Hi Ann, welcome back to Write Now! Congratulations on your new release, The Innocent! What inspired this story?
Great to be back visiting here with you and your readers, Karen. I’m excited about this new Shaker book and hoping readers will enjoy Carlyn’s story.
My inspiration for The Innocent is a bit unusual, at least for me. You may know that I’ve written several books set in my fictional Shaker village of Harmony Hill. The first, The Outsider, was published in 2008. Since that first Harmony Hill book, I have set five more books in the same place with new characters each time in different historical eras, including a Christmas book, Christmas at Harmony Hill. I didn’t really expect to write any more Shaker books. I was busy writing my Rosey Corner stories, historical stories set in a small town. Those stories about family life with love and romance mixed in were totally different from my Shaker books. I have to sneak romance in the back door of those Shaker houses since the Shakers didn’t believe in marriage and romantic love. But ever since my first Shaker book came out, readers are always asking when I was going back to Harmony Hill for a story. One of those, my son-in-law, kept telling me I should write a Shaker mystery. When I would say I didn’t think mystery and my Shaker books went together, he would suggest ways to make that work.
Keep in mind that, although he is a voracious reader, I don’t think he’s ever read any of my books. Not his style of books. He thinks they are too romantic. I tell him they have all sorts of history in them along with that romance, but that hasn’t convinced him. But he did keep pushing for a Shaker mystery and one of his favorite suggestions over the years was to have a sheriff as a character. A sheriff and a Shaker. So, when I did decide to go back to Harmony Hill, I thought why not see if I could write a story something like he suggested. I came up with a Shaker sister, albeit a reluctant one, a sheriff, and a dog named Asher. In the process of getting to know them, they told me their story and I wrote it down to share with my readers. I don’t know that The Innocent has enough mystery in it to catch the reading interest of my son-in-law, but I’m hoping others will enjoy the story. I do think they are going to like that sheriff!
I did enjoy the addition of the sheriff and mysterious elements - it was a great idea! Having written several books set at the Shaker village of Harmony Hill, you must be very familiar with that period and culture. Was there any special or unusual research though, for this story?
I reviewed some of my Shaker history and Civil War history since this book is set shortly after the Civil War with some general references to Civil War battles. I tried to find out about sheriffs in the 1800’s and how a few other things worked in 1865. But mostly, I drew on the research I had done for my other Shaker books for the Shaker background. So, mostly I would say I did more reviewing of my Shaker research than new research. Of course, there’s always something new, or perhaps I should say old, that I need to understand or know better when I’m writing a historical story.
Your stories all have a wonderful authenticity to them, so your research has paid off. Are you a plotter or a seat of the pants writer? Has your approach changed from when you first begin writing fiction?
I am definitely a seat of the pants writer. I look at the plotters and think that way to write is surely much better. With the plot all drawn out, it has to be easier to fill in the blanks as you write. Probably plotter writing is nothing like that, but we writers do have active imaginations. I can imagine never hitting the writing doldrums out there in the middle of the story and having to wonder which way the story wind is going to shift, or even worse, if the wind of creativity is ever going to show up to push your story on toward the end. I imagine a plotter never having that problem, but I’m sure, if that doesn’t happen, then other creative problems pop up for them.
As for whether my approach has changed since I first began writing, that was so long ago it’s hard to remember. I began writing my first novel in the early 1970’s. I had high hopes at a young age. At that time, I probably did more detailed plotting in my pre-writing. I never made an outline or a chapter by chapter plan, but I did write pages of “what if” plotting. I also used to write much more about my characters before I began writing the story. Some of that has changed because, after writing so many books, I can put more trust in my writing instincts. That doesn’t mean I still don’t hit those doldrums. It simply means I can have more confidence the creativity winds will start to blow my imagination sails again.
I might also attribute some of the change to time restraints when I started having contracts and deadlines to meet. I’m the type of writer who could do research and pre-writing such as character sketches, setting details and plotting for way too long and never get anything written in a timely manner.
As much as I'm not super crazy about deadlines, they do help me get things done more efficiently as well. :) Have you ever modeled a character after someone you knew?
In my Rosey Corner books, especially Angel Sister, I modeled the Merritt sisters after my mom and her sisters. In that book, I took the many stories my mother told about growing up during the Great Depression to come up with the setting and background of my story. While my story is completely fiction, under my imagined story is the thread of Mom’s memories and background. I made Kate, the young character in Angel Sister, have a can-do attitude like my mother’s. I modeled Evie on Mom’s older sister who didn’t like the outdoors and was always worried about how things looked. Torie was like my Mom’s younger sister who loved to fish. My mother’s dad was a blacksmith and served in World War I in France. Both my grandparents loved to read. And then there was Fern and Graham. I based those characters on these two odd characters that were the subject of many of the stories my mother told about her childhood.
So I took all that, twisted and turned it until it was mine, and then wrote the story. I drifted more away from my mother’s background in the follow-up stories, Small Town Girl and Love Comes Home. By that time, my characters had taken on their own lives and followed much different paths than my mother and her sisters.
