A Chat with Geoffrey Hagan of Down to the Potter’s House by Annette Valentine

Taking us to the idyllic town of Elkton, Kentucky for a behind the scenes chat with Geoffrey Hagan of Down to the Potter’s House by Annette Valentine:

Mr. Hagan, it is certainly a pleasure to speak with you again about folks in Todd County. Last time we chatted, our conversation was mostly about your son, Simon. What can you tell us about his returning to his roots and how that might have changed him? 

Now that question brings me a smile and a mighty fine chuckle as well. You see, Simon met a young woman within days of his return to Elkton. Yessiree! Gracie Maxwell was a head-turner alright, and my son took a right-quick liking to her. It appeared they might be made for each other, but Gracie had some commitments and a pretty hard head to go with them if you know what I mean. Darned near broke Simon’s heart. I’m not saying I stepped in, playing God or getting in His way, but I did have to do what a father has to sometimes do to help matters.

It’s intriguing to see two people who have fallen in love needing to find a way to overcome or sidestep commitments. You indicated Miss Maxwell might have had to face some obstacles. Would you comment?

Of course. Elkton’s a small town. Towns don’t get any better than Elkton, Kentucky. Folks know other folks’s business and knowing about your neighbors and friends has its up side and its down side. The Maxwells are a good family. Gracie grew up on a fine stretch of tobacco land just south of town, and I’ve known her father for years—a senator and a gentleman involved in breeding Thoroughbred horses, racing, and such. But it only takes one bad seed to grow a bunch of weeds. Gracie had to make her peace with some weeds, and her commitments to outgrow them was highest priority. 

Would you say your son, Simon, made a worthwhile decision returning to Elkton?

If I were to choose the direction for my child, I’d want it to include a place where foundational strength can be nurtured. No one town or location is single-handedly gonna provide what a person requires for life’s journey, but folks around here still respect others and value decency. Simon had those qualities reinforced when he came back, and Gracie Maxwell played a mighty big role in helping him embrace a life worth living.  

I’m curious about a relationship that has such power. Was Gracie out of the ordinary in some way?

Ah! You may’ve touched on something there! That gal definitely has a power source most of her family can’t hold a candle to. Don’t misunderstand—the Senator has plenty but compromise can undermine strength in a heartbeat. It’s always interesting to see who has real strength when push comes to shove, and Gracie is out of the ordinary for sure.    

Once again, Mr. Hagan, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you.

Annette Valentine’s novel “Down to the Potter’s House” (Morgan James, November 2020) is a 1921-1942 historical tale set on a tobacco farm turned racehorse breeding stable in rural Kentucky, and follows the tenacious Gracie Maxwell to higher ground as she climbs and never stops. A fast-moving novel of romance and redemption, intrigue and revenge, the book showcases a finely-tuned protagonist who grows from naive schoolgirl to committed missionary to loving wife and mother. Written in an exquisite style, “Down to the Potter’s House” is an astute study of the contrast between good and evil inside an extended family.

Annette Valentine is an inspirational storyteller with a flair for the unexpected. By age eleven, she knew that writing was an integral part of her creative nature. Annette graduated with distinction from Purdue and founded an interior design firm which spanned a 34-year career in Lafayette, Indiana and Brentwood, Tennessee. Annette has used her 18-year affiliation with Toastmasters International to prepare her for her position with the Speakers’ Bureau for End Slavery Tennessee and is an advocate for victims and survivors of human trafficking and is the volunteer group leader for Brentwood, Tennessee. Annette writes through the varied lens of colorful personal experience and the absorbing reality of humanity’s search for meaning. Mother to one son and daughter, and a grandparent of six amazing kids, Annette now lives in Brentwood, a suburb of Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband and their 5-year-old Boxer. To learn more about Annette’s life and work, please visit https://annettehvalentine.com

Interview with Adria Starr of River to Redemption by Ann H. Gabhart 

River to Redemption-Book CoverHello, Adria. What a pretty name! Do you know why your parents named you that?

No, I’m sorry I don’t. My parents both died in the 1833 cholera epidemic. Since I was only seven at the time, I didn’t realize my name was a bit unusual. I never asked my mother about it. Her name was Ava and my father Edward. No clues there. My mother wrote some names of her family and my father’s family down in her Bible, but no Adrias. It’s not a Bible name either. Perhaps my mother found it in a book and liked it because it has a melodic sound. I do remember that my mother liked to sing.

That must have been really hard to lose your parents when you were so young. I don’t mean to ask hard questions, but can you tell me what it was like living through a cholera epidemic?

Just the word cholera strikes terror in my heart and it did for the people in our town in 1833. Cholera was an epidemic that year all over the country. Thousands died, but of course, you always hope the disease won’t come to your town. We weren’t that fortunate in Springfield, Kentucky. I was young so I really didn’t know that much about cholera, but I saw the fear on my parents’ faces when they found out someone in town had cholera. They say it’s caused by bad air because of rotting vegetables in the summertime. So everybody tries to get away from the bad air. My mother was packing to escape to the country but then my father was too sick to leave. Before the day was over my little brother became ill and then so did Mama. They all died. I don’t know why I didn’t die too, but Louis said it must be because the Lord had more for me to do here on earth. He found me in my house and took me to the hotel where he and Aunt Tildy took care of me. They were both slaves, but they were so kind to me. I don’t know what would have become of me if not for them. They helped me find a new home with my Aunt Ruth.

