Ann was our very first featured author/giveaway back in June. She had so much fun (and we did too!) that she said she would love to come back. Of course I said “YES!”. Since she had a new Christmas book coming out in September, I thought having Ann back in November with a special Christmas interview and giving away an autographed copy of her new Christmas book, Christmas at Harmony Hill, would be great. So, sit down with your favorite Christmas tea or apple cider and enjoy reading this wonderful interview with Ann.
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-five novels 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/.
I’m reading, Christmas at Harmony Hill, right now. It’s nothing like I expected. I’m really draw in and can’t wait to find out what’s going to happen. What can you tell us about the book and why you decided to write it?
I never intended to write a shelf full of Shaker books. When I wrote The Outsider I thought that would be the only book I would write about the Shakers. In fact, that story sat on my reject shelf for a couple of decades before it was finally published. And then readers liked my Shaker story, and my editor encouraged me to write more books with a Shaker background. So I agreed as long as I could write other historical stories along with those Shaker books.
My editor, Lonnie Hull Dupont and my agent, Wendy Lawton, are the reason I wrote a Shaker Christmas book. Several years ago they took a road trip together and came to visit me out here on the farm. We had a great time and of course did a lot of talking about books. One of them said wouldn’t it be fun to read a Shaker Christmas book. I didn’t even know if the Shakers did anything special at Christmas time, but being carried away by the moment and the great company, I said I might be able to find out about Shakers and Christmas. So I did and came up with some plot ideas that fit into a Christmas theme. Four years later, Christmas at Harmony Hill is the result.
The story is a bit different from most Christmas novels. I feel like it could be read any time of the year even though it is set in December 1864. The Civil War is drawing to a close, but Gideon is still fighting for the Union Army while Heather returns home to have their baby. When she finds no welcome there, she seeks shelter in the Shaker village where her aunt, Sister Sophrena, the Shaker journalist in The Gifted, has lived for many years. Sister Sophrena is ready to help Heather even as she is beginning to doubt her own Shaker walk.
Does your family have any Christmas traditions that have carried over from your parents? Have you created new traditions?
I remember the great times I had as a child. Every Christmas Eve we went to my aunt’s house for dinner and presents. My aunt never married and so she was like a granny to my sisters and me. She made Christmas special. She died shortly after I married and so the traditional Christmas Eve dinner was then at my mother’s. I’ve had to adjust traditions somewhat after my children got married and all the family traditions had to be merged with their spouses’ traditions too. So now my children try to find an agreeable Saturday or Sunday to come home for Christmas. I suppose if we have a tradition it is just to try to get together and have a time of giving and sharing. I do still make the same orange and pineapple juice punch in my aunt’s cut glass punch bowl.
Do y’all open presents one at a time or everyone at the same time?
We used to open presents one at a time. I still like that way best, but when you have nine grandkids with seven of them under ten, things can go south pretty fast. So now we let the grandkids open their presents all at the same time and then while they’re playing with their new toys, the adults open their presents one at a time. So fun!
Do y’all have a special meal you always have each Christmas or do you just wing it?
I do serve some traditional dishes that the children expect. I have ham, both city ham and a delicious country ham roast. My homemade rolls are a must as well as green beans (canned from the garden), corn pudding, grape salad, fruit salad, and hummingbird cake. The other dishes vary from year to year. And of course, if anybody is here for Christmas breakfast or breakfast on whatever day we have our family celebration, we have homemade cinnamon rolls. Yum!!
Do you have a favorite recipe (or two) that you make every Christmas? Can you share with us?
Sure. First my punch recipe. We never had a recipe written down, but my aunt just told me what to do. I started making that punch when I was a kid. I loved stirring it all together. So I’ll name it after her. If you’ll notice I also dedicated Christmas at Harmony Hill to her memory.
Aunt Bond’s Christmas Punch
One large can pineapple juice
One large can grapefruit juice
One large can frozen orange juice with only one can of water added
½ gallon orange sherbet
2 liter Gingerale
Mix the juices. Right before add scoops of orange sherbet and half the gingerale to the juices. Save the rest of the Gingerale for each individual to add to their cups to taste.
