Happy 2020! Updates and Audiobooks

Happy 2020, everyone! I hope the new year AND new decade is starting off well for you.

I’m still in winter break, which is giving me time to work on various tedious administrative tasks like switching my mailing list provider. So if there are weird breaks in service, my apologies.

It’s also given me time to post the audiobook for Campus Confidential. Yay! If you live in the US, Canada, or Australia, and would like a free review copy, just reply to this post or send me an email at SidStarkAuthor@gmail.com. If you live outside of those regions but would still like to listen to it, the book is slowly populating the major retailers and subscription services. You can also request it from your local library and listen to it for free that way.

Campus Confidential Audiobook Cover

While those blue shoes in the picture aren’t my own blue shoes that inspired that part of the story, they are almost identical

As I’ve mentioned before, doing the audiobooks has been a HUGE amount of work–a ten-hour book means 60-100 hours of recording and editing–but also a lot of fun. One thing that I thought I definitely wasn’t going to do, but did, was voices. To be honest, prior to this I was not a big audiobook fan, and thought that voices were kind of silly.

But when I started podcasting my books, I found myself doing Russian accents for the Russian characters. Listeners responded very positively, and so I eventually ended up doing more and more voices for the different characters. My learning curve for this is still very steep, but it’s turning into a fascinating project. Who knew!

Start Something New Banner

If you want to check out the (voice-free, alas–that came later) audio version of Foreign Exchange, the Doctor Rowena Halley prequel novella, plus a bunch of other free short audiobooks and samples, check out the Start Something New giveaway.

Doing all this audio has meant that my writing has slowed down a bit, but I am also on the final round of revision for Trigger Warning, book 4 in the series. I hope to have ARCs out soon, so stay tuned for that as well! Meanwhile, have a wonderful start to this new year and new decade.

And now for this week’s selection of giveaways:

New Year's Noir Banner

The New Year’s Noir giveaway is still going strong.

New Year's Mysteries

Start the new year off right with the New Year’s Mystery giveaway.

A Thrilling Experience

Get some thrillers and chills with the Thrilling Experience giveaway.

 

 

What Are We All Reading?

Hi Everyone! Happy Solstice!

I hope you are all having a good and low-stress holiday season. I am pleased to say that I got all my final grades submitted a good 36 hours before the registrar’s deadline, *despite* having finals scheduled the Friday and Saturday of exam week. Yes, Saturday finals are a big thing now, in case you haven’t been keeping pace with the innovations in higher education.

I’ve also managed to read some pretty interesting stuff, which I’ll share in a bit. But first I wanted to remind everyone that the audiobook of Permanent Position is currently free on Apple and Nook.

Permanent Position Audiobook Image

The Apple link is here and the Nook link is here.

I’ve also just uploaded the audiobook for Campus Confidential, book 1 in the series, and I’m working on revisions of Trigger Warning, book 4 in the series. So keep an eye open for excerpts from that, coming soon!

Meanwhile, though, I thought I’d share a couple of things I’ve been reading and enjoying recently. And of course I’d love to hear what you’re reading!

First of all, I was riveted by The Washington Post’s Afghanistan Papers, their in-depth report on the current war in Afghanistan. I highly recommend it to, well, everyone. Afghanistan is the longest-running conflict in US history, and soon we will have soldiers serving over there who weren’t born when it started. So it behooves us to pay attention to it.

I also have a personal/artistic stake in this, since John, my heroine’s brother, is deployed in Afghanistan in Campus Confidential, and comes home at the beginning of Permanent Position. This was a way to work my “day job” research on contemporary war literature into my fiction. As I like to stress, while the Doctor Rowena Halley series shouldn’t be taken as pure autobiography, it is based on the experiences of myself, my friends, my students, my colleagues, and people I’ve encountered for my research. It’s meant to reflect the current zeitgeist, and as such includes a lot of current events.

I also recently finished reading the English translation of Margarita Khemlin’s Klotsvog.

Klotsvog

It’s another must-read of the year, in my opinion. The story of Maya Abramovna Klotsvog, a Ukrainian Jewish woman born in 1930, it follows her Becky Sharp-like career from husband to husband and lover to lover. WWII, the Holocaust, and the post-war repression of Soviet Jews all form a backdrop to Maya Abramovna’s picaresque strivings to achieve upward mobility. That might not sound attractive, but it’s actually a riveting picture of Soviet life.

