Wacky Wednesday: An Interview with Clara Gillow Clark, author of Hill Hawk Hattie
January 20, 2010 in Young Adult Novels
First, I want to say thank you so much to everyone who left a comment on yesterday’s post about Hill Hawk Hattie. I am excited that so many people are interested in historical fiction! The contest is still going on. You can leave a comment on this post after reading this very informative article with Clara or on yesterday’s post for a chance to win one of three books: Hill Hawk Hattie, Hattie on Her Way, or Secrets of Greymoor. The contest ends on Thursday, January 21 at 8:00 pm CST. Now onto the interview!
Margo: Welcome, Clara, to Read These Books and Use Them! Where did you get the idea for Hill Hawk Hattie?
Clara: The idea for writing Hill Hawk Hattie sprang from my deep love for what I call the country of my heart–the place where I was born and where I now live in the northeastern corner of Pennsylvania in the Delaware River corridor. My roots here date back to the native Indians, but my family on both sides were early settlers. I was born at home in the house built by my great-grandfather and briefly attended a one-room school house. So I think it’s natural to want to learn not just about personal history and family but the history of how the culture, industry, environment changed and developed over time.
Margo: WOW! That is so cool that you lived there and have such a long family history in the same area your book is set in. And a one-room school house–I’m sure a lot of readers would like to hear about that. Can you share a few resources for this time period? (1850s Delaware River valley)
Clara: Most of the accounts about the actual rafting era are now out of print. I was fortunate to have libraries loan me books that were no longer in circulation. I am truly grateful for the many librarians who helped me get materials with valuable documentation. The historical part of the book is as accurate as any non-fiction book. It is only the characters and their story that is fictional.
One of the resources for this time period is the map of the Delaware River that forms the border between Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey. The map can be found in the beginning of the book, Hill Hawk Hattie. Any of Eric Sloane’s books are helpful for understanding everyday life in rural America. In particular, I used A Museum of Early American Tools that has renderings of how the rafts were made and what they were like. When I visit schools, kids are amazed that these rafts were not the sort Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer made; they could be as long as a school auditorium!
Otherwise, most of my resources have long ago gone out of print. A few are available only through local historical societies, books such as The Winding Delaware by Pierre DeNio or The Bygone Era: Rafting on the Delaware 1883 by Joshua Pine the 3rd.
One of the interesting aspects of Hill Hawk Hattie is the environmental issues that are evident but only a backdrop in the story’s setting. I’ve addressed this in a reader’s theater script, which focuses on the environmental impact and choices. It makes a good springboard for discussion in a classroom about environmental awareness and what part individuals share in protecting the earth. The script is free and available on request.
Margo: Thank you for sharing your resources with us, even the ones that are hard to get. I’m sure teachers love the reader’s theater script on such a timely issue. Hill Hawk Hattie is the first in a series about the character Hattie Belle Basket. Tell us more about this series.
Clara: The second book, Hattie on Her Way, takes the feisty Hattie from a backwoods action/adventure to a very different environment and psychological drama. Instead of navigating the rapids of the river, she is now navigating the not-so-friendly waters of high society. It begins with Hattie stumbling upon a dark family mystery. Then the neighbor girl, Ivy Victoria (after the Queen of England) Blackmore Vandermeer, leads Hattie to believe that her mysterious grandfather was murdered by her grandmother, Hortensia Holmes Greymoor and Buzzard Rose, the cook. Hattie’s tutor, Mr. Horace Bottle, a whimsical sort of character, befriends Hattie and helps jolly her through the hard times and dark secrets.
The third in the series, Secrets of Greymoor, continues the family drama. Grandmother’s fortune is gone, and Hattie makes a terrible error in judgment when she hides a tax collection notice marked “overdue” from her grandmother; but then she discovers a little book with a secret code in it left by her insane grandfather, which she hopes will lead her to a hidden treasure. Now attending “common school” (public school), Hattie gets herself into another stew pot of trouble by lying to her new school friends about her grandmother’s wealth. Can she rectify the events she’s set in motion before it’s too late?
One of the things I love about writing historical fiction is that a writer can tackle tough issues that would prove more threatening to many tender readers if cast in a present day setting. Many children today are faced with the same looming concerns as Hattie about death of or separation from a parent, mental illness, loss of their homes, family income, and friendships. My hope is that Hattie’s stories will bring them comfort in a realistic way. We all go through tough times, but as Hattie’s pa told her in Hill Hawk Hattie,“Hard as it is. . . keeping on is the only way to get through.”
Margo: Each book sounds better than the one before it! And I think you are right, you can teach universal and present day themes through historical fiction characters. Thanks for bringing that up. How can teachers and home school parents use the other books in the series to teach children?
Clara: Teaching guides for Hill Hawk Hattie and Hattie On Her Way are free and available upon request to: claragillowclark (at) gmail.com (Replace the at with @). The guides ask questions that will deepen the reading experience from a historical and personal point of view, but they also include hands-on projects that can be done as a class or individually. A short sampling of the guides can be viewed on my website. On the homepage menu, simply click on BOOKS.
A teaching guide and reader’s theater script for Secrets of Greymoor is currently in the works. The story lends itself to questions about honesty and friendship, consequences of choices, family relations, and the impact of our current recession on all of society. Journaling might prove cathartic for many kids facing these same issues.
Margo: Thanks for sharing the information about the teacher’s guides. What a great idea to write reader’s theater scripts to go with your novels! The voice of Hill Hawk Hattie is unique and perfect for Hattie. How did you go about finding her authentic voice? Was it difficult?
Clara: Hattie’s voice was one of the few things in my writing career that seemed like magic. I call it my Halley’s Comet moment, something that streaks across the imagination only once in a hundred years. Thankfully, those moments happen more frequently than that! I’d been researching the rafting era and collecting materials for nearly ten years, so I had lots to work with–but no character. I had thought it would be the character, Willie, from my book, Willie and the Rattlesnake King; but one day when I was out walking on the dirt roads that border my property, the voice of Hattie and the entire first page of the book starting with the words, “Ma died in November. . .” to the point where Hattie’s pa stops calling her “my girl” rushed into my head. At that moment, I knew I had a book. I raced home and wrote it down and kept writing every day until I finished a draft.
I still get chills when I think about that moment and about the little girl who had such a big story to tell. I later discovered that the rhythms and cadences were similar to those used by the poet, Hayden Carruth. So whenever I felt as if I wasn’t getting her voice just right, I’d tune my head by reading his poetry. However, I believe that authenticity of voice comes from writing thousands of pages, from a lifetime of reading, and from careful research.
Thank you for inviting me to share the spirited Hattie with your readers, Margo! It’s been great!
Margo: Thank you, Clara, for your insightful answers, full of great information! Remember, everyone, you can enter for a chance to win one of these Hattie books by leaving a comment on today’s or yesterday’s posts!