Upcoming Book Celebrations

The Art of William Sidney Mount: Long Island People of Color on Canvas 

by Katherine Kirkpatrick and Vivian Nicholson-Mueller

Two In-person opportunities on Long Island

Saturday, Sept. 24, and Sunday, Oct. 3, 2022

and a Zoom presentation on Monday, Nov. 14, 2022

Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022

1 -2:30 p.m.

or

2:30 – 4 p.m.

The Brewster House

25 Brewster Lane, East Setauket 11733

(junction of NY 25-A and Runs Road)

House Tour and Presentation

Authors Katherine Kirkpatrick & Vivian Nicholson-Mueller will talk about the 18th and 19th Century Black and biracial people of the Brewster House.

Light Refreshments will be provided

Cost of program $8

Seating is limited; RSVP is required

Register by calling the Ward Melville Heritage Organization,

(631) 751-2244

Copies of Katherine’s and Vivian’s new book will be available for purchase.

The Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Brewster House, Setauket, 1665. Photo by Katherine Kirkpatrick.

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Sunday, October 2, 2022

The Long Island Museum of American Art, History and Carriages

1200 NY-25-A, Stony Brook, NY. 11790

Book Celebration for The Art of William Sidney Mount: Long Island People of Color on Canvas

By Katherine Kirkpatrick & Vivian Nicholson-Mueller

12 noon – Museum Opens

2 p.m. – Slide Presentation by Authors

3-5 p.m. Gallery Tour of Mount paintings, Banjo and Fiddle Music, Refreshments, and Book Autographing

Free with the Price of Museum Admission

100% of book sales will go to the Long Island Museum in appreciation of the museum and in loving memory of Audrey and Dale Kirkpatrick

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Monday, November 14, 2022, 7 p.m. Eastern Standard Time

ZOOM presentation by Katherine Kirkpatrick and Vivian Nicholson-Mueller

Three Village Historical Society

https://www.tvhs.org/lecture-series

Follow link on the Three Village Historical Society website under Events, Lecture Series, to register through Eventbrite.com

Free for TVHS Members, suggested donation $5 for the general public

A Charmed Week

            For about a year and a half, but mostly within a week in July 2021, I experienced a series of fortuitous incidents when I was researching and writing my book The Art of William Sidney Mount: Long Island People of Color on Canvas (coauthored with Vivian Nicholson-Mueller, publication date September 5, 2022, The History Press). The book involves the Black and biracial people who modeled for William Sidney Mount, a famous 19th century artist. Mount lived and worked in the Three Village (Stony Brook, Setauket, and Old Field) area in Long Island, New York, where I grew up. My wonderful sister, Jennifer, and I rented an Air B & B together in Stony Brook so she could take photos of old houses for the book, gather materials for the map she would draw, and most of all, for the two of us to have fun together in the setting that is very dear to both of us. I live in Seattle and Jen lives in Virginia, and it was the first one-on-one vacation we’d had in many years apart from our husbands and families.

Jen and I pose in front of the Brewster House in Setauket.

            Here are some examples of synchronicity:

            Mount recalled childhood experiences of knowing a Black fiddler, Anthony (Tony) Hannibal Clapp (1749-1816), and sitting at Clapp’s knee while he played folk tunes. Clapp was buried in a cemetery for people of color on land that used to belong to Mount’s grandfather. I’d read an article about an unnamed Stony Brook resident finding that overgrown cemetery in land behind his back yard. One day, about a year and a half ago, while texting my coauthor, Vivian, about Anthony Clapp, a Facebook Messenger text came in for me at the very same time from a school friend, Bob, who wanted to tell me about a webinar he thought I’d enjoy. For the first time in decades, I talked to Bob on the phone. I told him about the Mount book I was writing. He told me about the cemetery he’d discovered in back of his house. You guessed it—Anthony Clapp’s grave site! 

Anthony Hannibal Clapp’s gravestone, carved by Phineas Hill, circa 1816, the Long Island Museum of American Art, History and Carriages Collection, 0007.015.2140. Photo by Katherine Kirkpatrick.

           Jen and visited Bob and his wife, Anna, and they showed us the cemetery. While there, I told Bob I was hoping to see a house in Stony Brook where William Sidney Mount’s sister (and people who are likely portrayed in Mount’s Dance of the Haymakers) lived. I had an address from the 1970s; for all I knew, the house could have been torn down. Bob knew the house and its owner, and drove my sister and I over to it. The owner, named Rich, said to my surprise, “I know you! I was your father’s chauffeur.”

            What chauffeur? My sister, Jen, and Rich filled in the story. My dad, Dale Kirkpatrick, broke his neck two years before I was born while teaching my brother to dive off a diving board at our beach club. Rich was the teenage son of my dad’s chiropractor. While Dad’s neck was in traction and he couldn’t drive, he employed Rich to take him places. Rich turned out to know a lot about William Sidney Mount and gladly showed Jen and Bob and me around the house. 

