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Packed with history, These Healing Hills by bestselling author Ann H. Gabhart introduces readers to the fascinating and difficult life of frontier nursing. When the soldier Francine Howard planned to marry after WWII writes to tell her he is in love with a woman in England, Francine is devastated and in need of a change. She seeks a fresh start in the Appalachian Mountains, training to be a nurse midwife for the Frontier Nursing Services. It is in these mountains that Francine crosses paths with Ben Locke, a soldier still very much suffering from the horrors of war. With his future shrouded in as much mist as his beloved mountains, he’s at a loss when it comes to envisioning what’s next for his life. While Francine and Ben find they are from completely different worlds and possess very different values, they both learn that things don’t always go the way we plan. Ann H. Gabhart invites readers to witness the healing power of love and step forward to tantalizing new possibilities.Can you tell us about your newest release? Is it part of a series or a stand-alone?
These Healing Hills is a stand-alone book set in the Kentucky Appalachian Mountains at the end of World War II. The heroine, Francine, has her life planned out until the soldier she expected to marry after the war sends her a “dear Joan” letter. Devastated, Francine seeks a fresh start in the Appalachian Mountains, training to be a nurse midwife for the Frontier Nursing Service. Meanwhile Ben Locke, deeply affected by the horrors he witnessed at war, has never thought further ahead than making it home to Kentucky. With his future shrouded in as much mist as his beloved mountains, he has to find the right path for what’s next for his life.
When Francine’s and Ben’s paths intersect, it’s immediately clear that they are from different worlds and value different things. But love has a way of healing old wounds . . . and revealing tantalizing new possibilities.
The fascinating history of the Frontier Nursing Service and the beautiful mountain setting were great additions to my characters’ story in These Healing Hills.
Is anything or anyone in this book based on real-life experiences?
Nothing in the book is based on my real-life experiences, but the background history is based on the many real-life experiences of the Frontier Nurse midwives as they rode their horses up into the mountains to take care of their patients. I read several first person accounts of the nurse midwives’ experiences as they faced challenging and interesting situations. Also, although I don’t live in the mountains, I do live on a Kentucky farm. So I understand and appreciate how the mountain people love their Appalachian Mountains.
Who was your favorite character in this story, and why?
Of course, I had to love both of my main characters, Francine and Ben. But I often have a favorite in my secondary characters. This time, I think it had to be a tie between Woody, Ben’s little brother, who admitted he was a “jabber jay,” and Granny Em, the old mountain granny who had once been the person people called on for midwifery and healing help before the Frontier Nursing Service was established in her area. Both of these characters had a way of livening up the story each time they showed up in a scene. For me, Granny Em represented the toughness of the mountain people with her common sense wisdom and independence while Woody represented the youthful hope of the region.
Compared to your other books, was this one easy to complete or challenging? Any idea why?
I did seem to struggle more writing this story. I think that was because I was unsure of how well I could write about the midwifery experiences. I am not a nurse and have never assisted with a birth. So I had worries I might not get that part of my story right. Then, I just wasn’t sure I was getting along with the story as I should. I even let my agent read the first one hundred plus pages because I thought I might need to scrap it and start over. That was a new thing for me. I don’t have critique partners and until this particular book, I had never let anyone read one of my stories before I typed “the end.” My agent’s comments that what I had written in those first pages made her want to read more encouraged me to believe I did have good characters with a story readers might enjoy. That helped me keep writing to the end of the book.
What was the hardest scene in this book to write? What made it difficult?
Perhaps the hardest scene was the very first one where Francine gets off the bus in Hyden, Kentucky and starts out on this new path she has chosen, but she doesn’t realize how very different life is going to be for her in the mountains. In this scene I wanted to introduce Francine in such a way that readers wanted to know more about her situation while also opening up the mountain setting and giving a tease as to the background history of the Frontier Nurse Service. Those opening scenes in a story are a great way to capture readers or sometimes fail to capture them.
What did you (or your editors) edit out of this book?
That’s an interesting question, one I’m having to consider. My editor was happy with the story as is although here and there she asked me to clarify some of the mountain expressions – not remove them, but simply make sure the reader could know what they meant. Things like my character going shanks-mare which meant he didn’t have a horse and had to walk. I don’t remember editing out any characters or scenes myself, but I did attempt to edit out all the extra and unnecessary words. Sometimes I tend to add too much explanation to a scene when I need to trust my readers’ imaginations. So I always have words to slice out when I’m doing edits.
What’s the most difficult thing about writing from the point of view of the opposite sex?
I like writing from the male point of view in my stories. I don’t find that much different or more difficult than writing from the female point of view. Making my characters come to life, whichever sex and whatever age, is a challenge I undertake whenever I start a new book. I want my characters to come to life for the reader and in order to have that happen, those characters have to come to life for me. Once they come to life in my imagination, I chase them along their story paths and do my best to share their stories.
Ann H. Gabhart is the bestselling author of several Shaker novels—The Outsider, The Believer, The Seeker, The Blessed, and The Gifted—as well as Angel Sister, Small Town Girl, Love Comes Home, Words Spoken True, and THE HEART OF HOLLYHILL series. She lives with her husband a mile from where she was born in rural Kentucky.