Note: My aunt always added the grapefruit juice but I often leave it out. If you do use the grapefruit juice, you may need to sweeten the punch to taste.
Then my hummingbird cake recipe. I found it years ago when our newspaper published the prize winning cakes for the Kentucky State Fair from 1971 through 1980.
Hummingbird Cake (Helen Wiser -1978 winner)
3 C flour (see Ann’s note in the directions about the flour and what she does)
¾ C chopped pecans
2 C granulated sugar
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp salt
1 8-ounce can crushed pineapple, undrained
1 tsp baking soda
¼ C chopped black walnuts (optional)
1 tsp cinnamon
2 C chopped banana
3 eggs, well beaten
1 ¼ c vegetable oil
Combine all dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. (I cheat and use self-rising flour and leave out the baking soda and salt.) Add eggs and oil, stirring until dry ingredients are moistened. Do not beat with a mixer. Stir in nuts, vanilla and pineapple. Finally add the bananas. Spoon batter into 3 greased and floured 9 inch round cake pans. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 25 or 30 minutes or until Cake tests done. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then turn onto cooling racks. Cool completely before frosting.
Cream Cheese Icing (from Debby Osborne’s 1980 prize winning recipe)
2/3 stick butter or margarine
2 tsp vanilla
8 ounce package cream cheese
1 C chopped pecans
1 pound confectioners’ sugar
Whip margarine and cream cheese together. Add remaining ingredients and beat well. Spread between cake layers and then frost sides and top of cake.
Do y’all ever have a white Christmas? And speaking of white Christmas, what’s your favorite Christmas songs?
In Kentucky, it’s hit or miss with the white Christmas. We have had several Christmases that were white. One year, the family built a snowman. Another year we went sledding. And one year, my son ran off the road trying to go home and had to be pulled out of the snowy ditch. But I also remember some Christmas days when the sun was shining and it was nearly sixty degrees. Kentuckians have a saying that if you don’t like the weather, just stick around till tomorrow. So snow is an option, but far from a guarantee on Christmas day.
I love Christmas songs. I’ve liked “The Little Drummer Boy” forever, but I also like “What Child is This” and “Mary, Did you Know.” So many great Christmas songs, it’s hard to pick just one or two. “Joy to the World” is my favorite carol.
Do you remember, way back when, when they had all those wonderful Christmas programs on, like Andy Williams, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope? I do, and I miss them!
I do remember those shows. I remember Bob Hope going to Vietnam and having Christmas shows for the soldiers there. I wrote about that once on my blog and got a message back from a soldier who was there for one of those shows. It’s neat the way the internet connects people.
I love the Christmas story told from the original KJV from the book of Luke? What’s your favorite?
If you’re reading the Christmas story, the King James Version sounds the best in my ears because that’s what I grew up hearing. I do like the New King James because it keeps some of the poetic sound of the KJV but changes enough to make it easier to read. At our youth programs at church, we always read from both Luke and Matthew so that we get the story of the shepherds and wise men too. When I autograph one of my books, I always include a Scripture reference with the signature. I try to match up a Bible verse with the title of the book or the story. For Christmas at Harmony Hill, I use Luke 2:19. I think people will understand why after they read the story.
Do you have any unusual traditions you do each Christmas? Or if not unusual, maybe just something you do each year without fail?
Life has changed for me since my mother’s dementia, so that some of the Christmas traditions that I loved have been lost along with her memory. I can’t think of any unusual traditions we ever had. For several years I loved going with my mother to her church for a midnight candlelight service on Christmas Eve after our family gathering. It was just so neat to go out of the church as the church bells rang the hour of midnight. We do have the tradition of having a candlelight service at our little country church too, but we usually have it on a Sunday night close to Christmas. I do enjoy the candlelight services and the imagery of the “light of the world” giving light to each of us.
