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.

 

 

Get “Summer Session” Free This Weekend!

Hi All!

It’s the official launch weekend of “Summer Session,” the third book in the Doctor Rowena Halley series! In celebration of this, I’m offering it free on Kindle for the next few days. And of course, if you’ve already gotten an ARC, reviews would be very much appreciated 🙂 The universal Amazon link is here.

Summer Session Cover Small

For those of you who haven’t read it yet, “Summer Session” is a shorter, lighter work than the other books in the series, with a strong dose of romance. It’s based in part on my experiences teaching at Indiana University’s Summer Language Workshop, and also on my experiences growing up in what Rowena calls the “alternative South,” where fundamentalist Christians and liberal hippies are all hanging out and homeschooling together.

I certainly hope you enjoy reading “Summer Session” as much as I enjoyed writing it! And now, without further ado, here’s this week’s selection of giveaways:

Foreign Exchange Cover Small

Want to find out how it all began? You can get “Foreign Exchange,” the series prequel novella, plus loads of other free books, in the Vigilantes, Kidnapping, and Murder book giveaway!

Campus Confidential Front Cover Final Small

And if you haven’t read  “Campus Confidential,” book one in the series, you can find it, plus dozens other suspense and mystery books, all free on KU, in the Fall Mystery & Suspense on KU book fair!

Love in the Strangest Places

The Love in the Strangest Places book giveaway, for non-romance books with a romantic subplot, is still going strong!

Spicy Fall Suspense Banner

Enjoying the crisp fall weather? Spice it up a little more with the Spicy Fall Suspense book giveaway!

“The Best American Mystery Stories 2019,” edited by Jonathan Lethem

Best American Mystery Stories 2019

“The Best American Mystery Stories 2019” is, as promised, full of excellent mystery stories. Although the word “mystery” in the title might be a little misleading. Many of the stories are not so much mysteries (although there are those as well) as they are suspense stories or thrillers. Strongly literary in their bent, they often hint at resolution rather than achieving it outright, and sometimes end at a most tantalizing moment. They span everything from the Civil War to a dystopian future of unnamed date, take place around the globe, and range in tone from Reed Johnson’s heartwarming story of a young girl trying to clear her father’s name, to Joyce Carol Oates’ chilling tale of a pedophilia victim who feels a special connection with her abuser.

What all the stories in this collection have in common is a keen eye and ear for pacing and plotting. All of them, whether the narrator is a vulnerable young girl or a hardened ex-con pulling off one more heist, will keep you turning the pages, desperate to find out what happens next. If you enjoy mystery, crime, or suspense, this collection offers a delicious sampler platter of different styles and subgenres. Recommended for all fans of mysteries and thrillers, as well as anyone wanting to get a taste of contemporary American fiction.

Buy it at Barnes and Noble or Amazon.

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.

 

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!

 

The End! The First Draft of “Trigger Warning” is Finished :) Sneak Peek Enclosed

It is finished! Despite some setbacks with my health, I typed those all important words “THE END” on the first draft of “Trigger Warning,” the 3rd book in the Doctor Rowena Halley series, Friday morning.

The End Trigger Warning

It seems like “Trigger Warning” has taken a very long time to write, even though I think I only spent about two months cranking out the bulk of it. But I’ve been planning it for over a year, and at 112k words, it’s a bit longer than the previous books, plus darker and scarier.

But never fear! Not only is there darkness and fear, there’s also ludicrousness and farcical humor. My goal for the series all along has been for it to be a kind of chiaroscuro piece, with humor and tragedy intertwined.

The particular inspiration for “Trigger Warning” was a semester last year at my own college, when several students died, including one in a gang shooting incident at a party. (For the record, my college is an upscale, elite institution where gang violence is a huge shock. But it still happened). At the same time, the thing that really got the administration’s undies in a bundle was a blog post by an anonymous group complaining about injustices on campus such as the disgraceful pay for janitorial staff. Special walk-in counseling sessions were set up in case students felt threatened. Add in some stuff about sorting students into Houses a la Harry Potter, as one place I interviewed at did, and the controversy about having faculty act as bellhops when students move in, as various places have started doing, and voila! Instant laugh/cry material.

It’ll be a while before I’ll have “Trigger Warning” ready for release, even in ARC form, but in the meantime, here’s a sneak peek of Chapter 10 to whet your appetite.

10

At 7:45 the next morning I was trotting across campus from the faculty parking behind the back quad to the main entrance in front of the front quad. In full regalia. It was a mere 75 degrees now, but temperatures were slated to rise another 20 degrees at least by noon. So a fine day to stand outside in ankle-length polyester robes and a velvet tam.

I stopped to adjust my hood. A purely ceremonial item, it was supposed to drape across my shoulders and hang down below my waist in the back. There was a little claspy thing in the front to hold it together and in place. But the little claspy thing was totally inadequate for the brisk pace I was setting, and the hood kept twisting around and slipping off.

“Rowena, right?” A middle-aged man in green Tulane robes stopped beside me to do some similar adjustments.

“Um, Keith, right? History?”

“You remembered! We must not be working you hard enough yet.”

