We recently talked with Carole Estby Dagg, the author of a new young adult novel called The Year We Were Famous.
In 1896, 17-year-old Clara Estby and her mother, Helga, need to raise a lot of money quickly to save their family farm from foreclosure. Together they come up with a plan to walk the 4,600 miles from Mica Creek, Washington, to New York City. If they can do it in only seven months, a publisher has agreed to give them $10,000. This fast-paced historical adventure is based on the true story of Dagg’s great-aunt and great-grandmother.
Dagg will give a free presentation at the Everett Public Library main auditorium (2702 Hoyt Avenue) on Saturday, April 9, at 4 p.m. Books will be available for sale and signing.
Q: How and when did you decide to write a novel about this piece of your family history?
A: When I heard that all Great-aunt Clara and Great-grandmother Helga’s journals had been destroyed I vowed that someday I would reconstruct the story of their walk from other sources. I became so obsessed with telling their story that I quit my job at the Everett Public Library to continue research, take writing classes and write. Fifteen years after its first rejection, The Year We Were Famous debuts this April.
Q: How much of the book is fact and how much is a product of your imagination?
A: Great-aunt Clara and Great-grandmother Helga were real. The walk was real. All their adventures were inspired by brief one-liners in newspaper articles. They really visited Mrs. William Jennings Bryan and President-elect McKinley and his wife in their homes and demonstrated their curling iron to Native Americans they encountered. I had to make up other characters and events to connect the dots between known facts.
Q: Getting a book published may not be as hard as walking across the country, but it’s no easy feat. Do you have any advice to offer aspiring new writers?
Join professional organizations, such as the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and attend meetings, workshops and conferences. Besides providing a forum for networking with other writers, writers’ groups offer you a chance to be critiqued by New York editors and agents.
Join a critique group.
Practice, practice, practice. It’s how you get to Carnegie Hall and it is good advice for aspiring writers, too.
Don’t give up.
Q: What other books would you recommend for someone who enjoyed reading The Year We Were Famous?
A: This hurts, because I know I’ll leave out favorites I’ll remember in the middle of the night tomorrow, but here’s a start, categorized by what they have in common with The Year We Were Famous:
Woods Runner and others by Gary Paulsen
A Time of Miracles by Anne-Laure Bondoux
The Water Seeker by Kimberly Willis Holt
Sea Runners by Ivan Doig
Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
Periods of History
Midwife’s Apprentice and others by Karen Cushman
Revolution or Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly
A Great and Terrible Beauty and sequels by Libba Bray
A Brief History of Montmaray by Michelle Cooper
Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson
Wolf by the Ears and others by Ann Rinaldi
The Boston Jane Trilogy by Jennifer Holm
Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
Lyddie and others by Katherine Paterson
Q: Would you walk over 4,000 miles to save your family home?
A: At my age, no. But if I were a farm-strengthened 17-year-old intent to see the world outside Mica Creek and my parents urged me to go, I probably would.