I was finishing up the edits on the audiobook of Campus Confidential at the time, so it was particularly apropos. Each of my books depicts a different social group, and Campus Confidential focuses on the experiences of Soviet Jewish emigres. The stories of my characters were inspired, again, by the stories of my friends, students, and colleagues, as well as those of Soviet Jewish authors such as Vasily Grossman and immigrant writes such as Gary Shteyngart. (Believe me, you also want to rush out and snap up their books ASAP if you haven’t already done so).

And for something maybe a little more mainstream, although still delightfully off-the-beaten-path, I’m currently reading Palm Beach Finland, by Antti Tuomainen.

Palm Beach Finland

Not sure if I’ve shared this yet, but I’ve been to Finland and speak a bit of Finnish. Although not enough to read the book easily in the original, alas.

It’s a kind Nordic-Noir-meets-Carl Hiaasen, if you can imagine such a thing. I’m only about halfway through right now, but I’m riveted in expectation of the inevitable showdown between the sleazy hitman, the undercover police officer, and the various people who have decided to investigate the mysterious murder on their own.

So that’s what I’ve been reading! What about you?

And now for this week’s selection of giveaways!

Ice Cold Vengeance

It’s cold out there! Warm up with a little vengeance in the Ice Cold Vengeance giveaway.

Crime Filled Christmas

Celebrate the season with the Crime Filled Christmas giveaway.

Snowed In

Enjoy the wintry weather with the Snowed In giveaway.

New Year's Noir Banner

Ring in the New Year with the New Year’s Noir giveaway.

Publish AND Perish: The Academic’s Dilemma. Plus musings on Ukraine, and this week’s selection of giveaways

Hello everyone! I hope everyone is having a wonderful weekend. If you’re in Florida: Stay safe! If you’re in my part of the world, I hope you can enjoy the beautiful weather we’re currently having.

I spent a while wondering what to write about today. Should I talk about the start of the new semester? (For those of you just joining us, I was on medical leave last semester due to a crippling case of late-stage Lyme disease, toxic mold poisoning, and other fun things). I just finished my first week of being back teaching, which has made it clear that, surprise surprise, I am in no way recovered. Sorry everyone who keeps asking in saccharine tones if I’m “All better.” Recovery is going to be very slow, inasmuch as it happens at all.

I am walking better than I was this time last year, so that’s encouraging, but I’ve been having a lot of problems with losing my voice. This is a bit of an issue for a teacher. The good news is that I have finished re-recording (long story) the audiobook for Permanent Position, Book #2 in the Doctor Rowena Halley series, and am almost done editing it. Deciding to do an audiobook version has put a big delay on the release, but soon, soon it will be ready. Maybe even in September! Stay tuned for more updates.

Going back to my quandary of what to write today, I then thought of talking about the recent elections in Ukraine. If you haven’t been following along with that story, Volodymyr/Vladimir Zelensky, an actor who played the president of Ukraine in a popular sitcom was, in fact, elected president of the country in a landslide victory this May. You cannot make this stuff up. His party, “Servant of the People” (named after the tv show) just won a resounding majority in the parliamentary elections, taking control of the Verkhovna Rada, the Ukrainian parliament. Major reforms are promised. Of course, major reforms are always being promised in Ukraine. As with my health, improvement, if it happens at all, has been a slow and painful process. Everyone wants the miracle, the quick path to heaven. Unfortunately, that’s not normally how things work.

But at the moment everyone’s all full of rosy hopes for Ukraine. Will it finally manage to crack down on corruption? Will there be peace in the Donbass?

I’ve been keeping an eye on the situation in Ukraine for a few years now (full disclosure: as I write this I’m live-streaming Казачье Радио/Cossack Radio, a separatist radio station in Luhansk/Lugansk), and have woven a number of elements of the current conflict there into my novels. Dima, my heroine’s ex-fiance, is a journalist covering the war in Eastern Ukraine. In Permanent Position (click to get your free ARC if you haven’t already) I place him in the 2014/2015 battle for the Donetsk Airport, while in the follow-up novella Summer Session (click to get your free ARC if you haven’t already) he observes one of the many battles around Avdiivka/Avdeyevka during 2015 (names are in both Ukrainian and Russian, if you’re wondering about the doubling).

This is part of my general strategy in the series of hewing as close to real life as possible. My heroine Rowena and her friends aren’t real people, but their experiences are closely based on reality.