            Within a day of that visit, I had another serendipitous meeting, this time in Stony Brook’s Crazy Beans restaurant. Months earlier, I’d written to the head of a local preservation organization through a general website contact, but did not get a response. Attempts at obtaining the director’s email address had failed. I wanted to meet her because she was in charge of an old house, now a museum, where several of Mount’s models had lived. While Jen and I were having brunch with one of my longtime school friends, Paul, we were suddenly surprised when Leighton, another longtime school friend, strolls in—accompanied by the organization’s director. 

            Another day that week, Jen and I hiked along the narrow strip of Setauket’s Shore Road in a quest to find out where William Sidney Mount had been situated when painting Eel Spearing in Setauket in 1845. Looking across Setauket Harbor at Strong’s Neck, we searched in vain for St. George’s Manor, the house depicted in the artwork. A lot of trees had grown up and houses built since Mount’s time. Barbara, Brookhaven Town’s Historian, happened to be driving by in her convertible on the way to playing golf. “I recognize you two!” she said, pulling the car aside. We’d visited her the day before at her office in Farmingville. As it turned out, Barbara had grown up on Shore Road. She took us to a place where we could see the manor; as it was barely visible in the summer’s foliage, we wouldn’t have spotted it on our own.

Jen taking photographs on Shore Road, Setauket.

            There are numerous other examples of synchronicity related to this project; I’ll tell you just one more. Jen and I ran into a family friend, Megan, while visiting the Long Island Museum. We were surprised to hear that Megan was employed by the museum. Last we’d heard Megan was living and working in Manhattan. She’s now in charge of reopening the museum’s gift shop, and is involved with a book event for me that will take place on October 2, 2022. 

            Out of my nine published books, The Art of William Sidney Mount: Long Island People of Color on Canvas is the only title to go into print within a year of contract. In most cases I experienced a lag of at least three years. I ask myself how I could be so lucky in regard to this book, while I’ve encountered many obstacles for other projects. Arguably, there’s a certain ease that comes about when choosing a subject related to one’s hometown. My late parents, Audrey and Dale Kirkpatrick, were very active in the Three Village community. Still, does my family’s wide network of acquaintances and friends explain the nature and timing of my experiences?

            My friend author Andrea Simon uses the Yiddish word bashert (orchestrated by God) to describe a certain kind of synchronicity, in which things easily fall into place in uncanny ways. Was I experiencing bashert? I’ll leave it at this. I believe there are periods in our lives when we are particularly in the flow, and when we are particularly receptive to being in the flow. I believe that when we are relaxed and happy, as I was when I was enjoying time with my sister, that fortuitous occurrences are most likely to take place. 

            May the synchronicity related to my project continue. I’m hoping that the stories in the book connect descendants to their ancestors and descendants to each other. And I’m hoping for further opportunities to reconnect with those from my Three Village past.  

Cover for The Art of William Sidney Mount: Long Island People of Color on Canvas by Katherine Kirkpatrick and Vivian Nicholson-Mueller (The History Press, publication date September 5, 2022). Detail from Eel Spearing at Setauket (Recollections of Early Days–“Fishing Along Shore”), 1845, by William Sidney Mount (1807-1868). Collection of the Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York. Gift of Stephen C. Clark. Photograph by Richard Walker. N0395.1955.
Serving as a Mentor for SCBWI

Serving as a Mentor for SCBWI

It’s my great honor to be a mentor for middle-grade and young-adult fiction by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Editors (SCBWI), Western Washington chapter, for the 2021-2022 season. Applications for the program from the SCBWI membership are accepted from now through July 30. The mentors and mentees will work with each other for a six-month period, beginning in September 2021 and ending in May 2022. For more information, learn more here .

SCBWI Western Washington will be publishing interviews of their mentors in their bulletin. My interview follows.

Why do you like mentoring? 

When I was a young woman, I was lucky to be mentored by Madeleine L’Engle, author of the classic A Wrinkle in Time. She encouraged all her workshop students to succeed in our writing endeavors. She taught us “belief.” She set a tone to be supportive of each other. A writers’ group of seven women formed from the first workshop I took with Madeleine, and more groups evolved from other workshops. Soon we had a community. At that time, none of us had any books published. Dozens of books followed, including eight of my own. Thirty years later, we are still cheering each other on, now weekly on Zoom. It gives me pleasure to foster others with the same generosity of spirit that Madeleine offered. 

Dear friend Sanna Stanley, our beloved mentor Madeleine L’Engle, and me.
My writing group of 30 years.

What can a mentee expect from your mentorship?

