“The beauty of historical fiction is that the more you research, the more the story develops,” says Clara Gillow Clark. “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.” Her novel Hill Hawk Hattie, which is set in the late nineteenth century, rides the rapids of a tumultuous father-daughter relationship—and takes readers on a river-rafting adventure to boot.
Researching Hill Hawk Hattie, says Clara Gillow Clark, was truly a labor of love. “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, the author says, “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 bit of a diversion for Clara Gillow Clark, whose earlier historical novels were based on real people—her mother, her great-grandmother, her great-great uncle. “Letting go of family stories was a liberating experience for me,” the author admits. “Think of all the baggage I’d been carting around! It was important for me to write those stories, but it was more fun writing about people springing from my imagination.” Hill Hawk Hattie introduces a brave, feisty, eleven-year-old girl who dresses as a boy to join her widowed Pa on a perilous rafting journey. “I hope kids take away some 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,’” the author says of Hattie and her taciturn Pa. “I want kids to know that everybody has tough times, but the only way to get through them is to go on.”
Clara Gillow Clark’s follow-up to the adventures of Hattie is Hattie on Her Way, a story that moves Hattie from the dangerous river to her prim grandmother’s house. “Like Hattie, I lived in a rural area,” Clara Gillow Clark writes. “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.”
The youngest child in a family who came from “a long line of farmers and readers,” Clara Gillow Clark began school in a one-room schoolhouse and—when she wasn’t dreaming of being an inventor, archaeologist, geologist, missionary, or solo violinist—grew increasingly drawn to writing. After marrying and having a son, she read a magazine article on children’s author Judy Blume, who, like her, was a stay-at-home wife who sold her own crafts before starting her writing career. Inspired, Clara Gillow Clark began commuting to writing classes in New York City while juggling jobs ranging from teacher’s aide to store manager.
Her long efforts paid off. “Now I work at home,” she says happily. When she’s not writing—or reading, or teaching writing, or talking shop with other writers—she enjoys baking, gardening, and walking the dirt roads bordering her little red house, surrounded by her own meadows, woods, and lake. “Walking,” she says, “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.”
Clara Gillow Clark lives in Pennsylvania.