When Kirby Larson finished writing "Hattie Big Sky," her 2007 Newbery Honor novel, she was content to leave her homesteading young heroine on a train to Great Falls, Mont., her life as open as the tracks ahead.
But Larson, a graduate of Sehome High and Western Washington University, said readers had other ideas. Hattie was such an endearing character - a strong, independent girl, generously kind and fiercely loyal - that readers demanded more.
Larson resisted at first, not wanting to ruin readers' affection for the character she created.
"I really didn't know what a second story would be. I had to feel good that I could come up with a story that was different enough," Larson said recently by telephone from her Kenmore home, where she was preparing for a tour following the Feb. 12 release of "Hattie Ever After." Her sequel picks up where the first book left off - but quickly takes a fast-paced turn as Hattie pursues her dream of becoming a big-city newspaper reporter.
As part of the tour promoting "Hattie Ever After," Larson will be at Village Books, 1200 11th St., at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 26.
She'll have a presentation, then read from her work, leaving time for questions and autographs.
"I love it when people ask questions," Larson said.
Since most of the action takes place in 1919, as the nation is on the verge of postwar prosperity and monumental social change, Larson said she's encouraging people to come in period dress.
"I'll be wearing a vintage hat and I'll give a prize for the best hat," she said.
Arriving in San Francisco just after World War I - a burgeoning city well on the rebound after the destruction of the 1906 quake and fire - Hattie gets her foot in the door at the fabled San Francisco Chronicle and gradually gains acceptance in the newsroom, earning a byline and respect.
Larson, who admits to hating history as a student, has done her homework. She examined old newspaper files, researched pamphlets, atlases and almanacs, and read novels and nonfiction from the period. San Francisco of a century ago comes alive in Hattie's eyes; it's a story rich in detail, with realistic descriptions of buildings, fashions, street scenes and the mundane trappings of everyday life.
It also features casual appearances by real figures, such as President Wilson, the Italian soprano Luisa Tetrazzini, and Eddie Hubbard - a pioneer air mail pilot of the Pacific Northwest and a visionary of early aviation's potential.
"Since I've discovered history, I've found what my passion is," said Larson, who has written other historical fiction, including "The Fences Between Us," about a Seattle girl whose father is pastor to a church of Japanese Americans sent to an Idaho internment camp.
"I just try to find something that interests me and do good research so the story rings true," she said. "It's really that one detail that will make or break a story. I get fascinated by (detail). What was it like? How did they work?"
As for Hattie, she faces the challenges of any woman in a 1920s workplace. She fights sexual harassment, struggles to be taken seriously by her colleagues, and must learn to distinguish between true friends and those who would manipulate her.
"I think she found a strength and purpose in writing," Larson said of Hattie's dream to become a reporter.
In the middle of it all is a mystery - one that rings true for the age. Then there's Charlie, Hattie's good friend and would-be beau. Its ending brings Hattie full circle, and there will be no more sequels, Larson promised.
"Right now I am working on a series of books set in World War II," she said, one with a boy main character, and one with a girl - both aimed at middle readers. She's also working on a story set in 1910.
"I'm having a lot of fun with that - there's so much great history, I'll be writing until I'm 99."
Larson's home town was corrected 2/22/2013
Suggest your ideas for family-friendly events or day trips to Robert Mittendorf at 360-756-2805 or email@example.com.