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

Want to read about more international women and men of mystery? Check out the International Mysteries & Thrillers giveaway.

A Thrilling Experience

And the Thrilling Experience thriller and suspense giveaway is still going strong!

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.

Yet More Artistic Adventures in Audio–And Free Audiobooks!

Hello everyone!

Yes indeed, you may have noticed that I’m a bit obsessed with audio right now. Of course, anyone who knows me will not be surprised. I have a bit of an, um, obsessive personality. One of those greatest strengths/greatest weaknesses things.

Permanent Position Audiobook Image

Now seems like a good time to mention that the audiobook of Permanent Position is currently free on AppleBooks and Nook Audiobooks.

Suspense and Thriller Audiobooks for Review

Oh, and if you’d like to get into reviewing audiobooks, StoryOrigin is currently running a review code giveaway for suspense and thriller audiobooks.

So what’s so great about audiobooks? I have to admit that I have always had a love/hate relationship with being read to. When I was a small child, I enjoyed it tremendously (thanks, Mom & Dad!). Then I learned how to read myself, and immediately realized all the advantages of that. Ever since then, I’ve preferred to read to myself rather than to be read to. Reading text is faster and you, the reader, have more control over how you interact with it. Plus it allows things like side-by-side or back-and-forth comparison in a way that other media forms do not.

However, listening to someone else read, whether it’s an audiobook or they’re reading out loud to you “live,” is a great way to get a story or information while driving, doing chores, or working on handicrafts. It frees up your eyes and your hands, and also connects you back to the primal human experience of telling stories while sitting around working together.

Dead of Winter Thriller Audio Shorts

Want to experience more audiobooks? Check out the Dead of Winter Thriller Audio Shorts giveaway.

And there’s also the fact that you can gain new insight into a work by experiencing someone else’s interpretation of it. My doctoral advisor always used to tell us that the best way to understand a work was to see someone else’s interpretation of it, like in a stage or film adaptation. If you liked it, great; if not, you still gained new insight into the work. At the time I think I said something narky about that, and I definitely said something narky about the some of the adaptations of Checkhov plays he made us watch. Needless to say, I don’t appreciate having other people’s artistic visions imposed on me.

But, as is so often the case, I now, ten years later, see the wisdom in my advisor’s advice. I hate it when that happens! Actually, no. It’s a comforting reminder that we can grow and change and learn to appreciate more and more things as we do so.

And, to return to audiobooks and my insatiable need for artistic control, my own interpretation of my own work is of course of considerable interest, at least to me. We treasure crackling 30-second recordings of poets from the 1920s reciting their poems, and wish we could have anything like that of poets from the 1820s. But now that it’s (almost) the 2020s, anyone with a mic and a makeshift recording studio, or even just a smartphone, can record themselves reading their own work. Or anyone with a spare $3,000 lying around can get an actual professional to do it all for them. Which often seems like the more attractive option when you’re knee-deep in the recording and editing process.

Yeah, because it turns out that recording an audiobook is SUPER exhausting. Even  perfectly healthy, fit people describe it as physically debilitating. For me, since I struggle to speak, or even remain upright for long periods (for those of you just joining us, I have been seriously ill for a number of years from a combination of Lyme disease, toxic mold exposure, and who knows what else), it’s, like, a crazy-difficult thing that I can only do in short bursts. And let’s not even get into the editing…other than to say I’m doing good if I can do a ten-minute section of finished audio in an hour of editing work.

On the other hand, it’s an absolutely fascinating experience from the artistic standpoint, and I do like the thought that, if you’re listening to one of my audiobooks, you’re getting that immediate experience of me telling my story. It may not be as polished as if professionals are doing it, although I certainly did my best to polish it up–in the future I’ll have to share some of the cat-snoring clips I had to cut out–but it is in keeping with the overall aesthetic I’m attempting to cultivate in the series of authenticity and immediacy.

I could, and no doubt will, say a lot more about the experience of actually reading the words and my thoughts on spoken vs. written media, but this is already going on pretty long and, frankly, I’m exhausted, so I’ll save it for next time. In the meantime, happy listening!

Those links to get a free audio copy of Permanent Position again:

Apple Books

Nook Audiobooks

Oh, and if you’re in the US, Canada, or Australia and you’d like a review code for the audiobook of Summer Session, book 3 in the series, reply to this post or email me at sidstarkauthor@gmail.com and let me know!

And now for this week’s giveaways:

Ice Cold Vengeance

The holiday season got you feeling vengeful? Check out the Ice Cold Vengeance promo! Mysteries, thrillers, and suspense with a revenge plot or subplot.

