Backstory

Authors tell you what inspired their work

Kirby Larson, author of "Hattie Big Sky"

I am an incurable optimist by trade. But even I began to see visions of glasses half-full when first one, then two, then three, then four, then five years passed without a book sale. During that time, I was losing my beloved maternal grandmother, on top of some other personal stressors. Let's just say, I was safely off the chart on sad.

Ironically, it was my sweet grandmother, burdened by Alzheimer's disease, who planted the seed for Hattie Big Sky. One day when I was with her (not the day she told me she was glad she'd never had children), she said, "The only time Mom was ever afraid was in the winter, when the wild horses stampeded." I had no idea what she was talking about -- and it seemed like she didn't either. Some nosing around led me to discover that Mom -- Hattie Brooks Wright, the woman who had raised my grandmother -- had homesteaded in Montana. It was hard to imagine that tiny woman doing anything but growing gladiolus and baking Snickerdoodles but I was soon to uncover proof that she had, single-handedly, proved up on a claim near Vida, Montana in 1918.

Now, I have never been a history buff. Dates and wars and all that jazz did not float my boat. But trying to imagine how a young woman might plow 40 acres of Montana desert prairie and set an ungodly number of rods of fence kept me awake nights. At first, it was an innocent obsession -- reading the occasional book or journal about homesteading in the 20th century. Soon, it was hard to hide my compulsion from my family. I was booking Amtrak specials to places like Wolf Point, talking about "bobbed wire" and burning cow chips in our back yard (don't ask). And I figured out why Mom had been afraid in the winter, when the wild horses stampeded.

Before I knew it, I was writing a novel. I didn't know it was a young adult novel until one of my critique group members, Kathryn Galbraith, pointed it out to me. I was just trying to tell Hattie's story. To tell my grandmother's story. To tell my story. To tell the story of every young woman who has to fight something crappy in order to claim a space for herself in the world.

It took several years -- close to five -- to write this novel. It took ten days for Michelle Poploff at Delacorte to decide she wanted to publish it (buy me a latte sometime and I'll tell you about how many times I asked Michelle if she really, truly wanted to see the manuscript). As you know, it takes a couple of years for a book to come out.

On September 26, 2006 (ten days after our daughter's wedding), Hattie Big Sky hit the shelves.

Now we're on to the crying part.

Every day since September 26, I've gotten an email from someone who has read Hattie's story. And been touched by it. I've even heard from some men -- tough guys, too, like author John Clayton. It is overwhelming. Truly.

I read these messages through watery eyes. And I reflect on the audacious set of circumstances that led two women who only completed eighth grade to inspire me to overcome my dislike of history to write an historical novel. I reflect on the faith my husband had in me to pull this off. And on my own stubbornness to keep going, despite any signs of encouragement from the universe.

So excuse the sniffles.

Twenty years ago, I began writing books for children because of Arnold Lobel's, "Ming Lo Moves the Mountain." After I read it, I wanted to write stories that touched others the way his story had touched me. Thanks to my grandmother and great-grandmother, it seems I have done that.

I am humbled. And blessed.

And in need of another kleenex.

If you want to know more about the research that went into Hattie Big Sky, you can listen to a video podcast at www.hattiebigsky.com. Find out more about the author at www.kirbylarson.com.


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