Saturday, October 15, 2022

A crowdfunding project to print a terrific comic, with one week left

Surprise! This isn't another post about my new release. In fact, it's more urgent.

I don't know whether anyone reading this post had the good fortune to read Livali Wyle's terrific webcomic Goth Western when it appeared several years ago (or since then). The comic combines beautiful artwork with a compelling story, plus queer romance and a touch of necromancy (raising the dead -- with, this time, a thoroughly admirable purpose for doing so). Oh, and it's set in the old West, my own stomping grounds when I write historical romance.

There was talk of a Kickstarter when the series was complete, but this and that -- including a certain pandemic -- intervened, and only now is Hiveworks, the comic's current host, doing a crowdfunding project to print the comic in book form, with a bonus story to boot. The project must reach its target by midnight, October 23rd (and I'm not sure whether that means the beginning or end of October 23rd), or the book won't happen, and we'll all be deprived of that extra story. There's no tier for "family member who's a huge fan dumping gobs of money to make it happen," nor would that really be in the spirit of crowdfunding as I understand it. So all I can do, past a certain point, is tell as many people as I can about the comic and ask them to go take a look.

From this same link, you can read as much of the comic as you need in order to decide whether to support the crowdfunding, or you can just jump ahead to supporting it. I very much hope you'll go to the link and see what you think. And if you think this is a book that should exist, then whether or not you can afford to contribute (and just $5.00 gets you the story by itself, while $20.00 gets the book with story, and higher tiers get certain fun extras), I hope you'll share the link. Thanks for whatever you can do!

Release Day! for What Wakes the Heart, latest Cowbird Creek novel, which can be read as a stand-alone

 And here we are and here it is! What Wakes the Heart, an American historical romance set in 1884-1885 Nebraska, is now available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback editions, and in paperback via various retailers. The novel is Book 4 in the Cowbird Creek series, but can easily be read as a stand-alone. (If, however, you've read one or more of the previous books, you'll recognize Dr. Joshua Gibbs, Clara Gibbs (nee Brook), Freida Kennedy (nee Blum), and Jedidiah Kennedy.)

So what's the book about? Well, let's start with the book description.

"Susannah looks forward to a rewarding career as a teacher in St. Louis, until a traumatic encounter with the president of her teacher's college drives her to seek a job elsewhere. Karol, a Polish Catholic immigrant living in Cowbird Creek, fears that the town's first school may not respect his bright, eager sister's intelligence due to her limited English. Susannah and Karol meet under propitious circumstances when she first arrives in town -- but once the school opens, Karol's fears for Bronka seem to be realized, with Susannah arguably to blame.

"Can they move past this daunting conflict? And if they do, can they overcome the religious and social obstacles between them?"

Digging a bit deeper, it's about . . . dealing with past trauma, finding one's way in a new place, taking on new roles and their challenges, seeing beyond cultural differences, grappling with major decisions, and finding love amidst it all. I hope you'll find it absorbing, entertaining, and moving. And as with any good historical fiction, which I at least strive to write, you'll pick up some intriguing historical details.

Happy reading, everyone!


Thursday, October 13, 2022

Final excerpt from about-to-appear Book 4 in Cowbird Creek historical romance series

 There's time for one more excerpt from What Wakes the Heart (Cowbird Creek 4). Well, there's actually time for more than one, but I don't wish to bombard you with post after post.

Here, from the  Author's Note, is a list -- and not a complete list, though it's close -- of topics I researched in the course of writing this book.

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I usually list in my Acknowledgments section the websites, articles, newspaper archives, et cetera that I used in my research. But this time around, I consulted so many that listing them all would make this book even longer than it is, and at least a little more expensive. I am therefore listing only the topics I researched, and only where that research made it into the book or otherwise had a significant impact (e.g., by dissuading me from including some detail or taking the plot in some direction). Here, in no particular order, and broken up for readability, are those topics: 