My aim is to help my mentees discover and nurture their writing skills. We’ll discuss their goals for our six-month time together. We’ll set dates on calendars and decide together the best method of communication, hopefully cemented by occasionally meeting in person, depending on our locations and Covid restrictions. If the mentees have a workable idea or partial manuscript, we’ll brainstorm to help them decide about plot, structure, characters, point of view, and other fundamentals. I have handouts and exercises that will be helpful in creating synopses. We will discuss the plots of books and movies in the mentee’s genre and what principles and techniques the authors employed. 

When the mentees have manuscripts ready and want feedback, I’ll make notes on the manuscripts and produce comprehensive “editorial letters” with constructive comments on improving the manuscripts. I’ve worked on staff for several children’s book publishers in New York and will provide a high level of professional analysis. 

What are the best parts about being an author(-illustrator)? 

I love doing research, whether it’s in the library sleuthing around in dusty archives, using old maps, searching online, or reading books and taking notes. Sometimes I take trips. Once I served as a volunteer crewmate on a schooner for a week. By far the most inspiring trip I took was to Egypt to research my future novel Golden Treasure. I flew over the Valley of the Kings in a hot-air balloon. For this same novel, I visited Highclere Castle in England and met the Countess of Carnarvon. 

Researching my novel at Highclere Castle.

It’s exciting to receive a bound book in the mail for the first time. I was delighted to see my book  The Snow Baby, which has a gorgeous cover and design.

What’s the writing/illustrating advice you give most often?

Never give up. Writing is a journey. Let your friends and mentors uplift you when you’re discouraged. Find a writers group, or start one, but make sure the members are supportive and affirming. Set small goals and accomplish them. Try not to expect too much of a rough draft. Don’t judge it harshly. Instead, let your book evolve. 

What does being a successful published professional look like to you?

Success has meant different things to me over the years. It has thrilled me to receive starred reviews, to be published by Random House, to be invited to a fancy reception with famous authors in New York’s Rainbow Room during an American Library Association conference, to have a book optioned for film. But experiences like this have been few and fleeting. 

On the set of the film trailer for Redcoats and Petticoats.

What gives me the greatest satisfaction is to celebrate milestones with friends and family. These pleasures are long lasting. My late mother used to host book events for me and invite up to a hundred people, including my former teachers. She encouraged invitees to stop by the bookstore or museum shop and purchase autographed copies, and continue on to her house for a gourmet meal.

What are you working on next? 

My collaborator and I are working on a nonfiction book about the people of color, including her ancestors, in a community on Long Island in the 19th century. I feel very galvanized by this project, to reveal the names of people long forgotten. And it feels so satisfying to know that there’s an audience that will truly appreciate this book. 

A New Cover for Trouble’s Daughter

A New Cover for Trouble’s Daughter

What happens when a book goes out of print? In the olden days, that was that. But nowadays you can reissue the book yourself via print-on-demand (POD) publishing. One of the pleasures of this route is to choose your own cover for the book. 

For years I’d thought of reissuing my young adult novel Trouble’s Daughter: The Story of Susanna Hutchinson, Indian Captive. Part of my reluctance was due to the computer-related challenges. I also had to choose a new cover because I didn’t have the legal right to use the one made for the Delacorte and Dell Yearling editions of the book. It’s relatively easy to find stock images at little or no expense. But I wanted a professional book illustrator, though I didn’t have the kind of money to pay one.  

So, the Trouble’s Daughter reissue remained on hold for a decade until recently when a small miracle occurred. One of the descendants of my true-life protagonist, Susanna Hutchinson Cole, came into my life and took a great interest in seeing the book return to print. Captain Robert K. T. Cole, Jr. (retired, U.S. Marines, and Purple Heart recipient) contacted me through my website to request more information about his ancestor Susanna, who married his fourteen-times great grandfather John Cole. The Captain was also researching Susanna’s more-famous mother, Puritan firebrand Anne Hutchinson. Our correspondence began. He wanted to purchase autographed copies of Trouble’s Daughter for his children and grandchildren. It was a pleasure to sell him the fifty remaindered hardcovers I’d been stashing in my attic. Almost unbelievably, the Captain sought to buy even more copies so we eventually got into the discussion of how that might be possible through a print-on-demand venue such as Amazon’s KDP Publishing.  

Captain Robert K.T. Cole, Jr.

It was my great joy and privilege to hire, with the Captain’s financial help, the talented artist Ronald Himler, to paint the new cover art for Trouble’s Daughter. Ron illustrated my book Redcoats and Petticoats twenty years ago and we’ve been friends ever since. I also engaged a professional art director (and artist), my friend Christy Hale, to work with him. You see the happy result here. The Captain now owns the original painting. 

