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Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Whether to abandon a book

Once in my career as a writer, a span of eleven years so far, I pulled a book I'd already published (The Link). I decided, belatedly, that I'd let too much slide -- that I'd put out a book beneath my own standards, silencing my doubts about several key elements. All those elements arose from the same fundamental problem: I'd based my plot on a question without having an adequate answer. As I look back, that wasn't the first time I faced that problem -- but it was the most egregious example.

A while after I made that decision, a science fiction book group of which I'm a member took advantage of my leaving a meeting early by picking my own near-future novel Who as an upcoming selection. The resulting discussion was revelatory. The other members zeroed in on areas where I'd tried to patch weaknesses in the narrative, and made clear those patches had been less than fully effective. (I also learned that if a substantial part of a book involves courtroom drama, I had better make that fact clear in the book's descriptions and other publicity.)

Also part of my learning process: venturing away from science fiction to write historical romance. While there's plenty of plotting to do in a romance novel, the essential plot line -- a couple finds love and a HEA (Happy Ever After) -- is prescribed. I'm not sure how, but working within this limit and then returning to a near-future SF draft (Donation) has made it easier for me to confront the inadequacies of the latter's plot line. Serendipity has also played a role. Because I've had Donation on the back burner, returning to it between other projects, I've been working on it for three years. During that time, societal developments have revealed that a key component of my protagonists' eventual victory might not actually have that effect. (Yes, I'm being coy, largely because getting specific would mean stepping onto treacherous political ground.) At least as important is the fact that the book probably has an anti-technology message I don't intend, and with which I don't agree -- and any attempt to redirect the reader toward a message I do mean is likely, once again, to look like inadequate patchwork.

Add it all up, and I'm wondering whether to put the book aside for a while and hope for the multiple inspirations it'd take to make it worth publishing, or to just move on. The characters have a reality for me, but I've realized that they'll retain that reality whether I publish or no -- and I don't owe it to them to share their story if the story isn't worthy of them. 

The upshot? I'm still not sure. As the master of my own publishing schedule, I'm answerable to no one as to whether the book comes out in six months, in two years, or never. (In fact, I haven't entirely given up hope of finding the plot that The Link should have had, and publishing a revised edition.) But I'm more at peace now that I've accepted the possibility that Donation may never reach the public, and would no longer consider that possibility as a failure in any important sense.

Turning my focus away from that book does, however, mean less time before I have to confront the question of what to write next. Will I continue the Cowbird Creek historical romance series after I revise and publish Book 3, What Shows the Heart? If I return to science fiction, what idea sufficiently captivates me? Or should I tackle historical fiction head on, outside the comfort of the romance subgenre?

Time will tell. And when it does, I'll sooner or later tell those who read this blog.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

For the first time in more than fifty years of reading . . .

 I have been an avid, indeed compulsive, reader for most of my life, and for all my adult life. I read and reread books. I read new books, found on lists of bargain book I get by email, and on lists of new books at the library, and in the excited recommendations of family and friends.

I have no way to come close to guesstimating how many books I've read, nor how many times.

I am almost done, very close to done, with V.E. Schwab's The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. And for the first time in all those years and all those books, I am holding a paper towel under each line, to keep from skipping my eyes ahead, to savor every word before I finish. I know I will read this book again, and more than once, but I'm not ready for it to be over this first time, and I don't want to read any word before its place in the story.

I'm also sniffling and wiping my nose with whatever I find to hand.

I'm not saying it's flawless. I believe no book is. But I am so thrilled and grateful for this book.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

It's finally Release Day for WHAT FREES THE HEART

I decided I couldn't do all those posts leading up to Release Day and not post when it finally arrives . . . .

I'm not going to take up anyone's time by repeating what I said in recent posts (especially yesterday's) about What Frees the Heart or about the series. I'll just express my hope that anyone who read and enjoyed What Heals the Heart (Cowbird Creek 1), and anyone who finds this book's characters or premise intriguing, will give it a look-see.

