I got the writing bug when I was around ten years old and I’ve been infected ever since. But it’s one of those good bugs and I’ve never sought or wanted a cure. In fact I’ve just spilled out words and more words through all the years I’ve been writing. My first book was published in 1978. Since then I’ve published twenty-six more novels–all different genres. I’ve published two historical romances for the general market, nine books for young teens, two coming of age books for middle readers, one non-fiction life testimony biography, five Shaker novels, six Small Town, America family/historical novels, one inspirational historical romance, and now one Christmas novella. Whew! And that’s just counting the books that have been published. I’ve got more than I want to count on my no-editor-loves-this-story reject shelf.
I’m telling you all this for a reason. I married young and didn’t have the opportunity to go to college to study writing or anything else. My writing skills were learned by trial and error as I scribbled story after story in between chasing after my kids and helping my husband on the farm. Perhaps it was because I didn’t have any writing instructors to point out my many weaknesses that I never thought there was any type of book I couldn’t tackle. Well, I suppose I knew I couldn’t write scholarly treatises or those dark literary works that never end well, but I didn’t want to write those anyway. I wanted to write stories about characters full of life who found ways to overcome obstacles and never failed to find a happy ending or at least a ray of hope as the sun goes down on their stories.
And since I was just a naive young author with little going for me other than perseverance and the courage to try, if I got an idea for a book, I always thought yeah sure, I can write that. Of course, that could be why some of those stories are still on that reject shelf. Long, long ago, the first novel I wrote was a Gothic romance. That story, while it was never published, did help me obtain an agent who told me historical romances were all the rage.
With publication as my goal, I thought why not give a historical story a try. So what if I didn’t know much about history. I knew where the history books were in my public library, and the story I researched there became my first published book. When my third historical romance book was rejected for being “too clean” for the general market, I decided to try young adult fiction. I was a kid once. I knew how that felt. Then, there was that year when I was casting around for a new direction and I thought about how I love reading mysteries. So why not write some? Those are still on that reject shelf, but I wrote them. Finally, after a hard run of writing and not selling, I decided to heed that time honored advice to write what I did really know–small town family stories. I grew up in a small town, and while my family lacked the kind of drama that makes for story conflict, I was writing fiction which meant I could make up things. That story, Scent of Lilacs, became the first book in my Heart of Hollyhill series.
|Shaker village of Pleasant Hill|
So when my editor and agent suggested I write a Christmas novella set in my fictional Shaker village, I didn’t think about how I’d never tried to write a novella. My adult fiction tends to run long. I didn’t think about how in all my research on Shakers, I’d noted one–only one–lonely mention of Christmas. I certainly didn’t admit that I had never read a Christmas novella. Never. I just said, sure, I can do it. Send the contract.
Confidence in your ability to tell a story is not a bad thing to have. Beginning each new story is something like standing on a cliff edge ready to jump without knowing exactly how you’re going to fly. The first time you stand there, you are so full of hope and enthusiasm that you’re willing to leap into the air without knowing what might happen next. But after you’ve done it a few times–managed to write a whole book from the beginning through the middle all the way to the end–you begin to trust your writing wings.
I didn’t know how the Shakers celebrated Christmas but I was confident I could find out. I didn’t know how my fictional story would tie into a Christmas theme, but I was sure a way would open up when I began thinking about a story idea. Your subconscious is a powerful ally in writing. The idea came to let my character, Heather, be heavy with child as Mary was on that trip to Bethlehem so many years ago. Just as Mary did, Heather pondered the future of her child even as she wondered how Mary felt awaiting the birth of Jesus. “But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19 KJV) I let my storytelling confidence take me on a Christmas journey and the result was my first Christmas novella, Christmas at Harmony Hill.
Have you ever trembled on the edge of a storytelling cliff, afraid to trust the characters coming to life in your head? Perhaps, you’ve had to re-invent yourself as a writer and try different genres the way I have. What gave you the courage to try something new and different as a writer?
Ann H Gabhart, the author of several bestselling novels, has been called a storyteller, not a bad thing for somebody who never wanted to do anything but write down stories. She’s published twenty-six novels for adults and young adults with more stories on the way. She keeps her keyboard warm out on a farm in Kentucky where she lives 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. Check out her blog, One Writer’s Journal, www.annhgabhart.blogspot.com or follow her on Facebook, www.facebook.com/AnnGabhart , Twitter, https://twitter.com/AnnHGabhart or Pinterest, http://pinterest.com/annhgabhart/.
A stirring story of healing, hope, and home at Christmas
It is 1864 and the nation is torn apart by civil war when Heather Worth discovers she is with child. With her husband at the front and nowhere else to turn, she seeks refuge in the Shaker village of Harmony Hill. Amid the tumult of the times, Heather yearns for the peace she sees in this strange community. But can this longing really be fulfilled amid these people with their peculiar beliefs about family?
As Christmas approaches, the joy of new life and the love that is born of forgiveness may hold the answer.
Join bestselling author Ann H. Gabhart for a peek into the world of the Shakers--and the world of the human heart.
Today, Ann is giving away an autographed copy of Christmas at Harmony Hill to one of our commenters. Winner announced in the Weekend Edition.