Interview With Author Ann H. Gabhart

# Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!

Hi, I’m so glad to be here to talk to you about my writing and my books. I’m Ann H. Gabhart. I do have some cozy mysteries published under a variation of my name, A.H. Gabhart, just to let readers know those stories are different from my historical stories. I grew up on a farm here in Kentucky and my husband and I still live on a farm today. Although we are no longer actively farming and have leased our land to a young farmer, I still enjoy walking with my dogs and grandkids in the fields and woods.

Along a Storied Trail is my 37th published books. It’s set in the Appalachian area of Kentucky and has a background history of the Packhorse Librarians during the Great Depression. I’ve written a couple of other books set in the Appalachian Mountains with Frontier Nursing Service midwife history. All my books have Kentucky settings and most are set in small towns. Even the setting for my Shaker books, my fictional Harmony Hill Shaker Village, is a small town in its unique way. I’ve explored different time periods with the Shaker books set in the first part of the 1800s up to the Civil War. Several of my books have Great Depression era settings and my Heart of Hollyhill books are set in the middle of the 1960’s. Then I went to Louisville for a dramatic 1855 story, Words Spoken True. So I’ve been all over the state and through the years sharing Kentucky stories with readers.

# What is/are the real-life story(ies) behind your book(s)?

I like to lace actual historical happenings or settings into my historical novels. For Along a Storied Trail I researched the Packhorse Library program that was part of the Works Project Administration during the 1930’s. I especially enjoyed reading about the book women hired to carry books to the homes of people who lived in the Eastern Kentucky Appalachian Mountains. They were bookmobiles on horses or mules as they took their saddlebags of books around to readers. Many of those in this region of Kentucky had never had access to libraries and the Packhorse Libraries proved to be a very popular program. I enjoyed my Appalachian characters in this book and also those in my nurse midwives stories in These Healing Hills and An Appalachian Summer.

My Heart of Hollyhill books were inspired by my own memories of growing up in the Sixties and the Rosey Corner books by the stories my mother and her sisters shared with me about growing up during the Great Depression. I loved hearing them talk and laugh about things that happened in their little community and about the odd characters they knew. I researched Shaker villages and their ways for my Shaker books and came across a true story of a selfless hero during the cholera epidemic to inspire my book, River to Redemption.

# What inspires/inspired your creativity?

When I’m trying to come up with new ideas for a story, I sometimes start with an event in history or perhaps a setting. Then I like to read about that time or historical event to let some of that percolate in my head. With those stories, once I have an idea of the historical setting or era, I think about what characters might best suit my vision of a story. That’s when the characters will always take over as I consider their lives in the history and setting I’m envisioning. In Along a Storied Trail, I knew I wanted to write about the Packhorse Librarians during the Great Depression. In reading about the women who actually did that work in the 1930’s, I got an idea of the kind of character it would take to be a book woman.

In my research for that book, I also discovered other WPA projects that I didn’t know about when I first considered this idea. That was the work projects for writers, artists and other creative people and also the Civilian Conservation Corps. That spurred my imagination to come up with other characters to be in the story with my book woman, Tansy Calhoun. Then, as I write my stories, some characters will come to life and demand a bigger part in the story. That was true with Perdita Sweet, a contrary mountain woman who has a story to share in Along a Storied Trail.

# How do you deal with creative block?

Sometimes the words do come hard somewhere along the way while I’m working on a story. When that happens, I can feel as though I’m in the doldrums. That word comes from a place near the equator where sailing ships used to get caught in an area for weeks with no winds to push them on to their destinations. While I don’t know if those old sailing ships had any way to try to get out of those doldrums other than hoping for the right winds to come fill their sails, I have discovered that if I will put my fingers on my keyboard and keep typing words into my story, the creative winds will start blowing again. Even if I have to delete some of those words I’ve come up with while in the doldrums, I am back sailing along with my story.

# What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?

For me, I think that would be coming up with main characters my readers don’t like enough to care what happens in their fictional lives. I want my fictional people to come to life as I’m sharing their story in hopes that my readers will live their stories with them.

