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Monday, September 09, 2019

How can I not quote this lovely review?

I already posted the link to author Kathryn Blade's advance review of What Heals the Heart on Facebook and Twitter, but I can't resist highlighting some bits of it here. Getting a review like this ranks high among the joys of being an author.

After saying some nice thing about the book's handling of its time period, the setting, the characters, the love story, the plot, and the writing style, Blade goes on:

"My world felt right while reading this book, as if I’d found an old friend and sat for a while to drink coffee and chat about life or love.

"I give What Heals the Heart five out of five stars. It is one of the best modern historical romances I have read in recent years. . . .

Ms. Wyle, if you’re out there reading this, just know I’m a huge fan now."

I'm reading it. And I'm teary-eyed, and very grateful.

(P.S. Here's the preorder link.)

Monday, September 02, 2019

Another (longer) excerpt from What Heals the Heart -- a difficult childbirth

Today's excerpt from What Heals the Heart, my upcoming historical romance, comes about one-fifth of the way in. It shows Joshua at work once again, in a more dramatic context than the excerpt I posted earlier. It also shows another reason, besides haunting wartime memories, that Joshua might hesitate about seeking a wife.

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The farmer stood in Joshua’s doorway twisting his hat. “It’s been more than two days, and the baby’s not come yet. She’s had three before, and no trouble. She didn’t want to send for you, said it’s women’s business, but . . . I finally told her I was coming to fetch you.”

Joshua gulped down the cold coffee he always kept on hand. He would need all his wits about him this night. “You go on back to your wife and tell her I’m on my way.”

Heading to the livery stable for his horse, Joshua ruminated on the ironies of his practice where babies were concerned. Some families, generally the wealthier ones or those determined to show how modern they were, would call him in when the woman’s mother and sisters or a midwife could handle things perfectly well. Others, like this farmer’s wife, resisted the idea past the point of reason, sending for him only when things had become desperate.

He had delivered one dead baby. That had left him with a wholly different nightmare his brain could use to torture him. But so far, he hadn’t lost a mother.

The coffee had cleared his head enough for him to notice his surroundings. He led Nellie-girl out into the balmy spring night and imagined the farmer saying, years from now, to a little boy or girl, “It was a fine night like this one when you come into the world . . . .”

Nellie-girl hadn’t been out for three days, so she had energy to spare, frisking about and then cantering along at a good clip. They got to the farm only a few minutes after the farmer. An older woman waited in the yard as Joshua rode up, a shawl wrapped around her and her arms crossed tight on her chest. “My daughter’s upstairs. We’ve sent the young ‘uns to my sister’s. I think maybe the baby’s turned wrong way around.”

Joshua followed the woman so close that he almost tripped on her heels. “Did her water break?”

“This mornin’.”

Joshua cursed silently to himself. There was some chance of turning the baby, but it would have been a bigger chance if her water hadn’t broken. Whatever her mother had noticed that clued her in, it was a damn shame she hadn’t noticed it sooner.

A hoarse cry, like a grunt but louder and longer and higher, came from down the hall as they reached the second floor. A woman in labor, if she made noise at all, could sound like nothing else Joshua had heard or imagined. It sent prickles down his spine. And if he didn’t school his imagination, he would be picturing women he knew, girls at Mamie’s or shopkeeper’s wives or the usually self-contained Miss Brook, in the throes of such suffering.

Just before he entered the room, the older woman clutched his wrist and faced him, with all the fear she must have been hiding from her daughter writ plain on her face. “Can you save my baby? Can you bring her baby into the world?”

Maybe, by the time he’d been a doctor for twenty years, he’d have a better feel for whether to lie. He could hardly say, “I have no idea.” Even “I hope to God I can” was probably not enough. So he said, “That’s what I’m here to do.”

If he failed to do it, she could curse him later. He moved around her and headed for his patient. His patients.

