What Heals the Heart
Cowbird Creek Book 1
by Karen A. Wyle
Genre: Western Historical Romance
Print Length: 266 pages
Publisher: Oblique Angles Press
Publication Date: October 15, 2019
Joshua Gibbs survived the Civil War, building on his wartime experiences to become a small town doctor. And if he wakes from nightmares more often than he would like, only his dog Major is there to know it.
Then two newcomers arrive in Cowbird Creek: Clara Brook, a plain-speaking and yet enigmatic farmer’s daughter, and Freida Blum, an elderly Jewish widow from New York. Freida knows just what Joshua needs: a bride. But it shouldn’t be Clara Brook!
Joshua tries everything he can think of to discourage Freida’s efforts, including a wager: if he can find Freida a husband, she’ll stop trying to find him a wife. Will either matchmaker succeed? Or is it Clara, despite her own scars, who can heal the doctor’s troubled heart?
"What Heals The Heart is a time-machine in a compact tome.. . . If you love period pieces, Karen A. Wyle's book will satisfy even the most discerning reader. This elegant novel is an exquisite example of romance at its finest!" -- Indies Today
"Ms. Wyle's understanding of the time period described in the book is impressive. . . . The love story that develops is endearing and timeless. . . . My world felt right while reading this book, as if I'd found an old friend and sat for a while to drink coffee and chat about life or love. I give What Heals the Heart five out of five stars. It is one of the best modern historical romances I have read in recent years. Fans of historical romances will enjoy this book. Ms. Wyle, if you're out there reading this, just know I'm a huge fan now." -- Kathryn Blade, author and reviewer
"Brilliantly connects the reader to the characters reliving collective trauma . . . . She was able to bring a perfect amount of lightness (small town matchmaking and quirky friendships) to balance a tough subject. The friendships in this novel were phenomenal and I loved every single one of them. Wyle is able to create characters who I wanted to befriend. . . . Characters I fought for, cheered for, loved, and in all honesty, cried for and with." -- Honestly Austen
"This one is a must read for historical fiction buffs. Ms. Wyle has done her homework and it shows as the dust gets in your eyes, and the smells of horse and prairie fill your nostrils. A wonderful atmosphere that feels like stepping back in time as the manners, the speech and the neighborly attitudes come alive. Truly a hidden gem . . . that shares a slice of one man's life, loneliness and caring ways." -- Dianne Bylo of Tome Tender
""The resolution scene is worthy of Jane Austen. . . . Wyle's writing is equally excellent throughout. . . . Word by word, sentence by sentence, page by page, Wyle does not let the reader down." -- Danusha Goska, author and scholar
"Wyle's historical romance is a fantastic tale of life on the prairie for a country doctor still dealing with his war experience. . . . [H]umorous, touching . . . a wonderful read that kept me interested from the first page." -- Teresa Grabs (author of Wish Upon a Leaf)
“Boot blacking, coffee, cornmeal, flour, soap. Put it on your tab?”
“Thank you kindly.” The suggestion would, in fact, save him some embarrassment. His patients had lately been paying in roast chickens, bacon, cream, potatoes, even horseshoes — all welcome and useful items, but it left him short of coin.
“And you’ve got a letter.”
This would take some juggling. Joshua picked up the envelope first, opening it and extracting the letter, tucking the envelope into his vest and laying the letter on the counter. Next, he grabbed the sack full of supplies in his left hand and picked up the letter in his right. That left him without a way to tip his hat, so he nodded his goodbye and walked out, glancing at the letter as he went. Major, idling in the street, jumped up to follow.
Joshua knew he had not been a satisfactory correspondent. The last letter to his mother in which he had mentioned anything of actual importance had been the letter he sent on his way west, trying to explain why he had felt compelled to leave his family and his home so far behind. Even as he sent that letter on its way, he had known it would fail in its mission. What he had been unable to say to her face, he had been equally unable to put into words on paper. Either would have required that he call to mind, and then stain her memory forever by recounting, the life he had lived as a soldier and a medic. Without that understanding, how could she understand how unreal and hollow the civilized life of Philadelphia had become for him?
His mother still wrote every two weeks, however, and he’d been awaiting her latest for several days. Now he saw what had kept her busy. His middle sister’s baby had come — except it was twins! A boy and a girl. He could imagine his younger and oldest sisters knitting madly to deal with the surprise.
As for his father — what? He was writing a book?
Joshua had been paying just enough attention to where he was going that he didn’t trip on the planks in the street or walk in front of any horses. But not enough, it turned out, to avoid walking smack into someone. He started backward, dropping his sack, and stammered apologies, while Major added to the confusion by circling the scene and barking loudly.
