Today, I have author Karen Wyle guesting at my blog. She’s here to answer your biggest questions about her latest release What Frees the Heart, book two in the Cowbird Creek series, a western historical romance. Don’t forget to enter the Rafflecopter giveaway.
Karen has come up with questions and answers about her latest book and her writing career.
Q. Did you plan from the start to write a historical romance series?
Karen: No. I barely had the nerve to write historical romance at all! I’ve read historical fiction for many years, and had thought of attempting it, but the necessary research intimidated me. Within the last few years, I started reading both historical and contemporary romance, but felt even less prepared to tackle that. And yet, as November 2018 loomed and I asked myself what book to write during National Novel Writing Month, I somehow headed in the historical romance direction. The result, after some initial changes in character and backstory, and a significant course correction once my beta readers weighed in, was What Heals the Heart, Book 1 in the Cowbird Creek series.
I was greatly relieved at how well the book was received – and in particular, that readers thought I’d managed to convey the time and place in a convincing manner. That emboldened me to return to Cowbird Creek for another book, and to start planning Book 3 for November 2020.
Q. How does a romance series work? Where do you go from Happily Ever After?
Karen: You move on to another couple from the same setting and give them a HEA of their own! Some romance series go from one to another member of a family, while others, like the Cowbird Creek series, feature different people in the same town.
Q. Who are the main characters in What Frees the Heart? Did they show up in the first book? And will we get to see any other residents of Cowbird Creek this time around?
Karen: Caution: the answer to this question includes spoilers for Book 1, What Heals the Heart!
Readers of What Heals the Heart have already met Tom and Jenny. Tom is the farm lad whose leg Joshua had to amputate. Jenny is the young prostitute whose arm Joshua bandages, and who reminisces about rolling bandages for soldiers when she was a child.
Joshua and Clara appear frequently in What Frees the Heart, both (especially Joshua) playing a role in the plot. Silas Finch, the cordwainer who married Dolly, is a significant secondary character. We naturally see a good deal more of Madam Mamie, Jenny’s employer. And even though Freida and Jedidiah have left town, they do turn up and play their part in the HEA. (If I’d planned a series from the get-go, I might have found a way to keep them around, as Freida is a favorite of many readers and close to my heart as well.)
Q. What was the most challenging aspect of writing What Frees the Heart?
Karen: There were a few challenges! I had to deal with prostitution without either glamorizing it, or so thoroughly depressing the reader as to overwhelm the romance plot. I had to show Tom’s life as an amputee as realistically as I could, while also showing the spirit that helped him cope with that disability. But the most daunting challenge had to do with character voice. Joshua Gibbs was a well-read scion of an upper-crust Philadelphia family. Tom and Jenny had to think and speak in a very different way. I’d never tackled anything like their points of view before.
Q. What’s next in the series?
Karen: I’d like to keep the key details to myself for a bit longer. One of the reasons: I have an author newsletter, and I try to give my subscribers the first look at covers, excerpts, and other details about upcoming books. The signup link for the newsletter, accessible from my author website’s home page (http://www.KarenAWyle.com), is https://landing.mailerlite.com/webforms/landing/k9z1m0. (One of these days, I’ll figure out how to customize that unwieldy URL.) I send one newsletter a month, except during release months when I may send two – and I make it easy to unsubscribe.
I will drop this hint: readers already know a fair amount about one of the two main characters. The other character probably doesn’t live in Cowbird Creek full time. And the tentative title is What Shows the Heart.
Q. What’s National Novel Writing Month?
Karen: Pardon me while I tear up – because National Novel Writing Month (also called NaNoWriMo or NaNo) gave me, or gave me back, my writing career.
It was my childhood ambition to be a novelist. In fact, at age 10, I wrote a 200-page novel for which the kindest words would be “disjointed” and “derivative.” (My mother, praised be she, typed up all 200 penciled pages and bound the result so I could feel “published.”) I tried again at age 14 and gave up after 40 pages. And while I wrote poetry in high school and took a disastrous short story seminar in college, I gave up on writing novels, or any fiction longer than a picture book, for several decades.
Then, my oldest daughter tried NaNoWriMo in 2009,during her senior year in high school, and “won” by completing a 50,000 word rough draft – all while visiting colleges and finishing high school. When she told me she was doing NaNo again the following year, I decided to give it a try, figuring I’d probably drop out in a day or two. And here I am, almost ten years later, about to publish my tenth novel.