He plunked his bag on the floor and pulled out his smock, shrugging it on. Even an easy birth was a messy business. Then he approached the bed. The laboring woman seemed oblivious to his presence until he bent to take her hand. “I’m Doc Gibbs. I’m here to help.”

She lay there pale and sweaty, the bedclothes under and around her all rucked up from her thrashing about. She squeezed his hand so tight he thought another contraction was starting, but her face showed only exhaustion and worry, no pain. She said hoarsely, “Ma thinks the baby’s coming out wrong. Is it?”

“I’ll find out.” He gently moved the bedclothes away from her. “I’m going to be touching your belly now.” She nodded weakly.

He ran his hands over her, pressed lightly here and there. “Your ma appears to be right.” He hesitated. “I’d like to take a look down where the baby’s coming, to see how far along you are in opening the way. And I may need to touch you there, to be sure.”

She turned away, her face contorted in protest — or in pain. Another contraction was starting. The pillows muffled her words, but he could hear. “Must you?”

“I should. I really should. I need to know how much time we have to get this baby turned around.”

She gritted her teeth and nodded. A moan, almost a wail, escaped her as he squatted down and examined the birth canal. She was almost fully dilated. Not much time, then.

He stood back up and bent over the woman. “I’m going to be pressing on your belly where the baby is, to get it head down.” He had been concentrating too hard to notice who else was near, but now he looked around and found the woman’s mother hovering in the doorway. “Do you have any wine or spirits? It would relax her and help me with what I need to do.”

The mother turned and called an order to some unseen member of the household. While he waited, Joshua told his patient, “It’ll probably take a few minutes. And it may hurt some of that time. I’m sorry about that.”

The woman actually chuckled. “Well, won’t that be a change. This has just been a picnic so far.”

He smiled back as best he could. Just then a boy came up to the woman’s mother with a glass of dark red wine. Joshua retreated while the mother brought the glass to the bed, helping her daughter sit up enough to drink. “Take it slow, now,” Joshua cautioned her. It’d do no good for her to vomit it up again.

She got most of it down before another contraction started. He waited while she moaned and panted. When she finally relaxed against the pillows, he stepped forward and got started, feeling for the hard smoothness of the head and the narrower bump of the buttocks. It was hard to make himself push firmly enough, knowing it was hurting her, but there was no way around it.

She let out a cry and then grabbed a handful of blanket and stuffed it in her mouth. Joshua pressed steadily with both hands, trying to push exactly as hard with both.

“There we go!” He could feel the baby starting to change position. But damn! There came another contraction. If the cord was in the wrong place during it, the contraction could squeeze it shut . . . .

The seconds might have dragged even more slowly for Joshua than for the moaning woman in the bed. When the abdominal muscles finally relaxed, he got to work again, pushing harder, terrified of the next contraction.

Slowly, slowly . . . and then a little faster . . . the baby yielded to his efforts. As it turned more crossways, the woman let out a shriek. But in a moment more, the baby was moving toward vertical again, this time with the head down where it should be.

Now he had to see whether the baby would stay in position. This process didn’t always take. Sometimes, for whatever reason, maybe the same reason the baby had been breech in the first place, the baby turned butt-down again. But that was the one good thing about this happening so late, with contractions coming every couple of minutes. The baby wouldn’t have much room or time to maneuver itself back into danger.

And twenty minutes later, Joshua got to see a purple head with just a wisp of hair appear, and recede again, and finally crown.



Downstairs again, Joshua collapsed in a kitchen chair while the older woman fixed him a sandwich. He had already removed his smock and rolled it up tight, clean side out. He’d rinse it as best he could once he got home, then take it to Li Chang later in the morning.

The new mother was weak from her ordeal, and her vital signs could have been more reassuring. The baby had been quick to cry and pink up, but its movements were on the sluggish side. He couldn’t say either patient was out of the woods just yet, but all he said to the family was to come get him right away if the mother started bleeding much or either of them came down with fever. He’d come back tomorrow evening, after all concerned had gotten some sleep, to see how things were going.