-- the fabric used in men’s shirts of the time; the earliest translations of Shakespeare into Polish; Polish and other endearments; Polish curse words; Polish family customs; Polish Christmas eve (Wigilia) customs, Polish wedding customs; Polish culture; Polish contributions to the sciences; the transition to Christianity in Poland; Polish and Irish surnames; Polish girl’s and boy’s names; Polish literature; Polish historians and historical works; children’s literature; novels of the period; one room schoolhouse calendars; rounds people sang; craft supplies available and used; games ladies played; games played on streets; history of rock-paper-scissors; popular amusements; 

-- roofing materials; availability of public benches; the history of paste and other adhesives; types of pens used; dates when immigrants came to the U.S. from various countries; the nature of Jesuit education; celebration of Boxing Day; the histories of various bookstores and book catalogs; early American use of fireworks; which carols were sung when and by whom; styles of railroad depots; St. Louis history and culture; St. Louis neighborhoods, parks, and architecture; the degree to which different religious communities in St. Louis mingled; times the Mississippi River froze; jobs on steam locomotives; sounds of steam locomotives; train speeds; the history of separate bedrooms for family members; uses of door locks; the operation of mills; curricula in one room schoolhouses and in elementary schools; 

-- establishment of schools in various towns in Nebraska; acceptance of girls in common schools; architecture of one room schoolhouses; blackboards and chalkboards; desks in one room schoolhouses; operation and routines of one room schoolhouses; school boards and the equivalent; history of teaching certificates; higher education in Prussia; Biblical battles; origin of the Oxford (aka serial) comma; common surnames of the time; geographical knowledge and exploration; world’s hottest countries; afternoon tea menus in America; hunger in the Revolutionary War; farm chores by season; availability of glass in windows; signs of a blizzard; spring blizzards; school prayer; Christmas traditions; how to hang candles on a Christmas tree; Lent and Easter observances; Hebrew blessings; 

-- availability of coconuts; availability of olive oil; details of Catholic mass; midnight mass; extent of prohibition of married female teachers; birth control; contents of the Nebraska Constitution; Catholic settlement in Nebraska; railroad lines in Nebraska; flowers growing in Poland and in Nebraska and comparable climates; soil types in southeastern Nebraska; the typical size of farms in Nebraska; shrubs common in eastern Nebraska; which meal was eaten at midday; which meal was eaten at midday; the history of beef jerky; history of closets; observance of the Sabbath; Catholic versus secular law; Catholic beliefs and practices, including similarities and differences between Protestant and Catholic beliefs; Catholic teaching concerning marriage; where bonnets were worn and when removed; who wore lorgnettes; handshake customs; child employment; letter writing etiquette; teacher training; “normal schools” (teacher’s colleges) in various cities; newspapers in various cities; 19th century obituaries in newspapers; spelling of “theatre” versus “theater”; availability of indoor plumbing; and the 19th century precursor to electrolyte drinks (haymaker’s punch).

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One More Time: here's the preorder link for the Kindle edition. Both editions should be available this Saturday!

Monday, October 10, 2022

Excerpt from the Author's Note for WHAT WAKES THE HEART (Cowbird Creek 4)

 In this excerpt from the beginning of the Author's Note for What Wakes the Heart, I explain my family connection to this book. (For excerpts from the book proper, just scroll down.)

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My mother Bronislawa Zarkowerovna, called Bronia (one of several common diminutives for her name) by family and friends, emigrated from Poland to Canada at the age of fifteen. A brilliant young woman, she had dreamed of being the next Marie Curie. She lived in a village called Maxymuvka, but took the train to the city of Tarnopol to attend high school and then got an apartment there with her younger sister. The mud at the train station was knee deep or more, but my grandfather carried her to keep her from having to wade through it herself.

He was a grain merchant, but was able to get out of Poland, months ahead of the Nazis, by promising to farm land in western Canada. Their destination proved to be Sundance, Alberta. Sundance had a one-room schoolhouse, with a teacher little older than Bronia. My mother spoke more English than most of the family, but that wasn’t saying much. Nonplussed by the challenge of this new pupil, the teacher handed her a book of fairy tales and told her to read from it. Unimpressed with the result, she had my mother begin with the work of the first graders and go on from there. It took a year, and the humiliation of that year sank deep, but my mother’s English improved substantially. She eventually finished high school elsewhere, but for a range of reasons, she did not attend college until her daughter Karen was thirteen years old.