That said, I do not generally model a character after someone I know. Perhaps a minor character with a cameo appearance from time to time might be a memory of someone I’ve known or met, but not my major characters. At least not intentionally. While my characters spring totally from my imagination, the truth is that everything I see or read or know feeds into that well of creativity. So, in ways, my characters are modeled after everyone and anyone I’ve ever known in real life or through books and movies. A smile from this one. An attitude from that one. Body shape from another. With enough of these various parts, a character is born.
It's true - everything we write comes from our life experiences, and it is interesting to see how it all comes together, especially in fiction. I hear you have another book coming out this fall. Can you give us a peek at that story?
I’ve always been a mystery fan, so I decided to see if I could write one. Then I like setting my books in small towns. Put those together and you have my new Hidden Springs Mystery series. The first book, Murder at the Courthouse, will release in October 2015. It’s considered a cozy mystery even though I, as usual, broke a few of the general cozy category rules. Normally the mystery solvers in cozies are simply people who stumble up on a murder, but my main character, Michael Keane, is a deputy sheriff in the little town of Hidden Springs, Kentucky. Not a real town, but one based on what my own hometown might be like if it had been frozen in time a few years back. For my stories, I eliminated all the big box stores that have pulled people away from downtown and let Hidden Springs still have a lively Main Street. One where murder sometimes happens.
The stories are so different from my historical books the publishers decided to give my author name a twist, A.H. Gabhart. We’re not trying to hide who I am or anything. It’s just a way to let my readers know that these books might not be what they usually expect from me. Murder at the Courthouse starts with the discovery of a stranger’s body on the courthouse steps. Things heat up from there with some surprising discoveries that send Michael on a bewildering search for a mysterious killer. What he finds has him questioning everything he has ever believed about life in Hidden Springs.
The next Hidden Springs Mystery, Murder Comes by Mail, will release next summer. And I’m working on a third mystery now. No title as yet. But there is a cat character. Each book has a different cat that walks through the plot. Those cats help keep the stories in the cozy category. lol
I am looking forward to these books. It sounds like it will be a wonderful series. Thanks so much for stopping by to see us. Wishing you all the best with your books!
Always fun to stop by your place, Karen. Thanks for having me over. Now I get to ask you and your readers a question. I not only like reading different types of stories, I like writing different kinds of stories too. But these days most publishers want you to have a “brand.” That is, develop a line of stories that have some general theme that ties them all together. The theory is that writers have more success and are able to build a stronger reader base that way.
*But what do you and your readers think? Do you prefer the authors you read stay with one genre so you know what to expect when you pick up one of his or her books or are you willing to try something different from an author you like?
Ah, good question, Ann. I always look forward to reading the "expected" stories from favorite authors, but I also like to check out their books as they venture into new territory. For example, I enjoyed your book, Words Spoken True, which took readers away from the Shaker theme.
More About Ann
Living just thirty miles from a restored Shaker village in Kentucky, Ann H. Gabhart has walked the same paths her character might have walked in generations past. Her thorough research provides a colorful backdrop for her Shaker novels. Ann is the author of several bestselling novels, including The Outsider, Scent of Lilacs and Angel Sister.
Ann lives on a farm with her husband, Darrell. They have three children, three in-law children, and nine grandchildren. To find out more about Ann or her books visit www.annhgabhart.com, or join the fun on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.
My Review of The Innocent
The Civil War is over, and the government told Carlyn Kearney that her husband is missing. Her neighbors call her the Widow Kearney, but she hesitates to accept that status until she has tangible proof. Her troubles escalate when she cannot make payments on her home. With nowhere else to go, she seeks refuge at the nearby Shaker Village.
Sheriff Mitchell Brodie sympathizes with Carlyn, and while he can’t fix her financial troubles, he lends support as a friend. Their paths cross as he investigates a suspicious fire that destroyed a Shaker barn. The disappearance of a local citizen and other odd events further complicate the investigation.
Will Carlyn find peace with the Shakers? Does she receive news about her husband? Who’s behind the mysterious happenings at Shaker Village? What role does Sheriff Brodie play in Carlyn’s future? I won’t tell, but will encourage you to read this fast paced and intriguing story to find the answers.
If you’ve never read Shaker fiction, this is a good place to start. Ann Gabhart’s knowledge of the community is extensive and reflected throughout this story. It’s a rich and interesting look at the culture and what someone might have faced when joining as an adult. It also highlights how, past or present, people are much the same and will reap what they sow.
I enjoy historical fiction because it often offers more depth through the setting and events. This book contains that intensity, as Ann Gabhart weaves a compelling story that challenges readers to examine their own faith. It illustrates Ann’s gift for bringing characters, setting, and action to life. These elements engaged me; I had trouble putting this story down. The Innocent offers an exciting combination of danger and unsolved mysteries, a faithful dog, a damsel in distress, and an honest sheriff. It is a winner, a memorable and heartwarming read!
Ann gave me this copy free of charge for review purposes.
Ann is giving away one paperback copy of The Innocent. To enter, please note the following:
1) Open to U.S. residents only.
2) Please leave your email address.
3) You must be a Google Friend Connect Follower of Write Now (on sidebar).
4) Giveaway ends Friday, July 24 at noon Eastern Daylight Time. Winner will be contacted via email and have 36 hours to respond or another name will be chosen.
How would you answer Ann's *question? Do you have any questions for Ann? What are you reading this week?