Tell us a little about THESE HEALING HILLS.
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.
Francine Howard’s life is turned upside down when the soldier she planned to
marry after World War II writes to say he’s fallen in love with a woman in
England. She needs a new direction. Already a nurse, she jumps at the chance to
train as a midwife in the Frontier Nursing Service in the Appalachian Mountains.
The recruiter promised Francine her own horse and dog along with adventure and
the chance to serve people in need of health care. Life in the mountains is
harder than Francine ever imagined, but at the same time the mountain views buoy
her spirit, and the mountain people touch her heart.
Ben Locke has spent many years in the army longing to once more breathe the
mountain air of his home. At the same time, he knows a man has few opportunities
in the mountains other than subsistence farming or coal mining. While neither
appeals to him, he still wants to feel the mountains beneath his feet again. And
then he meets Francine, someone from a completely different background, and
things get even more complicated for him.
Ben and Francine must both find healing in the mountains as they move toward the
Why did you decide to write about the Frontier Nursing Service?
While poking about for a new idea for a story, I happened upon a book about Mary
Breckinridge, the founder of the Frontier Nursing Service. She was a woman with
a vision. After losing her two children at young ages, she wanted to make a
difference in the health of mothers and children. So after much training and
research on the best place for her health initiative, she established the
Frontier Nursing Service in the Kentucky Appalachian Mountains where very little
medical care was available in 1925. At first, all the midwives were from England
due to no midwife schools in America, but when WW II broke out in Europe, the
English midwives felt compelled to return home to help with the war effort. So
Breckinridge started her own Frontier Nursing School in the mountain town of
Hyden, Kentucky, to train new midwives. She had always actively sought
contributions to fund the Frontier Nursing Service, but now she and others also
began recruiting applicants to the school. The more I read about the women, who
came to the program from easier lifestyles but were enchanted by the mountains,
the more I wanted to let my character be one of these women. And then I liked
getting to know the mountain people through my research. Great history, mountain
settings, and strong characters all made a great jumping off place for me to
start writing this story.
How did you so vividly capture the Appalachian area? Did you visit?
I’m a lifelong Kentuckian and while I don’t live in the Appalachian area, I’m
very familiar with that part of Kentucky. I have often visited the state parks
in the mountains and have read many stories set in Appalachia. I did visit
Wendover, Mary Breckinridge’s home in the mountains that was designated a
National Historical Landmark in 1991. It’s a bed and breakfast now where people
can visit and learn more about the history of the Frontier Nursing Service and
the beauty of the mountains. The Frontier Nursing School is still actively
training students in nearby Hyden, Kentucky. A book by James Still, The
Wolfpen Notebooks, that I bought at a book fair many years ago was very
useful in helping me capture a little of the mountain speak. It also helps that
I grew up on a farm, and although it wasn’t in the mountains, farm folks
everywhere have some similar ways and a like respect and love for the land.
What was the most interesting thing you learned while doing research for
The firsthand experiences of the nurse/midwives as they treated their patients
were eye-opening for me. I admired their dedication in fording flooded rivers
and riding horses along icy trails and through snowstorms—or whatever obstacles
nature threw at them—in order to reach the homes of their patients. I also liked
the family feel of the Nursing Service and how the nurses respected the mountain
people in spite of their different ways. Then it was inspiring to think about
the difference one determined woman with a vision made in the lives of so many.
From the FNS beginnings in 1925 to 1975, the FNS nurse/midwives recorded
delivering 17,053 babies with only 11 maternal deaths. That is an amazing
statistic in an area that Mrs. Breckinridge chose for her service because of the
high childbirth mortality rates.
Do you relate to Francine in any way?