Ron read Trouble’s Daughtercame up with a few cover concepts and allowed me to pick the one I liked best. I’ll explain the artwork. Susanna, whose original clothes had been burned by her captors, wears a deerskin cloak. The clouds behind her reflect her inner emotional tension. As the clouds descend to her right, the sun breaks through behind the misty inlet on which a Lenape warrior, Wam-Pak, rows a dugout canoe with Susanna sitting in front. Separated from her family, who were murdered in a massacre, she does not know what the future has in store for her. The two women behind her, her mother in Puritan garb, and the wise woman, Som-kway, represent the most important influences in her psyche. The swans, one of Susanna’s totem animals, express her wish to be free of emotional conflict.  

Ron Himler

I couldn’t be more pleased with the new cover art. I’m also happy that after much effort the technical challenges of launching the new edition onto the Amazon KDP website have been overcome. Susanna, again, has the promise of new life.

Now comes the fun of ordering books. If you want your own copy, it’s available as a paperback as well as an e-book. A hardcover edition through Ingram is in the works. 

Reflections on My Stepping Stones Lighthouse

Reflections on My Stepping Stones Lighthouse

 

I have always felt that City Island in the Bronx, within greater New York City, where I lived in my twenties and early thirties, possesses a certain magic. There’s a feeling, when listening to the symphony of halyards chiming against the masts of sailboats or the eerie sound of wind blowing through the rigging, that it’s possible to slip back in time one hundred years or more. And if you sail from the island in the dark of night toward a redbrick Victorian lighthouse, its green light flashing through the cold mist, you may see the eternal visage of a ghostly man peering through the glass windows of his tower. He watches over you to prevent your vessel from crashing on the jagged, partially submerged shoal of the “Stepping Stones.” Magic, indeed.

Not one but two working lighthouses flank the mile-and-a-half-long City Island. Stepping Stones, my favorite because of its picturesque architecture, was first illuminated on the evening of March 1, 1877, with an oil-fired mantle within a Fresnel lens. Every morning when I waited for the express bus that took me to my book publishing job in Manhattan, I gazed out over the water, a mile away, at Stepping Stones lighthouse. The sight of the lonely place never ceased to fascinate me. Like many people who enjoy lighthouses, I am drawn to the romantic notion of living in a house surrounded by water. From the vantage point where I often stood, near the terminus of City Island Avenue, Stepping Stones appears in Long Island Sound as a small, square building atop a round platform. The building has a handsome rectangular tower and mansard roof.

Delacorte Press cover by Kam Mak

Sometimes when City Island friends took me out on their sailboats or motorboats, we circled around the lighthouse. Then I could make out certain details such as the square balcony near the top of the tower, the bright green automated lantern, the tall windows (bricked-in to prevent vandalism), and the mount on which a large bell had once hung. Whenever I crossed the Throgs Neck Bridge to go to Long Island to visit my parents, I’d enjoy yet another view of the lighthouse, one from above. From that high, arching suspension bridge, the lighthouse resembles a tiny, antique doll house, surrounded by deep blue water on all sides.

Like many City Islanders, I came to regard Stepping Stones as “our” lighthouse (never mind that all maps and charts indicate that it belongs to Great Neck, Long Island). Eventually I wrote a novel set there. Called Keeping the Good Light and intended for a young adult readership, the novel takes place in 1903, during the heyday of City Island yacht building and sail making. My friend the late Skippy Lane, a retired captain of oil tankers, helped me research the book and provided many interesting anecdotes. The shipwreck incident in the book came directly from an experience Skippy had as a boy on City Island. Another plot choice, the idea of putting messages in bottles and casting them out to sea, came from Skippy’s pastime of releasing such messages. Sometimes he’d sign his friends’ names with their addresses as a joke.

Delacorte Press published Keeping the Good Light in the fall of 1995. The cover by Kam Mak shows my main character, sixteen-year-old Eliza, in a long vintage dress, seated in a rowboat (Skippy’s) with an accurate representation of Stepping Stones lighthouse in the background. Skippy quickly pointed out when he saw the cover image that anyone just sitting in a craft like that, hands crossed on her lap, not holding the oars, would quickly be blown back out to sea. Mary Cash, the book’s editor, replied, “She’s so pretty it doesn’t matter what she’s doing.”

Captain Fred (Skippy) Lane

 

Katherine Kirkpatrick poses in Skippy Lane's rowboat

Katherine Kirkpatrick poses in Skippy Lane’s rowboat

Sara (Sally) McPherson at The City Island Current, the island’s local newspaper, reproduced the book cover in its exact size—5-1/2 by 8-1/4 inches—on the front page in 1995. As a result of this phenomenal publicity, my book signing party at the City Island Nautical Museum, a former school building, was extremely well attended.

