#AdjunctLife: The Real-Life Inspirations Behind “Permanent Position”

Hi All!

I am almost, almost ready to launch Permanent Position. Hurray! Doing the audiobook slowed me down considerably, but I’m hoping to have the launch for both the ebook and audiobook versions by the end of the month. Expect heartfelt requests for reviews to come rolling your way soon :).

Permanent Position Audiobook Image

The artwork for the audiobook

Like the other books in the Doctor Rowena Halley SeriesPermanent Position is fiction, but fiction drawn heavily from real-world experiences. The germ for the plot came from a request for help I got, back when I was still adjuncting, from an American man who had married a Belarusian woman and gotten involved in a nasty custody battle with her over their son. She had taken the boy back to Belarus and was refusing to give the father access to him.

I sent him some information about people and organizations who specialized in Belarus, and never heard from him again. But I always wondered what happened, and what the true story was. The man who contacted me represented himself as the victim, but I always had my doubts. He had probably married a mail-order bride, right? At least that’s what it seemed like to me. So that’s the story I went with in Permanent Position.

Many of the side plots, secondary characters, and recurring motifs throughout the book are also taken from life. The $3,200/course that Rowena earns while teaching at UNC-Matthews is the average pay per course for adjuncts in North Carolina. UNC-Matthews is fictional, but many of the experiences Rowena has there are based on my own experiences at various North Carolina institutions. The half-finished campus, the confusing or missing signage and students showing up for the wrong class, the lack of administrative support, and the precarious position of instructors and students waiting to see if a course will fill up enough to be held, are all things I’ve witnessed from both sides of the lectern, and not just in North Carolina.

Similarly, Rowena’s harrowing experiences with applications, interviews, and job offers are loosely based on things that happened to me too. The only thing that’s completely fictional is the presence of a sort-of-good, sort-of-sleazy Provost who may or may not be willing and able to help Rowena out.

The sexual harassment that follows Rowena wherever she goes is taken directly from my own experiences, some of it verbatim, so to speak. The proposition and all the intense “appreciation” Rowena receives while walking around in her “cold-weather burka,” and the construction crew who set up their scaffolding to be able to look directly into the women’s restroom are both taken straight from life, alas. As she says, the more she wears, the more attention she gets.

On a related note, the lecture Fatima gives Rowena about how Islam is a very liberal religion, a very good religion for women, and allows a career as long as you have your husband’s permission, was something an acquaintance once told me, and seemed too good not to share. The same acquaintance kept assuring me that she wasn’t gathering money for al Qaeda as I drove her around town to meet with potential donors to the Muslim charity she was representing. That also seems too good to waste, so I’m sure I’ll work it into a later book in the series. (For the record, this acquaintance was a lovely person and, as far as I know, not affiliated with al Qaeda in any way).

I’ve already written about how Rowena’s ex-fiance Dima is based heavily on real life. The Battle for the Donetsk Airport that he covers in Permanent Position was a real battle, and Givi and Dmytro Yarosh, the people he interviews, are also both real. Dima’s experience of being caught and tortured by Ukrainian forces who believe him to be a Russian spy is based on something similar that may have happened to Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko, who, in one of those amusing little ironies, is ardently anti-Russia and pro-Ukraine.

I could keep going, but you get the general drift. Like all fiction, Permanent Position is all about reality, but a reality that’s been carefully curated to create a coherent and satisfying narrative. It’s not a memoir, but I was heavily influenced by the genres of memoir and “documentary novel” as I composed it. And so, like those genres, it’s supposed to be a little slice of real life, one that has been framed in order to create art, but still open-ended, the way reality always is.

And now it’s time for this week’s selection of giveaways!

Crime & Thriller KU

Haven’t read Campus Confidential, book #1 in the series, yet? You can pick up it and many other books in the Crime, Mystery & Thriller KU book promo. All books are free to read on Kindle Unlimited!

Foreign Exchange Cover

And if you haven’t gotten Foreign Exchange, the prequel novella, you can grab it and lots of other books completely FREE in the International Espionage and Spy Thrillers book giveaway!

 

Edge of Your Seat Thrillers

And finally, check out the Edge of Your Seat Thrillers & Suspense giveaway!

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!

 

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!