Ann H. Gabhart is the bestselling author of Along a Storied Trail, An Appalachian Summer, River to Redemption, These Healing Hills, and Angel Sister, along with several Shaker novels—The Refuge, The Outsider, The Believer, The Seeker, The Blessed, and The Gifted. She and her husband live on a farm a mile from where she was born in rural Kentucky. Ann enjoys discovering the everyday wonders of nature while hiking in her farm’s fields and woods with her grandchildren and her dogs, Frankie and Marley.
Now Gabhart weaves another heartwarming tale about trusting God to turn burdens into something beautiful in her newest book, When the Meadow Blooms. In this interview, let’s see what Ann has to say about her new book.
FF: Can you please provide a brief summary of your new novel, When the Meadow Blooms?
After a tragic fire and the loss of his one true love, Dirk Meadows has lived a reclusive life, but when his late brother’s family needs a place to stay, he opens up his home even as he intends to keep his heart closed. Rose has known much loss in her life, but the hardest thing she ever had to do was leave her daughters at an orphanage while she is treated at a tuberculosis sanatorium. So she is happy to accept Dirk’s offer of shelter once she is well enough to reclaim her children. Calla and Sienna have difficult experiences at the orphanage but feel rescued when they go to Meadowland, their uncle’s farm. Sienna, nine, has a special feel for animals and birds. Her friendship with a couple of crows, who bring her gifts, cause a crisis threatening the happiness Rose and her daughters have found at Meadowland. But then the crows’ gifts open a door to the past to help Dirk find healing as he faces the truth of what happened years before. His nieces’ love breaks through the shield around his heart and opens him up to love again.
FF: What was the inspiration for your new novel?
The idea for When the Meadow Blooms started with the characters. The first ones to begin whispering their story into my ear were Calla and Sienna, two young sisters living in an orphanage. But why were they there? That’s when their widowed mother, being treated for tuberculosis at a sanitarium, became part of the story. The girls needed someone to rescue them from the harsh treatment they were experiencing at the orphanage, which my research revealed sometimes happened in those institutions. Dirk Meadows came to the forefront. Dirk lives a reclusive life on his farm, but he has problems. Some are physical, with scars from being badly burned years before. Some are emotional, with his feeling of being abandoned by the girl he loved. The more I thought about these characters, the more I wanted to share their story. Then I had to find the perfect setting along a little river with meadows that would burst into bloom in the springtime. I walked through some of those meadows and watched the river flowing past while considering my story.
FF: When the Meadow Blooms takes place shortly after the Great War. Why did you choose this time period?
Sanitariums were considered necessary treatment for those suffering from tuberculosis at that time. Plus, Rose was widowed by the death of her husband during the 1918 influenza pandemic. The year 1925 was a time of change, with cars replacing horses, with new treatments being discovered for various illnesses, and a heightened social awareness of the need to help those struggling with poverty or sickness. At the same time, much of Kentucky was still rural, and a person could more easily live a solitary life if that person chose to do so as Dirk did. The 1920s were years of peace when Americans truly thought the Great War, as they called World War I, was the war to end all wars. The market crash that plunged the country into the Great Depression was still years away. I wanted to be able to concentrate on my characters’ conflicts and problems instead of the country’s struggles.
FF: Your female protagonist, Rose Meadows, contracts tuberculosis and is ordered to recover in a sanitarium. How did this affect her family and her livelihood?
Such an experience was devastating for a widow with two young daughters. Rose struggled to pay rent and feed her children with the only money coming in—a small pension from the army and whatever she earned making and selling hats. Once she was diagnosed with tuberculosis, nobody wanted to buy her hats even if she had the energy to fashion them. She had no extended family members to help her, and the church friend who had taken Rose and the girls under her wing had passed away unexpectedly. Rose hoped that she could go to the sanitarium for a couple of months for treatment and be well enough to once again make her own way. But instead, she had to stay at the sanitarium almost two years. Being apart from her daughters was heart-wrenching. Calla and Sienna felt lost and alone at the orphanage and worried they would never see their mother again.
