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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.