I work to make my characters’ voices unique and consistent throughout the story. I would hope my reader will know which character is speaking without having any other clues than the words they are saying. But I wouldn’t want my readers to get lost in the middle of a stretch of dialogue and have no idea who is saying what. In my opinion, characters make or break a story. It’s my hope that readers will embrace my characters and want good outcomes for them as they follow along their story trails in spite of whatever challenges I throw at my story people along the way.

# Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?

Most of my books have been traditionally published and while I do work at coming up with the best title I can to suit my story, that title doesn’t always make it on the cover. My publishers brainstorm about the titles and consider the one I have chosen as well as others I have suggested. Then, they either decide to go with one of my titles or come up with something better the way they did with Along a Storied Trail.

When I’m titling one of my books, I much prefer to title it after I have finished writing the story. That doesn’t work too well when I need to write a proposal to suggest a project to my publisher. I’ve had to change my thinking on that a bit and do some title consideration earlier in my writing process. I do tend to write to whatever title I come up with, but whatever title is chosen always fits the story too. Some of my kept titles are Angel Sister, Murder at the Courthouse, and Scent of Lilacs.

I think it’s good to come up with a title that invites a reader into your story. The same is true with book covers. At times, I have been in on the process of creating a book cover for my stories by giving suggestions or sharing photos from my research about the setting. The Refuge, one of my Shaker novels, used images from photos I took of the buildings in a Shaker village that I used as inspiration for my fictional Shaker village of Harmony Hill. I was pleased when a reader from Canada who sometimes makes the trip to visit the historic Shaker site, Pleasant Hill, here in Kentucky recognized the buildings on that book cover.

# How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?

I daresay no author enjoys bad reviews, but after you’ve published as many books as I have, you realize that not everybody is going to love your stories even if you can’t understand why they wouldn’t. LOL. I have had bad reviews or negative comments that stick in my head. Sometimes that is because they are odd or even funny like the reviewer who once said reading one of my books made her want to wash windows. What can a writer do but laugh about that kind of review?

I don’t dwell on the few negative ones and try to think about the many more positive comments. That is often more difficult for writers when they are starting out and publishing those first books. Bad reviews then can be more upsetting and threaten a writer’s confidence. But you just have to develop a thick skin and realize that your story doesn’t always match what a reader was hoping for when he or she picked up your book to read.

# How has your creation process improved over time?

I used to do more pre-writing when I first started writing novels. I would do lengthy character sketches as well as pages of setting and plotting ideas. I still do some pre-writing. That’s usually a few pages about my main characters with a description of their physical appearance and personalities. I trust my storytelling ability more now and like heading down my story roads without knowing everything about the story. I’m not sure that’s an improvement since at times I worry about the story getting off track, but so far, that hasn’t happened. I like how the development of my characters leads me through the story and to what happens next.

I have learned that keeping a complete character list with every character named in the story, whether a person or an animal, plus every place mentioned in the story recorded saves me time and mistakes when I forget what I called this or that person or place in an earlier chapter. That can also help me remember or review character names so I don’t use the same names in future stories. I also record dates on a timeline to keep historical events accurate and my characters’ events in line with the story.

# What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your book(s)?

Worst is finishing the story way over my publisher’s word length requirement. Sometimes I have had to find ways to cut as many as 12,000 words from my story to get it down to 100,000 words. While that is no fun at all, it does always improve my story by helping me get rid of those unnecessary words.

Best is falling in love with my characters and how the story can come together. Sometimes I’m not totally sure of that until I reach the end and then go back to the beginning to give the story a first complete read through. This can be a favorite time since the story comes to life and I see that somehow I’ve once again managed to share the story I want to share. I try to be like a reader who doesn’t already know what happens and read the story with fresh eyes. Whenever I can shed a tear or a smile with my characters, then that’s the best.