FF: When Rose Meadows and her family are in trouble, Dirk Meadows comes to the rescue. But he is not your typical hero. Can you please tell us more about Dirk?
Dirk Meadows is a man haunted by his past. His face is badly scarred by burns he suffered in a tragic fire, and he feels no one can look at him without shuddering. So he hides away from people on his little corner of the world, Meadowland, writing scientific articles for various magazines. He has spent twenty years mourning the loss of the girl he loved and hoped to be with forever. The loss is more painful because he feels she abandoned him. To avoid any additional emotional scars, Dirk closes off his heart. He loves Maisy, his faithful companion dog he took in as a stray, because he is confident she won’t betray him, but he has no intention of ever again allowing anyone near enough to cause him pain. Despite the way he lives a reclusive life, he is a good man. He takes joy in studying and writing about flora and fauna on Meadowland. When he is confronted with the plight of his brother’s widow and children, he wants to do the right thing and what he considers is his family duty. He is prepared to supply their need for shelter and food, but he is not ready for the feelings the three females awaken in his heart.
FF: When the Meadow Blooms is ultimately a story of healing. Can you expound upon how you utilize this theme in your book?
All the characters in When the Meadow Blooms need some sort of healing, either physical, emotional or both. Dirk, Rose, Calla, Sienna and even Lincoln have dealt with harsh life experiences that have left wounds, whether they are visible or hidden. At times, those hidden emotional wounds to the spirit can linger and be the most difficult to overcome. In my story, Dirk, especially, has to face the sorrows of his past and look to the Lord for true healing. I never start a story with the idea for this or that theme, such as forgiveness, prayer, or in this case, healing. Those themes always arise as the characters take me along their story roads.
FF: What do you hope readers will gain from reading When the Meadow Blooms?
I always hope readers will invite my characters into their hearts and experience story with my fictional people. If readers can pull something from the story that encourages them or helps them come to terms with something in their lives, that’s a bonus. In When the Meadow Blooms I can hope they will gain empathy for those people in their own lives who bear the scars of past injuries.
FF: You have an interesting back story. How did this add to the plot of your book?
I fell in love with my character, Anneliese, as soon as I knew her name and then saw her playing in the water in the middle of the river in her first scene in the book. The back story about her and Dirk added some sweet romance, personal challenges, and a little mystery as well. What happened between them was important in shaping Dirk’s reclusive ways and eventually helping him find healing.
FF: What do you love most about writing novels in the historical fiction genre?
I like traveling back in time with my characters to different eras. I enjoy getting to know how people lived, worked, worshiped, and loved in whatever years I choose for my characters to come to life. Challenges abound for people in every time period. Some historical events such as a war can challenge the whole country. Other times the challenges—for example, floods, fires, or storms—may be more in one local area. Then there are the challenges that are purely personal as they are in When the Meadow Blooms. When I pick the setting and time for my characters to live out their stories, I love how I can slip back in time to let history come to life for me as I write.
When the Meadow Blooms
Ann H. Gabhart
Genres: Historical Romance
Release Date: May 3, 2022
If any place on God’s earth was designed to help one heal, it is Meadowland. Surely here, at her brother-in-law’s Kentucky farm, Rose and her daughters can recover from the events of the recent past–the loss of her husband during the 1918 influenza epidemic, her struggle with tuberculosis that required a stay at a sanatorium, and her girls’ experience in an orphanage during her illness. At Meadowland, hope blooms as their past troubles become rich soil in which their faith can grow.
Dirk Meadows may have opened his home to his late brother’s widow and her girls, but he keeps his heart tightly closed. The roots of his pain run deep, and the evidence of it is written across his face. Badly scarred by a fire and abandoned by the woman he loved, Dirk fiercely guards his heart from being hurt again. But it may be that his visitors will bring light back into his world and unlock the secret to true healing.
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