between attractively gamine and aggressively mannish.

Lesbian, ex-military, I guessed.

“Oh hey,” she said, looking up from her phone as I approached. “Take a seat.” She pulled out a chair for me. “Mel,” she said as I sat down. “Well, Melissa Wilson, but everyone calls me Mel. Arabic.”

“Nice to meet you,” I said. “Rowena Halley. Russian.”

“Nice. Oh hey, are you at our table too?”

A short, slightly plump woman was hovering uncertainly behind me, like she wanted to join us but didn’t quite have the nerve. She was wearing big glasses, an oversized blouse and maxi-skirt, and was the only black person in the room other than Tanika Scott and the woman standing in the background wearing a caterer’s uniform.

“I think so,” she said diffidently. “I’m, uh, Chloe. Chloe Taylor. Chinese.”

“Well don’t just stand there, take a seat,” Mel told her. “And welcome to the torturers’ and terrorists’ table.”

I laughed. Mel winked at me. Chloe swallowed and sat down without looking at either me or Mel. Up close, I could see that her big glasses hid beautifully clear smooth skin, marred only by scars on her temples, presumably from a lifetime of aggressive hair straightening.

I had just opened my mouth to say something comforting to her when my phone pinged at me. I glanced at the screen, and my heart skipped a beat. It was a WhatsApp message from Dima.

“Everyone turn off your phones, please!” a heavyset woman called out in a singsong voice. “And welcome to Crimson!”

***

And now for this week’s selection of giveaways:

Literary Fiction

There’s just a couple days left in the “Literary Fiction” Giveaway on BookFunnel, so check it out before it’s gone!

Fabulous, Feisty & Female

It’s the last week of the “Fabulous, Feisty & Female” all-genres giveaway on StoryOrigin!

Sizzling Suspense Banner

It’s hot out there! Celebrate the heat with the “Sizzling Summer Suspense Stories” giveaway on BookFunnel!

 

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Happy Midsummer! Plus Podcasting and Other Fun

Hi All! Hope you’re having a fabulous Midsummer.

I’m hoping I’m having a fabulous Midsummer too, especially since it’s my birthday, but I’m now starting to worry that I might have picked up a cold during my visit to the doctor yesterday. That could be either really bad news (because it could plunge me into a major crash), or really good news (there’s a school of thought that says that getting a cold is a sign of your immune system returning to normal after the ravages of Lyme disease). Only time will tell.

Meanwhile, I’ve been pressing on with the podcast. In fact, I’ve finished podcasting Campus Confidential, and started Permanent PositionSo if you want to listen to me narrating my own books (with accompanying bird tweets–they make a tremendous racket around my house, and I’m not always successful at editing them out), you can do so on SoundCloud, iTunes, Stitcher, and TuneIn.

Permanent Position Front Cover

And if you haven’t downloaded an ARC of Permanent Position yet, you can do so in the Fabulous, Feisty & Female Book Giveaway, going on now on StoryOrigin.

More Giveaways!

Mystery Shorts

It’s the last weekend to check out the Mystery Shorts Giveaway!

Psychological Thrillers

The Psychological Thriller Summer Book Bonanza is still going strong.

Summer Session Cover Small

And last but not least, you can pick up an ARC of my novella “Summer Session,” plus lots of other family-themed stories, in the It’s a Family Affair Giveaway.

Musings on the Alternative South: The Latest Installment in the Doctor Rowena Halley Series

Hello All!

Welcome to June, and what a damp June it is so far! At least here.

So, I have been a very busy girl recently. As a result, I am pleased to announce that, ready or not, here come free ARCs of “Summer Session,” the next installment in the Doctor Rowena Halley series. It’s a 30,000-word novella that takes place over the course of the first weekend in June, so now seems like the perfect time to start distributing it to advance readers.

Summer Session Cover Small

You can a free ARC of “Summer Session,” Book 2.5 in the series, here.

If the breathless pace of my releases is leaving you gasping, never fear: it will probably be many months before Trigger Warning, Book 3 in the series, is ready to come out. I think I currently have about 4,000 words of the first draft, which is better than no words, but a long way from done.