“I suppose by some standards, standing around in academic regalia and welcoming incoming first years to their Hogwarts House wouldn’t count as ‘work’ at all. Not compared with cutting timber in a Siberian labor camp.”

Keith looked startled. “Oh, right, you’re the Russianist, aren’t you. I suppose that gives you a very…unique take on a lot of hardships. And you’re right, but my God. I voted against this nonsense when it came up last semester, and so did everyone else with even a grain of sense, but somehow we got overruled. I don’t even know how. I don’t know any faculty members who thought it was a good idea. But seems like our power is being eroded more and more every year. I’m sure a fiat came down on high from Recruitment and Admissions or Student Development or the Office of Babysitting and Spoonfeeding or whatever it’s called now, so here we are. I don’t see any of those people out here at the crack of dawn, prepared to spend the morning humiliating themselves and getting heatstroke.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Funny thing. And thanks, by the say. For agreeing to be Slytherin.”

Keith shrugged. “Whatever. I’ve never actually read the books, although my kids made me take them to one of the movies. But I have no emotional involvement in this BS.” He looked at me sideways. “I suppose you’re going to tell me they’re your favorite books in the world?”

“I’m a Russianist,” I said. “My favorite books in the world were all written in Russian. If you’re looking for something with magic in it, I recommend Master and Margarita. But these books are pretty good too, and the kids might get a kick out of this.”

“Yeah,” said Keith. “Too bad they’re here for a rigorous liberal arts education, not to get a kick out of seeing their professors cavort around in garish costumes. Oh, hey. Is this all of us?”

Mel, in her sky-blue Tar Heel getup, and Daniel, a gangly man from Political Science in bright yellow Johns Hopkins robes, were hurrying towards us. Mel had a stack of posterboard in her arms.

“Call me an overachiever, but I thought if we’re gonna do this, we should do this,” she said. “So I stopped by the store last night and got posterboard and markers. I figured we could make posters for each of the houses, with—and this is why we want to do this—instructions for how to find the correct entrance to the dorm that they’re supposed to use.”

“Oh, right,” said Keith. “We’re supposed to working as traffic cops as well. Does anyone remember where the little buggers are supposed to go?”

I pulled out the instructions that had been emailed to me, and which I had printed out on my own dime, since the email had come in after dinner the night before and I didn’t have access to the department printer/copier yet anyway. Somehow I had ended up in charge of this ill-advised venture, which was probably supposed to make me feel good about myself as a go-getter who was fitting in well with the campus community, but actually boded very ill for me as someone who was going to get press-ganged into doing this kind of stuff every semester, while getting harassed about my lack of productivity, or something like that.

“All first-year students are housed in Jackson Hall,” I said. I wondered if Jackson Hall was named after Andrew Jackson. So not a Confederate general, just a slave owner. Of course, in the US, as in Russia, pretty much anyone who had done anything worth naming a building after had been a slave owner. I wondered what future generations would say about us, and which of our actions would trigger outrage and furious revisions of history. I had my guesses, but there was just so much to choose from.

“Yeah, poor little kids,” said Keith. “That place has no air conditioning, and there are constant complaints about mold. But it’s tradition. Plus the college doesn’t have the money to renovate anything. It’s all going to hiring more Deans of Donations. Oh shit. Is that our first customer of the day?”

A car was pulling up to the entrance. It was decorated in crimson and cream streamers and balloons. A teenage face, barely visible behind all the braces and acne, stuck itself out the passenger side window.

“Whoa, this is awesome!” he said. “I’m Michael. Wait, am I supposed to tell you my House? That’s sooooo cool. Gryffindor.”

I bounded forward. “Great to meet you, Michael! I’m Professor Halley, the head of Gryffindor House, here to welcome you to Crimson College. First years are housed in Jackson Hall, and Gryffindors should check in at Entrance A. Which is, um…” I looked over at the others.

“Drive straight ahead and take a right at the T,” said Keith. “There will be signs leading you straight to Jackson Hall from there. Entrance A is the first entrance you’ll come to. There will be people there to direct you and help you unload your things.”

“Wow, really? This is incredible! Thank you guys so much! I think this is the best day of my life! Hey, are you professors? Any of you from Math?”

“No, but when you get to the dorm, ask around for Professor Irving and Professor Arlington. Oh, and I think Professor Li will be there too. They’re all from Math,” Keith told him.

“Whoa, thanks so much! Man, college is overfulfilling all my expectations already! Did you get that, Mom?”

Michael’s mom nodded, and, with an almost equally manic grin as her son, pulled past us and headed in the direction of Jackson Hall.

“Does anyone else feel like Goofy welcoming the kiddies to DisneyWorld?” asked Keith.

“Maybe a little,” I said.

“The sad thing is that this isn’t even the most humiliating thing I’ve ever done,” said Mel. “Not by a long shot. And hey, as I was telling Rowena yesterday, at least it’s not actual panhandling, which was what I thought I was going to be doing this fall. Still got me some extra posterboard, though, just in case I need that ‘Homeless Iraq Vet, Please Help’ sign after all. I figure if nothing else, this’ll be good practice for that. Okay, who likes to draw?”

