Interview by Brock Eastman
Featuring Murder Is No Accident
Young Maggie Greene may be trespassing in the old, empty Victorian mansion on a quiet street in Hidden Springs, but all she wants is some private time in the magnificent tower room to write her stories. Certain she’ll be in trouble if caught, she hides when a realtor shows up. But someone else is in the house too, someone even more worried about getting caught. When Maggie finds the realtor’s body at the bottom of a flight of stairs and the other person gone, Deputy Sheriff Michael Keane is called in. He assumes the realtor’s death is a tragic accident–until a second person is found dead in the house. When Maggie is threatened, Michael must catch the murderer before anyone else dies.
Cozy mystery fans will love this third installment in The Hidden Springs Mysteries series from an author who knows how to make small-town America sweet, sentimental–and a little sinister.
“The plot will keep readers anxious for another story set in Hidden Springs.”
– RT Book Reviews about Murder Comes by Mail
Brock: What was your inspiration for writing this book or series?
Ann: Since I’ve always enjoyed reading mysteries, I decided to try writing a mystery story. But I also like setting my stories in small towns. That’s what I know since I grew up on a farm near a small town. So mystery combined with a small town and a few eccentric characters and a cat or two turned that first Hidden Springs story into a cozy mystery.
For this book, my third Hidden Springs mystery, Murder Is No Accident, I decided to let the mystery take place in an old Victorian style house much like one I’ve always admired on my hometown’s Main Street. Then I introduced a new character, a young girl who dreams of being a writer. Hmm, something like me when I was fifteen. When she sneaks into the house to hide out and write in the tower room, she’s in the wrong place at the wrong time. And so the mystery begins.
Brock: Tell us about the main characters. Who are they? What makes them unique?
Ann: Michael Keane is the deputy sheriff of Hidden Springs. He loves his small town and has roots all the way to China. He tried working as a policeman in a big city, but hated it. He came back to Hidden Springs where he feels as though he actually has a chance to keep the peace. The problem is that he’s in love with a big city girl and while she loves him in return, they can’t quite figure out how to work out their different lifestyles.
Alexandria Sheridan is an attorney in Washington D.C. She loves Hidden Springs, but only as a place to visit. She can’t imagine actually living in such a small town. She’s used to being on the fast track to success but she's also sure Michael could never be happy living in a big city. That makes a dilemma for her since she wants what's best for Michael.
Fifteen-year-old Maggie Greene wants to be a writer. Her family has never had a lot of money, but after Maggie’s father gets laid off from his factory job, they struggle to pay their bills. Maggie doesn’t worry about not having the fancy clothes, cell phone, etc. that other girls her age have. She doesn’t mind helping her mother clean houses and taking care of her little brother while her mother is at work, but she does dreams of going to college. She’s afraid if she’s caught trespassing in the big house her mother sometimes cleans that will put a black mark on her record and keep her from getting the scholarships she needs to go on to school.
Brock: Give us one fact about each main character that no one else knows.
Ann: Michael Keane collects Civil War weapons and history books. He would like to have time to visit the historic battlefields and be more involved in Civil War re-enactments.
Alexandria Sheridan wanted to be a Jeopardy contestant when she was in college, but she never sent in the application. She worried she'd freeze up, but now she's sorry she didn't give it a try.
Maggie Greene dreams of someday going to England and touring a castle.
Brock: In three sentences words, what is this book about?
Ann: Murder. Secrets. Love.
Brock: Do you outline the entire book before starting, or do you write as you go and let the characters take control of the story?
Ann: I don’t outline my stories. I come up with a what if question or two, write a few pages about my characters to get to know them better and then type “Chapter 1” and begin. I like it when the characters keep the story going, but sometimes I think writing the book would surely be way easier if I did have that detailed outline.
Brock: How do you believe this story relates to the lives of readers?
Ann: My characters are regular folks just like my readers. While the characters in my stories may be challenged with more dramatic happenings then most people might face, we do all have good and bad times in life. Sometimes it helps to lay aside your own troubles to escape into a story for a while. I hope readers will cheer for my characters and hope for their safety and eventual happiness.
Brock: What is your favorite genre to write for?
Ann: I’ve enjoyed writing these cozy mysteries, but I also enjoy writing the family stories and the historical stories I’ve written. One thing that does seem to tie most of my stories together is the small town Kentucky settings. So maybe I can start a new genre. A small town genre. You think the readers would go for that?
Brock: How many books are planned for this series?
Ann: Murder Is No Accident is the third Hidden Springs mystery following up Murder at the Courthouse and Murder Comes by Mail. At this time, I don’t have plans to visit Hidden Springs again, but who knows? Maybe someday mysterious happenings might again show up on the Main Street of Hidden Springs.
Brock: Any certain research required for the book, or is it all from your imagination?
Ann: No special research was required for this story. I used an old house here in my town as inspiration for the setting, but the events of the story are all from my imagination.
Brock: What do your readers think about your latest series?
Ann: When my first Hidden Springs mystery, Murder at the Courthouse, was published I worried that my readers would be upset by my change in genre. The publishers worried about this too and that’s why they suggested I use a different form of my name, A. H. Gabhart instead of Ann H. Gabhart, as author of these cozy mysteries. I have been very pleasantly surprised that the majority of my readers, who had read my Shaker novels and my family series, gave my mysteries a try without hesitation. Even better, they all seemed to like the stories. I was especially on pins and needles with Murder Comes by Mail, because it is a more suspenseful story than most cozy mysteries. But again, I have the best readers in the world. They like my characters and my small town of Hidden Springs.
Brock: Why did you choose to focus on a male protagonist?
