Dear Kirby Larson,
Thank you for Hattie Ever After. I liked it even more than Hattie Big Sky, and I liked Hattie Big Sky a lot.
C. S. Lewis said, “We read to know we are not alone,” and Hattie definitely makes me feel less alone.
I only wish I’d had Hattie Ever After in 2004 when I handed the engagement ring back to my now husband, who took it with about the same grace Charlie does in the book—until he remembered there were still amazing things like cookies in the world and got over it. I’m lucky that my Charlie understood, my Charlie didn’t hold it against me, and my Charlie was willing to wait. Young adult literature needs more Charlies and fewer demon lovers. Charlie is the one you want to live with.
Still, nearly a hundred years after Hattie moves to San Francisco in 1919 to chase her dream of becoming a reporter, I see women rushing into marriage, not thinking. Though I often think too much, thinking is better than not thinking, so I don’t blame myself or Hattie.
Because writing is a hard dream. It’s hard because writing itself is hard and because any kind of writing is competitive, and there’s never any guarantee of success, and really there is no path, no Point A to Point B to Point C.
Like Hattie, I don’t talk about my writing much. This is partly because I don’t like to fail publicly, because I’d rather dust myself off in secret. It’s also partly because I went to grad school, where I saw a definite inverse relationship between the amount of boasting the creative writers did—I was there for literary criticism—and the quality of the work.
Like Hattie, I have not failed. I had a few false starts, but overall I’ve had moderate success. I published one book shortly before I married my Charlie, and I have another one in the pipeline, with a real, solid, respected publisher. While novels don’t often pay the bills, the education writing I also enjoy pays at least a few of them. I need to learn to talk about my writing, to advocate for it, to believe I have as much right to do it, and as much of a real job, as anyone else.
“I’m pretty sure people think I sit around eating bonbons and watching TV all day,” I told my Charlie.
“That’s your own fault,” he answered. “You don’t tell anyone what you do.”
The idea that marriage is a hindrance to a career still exists. The idea that to be dedicated to one’s career is to be less dedicated to one’s family, and vice versa, is still strong. It’s a lie we fight every day. Yes, priorities must be made. Crises of both must be handled.
But I’m so glad you included the example of Hazel Archibald, the married reporter at the Seattle Times. Even now, we can never have too many examples of those who show us it can be done.
Ultimately, like most young adult literature, Hattie Ever After is a story about finding out and being true to who we are. In real life, of course, that takes longer than it does in the pages of a novel.
Last summer, a friend and I, feeling we had at last acclimated to marriage, were discussing potential motherhood and how that once terrifying idea had become exciting.
“I think,” I said, “that once you really know who you are, it’s easier to give part of yourself to other people. You have a place to give from, and you’re not afraid of running out of yourself because you know can always replenish it.”
Sometimes, I have deep insights.
I’m glad I didn’t read Hattie Big Sky until just before Hattie Ever After came out. I was in a want-to-read-this-book-right-now sort of mood, and I stopped by my local big box bookstore. (Don’t judge. It’s very close to my house.) I searched the shelves. Several times. I didn’t find it.
I went to the customer service desk.
“Oh, that book came out a couple of weeks ago,” said the clerk.
“Oh, it’s sold out?” I asked. Naïve little me.
“No, well, we can only keep the books on the shelves for a week or so because we have to make room for the new ones.”
“The new vampire novels?” I couldn’t hold back the snark. I’d just searched through piles of books with black covers and shiny writing. Books that all, essentially, looked like exactly the same book.
She smiled apologetically, an uncomfortable, I-don’t-make-the-rules kind of smile.
“So you’re telling me that you can’t keep one copy of a book by a Newbery Honor-winning author on your shelves?”
I stalked out, annoyed, and fearful for the future of literature in America.
But here’s the thing. Historical fiction probably will never have the sales figures of supernatural romance, but the world needs books like Hattie Ever After, if only because we all do live in the real world and in the real world brooding boys are no fun to live with, and we have to get jobs, and we can only hope they are jobs we like. Really, who wants to live with a Heathcliff type? Have I somehow missed all the want ads for new van Helsings?
I know Hattie’s story has reached its end, but please keep writing books like these, Kirby Larson. Like Hattie’s Female 49ers stories, they are important. And I love them.