But to actually answer the question , NaNoWriMo is a group endeavor, organized online, for anyone who wants to write a novel. Each November, people from all over the world sign up and undertake to write at least 50,000 words of a new novel, entirely within that month. The idea is to bull on through, at an average pace of 1,667 words per day, without stopping to self-edit. The goal is a very rough draft, which the writer can then revise and edit to their heart’s content. One can update one’s word count online, track one’s progress, find “buddies” with whom to compete or commiserate, and visit various forums. In the forums, one can ask research questions (which can get very arcane and bizarre), find writing prompts, and vent about the writing process.
Q. What was that about picture books?
Karen: I started writing picture book manuscripts when I was pregnant with my older daughter, the one who later led me to NaNoWriMo. I even had an agent for a while, who never did succeed in snagging the interest of any publishers. Now that self-publishing has evolved to the point where it’s feasible to self-publish a picture book, I’d like to find an illustrator whose vision for one or more of these books matches my own, and who’s interested in collaborating. The titles include Mommy Calls Me “Acorn”; Catching Mommy’s Shadow; Where Do Fireflies Sleep; When It’s Winter; and You Can’t Kiss a Bubble.
Title: What Frees the Heart
Series: Cowbird Creek Book 2
Author: Karen A. Wyle
Genre: Western Historical Romance
Can they set each other free?
Blurb: Cowbird Creek has its share of troubled souls. For Tom, a farmer’s son, losing his leg felt like losing his future. Jenny, a young prostitute at Madam Mamie’s parlor house, has never thought she had much future to lose.
But the job Tom is able to get leads him to rediscover a long neglected talent. And both Tom and Jenny have a knack for hitting on new possibilities. Can they, together, find a better path?
Note: This novel, second in a series, returns to the small town of Cowbird Creek, Nebraska, in early 1876, a few months after the conclusion of What Heals the Heart. Several favorite characters from Book 1 make return appearances.
“Truly a romantic tale . . . . Wonderful characters, many with hearts of gold, small-minded characters that truly showed their ignorance and dreams that couldn’t be broken . . . from an author who lets her words feed our imaginations.” – Tome Tender review
“Magnificent story . . . a remarkable historical romance . . . great chemistry between the characters . . . It is always a joy to read this author’s stories.” – Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews
Jenny climbed the stairs trying to look carefree, in case any of the other girls was watching. Not much point to it — they all knew. It was never good news if Madam Mamie called you up to her office. If she was pleased with you, she’d come and find you and give you a kind word or a side-hug or maybe a cash bonus. The office was for scolding a girl, or even warning her that she’d come to her last chance and might be out on her ear soon.
Jenny had a pretty good idea what the trouble was. It wore a fancy frock coat, smoked cigars too smelly for what they cost, and had looked down his nose at her when he left that afternoon.
Mamie’s door was open, but as soon as Jenny showed up, Mamie waved her in, stood up, and closed it. Jenny’s belly went cold. Would Mamie kick her out, just because one client didn’t find her as much to his taste as he’d reckoned? Where could she go? The sheriff would never let her walk the street for customers, even if she could stand to do it.
Mamie grabbed Jenny’s shoulder and steered her into the chair close to Mamie’s desk. “Sit down, girl. And don’t look so petrified. You’re not in that much trouble. You just need reminding of some things.” Mamie sat back down at the desk, thumped her elbows on it, and leaned forward. “In fact, I bet you can tell me what those things are.”
Jenny knew she must have a sour-looking pout on her face as she recited, “Make the gentleman feel welcome. Follow his lead, unless he don’t know what he’s doing. Make him feel special. Laugh at his jokes —”
“Which is not the same as telling jokes of your own, now, is it? It is especially important to avoid coarse humor. Our patrons do not consider themselves to be coarse individuals. And you should have learned better than to use slang expressions to our more refined gentlemen.”
Jenny stuck out her lip. “Why’d he pick me if I’m so common, then?”
Mamie got her I shouldn’t have to explain this look. “Probably because he knew that all my girls are supposed to have some class. You didn’t just leave a customer dissatisfied —”
Jenny tossed her hair. “Oh, he sounded satisfied enough to me. He bellowed like a hog!”
Mamie stood up behind her desk, leaned over it, picked up the nearest bit of Jenny’s hair, and gave it a sharp tug. “You know that’s not what I’m saying. You didn’t just leave a customer dissatisfied with the quality of our service, you damaged my reputation by doing it.” She did a double take, looking at the hair. “Right here, this is part of the problem. That color looks cheap. You’d have done better leaving it brown.” She turned the strands of hair this way and that. “On the other hand, now that it’s lighter, you could . . . how’d you like to go red? Plenty of men consider red hair exotic, and even believe red-haired women are more passionate by nature.”
