Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Meet Author Kate Gingold!

Today's guest is Naperville resident and local historian Kate Gingold, author of three books published by Gnu Ventures Company: Ruth by Lake and Prairie (2006), Haunted by History: Spectres in a Small Town (2008), and Six Degrees of Abraham Lincoln (2009). Ruth by Lake and Prairie was awarded a Certificate of Excellence by the Illinois State Historical Society as a "wonderful way to present history to young people."

For more information about Kate Gingold, visit her web site:

Q: How old were you when you first realized that you wanted to be a writer?

Kate: Whenever the teacher gave a choice for a final project, I always chose the creative writing option. When I speak to students about writing, I bring in a copy of a story I wrote in second grade on one of those pieces of paper where there's a blank space at the top to draw a picture and lines below to write your story. I can't remember a time when I didn't want to be a writer.

Q: Please describe one of your earliest works. Who or what inspired you to write it?

Kate: Like any writer, I have piles of unpublished manuscripts, but my first published book, Ruth by Lake and Prairie, was written for the 175th anniversary of Naperville a few years ago. I am not a Naperville native, so during the planning stages of the anniversary celebrations, I went to the library to bone up on the history. I was hoping to get all the facts in a few pithy pages and figured a children's book would be perfect. But there wasn't one and I thought that with all the new families moving in there ought to be a fun-to-read story about how the town began. The people and the facts are as a accurate as possible, but told as an historic narrative. Like "Little House on the Prairie," but forty years earlier.

Q: Can you name someone whose encouragement made a significant difference as you developed into a writer?

Kate: I had wonderfully supportive teachers in high school and my first college years, and then a couple of devastatingly discouraging experiences so that I stopped thinking of myself as a writer for a long time. A close friend, SCBWI member Kim Winters, went back to school to get her master's degree and she was so excited by her writing studies that I got excited again.

Q: Please tell us a little about your ties to Chicago.

Kate: I was born in Chicago and grew up in a suburb just outside of the city boundaries. I attended North Park University on Foster and Kedzie and married a Chicago boy. My son currently lives along the blue line while he's going to school. I live in Naperville now, not too far away, which has ties of its own to Chicago. Joseph Naper was a business partner of PFW Peck. They operated two trading posts, one at Naper's Settlement and one in Chicago. Peck became the wealthiest of the two, but Naper had a town named after him!

Q: What did you enjoy most about writing Haunted by History?

Kate: I adore history research, but children often assume history is going to be boring. Haunted by History takes real people and places from the past and weaves a ghost story around them to slip the facts in with the story. That gave me the opportunity to be more creative with the plot than narrative history allows me to be.

Q: Of the characters mentioned in Ruth by Lake and Prairie, please tell us about one you would like to meet and why.

Kate: Few records exist for the historical people who appear as characters in the book, so their personalities developed from analyzing what little we do know. Ruth's best friend on Uncle Joe's schooner is Anna Mariah Sisson. Her family didn't settle near the Napers, but moved on to the Plainfield/Lockport area. I talked with one of Mariah's descendents and he gave me a copy of a photograph of her as a very stylish adult. Little Mariah from the rough homestead in Will County wound up married to a Canadian politician. It's easy to picture Mariah as a charismatic girl with expansive dreams and plenty of gumption. She would have made a fascinating friend!

Q: In Ruth by Lake and Prairie, the characters spend a chapter or so in what would soon be Chicago. Can you describe an interesting "tidbit" you discovered about early Chicago in your research?

Kate: Many Chicagoans are familiar with the Beaubien family, especially Mark Beaubien and his fiddle, which is in the Chicago History Museum. Mark is also credited with building the first frame building, his Sauganash Hotel. At the time of this story, 1831, Chicago is only an abandoned fort, a few cabins and some wigwams, although Mark has started construction on the Sauganash. As crude as the settlement is, the Beaubien brothers sent their daughters to Detroit, a much older city, for finishing school. If you think about it, Jane Austen's Mr. and Mrs. Darcy would have school-aged children at this time as well. Just because the Beaubiens lived in primitive America didn't mean they weren't aware of society's finer things.

Q: What was relatively easy about writing Six Degrees of Abraham Lincoln? What was relatively difficult?
Kate: Nearly every town in Illinois has a Lincoln story. Trying to figure out if the story is true can be tricky. Many local historical societies have already done the research and will usually tell you what they've found out. But who wants to be the bad guy who disproves a favorite local legend?

Q: What can you tell us about your current Work in Progress?

Kate: I've started researching a follow-up to Ruth by Lake and Prairie that deals with the Black Hawk War which occurred the summer after they arrived, and I'm playing with lots of ideas for other local landmarks that can be "Haunted by History", but the most important project on my plate right now is a biography.

Q: Anything else you'd like to share?

Kate: While from an early age I always intended to write and illustrate children's books, I never would have suspected that my niche would be midwest America in the early 1800's. The research is such a hoot and sharing the fun stuff I find with kids is a blast. Who could have known?

1 comment:

  1. Another great interview, Scotti!! You need to be the IL SCBWI reporter!!

    xoxo -- Hilary