Writing Keeping the Good Light brought me, at least on City Island, the greatest celebrity I will probably ever enjoy. “She’s the one who wrote the book,” I’d hear people say. Occasionally, if I visit the island, someone will make the same remark even now. Always it is “the book,” although I’ve now published eight. For the Clam Diggers (those who grew up on the island) it obviously remains a matter of great importance that “the book” features “our lighthouse.” The late Bronx historian John McNamara told me he’d been reading the novel at JP’s Restaurant on the island and a passerby offered to buy his copy on the spot.

Those were fun times, times of sharing and community. For my thirtieth birthday party, my sister made a cake with a model of a lighthouse on top. The house where I rented a room, 150 Marine Street, a former telegraph station that contained a glass-paneled rectangular chamber reached by an upright ladder and trapdoor, filled to overflowing with visitors of all ages and backgrounds come to celebrate my birthday. Old, heavy-set Skippy, known to be a little rough around the edges, entertained my friends from Manhattan with his lively storytelling, replete with occasional swearwords.

Katherine Kirkpatrick signs copies of Keeping the Good Light

Katherine Kirkpatrick signs copies of Keeping the Good Light

Skippy regarded the publication of Keeping the Good Light as a highlight of his later years. He called it “our book” and proudly gave an autographed copy to his friend and next-door neighbor on Horton Street, Oliver Sacks. To my surprise and delight, I received an autographed copy of one of his own books in return. On the title page of a British paperback edition of Awakenings, its pages now a bit yellowed, is inscribed:

            For Katherine

            (I loved your book!)

            With best wishes,

            Oliver Sacks

            City Island

            Xmas 1996

 

autograph by Oliver Sacks

autograph by Oliver Sacks

 

Now, a quarter of a century after I first became acquainted with Stepping Stones lighthouse, I love the lighthouse just as passionately as I ever did. Perhaps even more, because my feelings about the place combine with a sense of remembrance and of longing for City Islanders I knew who are now dead. Others island friends have, like me, scattered around the country. We won’t ever live together on that mile-and-a-half-long island again. I also find myself reacting to further commercial development that has taken place and missing the way the island used to look. But whenever I visit the island or drive across the Throgs Neck Bridge, there is Stepping Stones lighthouse, rising as ever on a shoal in Long Island Sound. The lighthouse serves as a visual, tangible reminder to me of a time in my life that remains very dear to me. Not only that, but I have a special place in my heart for historically significant places.

Very recently, my personal chronicle involving Stepping Stones lighthouse has gained a new chapter. I have recently made a new friend through e-mail, Alice Kasten of the Great Neck Historical Society, who keeps me informed about her organization’s exciting new plans to restore Stepping Stones lighthouse. The town of North Hempstead, the Great Neck Park District, and the Great Neck Historical Society have joined in a public/private partnership, with assistance from the City Island Maritime Museum, to raise $4 million for the renovation. Already they’ve had some success with garnering grants from New York State and the National Park Service. I can hardly believe that this gargantuan, expensive venture is actually happening in this day and age of dwindling funds for worthy projects and causes.

Ravaged by salty seas and severe weather, in recent years Stepping Stones developed a hole in its roof and another hole in its foundation. The U.S. Coast Guard might well have demolished it and replaced it with a navigational beacon mounted on steel poles if not for the Great Neck Historical Society’s commitment to saving the building. Engineers who completed an underwater survey have now identified places where pilings for a dock will be put down. Once a dock exists and more funds become available, building materials can be delivered and the renovation can begin.

This past summer, the society has organized a number of tours for people to see the lighthouse from the outside. I can’t wait to go on one of the tours next summer. I’ve also decided it’s an apt time to put Keeping the Good Light back into print. A new Kindle version is available on Amazon.com, and a print-on-demand paperback edition will soon be in the works. I do not have the rights to use the Delacorte cover for new editions, so I commissioned a new one. (Note that the girl in the vessel is now actually rowing.) Victoria Yeh, the talented new cover artist, created the cover when she was only seventeen.

Half of the net proceeds from the new editions of Keeping the Good Light will go to the Great Neck Historical Society for the lighthouse renovation. I’m honored and grateful to help preserve this good lighthouse.

New Kindle cover by Victoria Yeh

New Kindle cover by Victoria Yeh

Announcing Editorial Services

Manuscript Evaluation and Consultations

Virtually all novelists ask for feedback on their manuscripts before they show their work to their agents and editors. I have had the great pleasure of helping many unpublished writers launch their careers. I believe the next best thing to belonging to a writers’ support group is to receive a professional manuscript evaluation from someone who has both a compassionate heart and a critical eye.

Evaluation of fiction manuscripts includes:

  • a comprehensive reading of the work with attention to character development, plot, story structure, prose style, and marketability
  • comments in the margins
  • a written report of 5–10 pages with recommendations for revision.