There were still a few stars overhead when he pulled himself back aboard Nellie-girl and turned her toward home. All over, for now, until the next time. . . . A thought struck him so sudden that he pulled up on Nellie-girl’s reins, startling a neigh out of her. He patted her neck in apology and loosened the reins again. The next time, if Mrs. Blum’s schemes actually came to anything, it might be his own wife lying in a bed, moaning and screaming and tossing around, trying her hardest to bring their baby into the world.

Did every husband, every father-to-be, wonder if it was worth the risk?

Would he be even more terrified than he had been on the battlefield, or assisting the doctors afterward, trying to keep yet one more soldier from dying?

And if the worst happened, would he ever forgive himself for putting the woman he loved in that fatal danger?

When he finally stumbled up the stairs to his rooms, he no longer cared enough to bother with the smock and planned to fall straight into bed. But instead, he found himself looking for the letter he’d gotten from his mother the week before, and reading it over, and kissing her signature.

She had been through all that, or at least something like it, for his sake. And he’d never thought to thank her for it. If he had had the strength to hold a pen and produce recognizable words, he would have written her right now. Instead, he laid the letter on the table where he ate his breakfasts, so he couldn’t possibly forget.

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Reminder: the book comes out on October 15, 2019, and may be preordered at this (worldwide) link.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Excerpt from What Heals the Heart -- Joshua and Clara actually meet

Let's start the week with another excerpt from my upcoming historical romance What Heals the HeartThe reader and Joshua have seen Clara. Now it's time for the two of them to meet.