Snowed In

On the other hand, if you’re starting to get into the season, check out the Snowed In giveaway.

Crime Filled Christmas

And you’ll absolutely want to visit the Crime Filled Christmas giveaway.

Foreign Exchange Cover Small

If you haven’t read Foreign Exchange, the prequel to the Doctor Rowena Halley series, you can get it and many other suspense stories for free in the Domestic Suspense giveaway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More Adventures in Audio! And Thanks for a Great Launch

Hi Everyone!

Well, it’s a *very* blustery day here in North Carolina right now. I’m hoping this doesn’t derail my plans to do a little more recording today. Because yes, I’m going full throttle on this audiobook thing now.

But first, a huge thanks to everyone who helped with the launch of Summer Session, whether by sharing, downloading, or leaving a review. The launch was even more successful than I expected, putting me briefly in the #2 spot on the Amazon.com free store for Suspense. Will the next release hit #1? I guess we’ll find out…Meanwhile, if you got a free copy and feel moved to leave a review, it would be much appreciated! The universal Amazon link is here.

And I just uploaded the audiobook of Summer Session to Findaway Voices yesterday evening, so that should be coming soon. You may point out that I don’t yet have an audiobook of Campus Confidential, book 1 in the series. You would be right. What do you think I’m planning to work on once this post goes out?

You see, making audiobooks, it turns out, is rather a lot of work. First you have to record the dang things, which for me has included things like learning how to do a Middle Eastern accent in English for Permanent Position, book 2, and then learning a few phrases in actual Arabic for Summer Session. Apparently my Arabic has a heavy Russian accent, surprise, surprise. I also spent a while last week trying and failing to master a Jersey accent for Campus Confidential. This was particularly frustrating because I worked in Jersey for a year–hence the setting for the book–and did in fact pick up a bit of a Jersey accent from my students. I’m one of those people who picks up the speech patterns of those around them very strongly. But now, several years later, I’ve reverted back to my native Southern accent when I try to imitate regional speech.

And then, once you’ve done the recording, you have to edit them, which is even more time-consuming and requires all kinds of esoteric knowledge. For example, you have to learn how to read displays like this:

Spectral readout screenshot

And once you learn how to read it, you have to learn how to edit the dang thing

But since learning new things is one of life’s great joys, overall I’ve been having a lot of fun with this. It’s just been so…freaking…slow. But повторение–мать учения (repetition is the mother of learning), so after months of hard work, I *am* getting faster.

So stay tuned for more updates about my adventures, in audio, coming soon! In the meantime, if you want to pick up a free copy of my very first, and therefore still rather amateur, efforts at audiobook narration, you can do so in the Audio Shorts giveaway, going on now on BookFunnel:

Audio Shorts

Since audio is just getting going, this is a very select giveaway–but still very much worth checking out.

Looking for just some regular old e-books? Don’t worry, we’ve got those too!

Never Miss a Mystery

The Never Miss a Mystery giveaway has just started on My Book Cave

Vigilantes Kidnapping Murder

And the Vigilantes, Kidnapping, & Murder giveaway is still going strong on BookFunnel

 

 

It’s here! Get “Permanent Position” for free on Kindle!

Hi All!

Well, as you might guess from the superfluity of exclamation marks, Permanent Position has finally launched and is now live on Kindle.

Permanent Position Front Cover

Booklinker is playing up and refusing to give me my universal link, so here’s the UK link, here’s the Canadian link, and here’s the Australian link.

Audio version to be following soon. So far I haven’t committed to doing a paperback, because A) I don’t sell a lot of paperbacks, and B) I want to reduce the overall pollution/carbon load of my bookselling. Because of A, B is really just empty posturing, and if I get a wave of requests for the paperback, I will probably do a print-on-demand run (cheaper for the publisher and better for the environment–we hope).

Anyway, I’m thrilled that Permanent Position is finally out in the world. And already climbing the charts! A heartfelt thanks to those of you who have already left reviews on Goodreads and/or Amazon. And of course, I would LOVE it if you left a review on Amazon if you haven’t already done so (Amazon.com link here). I can’t tell you how much reviews, especially Amazon reviews, mean to authors on both a personal and commercial level, so I’ll just go with saying that each and every one is appreciated.

I could go on about the real-life inspirations for Permanent Position and how meaningful it is for me to finally see it out in the real world, but I’ve already covered that in previous blog posts, so I’ll just thank everyone for your help and support, wish you all a wonderful weekend, and sign off.

Those links for Permanent Position again:

Amazon.com

Amazon.ca

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com.au

And, of course, this week’s selection of promos and giveaways!

Edge of Your Seat Thrillers

There’s still one more week left of the Edge of Your Seat Thrillers Giveaway!

