Eau Claire, 1930s Style

Hawkenson debuts first historical fiction novel

Stephanie Janssen, photos by Andrea Paulseth

Local writer Patricia A. Hawkenson has released her new novel, Born with a Tarnished Spoon.
Local writer Patricia A. Hawkenson has released her new novel, Born with a Tarnished Spoon.

Born with a Tarnished Spoon is a tapestry of life and loss in the 1930s. The new novel by Eau Claire author Patricia A. Hawkenson follows the life of the fictional Cassie Clark, a bright young woman studying art at the Eau Claire High School, as her well-to-do family falls prey to the very real Great Depression in the very real Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

Attempting to retain the family’s social status, Cassie’s father Jonathon Clark becomes caught up in the Chicago underworld where rum, money, and even children are trafficked. His shady business dealings ultimately affect his family – leaving Cassie to suffer the consequences.

Cassie’s journey takes her far from home, her emotional baggage following her. Now alone, she must find strength in herself. Along this journey, Cassie wants a man to love her, but can he overlook her dark past?

“Born with a Tarnished Spoon” was started the year Hawkenson retired from South Middle School as an English teacher seven years ago. She joined a local writing group, which was participating in NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month.

“I just thought that would be a fun way to challenge myself to really get the story down,” Hawkenson said. “In so, during that month I drafted out the beginning copy of the story, and it is basically the same story that it is now, however, a lot of the details weren’t there.” 

After writing this initial draft, Hawkenson went on a research journey. She started by doing a general Google search of the 1930s to find out what was going on in the world and to learn about the Great Depression. Most importantly, this story is set in Eau Claire, so Hawkenson needed to research her community. She toured landmarks such as the Adin Randall statue in Randall Park. She also visited the Chippewa Valley Museum, the public library, and the Leader-Telegram to analyze the history of the region. She discovered various items such as old yearbooks; newspapers that reported world events as well as who was having tea with whom; plat books with property listings, bridges, and railroads; and old letters.

“I could just absorb myself into that time frame and get a better feeling for the day-to-day life of somebody who really lived in Eau Claire, what was going on with them, what stores were available for them to shop at, what items would they buy, what was the cost of those items, and how were those items brought into Eau Claire,” Hawkenson said.  

One of Hawkenson’s major signatures is her weaving of details into a storyline, she said.  She infused her own poetry into the Clarks’ housemaid’s letters, for example.

“These woven thoughts keep interest going, and I find it a fun way to pull the story together,” she said.

Writing a very strong main female character was important to Hawkenson. She wanted the character of Cassie not to feel she had to be embarrassed about her past or to carry it as a negative thing throughout her life, she said. 

Hawkenson is in the process of writing another novel set in the 1880s in the Ashland area. This story will be about the connection among five women who have relationships to men that work in the quarries. She also plans to do a series of talks in Eau Claire that would focus on research, writing, history, women, and standards of beauty. 


Patricia A. Hawkenson’s historical fiction novel, Born with a Tarnished Spoon, is available now on Amazon. Her book launch event is 6:30-8pm Friday, Nov. 8, at Artisan Forge Studios, 1106 Mondovi Road. You can also find Hawkenson on Facebook