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CALAMITY by Libbie Hawker > Interview with Libbie Hawker

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Jess Woods | 109 comments Mod
Please join me in welcoming Libbie Hawker as she discusses her novel, Calamity.

Libbie, thank you for hosting this week! To start, can you please tell us a little about yourself and your novel?

Sure! I’ve been writing for most of my life, and as my full-time profession for about six years now. I mostly write historical fiction, with a few other genres thrown in here and there. My book is Calamity, and it’s a biographical novel about Calamity Jane. Biographical fiction is one of my favorite subgenres of historical fiction, because it aims to stick as closely as possible to the truth about a real figure from history while still being engaging and fun to read.

How were you inspired to write Calamity; What sparked your interest in Calamity Jane?

I first got the idea for this book way back in 2015, when I attended the Historical Novel Society conference in Denver. I listened to a panel discussion about famous “wild women of the west”, and naturally, Calamity Jane was mentioned a few times. I thought, “There’s an interesting subject for a novel that hasn’t already been done to death…”

Can you give us insight into your writing process?

I like to read all I can about a subject until I feel the story take a complete shape in my head and in my heart. I’ll just keep reading and reading and jotting down notes and facts, and eventually I cross some kind of mysterious threshold, and suddenly I can envision the way the novel should start, and what a few critical scenes will look like, and most importantly of all, what the very last scene of the book will be. I actually see these things playing inside my head, just like I’m watching a movie. As soon as the movie starts playing, I know it’s “ripe” and it’s time to stop researching and start writing. It took me about two and a half years of reading about Calamity Jane’s life before it all clicked and the movie started to play.

What research did you do for Calamity?

Fortunately, I grew up in many of the places where Calamity also lived, so I didn’t need to travel to do my research. Many of her various stomping grounds were already familiar to me. But there’s a lot of legend around Calamity Jane, a lot of stuff that just isn’t true, and I knew I wanted to give an honest depiction of her life, not just another rehashed fantasy. I read about a dozen biographies, but the most meticulously researched one—the one that gave the clearest picture of her real life—was Calamity Jane: The Woman and the Legend by James D. McLaird.

Did you find anything in your research that was particularly fascinating or that helped shape the novel?

Everything! She had such a tragic and difficult life; it was the exact opposite of what most people think her life was like, all glamorous and full of romance and adventure. One really useful thing I learned about were the three treasures Calamity kept after Wild Bill Hickock died—his gun, his pocket watch, and his ring. These became important symbols within the novel I wrote.

What is your favorite time period to write about? To read about?

I enjoy writing and reading about so many different periods and settings. I’ve done a lot of novels set in ancient Egypt; that’s endlessly fascinating and fun to me. Any ancient culture, really.

What has been your greatest challenge as a writer? How have you been able to overcome that?

Initially, my greatest challenge was making it pay as a career! As for how I overcame that… I kept it up. I didn’t give up, even though once I *tried* to give up out of sheer frustration and heartbreak… but within minutes of dramatically announcing on Facebook that I would NEVER WRITE AGAIN , I was hiding in a dark room with my laptop, starting a new novel (I still haven’t finished that one, but I will someday. Unsurprisingly, it’s about frustration and denial, ha ha.) And most critically—the one thing I really want to impress on anyone out there who’s facing similar obstacles in becoming a writer—I took any path that opened for me. I didn’t obtain my career “the right way”; I found agents and then ditched them when they didn’t work hard enough to sell my books. I self-published (the most important thing I believe any writer can do in the current market). And after I’d built an audience on my own, wouldn’t you know it, publishers started coming to me. Now I have the kind of career I think even a lot of agented authors dream of. I’m a “hybrid” author who does both indie and traditional publishing, I get to call all the shots for myself, and I’m making a better living at this than I’d ever dreamed was possible. It was horrendously difficult to get to this point, and none of the things that seem to work for other authors worked even a tiny bit for me. But I insisted on having a writing career, so I made one happen, conventions be damned.

Who are your writing inspirations?

I’m absolutely nuts for beautiful prose and original modes of expression. I love literary fiction and the places where literary crosses over with other genres, like historical fiction. I’m crazy about Hilary Mantel and can’t wait for the final installment in her Thomas Cromwell trilogy this spring. I love Ali Smith, who has been writing such moving, important works about Brexit lately. I’m very fond of Vladimir Nabokov and Virginia Woolf and Daphne du Maurier. And probably my biggest inspiration as a writer is L. M. Montgomery.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m finishing up an absolutely awesome novel set in the contemporary American West: Fall Back Down When I Die by Joe Wilkins. Even though it’s contemporary, not historical, I think most fans of American historical fiction will also love this book. It’s gorgeously written and quintessentially about America.

What are three things people may not know about you?

I’m very tall—5’11”—but I’m actually the shortest person in my family. I’m terrified of elephants. And the grossest thing that ever happened to me was the time a bird pooped directly into my OPEN eye.

Care to share what you are working on now?

I just finished up a novel about the founding of the Mormon religion—one of the most fascinating pieces of American history I’ve ever studied, and yet almost nobody knows about it! I worked on the research and planning/development phase of this book for seven years—my longest-running project to date. I don’t know yet who will publish it or when it will come out; that’s all up in the air at the moment, but it should be settled fairly soon. Now that it’s done, I’m back to work on a half- written manuscript set in the early to mid 1970s in southeast Idaho, about a family of artists and their intense interpersonal dramas.

message 2: by Amanda (new)

Amanda (drpowell) | 376 comments I have always enjoyed reading about Calamity Jane and I appreciate any attempts to clean up her wildly embellished life. This sounds awesome.
As an aside, I adore L. M. Montgomery. My childhood was full of her books and the television iterations. To this day when I am having a hard time her stories (and chips and queso) are the cure.

Linda Ulleseit (lindaulleseit) | 50 comments I'm reading Calamity Jane right now, and loving it. The way you bring the research to life is amazing. I know she was rough and tumble, had a rough life, but you make her so empathetic!

message 4: by John (new)

John DeSimone | 2 comments I just marked Calamity as to read. I look forward to the journey.

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