“Summer Session” was something I’d had in mind for a long time, and was a ton of fun to write. It’s set in Bloomington, Indiana, at the Summer Language Workshop, where I, like Rowena, used to teach. So as with all of the works in the series, it’s full of real-life experiences. The housing that the characters live in is mashups of places I have lived, and all the restaurants and cafes are places I used to go out to eat. And while the actual mystery in the story is fictional, the other cases of disappearing or murdered students that are mentioned in the story are real.

Another piece of personal backstory is the connection to what Rowena calls “the alternative South” in the story. I, like her, grew up in this other South, the one populated by both liberal hippies (like my and Rowena’s family), Mennonites and the Amish, and hardcore evangelicals. It’s a side of the South that a lot of people don’t seem to know about, or don’t really know or understand. Or at least, the part they perhaps don’t understand about it is how it’s a very heterogenous group, composed of people with wildly varying political and religious beliefs, who are united only by their desire to step out of the mainstream. Which means that the hardcore liberals (like me) are coexisting cheek-by-jowl with the hardcore conservative Christians, like many of my childhood friends.

While there’s not a lot we can agree on in many spheres, and I have never come over to their way of thinking, this does mean that we’ve had to learn to see each other as people. Furthermore, since we were all outside of the mainstream, we all saw alternatives to the regular American culture that most Americans take for granted. We were in a certain way foreigners in our native land.

Maybe that doesn’t sound attractive to many people, but the benefits of seeing things from the outside, of being a foreigner, are tremendous. Once you do that, you will appreciate the good things of your own culture all the more–and be all the more committed to improving the bad.

 

Sid Stark Podcast Image

In other news, I’m still going strong with my podcast! I’m recording audio versions of my stories as free podcast episodes, and I’ve done “Foreign Exchange” and am most of the way through Campus Confidential. You can take a listen on SoundCloud, iTunes, Stitcher, and TuneIn.

And here is this week’s selection of giveaways!

Psychological Thrillers

Get shivers up your spine with the Psychological Thriller Summer Book Bonanza!

June Crime Fighters

Fight the bad guys with the June Crime Fighters Promo!

Grab a free ARC of “Permanent Position”!

Hi Everyone!

Well, first of all, I have to thank everyone who participated by downloading, reading, reviewing, and everything else you did for the launch of Campus Confidential. It hit #21 in the overall Kindle Free Store, which is incredibly exciting!

Campus Confidential 21

Campus Confidential’s success is particularly gratifying given that Facebook banned my ad account over it. Apparently they think I’m a Russian troll. Other Russian friends have been having similar problems. Which, since we’re all oppositionists, just goes to show how much Facebook knows…

Second of all, I’m thrilled to announce that very early ARCs are available of Permanent Position, the next book in the series. The plot thickens with Rowena’s relationships with both Dima and Alex, and her brother John comes home and causes trouble. Plus a student wants her help getting his son back from Minsk–or maybe he just wants to stalk Rowena. And then there’s the job search. As usual, there’s a fair amount of real life mixed in with the fiction, including good times with high-stakes interviews. And what’s up with Fevronia the cat’s bad attitude?

Permanent Position Front Cover

You can grab a free Advance Review Copy of Permanent Position here.

I probably better stop here, since I’m in a state of near-collapse after walking 2 (TWO!) whole blocks this morning! For the first time in nearly three years! Take that, late-stage Lyme disease and toxic mold poisoning! But then I had to crawl up the stairs on my hands and knees when I got home. Hopefully I won’t crash too badly, but you never know. Good thing I’m stocked up on reading material.

Speaking of reading material, here’s this week’s selection of giveaways:

Mystery Shorts Banner

Dip into some mystery & suspense with this giveaway for short reads.

Mysteries & Thrillers in Exotic Locales

Last chance to check out the Mysteries & Thrillers in Exotic Locales Giveaway!

Get “Campus Confidential” FREE This Weekend! And Swing By and Say Hi at OWS CyCon!

Oh boy! It’s here! The official launch of Campus Confidential is here! Which means it’s free on Kindle May 17-21. Grab your free copy here. Oh, and a HUGE thank you to those of you who have already left reviews. You rock!

But wait, that’s not all! I’m also participating in OWS CyCon 2019, which is running May 17-19.

What, you ask, is OWS CyCon? Well, it’s pretty much what it sounds like: a cyber con, where we all have virtual booths and mingle online. You can check out the Mystery/Suspense section here and my personal booth here. Do stop by and say hi!