And if you do read either book and like it, please consider leaving a review somewhere! It can be as short as a couple of sentences. Amazon is always a good place, if you use the site enough to meet their threshold requirements. Goodreads reviews are also very helpful. Goodreads ratings are even easier to leave.

Here are the no-longer-pre-order-but-actual-order! links: Kindle edition, paperback on Amazon, paperback on Barnes & Noble.

Thanks for reading these posts, and happy reading!

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Release day tomorrow! for WHAT FREES THE HEART -- here's one more excerpt

The wait is almost over! What Frees the Heart comes out tomorrow, July 15th. Or if you want the paperback, Amazon brought it out a day early, and you can get it here (though it will still take 1-2 days to ship). You can still pre-order the Kindle edition here, or the paperback edition from Barnes & Noble here .

This book is not a sequel to What Heals the Heart. (BTW, that book is available on Kindle Unlimited, for those who have access to it.) Rather, as with many romance series, it returns to the same locale -- Cowbird Creek, in this case -- and shifts the focus to other characters. Tom and Jenny both appear in the first book, but now take center stage. Those who've read the first book will see the reappearance of its main characters, Joshua and Clara, as well as important secondary characters like Freida, Jedidiah, and Madam Mamie. And you'll get to know some other characters, like Silas Finch, rather better.

Without further ado, here's the final excerpt, in which Jenny asks Madam Mamie about whether she's seen any girls "in the life" who got married, and Mamie tells her what happened to some who did.


Mamie stood up from her desk and snapped her fingers in Jenny’s face. “Come back here, girl! Where’d you drift off to? I was telling you about that gentleman I’ll likely be sending your way, next time he comes in.”
Jenny hadn’t heard a word of it. “I’m sorry, ma’am. Could you tell me the most important part over again?”
Mamie studied her face and said, in a tone close to a warning, “I hope you’re not still fretting about that harpy in town. You’ve had plenty of time to get over her.”
It probably wasn’t the time to ask Mamie what a harpy was. “No, ma’am. I mean — I’m not, and yes’m, I’ve had time enough.”
Mamie shook her head, closed the door, and pointed to a chair. As Jenny lowered herself into it, Mamie leaned back against the desk instead of going back behind it. “Set yourself down. Whatever’s cluttering up your mind, you’d best spill it so there’s room for what I tell you.”
She’d been trying to get up the nerve to ask Mamie a question, and here Mamie was ordering her to. “Ma’am, I was just wondering, that is . . . have any of your girls got married? To a customer, or someone in town, or anyone?”
Mamie looked a little smug, like she’d guessed what she was going to hear. “You were just wondering. Curiosity out of nowhere. Not because you’ve grown fond of a particular customer.”
Jenny usually knew better than to answer back to Mamie, but Mamie was poking her in a tender spot. “I don’t see how my reason changes the answer none.”
Mamie’s hand twitched like it might want to give Jenny a slap. Jenny held her breath, trying not to scoot her chair any farther from the desk. But Mamie put her hand back on the desk and even chuckled. “I’d rather a girl have spirit than bore the life out of me. All right, then, we’ll start with my answering your question. I’ve seen it three times in the years I’ve run this place, and once before then. And now, before you get all starry-eyed, you should ask me how it worked out.”
Jenny slumped back in the chair. “Yes, ma’am, please.”
“The one who got married when I worked elsewhere, I never did find out about, being as I left not long after. The first one of my girls who married was back here inside of three months. The man’d gone back East and left her. Later she heard he’d gone and got married again, no doubt not bothering to tell his new bride she was the second of two — or maybe more.”
Jenny gasped, and right away felt a fool. Mamie kept going. “The second one stayed married, ‘til she died in childbed. The third, well, they left town, heading farther west. I got a letter from her a while back. She was still married, but he didn’t treat her too well. Kept throwing what she’d been up to her, and spending his evenings at a dirty little hookshop in their dirty little town. She daren’t complain, naturally, and he knew as much.”
Jenny put her chin down, knowing it probably made her look like a sulky child. “But it doesn’t have to turn out that way. The one who died, she might’ve been happy if she’d lived. Not every man would treat a woman like that last fellow.”