The cost is $2.50 per page (or roughly 250 words per page, formatted in 12-point Times Roman font, double-spaced with 1-inch margins). Phone, Skype, or in-person consultations during any stage of the writing and revising process may be scheduled for $35 per hour. I am happy to discuss projects at whatever stage they are in, and to also provide advice about finding an agent or publisher.

  

Writing Help for College or Private School Application Essays

Every young person has an important, unique, powerful story to tell. Through questioning and brainstorming, then breaking down tasks into components, I help students to overcome their nervousness about writing and to create original, authentic essays that will best reflect who they are. Authenticity and originality are what make essays stand out to admissions personnel.

My process involves helping students in all stages of writing:

– brainstorming ideas

– finding the unique story that is calling to be told

– tying the story to a theme

– creating an outline

– reviewing techniques of effective storytelling

– drafting with attention to narrative structure

– revising and polishing

 

The cost is $35 per hour.

Questions? Please send me a note through my contact page on katherinekirkpatrick.com/contact.

Interview with Katherine Kirkpatrick by Susan Hill Long

Susan: What made you realize you wanted to be a writer? Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Katherine: In the sixth grade, I wrote a story about vampire bats attacking a scientist. That year I won my first English prize, the first of many, and writing became “my thing.” I followed a family pattern. My mother did quite a lot of writing, and my brother Sidney (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sidney_D._Kirkpatrick), sister, cousin, and grandfather chose careers in writing and/or publishing.

My advice to aspiring writers is to take all assignments, paid and unpaid. Contribute to your school’s alumni magazine and local newspaper. Think about what organizations you belong to. Blog. Write a heartfelt reminiscence when your favorite teacher retires. Volunteer your talents, make people laugh, feel appreciated, hone your skills. I’m so proud of the biography of my father I self-published, The Dale Kirkpatrick Story (http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/allegra1943).

Susan: Why did you choose to write historical fiction for young adults?

Katherine: My mother loved history and partly for that reason my parents chose to settle in a community rich in colonial and maritime lore, the Three Villages (Stony Brook, Setauket, Old Field), Long Island, New York. My family liked to tour historic houses and visit old cemeteries and our local carriage museum http://longislandmuseum.org/, which has a jauntily painted American gypsy wagon, circa 1870, that always captured my imagination. Once I took a children’s writing class held in the museum’s 18th-century one-room schoolhouse.

When I started to write novels, I found myself drawn to the coming-of-age themes of independence, discovery, maturity, and relationships in young adult fiction.

Susan: Where did you get the idea that sparked Between Two Worlds?

Katherine: In the Hall of Meteorites at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, I noticed a photo of four-year-old Marie Peary, the daughter of Arctic explorer Robert E. Peary, onboard a ship with a gigantic meteorite. After researching Marie’s life, I started a novel. I showed it to editor Mary Cash at Holiday House, along with stunning photographs of Marie in Arctic Greenland. With the photos in mind, Mary encouraged me to write a nonfiction book, The Snow Baby, http://www.katherinekirkpatrick.com/book_01.html, published in 2007.

Years later I returned to the novel. It took on new life when I decided to switch perspectives, telling the story from Billy Bah’s, an Inuk girl’s, point of view.

Katherine Kirkpatrick with Jessica Baloun, Third Place Books, Lake Forest Park, WA

Susan: I really enjoyed reading The Snow Baby! Can you tell us a little bit about your work writing both fiction and nonfiction, and how one approach may inform the other?

Katherine: I’d published four novels before I wrote The Snow Baby, so I brought to that photo essay/biography the novelist’s ability to think in terms of drama and scenes. After eight years of publishing nonfiction books, I returned to fiction with Between Two Worlds. Because I’d already researched Arctic Greenland, I focused on plot and character development without thinking so much about getting the history right. It’s been my tendency, like globbing on too much icing on a cake, to pile on historical details. This time around I started with the cake itself and with better results; Between Two Worlds has received excellent reviews.

It’s not a good idea, career-wise, to do the kind of zigzagging between genres that I’ve done. To establish a readership, it’s best to do the same kind of book over and over, preferably with the same publisher. But there’s value, too, in publishing individual titles. A friend of mine puts it this way: “Go to the party where you’re invited.”

Susan: Between Two Worlds is based on a true story. What’s real and what’s made up?

Katherine: About 80 percent of the book is based on historical events. Sixteen-year-old Billy Bah joined the Peary family on his ship Windward, which became locked in ice for eight months in 1900-1901. Just about everything but the triangle love story and conversations with the ancestor-ghosts is historically based.

Susan: Tell us about the real Billy Bah.

Katherine: Billy Bah, also known by her Inuk name, Eqariusaq, was born around 1884 in a remote coastal area of Arctic Greenland. When she was about eleven, she spent a year in Washington, D.C. with Peary’s family. She was both orphaned and married around age fourteen. Peary referred to her as his most expert seamstress. She sewed the fur coat that explorer Matthew Henson wore during the famed Peary expedition of 1909 to the North Pole.

