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.)


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.


Here's the cover again:

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

Until next time!

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

First excerpt from fourth book in Cowbird Creek series -- plus a request for early reviewers

 Hello again! I'm hoping to make What Wakes the Heart (Cowbird Creek 4) available in about a month and a half, so it's high time I tried to whet your appetites for it. I also have a secondary purpose: I seek early reviewers! If I find any who like the book and don't mind being quoted, their kind words could end up on the back cover of the paperback edition, as well as on the book's Amazon and other pages.

So without further ado, here's an excerpt from Chapter 1. 


[Susanna Shepard has just graduated from a “normal school” (teacher’s college) in St. Louis, MO. The president (aka principal) has asked her to come see him to discuss some possible “good news.”]

 She knocked, her breath coming short as she strained to hear any word from within. Almost at once, the door opened, and there he stood, smiling broadly, his gold tooth glinting. “Susannah, my dear! Come in and sit down. You may hang your bonnet on the peg.”

The suggestion further buoyed her spirits. Clearly Mr. Brecker had not invited her simply for a short social call, but had matters to discuss that would take some time. She would like nothing better than to follow his instructions, but he had hardly left room for her to enter. She searched for the words to say as much, but in a moment he stepped back enough for her to get by. Once she had hung up her bonnet as instructed, he waved her toward the chair at one side of his desk, then walked around behind her toward his own. Something brushed her hair as he went by. His waistcoat? But it had been buttoned snugly around his midriff.

Mr. Brecker sat down, the springs in his chair squeaking under him, and leaned toward her. “As I told you on Saturday, I have some news that should be welcome — though not surprising, for such an able scholar as yourself.” He paused, looking at her intently, and cleared his throat before he went on. “You may recall that my own sister is in charge of an excellent school in this very city, a school much prized by parents, to the point where they are happy to pay the fees necessary to maintain its quality and keep its facilities in good condition. There is rarely a vacancy among its staff, for none leave without pressing need, but it just so happens that one of the instructors is shortly to be married and will be departing.”

He paused again. Was he waiting for her to express interest? Her interest must be obvious. But she asked, as he appeared to wish, “How is this instructor to be replaced?”

He studied her, for what purpose she could not guess. “While the final decision will of course be my sister’s, she is naturally inclined to rely on my judgment. If I recommend you to her, I am confident your acceptance — and your future — will be assured.”

He would hardly have called her here and given her this news if he did not mean her to have the post. But he had not yet said as much. What remained for her to do or to say? “Indeed, sir, I would be very happy and grateful if you see fit to recommend me.”

He leaned back in his chair, pushed it a little ways back from the desk, and licked his lips. “Come here, my dear.”

She wrinkled her forehead, an action which suddenly reminded her of the lines in her mother’s face. “Sir, I am not sure what you mean.”

He stood up, passed behind her again, and shut the door. Then he came back and stood next to her chair, holding out his hand. “Your gratitude is to your credit. Gratitude is a virtue we teachers prize, when we have done well by our pupils.” As she sat looking up at him, he leaned down and picked up her right hand, pulling her upward. His hand felt warm and surprisingly soft. “I know you must be anxious to express it.”

Once before, or it might have been twice, Susannah had noticed men in the streets following her with their eyes, looking at her with something between need and greed. Mr. Brecker’s eyes held that look now. He pulled harder on her hand.

Susannah rose out of her chair — and moved away, tugging her hand free of his grasp. “Mr. Brecker, I would of course be grateful for any assistance you give me, so long as it is based on my merits. When would it be possible for me to meet your sister?”

He seized her hand again and pulled hard, so that her bosom touched his broad chest. “My dear, your maidenly reserve does you credit. But you must trust me to do what is best for you, to guide you.” He slid two fingers into her hair and drew out a strand. “So fine a color. I have always favored dark hair. And yours, my dear, shines like a blackbird’s wing. And your eyes are as green as the fields of heaven.”

She could feel the blood blazing in her cheeks as she shoved herself free. She must say something, but what could she possibly say? Had she misunderstood? But what could he possibly mean, but what it seemed?