Mamie slumped a little, which hardly ever happened, and sighed, which happened even less. “Not every man, it may be, but if you were betting — such as betting your heart and your future — that’s the way to bet. A man might think he can handle his woman having been a soiled dove, but after a while it eats at him. It’d be a rare kind of man who can live with it. Maybe one who actually thinks that men and women aren’t so different deep down, and that if a man can lie with a passel of women and then love and be true to just one, a woman can do the same with a man.” Now it was Mamie who had a faraway sort of look. “Don’t know as I’ve ever met a man like that, at least to know he was.”


I hope you've enjoyed these excerpts -- and I hope you enjoy the book!

Monday, July 13, 2020

Two more days until Release Day, two more excerpts

My Western historical romance What Frees the Heart comes out on Wednesday (!!), so here is the sixth of seven pre-release excerpts.

Context for this one: Jenny broke one of Madam Mamie's rules and as a result, is not allowed in town without someone to keep an eye on her.

Preorder links are at the end.


Today it was Sophie who got the job of going to town along with Jenny. It was Jenny’s good luck, or maybe Mamie doing a little favor along with still insisting on a chaperone, that Sophie was so easygoing and didn’t fuss about it. What’s more, she let Jenny pick where they went first and next. And when Jenny asked her opinion on what fabric would look best for Jenny’s next new dress, she read Jenny’s face and picked the one Jenny was lingering at already.
Then, when they passed the ice cream shop on their way back to Mamie’s, Sophie even let Jenny go inside on her own. “Bessie’d be less’n pleased if I ate ice cream without her. You go on, and I’ll wait for you on a bench in the square. I can work on my bird calls. Bessie likes it when I do bird calls.”
That suited Jenny more’n fine. She liked Sophie’s company, usually, but by now, doing something by herself would be as much of a treat as ice cream.
The owner undressed her with his eyes the way most men did, but he didn’t say nothing rude and handed over her ice cream without making her wait longer’n anyone else. And it was a pretty day, still warm enough that the owner’d propped the door open for breezes, but not humid like a couple of weeks before.
To put the cherry on the sundae, so to speak, a lady just a little older’n Jenny came in with a baby, a cute little boy with a sweet round face, his plump arms and legs all waving around. Jenny loved babies. She’d tended neighbor babies often enough as a girl, all the way up until she left home.
Bringing her plate of chocolate ice cream with fudge syrup, she came toward mother and baby, smiling. “He’s so precious! How old —”
The woman snatched the baby out of his basket and clutched him to her breast, starting him howling. Over the noise, she said, voice colder’n any ice cream, “How dare you approach us, a hussy like you!” Turning her shoulder to Jenny, she crooned to the crying baby, “Don’t worry, sweetheart, I won’t let the nasty lady hurt you.”
The woman stood up as if to hurry her baby out of reach of whatever poison it might breathe in, just from being near Jenny. But Jenny ran out first. Only outside did she realize she was still holding her plate and spoon. She crouched to leave them at the door, took a deep if shaky breath, and walked as quick as she could to find Sophie. It wasn’t until Sophie looked at her with big eyes and wrinkled forehead that she realized she was crying.

