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Interview with Ann Gabhart

Ann Gabhart’s milestones can be measured in decades--married for fifty years, published for almost forty years—and her roots are deeply planted in her hometown and in the rural church she’s called “home” for her entire married life. How does that impact her writing? Keep reading to find out more about this multi-published author and why she’s venturing into a new genre with her newest release!

You've been writing for most of your life. When did you start calling yourself a writer and how did you decide to try writing books that would be published?
I did start scribbling stories down in notebooks at the very young age of ten or eleven. I imagined being published and everybody wanting to read my books then, but I didn’t take any steps to make that happen–other than writing all the time–until I was around twenty. That’s when I began to send out stories and short pieces. A few were published in small magazines. But I still was very shy about calling myself a writer. It seemed presumptuous of me.

Then I discovered novel writing and knew I’d found my calling. Right from the very beginning of writing that first novel I was ready to work toward it being published. It never was. The second novel I wrote wasn’t published either, but my third novel was published by Warner Books in 1978. But I remained shy about claiming the title of writer. More years had to pass. More books had to be published for me to start saying out loud for everybody to hear that I am a writer. But now I do call myself a writer and feel blessed that my list of published books backs me up on that.

Many of your stories, including your recent book, The Innocent, feature Shakers, and looking at the book covers, people might assume you are writing about the Amish or Mennonites. Tell us how Shakers differ from Amish or Mennonite and how you became interested in writing about them.
The Shakers did want to separate their society from the world while at the same time selling their products to their neighbors. Because they believed the work of their hands was worship, every able-bodied member was required to work. Soon the villages became almost like small factories turning out brooms and chairs and all sorts of food products and natural remedy potions. They also packaged and sold garden seed. That is not unlike the Amish or Mennonite who are also ready to sell their wares and have a strong work ethic.

The major difference between Shakers and the Amish or Mennonite is that the Shakers were celibate. Their founder, Mother Ann, taught that the institute of marriage was a major cause of stress in life and the Shakers were to always seek peace. Also, the Shakers had the goal of making their villages as much like heaven as possible. So, since in the Bible, in answer to a question from the Pharisees, Jesus said there were no marriages in heaven, the Shaker leaders decreed that their villages would be the same with all their members living as brothers and sisters. They also believed in the equality of the sexes and had female leaders in their society long before that was acceptable in other religions. Last, the Shakers wanted their work to show perfection, but they also wanted to do their tasks as efficiently and quickly as possible. They had no aversion to using new inventions and were always inventing or improving on machinery to make their tasks easier.

I first wrote a novel about the Shakers years ago. At the time, I had published two historical romances and was searching for a new historical period and events for my next book. I decided on the Shakers who established the village at Pleasant Hill in Kentucky in 1805. I researched and wrote that story, but it was years before it was published. Then, because of the popularity of Amish and similar closed religious group stories, my publishers asked me to write more Shaker novels. So I did. The Innocent is my seventh Shaker novel.

You mention on your website that you and your husband met and married at a young age. How long have you been married? And what "secrets" can you reveal about having a long-lasting marriage?
My husband and I celebrated our 50th anniversary last year. That hardly seems possible, but the years do fly by. I’m not sure I have any “secrets” about how to have a long-lasting marriage. It is no secret that if you marry thinking it will be for life and both parties have that feeling, then whatever happens, you work through it and continue on. Perhaps my secret is marrying a good man who loved me and his family.

You've written some historical, some contemporary, some stand-alone, some series--do you lean more toward one genre of story? And do you prefer writing series over stand-alone?
I like writing series and getting to know my characters well. But at the same time, it can be difficult to come up with new storylines for characters that hang around for several books. Also, even though I have two series of books–Heart of Hollyhill books and Rosey Corner books–with a continuing family of characters, I do write those books so they can be read as stand-alone books as well. The main storylines are completed before the end of each book. My Shaker books are considered a series, but they are all stand-alone stories with new characters each time. What ties them together is my fictional Shaker village, Harmony Hill.