You lived with your adopted aunt for many years. What was Ruth like? She must have been strong to take you in without a husband to help her. Women didn’t have many opportunities or rights in 1833.

Women still don’t have many rights here in 1845. We can’t vote. We can’t even stand up in public and express our opinions about how things need to be changed in our country. If we try, we get shouted down. And not only by men but by other women too who think a woman should keep to her place. I say what place is that. I certainly don’t believe allowing a woman to be educated the same as men will make a woman go insane the way some people say. More likely the other way around.

I’m sorry. You have to forgive me. I didn’t intend to get on my soapbox. Aunt Ruth says I have a problem with that. She is every bit a lady. Her husband, who died in the cholera epidemic, was the school teacher. Aunt Ruth took over that job and has taught many Springfield children. She also learned to bake to supplement our income since teaching doesn’t pay that well. When I came of age I took a job at a general store much to my friend, Carlton’s distress. But having a job and drawing a wage does give a woman some freedom of choice. I can only hope that someday women will have the same freedoms to express their opinions and work at various jobs as men do today.

I may get you back on that soapbox, but we want to know how and why you became an abolitionist in a Southern town where slavery is legal and accepted by most people as how things are meant to be.        

Surely you don’t think it is right for a person to own another person. To be able to sell that person like he or she is no more than property. Anybody who examines with an open mind the institution of slavery has to see that everything about it is wrong. Everything. And it is not the way things are meant to be. Aunt Tildy helped me understand that when I was just a child. She deserved freedom. Louis deserves freedom. We all deserve freedom.

Tell us about Louis. I hear he became something of a hero in your town of Spriugfield during the cholera epidemic.

Louis is a wonderful man. Gentle and strong. Committed to the Lord. He found me after my parents died and he and Aunt Tildy took care of me. From the very beginning, I knew he meant nothing but good for me. During the cholera epidemic, he did what no one else could or would do. Even though he was a slave who might have taken advantage of the cholera epidemic to escape to the north and find freedom, instead he stayed to help those who were sick and to bury all those who died. Over fifty people died in 1833 in our little town of Springfield. He dug graves to give each of them a proper burial. He is just a genuinely good man. The safest I have ever felt was when I was a little girl with my hand in his.

He must be quite a man to have been able to do all that. How do you think he did it?

Louis has ever depended on the Lord to help him handle whatever comes his way. He has a deep faith. He taught me the value of praying with the belief the Lord will answer. The Bible does tell us that is true. Ask, and it shall be given to you, seek, and ye shall find. That’s in Matthew 7. Louis says we should listen to the Lord and put our faith in his plan for our lives.

What are your goals in life?

I have such conflicted thoughts at times. I would love to be married to a good man and have a houseful of children. At the same time, I would like to have the freedom to write and speak my opinions the same as men can do. I suppose my goal is to somehow combine those two desires and be a wife and mother while also being an independent woman. Do you think that is even possible?

I do hope so, Adria. For you. On a lighter note, have you ever had any pets?

Yes, I once wanted my own horse. Doesn’t every girl want her own horse? But we had no place or money for a horse. Aunt Ruth was right when she said we could walk everywhere we needed to go. So Aunt Tildy brought me a kitten. He was so sweet. All black except for a spot of white on his neck and a little touch of white on the tip of his tail. I named him Gulliver because Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World was one of the first books Aunt Ruth read to me. I loved those stories. Actually Gulliver turned out to be aptly named because once the cat got older, he took off for travels just like Gulliver in the stories. He did come home on occasion to let me pet him and to catch a few mice out in the shed.

So books helped you and your Aunt Ruth connect. I can almost see the two of you sitting on the couch reading by the light of the oil lamp. Why do you think reading together was so important to the two of you?

We did enjoy our reading times. Aunt Ruth loves books and the poetry of words. She opened up the world beyond our little town to me by sharing her love of reading. Those stories helped get me through the sad times early on when I missed my family so much. I do believe our many hours of reading together cemented the loving relationship Aunt Ruth and I eventually had.

After I learned to read, Aunt Ruth and I would take turns reading to one another. We still do sometimes. It’s wonderful how you can string words together to make a picture in someone’s head. Reading is good any way you do it, but when you read aloud, you can put feeling and music to the words of the writer and make those imagined pictures even better. I can’t imagine my life without books. Or without Aunt Ruth.

Thank you for answering our questions, Adria. We wish you the best as you seek love and independence. 

Ann H. GabhartAnn H. Gabhart is the bestselling and award-winning author of several Shaker novels—The Outsider, The Believer, The Seeker, The Blessed, The Gifted, and The Innocent—as well as These Healing Hills, Angel Sister, Small Town Girl, Love Comes Home, Words Spoken True, and The Heart of Hollyhill series. She is also the author of the popular Hidden Springs Mysteries series, as A. H. Gabhart. She has been a finalist for the ECPA Book of the Year and the Carol Awards, and has won two Selah Awards for Love Comes Home. Ann and her husband enjoy country life on a farm a mile from where she was born in rural Kentucky. Learn more at www.annhgabhart.com.