By the way, her last name is an example of how Polish last names are inflected. Her father Lonyo’s last name was Zarkower; my mother’s reflected her status as his daughter. I chose not to deal with that complexity in this book, aside from mentioning it here.

The brief mention of classmate Louisa’s innocence, and its apparent effect as some sort of protection, is based on my mother’s sister Erika, who was very pretty and somehow sold magazines to sailors fresh off sea voyages without being harassed.

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I hope you're resigned to my including the preorder link for the Kindle edition for all these preview posts. Here it is.

Friday, October 07, 2022

Another excerpt from upcoming historical romance WHAT WAKES THE HEART -- the last?

 Will this be the last excerpt I post before What Wakes the Heart comes out? I rather like leaving my potential readers in suspense about how my protagonists get from this unpromising point to a path which could lead to a HEA. (That's "Happy Ever After," for those unfamiliar with the acronym.) I may, instead, post bits from my Author's Note, which provides some background information about the book and about my process when I write historical fiction.

If you've missed any or all of the previously posted excerpts, just scroll down. And if those excerpts, or this one, or the previous books in the series, or any of my other books inspire you to preorder this one -- here's the link.

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Susannah was getting dressed before breakfast when someone knocked on her door. She opened it partway to find Miss Wheeler looking ill at ease. “You have a caller, Miss Shepard. I’ve put him in the sitting room. It’s rather early for anyone to call, but I imagine he hoped to find you before you left for the school.”

Susannah hurried to fasten her last buttons. “Can you tell me who it is?”

“A young man, wearing working clothes. He seems rather . . . impatient.”

In her short time in Cowbird Creek, Susannah had been introduced to only one man who would wear work clothes. And she had, without dwelling on the fact, looked forward to seeing him again at some point. But not after yesterday. “I’ll be right down.”


Carl Marek was pacing back and forth in the sitting room, almost bumping into furniture on each pass. He whirled around as she entered, glaring at her and brandishing a book. She stepped backward despite herself as she recognized the McGuffey reader.

“This, you give my sister? This is what she gets on her first day of school, after dreaming of school her entire life? This!”

Susannah sank into the nearby easy chair, hoping it might influence him to sit also. “Mr. Marek, I did try —”

His big hand clutched the book so tightly she feared he would damage the cover. “The dog! The dog ran! For a girl fifteen years old! Do you know what Bronka brought with her to this country, instead of linens for when she gets married or clothes to look pretty in? She brought Shakespeare!”

Susannah gaped at him. “But — she couldn’t even read Little Women when I asked her.”

Mr. Marek rolled his eyes. “In Polish, she reads Shakespeare! She has been reading in it every night before she goes to sleep! But now, of course, she will need to practice how to read ‘dog’ and ‘cat.’ And in front of the others, you gave her this!” He threw the book down on the chair in which she had hoped he would sit.

Another trip back and forth across the room, and then he stopped and said, his voice hard and bitter, “You will have to give her back this book yourself. I have to get to the mill. My sister must not go without her book about Cat and Dog. What a shame that would be! She might have to read Shakespeare instead!”

And with that, he stomped out the door and slammed it behind him.

Susannah sat in the easy chair, shaking all over. She greatly wished to cry, but she was due at the table for breakfast, if there was still time, and then needed to appear at school, composed and ready. The first step was to stand up. She did so, first gripping and then releasing the arm of the chair, and gave herself one minute to achieve some degree of composure.

So when Miss Wheeler opened the door, concern on her face, Susannah burst into tears.

Miss Wheeler hurried over and put her arms around her. Susannah struggled not to cry harder at this reminder of home and mothering. The older woman tsked and hushed and muttered “there, there,” while Susannah got herself under control. Miss Wheeler let go and pulled a handkerchief out of her skirt pocket, dried Susannah’s cheeks, inspected her, and finally declared, “You’ll do. Hurry to breakfast, child.”