Susan: The setting of 1901 Arctic Greenland plays a distinct and significant role in the novel. Also, you use a lot of Inuktun (Polar Eskimo) words in the book. Were these challenges for you, in terms of making Billy Bah’s story come alive for YA readers?

Katherine: The key to historical fiction is to put the past into the present, to bring out universal themes that a modern-day audience can relate to such as the desire to belong or the need for independence. No matter when, people have always shared many of the same core fears and desires. One common teenage dilemma is that at some point we must act under pressure and make difficult choices. The theme of romantic love is also powerful and universal. Billy Bah’s love affair with the sailor Duncan is the aspect of the book that I feel will most appeal to teen girl readers, fully drawing them into 1901 and the foreign world of Arctic Greenland.

In earlier drafts, I used a lot of Inuktun words. My editor Wendy Lamb cut out most of them, smoothing out the prose, while skillfully leaving in hints of the native sounds. Wendy also had me tone down aspects of traditional Inuit life that modern readers might find off-putting. I deleted the gory chapter in which Billy Bah’s people slaughter walruses and downplayed the cultural norms of uncombed hair, unwashed bodies, head lice, and body lice. Over five rewrites, Billy Bah became more assertive, more mature, and less historically Inuit in terms of personal hygiene.

Susan: What’s the most unusual thing you’ve had to Google for a work in progress?

Katherine: I researched Inuit women washing their hair with urine. It would have put off readers, so I ended up not including that info. Again, sometimes we need to sacrifice a little accuracy for accessibility.

Susan: We all struggle to maintain “balance” in our writing lives. Could you describe your typical writing day?

Katherine: I block out about fifteen hours of morning time, Monday to Friday, for writing, and this time is for writing only. I’ll work in email or phone calls before or after, and in between my family-related commitments, such as taking my 90-year-old father-in-law to his medical appointments and my two middle-school-age children to their music lessons and other activities. I also try to squeeze in exercise time. I like to cook and we make a sit-down dinner a priority. Though I don’t write in the evenings or on weekends, I’ll sometimes do work-related reading or editing. Evenings I like to relax with my cat and play the harp.

Susan: What are you working on now?

Katherine: My novel in progress is set in England and Egypt in 1922-1923, during the opening of King Tut’s tomb. Two years ago, with my sister, brother-in-law, and niece, I visited the book’s Egyptian settings. We toured archaeological sites by small boat on the Nile and flew over the Valley of the Kings in a hot air balloon. This past April, during a family trip to England, I visited my novel’s main British setting, Highclere Castle in Berkshire, outside of London, for the second time. Highclere is now popular as the set for the hit British TV series “Downton Abbey.” I’ve been enjoying myself researching and writing, and I hope that spirit of fun and adventure will go into the book.

Susan: What was it like to have the great Madeleine L’Engle as a writing teacher?

Katherine: Madeleine was the most extraordinary person I’ve ever known. Quite tall, regal, and magnificent in her long purple and blue dresses and exotic jewelry, she projected the same sense of wonder as her classic fantasy novel A Wrinkle in Time. She was more than a little like the three otherworldly presences Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit and Mrs. Which. Her expansive vision included a belief in angels, whom she was sure appeared regularly to all of us. She emanated power, knowing, and love, and had a great talent for bringing out her students’ inherently good qualities.

As a writing teacher she wasn’t what you would expect. Instead of talking about plot, character, or story structure, she preferred more abstract themes about the larger role of writing and art in our lives, such as the concept of story being truth. Invariably she advised, “Write for an hour. Don’t think. Attempts to direct only interfere with creative work.” Her belief about writing was that it’s an entry into the larger Cosmos. Publishing books is a happy by-product, she said. The shared journey is what matters.

In the ten years I knew Madeleine, she taught me about the life of spirit and the value of community. I met most of my closest friends through her. To learn more about Madeleine as a teacher, see the book I edited, A Circle of Friends: Remembering Madeleine L’Engle ( http://www.katherinekirkpatrick.com/book_02.html ).

Thanks for interviewing me, Susan!

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This interview was previously published in abbreviated form on the fabulous historical fiction blog “Corsets, Cutlasses, & Candlesticks” http://corsetsandcutlasses.wordpress.com/ on June 30, 2014.

published by Wendy Lamb Books/ Random House, 2014

Celebrating Fifteen Years of Redcoats and Petticoats

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            Recently an envelope arrived in the mail from the literary agency that represented my earliest published work. Only one of those titles, my 1999 picture book Redcoats and Petticoats, remains in print.