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“Boot blacking, coffee, cornmeal, flour, soap. Put it on your tab?”
“Thank you kindly.” The suggestion would, in fact, save him some embarrassment. His patients had lately been paying in roast chickens, bacon, cream, potatoes, even horseshoes — all welcome and useful items, but it left him short of coin.
“And you’ve got a letter.”
This would take some juggling. Joshua picked up the envelope first, opening it and extracting the letter, tucking the envelope into his vest and laying the letter on the counter. Next, he grabbed the sack full of supplies in his left hand and picked up the letter in his right. That left him without a way to tip his hat, so he nodded his goodbye and walked out, glancing at the letter as he went. Major, idling in the street, jumped up to follow.
Joshua knew he had not been a satisfactory correspondent. The last letter to his mother in which he had mentioned anything of actual importance had been the letter he sent on his way west, trying to explain why he had felt compelled to leave his family and his home so far behind. Even as he sent that letter on its way, he had known it would fail in its mission. What he had been unable to say to her face, he had been equally unable to put into words on paper. Either would have required that he call to mind, and then stain her memory forever by recounting, the life he had lived as a soldier and a medic. Without that understanding, how could she understand how unreal and hollow the civilized life of Philadelphia had become for him?
His mother still wrote every two weeks, however, and he’d been awaiting her latest for several days. Now he saw what had kept her busy. His middle sister’s baby had come — except it was twins! A boy and a girl. He could imagine his younger and oldest sisters knitting madly to deal with the surprise.
As for his father — what? He was writing a book?
Joshua had been paying just enough attention to where he was going that he didn’t trip on the planks in the street or walk in front of any horses. But not enough, it turned out, to avoid walking smack into someone. He started backward, dropping his sack, and stammered apologies, while Major added to the confusion by circling the scene and barking loudly.
His victim, Joshua realized, was the tall green-eyed woman he had seen in the street the day he first met Mrs. Blum. She had managed to stay on her feet and now stooped to help him retrieve his groceries, whisking them away from Major’s investigative sniffing. Her hands looked strong, with long fingers; it took her almost no time to fill his sack again. She stood up, neither smiling nor frowning, and handed him the sack. “I hope that isn’t bad news in your hand.”
He tried to pull himself together enough to answer her. “Uh, no, not bad news. Just news. Babies. Two of them. That is, my sister just had twins.”
The woman’s eyes widened. “Congratulations to your sister! I’m sure she’ll cope splendidly.”
An interesting way to put it. Was she speaking from experience, and if so, her own or someone else’s?
Manners! What would his mother — or for that matter, Freida Blum — say? “I beg your pardon. I’m Joshua Gibbs.”
The woman tilted her head slightly and nodded in what might, unlikely as it seemed, be approval. “The doctor. I’ve heard of you. People speak well of you.”
Did they? He supposed they might. The comment left him feeling absurdly pleased. With some difficulty, he suppressed a foolish grin.
He was becoming curious about the woman’s identity, but accidental assault was hardly the basis for him to ask about it. She took pity on him and volunteered the information. “My name is Clara Brook. We’re recent arrivals. Our farm is a little over four miles to the southwest.” He was not that good at accents, but thought she might have grown up in or near Kentucky.
Joshua had about an hour before he needed to be back for his afternoon office hours. How much money did he have on him? He’d grabbed a few coins in case he needed them at the general store. It should be enough, at least if he held himself to a single scoop without toppings. “May I buy you an ice cream? As an apology for my inexcusable carelessness?”
Miss Brook looked at him gravely. “Hardly inexcusable. I’ve seen —” She cut off the comment and said instead, “Thank you. That would be very nice.” Not a fan of hyperbole, it seemed, in others or in her own speech. Joshua led the way, in case Miss Brook had not yet learned the ice cream parlor’s location. Major had apparently decided to adopt her, trotting by her side rather than his master’s. When they reached their destination, Miss Brook paused and gestured toward the dog. “Does he accompany us or no?”
Joshua shook his head, having decided previously that ice cream was unlikely to be a good addition to Major’s diet. Miss Brook then startled Joshua by snapping her fingers toward Major and pointing to a position near the window. Major immediately sat.
The clerk at the ice cream parlor looked at Joshua with some surprise as they entered. Joshua asked Miss Brook’s preference, ordered her single scoop of strawberry along with his own vanilla, paid — narrowly escaping the embarrassment of coming up short — and carried both plates to the little table next to the window.
Now what? Well, she knew he had sisters, one of them with new additions to her family. Surely he could ask after similar details, at least indirectly. “How have you and your . . . your family been finding Cowbird Creek? Is it what you hoped, when you decided to settle here?”
Somehow it failed to surprise him when she avoided a conventional response. “I wouldn’t say we know enough, yet, to answer that question. Or perhaps I should say we didn’t have very specific expectations. My parents wanted to buy land, to leave my brother someday, and there was land for purchase here. It’s a deal of work for the four of us, but we’re used to work.”
A brother, but no sisters — at least none still at home. It was unlikely she’d lost sisters in the War of Rebellion, but she might have had more brothers before that long and bloody nightmare. All through his childhood, he had wished he had brothers instead of, or in addition to, three sisters. That wish, too, had died in the war.
It was Joshua’s turn to say something, but nothing came to mind. Miss Brook did not seem to be one of those women who could set a man to talking. Or maybe she chose not to do so. He could think of only one inane question. “What are you growing, or raising?”
Her left eyebrow twitched upward. “The usual, I suppose. Corn, oats. I have some interest in planting winter wheat, but my father has not yet agreed. I have a vegetable garden, though I’m still getting accustomed to the weather and how it affects what I can grow. We raise hogs — and chickens, of course, but mainly for our own eggs and our own pot.”
He might be carrying home some of those eggs, some day. They would be good eggs, he’d wager — he guessed she took good care of the hens.
Before he could come up with some other conversational gambit, she asked him, “What’s the most surprising thing about Cowbird Creek? Something we wouldn’t have had a chance to learn yet?”
There was a question he hadn’t heard before. “Hmm. Let me think.” Madam Mamie’s establishment was tonier than some, but even if that counted as surprising, he could hardly mention it. And the presence of a Jewish widow was unusual, but he doubted Mrs. Blum would appreciate being held up as a local oddity. “Our Chinese laundryman struck it rich — well, maybe not rich, but close — in the California gold fields.”
Miss Brook smiled, the first smile he’d seen from her, but quickly went grave again. “I don’t think I’ll mention it to my brother. He used to hanker after the gold fields himself, and I’d be sorry to remind him.”
She had finished her ice cream, and he needed to be back for any patients needing him. He took a final spoonful of his own and stood up. “Miss Brook, it’s been a pleasure, despite my regrettable way of introducing myself. I’m sure I’ll be seeing you again.”
That eyebrow twitched again. “I agree. Though I hope it won’t be in your professional capacity.”
Cursing his clumsy tongue, he bowed and escaped back to territory where he was less likely to put a foot wrong.

