The Daughter’s Walk

Last year I reviewed a marvelous nonfiction book called Bold Spirit:  Helga Estby’s Forgotten Walk Across Victorian America, by Linda L. Hunt. Helga Estby and her daughter, Clara, walked across the country in an attempt to win a prize and save the family farm.

I was delighted to learn soon after that Jane Kirkpatrick, award-winning author of many works of historical fiction, was writing a novel that explores some unknown facets of the basic story. I’ve long been a fan of Jane’s work.  Her new book, The Daughter’s Walk, did not disappoint.  I asked Jane to share some thoughts about the project.

Q:  What called you to write about these women?

A:  Several years ago I was sent the manuscript Bold Spirit: Helga Estby’s Forgotten Walk Across Victorian America  by Linda L. Hunt. I fell in love with that story and easily endorsed it.  The one unfinished part of that non-fiction book for me was the note that said when the two women returned from their incredible walk from Spokane to New York City in 1896, Clara changed her last name and then was separated from the family for more than 20 years.

Maybe it’s my mental health background, but those behaviors by the daughter intrigued me and I wondered if I could find out what actually happened and I wondered if there was ever any reconciliation of this family schism. I thought the journey of discovery would tell the rest of the story.  Linda was a great encourager for me to head in that direction.  And who wouldn’t be interested in two women walking across the country!  If I walk three miles in a day I think I’ve really done something!  They averaged a marathon every day.

Q:  Sense of place is important in any story, but this tale presents some challenges in that regard.  How did you get comfortable with such a far-ranging setting?

A:  A number of my novels based on the lives of actual women are “traveling stories” that take place across many landscapes.  They begin in Wisconsin (All Together in One Place) or Missouri  (A Clearing in the Wild, A Name of her Own) and the people head west.  This was a story going the other direction but the characters passed through some of the same landscapes.

What I found is that I had to identify something sensory related to the landscape they were in for each scene. The rolling Palouse Hills of Eastern Washington are a verdant green in spring.  I wanted readers to see that landscape, the one the women were leaving behind. I wanted them to experience the terrible rains in Boise City and the mud collecting on their linen skirts knowing they had no change of clothes. I hoped readers would feel the wind at the Dale Creek Trestle outside of Laramie that might have pushed the women off.  Outside Canton, Ohio, I wanted them to feel the snow spitting against their faces and in New York City to smell the onions and potatoes cooking in the tenement  houses they were forced to live in until they could make their way home.

Once back, I had to also consider the very different landscape that Clara chose to live in, Coulee City with its coulees and arid landscape so different from Spokane and then Clara’s time in the woods, trapping.  As a writer, I had to make each scene be vivid enough that readers would experience being there and imagine what effect that place would have on Clara and her mother.

Q:  Writing a book is a lot like taking a journey.  Did you discover anything unexpected during the process?

A:  Funny you should ask!  While I knew this was a story of a mother and a daughter, I didn’t expect to explore my own relationship with my mother, now deceased, as much as I did. I know at times I’ve said “I’ll never do that -”  something my mother did.  Then I look back and, voila, I’ve walked the same path! I said that on a TV interview in Salt Lake City and the interviewer said, “Oh my, I’m a clone of my mother and I never thought I would be.” That discovery was a surprise.

I also wondered how I would have managed seven months with my mother walking every day with her. We might have killed each other and been dead for weeks without anyone ever knowing. I also thought a lot about family schisms and that for people of faith, forgiveness is required but reconciliation is optional. I want to believe that if there is ever a schism in my family that I will find a way to reconciliation just as Clara did.

Thanks, Jane, for taking time to visit!

To learn more about Jane and her books, and to view a trailer for The Daughter’s Walk, visit her website.

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7 Responses to “The Daughter’s Walk”

  1. Alice Trego Says:

    Great interview, Kathleen and Jane! I’ve read The Daughter’s Walk, and each time Jane gives a blog interview, I learn a few more tidbits about the story. Highly recommend the book to anyone who likes to read about women and history…


  2. Arletta Dawdy's Blog Says:

    I would second Alice’s comments. The book is a unique study of relationship and the times. It inspires introspection and amazement as Clara struggles against the land. While her mother imposed the walk on her, Clara takes on tasks few can imagine doing today.

  3. Jane Kirkpatrick Says:

    Thanks for inviting me, Kathleen. I forgot to say for those interested in Young Adult novels, a descendant of Helga Estby has written a book called The Year We Were Famous which is a wonderful accounting of this remarkable journey for younger readers. The author is Carole Estby Dagg. We’ve done some books signings together which was great fun.

  4. Susan J. Tweit Says:

    Kathleen and Jane, thanks for the interview. I especially appreciate your need to convey the sensory details of each place in that amazing journey, and the incredibly beautiful job you do of evoking landscape and history. I loved The Daughter’s Walk, and now I’m inspired to read the story behind it.

  5. heidiwriter Says:

    I enjoyed reading both books, especially Jane’s! Fascinating thoughts about being clones of our mothers and how we would’ve managed on a cross-country walk with ours. I always thought I got along pretty well with my mom because we lived so far away from each other. 🙂

  6. Velda Brotherton Says:

    What an enjoyable interview. Jane’s books are valuable and entertaining looks at women of the 19th century and I enjoy all of them as I enjoyed this talk with her.

  7. handmade jewelry Says:

    I think there’s a show about this, but remember the name

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