After crying in front of her hostess, Susannah could hardly protest the name of child, even to herself. She followed close behind as Miss Wheeler led her to the dining room. Just before they entered, Miss Wheeler said under her breath, “I’m sorry to have allowed an unreliable young man to disturb you on these premises. You may be sure I won’t be admitting him again.”

Susannah, taking her seat, reflected dismally that it was unlikely Miss Wheeler would be called upon to take the trouble of refusing Carl Marek admittance.

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That's all for today!

Monday, October 03, 2022

A short fourth excerpt from WHAT WAKES THE HEART (Cowbird Creek 4)

 Yes, I'm still at it! At least, Blogger is -- I'm spending much of the day lying on the couch with my leg elevated, since I had a hip replacement on September 29th.

Scroll down for the first three excerpts. In this fourth excerpt, it's the first day of Cowbird Creek's first school.

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Bronka’s chatter from the kitchen roused Karol well before dawn — though he might have been able to keep sleeping if he’d been less uneasy. He ignored it as long as he could before he gave up and got out of bed.

He had asked Bronka whether she would rather have him escort her to the school — though he would have to leave her there before it opened and head to the mill — or have their mother go with her instead. She laughed at him. “Of course I’ll go with you, silly! You won’t tell me not to talk so much, or complain that I should be staying home instead and learning to cook everything Mama’s mama did. You understand.”

He understood how much she wanted to learn, and how happy she was to be going to school at last. But he also understood what she might be facing, one of the oldest pupils and yet knowing so little of what the others already knew, and most likely not a one of them speaking anything but English. Or if they did, it would probably be German. And her teacher had no idea how to help such a student, unless she had learned since he spoke to her.

He had always taken care of Bronka as much as he could, ever since she was born alive and healthy – Mama’s miracle, after the two babies she lost. Coming to America, struggling to help support the family, shouldn’t have changed that. He should have practiced English with Bronka more often. He should have found her English books to read, and coaxed her to read with him. But it was too late for wishing.

They reached the school, and Karol led Bronka to the stone bench he himself had set in the grassy yard where the younger children could run about and play at dinnertime. It was chilly for September, but Mama had loaned Bronka her thick winter coat, much warmer than Bronka needed. He wished he could stay until more pupils arrived. Or until the teacher did. She was such a little thing, maybe shorter than Bronka, and finer-boned. She might need help with something.

But he could hardly risk losing his work at the mill. He chucked Bronka under the chin. “You’ll be fine. I’ll be counting on you to tell me all about it when I get home.”

Bronka beamed at him. “Of course I’ll be fine. You said the teacher seemed nice, didn’t you?”

Karol just nodded. He had said that, and bit his tongue not to say what else he thought. “I’ll see you tonight.”

He waited until he reached the corner before he looked back. Bronka was sitting very straight, looking at the steps to the school as one might look toward the gates of Heaven.

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And here's the Kindle edition's preorder link

Until next time!

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Third excerpt from WHAT WAKES THE HEART (Cowbird Creek 4)

 Counting down (feel free to visualize sheets flying off a day-by-day desk calendar) toward the release of What Wakes the Heart -- so here's a third excerpt. If you missed the first or second excerpts, just scroll down or follow the links.

As this excerpt from Chapter 3 begins, Susannah Shepard is traveling by train from her home town of St. Louis to Cowbird Creek, where she will be the one-room schoolhouse's first teacher.

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She leaned back against the seat and closed her eyes, hoping she might be able to nap. Surely the chugging of the engine, the clicking of the railway ties, could lull her to sleep. That steady rhythm . . .

. . . reminded her of watching a steamboat recede down the Mississippi River, its big red paddle wheel going round and round, churning the water into a wide wake, while up on the deck carefree people in white linen and straw hats listened to the music of a brass band, the sun winking off its instruments . . . .

She fished for her handkerchief, wiped her eyes, and almost jumped to hear a knock at the entrance to the car. Hastily she picked up her book, abandoned on her lap, and called up a smile as a well-dressed gentleman peeked in. He hesitated, looking at her intently, before saying, “I beg your pardon. The travelers in the car I occupied previously are filling it with enough smoke that I began to find it hard to read. May I intrude?”

