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

A Hard Dame is Good to Find Header

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.

Thrillers, Mystery & Suspense

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.

Meet My Main Character, Rowena Halley

Hi All! Today I thought I’d introduce everyone to the main character of my new academic suspense series. But first, if you haven’t already picked up a free Advance Review Copy of Campus Confidential, the first book in the series, you can get get it and dozens of other free thriller and suspense books in the Mystery and Suspense Giveaway, which will be running until January 31.

thrillers, mystery, and suspense

I’ll be doing character sketches of all my recurring characters in the series, and today I’m starting with Rowena Halley, PhD, the main viewpoint character. So without further ado, here you go:

Rowena Arwen Halley

Born 1980. Grew up largely in Georgia, where she spent much of her childhood in a commune loosely modeled off The Farm in Tennessee. Her parents met while serving together in the Peace Corps and are unrepentant hippies, although they did go mainstream enough to get advanced degrees; Rowena’s mother is a medical doctor and her father is a social worker. Both of them work in a non-profit addiction clinic in Atlanta at the opening of the series, although they later go off to do a stint with Doctors Without Borders.

Rowena is “Black Irish,” meaning she has dark hair and light eyes. In Campus Confidential she mentions a couple of times that people thinks she looks vaguely like Elizabeth Taylor, only taller and with a yoga body. In my mind she looks a bit like the actress Tara Breathnach:

tara breathnach 1

Rowena’s dark hair and light eyes, combined with her exotic-to-Russian-ears name of Halley (“Khalli”), frequently cause her Russian-speaking acquaintances to assume that she is Pashtun. This causes a number of amusing interchanges.

tara breathnach 2

Rowena’s first name is from Ivanhoe and her middle name is from The Lord of the Rings, in keeping with her parents’ 1970s hippie ethos. Her last name is my nod to Dick Francis’s recurring character Sid Halley, which is also the inspiration for my own pen name.

Rowena graduated from the University of Georgia in 2002 with a BA in Russian. She then spent 2002-2008 working for a human rights NGO in Moscow, where she acted as an election observer and gathered the stories of refugees and victims of political repression, particularly those affected by the Second Chechen War. During this time she met and became engaged to opposition journalist Dmitry Vladimirovich Kuznetsov, AKA Dima.

In 2008 Rowena, with the encouragement of Dima’s mother Galina Ivanovna, enrolled in a PhD program in Russian literature at Indiana University. The plan was for her to have steady long-term employment that would ideally allow Dima and Galina Ivanovna to join her in the US. Instead, the engagement was called off by Dima in January 2014.

Rowena defended her dissertation and graduated in Spring 2014. The first book in the series, Campus Confidential, begins in Fall 2014.

Rowena’s dissertation was on the Silver Age (early 20th century) poet Marina Tsvetaeva.


Marina Tsvetaeav

Since I seriously considered writing my own dissertation on Tsvetaeva, this gave me a nice opportunity to engage in a little more Tsvetaeva research. It also provides a connection between Rowena and Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya


Anna Politkovskaya

(assassinated October 2006), who wrote her thesis on Tsvetaeva; opposition journalists are a major theme in the series and Politkovskaya gets name-dropped from time to time.

Tsvetaeva’s “Magdalene” cycle plays a significant role in the series (translations to come, I hope). Rowena’s association with it is one of the things that mark her as a Sacred Prostitute. The theme of prostitution comes up repeatedly in the books, with Rowena contemplating it as a career and comparing what she does now to prostitution. Rowena is associated both with Mary Magdalene and with other Sacred Prostitutes in Russian literature, notably Dostoevsky’s Sonya Marmemaledova from Crime and Punishment and Liza from Notes from Underground. Dostoevsky’s The Idiot is also a recurring theme, so there may be a hint of the wronged Nastasya Filippovna from that book as well.

Fun fact: Rowena’s repeated thoughts of taking up stripping and prostitution are based on my own real-life experiences! Several of my childhood friends became strippers, and, like Rowena, I have a long-running semi-joke with some of my colleagues about taking up stripping as being more lucrative and dignified than academia.

So now you’ve met Rowena! And once again, that link to the giveaway is here.

thrillers, mystery, and suspense