Clara Gillow Clark has stopped by this afternoon to talk about writing historical fiction for young children. As a lover of historical fiction myself, I am fascinated by what she has to say and anxious to read some of her works. I hope you enjoy her as well. She introduces herself:
Now I work at home. When I’m not writing--or reading, or teaching writing, or talking shop with other writers in person or on-line—I enjoy baking, gardening, sewing, and walking the dirt roads that border our country cottage surrounded by meadows and woods. Walking is a love I learned from my father, who took his sprawling brood on nature walks and taught us to stop long enough to really see things. I live in Pennsylvania with my husband, Stephen Jennings.
Clara Gillow Clark ~ The Country of My Heart
The beauty of historical fiction is that the more you research, the more the story develops. It's sort of like decorating, picking the things that work well together, throwing in something a little offbeat or wild for contrast, something unexpected. My novel, Hill Hawk Hattie, set in the late nineteenth century rides the rapids of a tumultuous father-daughter relationship that takes readers on a river-rafting adventure.
Researching Hill Hawk Hattie was a labor of love. The setting of the book takes place in the country of my heart, the Upper Delaware, where for many years I gathered materials to write a book about the old-time rafting era. Serendipitously, mysteriously, the story came flooding together one day when I was out walking on the dirt roads that border my property, and Hattie's voice rushed like a torrent into my head. Discovering the character of Hattie felt like a gift, this little girl with the powerful voice. Some days I had to pinch myself, so happy that she kept showing up to work with me.
Writing Hill Hawk Hattie was a slight change for me. My earlier historical novels were based on real people--my mother in Annie’s Choice, my great-grandmother in Nellie Bishop, and my great-great uncle in Willie and the Rattlesnake King. I loved discovering my family stories, researching the time period, and then writing about it, but letting go of family stories was a liberating experience for me. It was important for me to write those stories, but it was more fun writing about Hattie who sprang from my imagination.
Hattie is a feisty, 11-year-old girl whose mother has died and her father dresses her as a boy so she can join him on a perilous rafting journey. It’s a story of tough love and healing. I hope kids take away comfort and strength from Hattie's story, an understanding that sometimes the people closest to us have a hard time saying in words, 'I love you'. I want kids to know that everybody has tough times, but the only way to get through them is to keep on going.
Hattie’s story continues in Hattie on Her Way, a story that moves her from the dangerous river to her prim grandmother's house. Like Hattie, I lived in a very rural area. Shortly after my father died, we moved to a town that seemed cold and frightening at first. I faced the challenge of being a tall misfit alongside petite girls who wore nice dresses and shiny shoes and knew the proper etiquette of birthday treats and valentines. Hattie's story is much tougher than my own, but we share many of the same emotional struggles, experiencing both loss and healing, and searching for sense and meaning in a topsy-turvy world.
In the final book of the series, Secrets of Greymoor, Hattie longs for a friend, but goes about it all wrong. She makes a lot of mistakes, including hiding a letter from her grandmother that has TAX COLLECTION—PAYMENT OVERDUE stamped on it. Like Hattie, I did change schools (several times) and often felt bewildered about how to make friends. I didn’t make up stories, and I didn’t have Hattie’s fiery tongue even though I often wished to be feisty and tell elaborately embellished stories like a girl did in my second grade class. I’m afraid I was much more like the character of Effie in the book Secrets of Greymoor who wants to be friends with Hattie, but simply isn’t brave enough.
Clara has offered a set of her Hattie books to one of my readers. All you have to do is comment on this post. Which Hattie book are you most looking forward to? Enter by midnight Monday, May 17th. The winner will be drawn at random and posted on Tuesday, May 18th. Spread the word for extra entries.
About Secrets of Greymoor: In this nineteenth-century mystery, a spunky girl strives to decipher a code in order to recover her family’s lost fortune.
No one ever talks about Hattie’s grandfather, who’s been hidden in the Utica Insane Asylum ever since he squandered Grandmother’s fortune and started hearing voices in the walls. When a telegram arrives with news of Grandfather’s death, old wounds are reopened and financial ruin looms once again. But it’s not until Hattie intercepts a threatening notice from the tax collector that she realizes they’re in danger of losing everything — including the family estate. A mysterious book containing a code written by Grandfather leads Hattie to believe that Grandmother’s fortune may not be lost after all, however, and though she works feverishly to crack the code, every step forward leads to another riddle. Are the contents of the book simply the ravings of a madman, or is it possible that there was more to Grandfather than met the eye?