Mamie saw them come in and marched downstairs to stand at the bottom with hands on hips, looking like a hanging judge. Jenny still hadn’t managed to stop crying, so Sophie had to do the talking, as much as she could from whatever Jenny had blurted out on the way. Then, for a wonder, Mamie made things better, opening her arms for a hug. Jenny couldn’t remember Mamie giving her a real hug before, nor her wanting such, but now she rushed into Mamie’s arms and fair snuggled up against Mamie’s big bosom. Mamie stroked her hair. “There, there, girl. Bitches will be bitches, and we can’t hardly stop ‘em.”
Jenny had to laugh, which stopped her crying. She pulled back enough to wipe her face on her arm — or would’ve, if Mamie hadn’t pulled a handkerchief from somewhere like a magician with a hat. By now Sophie had gone off somewhere, probably to tell Bessie all about it.
Jenny wiped her face and followed Mamie to the empty small lounge. Mamie gave her a little push toward an easy chair, one usually reserved for the men, and went behind the bar, pulling out a bottle and pouring two glasses. She handed one to Jenny and sat down next to her. “Join me, why don’t you, in a little sherry. It’ll relax you and maybe help you get some perspective on this afternoon’s events.”
Relax her, sure. Perspective, not likely, but getting to drink sherry instead of colored water, the customers paying liquor prices for it, was treat enough. That word in her head made her think of her ice cream, not finished and melting by the door, and she burst into tears again. Mamie looked vexed. “What am I going to do about you, girl? You’re over your monthlies, aren’t you?”
Jenny tried to stop and finally did. She didn’t want to waste the easy chair and the sherry on sniffing and blowing. Mamie, reassured, sat back and sipped her drink. “That’s better. Young or old, we’ve got to be tough in this business.”
Jenny poured half her sherry down her throat in two big gulps. Mamie sat up and plucked Jenny’s glass out of her fingers with half an inch left in it. “That’s enough lazing around. You go on up and wash your face. Plenty of customers’ll be here before you know it.”
Jenny handed Mamie back the handkerchief. “Thanks for the borrow. Oh, you want I should wash it?”
Mamie’s face had gone all business, but now it went softer. “Never you mind, child. I’ll give it to the laundry. Run along.”


If you pre-order now, you won't have long to wait! :-) You can pre-order the Kindle edition here, or the paperback here (Amazon) or here (Barnes & Noble).

Tomorrow, the last excerpt: Jenny talks to Madam Mamie about girls in the life getting married.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Fifth excerpt from WHAT FREES THE HEART -- Jenny tries to write home

The release of What Frees the Heart grows ever closer, and the excerpts keep coming! We've got a short one today, from the beginning of Chapter 12.

If you'd like to pre-order, which I'd be delighted for you to do, you can get the Kindle edition here, or the paperback here (Amazon) or here (Barnes & Noble).


It wasn’t nothing but some fruit. Nothing special, really. And nothing Mamie’s cook hadn’t served before. Just stewed plums.
Jenny must be feeling specially tender-hearted this morning, was all she could figure. Else she wouldn’t be eating the plums with tears trickling down her face. Or maybe she was getting her monthly, which’d make her get worked up easier. It was just about time.
It would’ve been worth crying over nothing, if only her monthly meant a vacation. But Mamie always said, “Every single girl in this place has her bleeding time every single month, and I don’t plan to go broke over it. There’s plenty the gentlemen’ll like without needing to spread your legs.” So if someone asked for a girl during that time, Mamie would offer the choice of that girl using just her mouth or her hands and showing off whatever part of her body they’d like to see, or some other girl ready for more. . . .
It wasn’t as if Mama’s stewed plums would’ve won prizes. The cook’s were as good or better.
But when they didn’t have much of it, Mama always used to share it with Jenny, who liked it best of all the children, even though she figured out as she got older that Mama liked it even better.
Jenny finished her breakfast as fast as she could and hurried upstairs. It was time to get herself dressed and prettied up. But maybe she could squeeze out a few minutes to do something she hardly ever tried to do.
She closed her door, wishing it had a lock on it, and tried to remember where she’d put pen and paper. In the little drawer in her dressing table? Nope. How about under her unmentionables? Not there, neither. Finally she found them on the closet shelf. But all that looking had left her even less time to spare.
She sat at the dressing table with the paper in front of her, chewing on her pen, for a precious half a minute before writing out, slow and careful, Dear Mama and —
Which of her sibs would still be at home, and which would’ve married and set up housekeeping somewhere else? No way of knowing.
Would Papa even let Mama have the letter? She could hope so. And if he didn’t like it, she was way away out of his reach.
Dear Mama and all of you —
I hope you are well. I am fine.
I hope the grasshoppers didn’t eat up everything on the farm, like happened some places, though not here.
Should she tell where here was?
I am in Nebraska, in a town some bigger’n any near you. I get to meet lots of folks.
And she’d be trampled by horses before she said how. Not that Mama wouldn’t have written her off as a tramp long since, most like.
There she went crying again. And leaving teardrops on the paper. Maybe they’d tell her tale more than she could ever stand to do.
I’m sorry I left so sudden.

