Monday, 28 September 2020

I Interviews

Interview: Ann Gabhart

TheseHealingHillsWhat inspired this novel? How did it come about?

I’ve written quite a few historical novels, all centered on some bit of Kentucky history or setting. I like writing about my home state, so when I am considering a new idea, I check out Kentucky history. This time I came across information about the Frontier Nursing Service founded by Mary Breckinridge in 1925 to bring better health care to mothers and children in an Appalachian region where there were few doctors. When I came across one of the Frontier Nursing Service recruitment brochures promising nurse midwives their own horse, their own dog and plenty of adventure as they traveled up into the mountains to care for patients, I was ready to let my character be one of those recruits.

What is the main theme of your book?

The main theme of These Healing Hills is hope. My character, Francine Howard, had her life all planned out, but when those plans fall through, she seeks a fresh start by courageously following an unknown path to a completely different future.

What was the hardest part of writing your book?

The hardest part of writing These Healing Hills was capturing the reality of a midwife helping mothers during the birth process. I am not a nurse or a midwife, so I worried that I wouldn’t be able to make the birthing scenes in the story true to the place and time period.

How did you come up with the concept and the setting?

The Frontier Nursing Service was begun and still operates in Leslie County in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky, so that had to be my setting.  I wanted my character to be one of the nurse midwives, so after a disappointment in love, she comes to the mountains from Cincinnati to go to the midwifery school there. Then I got to know some mountain characters and the story was off and running.    

Is any part of These Healing Hills factual?

If by factual, you are asking if anything in the story happened to me, then no. But if you mean is the history of the story based on real happenings, then yes. The background history is as true as I could make it.

How much research did These Healing Hills take?

I did quite a bit of research to find out more about the Frontier Nursing Service. I read Mary Breckinridge’s autobiography, Wide Neighborhoods, about how and why she founded the Frontier Nursing Service.  I visited her home in Wendover, Kentucky that was the headquarters of the Frontier Nursing Service. Her house is now a National Historical site and has been turned into a bed and breakfast inn. So I was able to not only tour the place but stay in one of the rooms that once housed the couriers, young women volunteers who ran errands for the nurse midwives, helped with their horses and did whatever was needed to free up the nurse midwives to concentrate on healthcare for the people in the area. I also read several memoirs of midwives and other books about the Frontier Nursing Service. 

What is the message you hope to get across in this story?

The Frontier Nursing Service has a saying that nobody comes to be part of the service by accident. That was the message I hoped to convey in the story–that my character didn’t come to the mountains by accident, but rather God’s providence led her into a new and better life than the future she expected. I hope readers will see that even when confronted with disappointments, they can look forward with hope for new opportunities and better times ahead.

What is your goal or mission as a writer?

My goal is to write entertaining stories that come to life in a reader’s imagination. If they are encouraged and inspired by something in my story, then so much the better.

Is there a question you really wish someone would ask, but they never do?  If so what would be your reply?

Why do you write about Kentucky places and history?  Kentucky is where I was born. I know the weather. I know how people talk and how some of them think. I like AnnGabhartexploring the history of my home state and finding interesting moments in time that lend themselves to story. Then, some of the time I set my stories right down in a little Kentucky town that is modeled after my own hometown. It’s fun to drop my characters down into a setting I know so well. 

What other projects do you have or are working on right now?

Next up after These Healing Hills is another historical novel, River to Redemption. My initial idea for the story was a true event that occurred in the Kentucky town of Springfield after the 1833 cholera epidemic when the town collected money to buy a slave’s freedom in gratitude for him single-handedly digging the graves and burying the fifty plus victims of the disease after most of the able-bodied citizens fled the town to escape the disease, leaving the sick and dead behind. My book, which is completely fictional except for that initial true historical fact, is how I imagine that might have come about. Then after that, I’ll be returning to my fictional Shaker village of Harmony Hill to write a new story.


How can readers find you?

Readers can find out about my books and my writing life at my website, They can find my blogs there, sign up for my newsletter and click on links to social media. I love it when readers join the conversation at my Facebook author page, where I have weekly features like Friday smiles, Shaker Wednesdays and the popular Sunday morning coming down.

Who or what has influenced you most as a/an author/writer?

I began dreaming of being an author when I was a ten-year-old country girl with no idea of how to go about that, but I knew I wanted to string words together to make stories.  I think reading every chance I got and reading all sorts of books from classics to entertaining mysteries helped me more than anything or anybody. I was always secretive about my desire to write when I was young for fear that others would make fun of my big dream. Those books I read kept my dream alive and filled my head with stories.

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