August 24, 2020

Sharing Kentucky Stories

Ann H.Gabhart                      @AnnHGabhart

After writing forty books, give or take one or two, I sometimes worry I’ll exhaust my idea bank. Usually the deposits in that bank all come from Kentucky sources. I am a lifelong Kentucky resident and so I’ve used Kentucky settings and/or history in all my books.

Years ago, when I was a young writer and only beginning to wrestle with the task of finding new ideas for stories, I read in a writing advice article that there were only ten basic storylines. Ten. That boggled my mind when I thought about all the books that have been written and that would be written. Some of them by me.

While I never exactly figured out what those ten basic storylines were, since I don’t think that was included in the article, it did take the pressure off about being totally original. It wasn’t going to happen. I was very sure those ten things had shown up in many books. What is it the preacher writes in Ecclesiastes? “And there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9b NKJ)

People are people and while our culture is much changed, we as people continue to do the same basic things. We’re born and make our way through childhood and school. We fall in love. We struggle and overcome. Or sometimes don’t overcome but have to find new ways to live. We have dreams and desires. We work and we play. Throughout time until our time is done.

Stories are about people and while each basic idea for a story may have been used a zillion times, the characters I choose to bring to life in my stories will be unlike any characters in other stories. They will be unique just as we as individuals are unique even while we share those same basic needs and wants.

So, when I was searching for a new idea for a book, I reviewed my Kentucky history and decided I could find another story in the Appalachian Mountains with Frontier Nursing Service history. I had written about the Frontier Nurse Service midwives in my book, These Healing Hills, but I wasn’t able to work in all the Frontier Nursing Service history I found so interesting. I wanted to tell more of Mary Breckinridge’s story and her vision of helping mothers and children by bringing better healthcare into the poverty-stricken mountains.

Sometimes we hear of needs and think I am only one. How can I make a difference? But Mary Breckinridge was only one. Yet, with determination and perseverance, she convinced others to join in with her vision. She talked midwives into coming from England to work in the mountains since when she started her nurse midwife service, America had no midwifery schools. She later established a midwifery school right in Hyden, Kentucky in order to train midwives for the Frontier Nursing Service since many of the English midwives returned to England to serve their country during World War II.

She also came up with the idea of bringing in volunteers to take care of the nurses’ horses and do various other menial chores in order to free up the nurse midwives to have more time for their patients. These volunteer couriers were generally young women from well to do families who perhaps were more accustomed to being served rather than serving others. They hadn’t experienced rough living without electricity and other conveniences. I decided to bring one of those couriers to life and let her have the summer of a lifetime as she discovered the joy of helping others while also realizing her own strengths and talents.

Piper has a summer never to forget in An Appalachian Summer. But while Piper is a product of my imagination, she is based on the many courier volunteers I read about as I researched the Frontier Nursing Service. These volunteer positions with the midwifery service became so sought after that prospective volunteers had to add their names to a waiting list.

Women who had served as couriers often added their infant daughters’ names to the list so that their daughters would have the same opportunity they had of being part of the Frontier Nursing Service.

So, once again I had walked across the Kentucky map to imagine a new story set in my home state. Even when my books aren’t centered on historical events, I’m still in Kentucky with my setting. The farm where I grew up was near a small Kentucky town that I used as the model for Hollyhill in the Heart of Hollyhill stories and also for my Hidden Spring mysteries. The setting for my Rosey Corner stories came to life from all the stories my mother told me about growing up in a small community during the Great Depression.

I’ve got a few more ideas for stories where I can drop down my characters into a Kentucky setting and see what happens next. I can’t wait to let my imagination introduce me to some new fictional people anxious to share their stories.

ANN H. GABHART has been called a storyteller, She’s lived up to the title with forty books published (give or take a few) and more stories on the way. Ann likes wrapping her stories around interesting historical times and events in her home state of Kentucky. She’s written about the Shakers in The Refuge, The Outsider and more, gone to the Appalachian Mountains for These Healing Hills and An Appalachian Summer, mined her family history for Angel Sister and Scent of Lilacs, found a feel good story during the 1833 cholera epidemic in Springfield, Kentucky, and more. Even her cozy mysteries under the author name A.H. Gabhart take place in the little town of Hidden Springs, Kentucky. Ann keeps her keyboard warm out on her farm where she likes walking with her dogs or discovering the wonders of nature with her nine grandchildren. To find out more about Ann and her books.


  1. Ann thank you for sharing this with us. It is good to always see where authors get ideas for their stories.

    I especially look forward to reading this book about the Frontier Nursing Service.

  2. Great, Susan. I've enjoyed going to the mountains for some of my stories and I always enjoy Suite T.