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

Karma Not-So-Chameleon: The Moral Arc Underpinning “Campus Confidential” (And New Giveaways!)

Hi All! It’s a lovely spring day and I’m feeling a tiny bit better (for those who don’t know, I have a serious long-term illness) than I have been, so it seems like a great time to play some cheery music. Namely, this insidious earworm:

 

You can thank me later for filling your head with this song all day

Fun fact: I moved to Russia in the early 90s, where I got to experience Western decadence such as MTV for the first time! Yes! Clearly I will have to share that little story at some point. “Karma Chameleon” was one of the songs that MTV Europe’s 80s hour played on heavy rotation. I’ve had a fondness for it ever since.

Anyway, enough with the musical interludes. Since I, like my heroine Rowena, am a professor with a doctorate in literature, it should come as no surprise that my books are full of structure, themes, motifs, wordplay, allusions, and everything else you might think of in the way of literary flourishes. So today I thought I’d show you, my special readers, a little of the chassis and undercarriage of “Campus Confidential.”

campus confidential front cover with baskerville

Only a little over a month till the release date!

For those of you who haven’t read it yet, “Campus Confidential” is about a newly-minted PhD and contingent faculty member who gets caught up in both the usual sorts of bad things faculty deal with–bullying, poverty, self-doubt, lack of job security–and some special bad stuff involving crime and violence. Although crime and violence are certainly plenty prevalent on college campuses. A large percentage of Rowena’s experiences are taken more or less directly from real life.

That being said, while a lot of the details of “Campus Confidential” are based on some pretty gritty realities, the overall structure of the story is that of a fairy tale. Rowena is the fairy tale heroine taken away from her home and thrown into a bad situation. Like many fairy tale heroines, her heroism is not in her strength of arms but in her strength of moral character. Repeatedly throughout the story she encounters people who are in some way her social inferiors, who show no immediate ability to help her on her quest, and who may be actively annoying–e.g., rude students, street harassers, difficult bosses, and so on. Every time, she wrestles with how to treat these people, and every time she decides to give in to her better nature and treat them with kindness and understanding.

Rowena thus moves through the narrative generating more and more good karma (here’s that video again, in case you missed it the first time around): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JmcA9LIIXWw

In the final denouement, her good karma comes back to save her, just as it does a fairy tale heroine. “Campus Confidential” is a heroic narrative, albeit of a particular sort. It’s a modern-day fairy tale, in which the heroine is living in the “real world” and embedded in real-life current events, and yet also has a toehold in a magical, spiritual realm where dreams sometimes come true and karma is very, definitely, real.

And now, as promised, brand-new giveaways for April!

Cold War, Hot Books Banner

Come join the collective, comrades! Sixteen super-hot spy, suspense, and sexy romance books, all connected to the former USSR! Check it out here.

April Fools' Banner

Laugh it up with the April Fools’ Giveaway!

First in Series Banner

And it’s the last week for the First in Series Giveaway! 115 free series starters!

 

Tall, Dark, and Dangerous: Meet My Main Character’s Dark Double (Plus This Week’s Selection of Book Giveaways)

Hello everyone! It’s been a little while since I’ve posted an update, what with one thing and another. Actually, I was waiting for a good selection of book giveaways to start 🙂 Read down to the bottom to find out what’s going on in that department this week.

Meanwhile, I thought I’d introduce everyone to an important figure in my Dr. Rowena Halley series: Rowena’s older brother John. John gets a walk-on role in the first book in the series, Campus Confidential, but plays a leading role in the second book, Permanent Position, which is currently in progress.

campus confidential front cover with baskerville

You can pick up a *free* Advance Review Copy of Campus Confidential in the First in Series Giveaway going on now!

So what’s this about the tall, dark, and handsome–I mean dangerous–thing? Read on and find out!

John Ivanhoe Elladan Halley

alec baldwin

If it makes you happy, feel free to imagine him as looking sort of like Alec Baldwin

Born 1977. Started at The Citadel 1995. Graduated and commissioned as an officer in the Marine Corps 1999. Deployed to Iraq 2003 with 2nd Marine Division; participated in Battle of Nasiriyah March 2003. Deployed to Camp Fallujah 2005 and 2007. Deployed to Camp Leatherneck in Helmand Province; supposed to pull out in October 2014 (when Campus Confidential is set) but got delayed; only goes on leave in spring 2015 (when Permanent Position is set).

