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 Harriet Howell are the milestones of her life and what she looked like in the few photos I have her, that was it. I’d have to create Harriet Howell.
To create her I needed to answer several questions, among them:
- Her age and when the story takes place
- Her personality/character
- Her 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 that happened along the way.
- How and from whom would she learn about her father.
- What the historical record had to add.
As I mentioned elsewhere, Hattie is Harriet Howell, my Gr Great Grandmother. I know very little about her other than basic facts of her life: she was the fifth and youngest child, born 4 months into her father’s service in the Union Army. Hannibal probably never saw her, there is no evidence he did. Consequently, she never met her father, had no idea what he looked like. She probably knew little or nothing about why he volunteered along with his two brothers to fight in the war.
She married Arthur M Phelps at age 21 in 1883. She and Arthur had two children Earl and Marion. I have several photos of her. She died at age 65. 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.
It was a given that I’d follow a classic three-act structure with the story following the “hero’s journey” path. In my mind, it had to have that kind of arc in order to sustain interest with my target audience of young adults. I also knew that the book would be illustrated, illustrated by drawings Hattie made. The visuals would tell the story too.
From the start, I had a clear vision of Hattie’s personality and demeanor. I saw her as precocious but not overly so with a touch of tomboy mixed in. She speaks her mind, which often gets her in trouble. She is artistically inclined and wants to be an artist like her father. She doesn’t fit into the Victorian mold of the time. She wants more than a farmer’s wife life with a bunch of children to raise. Hattie has a slight edge to her dealings with others, particularly those who try to reign her in. She is 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 to learn about her father.
Photos of Harriet