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Here, as usual, is the preorder link.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Next excerpt from What Heals the Heart -- Joshua meets Freida, would-be matchmaker

This next in my series of pre-release excerpts for What Heals the Heart follows immediately after the previous one. Here, the reader meets Freida Blum, elderly (by her standards, at least) Jewish widow from New York, who will spend much of the book trying to match Joshua up with one woman after another, none of whom will be Clara Brook.

I'm an Ashkenazi Jew, descendant of immigrants from Poland and Germany and first generation American-born, so Freida is woven together from traces of various relatives in my parents' and (mostly) grandparents' generation (along with other sources such as Borscht Belt Jewish comedians from decades past).

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Joshua made the blacksmith drink down the first glass of water and powder before he left with a pouch holding six more doses. Whether he’d keep taking it, well, that was the blacksmith’s problem, for now anyway.

There was no one waiting, but before Joshua had time to do more than take a book down from the shelf, the door opened and a woman walked in. No, more like sailed in, a proud vessel, a four-master. She took off her coat to reveal a well-tailored dress, fitting snugly on her large, well-upholstered frame. Her graying, wavy hair peeked out from under a truly astonishing hat.

He hadn’t met this woman, but he believed he’d heard about her. Another newcomer to town, from somewhere back east; a widow; and apparently Jewish. That’d make her the first Jew he’d met.
She held out her hand. “Doctor! I’m so pleased to be meeting you. I’m Freida Blum.”

He shook her hand, studying her. He’d never heard her accent before, or not quite. It wasn’t as thick as the accent of that German he’d tended the last year of the war, when he’d turned medic; he could understand her without straining. But “Doctor” ended in a rough, husky sound, and “meeting” sounded more like “meetink.” There was something different about her vowels that he couldn’t put a word to. And her speech had a rhythm and a melody to it, almost like singing, or chanting anyway.

But here he was standing and gawking when he needed to be doctoring. “Please come through to the back and sit up on that table. Then you can tell me what brings you in today.”

She strode after him, passed him, and got on the table with a little jump, the wood creaking as she landed. “Oh, I’ve just had some aches and pains, here and there. And I get tired by afternoon. My age, you don’t expect to feel like a spring chicken. But I thought I’d stop in.”

She was studying him quite as much as he’d studied her. Whatever she’d heard about him, he guessed it was her curiosity more than any medical need that had sent her his way. But he’d check her over. He picked up his stethoscope.

“So young, for a doctor! But that’s just an old woman talking, I suppose.” (He wouldn’t call her old, exactly. Not quite. She might be in her middle fifties or a little older.)

Speaking of talking, she would need to stop. “If you could just take a deep breath, and then another, while I listen to your lungs.”

“Of course, of course. How can you do your job —” (“yure chob”) — “when I’m rattling on like a freight train? Samuel always said to me, Freida, the way you talk, when do you manage to breathe?”

“Mrs. Blum. Please.”

