By MARG JACKSON
Claudia Hagen has spent years going against the grain.
Tell her she can’t do something and she will definitely find a way to prove you wrong. Perhaps it’s the red hair. Perhaps it’s just knowing that she can do anything she sets her mind to.
Whatever it is, Hagen has forged her own path and has also saluted other women pioneers as well.
The Modesto resident has several books to her credit and has also been a presenter multiple times at the Great Valley Bookfest hosted annually in Manteca. She has a new book due out in April and has drawn from her own life and experiences, as well as interests in crafting her career.
Born and raised in Spokane, Washington, she moved with her family to Modesto when she was in high school, coming from a community with 300 high school students to one with 3,000, providing a bit of a culture shock. Originally opposed to the move, Hagen said the Central Valley location eventually grew on her.
“Now I don’t want to leave,” she confessed. “I’m allergic to snow.”
Hagen and her husband Ernie, married for 36 years, live in Modesto and have three grown sons, seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Before becoming a published author – which she said is her “third or fourth” career – Hagen spent 36 years as a critical care nurse with stops at Doctors Hospital and Valley Heart Association on her résumé.
These days, though, writing fills up much of her time.
Her works are as diverse as “The Mystic High Adventures of Fannie Flame & Crew” and “American Women During World War II.”
Fannie Flame is actually Hagen’s nickname, given to her by a fellow hot air balloon pilot.
“Back in 1979 a foolish man told me women couldn’t fly hot air balloons,” Hagen recalled. “You do not tell a redhead she can’t do anything a man can do; I just had to have one.”
Hagen found a hot air balloon flight instructor in Woodland, attended ground school and did flight lessons and got her hot air balloon license.
“I was the first commercially rated female hot air balloon pilot in the Central Valley,” she explained.
As far as her nickname, that has a bit of history as well.
“My hair was red and I burned up the balloon a couple of times,” explained Hagen. “You have to be christened (with a nickname) by a fellow balloon pilot, the one who named me, his nickname was Scorch.”
There was speculation Hagen would have been named ‘Torch’ but ‘Fannie Flame’ won out. The memoir book chronicles her journey, highlighting “the struggles and triumphs” of more than a dozen years of ballooning.
A stroke in 2006 forced her to retire from ballooning and slowed her down … but didn’t stop her.
“The thing with the stroke is that it took away my ability to work with numbers,” Hagen said. “It took several years to overcome. But I am a Type A personality, I do not sit and do nothing.”
In addition to her books, Hagen has written numerous articles for medical journals and the hot air ballooning community.
She also is proud of the book featuring the behind-the-scenes work that women here at home did during World War II while war was waged abroad.
“Everybody knows Rosie the Riveter, but we also had Sally the Secretary and Wendy the Welder,” Hagen pointed out. “I learned so much and the book is doing very well, I’m very pleased with that.
Also, the first POWs were Army and Navy nurses captured in the Philippines.”
Other books touch on topics including the crash of a B17 on her grandparent’s farm just outside Spokane, Washington; the discovery of a link between a plutonium plant and multiple health problems in Hanford, Washington; and a book focusing on the ‘Soviet Night Witches,’ female pilots used to fly combat missions in World War II. She also has written two books for children, one about being a hot air ballooning grandma and another on a rescued kitten.
Due out in April is another book that Hagen has a personal connection to – it’s called “Summer on the Diamond” and is about a group of bat girls with the 1966 Modesto Reds, precursor of today’s Modesto Nuts minor league baseball team.
“When we first moved here I was kind of lost,” Hagen explained.
An article in a local newspaper, however, put out the call for bat girls for the minor league team, called the Reds.
“They wanted four red headed bat girls … I was the first one hired,” she said. “I did a lot of publicity and promotional stuff.”
They also flew her to New York to appear on the ‘What’s My Line?’ quiz show and she got to serve as a bat girl the summer that Modesto played host to future Major Leaguers Rollie Fingers, Reggie Jackson, Tony LaRussa, Dave Duncan, Joe Rudi and other notable baseball names.
All of Hagen’s works fall into the category of non-fiction and that is where she is most comfortable.
“The research is fun,” she noted. “With each book I learn a little bit more about the process.”
She has recently revised her very first book, “The Night A Fortress Fell To Fairfield” with new information included. She also feels the work done on the books she has written in between helped make the revised edition better than the original.
“It has been fun and it has kept my mind busy,” Hagen said of her latest career in the literary world. “As you age, you have to keep your mind working. “
She added that many people have suggested she venture into fiction and though she gave it some thought, she feels that non-fiction is her true niche.
“The research and the meeting with people (for non-fiction books); I enjoy that. I think I’ll stick with it.”
Hagen also admitted to a couple of favorites among the books she has written.
“I think probably ‘The Mystic High Adventures’ because there are so many happy memories but I really miss the flying,” she noted. “Also the ‘American Women’ book because it was so interesting to learn from and talk to them.”
Most of Hagen’s works are available through Amazon and you can learn more about the author and her books by visiting her website, www.claudiahagen.com.