I do enjoy stepping back in time and dropping my characters into some of the dramatic events of the past. I also enjoy the family relationships in my family stories. But I don’t know that I lean one way or the other. I just want to tell my stories in the best way I can and in whatever genre the story best fits. I’ve always enjoyed reading a wide variety of books. That could be why I like to come up with ideas that fit in different genres and eras. And now I’m trying mysteries.

What made you decide to try a mystery with your new release Murder at the Courthouse and what special challenges did you face in writing mysteries?
Mysteries are one of the genres I’ve always enjoyed reading from the time I discovered the Hardy Boy mysteries. Those books were actually the reason I took up pen to write. I wanted to solve mysteries the way they did and the only way I was going to do that was to write my own stories starring me as chief detective. Fast forward many years and mysteries seem to be catching the interest of quite a few Christian fiction readers. So why not see if I could write one? And now I’m writing two more stories for my Hidden Springs Mystery series. The second Hidden Springs novel, Murder Comes by Mail, is going through edits and will be released in July 2016. The third is taking shape on my computer screen. At least I hope it is!

I found several challenging issues in writing a mystery. First, hiding the whodunit answer while planting clues to reveal that answer or at least not disappoint the reader when they get to the end of the story. A mystery reader wants the solution to make sense. Also, I found it more difficult to include a natural faith thread in a mystery than in a historical. I missed being able to have the faith journey of my characters more evident and more vital to the storyline.

What is one surprising or enlightening fact you've learned from your research?
I’ve learned so much about the Shakers while researching all my Shaker novels. I enjoyed walking the paths in the nearby Shaker village that has been preserved as a living history museum for visitors. The last Shaker there died in 1923, but it’s easy to imagine my characters hearing the toll of the bell on top of the Centre House to wake them in the morning and to call them to meals and to worship times.

In a way I did the same kind of research for my new mystery, only this was walking the Main Street of my own small town to lay out the setting for my fictional town of Hidden Springs. Perhaps the most enlightening fact from my research is that people generally have the same hopes and desires no matter the setting or historical era.

What do you grandkids call you (Grandma, Grammy, Nana, etc.)?
One set of grandkids calls me Grandma. The other set calls me Grammy. I started out calling myself Grandma to my first granddaughter but then when my grandson came along and began talking, he shortened that to Grammy. I’m okay with either. Grandkids are so special that whatever they call you is fine.

Your roots go deep where you live. What is the most fulfilling part of living in the same area where you grew up and attending the same church since you were 17?
I’m not sure exactly how to answer this. Perhaps if I had lived in more different places I would have a different perspective. But being here in my home area all my life has given me a strong connection with the land and with my family who tended the land before me. My father and mother. My grandfather and grandmother. Even my great-grandfathers who died long before I was born. There’s simply the feeling that this is where I am meant to be and that I need to treasure the blessing of roots in this place.

The church roots aren’t quite the same. After I married, I joined the little country church my husband’s family attended. My husband’s father was a tenant farmer and they moved several time while my husband was young. They always changed their membership to whichever church was nearest them when they moved to a new tenant farm. But I suppose I put down roots in that church the way I did out here on the farm. While it is not our nearest place of worship, we have continued to attend and work in the church there. I like the family feel of our small church. I do wish our “family” there was larger since there have been times when we weren’t sure the church could continue when membership numbers declined. But we’re still there and keep praying that’s where the Lord wants us to be.

Do you travel or dream of visiting any place near or far?
I’m not a big traveler. I’m more of a homebody. That sounds so boring when I write it, but it’s true. That said, I would like to see more of the United States and visit the Canadian Rockies. My husband and I took a trip out west a few years ago and toured many of the National Parks, but we’d like to do that again and see some of the places we missed. Plus, an Alaskan or Hawaiian cruise sounds fun. We are considering that Alaska trip next summer.

Any parting words?
Thanks so much for letting me stop by Fiction Finder to talk about my books and writing. One thing that I have really enjoyed in the Christian book world is the way I’ve been able to connect with other writers and how all of us seem ready to cheer on the success of each other’s books. I also really enjoy getting to know my reading friends on my Facebook author page.

I hope some of you will give one of my books a try and “come home to story.”

Thanks for sharing with us, Ann!

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