Ann Gabhart was born and raised on a farm in the Outer Bluegrass region of Kentucky. She started writing when she was ten years old. Her first novel, A Forbidden Yearling, an historical romance set in Kentucky, was published by Warner Books in 1978. Since that time, she has released twenty novels for adults and young adults.
Ann now lives a mile from the farmhouse where she grew up, and she attends the same small, country church she attended at seventeen. She and her husband Darrell have three grown children, all married, and nine grandchildren. Her latest book, The Blessed, is her fourth in the Shaker Series.
You began writing at a young age. What sparked your writing journey?
That’s hard to say since writing seems to be something that has always been part of my life. I suppose if I looked for a spark, I’d have to say it was my love of story and my excitement at finding so many great stories in books. I loved to read and be carried away into an adventure when I was a kid. I still do although I don’t have those lazy summer days to read these days. I grew up on a farm where, in my thinking, it seemed nothing exciting ever happened. Now I look back and think I had a great childhood. But those books I got at the public library let me go anywhere and imagine doing all sorts of exciting things. To me then—a kid who didn’t know any better—it seemed a natural next step to write my own story.
How does your faith play into your writing?
I would hope my faith plays into everything I do. So naturally it’s part of my writing since that fountain inside me that bubbles up new stories is fed by everything within me. What I’ve read. What I believe. What I see. What I can imagine. My first thirteen books were published in the general market but even then I think my personal beliefs influenced the way I wrote. I wanted my stories to be upbeat and encouraging—especially the stories I wrote for young people.
For a long time I would peek over at the inspirational market and wonder about it, but I thought I wouldn’t be able to write for that market because I just wanted to tell a story and not preach. Share my faith perhaps, but not be preachy. I just hadn’t explored the market well enough to know how wrong I was. I still simply want to tell my stories and not preach, but I really like being able to include my characters’ faith journeys in their stories. I think it makes my characters richer and better because what we believe makes such a difference in our lives and it makes a difference for my characters too.
Has God ever provided an unexpected “detour” in your life that turned out to be positive?
I’ve had times of rejection when I couldn’t place any of my writing. I don’t know if that’s a detour or not, but I do think those years of no sales did change my direction in writing and led to a new beginning writing stories I love.
The heroine in The Blessed, Lacey Bishop, was a great character for me and the reason there is a fourth Shaker book. I had originally only planned to write three Shaker books, but Lacey popped up and wanted me to tell her story. I picked the year 1844 because that was during a very odd period in Shaker history when many visions and visitations of angels and spirits were occurring in Shaker villages all across the country. Hundreds of Shaker songs were written during this time and the Shaker art we see today was mostly spirit drawings from this era. The Shakers called it the Era of Manifestations or the Era of Mother’s Work, the last referencing their Mother Ann who founded the religion.
At the beginning of The Blessed, Lacey Bishop’s life is a tangled mess. Estranged from her own family, at age fourteen she started working for a preacher and his wife. All is fine until the wife dies a few years later and the preacher convinces Lacey the only decent thing to do is marry him. That way she can continue to act as mother to the little girl who was left on his doorstep. But Lacey never expected he would decide to take them all off to a Shaker village. There she’s still married but living in a community that believes marriage is a sin. And to make matters worse, she finds herself drawn to Isaac Kingston, a man who came to the Shakers after his young bride died. But of course any notion of love between them is only a forbidden dream. Lacey’s path in life has many obstacles as she holds onto her faith and just keeps trying to do what has to be done.
Besides entertainment, what do you hope readers will take away from it?
I do hope readers will be entertained by the story. Besides that, I would hope that my readers will be spiritually encouraged by the lessons Lacey learns—the need for the Lord in her life, the truth that she had to have her own faith and not simply lean on Miss Mona’s faith, and that she could be blessed even when it seemed she was out of step with everyone around her.
What has been the most interesting or unusual experience in your writing journey so far?
Let’s see. Of course it was fantastic when my first Shaker book, The Outsider, was a finalist for the ECPA Fiction Book of the Year in 2009 and I got to go to Texas to the banquet dinner. But probably even better than that was when my agent, Wendy Lawton, and my Revell editor, Lonnie Hull DuPont, came to Kentucky to visit me a couple of years ago. Since I had never gone to any writing conferences prior to that, Wendy decided she’d have to come my way if she wanted to meet me in person and Lonnie wanted to come along. We visited the Shaker village of Pleasant Hill up the road from where I live and even took the boat ride down the river there.