She shoved herself back from the chair before the tears, coming fast now, could smudge what she’d worked so hard to put on the paper.


Next time: a trip to get ice cream goes awry.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

And the excerpts keep coming -- #4, Tom rediscovers an art form

What Frees the Heart (Cowbird Creek 2 -- which can be read as a stand-alone) comes out in five days! Here's a fourth excerpt, from the beginning of Chapter 5. For the immediate context, see the previous excerpt.

I'll post the pre-order links afterward.


Tom might just as well have floated home on a cloud, fine as he was feeling. It did bring him some way back down, just for a minute, when he went to bounce on his toes and almost fell over, but he shook it off. That sort of thing happened often enough, and an evening like this one surely didn’t. And the stars were shining bright above, like they were celebrating along with him.
Jenny had managed things so well that his stump didn’t hurt more’n usual. And what pain he was used to didn’t seem to matter tonight.
Only thing was, he could’ve turned right around and laid with Jenny one more time and been that much the happier.
How soon could he manage another visit? He’d a deal of thinking to do about what he was going to do with his wages from now on. How often they’d go into Madam Mamie’s pocket rather’n Pa’s, and whether he should be saving up for something, though he’d no clue for what.

Remembering and wanting kept him restless overnight, but he still couldn’t help grinning now and again over his breakfast. Ma and Pa kept sneaking looks at each other when they thought he wasn’t watching. Pa, at least, must have known something was up when Tom didn’t turn in his wages. He’d just as soon not know if Pa guessed why.
Walking to town went easier when he had more to think of than his leg and his day of work to come. First he pictured Jenny’s pretty face, and then her hair laying on her shoulders, and then her round squeezable bosom and even rounder backside, and every minute he could remember of what they’d done together. It seemed to take considerable shorter’n usual before he made it to the door of the shop.
Finch, now, after everything that cowboy had said, would be sure to figure things out if Tom came in all cheerful. He could act extra glum, but then Finch might think he’d gone to Mamie’s and made a mess of it. So he kept things businesslike, not chatting but not sulking neither, and Finch didn’t make any show of drawing conclusions.
Speaking of drawing. That’s just what Tom would’ve liked to do, draw a picture of Jenny, head and shoulders and just a little of what came below. It’d been a while since he got a hankering to draw. He used to do a lot of it, with a stick in the dirt or on his slate at school. Got a licking one of those times, drawing when he was supposed to do arithmetic. And then when he was maybe ten, he’d used his pocket knife to draw on a bit of leather he didn’t think anyone cared about. Turned out he was wrong, and he got a licking from Pa that time.
Wasn’t the lickings that stopped him, so much as not having the time once he got big enough to do more farm work. And since that plowshare took some of his leg and more of his use on the farm, he hadn’t thought about it, or about much else that he might do just from wanting to.
Today, though . . . when Finch finished cutting out a pair of boots, Tom asked, as casual as he could, “You have any use for what’s left of that piece? Because I might if you don’t.”
Finch looked at him kind of sideways, but he shrugged and tossed it Tom’s way. Mrs. Finch came in not long after, and that gave Tom his chance. Finch cared a deal about his dinner and never paid attention to much else while he was eating it. As soon as Mrs. Finch left and Finch dug in, Tom moved off to the farthest corner of the shop and laid the scrap of leather on the edge of a table Finch used for storage of this and that.
The biggest piece was about a foot by eight inches. Tom trimmed away the rest and looked at his knife, considering. It was just fine for cutting through leather, but not so good for just scraping away one thin line at a time. What he needed for that was . . . Where was that tool Finch had used for the cowboy’s initials on the saddle, the one Finch called a swivel knife?
But Finch had gobbled his dinner already, and Tom hadn’t taken but a bite or two. He quickly tore away at the chicken leg and wiped his hands on his trousers.
He’d hardly be able to get at that tool without Finch knowing, even if it were right to do it. He’d have to fess up.
“Mr. Finch, when you close up for the day, could I borrow what you used to carve that cowboy’s initials? I’d treat it real careful and have it back in the morning. And I wouldn’t touch nothing but leather with it, the leather you let me have earlier.”
Finch wrinkled his forehead to make his eyebrows stick out even more than they did by nature. “What’ve you got to be carving? You wouldn’t be making one of them pictures that make fun of folks, carry-whatsits, of me, would you?” Clearly, that’d be as much as Tom’s job was worth.
“Oh, no, sir, I’ve no such intention. Just — just a drawing I’ve been wanting to do, on something that won’t wash away or rub out.”
Finch stroked his scraggly beard. “Well, all right then. You take good care of it, and if you lose it, you’ll be working to pay it back and not for whatever else you use your pay on. And you clean it like I showed you.” He fetched the tool and handed it over.
Finch might be grumpy and suspicious, and he watched his coin, but he wasn’t that bad. Not altogether. Or at least, not always.