A major part of that reality is Rowena’s precarious financial situation, along with the tremendous pressure academics are under to publish. Like a lot of contingent faculty members, Rowena hopes that publishing a few articles, or better yet, a book, will help vault her into the ranks of the financially secure. This means that she is in no position to publish intellectually meaningful scholarship, since intellectually meaningful scholarship tends to have a hard time getting through peer review, something she meditates on in Book 1 of the series, Campus Confidential (click to get it on Amazon, where it’s free on KU).

Rowena’s financial and professional struggles are taken from real life, including the amounts she’s paid for teaching; the $3,200/course she’s paid in Permanent Position is the average rate per course for adjuncts in North Carolina. All her jokes about taking up bagging groceries, stripping, or streetwalking are taken from contingent academics’ real-life attempts to fund their teaching hobby with real work.

On the other hand, publishing and getting a “good” job is no guarantee of wealth and riches, as shown in Kathryn Rudy’s breakdown of what it costs her to publish her research, and why she, a full professor at a reasonably elite Western institution of higher education, is broke. In brief: she has to pay for all the travel costs, all the licensing of images and so on, and foot the bill for the actual publishing. As she points out, this isn’t “vanity” publishing. These are respectable academic presses that put out peer-reviewed scholarly works. If you want to get tenure and keep tenure, or even a halfway decent temporary position, you will probably need to publish a book, maybe several books, in this way. So even if you jump off the adjunct treadmill that Rowena finds herself in, you might not find yourself living the comfortable upper-class lifestyle of the senior academics in Lucky Jim.

The two things–post-Soviet politics and publishing–came together for me this week, when I was invited by an academic press to submit a proposal for my scholarly monograph about Chechen war literature. This entailed a fair amount of agonizing and hand-wringing on my part. Did I want to put in all that time, money, and effort, especially when my health is still so poor, into publishing a book that probably won’t make any money or even get read very much (scholarly works tend to sell a few dozen or hundred copies at best)?

On the other hand, I feel a moral obligation to spread the word about the topic of Chechnya and Chechen war literature, especially after the authors I profile have so graciously granted me interviews and expressed a strong desire to share their stories with the West. One of the reasons I include so much about Chechnya and Ukraine in the Doctor Rowena Halley series is because it’s the topic of my “day job” scholarly research. Not only am I interested in it, but I want other people to be interested in it as well.

And then there’s the fact that going through the process of attempting to publish a scholarly monograph with an academic press will no doubt provide much fodder for my fiction! When you look at it from that angle, it’s a win-win.

So if I do through with this other publishing endeavor, I’ll be sure to keep you posted, and let you know how it will inform my next novel! Expect hearty laughs–I hope.

Meanwhile, here’s this week’s selection of giveaways:

Back to School Special

Celebrate the start of the school year with the Back to School Special Giveaway! All the books are school-themed.

Summer Shorts

Enjoy the last few days of summer and pick up some mystery short stories in the Summer Shorts Giveaway!

Damsels who cause distress

Check out these butt-kicking heroines in the Damsels Who Cause Distress Giveaway on StoryOrigin!

 

What Are You Reading? Plus Meditations on Cliffhangers, and This Week’s Selection of Giveaways

“But Krymov was now in the grip of new impressions; he was walking on the earth of Stalingrad.”

Stalingrad

So ends Vasily Grossman’s magnificent Stalingrad, the “prequel,” as it were, to his even more magnificent Life and Fate. He originally intended them as a two-part work that would tell a complete story; due to the vagaries of publication, Stalingrad was published in the Soviet Union (under the title For a Just Cause) in the 1950s, while Life and Fate was published in the West in the 1980s. Stalingrad finally appeared in English translation for the first time this summer, in what was the Russian translation event of the year. So naturally I had to read it.

I could go on and on about how good it is, but I recommend reading it for yourself instead of taking my word for it. It’s a war novel, and a production novel, and a family drama, and a picture of Soviet life during the first part of WWII, when things were looking truly bleak for the USSR. Stalingrad ends, as you can see from the quote above, just as one of the main characters, finally sets foot in the city after retreating all the way from Kiev and receiving the “Not One Step Back” order to stop the Soviet retreat and hold the line at Stalingrad.

I’ve always loved this kind of ending, especially as, in this case, it concludes an early installment in a series. It’s very Romantic-with-a-Capital-R, as we see in the delightfully fragmented works of Pushkin, Lermontov, or “Odysseus’s Fate,” my favorite poem by Konstantin Batyushkov. I love the sudden opening of the narrative, the feeling that, just as you think the journey is over, a hidden vista has suddenly appeared on the horizon. They give so much space for the reader to create their own meaning, just when it seems that the author is about to collapse the storyline into one interpretation.