Gosh, that’s so much excitement that I think I’ll have to stop there for now. Here are those links again:

To get Campus Confidential free on Kindle click here.

To visit the OWS CyCon site click here.

Mystery Shorts Banner

And here’s this week’s giveaway! Almost 150 short stories, novellas, and previews for fans of mysteries, thrillers, and suspense stories. Check it out here.

 

 

Check Out My Podcast! And This Week’s Selection of Giveaways

Greetings All!

I write to you in a somewhat tired and foggy state. As I may or may not have mentioned earlier, I’m seriously ill and have been for several years. A charming combination of late-stage Lyme disease, a nasty case of toxic mold poisoning, and various other problems. Did you know you can get a whole-body yeast infection? Now you do! It’s rather like being covered in nettle rash and sunburn while being sick with the flu while suffering from severe mental health issues. FYI: turns out our brains are largely controlled by our guts, and if the latter get overgrown with bad stuff like candida, you might, I don’t know, start having panic attacks every time you brush your teeth.

Anyway, the good news is that after several months of medical leave and scrupulously avoiding my mold-infested classroom building, I have gone from having to crawl up my stairs on my hands and knees, to being able to walk up them on two feet. Like Joni Mitchell said, you don’t know what you got till it’s gone, and that is especially true for things like the ability to walk.

The bad news is that I’m currently going through a phase where I don’t feel like eating during the day (hurray, weight loss!), but wake up in the middle of the night feeling sick, sweaty, and ravenously hungry. Hopefully this is all part of the healing process. Although sleep deprivation is rarely good for health.

BUT on the other hand, I have the launch of Campus Confidential to look forward to! The official launch date is next week, to coincide with OWS CyCon 2019, when I will be doing a big blowout free giveaway, but the book is already up on Amazon so that advance copy readers can start posting their reviews. And so that I can have the several weeks it takes to wrestle a book page into something resembling decent shape, but mainly in order to gather reviews before the launch announcements start going out into the big wide world. A HUGE thank you to those of you who have already left reviews! And if you haven’t left one yet but would like to, and I sincerely hope that you would, the universal link to the book’s Amazon page is here. Helping a debut indie author on a small budget by dropping a couple of lines on her Amazon page is one of those little things that–who knows?–may make the world just that tiny bit better.

AND, in other news, I have still forged boldly ahead with a long-held desire of mine to turn my books into audiobooks. I’ve decided to start by making them freely available as podcasts, both because I like the audio of making my content as widely available as possible, and because I’m still in the very steep section of the learning curve when it comes to recording and editing sound files. So I’m sending my rather rough-and-ready podcasts out into the world for free right now. So far I’ve finished podcasting “Foreign Exchange,” and have started on Campus Confidential.

Foreign Exchange Podcast Image

The podcast is currently freely available on SoundCloud and iTunes.

“Foreign Exchange” was a lot of fun to write and narrate, although there may have been a few moments when I felt like chucking that my brand-new Blue Yeti microphone through the window. And there was some serious doubt and struggle over voiced/voiceless assimilation in compound words in Russian, which instigated a spirited Facebook debate. Like the other stories in the series, it’s fiction, but it’s heavily based on real-life stuff going on now, and strives above all for authenticity and verisimilitude, along with some action and romance 🙂

It’s set during the Euromaidan protests, and references a number of things that happened during the period in which it is set. (For an excellent overview of the situation in Ukraine and just how fucked-up it is, I strongly recommend Charap & Colton’s Everyone Loses). In the first chapter Dima, Rowena’s fiance, mentions Dmytro and Tetiana getting attacked; he’s talking about Kharkhiv protest organizier Dmytro Pylypets, who was stabbed 12 times on December 24, 2013, and Tetiana Chornovol, a journalist who was severely beaten on December 25. Later his editor asks him to write a story about Ukrainian nationalists getting assaulted; that’s a reference to the January 3, 2014 assault on Andriy Illenko and Sydir Kizin, representatives of the far-right Svoboda Party.

