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

 

 

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!

 

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!

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

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

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

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

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

To get Campus Confidential free on Kindle click here.

To visit the OWS CyCon site click here.

Mystery Shorts Banner

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

 

 

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

Greetings All!

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

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

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

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

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

Foreign Exchange Podcast Image

The podcast is currently freely available on SoundCloud and iTunes.

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

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

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

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

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

Mysteries & Thrillers in Exotic Locales

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

International Action Thrillers

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

May-Day's Murder and Mystery Tour

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

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

Hi Everyone!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giveaways!

International Action Thrillers.png

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

May-Day's Murder and Mystery Tour

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

Mysteries & Thrillers in Exotic Locales

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

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