She looked back at him, hoping to see confusion, or even hurt. But it was anger that narrowed his eyes and tightened his mouth.

Susannah backed away until she could feel the doorknob in her hands. Then she spun around, grabbed her bonnet with one shaking hand, yanked open the door, and ran down the hall, like a child running from some dread thing.


Please email me at (best option) or comment below if you're interested in reading and reviewing this book as soon as it's ready!

I'll leave you with a repeat look at the cover.

Next time, an excerpt from the point of view of the young man on the left!

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

The Crucial Importance of Vetting a Potential Editor

 This blog post began life as a book review.

I bought a science fiction novel because its description intrigued me and it was on sale. (This is how I buy a great many ebooks. The rest usually come from a favorite author, like M.C.A. Hogarth, Grace Burrowes, V.E. Schwab, Lois McMaster Bujold, or my latest discovery, T. Kingfisher.) It didn't take long for me to discover that the book was exceptional -- in an unfortunate way. It was full of a great many errors, the kind that an edit should catch: mostly errors of grammar and vocabulary, but also continuity issues (not so much outright continuity contradictions as implausible shifts in attitude and expectation), ridiculous similes, and the occasional typo. I kept reading only because, underneath the absolute mess of the text, a somewhat interesting (if a bit derivative) story struggled to be told.

After a few chapters of this, I looked back at the front matter and saw that an individual editor was not only credited, but thanked for her impact on the finished product. The wording suggested a possibility even more unsettling than the editor's simple (if staggering) incompetence. Could the editor have taken a less problematic text and added some of the errors? Particularly where the misuse of words was concerned, I found it plausible that the author might have had a more limited vocabulary and/or a lack of confidence in her knowledge, and therefore accepted the editor's egregious substitutions.

I don't usually leave reviews that are primarily critical, though I'll mention what I see as weak points in a book I otherwise enjoyed. I was going to make an exception in the case of this book, as a warning to authors -- particularly new indie authors -- not to accept credentials or recommendations as a substitute for a test edit. Only a test edit can show whether a particular editor (a) is basically competent and (b) understands your authorial "voice" and will refine it rather than trying to replace it with some other style.

And then, the lawyer in me spoke up. (Yes, I'm an actual lawyer, though I'm quasi-retired.) If this review came to the attention of the book's editor, that editor might sue me for defamation (slander or libel, the latter for writings) -- even, possibly, for "defamation per se," which (among other things) covers defamation that could damage the subject's livelihood, and doesn't require proof of actual damages. I should be able to prevail in such a lawsuit, but it would be a waste of time and money, particularly if I did what prudent lawyers do when sued and hired some other lawyer to assist me or to be lead counsel.

So instead of leaving a review or otherwise identifying the book in question, I'm using this blog post to make my point more directly. For pity's sake, don't turn over your precious book to an editor who may let obvious errors go uncorrected or, worse, hand you back an unrecognizable Frankenstein's monster. (And if you answer this advice by pointing out that traditional publishers are unlikely to give most authors a choice of editor, you'll be quite right. Not every book that comes out of traditional publishers is well edited, let alone edited with sufficient care for the unique aspects of the author's voice. Indie authors, however, can vet editors.)

If I'd left a review, that review might have alerted the author to her predicament. I'm sorry not to have accomplished that. But who knows -- maybe the author and I will both be lucky, and she'll see this post and realize that it could apply to her.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Cover reveal! for fourth book in the Cowbird Creek series

 It's hard to type with crossed fingers, but here's hoping the beta reader feedback on What Wakes the Heart, the fourth book in my Cowbird Creek historical romance series, won't do major damage to my intended release timeline. If all goes reasonably well, this book will come out by mid-October of this year. So this seems like a good time to reveal the cover, previously shown only to family and my newsletter subscribers.

Just who are we looking at? Well, that's Susannah on the right, who will be the first schoolteacher for Cowbird Creek's first school. The fellow on the left goes by the name John, but before emigrating from Poland, he was Jan (pronounced much like "yawn").