His victim, Joshua realized, was the tall green-eyed woman he had seen in the street the day he first met Mrs. Blum. She had managed to stay on her feet and now stooped to help him retrieve his groceries, whisking them away from Major’s investigative sniffing. Her hands looked strong, with long fingers; it took her almost no time to fill his sack again. She stood up, neither smiling nor frowning, and handed him the sack. “I hope that isn’t bad news in your hand.”
He tried to pull himself together enough to answer her. “Uh, no, not bad news. Just news. Babies. Two of them. That is, my sister just had twins.”
The woman’s eyes widened. “Congratulations to your sister! I’m sure she’ll cope splendidly.”
An interesting way to put it. Was she speaking from experience, and if so, her own or someone else’s?
Manners! What would his mother — or for that matter, Freida Blum — say? “I beg your pardon. I’m Joshua Gibbs.”
The woman tilted her head slightly and nodded in what might, unlikely as it seemed, be approval. “The doctor. I’ve heard of you. People speak well of you.”
Did they? He supposed they might. The comment left him feeling absurdly pleased. With some difficulty, he suppressed a foolish grin.
He was becoming curious about the woman’s identity, but accidental assault was hardly the basis for him to ask about it. She took pity on him and volunteered the information. “My name is Clara Brook. We’re recent arrivals. Our farm is a little over four miles to the southwest.” He was not that good at accents, but thought she might have grown up in or near Kentucky.
Joshua had about an hour before he needed to be back for his afternoon office hours. How much money did he have on him? He’d grabbed a few coins in case he needed them at the general store. It should be enough, at least if he held himself to a single scoop without toppings. “May I buy you an ice cream? As an apology for my inexcusable carelessness?”
Miss Brook looked at him gravely. “Hardly inexcusable. I’ve seen —” She cut off the comment and said instead, “Thank you. That would be very nice.” Not a fan of hyperbole, it seemed, in others or in her own speech. Joshua led the way, in case Miss Brook had not yet learned the ice cream parlor’s location. Major had apparently decided to adopt her, trotting by her side rather than his master’s. When they reached their destination, Miss Brook paused and gestured toward the dog. “Does he accompany us or no?”
Joshua shook his head, having decided previously that ice cream was unlikely to be a good addition to Major’s diet. Miss Brook then startled Joshua by snapping her fingers toward Major and pointing to a position near the window. Major immediately sat.
The clerk at the ice cream parlor looked at Joshua with some surprise as they entered. Joshua asked Miss Brook’s preference, ordered her single scoop of strawberry along with his own vanilla, paid — narrowly escaping the embarrassment of coming up short — and carried both plates to the little table next to the window.
Now what? Well, she knew he had sisters, one of them with new additions to her family. Surely he could ask after similar details, at least indirectly. “How have you and your . . . your family been finding Cowbird Creek? Is it what you hoped, when you decided to settle here?”
Somehow it failed to surprise him when she avoided a conventional response. “I wouldn’t say we know enough, yet, to answer that question. Or perhaps I should say we didn’t have very specific expectations. My parents wanted to buy land, to leave my brother someday, and there was land for purchase here. It’s a deal of work for the four of us, but we’re used to work.”
A brother, but no sisters — at least none still at home. It was unlikely she’d lost sisters in the War of Rebellion, but she might have had more brothers before that long and bloody nightmare. All through his childhood, he had wished he had brothers instead of, or in addition to, three sisters. That wish, too, had died in the war.
It was Joshua’s turn to say something, but nothing came to mind. Miss Brook did not seem to be one of those women who could set a man to talking. Or maybe she chose not to do so. He could think of only one inane question. “What are you growing, or raising?”
Her left eyebrow twitched upward. “The usual, I suppose. Corn, oats. I have some interest in planting winter wheat, but my father has not yet agreed. I have a vegetable garden, though I’m still getting accustomed to the weather and how it affects what I can grow. We raise hogs — and chickens, of course, but mainly for our own eggs and our own pot.”
He might be carrying home some of those eggs, some day. They would be good eggs, he’d wager — he guessed she took good care of the hens.
Before he could come up with some other conversational gambit, she asked him, “What’s the most surprising thing about Cowbird Creek? Something we wouldn’t have had a chance to learn yet?”
There was a question he hadn’t heard before. “Hmm. Let me think.” Madam Mamie’s establishment was tonier than some, but even if that counted as surprising, he could hardly mention it. And the presence of a Jewish widow was unusual, but he doubted Mrs. Blum would appreciate being held up as a local oddity. “Our Chinese laundryman struck it rich — well, maybe not rich, but close — in the California gold fields.”
Miss Brook smiled, the first smile he’d seen from her, but quickly went grave again. “I don’t think I’ll mention it to my brother. He used to hanker after the gold fields himself, and I’d be sorry to remind him.”
She had finished her ice cream, and he needed to be back for any patients needing him. He took a final spoonful of his own and stood up. “Miss Brook, it’s been a pleasure, despite my regrettable way of introducing myself. I’m sure I’ll be seeing you again.”