A funny side notes is a policeman stopping me on our way to the Shaker village. I was driving, of course, but not speeding. He stopped me because he thought my wheels looked like they weren’t sitting straight. Wendy worried a wheel was going to fall off after that, but I’m still driving the car with all four wheels intact. Lonnie and Wendy also went with me on Sunday morning to worship at my little country church and to a Southern Gospel concert where my husband’s group, The Patriot Quartet, was singing. We had a blast.
A few fun questions…
When the words aren’t flowing—or when you want to celebrate if they are—what is your favorite comfort food and why?
Hot tea. That’s one good thing about air conditioning. I can drink hot tea all summer because my husband likes the thermostat way lower than I do. I freeze at the setting where he’s still sweating.
Other than tea, nothing can beat a Heath candy bar. Yum! Why? Chocolate needs no explanation.
This website features musicians as well as writers. Do you have musical, as well as literary, talent?
I don’t have any musical talents. I can plunk out a passable hymn on the piano and have played for my church simply because I was the only one there who could play at all. It does have to be a song I know and have practiced. And I sometimes lead the singing at our little church—again when no one else is available. That’s not because I’m talented, but rather because I have no fear of getting up and singing off key. I figure the Lord and my Christian sisters and brothers will forgive me. Together at church we make a joyful noise. My husband has more tender listening ears and sometimes groans when we go flat or lose the tune or timing. Things I know very little about. He’s the singer in the family and has been singing bass in Southern Gospel quartets for almost forty years. For the last ten years or so, he’s been with the Patriot Quartet.
If you were a song, what kind of song would you be?
A feel good song like Sunshine on My Shoulders Makes Me Happy. I’d want to be a song with great words. Words of songs speak to me. The quartet is singing one now, I Can Feel the Touch of His Hand. I’ve heard them sing it dozens of time and there’s still lines in it that thrill my listening ear.
Are you a major or a minor chord?
I’m so musically inept, I have no idea. But I’ll pretend my husband is answering and he’ll say I’m a major chord because … well, just because he’d better. LOL
In the story that is your life, are you the strong, female lead; the girl next door; the mysterious woman behind dark glasses; the super heroine; or the little girl trying to walk in high heels?
I’m the old country girl who maybe has traces of all those. But if I have to pick one, I’d like to be the strong, female lead who knows what she wants and is willing to do her best to make it happen.
I’m a dog lover, and I know you are too. Please tell us about your pets.
I haven’t been without a dog since I was maybe nine and begged and begged for a dog. I wasn’t making any progress with my dad, but he had a friend who worked on the farm with us and he brought me a dog. I was so happy and so grateful, I named the dog after him. He wasn’t as complimented as I thought he would be. LOL
I currently have three dogs. One is a black lab mix that was dropped on a horse farm in Lexington and that we got off Craigslist just because he was named Oscar and he looked at me out of his picture and said come get me. I’m glad we did. He’s a great dog. I have another lab—this one a full bred chocolate lab—that somebody gave us because he was too big for their yard. He’s getting old now, but he has always been his own dog. His registered name is Coffee W. Crutcher, but the only thing I could get him to answer to when we got him was Dub. You know short for “W.” The third dog is a Heinz 57 little female that was the pup of a neighbor’s dog and that the grandkids talked me into keeping. Her name is Lucy and she’s a squat little short-legged dog that must have beagle in her because she’s always chasing rabbits. I don’t think the rabbits have much reason to worry. Those are my dogs. I’m also on very friendly terms with a couple of neighbor dogs that like to come walk with me—a Saint Bernard named Roxie who terrorizes poor Lucy and is way too generous with her slobber, and Jake, a squat relative of Lucy. My husband says I’m a dog magnet.
I also once had a purebred blonde Cocker Spaniel named Honeysuckle Jody. A book just came out in June this year, The Dog Next Door, edited by Callie Smith Grant, that has my story in it about how I got Jody. “A Gift of Love.” Jody was a very good dog.
Thank you, Ann! It’s great to have you as a guest at DivineDetour!
Thank you for inviting me over. Enjoyed your questions. It’s always great fun to talk to reading friends.
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