In the weeks to come, I'll post some excerpts.

Saturday, July 30, 2022

A warning about parental rights

 It occurred to me today that I should write down a concern I've had since Dobbs overruled Roe, even though it may never prove prescient. After all, one never knows when one will be hit by the proverbial truck.

The majority opinion in Dobbs stated emphatically that the decision had no affect on, and had nothing to do with, precedents (prior binding legal decisions) on issues other than abortion. The precedents in question, including those establishing the right to same-sex marriage and to use contraception, are, like Roe -- and more explicitly, Casey, which reaffirmed Roe decades later -- based on the idea of "substantive due process." The doctrine of substantive due process requires that one interpret the Fourteenth Amendment's phrase "due process" as involving more than simply process, or procedure, but also encompassing substantive rights -- or at least, the "fundamental" ones.

Troxel v. Granville, the Supreme Court case that for the first time explicitly protected fundamental parental rights in the concept of grandparent visitation, is also based on substantive due process, although the plurality opinion (there was no majority opinion) referred only to "the Due Process clause" without that revealing adjective. (Concurring and dissenting opinions did use the full phrase.)

Back to Dobbs. While Justice Thomas joined the majority opinion, he also wrote a separate concurring opinion in which he -- not for the first time -- criticized the notion of substantive due process, calling it "an oxymoron that lacks any basis in the Constitution." Thomas noted that no party to the Dobbs case had asked the Court to decide to reexamine all the Court's Fourteenth Amendment precedents. Therefore -- because this broader question was not presently before the Court -- he agreed that Dobbs didn't cast doubt on those other Fourteenth Amendment cases. But he stated that in future cases, the Court should (presumably, after this hint, with the proper briefing from the parties involved) reconsider all its substantive due process precedents. That would include Troxel, although Thomas did not include it in his list of examples.

Thomas went on -- again, not for the first time -- to mention the Fourteenth Amendment's Privileges or Immunities Clause, which states that no state may make or enforce any law that would "abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States." This clause was essentially rendered a dead letter by a series of late 19th century cases, at least as far as any rights not mentioned in the first eight amendments are concerned -- but it could be revived, particularly if "substantive due process" bites the dust. The question would then become just how many rights, other than those listed in the first eight amendments, are protected as "privileges or immunities." In his concurring opinion in Troxel, Thomas included a footnote stating that Troxel did not involve a challenge based on the Privileges or Immunities Clause, and thus did not provide an opportunity to reevaluate the meaning of that clause.

For what it's worth, I think that Justice Thomas's concurring opinion is more forthright on the subject of the non-abortion substantive due process cases than is the majority opinion. And I think that some enterprising grandparent (or other nonparent) will, sooner or later, challenge Troxel, and any state precedent based on Troxel, on the ground that its constitutional reasoning was flawed. (Note: some state supreme courts have found independent state constitutional grounds for protecting parental rights as much as, or more than, Troxel did.)

I therefore hope that in the meantime, those for whom a Supreme Court case gutting parental rights would be disastrous will prepare to fight for those rights using arguments other than substantive due process. These arguments should, I submit, include arguments in favor of rehabilitating the Privileges or Immunities Clause. I have the impression that plenty of scholars and historians have criticized the 19th century cases in question (perhaps appropriately known as the Slaughterhouse Cases) -- so arguments should not be too hard to come by. 

Whatever rights the Privileges or Immunities Clause might be held to protect, they are likely to include rights that (to quote some often-used language) are "objectively, deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition." Parental rights should qualify.

Finally, whether or not a parent's state Supreme Court has already found that its state constitution protects parental rights, any parent facing the need to bolster state law on the subject should prepare to make a state constitutional argument.

Monday, June 27, 2022

How artificial wombs could provide an acceptable replacement for abortion -- depending on who controls them

 The title of this post more or less summarizes the starting point for my latest near-future novel, Donation.