Jenny tried to remember what she’d heard about turning hair red. “Do you mean henna? Won’t it rub off or nothing?”
Mamie let go of Jenny’s hair, sat back down, and tapped her long fancy fingernail on the desk. “No henna for my girls. We’d use the latest dye, that I ordered a while back from a factory in Massachusetts.” Prob’ly like what Mamie used herself. Jenny had to admit Mamie’s hair was a prettier blonde than Jenny had managed. “I figured I’d be wanting a redhead sooner or later, if one didn’t wander in. Of course, dye like that is expensive. You’d have to share the cost.”
That would mean a smaller payment for every customer until she paid off however much Mamie wanted out of her. But what choice did she have? After she’d gone and ticked off that stuffy old coot, she had better do whatever would make sure Mamie gave her another chance. “All right. I’d like that fine.”
Mamie finally smiled. “And fine is just how you’ll look. Meanwhile, you need to spend more time with some of our best-mannered girls. Listen to them, try to talk more like them, watch how they handle men. Girls like Lucette and Penny, they could almost skip bedding the customers and still send them out happy.”
I’d sure like to skip bedding some of them as come in here. She knew not to say anything of the kind. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Have them teach you some songs. You’ve a pretty voice, if you learn what to do with it.”
Jenny winced before she could catch herself. Her brother would laugh himself sick. He’d had plenty of names for her singing. Squealing like a slaughtered hog again? Honkin’ louder’n the goose, you are! But she’d give it a try, and then Mamie would see.
“Back to work, now. And no more telling jokes, not until you learn some better ones and when to tell ‘em. Stick to smiling and flattering. And of course, act like they’re the best lover you’ve had all year.”
Were any of the customers fool enough to believe it when a whore said that? Well, she should know by now how big a man’s ego could get.
Title: What Heals the Heart
Series: Cowbird Creek Book 1
Author: Karen A. Wyle
Genre: Western Historical Romance
Blurb: 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?
Joshua had learned over the years to assume a calm and reassuring manner, whatever the condition in which a patient presented himself. Such a demeanor calmed the patient in turn, giving confidence that the doctor could cope with whatever mishap, or even calamity, had occurred; and a calm and confident patient would be easier to deal with.
But it took a positive effort of will to avoid any sign of alarm when Hawkins, of all people, banged at the door of Joshua’s office, pushed it open, and entered with Clara Brook leaning on his arm, shivering and pale.
Even as Joshua stared, Clara straightened up and looked about her in evident dismay. She muttered something under her breath; Joshua could not catch the words, but it had the rhythm of a curse.
Hawkins led her to a chair and pressed her into it before addressing Joshua. “I was passing by the town square when I noticed Miss Brook sitting on a bench nearby. I tipped my hat and said good morning, but she didn’t say nothing back to me. Well, that wasn’t like her, seeing as we’re acquainted, so I looked closer, and I saw she looked poorly, as you’ll have noticed when we come in. Well, I may know a thing or two —” Hawkins paused and thrust his chin up and his shoulders back, then slumped down again. “But I don’t rightly know what to do when a young lady gets the vapors. So I thought, may as well bring her over here and see what you could do for her. But looks as if she’s going to be just fine, without no special treatment.”
Indeed, as much color as Clara usually possessed, if not more, had returned to her face. A moment more, and she stood up, her posture almost aggressively straight. She took the barber’s hand. “Thank you for assisting me. I am only sorry to have caused you concern.”
“Weren’t no trouble, miss. And I’m right glad to see you looking better. I’ll be on my way.” He smiled at her before releasing her hand, nodding stiffly at Joshua, and taking his leave.
Clara shook her head as if dislodging unpleasant images. “I hope you will believe that I am not often afflicted with what Mr. Hawkins calls ‘the vapors.’” She paused and went on more quietly. “Or at least, not for such causes as are traditionally attributed to delicate females.”
Joshua would have very much liked to inquire as to other likely causes for her symptoms, now or in the past, but her manner made all too clear that any such question would be unwelcome. He could not force his diagnostic efforts on her. “Are you feeling quite well again?”
Clara lifted her chin in a gesture echoing Hawkins’ defiant posture. “Perfectly. You’ll have no need to rummage for smelling salts or other such remedies.” She forced a smile, an expression that sat poorly on her face and troubled him more than a frown would have done. Then some thought evidently crossed her mind and gave rise to a look of more genuine amusement, or even mischief. “And I defy you to hold so firmly to your low opinion of Mr. Hawkins, after he has demonstrated such gallantry.”
As more than once before, she left him stammering for a reply. She awaited none, but turned and fairly marched out the door.
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.
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