John was originally named Ivanhoe Elladan Halley; like Rowena his first name is from Ivanhoe and his middle name is from The Lord of the Rings (Elladan was Arwen’s older brother). He officially took the first name “John” as an adult, but kept Ivanhoe Elladan as his middle names, although he doesn’t share them his friends and colleagues very often! He chose the name “John” because it’s common and unremarkable. It’s also the first name of Dick Francis’s Sid Halley, whose full name is John Sidney Halley, so along with my own pen name, that’s another nod in that direction.

John is in some ways Rowena’s “dark side.” Like her, he grew up in an alternative community, but he rebelled as hard as he could when he was a teenager, enrolling in The Citadel and then becoming a career Marine. However, as they both come to realize over the course of the series, they have a  lot in common: both are idealists committed to institutions that may or may not be serving their best interests.

A major part of my current “day job” research is on contemporary military prose. One of the fundamental questions that interests me is the effect of war on civilian life. So in order to explore this question and also put some of my research to use, I made a number of the people in Rowena’s life veterans or active-duty service members. Rowena’s civilian status and commitment to pacifism is thus seen against a backdrop of the Forever War and the War on Terror, which is constantly making itself known, along with other major world events.

I made John a Marine mainly because I didn’t know very many Marines, since I didn’t want to be caught in the trap of trying to create a portrait from life without actually turning a real person into one of my fictional characters. But this meant I’ve struggled to come up with realistic details for him, since a major point of the series is its ties to real life and the “real world” of current events. Two good books about Marines that I drew on for details and character motivation are Matt Young’s Eat the Apple and Phil Klay’s Redeployment. I’ve deliberately left a lot of John’s career vague, since I didn’t want to get too caught up in research for things that are only very tangentially related to the story. Of course, if you want to suggest possible career paths for him, feel free 🙂

Like Rowena, John is “Black Irish,” with dark hair and light eyes. But while Rowena is slender and willowy, John is stockier and more muscular, with a buzz cut that reveals that he’s beginning to go gray. Rowena never says whether he is conventionally attractive, but he is subject to near-constant female attention and admiration. Whether this is due to his good looks and charm or his uniform is up for debate, however.

william baldwin

You could also imagine him as looking like William Baldwin, if you prefer

While Rowena is associated with motifs of the Sacred Prostitute, John is the Profane Prostitute, overtly promiscuous and always caught up in ill-advised sexual affairs, normally with married women.

His ambivalent feelings about his status as a sex object is something I borrowed from Phil Klay’s Redeployment. As John says to Rowena in Permanent Position:

“Sometimes I feel like I could have them fuck my uniform, and we’d both be happier. They don’t give a shit about me at all. I’m just a fantasy and a suit of pretty clothes to them.”

“Welcome to being an attractive woman,” I said before I could stop myself.

He laughed. “I walked right into that one, didn’t I? It’s not as much fun as I thought it would be.”

“So stop.”

“I don’t know about that, but I’ll give it a try. I guess. And I guess you’re going to tell me that now I know what it’s like to be you, right? I’m getting in touch with my feminine side, or some shit like that?”

“Mary Wollstonecraft would be so proud of you,” I said.

“Who the fuck is that?”

“An 18th-century feminist scholar who said that both women and soldiers were defined by their clothes.”

***

I found Klay’s description of the experience of being a male sex object very interesting, but thus far male veterans whom I’ve asked about whether they felt sexually objectified have responded mainly with a squeamish lack of understanding. Rowena, however, has the opportunity to contemplate these issues and interrogate her brother about them, even if it makes him uncomfortable.

While John is a secondary character who only appears occasionally in the series, he’s an important foil for Rowena, acting as her Dark Double, as well as coming through for her when times are hard.

So there you have it! Rowena is, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, surrounded by good-looking men, something I feel ambivalent about. But I guess we might as well enjoy it. Meanwhile, check out this week’s selection of book giveaways:

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Speaking of Black Irish…are you feeling lucky? The St. Patrick’s Day Giveaway has tons of books in multiple genres!

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Check out the exciting selection in the New Thrillers of 2019 Giveaway!

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Get started on a new series in the First in Series Giveaway!

Meet My Romantic Rival! Plus this week’s selection of book giveaways

Greetings from Mt. Ararat!

Or at least so it feels as I sit in my perch above my flooded backyard. We’ve been having a deluge of near-Biblical proportions here. It may not have rained for a full forty days and forty nights, but it’s getting close.

Anyway, my upstairs office is still dry–for now. So it seems like a good time to introduce another of my recurring characters to you. This time it will be my *other* leading man! Yes, I have a love triangle going in my Dr. Rowena Halley series. Last time I told you all about Dima, Rowena’s ex-fiance. This time I want to introduce you to Alex, the American who may be sneaking in there while Dima’s back is turned and stealing her heart.

