What Heals the Heart is an interesting look at life in the post-Civil War Old West, perfect for those looking for something a little different and who enjoy a slow burn romance.
What inspired you to write What Heals the Heart?
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.
What led you to self-publish your novels?
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.
Are there any specific authors whose writing styles or subject matter have inspired you?
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.
What do you like best about being a writer, and what do you dislike most about it?
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.
Do you plan to write more historical romance? More historical fiction in general? More about Cowbird Creek and its inhabitants?
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.
Why are most of your previous novels science fiction?
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.
Which of your previous novels are most likely to appeal to readers who enjoy What Heals the Heart?
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.
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?
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“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)
Joshua made the blacksmith drink down the first glass of water and powder before he left with a pouch holding six more doses. Whether he’d keep taking it, well, that was the blacksmith’s problem, for now anyway.
There was no one waiting, but before Joshua had time to do more than take a book down from the shelf, the door opened and a woman walked in. No, more like sailed in, a proud vessel, a four-master. She took off her coat to reveal a well-tailored dress, fitting snugly on her large, well-upholstered frame. Her graying, wavy hair peeked out from under a truly astonishing hat.
He hadn’t met this woman, but he believed he’d heard about her. Another newcomer to town, from somewhere back east; a widow; and apparently Jewish. That’d make her the first Jew he’d met.
She held out her hand. “Doctor! I’m so pleased to be meeting you. I’m Freida Blum.”
He shook her hand, studying her. He’d never heard her accent before, or not quite. It wasn’t as thick as the accent of that German he’d tended the last year of the war, when he’d turned medic; he could understand her without straining. But “Doctor” ended in a rough, husky sound, and “meeting” sounded more like “meetink.” There was something different about her vowels that he couldn’t put a word to. And her speech had a rhythm and a melody to it, almost like singing, or chanting anyway.
But here he was standing and gawking when he needed to be doctoring. “Please come through to the back and sit up on that table. Then you can tell me what brings you in today.”
She strode after him, passed him, and got on the table with a little jump, the wood creaking as she landed. “Oh, I’ve just had some aches and pains, here and there. And I get tired by afternoon. My age, you don’t expect to feel like a spring chicken. But I thought I’d stop in.”
She was studying him quite as much as he’d studied her. Whatever she’d heard about him, he guessed it was her curiosity more than any medical need that had sent her his way. But he’d check her over. He picked up his stethoscope.
“So young, for a doctor! But that’s just an old woman talking, I suppose.” (He wouldn’t call her old, exactly. Not quite. She might be in her middle fifties or a little older.)
Speaking of talking, she would need to stop. “If you could just take a deep breath, and then another, while I listen to your lungs.”
“Of course, of course. How can you do your job —” (“yure chob”) — “when I’m rattling on like a freight train? Samuel always said to me, Freida, the way you talk, when do you manage to breathe?”
“Mrs. Blum. Please.”
Praise be, she stopped talking and took deep breaths as he commanded. Her lungs sounded good. But she winced as she took the third breath. And she put a hand to her back as if it was paining her. She might have her reasons for being there, at that.
Or she could be lonely. Lonely people without enough to do sometimes felt sicker than they really were. “What do you do during the day, generally?”
The woman beamed at him as if rewarding the question. “I sew for so many people! This dress, I made it. All I have to do is walk around town, it’s as good as putting an ad in the paper. And I’m setting up the social library in the schoolhouse, me and the teacher, such a bright young woman. And my little neighbor, she’s like a daughter to me, I take care of her babies sometimes so she can get her rest.”
Not idle, then.
He pressed the stethoscope to her ample chest, giving thanks once again to the inventor who had spared him the even more awkward necessity of putting his ear there instead. Her heart sounded good — or did it? There might be a faint suggestion of a galloping rhythm.
Laudanum would help her with those aches and pains. He reached for a bottle, but Mrs. Blum stopped him, exclaiming, “Oh, I have that at home! May I come to you for more when I run out?”
Joshua pointed next door. “I get mine from the pharmacist. You can do the same.”
A shade of what might have been disappointment crossed her face. For whatever reason, she apparently found doctors more interesting than druggists. Her next questions suggested as much. “How did you learn so much about medicine? Did you go to one of those new schools?”
He shook his head. “I picked it up during the war, to start with.” And that was all he was going to say about those years of floundering and failing, the lives lost all around him, the suffering he could do little to ease.
The bell on the front door jingled a welcome chance to escape more questioning. Maybe he’d be summoned to some nicely far-off homestead to attend a stolid farmer, someone who had less to say for himself. “Excuse me, Mrs. Blum.” Without waiting for an answer, he stepped back into the front room to see a familiar face, a farmer’s youngest son, shifting his weight from foot to foot, his hands clutched together in front. The boy’s hair was wet — it must have started to rain since Joshua’s sunny morning walk. Good news for the farmers.
“Please, doc, we need you to come see to Paw. He was sharpening the coulter for the plow, and it fell over on his leg. It’s cut something awful.”
Joshua’s lips tightened, and he barely avoided a frown. That’s what wishing brought you. You’d think he’d learn. “I’ll get my bag.”
Joshua suffers a lot from his time in the war and headed west to try to find a bit of peace. I really enjoyed his portrayal, how he became a doctor, and some of his struggles in the small town. He finds an unusual friend in Mrs. Blum, a charming Jewish widow new to town, and even is willing to put up with her matchmaking. While I enjoyed Clara, it is definitely this relationship that brings the most charm to the story and I looked forward to every time that Freida showed up on the page.
Clara definitely has a bit of mystery about her but as she slowly reveals more about herself you definitely see where Wyle was going in making her a good match for Joshua. Their similar backgrounds and her self-sufficiency will allow them to support each other well.
I’m not usually a big reader of western historicals and I’m not sure why because I’ve enjoyed every one I’ve read, including this one. I will add a warning, though, that Wyle’s story feels more like historical fiction that it does romance. We spend a lot of time getting to know Joshua and how he views the town, its people, and the time, especially the fall out from the Civil War. It makes for a very interesting read but those looking for a love story might be disappointed that most of that happens at the end (and at a pretty quick pace).
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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