That eyebrow twitched again. “I agree. Though I hope it won’t be in your professional capacity.”
Cursing his clumsy tongue, he bowed and escaped back to territory where he was less likely to put a foot wrong.
Karen A. Wyle was born a Connecticut Yankee, but eventually settled in Bloomington, Indiana, home of Indiana University. She now considers herself a Hoosier. Wyle's childhood ambition was to be the youngest ever published novelist. While writing her first novel at age 10, she was mortified to learn that some British upstart had beaten her to the goal at age 9.
Wyle is an appellate attorney, photographer, political junkie, and mother of two daughters. Her voice is the product of almost five decades of reading both literary and genre fiction. It is no doubt also influenced, although she hopes not fatally tainted, by her years of law practice. Her personal history has led her to focus on often-intertwined themes of family, communication, the impossibility of controlling events, and the persistence of unfinished business.
Q. What inspired you to write What Heals the Heart? A. Durned if I know! Some of my novels have grown out of news items, whether current events or accounts of scientific or technological advances. At least one started as a dream. But my earliest recollection of the seed for this book is a saved text file in which the protagonist was not a doctor but a private detective.
Q. What led you to self-publish your novels? A. Once I finished the rough draft of my novel Twin-Bred, I began reading every blog and Twitter feed I could find, as well as several books, about the publishing process. At first, I was learning how to query agents and publishers, and how to format a manuscript for submission. But the more I read, the more I realized two things:
–Self-publishing was eminently feasible and would give me much more control over content, marketing and timing.
–In the current state of the industry, there are serious risks involved in the traditional route. More and more agency and publication contracts include language that can seriously limit an author's future options, while offering relatively little in exchange. Nor will the publisher who's preparing your book for publication in eighteen months necessarily be in business that long.
Q. Are there any specific authors whose writing styles or subject matter have inspired you? A. Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow and Children of God are brilliant treatments of the theme of human-alien communication difficulties, the subject of my Twin-Bred series. Like me, she started with science fiction and then turned to historical fiction. Her books inspire me even as their excellence intimidates me.
I have also tended to gravitate toward novelists who explore themes such as the irrevocable impact of actions and decisions, whether obviously momentous or seemingly trivial – novelists from the 19th Century author George Eliot to current YA author Caroline Cooney.
Q. What do you like best about being a writer, and what do you dislike most about it? A. I love it when the story decides to write itself! It's a bit like being a medium and channeling some spirit. I also find it extremely rewarding when readers tell me that one of my novels has moved them or even helped them through a difficult time.
My greatest ongoing gripe is the amount of work involved in trying to increase my visibility in the crowded literary landscape. However, as that difficulty is inextricably connected to the greater opportunities for authors these days, I try to focus on the positive.
Q. Do you plan to write more historical romance? More historical fiction in general? More about Cowbird Creek and its inhabitants? A. Having taken the plunge into historical fiction – which I hope readers will consider an apt description of this novel, despite its belonging in the subgenre of historical romance – I think it likely I’ll paddle around for a while. First up will probably be a second romance set in Cowbird Creek, focusing on a couple of the secondary characters in What Heals the Heart. I’m also intrigued by the possibility of dealing more thoroughly and seriously with the impact of the Great Grasshopper Plague of 1874-1875, about which I learned only late in the process of writing this novel. After that – who knows?
I will, however, strive to finish editing another near-future SF novel, Donor, and may well publish it before the second Cowbird Creek book.
Q. Why are most of your previous novels science fiction? A. I’ve been reading (and to a lesser extent, watching) science fiction for so long that I tend to view experiences, such as walking my dog and wondering what she’s smelling, and new information, such as news stories about conjoined twins or womb twin survivors, through a science fiction lens.
Q. Which of your previous novels are most likely to appeal to readers who enjoy What Heals the Heart? A. I hope that even readers unfamiliar with science fiction will, if they give my SF novels a try, find a similar style, sensibility, and thematic focus in those stories. That said, perhaps the novel closest in tone to, and whose subject matter has most in common with, What Heals the Heart is Wander Home, a family drama with mystery and romance elements set in a re-imagined afterlife. This afterlife has features which lend themselves to the confrontation of lingering personal issues and unfinished business. For example, you can relive any memory in perfect detail – and if someone else who took part in the remembered scene is there with you, you can trade places and remember the events from the other person's perspective. There are other aspects of the afterlife that, while serving this same purpose, are also just plain fun. You can be any age at any time, and visit any place that you remember or that anyone you meet – from any time in Earth's history – remembers. Wander Home concerns a mother who desperately wanted a child, but who left that child in the care of her parents and grandmother for unknown reasons. The child, grandparents, and great-grandmother die in an auto accident four years after the mother's mysterious departure; the mother dies of stress cardiomyopathy ("broken heart syndrome") some time later, and is reunited with the family she left behind.
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