But it’s Chechnya that casts the longest shadow over the story. That and corruption, that eternal problem in Russia (and most other places, too). I can and no doubt will go into much greater detail about the Chechen conflict, since that’s my current area of research, but for the moment I’ll just say that a lot of that was drawn from eye-witness accounts of the conflict and the atrocities perpetrated on both sides. I strongly recommend Anna Politkovskaya‘s writings on the subject, particularly A Dirty War and A Small Corner of Hell, as well as Asne Seierstad’s The Angel of Grozny, for a journalist’s take on the topic. For stories by combatants, the best (and pretty much only) English-language books are Arkady Babchenko‘s One Soldier’s War for the Russian side, and Mikail Eldin’s The Sky Wept Fire: My Life as a Chechen Freedom Fighter for the Chechen side. Mikail has very graciously granted me and my students a number of interviews to discuss his book and his experiences as a prisoner of war who was detained and tortured by Russian forces, and I highly recommend his book for those wanting to read something authentically Chechen–and/or the authentic account of a guerrilla combatant and torture victim.

If all that has whetted your appetite, or you just want to hear me try to switch between English and Russian while getting into a fight to the death with GarageBand, here are those links again: SoundCloud and iTunes.

And, of course, it’s time for this week’s roundup of book giveaways! Check out the selection below:

Mysteries & Thrillers in Exotic Locales

The Mysteries & Thrillers in Exotic Locales Giveaway does exactly what it says on the box.

International Action Thrillers

The International Action Thrillers Giveaway has been extended to May 14!

May-Day's Murder and Mystery Tour

Get set up for some summer reading with the May-Day’s Murder and Mystery Tour!

It’s Here! The Eagle Has (Almost) Landed!

Hi Everyone!

Great Jack Higgins reference, right? I went through a period in early adolescence of being *very* into Jack Higgins, whose work, while hardly a shining example of immortal prose, introduced me to high-action international thrillers. Thus begins a tale…

Anyway, *my* particular eagle is Campus Confidential. Most of you are reading this because you got an Advance Reader Copy (ARC) of it. So it’s now time for me to beg for reviews. The release date isn’t until May 17, but the book is already up on Amazon just for the purpose of gathering a few reader reviews prior to its official launch. The Amazon.com link is here and the Amazon.co.uk link is here, if you feel moved to drop a couple of lines about the book. Just scroll down to where it says “Review this product,” click on the link, and say what you think. It doesn’t have to be long at all: a sentence or two is fine. And obviously I hope you liked the book, but what we’re looking for here is your honest opinion.

Why, you might be asking yourself, should you bother to leave a review? What’s in it for you?

Well, to be honest, not a super-huge amount. Amazon officially prohibits me from offering any kind of payment or prize other than a free copy of the book to reviewers, so that’s what you got: a free copy of the book. Believe me, I wish I *could* shower all you wonderful people with candy and champagne and cold hard cash, but the ‘Zon has spoken, and the ‘Zon must be obeyed. Blessed be the name of the ‘Zon.

BUT, but, but, but, if you DO leave a review, your karma will get a big boost. As you might recall from my post on “Karma Chameleon” a few weeks ago, Campus Confidential as ultimately all about karma. So by leaving a review, you will be participating in the story in some way, or something like that.

And why would leaving a review give you so much good karma? Well, because reviews are how books get marketed and sold. Not only are reviews a kind of internet-age form of word-of-mouth and social proof, but the promo sites that we authors rely on look at reviews to decide whether or not to accept our books for their newsletters. So we’re constantly going around, cap in hand, trying to scrounge up every spare review we can get.

All this means that I would greatly appreciate any and all reviews that you, my beloved readers, care to provide. And since I’m am a relatively unknown debut author (under this pen name, anyway), you can bet that I will remember with fondness each and every reviewer who takes the time to help me out at this crucial stage in my journey.

Okay, enough. I’m starting to get a little verklempt, so I’ll stop now before I break down entirely. Links to the book’s Amazon page, and to this week’s selection of giveaways, are below.

Campus Confidential on Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.ca, and Amazon.au

Giveaways!

International Action Thrillers.png

Check out the International Action Thrillers Giveaway for some Jack Higgins-esque action and adventure!

May-Day's Murder and Mystery Tour

Up the thrills & chills content with the May-Day’s Murder and Mystery Tour!

Mysteries & Thrillers in Exotic Locales

Get away from it all with the Mysteries & Thrillers in Exotic Locales Giveaway!