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!

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!

Gorky Park Revisited

Hello everyone! I’m thrilled to announce that I’ve got a new story in the Doctor Rowena Halley series out now. In fact, it’s the prequel, the foundation story, the backstory…whatever you want to call it. It’s a novelette of about 20k words, takes place the winter before the beginning of the main series, and explains how Rowena and Dima broke up and why Rowena can’t go back to Moscow…or can she?

Foreign Exchange Cover

You can get a FREE copy of my new story “Foreign Exchange,” plus dozens of other free stories, in the Event Horizon Giveaway!

I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but the story takes place over Christmas 2013 and New Year’s 2014. It’s set in Moscow, but the events of the Euromaidan protests in Kiev form a backdrop to the action.

A couple of the key scenes in the story take place in Gorky Park.  I chose to do that first of all because Gorky Park is a major Moscow landmark and one I have happy memories of, and second of all because it’s one of the few Moscow landmarks that Americans know by name. It’s my little homage to Martin Cruz Smith’s excellent and ground-breaking Gorky Parkthat foundational Russian-themed thriller. And although my own series is very different from Smith’s, I do enjoy dropping that kind of Easter egg 🙂

Of course, “Foreign Exchange” is choc-a-bloc full of references to Russian literature as well, and lots of other things Russian. I could go on and on about the real-life people and events behind the story, and I’m sure I will in future posts, but instead of getting sidetracked, I think I’ll drop an excerpt for you here instead:

Foreign Exchange

It started off just like any other trip to Russia.

After living a life of extreme parsimony all fall, I had saved up enough money to buy a cattle-class ticket from Indianapolis to Moscow, where I had been going every school break for the past six years.

Just like I had every single time previously, I promised myself as I sat at the gate at Indianapolis, and then again at the gates at O’Hare and JFK, and with considerable fervency somewhere around hour six of being jammed into the very back row for the ten-hour flight from JFK to Sheremetyevo, Moscow’s biggest international airport, that next time Dima would come to me.

The reason I was making this trip, just like all the trips before it, was not because I loved Moscow—although I did—but because I loved someone in it. Namely, my fiancé, Dmitry Vladimirovich Kuznetsov. Known as Dima to his friends and family, and, increasingly, a national traitor and an enemy of the people to his enemies. And by December 25 (tickets were cheaper on Christmas Day), 2013, Dima had made a lot of enemies.

He hadn’t originally meant to. In fact, originally he had meant to be a hero of the people, just like his father before him, who had died so gallantly and so pointlessly in Afghanistan shortly after Dima’s birth.

Being the son of a dead war hero you didn’t remember was a lot of pressure. Growing up during perestroika and then the incredible turmoil of the collapse of the USSR and the wild, wild Yeltsin years was a lot more pressure. Maybe that explained why Dima had decided to re-enlist after he finished his mandatory two-year military service, only this time in OMON, the special forces riot control units that had such a bad reputation. Or maybe as the only son of a single mother with long-term health problems, he just really needed the money.

In any case, they had sent him off to do bad things in bad places, mainly hunting down and interrogating suspected rebels in Chechnya. That had turned out to be less glorious and honorable than Dima had hoped. Back in Moscow, dragging his former friends by the legs into police vans had been even less glorious, and the money had never been very good anyway. So by the time I met him, in 2005, he had gotten out of OMON and started a new career, this time as a journalist hellbent on fighting crime and corruption. There was certainly plenty of scope for that. Unfortunately, in Russia crime and corruption had a tendency to fight back.

***

Like what you’ve read? Here’s that link to get a FREE copy of “Foreign Exchange” in the Event Horizon Giveaway

Foreign Exchange Cover