Come to think of it, I guess I do have a grandmother tradition. When my first grandbaby was born, almost twenty years ago now, she was six months old on her first Christmas and I took a picture of her on the floor in front of my Christmas tree. She was my special Christmas gift. Then, every time I had a new grandbaby come into the world, I’d get that picture of the new baby under the tree. Also I make, beg, bribe, whatever it takes, to get all the grandkids in front of the tree for a picture each year. They have to sit for that picture before they can open presents. Sometimes the toddlers have not been that eager for pictures or presents, but so far we’ve always gotten the picture.
Oh, and there is that other tradition I have of giving all my kids and grandkids at least one book whether they want one or not. LOL. Fortunately they all love books and this tradition is fun for me too since I love shopping at bookstores.
I’m enjoying this so much I can’t stop, but I’m going to have too! Is there anything else you would like our readers to know?
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!! I do enjoy hearing from readers. It’s fun having conversations with you on Facebook and on my blog, One Writer’s Journal. I hope you have so many blessings in the coming year that your cup overflows and you’re drinking out of your saucer.
Quick, Quirky Questions:
Decorate by yourself or have help?
I love having help to decorate, but it doesn’t always happen. When I was a kid, we had a great time helping my aunt put up her tree and that’s a great memory for me now. Sometimes my grandkids, who live near by, come to help, but they aren’t quite as carried away by the magic of decorating the tree the way I was. It could be because their mom puts up seven or eight trees. By the time I get around to dragging my tree out, those kids are all Christmas tree decorated out. They do like helping me get my Santa collection out of the boxes.
Real tree or artificial?
For years we had real trees. Actually we went out in the fields on our farm and cut a cedar tree and put it in a bucket. They smelled wonderful, but dried out quickly inside the house and were very scratchy to decorate. We also bought a live tree once and it’s now growing into a towering pine out in the yard. But I went the artificial tree route some years ago. Now I have one of those pre-lighted trees. Trouble is the lights are no longer working on some of the strands, but I don’t seem motivated to buy a new tree. I just string some more lights on it. My daughter-in-law says I need to buy a taller tree to fit in my added on family room. Maybe someday I will.
Wrapping paper or bags?
I know it’s silly, but I feel like I’m cheating somehow when I use bags. I’ve always sort of enjoyed wrapping presents, but it can get tiresome wrapping that many presents since I usually buy several presents each for my husband, three kids, three sweet in-law kids, and nine grandkids. I’ve even been known to buy my daughter’s two dogs doggy treats and wrap them up.
When it gets down to crunch time and I haven’t got the gifts all wrapped, I’ll grab bags. I also use bags for oddly shaped items that don’t fit in boxes.
Cookies or brownies?
That’s according to the flavor cookies or brownies. Maybe my favorite is oatmeal cookies with craisens mixed in and spread in a 9 x 13 pan instead of dropped as cookies.
Cake or pie?
Pie. Very definitely pie. What kind of pie? Round will do. LOL
Tinsel on the tree?
When I was a kid and we were decorating those cedar trees, we always draped shiny tinfoil icicles on the tree. Then when we took the tree down after Christmas, we had to painstakingly pick off the icicles and lay them as straight as possible for use the next year. It was a freeing moment when, after I married, I decided trees looked better without the icicles.
Angel or Star topper on tree?
Angel, naturally, for a writer who titled one of her stories Angel Sister.
Thanks so much for inviting me back for a visit. I’ll look forward to your comments. Why don’t you tell me your favorite traditions at Christmas? Ann
Ok, if you read this last sentence from Ann, she wants to hear your favorite Christmas tradition too! So, feel free to include that in your comment below. This is so much fun!!!
Now for the autographed book giveaway:
- You must be 18 years or older and be a U.S. resident.
- Leave a comment in the comment section at the end of THIS post. One entry per person.
- We will randomly compile a list of everyone who made a comment and will draw a name. We will then notify you by email giving you further instructions on collecting your free book. DO NOT include your personal mailing address in your comment for security reasons.
- If we do not hear back from you in 5 days, we will draw another winner.
- Please allow 2-3 weeks for book delivery.
- If you win the book it would be really great if you could come back to this post after you have read it and tell us what you thought about the book.