I’m certainly no nurse. I do love a mountain vista, and Francine fell in love
with the mountains too. I never think I base my characters on me in any way. My
characters come to my stories as separate people with stories to share. That
said, I’m sure my personality or feelings do sneak into my characters from time
to time. Oh, and with Francine, there is how she loves her dog, Sarge. I’ve
loved dogs ever since I begged my parents to let me have a dog when I was eight
What lesson(s) do you hope readers will take away from reading your
I don’t set out to write a story full of lessons. I write to share stories with
readers. If they are introduced to interesting history or fascinating places or
perhaps new ways to think or feel, that’s a bonus. I hope following along the
story trail with my characters will encourage them in their own walks through
life. Perhaps in this story, THESE HEALING HILLS, a
reader might understand how the Lord continues to work in our lives even when
things aren’t going the way we think they should. As Francine’s grandmother
tells her, where one door closes another opens. Or if not a door, a window
somewhere. Sometimes blessings await us on the far side of disappointments. And
then I want readers to feel that rhythm of nature Granny Em tries to get
Francine to notice in the mountains.
In what way would you say your faith is worked into the book?
My faith is an integral part of my life and my worldview. Not that I don’t
stumble at times and have questions. Some of my characters are that way too with
a sure belief even when they are challenged by life happenings. Other characters
are exploring what they believe and either finding faith or strengthening their
wavering faith. We are all on different life paths. I feel blessed when I’m
writing and a bit of a Bible verse or a Bible story comes to mind that perfectly
fits my character’s situation. I try not to be preachy in my stories, but I do
like weaving faith threads through the story in a way that seems a natural part
of the characters’ lives.
What are you working on next?
Right now I am working on another historical novel based on a true story about
the 1833 cholera epidemic in Springfield, Kentucky. At that time, most people
thought cholera was caused by bad air, and so when an epidemic broke out those
who had the resources to do so would desert the area. George Sansbury, a hotel
owner, was one of the citizens anxious to leave town when the first cholera
death was reported in Springfield. He gave his slave, Louis, the keys to the
hotel and left him in charge. Louis, who was unaffected by cholera, buried the
fifty-five victims of the disease and also took care of some who were sick. Move
forward to 1854 when George Sansbury died and his property, including his
slaves, was to be sold. The people of Springfield raised money to buy Louis
Sansbury’s freedom and set him up in a blacksmith shop.
With that true seed of an idea, my story is the fictional account of how that
might have happened. When she was seven, Adria Starr lost her family to cholera,
but she has never forgotten how Louis helped her and found her a home with the
local schoolteacher, Ruth Harmon, whose husband died from cholera. Now these
many years later, Adria must make a decision about her future. Will she marry
her childhood sweetheart and stay in Springfield or find adventure and purpose
in other places? Ruth has never remarried but when a new preacher, Will
Robertson, comes to their church, she feels new stirrings of love. Will lost his
wife to childbirth fever and is going through a spiritual crisis even as he
continues to lead the church and tries to take care of his young daughter. Their
campaign to free Louis changes all their lives.
How can readers connect with you?
Readers can contact me or find out more about my books and about me by visiting
That’s also where to find links to my blogs, One Writer’s Journal and the Heart
of Hollyhill blog. Interested readers can sign up for my newsletters at my
website too. Every newsletter has a giveaway chance, and I also do frequent book
giveaways on my blog. I enjoy interacting with readers on my Facebook page, www.facebook.com/anngabhart, where I do weekly posts like
the popular “Sunday morning coming down,” Shaker Wednesday with tidbits of
Shaker history and photos, and the fun Friday smiles. I’m on Twitter
@AnnHGabhart. I have book research boards and more at Pinterest, user name
AnnHGabhart. So feel free to drop by any of those places and see what’s going on.
Francine Howard has her life all mapped out until the soldier she planned to
marry at WWII's end writes to tell her he's in love with a woman in England.
Devastated, Francine seeks a fresh start in the Appalachian Mountains, training
to be a nurse midwife for the Frontier Nursing Service.
Deeply affected by the horrors he witnessed at war, Ben Locke has never
thought further ahead than making it home to Kentucky. 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.
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.
Historical | Inspirational Romance
[Revell, On Sale: September 5, 2017, Paperback /
e-Book, ISBN: 9780800723637 / eISBN: 9781441219787]
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