Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Radio Interviews

I was interviewed by the inimitable Laura Kennedy on WGLT Radio (our local NPR station) concerning It Happened in Chicago. Click the link below to listen to the interview!

I was also interviewed by the incomparable Ron Ross at WJBC radio (link below):

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Meet Author Donna Latham!

My guest today is Donna Latham, author of numerous books for children, including Fire Dogs (Bearport Publishing, 2005), which received the ASPCA Henry Bergh Children's Book Award. Donna currently splits her time between St. Charles, Illinois, and Danville, California. Her book Amazing Biome Projects You Can Build Yourself (Nomad Press, 2009) includes profiles of several Chicago-area scientists. Her book Ghosts of the Fox River Valley (Quixote Press, 2007) is set throughout Illinois.

Donna is also an accomplished playwright whose work has been performed from coast to coast. The Train Track Ghosts, a spooky tale set in Wayne, Illinois, was performed in October at Naperville’s Riverwalk Grand Pavillion. For more information about Donna Latham, visit her web site:

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

Donna: Honestly, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t dream of being a writer.

Q: Describe your earliest works. Who or what inspired you to write them?

Donna: My first writing love was playwrighting. My childhood best friend Herbert and I wrote goofy little comedy sketches featuring madcap antics and wacky characters. (Hey, I’m still working with the same schtick!) Then, in full-on ham mode, we performed and taped them, complete with sound effects and original music. Later, we played the tapes for our friends in the neighborhood. The sheer joy of making audiences laugh was all the inspiration I needed.

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

Donna: Writing is a solitary endeavor, but I’m blessed with an amazing network to share the journey. My husband and brother are my go-to guys when I tinker with works-in-progress. They participate with verve in early play readings. My family and friends are incredible cheerleaders—especially my friend Judy, who’s been my editor many times. Judy’s a writer, too, so she gets it. She not only provides emotional support and encouragement but also helps me wrangle with those oh-so-pesky revisions.

Q: When did you become involved in theater and playwriting?

Donna: I’ve been involved with theatre for most of my life. There’s nothing like its intimacy, its immediacy, and its collaborative nature. I’d dabbled in playwrighting for years but really dove into it about six years ago. Now, I alternate between writing plays for kids and plays for adults. Having an actor’s perspective reminds me to create roles performers can sink their choppers into. In October, I traveled to New York to see my adult play MyFace at the Manhattan Theatre Source. The phenomenal actors owned that play beyond my dreams.

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

Donna: I love Chicago--what a gorgeous, vibrant city! I was born there and lived in the city until my family moved to Mt. Prospect. I attended dearly departed Forest View High School in Arlington Hts. and Dominican University in River Forest. I lived in the Chicago area my entire life, until the last six months.

Q: What did you enjoy most about writing Amazing Biome Projects You Can Build Yourself?

Donna: I loved learning about Earth’s communities, and I’ve gained a fresh appreciation for the natural world. I unearthed so much fascinating information that I had a difficult time finalizing my manuscript. There was always one last tidbit to squeeze into the book. After writing about Earth’s ecosystems, I’m thrilled at spending extended time in the San Francisco Bay Area, an environment radically different from the Fox River Valley. I’m loving the opportunity to explore a strange and wondrous place where people plant poinsettias in “winter gardens.” In the ground. Outside. Who knew?

Q: What is one of your favorite stories from Ghosts of the Fox River Valley? Why?

Donna: Hands down, it’s “Augusta’s Diamond Ring.” It’s my favorite story to perform, my signature piece. In fact, I’ll be performing it at the Geneva Underground Playhouse on New Year’s Eve.

“Augusta’s Diamond Ring” is ghostlore, a spooky story with origins in folklore. The tale features an outraged spirit who returns from the grave to retrieve a—well, let’s just call it a “stolen item.” The story begins with a snippet of local history, the real-life account of the notorious Richards’ Riot of 1849. The riot occurred in St. Charles after John Rood, a medical student at Franklin Medical College, snatched young Marilla Kenyon’s body from her grave and stashed it in Dr. George W. Richards’ barn. An enraged, gun-wielding posse, led by Marilla’s husband, stormed Dr. Richards’ home and fatally shot John Rood. (Every time I peek at the former Franklin Medical College on Main Street in St. Charles, I think of the ghastly incident.)

Q: What type(s) of books do you read for pleasure?

Donna: I’m a reading omnivore. I gobble up everything. My pile of books to read is taller than I am. Right now, I’m lost in Stones From the River, which is brilliant.

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

Donna: I’m knee-deep in the research stages of a piece set during World War II. As part of my research, I recently visited the traveling Schindler exhibit at the Petaluma Historical Museum and heard Holocaust survivor Lillian Judd speak. The exhibit was moving and inspirational, and I’ve thought about Ms. Judd’s experiences repeatedly since my visit.

Q: Anything else you'd like to share?

Donna: Thanks so much for the opportunity to be part of your fabulous blog. I especially like to pop in on it when I’m homesick for Chicago

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Chicago Curiosities

Even as I continue to promote and offer presentations about It Happened in Chicago (Globe Pequot Press / 2009), I am hard at work on another book for Globe called Chicago Curiosities. Like many of my other Globe projects, this one is part of a series that includes "Curiosities" from all over the U.S. 

The tone of this book is quite different from the others I wrote for Globe in that humor is encouraged (dare I say, required?). The blurb on the cover of all the books in this series claims that readers will be laughing out loud as they are introduced to the neighbors they never knew they had and discover places they never knew existed -- right in their own backyard. I don't know about laughing out loud. My sense of humor is typically not the sort that people "guffaw" at -- but I hope there will be a moment or two of amusement for those who are kind enough to read it.

I had no trouble finding "curiosities" in Chicago. I'm required to include 75 to 100 of them in the book, and that will be no problem at all. My other task is to take photographs of most if not all of them. 

On a recent 5-day visit to Chicago I took about 150 photos a day! I would never have tried to do this with an old-fashioned film camera. I really have to be able to see what the picture looks like right after I take it, so I can re-do it if necessary -- and a digital camera permits that. 

It's turning out to be a fun project for me and I think the finished book will be entertaining. 

I expect to take one more trip to Chicago (probably in the spring) during which I will focus on curiosities in the Loop area.

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?