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Monday, September 30, 2019

The most gratifying aspect of some recent reviews

I'm gradually accumulating pre-release reviews of What Heals the Heart, my first historical romance (also first romance and first historical fiction). They've been quite favorable, which is a delight and a relief. But what I find most gratifying is one common thread.

I have read historical fiction for many years, and historical romance for maybe four or five. Since I started (or if one counts juvenilia, restarted) writing fiction, I've been both intrigued and intimidated by the thought of writing historical fiction. To be sure, I did research for my various science fiction novels, but that somehow seemed less challenging, despite my limited scientific background and knowledge.

So I'm especially gratified that reviews have praised the book's attention to historical detail and the accuracy of same. Somehow, I appear to have pulled it off! Phew!

Now I have to manage as well with the second book in the Cowbird Creek series, which I intend to start writing during this November's National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo). One area I already know I'd like to research: the attitudes of the farmers and townspeople in 1875-1876 Nebraska toward cowbirds. I didn't realize, when writing What Heals the Heart, how negatively many birders and others view cowbirds. Cowbirds lay all their eggs in other birds' nests, to the detriment of the enlisted bird species. I suspect this would matter less to my characters, but I hope to find out if that assumption is correct.

Here's the preorder link, where you can see excerpts from some of those reviews.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Excerpt from What Heals the Heart: the course of true love takes a detour

I don't believe it's a spoiler, in a romance (historical or otherwise), to make clear who ends up with whom. In What Heals the Heart, Joshua and Clara eventually come together. But recall (if you've seen the blurb) that self-proclaimed matchmaker Freida Blum doesn't care for Clara. Here, about a third of the way through the book, one of Freida's attempts seems more successful than those that came before.

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Well, that was a first. Freida had come bearing gifts, generally edible, and she had come to him or asked him to come to her when she felt poorly, but never had she asked him for an actual favor. “One of my customers, a widow, so sad, still so young. She’s been so eager for her new dresses, hers are worn to rags, but the neighbor who was going to bring her into town, he got too busy, I hate to make her wait. Would it be too much trouble, you could take me there tomorrow morning, maybe you have a patient to see on the way?”

He could in fact go see the old woman with a leg abscess, which shouldn’t take too long to drain and bandage. Her son’s place was considerably farther away than the young widow’s farm, but Joshua could deal with the abscess first, and then swing by to deliver the dresses on the way back to town.

Freida took her knitting along — “It’s a lovely day, I’ll be all right in the buggy, finally I’ll get some work done on this shawl” — and they set out, a well-rested Nellie-girl taking them quickly out of town. Freida hailed almost everyone they passed, calling out questions about their news and well-being even though those greeted had little time to answer before they were left behind. She did not, Joshua noticed, greet Clara Brook, apparently out for a walk on the outskirts of town; Joshua took it upon himself to wave instead, tipping his hat and receiving a grave nod in return.

Soon they were out in farm country and passing corn growing tall and green, with tassels stirring in the breeze, and here and there the vivid red flash of a Summer Tanager, all accompanied by the sweetly varied chirps of meadowlarks. Freida kept up a stream of chatter, with the rumbling buggy wheels as counterpoint. Quite a bit of it concerned the customer in such need of new clothing. Joshua’s vague sense that Freida was up to something soon yielded to the glum conviction that the whole errand was orchestrated to bring Joshua and the customer together. Joshua paid as little attention as he could manage, determined to form his own opinion.

The old woman’s leg was more swollen, the old bandages more saturated and odorous, than Joshua had hoped. She had probably ignored his instructions to stay off it as much as possible and keep it elevated. He repeated the orders she had already flouted, drained and cleaned the abscess again, bandaged the leg, and left with a dour sense of futility.

Back on the road, the fresh breeze and birdsong helped put him back in a tolerably good humor by the time they pulled up to a neat little farmhouse with flowering bushes lining the front. It did not look familiar. If the husband had taken ill after Joshua came to Cowbird Creek, it was possible they had called the doctor in Rushing for some reason, or that Joshua had been on one of his infrequent trips out of town.

Joshua helped Freida down and then retrieved the large linen-wrapped bundle that must contain the dresses. As they approached the door, Joshua could hear the murmur of a woman’s voice, the steady rhythm suggesting she was reading aloud. At Freida’s firm knock, the murmur ceased, and shortly afterward, the door opened to reveal a woman holding a little girl in her arms.

The woman was of less than medium height and seemed entirely composed of curves, from the loose curls allowed to escape and hang around her face, to her arm holding the child, to what he could see of her figure, to her gently welcoming smile. He must have seen her before, and probably more than once — in fact, she looked vaguely familiar, more than, say, Clara Brook had at first — but he had never noticed her face and figure. Perhaps he had encountered her only in winter, when she had been muffled in an overcoat.

She looked up at them, her round blue eyes lighting up as she stepped back to allow them inside. “Oh, thank you! I feared it might be days or even weeks before I could be decently dressed again.” Then she looked up at Joshua and said, “I’m Mrs. Arden. Thank you so much for bringing Mrs. Blum. Do come in.”


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As always, I make it easy to preorder the book by providing the link.

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.