Summer Session Cover Small

If you haven’t picked up a free ARC of “Summer Session,” the novella that follows immediately after Permanent Position, you can grab one in the Feel-Good Crime and Thrillers Giveaway.

International Women of Mystery

Check out the International Women of Mystery Amazon sales book event, for mystery/suspense novels featuring female protagonists! Dozens of titles, most free on Kindle Unlimited.

 

#AdjunctLife: The Real-Life Inspirations Behind “Permanent Position”

Hi All!

I am almost, almost ready to launch Permanent Position. Hurray! Doing the audiobook slowed me down considerably, but I’m hoping to have the launch for both the ebook and audiobook versions by the end of the month. Expect heartfelt requests for reviews to come rolling your way soon :).

Permanent Position Audiobook Image

The artwork for the audiobook

Like the other books in the Doctor Rowena Halley SeriesPermanent Position is fiction, but fiction drawn heavily from real-world experiences. The germ for the plot came from a request for help I got, back when I was still adjuncting, from an American man who had married a Belarusian woman and gotten involved in a nasty custody battle with her over their son. She had taken the boy back to Belarus and was refusing to give the father access to him.

I sent him some information about people and organizations who specialized in Belarus, and never heard from him again. But I always wondered what happened, and what the true story was. The man who contacted me represented himself as the victim, but I always had my doubts. He had probably married a mail-order bride, right? At least that’s what it seemed like to me. So that’s the story I went with in Permanent Position.

Many of the side plots, secondary characters, and recurring motifs throughout the book are also taken from life. The $3,200/course that Rowena earns while teaching at UNC-Matthews is the average pay per course for adjuncts in North Carolina. UNC-Matthews is fictional, but many of the experiences Rowena has there are based on my own experiences at various North Carolina institutions. The half-finished campus, the confusing or missing signage and students showing up for the wrong class, the lack of administrative support, and the precarious position of instructors and students waiting to see if a course will fill up enough to be held, are all things I’ve witnessed from both sides of the lectern, and not just in North Carolina.

Similarly, Rowena’s harrowing experiences with applications, interviews, and job offers are loosely based on things that happened to me too. The only thing that’s completely fictional is the presence of a sort-of-good, sort-of-sleazy Provost who may or may not be willing and able to help Rowena out.

The sexual harassment that follows Rowena wherever she goes is taken directly from my own experiences, some of it verbatim, so to speak. The proposition and all the intense “appreciation” Rowena receives while walking around in her “cold-weather burka,” and the construction crew who set up their scaffolding to be able to look directly into the women’s restroom are both taken straight from life, alas. As she says, the more she wears, the more attention she gets.

On a related note, the lecture Fatima gives Rowena about how Islam is a very liberal religion, a very good religion for women, and allows a career as long as you have your husband’s permission, was something an acquaintance once told me, and seemed too good not to share. The same acquaintance kept assuring me that she wasn’t gathering money for al Qaeda as I drove her around town to meet with potential donors to the Muslim charity she was representing. That also seems too good to waste, so I’m sure I’ll work it into a later book in the series. (For the record, this acquaintance was a lovely person and, as far as I know, not affiliated with al Qaeda in any way).

I’ve already written about how Rowena’s ex-fiance Dima is based heavily on real life. The Battle for the Donetsk Airport that he covers in Permanent Position was a real battle, and Givi and Dmytro Yarosh, the people he interviews, are also both real. Dima’s experience of being caught and tortured by Ukrainian forces who believe him to be a Russian spy is based on something similar that may have happened to Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko, who, in one of those amusing little ironies, is ardently anti-Russia and pro-Ukraine.

I could keep going, but you get the general drift. Like all fiction, Permanent Position is all about reality, but a reality that’s been carefully curated to create a coherent and satisfying narrative. It’s not a memoir, but I was heavily influenced by the genres of memoir and “documentary novel” as I composed it. And so, like those genres, it’s supposed to be a little slice of real life, one that has been framed in order to create art, but still open-ended, the way reality always is.

And now it’s time for this week’s selection of giveaways!

Crime & Thriller KU

Haven’t read Campus Confidential, book #1 in the series, yet? You can pick up it and many other books in the Crime, Mystery & Thriller KU book promo. All books are free to read on Kindle Unlimited!

Foreign Exchange Cover

And if you haven’t gotten Foreign Exchange, the prequel novella, you can grab it and lots of other books completely FREE in the International Espionage and Spy Thrillers book giveaway!

 

Edge of Your Seat Thrillers

And finally, check out the Edge of Your Seat Thrillers & Suspense giveaway!

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.