By the time Tom made the walk home, ate supper, and did what chores he still could, it was full dark and he’d have been about ready for bed, but for the scrap of leather calling to him. He filled a lamp, lit it, and laid the leather out on the kitchen table. Pa, wandering out in his nightshirt and cap, saw what Tom was doing and hoisted an eyebrow. “Hope you came by that leather some way that won’t get you in trouble.”
“Mr. Finch gave it to me when I asked for it.” What a memory Pa had! He’d hardly’ve thought being on the other end of that strap would stick in the memory as well as Tom’s end of it. Was that part of what being a father meant? He’d have to ponder that some time.
Seeing as he’d never used the swivel knife before, he should’ve kept another scrap to practice on. Thinking ahead maybe wasn’t his strong suit. With a sigh, he cut a long thin strip off his piece of leather and started teaching himself. At first even his straight lines wouldn’t stay straight, let alone an even thickness, but it didn’t take too long for him to get that right. Next came curves — he’d need plenty of curvy lines for Jenny! That thought got him remembering, which heated him up to where it got distracting. He went out to the pump and splashed cool water on his face, then got back to work.
When he’d used up most of the strip and figured he was as good at this as he’d be getting, he smoothed out his main piece of leather again. He maybe shouldn’t draw lower’n her shoulders after all, seeing as her dress had showed more than a regular girl’s would. Or he could draw the dress different, but that’d be a sort of lying.
He drew her face first, heart-shaped even to the bit of a point to her chin, with the dimple he’d noticed every time she smiled. He puzzled over how to show her nose with its tilted-up end, all too aware that once he set tool to leather for it, there’d be no rubbing out any wrong moves. But it was getting late, and him getting tired, so he finally made a few thin lines suggesting it and moved on to her eyes. There was no chance of drawing them pretty enough, but he showed them big and wide open, with the long lashes that might get help from some sort of paint. He tried to use a light touch on the eyebrows — better to have them a little thinner’n life than to make them too thick and frowny.
Jenny’s smile was another tricky task. Better to give her upper lip more of a Cupid’s bow than make it too flat. Then shape the lower lip to match, kind of plump, like she was ready to kiss someone.
He had the most fun drawing her hair, which didn’t have to be exactly the way she wore it so long as it was long and full and wavy. That left only her neck and the top line of her shoulders. And then, finally, he was done and could fall into bed.


If I've managed to intrigue you, or even get you hooked on this story, you can pre-order the Kindle edition here, or the paperback here (Amazon) or here (Barnes & Noble).

Next time: Jenny tries to write a letter to her family.