Susannah gestured to the bench across from her. “Of course! And it’s a pleasure to meet a fellow reader. What are you reading?”

The man reached into the small satchel he was carrying and produced a new-looking copy of Finney’s Sermons on Gospel Themes. “I find train travel lends itself to contemplative reading matter.”

Susannah could not help but find it faintly disappointing that the gentleman had not chosen something purely literary. It might have been something she’d read, and if not, she could have asked him how well he liked it and whether he would recommend it. She smiled politely and returned to her novel, Hoosier Schoolmaster, which she hoped would provide useful (if vicarious) experience as well as entertainment.

She soon forgot her companion, and indeed her surroundings, in the story, though in shifting on the bench to relieve an aching hip, she happened to notice him withdraw a pipe from his waistcoat pocket and then hastily shove it back out of sight. She wondered briefly at the sensitivity that would send a smoker out of a smoke-filled car, but the thought did not occupy her long.

She had reached a rather exciting scene when she noticed a change in the sound of the engine, and then the slowing motion of the view out the window. They must be approaching Cowbird Creek’s station. Suddenly, she found it as difficult to breathe as if she were in the smoke-filled car the gentleman had fled.

The small railroad depot at which they were arriving looked as if a simple wooden structure had been updated to resemble a standard design, as a less expensive alternative to new construction. The roof, newer than the building itself, had the steep pitch of the Victorian style, and some white gingerbread trim had been nailed to the tops of the dark red walls. As the squeal of brakes filled her ears and the train came to a stop, her companion stood up and gestured toward the upper shelf on which her case lay. “May I fetch your belongings down for you?”

The offer was more civil than she had been, declining conversation to bury herself in her book. “Thank you very much. That would be most helpful.” She expected that he would hand the case to her as soon as he retrieved it, but instead, he gestured for her to precede him out of the car and trotted along behind.

Looking ahead to the platform, she saw a man in perhaps his early forties with brown wavy hair, a neatly trimmed beard, a clean frock coat, and well-polished boots. He caught her eye, smiled in a friendly way, and bowed. That must be Dr. Joshua Gibbs, town doctor, who had placed the ad she had seen. Susannah carefully descended the iron stairs and turned back to thank her fellow passenger and take her case — but in an instant, he had pushed past her, almost knocking her off the bottom stair, and was walking briskly toward the back of the train.

Susannah gasped, which delayed by precious seconds her ability to cry out — but when she could, she outright yelled. “STOP THAT MAN! Please! He took my case!”

Dr. Gibbs, and a portly man who appeared to be with him, looked around to follow her pointing finger. The fact that her hand was shaking may have made their task more difficult. But a younger man, muscular, who had been helping the porters unload people’s trunks, looked up at her shout. He spotted the thief, who was moving more quickly than anyone else on the platform, and ran after him. Susannah watched with her hands clasped tight, still on the bottom step until the conductor sounded the warning whistle. Dr. Gibbs came forward to take her hand and help her down, an attention she would have considered quite unnecessary if she had not been trembling.

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Here, once again, is the link to the Kindle edition's preorder. (As soon as the book is actually available on October 15th, I'll be putting it into Kindle Unlimited for at least one 90-day term.) The paperback should be out around the same time.

Check again soon for (at least) one more excerpt!

Monday, September 26, 2022

next Cowbird Creek book is available on preorder! -- and here's an excerpt

 Hello again! Today, I'm delighted to announce that the Kindle edition of my upcoming book What Wakes the Heart, Book 4 in my Cowbird Creek historical romance series, is available for preorder. (Getting it to that point was something of an achievement, given that I'm preparing to have outpatient surgery (hip replacement) and had my computer's video card stop communicating with my monitor as I was about to transfer all the proofreading changes to the working draft.)

I've already posted one excerpt from the book, an excerpt which introduced you all to Susannah, the female protagonist, trained to be a schoolteacher. Today's excerpt, from Chapter 2, lets you meet the male protagonist, Karol (called Carl by the residents of Cowbird Creek). He and his family are Polish Catholic immigrants. His sister, Bronka, is loosely based on my mother Bronia. (These are two forms of the same name, Bronislawa.)