I almost published this book a couple of years ago. I decided against it because it focuses on the misuse of artificial womb technology, and I didn't want to give the impression that I opposed the development of such technology (or of new technologies in general). I did some rewriting to make clearer, I hope, that I was warning about why we should hesitate to give control of large numbers of unborn children to government, especially to centralized government.

Until the leak of a draft of the Dobbs opinion, I didn't really think we'd see the demise of Roe v. Wade any time soon. Yet here we are. So the book has ended up being pretty timely. And I want to say again -- to emphasize -- that if we don't fall into the trap this book describes, prenatal incubators that can shelter and nourish fetuses and even embryos could be a way for women in "red" states to retain, or regain, their reproductive freedom. 

No solution is perfect, including this one. Some women would be haunted by the thought that a child of theirs was out there somewhere, and worry about that child's well-being (unless some sort of followup was allowed). But some women find themselves regretting an abortion. If I were still in my reproductive years and unable to raise the child I was carrying, I would much rather chose the incubator, if I could.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

A few thoughts about Roe v Wade and its demise, from a lawyer long interested in constitutional law

 A brief introduction, for those who've previously seen me post about novels and picture books: I'm also a lawyer with a decades-long interest in constitutional law. Before I started using this blog as a way to tell people about my books, I most often wrote on legal and political topics.

And now, I'm reverting to that subject matter to share a few thoughts about the Dobbs decision, which overturned Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

This event -- Roe being overturned -- vindicates the wisdom of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who noted the shaky legal (constitutional) basis of Roe and regretted that a political trend toward legalizing abortion had been interrupted by it. (And yes, in my view and according to many legal scholars and commentators, irrespective of their views on abortion, Roe had a shaky legal basis indeed.)That isn't to say some states wouldn't have continued prohibiting abortion right up to the present day, but we wouldn't have had decades of posturing for political benefit by people -- on each side -- who didn't have to face up to the reality behind the positions.

Also, if not for Roe, it's conceivable that some case(s) would have established a more solid constitutional basis for abortion rights. (See more on a related possibility below.) Theoretically, that could still happen -- the new Dobbs opinions could be distinguishable, in that no one involved in Dobbs made such alternate arguments. But I find it hard to imagine the Court bringing chaos to state abortion law again any time soon.

We may, however, see such alternate constitutional arguments made for other "privacy"/"substantive due process" rights such as gay marriage and parental decision-making authority. As for whether that will be necessary, I'm at least a little skeptical of the majority opinion's protestations that no such other rights are involved. As the Dobbs majority opinion notes, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which reaffirmed Roe nineteen years later, relied on substantive due process. The cases recognizing gay marriage, parental decision-making rights, use of contraceptives, et cetera also shelter under that umbrella, in whole or in part. (Brief detour for legal explanation: the Fourteenth Amendment forbids states to "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." This language has been stretched to include substantive rights, unrelated to procedure and not listed in the Bill of Rights or elsewhere in the Constitution, under the rubric "substantive due process," something of an oxymoron.)

Why do I doubt the majority's assertion that a decision on abortion, unique in destroying a potential human life, will have no repercussions for these other cases? Because the Dobbs decision doesn't actually rest on the fact that abortion destroys a potential human life. It does rely on various historical data specific to abortion -- but I consider it plausible to predict that future cases involving these other rights will, in examining comparable historical evidence, conclude that some or all of those rights are similarly without adequate constitutional foundation. I am not saying that will happen -- I haven't researched such history. But I don't entirely credit the way the majority brushes aside the possibility.

Justice Thomas's concurring opinion points out an important caveat. There may be other provisions, either in the Constitution as originally ratified or in one or more amendments, that could provide a basis for rights originally justified as aspects of substantive due process. Thomas mentions the Privileges or Immunities Clause, also part of the Fourteenth Amendment. He's consistently called attention to this clause over the years, so I doubt he's mentioning it simply as a hypothetical option.

Finally, on a less legalistic note, I'm glad to see that some anti-abortion activists are trying to make options and resources other than abortion widely available to pregnant women and to mothers, and aren't necessarily festooning such options and resources with religious slogans or indoctrination.