Praise be, she stopped talking and took deep breaths as he commanded. Her lungs sounded good. But she winced as she took the third breath. And she put a hand to her back as if it was paining her. She might have her reasons for being there, at that.

Or she could be lonely. Lonely people without enough to do sometimes felt sicker than they really were. “What do you do during the day, generally?”

The woman beamed at him as if rewarding the question. “I sew for so many people! This dress, I made it. All I have to do is walk around town, it’s as good as putting an ad in the paper. And I’m setting up the social library in the schoolhouse, me and the teacher, such a bright young woman. And my little neighbor, she’s like a daughter to me, I take care of her babies sometimes so she can get her rest.”

Not idle, then.

He pressed the stethoscope to her ample chest, giving thanks once again to the inventor who had spared him the even more awkward necessity of putting his ear there instead. Her heart sounded good — or did it? There might be a faint suggestion of a galloping rhythm.

Laudanum would help her with those aches and pains. He reached for a bottle, but Mrs. Blum stopped him, exclaiming, “Oh, I have that at home! May I come to you for more when I run out?”

Joshua pointed next door. “I get mine from the pharmacist. You can do the same.”

A shade of what might have been disappointment crossed her face. For whatever reason, she apparently found doctors more interesting than druggists. Her next questions suggested as much. “How did you learn so much about medicine? Did you go to one of those new schools?”

He shook his head. “I picked it up during the war, to start with.” And that was all he was going to say about those years of floundering and failing, the lives lost all around him, the suffering he could do little to ease.

The bell on the front door jingled a welcome chance to escape more questioning. Maybe he’d be summoned to some nicely far-off homestead to attend a stolid farmer, someone who had less to say for himself. “Excuse me, Mrs. Blum.” Without waiting for an answer, he stepped back into the front room to see a familiar face, a farmer’s youngest son, shifting his weight from foot to foot, his hands clutched together in front. The boy’s hair was wet — it must have started to rain since Joshua’s sunny morning walk. Good news for the farmers.

“Please, doc, we need you to come see to Paw. He was sharpening the coulter for the plow, and it fell over on his leg. It’s cut something awful.”

Joshua’s lips tightened, and he barely avoided a frown. That’s what wishing brought you. You’d think he’d learn. “I’ll get my bag.”


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Amazon preorder link here.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

A question for those who like cool t-shirts

I've been reading Kristine Kathryn Rusch's fascinating series of posts about the licensing of story elements, and it led me to a related notion: putting book covers on t-shirts myself (via Redbubble, probably).

That would, however, require me to obtain a merchandising license for stock images I licensed myself, as I didn't purchase the extended license required for merchandise, and/or obtaining permission from the cover designer. That means spending money to maybe, eventually, make a little money. So I need to know which cover designs are cool enough to appeal to people who've never read, and may never read, one of my books.

Please let me know which, if any, of these covers you'd consider wearing or giving to someone!










You can respond by comment here, or by replying to the Facebook and Twitter posts where I'm putting the link to this post, or by emailing me at kawyle@att.net. Thanks for any feedback you can send!

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Excerpt from What Heals the Heart: first look at Doctor Joshua Gibbs doctoring

Next in my series of excerpts from What Heals the Heart: a look inside Joshua's medical practice. It should give you an idea of what kind of doctor he is, not to mention his willingness to learn from those outside his usual social circle.

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 Two patients were waiting outside his door when he opened it. He steered the blacksmith, who seemed the steadier on his feet of the two, not to mention the one who wouldn’t get ruffled about waiting, to a chair and took the sheriff into the back where he’d set up his exam table and instruments.

The sheriff hoisted his considerable bulk up onto the table. “My belly’s been aching considerable.”

Joshua noted the sheriff’s flushed color and straining suspenders. “And just what have you been putting into that belly of late?”

The sheriff shrugged sheepishly. “You know Ma’s pork chops and creamed corn, and her molasses pie. You had vittles like that waiting at home, you’d eat too much of ‘em, I reckon.”