When royalties start to dwindle, an out-of-print notice usually follows. It seemed to me I had a fifty percent chance of receiving disappointing news about Redcoats and, especially since I was about to leave for London the next morning, I decided not to open the envelope. Several weeks later, home again but caught up in busyness, I continued to shelve the envelope and any feelings of sorrow that might come from discovering its contents.

Finally, one evening I felt ready to face what the wheel of fortune had dealt me. As I took out my paper knife, a favorite Buddhist teaching popped into my mind: “The dharma wheel turns, pay no mind to it.” In other words, when we’re down we’re on the way up and vice versa, so knowing that ever-changing state of things let’s try to live with grace, trust, and equanimity. Somewhere, at the center of the wheel, I reminded myself, there’s always a place of peace.

I’d hoped to find a check of at least six hundred dollars. I feared I’d receive a hundred or less. The check in my hand amounted to nearly four thousand dollars. Woo-hoo! Score! I could hardly believe it. Then I remembered that the subject of my book, George Washington’s spies on Long Island, had been featured in a recent AMC television series, “Turn.” Obviously, the public’s renewed interest in the topic accounted for my boon in sales.

I laughed so hard I felt giddy. I told one of my daughters what happened. Grinning, she gave me the thumbs up. I giggled some more, at the sheer surprise of the news, but also at myself for the way I’d behaved by waiting to open the envelope.

Redcoats and Petticoats, published by Holiday House, Inc., and illustrated by Ronald Himler, has continuously been in print in hardcover since 1999. Privately owned and managed, Holiday House remains one of the few independent book publishers in New York.

 

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            Redcoats and Petticoats tells the real-life story of a brave woman named Anna (Nancy) Strong who used her clothesline to help her group of fellow undercover agents relay news to General George Washington. I’ve known the story as long as I can remember. I don’t think it’s possible to grow up, as I did, in the Three Villages of Stony Brook, Setauket, and Old Field, on the north shore of Long Island, New York, without knowing of our beloved Setauket Spy Ring. This handful of heroic citizens, via a person-to-person assembly, on foot and by horseback, by rowboat, and finally by whaleboat across Long Island Sound to Washington’s headquarters in Fairfield, Connecticut, passed on news of Tory battle plans that secret agents had overheard in the tearooms and taverns of the city of New York. In Setauket, sixty-three miles from the city, Nancy Strong did her part by signaling to a fellow spy a code that indicated the rendezvous spot in one of the nearby coves, where the secret missives would be waiting for a whaleboat captain to row them across the Sound to Patriot shores.

As part of a fourth-grade school assignment, my mother took me to meet Kate Strong, a blind woman, by then well into her nineties, the great-great-granddaughter of the famous clothesline patriot. The essay I wrote subsequently won me my first award in a writing contest sponsored by the Long Island chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. No doubt this early recognition contributed to my becoming a writer.

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The locations in Redcoats and Petticoats, beautifully and accurately rendered by artist Ronald Himler, serve as fixed points in my childhood. The Setauket Neighborhood House on Main Street, where George Washington paid a visit, was where I’d taken ballet and where my mother attended historical society functions. In the waters off Strong’s Neck, near the spot where Nancy Strong hung her clothesline, I’d clammed its muddy shallows, rowed, sailed, and, with my high-school chum Elke Dee, learned to water-ski. In the summers during college, and after, I spent many happy evenings star-gazing, boating, and barbecuing with my dear friend Lisa Lesko and her family.

The book’s opening spread shows the Battle of Setauket on the Village Green, in front of the Setauket Presbyterian Church. Here my parents, Audrey and Dale Kirkpatrick, performed marionette shows at church fairs. And here, loudly bellowing traditional Highland melodies, a bagpiper opened and concluded our family weddings, including my own in the same year Redcoats was published. Six years later, in the church cemetery where the Tories camped and uprooted tombstones to use as cooking tables, my father was buried, and four years after that, my mother laid to rest beside him.

The present Setauket Presbyterian Church structure was built in 1812. Its graveyard dates to the 1660s.

The present Setauket Presbyterian Church structure was built in 1812. Its graveyard dates to the 1660s.

Walking the path of history.

Walking the path of history.

The Caroline Church of Brookhaven, on Setauket’s Village Green, was built in 1729.

The Caroline Church of Brookhaven, on Setauket’s Village Green, was built in 1729.

Writing the book put me in touch with our distant Revolutionary War past. Reflecting on the book now puts me in touch with my own past, the flow of my life, and the lives of many dear to me. Through beloved local landmarks, I see and appreciate the distances we’ve traveled, and the well-worn, age-old paths still ahead of us.

I’m so grateful that my book has beaten the odds in the competitive venue of publishing and I now celebrate its fifteenth anniversary. Viva Redcoats and Petticoats!

Checking proofs for Redcoats with editor Mary Cash.

Checking proofs for Redcoats with editor Mary Cash.