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Karol Marek, known to people in Cowbird Creek as Carl, decided that hauling sacks of flour for almost an hour was long enough for a break. He could stretch his back, at least. And the miller was deep in talk with two customers, their wagons already loaded, and wasn’t likely to argue about it.

Stretching felt so good that the relief was all he thought about until he was through. Then, as he was about to get back to work, some of the miller’s conversation caught Karol’s ear. What was that about a school? A new school just being built?

His first thought was that he might be able to pick up some of the construction work before and after mill hours. He and his father were the only ones bringing in money, and Bronka was growing out of her skirts and shoes.

Which led to his second thought, and it should have been the first. Bronka had always loved to read, even as a little girl. Not only storybooks, but books about history, about other countries, anything she could find in their grandfather’s library. She had been so grateful when he gave her a Polish translation of collected Shakespeare plays, fresh from the bookshop; and so afraid when it seemed the book might be too heavy for them to bring. Karol and his father had left their spare pairs of shoes behind, to make room.

Could Bronka go to this school? Would it be allowed — a girl, and a foreigner?

One of the customers talking to the miller was the doctor, who had a little girl of his own. Karol moved closer and listened harder. Dr. Gibbs was saying something about the school board, inviting the miller to join it. He would hardly be on the school board if his own daughter was kept out.

“Mayor Pomfrey has agreed to join us . . . .”

The doctor, the mayor, the miller . . . . Dr. Gibbs might not be rich — he dressed plain enough, except for his boots — but all of them were among the higher class in Cowbird Creek. Would the children of workers like Karol and his father be welcome?

Too, there was the question of Bronka’s English. It had got better, of course, in the five years since they arrived in America, but she spent most of her time at home with their mother, speaking nothing but Polish, and so she could not speak English as well as Karol could. On the other hand, going to school would give her the chance to get better.

He would talk to Mama about it when he got home. And now he’d better get back to hauling sacks.


Mama bustled about the kitchen, getting supper ready for Karol and his father. She and Bronka had eaten before either of the men arrived. Bronka had taken herself off somewhere, which made it a good time to tell his parents — in Polish, of course — about the school, and ask what they thought.

Papa stroked his beard as he listened, forgetting to eat. “Our Bronka would love to go to school. But we shouldn’t tell her about it until we’re sure she could go.”

“Eat, eat!” Mama hated to let food get cold, now that he and Papa had saved up enough to buy her a proper stove. “What does the girl need school for? I never had time for such a thing.”

Papa took a big bite, chewed it up, swallowed, and smiled fondly at her. “You wed me when you were fourteen, and had been telling your family for years before that you would marry me some day. But Bronka is not so much like either of us. She reminds me of your father, with all his books.”

A picture popped into Karol’s head of Bronka holding her big Shakespeare book, sitting in the easy chair and smoking their grandfather’s pipe. He choked back a laugh. Mama narrowed her eyes at him and said stubbornly, “She can worry about school when I’ve taught her everything she’ll need to know to take proper care of a husband and a house.”

“School?” Bronka burst into the room, waving the dishcloth she must have been mending. “There’s going to be a school? And girls can go to it? Oh, what a wonderful place we’ve come to!”

Karol put up his hands as if to hold back her eagerness. “They haven’t finished building it. They may not even have a teacher yet.”

Bronka ran around to where Papa sat and caught hold of his arm. “Please, please let me go to school! I’ll wait as patiently as ever you could ask, if I can only go when it opens.” She let go and spun around to face Mama. “And I’ll be so much help to you, before and after school, you won’t be sorry!”

Mama got that look that told Karol more than she realized about what it was like to be a parent — the worry and the love. “You’re already much help, c√≥reczka. I just hope this school could be all you expect. So little in life turns out the way we expect it to.”

Papa grinned. “Marriage, for example, is much more annoying than anyone told Mama ahead of time.”

Mama reached over and swatted his knee.

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Here's the cover again:


And here's my mother -- in an undated photo, but possibly at about Bronka's age.



Until next time!