Sunday, October 27, 2019

What reviews are telling me about my latest book

I wrote eight science fiction novels and one afterlife fantasy/family drama before I ventured into the new territory -- or, to be more accurate, the two new territories -- of historical romance. I've enjoyed reading historical fiction for years, admiring the diligent research necessary to make the past come alive and doubting I could pull off such a feat. More recently, I've been reading both historical and contemporary romance, and wondering whether romance was among the kind of stories I could tell.

Last November, the doubting and wondering gave way to the headlong dive into storytelling known as National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo or NaNo). I wrote the rough draft of what became What Heals the Heart, a historical romance (caveats to follow) set in 1874-1875 Nebraska.

The book came out October 15, 2019, and has accumulated 12 reviews on Amazon and 17 on Goodreads, with average ratings of 4.6 stars and 4.16 stars respectively. (You may, if you like, consider that the two sites have different descriptions of what their various star rankings mean, with Goodreads the more demanding of the two.) Some of these reviews, as well as others on neither site, also appeared on various blogs.

Here's what I've learned from the reviews so far.

First: I seem to have succeeded in writing historical fiction. Despite having done my research from my computer rather than by traveling to distant archives and sneezing on decades' worth of dust, reviewer after reviewer has commented on the immersive quality of the historical detail.

Second: whether I've written an "exquisite" or "grand" or "fresh" historical romance or, instead, a story that isn't exactly historical romance depends on what the reviewer expects historical romance to be. Reviewers that equate historical romance with "bodice-rippers," or whose picture of Western historical romance in particular involves "heaving bosoms, rough and tumble cowboys, [and] hard-scrabble living," were not so sure the book was a romance -- though these reviewers still, on the whole, found it a satisfying read. On a related note, those who expect romance novels to focus almost exclusively on the central couple are less likely to classify this book as a romance.

Third: at least according to the few reviewers who commented on this point, I managed to deal with psychological trauma -- specifically PTSD, sometimes called "soldier's heart" during and after the Civil War -- in a sufficiently sensitive and effective way. Those reviews came as quite a relief.

Fourth, and no surprise: you can't please everybody. This doesn't particularly trouble me, as I did not expect to be the first author in literary history to do so.

On the whole, I've been gratified and touched by how this book has been received.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

What Heals the Heart is now available in ebook and paperback! [please insert trumpets]

I'm delighted to report that my historical romance What Heals the Heart (Cowbird Creek 1) is now available in ebook and paperback editions. The preorder link I've been putting at the end of all those excerpts is now the Kindle purchase link. You can easily get to the paperback page from the Kindle page, but here's the direct link for the paperback as well. The paperback has also made it to Barnes & Noble.

I haven't yet published any ebook editions outside Amazon. I'm starting the book out in Amazon's Kindle Select program, which lets Amazon Prime subscribers read some number of books for no additional charge via Kindle Unlimited. I'll assess the results as the initial ninety-day term nears its end. Please weigh in via comments if you would want to purchase an ebook copy elsewhere.

I've gotten some lovely reviews, most or all of which you can see on the book's Goodreads page. It's taking longer for the reviews to show up on Amazon, but there are four so far. I've also included some favorite bits from blog reviews in the "Editorial Reviews" section.

And given all the angst (on both sides) and patience (on Kelly's side) that went into making the cover, I'm very pleased and grateful that the cover, designed by Kelly Martin of KAM Design, has been drawing rave reviews of its own. The book is on tour via Silver Dagger Tours, and one after another comment praises the cover. (I urge my readers to check out the tour stops, some of which feature portions of an extensive author Q & A I submitted to the tour organizer.)

So what's next? Well, my near-future WIP, Donor, has made some progress while I've been waiting for What Heals the Heart to come out -- but I've switched focus to getting ready for next month's National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo or NaNo). My NaNo project: the next book in the Cowbird Creek series!

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Excerpt from What Heals the Heart -- a startling encounter with Clara

This will probably be the last excerpt I post before What Heals the Heart comes out on October 15, 2019. It comes considerably later than the excerpts I posted earlier, but contains no real spoilers (given that the blurb for What Heals the Heart describes Clara as enigmatic and bearing her own scars).


Joshua had learned over the years to assume a calm and reassuring manner, whatever the condition in which a patient presented himself. Such a demeanor calmed the patient in turn, giving confidence that the doctor could cope with whatever mishap, or even calamity, had occurred; and a calm and confident patient would be easier to deal with.

But it took a positive effort of will to avoid any sign of alarm when Hawkins, of all people, banged at the door of Joshua’s office, pushed it open, and entered with Clara Brook leaning on his arm, shivering and pale.

Even as Joshua stared, Clara straightened up and looked about her in evident dismay. She muttered something under her breath; Joshua could not catch the words, but it had the rhythm of a curse.

Hawkins led her to a chair and pressed her into it before addressing Joshua. “I was passing by the town square when I noticed Miss Brook sitting on a bench nearby. I tipped my hat and said good morning, but she didn’t say nothing back to me. Well, that wasn’t like her, seeing as we’re acquainted, so I looked closer, and I saw she looked poorly, as you’ll have noticed when we come in. Well, I may know a thing or two —” Hawkins paused and thrust his chin up and his shoulders back, then slumped down again. “But I don’t rightly know what to do when a young lady gets the vapors. So I thought, may as well bring her over here and see what you could do for her. But looks as if she’s going to be just fine, without no special treatment.”

Indeed, as much color as Clara usually possessed, if not more, had returned to her face. A moment more, and she stood up, her posture almost aggressively straight. She took the barber’s hand. “Thank you for assisting me. I am only sorry to have caused you concern.”

“Weren’t no trouble, miss. And I’m right glad to see you looking better. I’ll be on my way.” He smiled at her before releasing her hand, nodding stiffly at Joshua, and taking his leave.

Clara shook her head as if dislodging unpleasant images. “I hope you will believe that I am not often afflicted with what Mr. Hawkins calls ‘the vapors.’” She paused and went on more quietly. “Or at least, not for such causes as are traditionally attributed to delicate females.”

Joshua would have very much liked to inquire as to other likely causes for her symptoms, now or in the past, but her manner made all too clear that any such question would be unwelcome. He could not force his diagnostic efforts on her. “Are you feeling quite well again?”

Clara lifted her chin in a gesture echoing Hawkins’ defiant posture. “Perfectly. You’ll have no need to rummage for smelling salts or other such remedies.” She forced a smile, an expression that sat poorly on her face and troubled him more than a frown would have done. Then some thought evidently crossed her mind and gave rise to a look of more genuine amusement, or even mischief. “And I defy you to hold so firmly to your low opinion of Mr. Hawkins, after he has demonstrated such gallantry.”

As more than once before, she left him stammering for a reply. She awaited none, but turned and fairly marched out the door.


And of course, here's the preorder link. You can also see some early reviews (ten at last count) on the book's Goodreads page.