The Year We Were Famous (author interview)

The Year We Were Famous is based on the true story of Clara Estby and her suffragist mother, Helga, who walked 4,000 miles from their farm in Mica Creek, Washington, to New York City in 1896 in a heroic attempt to win $10,000 that would save the family’s farm and prove women could do it.

Equipped only with satchels containing compass and maps, first-aid supplies, journals, pistol, and a curling iron, they headed east along the railroad tracks. In 232 days, they wore out thirty- two pairs of shoes, crossed mountains, deserts, and plains, and survived a highwayman attack, flash floods, blizzards, and days with out food and water. For a year, they were famous as they met governors and mayors, camped with Indians, and visited the new president-elect himself, William McKinley.

They intended to write a book about their adventures, but because of the way their trip ended, their journals were burned. Fortunately, newspapers across the country reported on their travels, and The Year We Were Famous is based on those articles, with imagination filling the gaps between known facts.

Q&A with Author Carole Estby Dagg

What motivated you to take on the creation of a revised edition for The Year We Were Famous?

Helga and Clara Estby were family legends, and I did not want their story to die when the 2011 edition went out of print. Steven Chudney, my agent, got the rights back for me so I could publish the book as I originally envisioned it, with photos of the real Helga and Clara Estby and newspaper clippings which reinforced the point that these courageous transcontinental walkers were real women.

What’s different about the Revised Edition?

The revised edition adds the photographs I had always wanted to include in the original, traditionally published edition. Working with a talented graphic artist, Mary Senter, the new edition has a bolder cover with a photograph of my real-life main characters, Helga and Clara Estby, my great-grandmother and great-aunt. Interior photographs and newspaper clippings reinforce the fact that the book, though fiction, is about real women, who walked nearly four thousand miles in an era of corsets, high-topped shoes, and dust-dragging skirts and at a time when many people were scandalized that women would dare such a feat when their place was emphatically at home.

Why did you write The Year We Were Famous from Clara’s point of view?

The focus in family lore had always been on Great-Grandmother Helga. Her cartes de visite that she passed out along the way read “H. Estby and daughter, pedestrians, Spokane to New York.” I was miffed on Clara’s behalf. She had matched her mother step for step and didn’t even get her name on the cards? I decided it was time to give Clara a voice.

How do you research the heart of someone you barely knew?

In 1950, the last time I saw Great- Aunt Clara, she was in the hospital dying of cancer. To imagine what she might have been like in her late teens, I immersed myself in 1896. For a year, I gave up reading all contemporary novels and read only what Clara might have read for school or for fun. The dime novels I downloaded from the Internet influenced the style my version of Clara used to tell her brothers about shooting a man in Oregon and meeting a band of Ute Indians.

THE YEAR WE WERE FAMOUS (Revised Edition)

Helga and Clara Estby’s Walk Across a Changing America by Carole Estby Dagg

Release Date: 10.19.2021 // Ages 12+ $15.49 –

Paperback / ISBN: 978-1-7376263-0-5

Connect with Carole: Facebook @CaroleDagg

Watch the trailer (1min 24sec) for The Year We Were Famous : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=32EWPJt8i_A

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