Hattie’s War is a work of historical fiction loosely based on threads of known information. Once I decided the story should be told by Hattie I needed to figure out who exactly MY Hattie was. The only things I know about the real-life Harriett Howell are the milestones of her life and what she looked like in the few photos (see below). That’s it. I’d have to create the character Hattie Howell.
- Her age and when the story takes place
- Interests and abilities
- The tone and character of her relationship with her family and others in her world
- Questions she’d likely have about her father
- How she felt about the mores and conventions of the era and the place she lived.
- Her journey, the arc of the story.
- Challenges she’d faced along the way.
- Other characters/people in her life
- How and from whom would she learn about her father.
- What the historical record had to add.
What I know about the real Hattie:
- She was the fifth and youngest child. Born 5 months into her father’s service in the Union Army.
- Her father probably never saw her. She never met him.
- She married Arthur Phelps in 1883 at the age of 21
- She had her first child, Earl, at age 22. Her second child, Marion, was born thirteen years later
- She died at age 65 in 1927
I have several photos of her. I know where she and Arthur lived. I’ve been there. I’ve been to their grave in Hector, NY. That’s all I know. Everything else, I’d have to make up drawing on the answers to the questions above.
So who is Hattie?
From the start, I had a clear vision of Hattie’s personality and demeanor.
- She’s precocious but not overly so, with a touch of tomboy mixed in.
- She speaks her mind, which often gets her in trouble.
- Artistically inclined, she wants to be an artist like her father.
- She doesn’t fit into the Victorian mold of the time. She wants more than a life as farmer’s wife with a bunch of children to raise.
- Hattie has a slight edge in her dealings with others, particularly those who try to reign her in.
- She’s thoughtful and caring.
- She is at once repulsed by the idea of living her life in Hector and drawn to it because that is her home, all she has known.
- She dreams big but not too big.
- Most of all, she is driven/obsessed about the death of her father.
- AND, she is plagued by debilitating depression.