Most surprising are those characters that pop into my story from nowhere. I didn’t plan them, or I planned them but didn’t know they were going to be such a big part of the story. That’s someone like Granny Em in my book, These Healing Hills. She just shows up as my main character, Francine, is trying to navigate a swinging bridge for the first time. And then she stayed and became a wonderful character I loved and so did readers. That happened with Perdita in Along a Storied Trail too. I loved writing the chapters that were from her viewpoint. Then, in my Heart of Hollyhill stories, I had Wes who claims he fell out of a spaceship from Jupiter and landed in Hollyhill with plenty of Jupiter stories to share with Jocie. At least that’s the story he tells her. So I love my surprise characters.

# Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?

I hope I balance the two or at least that balance happens without conscious balancing efforts. While I want my readers to be happy with my story, I don’t think about what they might or might not like while I’m writing. I simply tell the story I’m given. I guess that means I tend toward personal satisfaction with the hope that if I like the story, so will my readers.

# What role do emotions play in creativity?

I don’t know that I’ve ever considered my emotions playing a part in creativity, but of course, a writer does need to be excited about sharing a story. I’ve been writing for many years. My first book was published in the general market over forty years ago. I’ve come up with many stories and many characters since then. I feel as though something is missing in my life when I don’t have a writing project going. That need to write, that joy in coming up with new ideas and seeing it through to the end, definitely plays a part in creativity.

# Do you have any creativity tricks?

My best creativity trick is putting my fingers on my keyboard to start typing words. I don’t play music but I do enjoy resting my eyes occasionally by looking away from the monitor screen out the windows around my desk at the green fields and trees outside. On my website I share a line that says my favorite room is one with windows. Ever since I started writing when I was around ten years old I’ve wanted a desk by a window. I have that now, but I wrote my first novels at a desk pushed up against a wall in my kitchen. So maybe sometimes the windows were in my mind.

# What are your plans for future books?

I just sent in a new book to my editor. The publishers decided my suggested title, When the Meadow Blooms, fits the story well. The story is set on a farm called Meadowland in 1925. One of the main characters is a man who was badly burned in a fire that has left him scarred physically and emotionally. He has lived a reclusive life for nearly twenty years, but when he is called upon to rescue his deceased brother’s children from an orphanage, he does his family duty and that changes his life. The story is about how the characters find healing from hard life experiences.

Then, I have plans for another story set in the Appalachian Mountains with a historical background of the settlement schools established there during the 1920’s with a working title of Where the Red Bird Sings. I’m now researching showboats on the Kentucky River for a 1925 story, River of Shadows that will have some mystery threaded into the story along with the showboat history.

# Tell us some quirky facts about yourself

Quirky? Hmmm. The first profit I made from writing was when I was in the 4-H Club in the sixth grade. I wrote an essay on why I would like to win one hundred baby chicks, and I won those chicks for my 4-H poultry project. That was the year I didn’t eat any fried chicken.

I have been a dog lover all my life and first got the dog hunger when I was about nine. A man who worked with my dad brought me a puppy and I named the dog, Ollie, after the man, thinking he would be as honored as I thought he should be. I don’t think he was, but I still called the pup Ollie. I now have a couple of rescue dogs. One, Frankie, is a mystery mix, maybe Labrador and Australian shepherd. The other, Marley is a sweet English spaniel. They go walking with me every day here on the farm.

When I went shopping for my sister last year when she didn’t want to go out due to the pandemic, I had to ask someone where to find the bread in the store. That’s because I hadn’t bought a loaf of bread for years since I have been making sourdough bread since forever. When the starter was first passed around and others in my family were making the bread, I said I didn’t want to fool with that. But then I did and now here, maybe thirty years later, I’m still making bread from that starter.

I’m a fan of air conditioning since it makes it better to drink the hot tea I love no matter the temperature outside. I should have put drinking tea as a creativity help in that earlier question.

One last one, I attend a country church with a small congregation where I play the piano, badly, because no one else there can play it at all. But after last Sunday when I totally crashed on a song, they may decide to use recorded music.

Links: https://linktr.ee/AnnHGabhart