Ann: With my main character a deputy sheriff, I decided a man might be the more believable character in a town the size of my fictional Hidden Springs. Besides, I enjoy writing from the male point of view. That sometimes gives me a fresh perspective on a story idea.
Brock: Where do you like to write?
Ann: I prefer working in my office with windows all around, but I wrote my first novel many years ago at a desk in my kitchen while my youngest son watched Captain Kangaroo. To prove how long ago that was, my son now has four children, two of them teenagers! I wrote a number of books at that kitchen desk, but then when my father died, I received a small inheritance we used to build an addition onto our house that included an office for me. It's great having my own office with those windows I love. I can look outside at the trees and birds when I'm not looking inward at whatever is happening in my story.
Brock: What do you hope readers take away from the series?
Ann: I want my readers to be glad they took some time out of their busy lives to come visit Hidden Springs. I want them to come to think of my characters as family. I would like for them to realize good people, those willing to go the extra mile for their fellow citizens, abound in our world. That’s the kind of deputy sheriff Michael is in Hidden Springs. Last, but not least, I want them to be entertained by the story.
Brock: What is your "how I got published" story?
Ann: We have to go way back in time for that story. My first book, a historical romance, was published in the general market in 1978. Lots of ups and downs since then on my publishing road, but Murder Is No Accident is my thirty-first published book. When I wrote that first book back in the 1970’s, many things were different about how you went about submitting your work to publishers. I had to type all my manuscripts on a typewriter, prior to word processors, and mail those manuscripts to my agent who then sent them out to potential publishers, one at a time. If a rejection resulted, then the story was sent to another publisher. One thing was similar in that it was very helpful to have an agent. I searched through writing magazines for how to get an agent and then once I decided who to approach, I wrote a query letter telling about my story. Now we would call that a proposal and do most of the approaching agents or publishers via internet or at writers’ conferences. I do vividly remember reading that letter from my agent that told me my novel had been accepted for publication by Warner Books. One of those never to be forgotten moments.
Fast forward a few decades and I wrote a story about a preacher and his family that brought me into the Christian fiction world. I love it here. When I noticed mysteries were becoming more popular among Christian fiction readers, I started letting murder happen in my little town of Hidden Springs. I was pleased when my editor and publishers decided readers might enjoy my cozy mysteries.
Brock: When did you realize you wanted to become a writer?
Ann: I sometimes wonder if I wasn’t wired to be a writer when I was born. Okay, maybe not quite that soon, but I did start writing my first book when I was ten. At the time, I was reading a lot of Hardy Boy mysteries and I decided to write my own mystery starring a smarter, cuter and far less shy me. I’ve been writing ever since. I love putting words together and telling stories.
Brock: What are your hopes for your future as an author?
Ann: I hope to write a few more books that will have readers telling me they couldn’t put my book down until they finished the story.
Brock: Coke or Pepsi?
Ann: Neither. I love my tea, hot or iced. Unsweetened, but I do mix lemonade with my iced tea when I go to one of those fast food restaurants.
Brock: Favorite place to vacation?
Ann: I love to walk on the beach at sunrise and let the waves lap up toward my feet. I like hearing the shore birds and seeing the little crabs dig down in the sand. But I also like being in the mountains or on a lake. So perhaps my favorite place to vacation is anywhere I can get out in the natural world the good Lord made so beautiful.
Brock: Favorite way to exercise?
Ann: Walking on my farm with my dog, Oscar.
Brock: Favorite season?
Ann: Spring in the spring and fall in the fall. That was cheating picking two, wasn’t it?
Brock: Do you have a favorite Bible verse?
Ann: So many favorite verses. I’ll decide one is a favorite and then I’ll see another I want to let settle down in my heart. I put a Scripture reference when I autograph any of my books. I’ve tried to come up with verses that match the story the way I did with Lamentations 3:22-23 for Murder at the Courthouse since that is a verse one of the characters considered during the story. In my recent Shaker book, The Innocent, I had a continual faith thread where my character, Carlyn, would remember how her mother was always saying “Pray anyway” no matter the circumstances. So I put 1 Thessalonians 5:17 when I sign that book. If I can’t come up with anything that matches the title or the theme of the book, I use 3 John 2 because that seems like a blessing I can pray for each and every reader.
Brock: Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what are some examples?
Ann: No, never. I like quiet.
Brock: Why do you like to set your stories in small towns like Hidden Springs?
Ann: I’m a country girl who knows very little about big cities, so it just seems right that I keep my stories in familiar territory. Also, small towns have a certain charm while opening up the potential of introducing some interesting minor characters to add color to a story. We had a few of those kinds of characters in my own hometown. While I have never actually used any of the people in my hometown in my stories, many of my hometown readers think I have. They are always trying to figure out who this or that character “really” is. Sometimes what they come up with surprises me or it’s someone I didn’t even know well enough to write into my story. I do admit that, at times, I have been inspired to come up with this or that character by people I have known. Even then, my fictional people are a mishmash of characteristics from many people I’ve met through the years.
Brock: Why did you name your fictional town Hidden Springs?
Ann: I like to name my towns something that sounds great. I have my Hollyhill stories and then there’s my little community of Rosey Corner where my Merritt family live. I named my fictional Shaker village, Harmony Hill. You think I might like town names that start with h? But Hidden Springs seemed like the perfect name when I was writing the first of my Hidden Springs mysteries, Murder at the Courthouse, because the mystery involved truths about long hidden events in the town that spring to the surface.
Thank you so much for letting me come visit. I enjoy talking about my books and writing and love talking to my reading friends.
Author Website: AnnHGabhart.com
Author Twitter: @AnnHGabhart
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