“Well, roll up your left sleeve.” Joshua picked up the lancet and gave the sheriff the pan to hold. He didn’t hold with bleeding patients for many ailments, but this seemed like one of the times it might help. And most of his patients believed it would, which could make a difference in itself.

When the pan held a sufficient quantity of blood, he took it to throw away later and bandaged the arm. “Take it easy on that pie, now.” He grinned. “You can bring some by my place, to remove temptation.”

The sheriff snorted as he slid off the table and made his way toward the front of the office, swaying a bit as he went. Joshua followed him to make sure he stayed on his feet, then looked around for the blacksmith. But the chair was empty. Just then, his fugitive patient hurried back in. “Sorry, doc. Had to run to the outhouse, like I’ve been doing every few minutes for two days now. Can you fix me up?”

Joshua stroked his chin. “I just might have something that’ll help you.” He fetched a glass jar half full of powder, powder he ground up from the plant that Cherokee medicine man had shown him. The blacksmith watched, his forehead wrinkled and eyebrows lowered.

“What in tarnation is that?”

Joshua laughed. “Darned if I know what it’s called, except in Indian talk. But it works better than anything I can say in English.”

The blacksmith was shaking his big head. Joshua held up a hand, palm out. “Now before you go blustering at me, you should know those folks have some pretty good remedies. Living the way they do, they notice things. Tell me, how many people around here have got milk sickness lately?”

The blacksmith just looked confused. Joshua suppressed a sigh. “I haven’t had a patient with milk sickness since I came to town. And you know why? It’s because a doctor who listened to Indians did some listening when a Shawnee woman told him —” It had actually been a lady doctor, Doctor Anna, but Joshua didn’t think the blacksmith could swallow that idea when just the idea of Indian medicine was sticking in his craw. “This woman told him that milk sickness came from drinking milk or eating meat from an animal that fed on white snakeroot. And that doctor told people, who told people, and now most farmers know to keep their stock away from white snakeroot. Now do you want me to give you something that’ll help you, or would you rather move into the outhouse and try to shoe horses there?”

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Again, here's the preorder link.

Friday, August 09, 2019

Short excerpt from What Heals the Heart -- Joshua's first glimpse of Clara

I'll continue to dribble out excerpts until October 15, 2019, when my historical romance What Heals the Heart goes live. This will be one of the shortest -- small town doctor Joshua Gibbs' first glimpse of Clara Brook, newcomer to Cowbird Creek, Nebraska.

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Joshua had by now lived in Cowbird Creek long enough to take particular notice of any new face. So when he saw a woman heading into the general store and realized he could not remember seeing her before, he stopped and took a second look. Besides her being unfamiliar, Joshua’s first impression was that she was tall for a woman, and next, that she was thin, her plainly cut dress doing nothing to disguise the fact. As she turned into the store, he caught a glimpse of striking green eyes and a long dark braid hanging beneath her simple bonnet — darker than Joshua’s own, almost black.

A farmer, one of Joshua’s patients, was lounging nearby while one of his sons argued with the blacksmith about how long it took to shoe a carthorse. Noting the direction of Joshua’s glance, he spat some tobacco juice and said, “That’d be the daughter on that farm that changed hands last month. Skinnier’n you, ain’t she?”

Given the farmer’s girth, his view of what it meant to be “skinny” was somewhat skewed. Joshua would describe himself as lean. The farmer, meanwhile, added, “Owners gave up fighting the drought and went back east. I heard something about these folks renting land somewhere else and coming here to buy their own place. Got some kind of funny name, Crick or Stream or suchlike.”

With that pronouncement, the farmer straightened up and went in to relieve his son in the dispute with the blacksmith. Joshua pulled out his pocket watch and hurried along.


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Just to make it easy for anyone intrigued by this or future excerpts, I'll always include the preorder link.