In other words, I’m an unashamed fan of what are commonly called cliffhangersadore encountering them in the novels that I read, and I love to incorporate them in my own books.

That being said, they have to be used with care. In the above example, it works so well in Stalingrad because 1) Krymov has been striving the entire book to get to Stalingrad, so his arrival is the resolution of that storyline as well as the beginning of a new storyline, about the actual Battle of Stalingrad, and 2) there’s a sequel.

Since I write stories that combine elements of mystery/thriller/suspense and romance, cliffhangers have to be approached with especial care. Both of those genres require a very specific kind of plot resolution. Mysteries have to end with the protagonist solving the main mystery, otherwise they’re not mystery stories, and romance novels have to end with the two main protagonists ending up together. No exceptions! Romance readers are very strict about this, as they should be. I mean, you can write a story about a failed romance, but it’s not a romance novel.

Of course, if you’re writing a series, the rules can be a bit looser, in that the resolution can happen at the end of the series rather than the end of each book. So in Robert Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike books, each book ends with a specific mystery being solved, but the ongoing romantic tension between the two characters only grows from book to book, without (yet) being resolved. In fact, the third book, Career of Evil, ends on a devilishly suspenseful moment.

In case you haven’t guessed, I’m a huge fan of the series. Have you read it? How do you think it compares with Harry Potter? I may actually prefer it to HP, although Harry will always hold a special place in my heart…

So in my own writing, I specifically sought to borrow techniques that I particularly enjoy from authors I particularly admire. Which means I resolve the main suspense/thriller/mystery conflict at the end of each of my Doctor Rowena Halley books, but then leave a little transitional moment at the very end that provides both resolution of the romantic subplot, and a cliffhanger-ish moment leading into the next book.

So in Campus Confidential,

(you see what I did there?)

Campus Confidential Front Cover Small

Speaking of Campus Confidential, KU subscribers should check out the Mysteries & Thrillers on Kindle Unlimited book event. Dozens of mysteries & thrillers, all free on KU, have been gathered together in one place for your perusing pleasure!

the main mystery and action scene are resolved, but I end with the hint that my protagonist Rowena *may* be starting a new romance.

In Permanent Position, the second book in the series, I up the cliffhanger stakes, ending with the following words (SPOILER ALERT!):

Permanent Position Front Cover

And if you haven’t yet picked up a free Advance Review Copy of Permanent Position, you can find it and dozens of other mysteries and thrillers in the Page Turning Mystery/Thriller Giveaway.

“But there, in amongst all the junk mail, was an email from Dima. Both the subject line and the body had the same, two-word message:

Forgive me.”

Like Krymov’s arrival in Stalingrad I quoted at the beginning of this post, this ending serves both as an end point and a beginning. A theme that runs through the entire novel is forgiveness and redemption. Dima’s request for forgiveness thus acts as the culmination of that thread of the story, while simultaneously opening up possibilities that until that moment had seemed closed. It’s literally a pivotal moment, causing the overall storyline of the series to pivot in a new direction at the “hinge” between two books.

Summer Session, the novella that comes right after Permanent Position, has a slightly less cliffhanger-y ending, but also has a kind of “hinge” moment in its final scene.

Summer Session Cover Small

If you haven’t yet gotten a free Advance Review Copy of Summer Session, you can get it and loads of other mystery shorts in the Summer Shorts! Giveaway.

Summer Session ends with the following conversation:

“Is that a promise?” I asked.

He grinned. “You bet.”

Again, it’s a resolution, but it’s a resolution that leaves a lot open. The juxtaposition of the words “promise” and “bet” suggest both certainty and uncertainty. The future, as Tom Petty would tell us, is actually wide open, even as the characters appear to be closing it down.

Wow! What a lot of writing! It’s fun to apply my carefully honed skills in close reading to my own works–until this moment I had never even *thought* about the “promise” and “bet” thing 🙂

But enough about that–what do you like to read? What are some books/series you’ve read recently that have really knocked your socks off?

And now for this week’s selection of giveaways:

Summer Thrills and Chills

The Summer Thrills & Chills Giveaway is still going strong!

Damsels who cause distress

Want to find a whole host of kickass heroines? Check out the Damsels Who Cause Distress Giveaway on StoryOrigin!

Back to School Special

School doesn’t have to be boring! Swing by the Back to School Special Giveaway to stock up on all your school-related reading.

 

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.

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.