Keep reading for the dirt on Alex, plus a selection of ebook giveaways.

Alexander James Miller

Born 1977. Graduated from UPenn with dual degree in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations and Computer Programming and commissioned in the Navy in 2000 as a Cryptologic Warfare Officer. Kept on active duty longer than usual because of the war and deployed to Iraq in 2004 and 2005. Enrolled in the joint PhD program in History and Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard in 2006 and graduated 2012.

Alex was originally inspired by someone I used to ride the bus with in grad school. I never actually spoke to him, but we sat together almost every day. He was a short, rather dweeby-looking guy with dark golden hair and facial stubble that was all almost the same length. He carried a bag that had patches from various Naval deployments on it. I was always curious about his story, so in Alex I decided to create my own, probably more exciting and romantic, version of it.

'Christopher Robin' European Premiere - VIP Arrivals
LONDON, ENGLAND – AUGUST 05: Ewan McGregor attends the European Premiere of ‘Christopher Robin’ at BFI Southbank on August 5, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Dave J Hogan/Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)
Alex looks only very vaguely like Ewan McGregor in my mind. But that’s the only actor I could think of who looked much like him at all. So we’ll go with that 🙂

When Alex morphed into a more important character and a romantic lead, I had to make him taller, better-looking, and more intense and less dweeby in my mind, but he’s still slender and wiry, and with dark golden hair in a fairly even stubble all over his head and face.

Ewan McGregor 3

Deliberately trying to go for some less polished pictures to convey Alex’s general nature of scruffiness

Alex comes from a privileged upper-middle-class intellectual background. His father was a dean at Temple University, and it was always assumed that Alex would go into academia as well. Like Rowena’s brother John, Alex rebelled against his family’s expectations by running away and joining the military, something that in retrospect he feels very ambivalent about. In Permanent Position, the second book in the series (forthcoming), he describes how he felt after coming home from Iraq (based very loosely on a true story, FYI):

I was really fucked up after I got back from Iraq. Angry at everyone, especially myself. I’m lucky anyone who knew me back then will still speak with me.

That must have been difficult, I texted cautiously. Alex never talked much about his service, other than to say that knowing about it tended to make people jump to unwarranted conclusions about him, and take him as something that he wasn’t.

Mostly my own fault. Of course, the whole thing was mostly my own fault. But when I got back and got out of the service, I wanted to burn my uniform, did I tell you that?

No. You must have had a very difficult time.

S’okay. Other people had much worse times. Especially the Iraqi people we were “liberating.”

It was a difficult thing for everyone.

It was what it was. And when I got back and got out, I took my uniform out to my parents’ backyard and started a fire in our firepit. Because of course we’re the kind of folks who have a poncy outdoor firepit in our backyard. So no pity! So I started up a fire, and my dad came out and saw I had my uniform all laid out next to it, and he was like, “What the hell are you doing, son?” So I told him I was going to burn my fucking uniform, and what I couldn’t burn, I was going to smash with a hammer.

A recurring theme with Alex is people’s expectations vs. reality: he is very aware of the stereotypes about Navy servicemembers and compares himself unfavorably to Chris Kyle, Maverick from Top Gun, and the Richard Gere character in An Officer and a Gentleman. He, on the other hand, claims to have sat out his war writing reports in a broom closet, although judging by his intensely emotional response to his uniform, there may be more to it than that. Stay tuned for more updates!

Like John, Alex also acts as Rowena’s Dark Double sometimes. He is the one who voices a lot of the most vicious critiques of academia and academic culture, saying the things that Rowena can’t bring herself to say. Nonetheless, he finds himself sucked more and more into academic success, partly through his privilege and connections.

***

So there you have it! If you don’t already have a copy of Campus Confidential, the first book in the Dr. Rowena Halley series and the one in which Alex is introduced, you can pick up a free ARC in any of the giveaways listed below. Here’s the cover so that you can recognize it 🙂

campus confidential front cover with baskerville

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The Hard Dame is Good to Find Giveaway is running for a few more days! Dozens of mystery, thriller, and suspense stories, all with female protagonists.

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The Thrillers, Mystery & Suspense Giveaway has a wide variety of thriller and suspense books, free for a limited time!

Best Thrillers

The Best Thrillers Giveaway has thrillers of all subgenres.

campus confidential front cover with baskerville

The Thrillers, Chillers, and Serial Killers Giveaway has thrillers of all subgenres, including mystery, paranormal, and horror.