It was quickly ascertained that the only person who liked to draw, or was even able to draw, was Mel herself. In short order she had turned out four very creditable posters, with the House logos and directions for check-in on each one.

“Yeah, whatever,” she said, when we remarked on how good the posters were. “I’m lefthanded and a lesbian. Of course I have artistic talent. Oh shit. Is that another student?”

An SUV large enough to raise the global temperature by at least half a degree all on its own was pulling through the gates. It, too, was decorated with crimson and cream streamers and balloons, but the excited teenage face looking out the passenger window was holding up a Ravenclaw sign that was almost as good as Mel’s.

“Guess this one’s mine,” she said. “Wish me luck!” And she danced up to the side of the car, waving her poster with enthusiasm that almost seemed real.

Stay tuned more more updates!

And now, this week’s selection of giveaways:

Summer Thrills and Chills

Check out a wide variety of free thrillers, suspense, fantasy, and horror in the Summer Thrills & Chills Giveaway, and register for a $25 gift cart to your favorite online retailer!

Sunshine & Smiles

Pick up some humorous women’s/contemporary fiction in the Sunshine & Smiles Giveaway!

Page Turning Mystery:Thriller

Get your thrill on with the Page Turning Mystery/Thriller Giveaway!

Women's Fiction Beach Reads

There’s still another week left in the Women’s Fiction Beach Reads Giveaway!

On Accidents and Accents: Narrating My Books

I hope everyone is enjoying the hot weather! Unless you’re Down Under, in which case I hope you’re enjoying the cold weather. I’ve always wanted to go Down Under and spend a while visiting Australia and New Zealand. Maybe someday I’ll get that chance. Maybe as part of the round-the-world trip by boat I keep fantasizing about. Crossing the oceans by boat would be a way of circumnavigating the globe while significantly reducing the carbon footprint of doing so, plus I’ve developed a significant aversion to flying in the past decade or so. It recently occurred to me that maybe it has something to do with the fact that planes are full of chemicals (I have multiple chemical sensitivity) and probably also mold (because they’re carpeted). Not sure if boats would be much better, but…

Wait, what does this have to do with writing? Nothing, so let’s move on.

As you know if you’ve been following along with these posts (and if you’re new here, then welcome!), I’v been podcasting my stories from the Doctor Rowena Halley series.

Listen to the latest episode on iTunes here.

The plan is eventually to make audiobooks out of them. The podcast has been a good, if occasionally frustrating, way to figure out the technical aspects and try out different narration techniques.

Recording studio

One iteration of my home recording studio, shortly before it collapsed, terrifying my Chihuahua and nearly taking out my computer–hence the “accidents” in the post title.

At the moment, I’m trying to rest up my voice after accidentally messing up my throat yesterday by trying to do voices for the male characters. I always found it annoying when narrators did silly (in my opinion) voices for the different characters, with their parodic accents and (shudder!) that horrid high-pitched, breathy sound when male narrators affect a female voice. As I say in Campus Confidential, that sound pretty much always marks the person being imitated as an idiot.

But, I discovered, it is very helpful to do something to mark the different characters as different while narrating dialogue. Doing the Russian characters was no problem: one thing I certainly do know how to do is a Russian accent, although it’s rather better in Russian than in English.

Things got more complicated when I started narrating other characters. The one that’s given me the most trouble so far is Rowena’s brother John. Obviously he should have some kind of a markedly masculine voice. And a bit of a Southern accent.

Well, I thought, I should be able to do a Southern accent. After all, I am from the South. Once upon a time I even had an accent, before I, like Rowena, suppressed it ruthlessly. Now it’s firmly repressed, and my regular accent is standard educated American, with a side of English (I used to live in England). My regular speaking voice has become quite posh, as I discovered with surprise when I started listening to recordings of myself.

But, lurking under all that, there is, it turns out, a Southern accent, one that was more than ready to come out once I had coaxed it to the surface. Now I’m finding it bursting forth at unexpected moments. Once I’m done narrating Permanent Position

Permanent Position Front Cover

If you haven’t yet picked up a free Advance Review Copy of Permanent Position, you can snag one in the Fierce Feminist Fiction book giveaway on Bookfunnel.

I’m going to have to go back to suppressing it ruthlessly.

Unfortunately, my native Southern accent is from Western Kentucky. So while John should have a Georgia drawl, what keeps coming out is more of a Midsouth twang. But whatever. At least it is a more or less authentic Southern accent, which is more than I can say about a lot of the “Southern” accents you hear on TV. But don’t get me started on that…

Next stop: Arabic and Persian accents! Now that will be a challenge!

You can listen to the podcast (with some but not all of the glorious accents I plan to deploy for the actual audiobooks) on iTunes, SoundCloud, Stitcher, and TuneIn.

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

Women's Fiction Beach Reads

Make an escapist getaway with the Women’s Fiction and Chick Lit Beach Reads giveaway!

Satire Giveaway

Get your rebel on and tickle your funny bone with the Politically Incorrect Satire giveaway!

Sizzling Suspense Banner

Celebrate the heat with the Sizzling Summer Suspense Stories giveaway!