American Girl and Me

I know lots of American Girl fans are eager to learn more about the new Historical Character coming this fall. Since I created the character, I am too! Her name was announced this week:

I had a marvelous time writing six books about Caroline. While I can’t tell you anything more about her yet, I can answer one of the most common questions I hear from readers:  “How did you get started writing for American Girl?”

Actually, I first connected with American Girl long before anyone at the company knew that I was a writer! When the first books and dolls were introduced in 1986, I was working as a curator at Old World Wisconsin, a large outdoor museum. During the day I got all kinds of hands-on experience with historical activities, from gardening to cooking to crafts. I also had the fun of conducting research to support new events and programs at the museum.

That’s me working at one of the Norwegian farms at Old World Wisconsin.

In the evenings, I wrote historical novels. During those early years I was practicing, learning the skills I needed to be a successful writer. And I had big dreams about that!

While American Girl was developing its first Historical Characters, I got a few telephone calls from researchers at the company. They called me because I was a curator, not knowing that I was very interested in writing historical stories. Sometimes the researcher was looking for a particular antique to use as a model for an object in one of the stories. In each case, I would check the antiques in Old World Wisconsin’s collection to see if we had something that might be helpful. If so, I’d take a photograph and send it to American Girl.

Some of old objects are on display at Old World Wisconsin.  Many more are kept in storage.

Once or twice someone from American Girl read me a short paragraph from one of the stories being developed. They wanted to see if the specific details about some process or activity were accurate. I could tell that everyone involved with American Girl cared a lot about getting the details right.

Whenever I got one of those calls, I was happy to help. And each time I hung up the phone I’d think, I’d love to write American Girl stories one day!

After working at Old World Wisconsin for twelve years, I moved on and took a job developing programs for public television. I was still writing in my spare time, and in 1996, my first historical novel was published.

Soon after that, editors at American Girl decided to develop a new line of books called History Mysteries. Someone who worked at the company knew of my interest in historical fiction, and she recommended me. The editor in charge of the History Mysteries called and asked if I’d like to try writing one. That call was a huge surprise.

Of course I said yes!

That was the first time I tried writing a mystery.  It took me a couple of attempts to get the story put together well, but in time American Girl accepted my manuscript.

This was my first book written for American Girl. The main character, Suzette, lives in northern Wisconsin

Later I wrote two more History Mysteries, Whistler in the Dark and Betrayal at Cross Creek.  After Betrayal at Cross Creek was published, the company ended the History Mystery series.

The editors knew how much readers were enjoying the historical mysteries, though. They decided to publish mysteries about the main Historical Characters. My editor invited me to write a mystery about Kit.

It was a real privilege to write a story about such a beloved character! I worked hard to develop a story that fit well with the first six Kit books. I traveled to Cincinnati to learn as much as I could about Kit’s time and setting.

Danger at the Zoo was the first book I wrote about one of American Girl’s Historical Characters.

In time I also wrote a second Kit mystery, as well as mysteries about Josefina, Kirsten, and Molly. (You can find stories and pictures about all these books on my website:  http://kathleenernst.com)

This is my most recent American Girl book. It was fun to write a story about Molly!

I was having a fine time writing these books.  Then, one day, I got another telephone call from American Girl.  Editors were ready to plan a new Historical Character.  Would I be interested in writing the books?

Of course I said yes!

Next month, I’ll share a bit about how that project developed.  Stay tuned….

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22 Responses to “American Girl and Me”

  1. chipetawrite Says:

    Kathleen,
    It is always so interesting to learn how a writer became a published author. I look forward to learning how your latest project developed.

  2. leawait Says:

    Thanks for sharing! I’m fascinated — and jealous! (And now I know both you and Mary Casanova — two American Girls authors! My granddauaghters are very impressed!) Really looking forward to hearing more about Caroline .. which is a traditional name in my family, held at the moment by my oldest daughter. It was also my grandmother’s. Write on, Kathleen!
    Lea

    • Kathleen Ernst Says:

      Thanks for checking in, Lea! Like most things in this biz (as you know), my work for AG is a combination of working my butt off and good luck. I’m glad the name has good connotations!

  3. Lane Hill House Says:

    So excited for you, Kathleen!! I brailled the first Kirsten books when I was with Volunteer Braillists in Madison. Several of us took the American Girl series and they were done in no time. I know they would love to braille your books, Braille Library & Transcribing Services, Inc., next to the Hilldale Post Office. Kathleen in Missouri

    • Kathleen Ernst Says:

      Wow, thanks for sharing that, Kathleen! I’d love to have these books brailled. Fingers crossed. And by the way, I spent a week in Missouri last fall, and really enjoyed my travels.

  4. alabamacharms Says:

    So inspired by you! I too want to write for American Girl when I get older. I already have a publishing company who is interested in my writing! I’ve met several authors at the store in Atlanta and was wondering if you were going to have a “Meet the Author” lunch or dinner and where/when it is.

    • Kathleen Ernst Says:

      Hi! It’s terrific that you’ve already gotten positive feedback from a publishing company. Hang on to your writing dreams and go after them! I had to work hard for a long time to achieve some of my goals, but I love writing and can’t imagine *not* doing it. I’m not sure yet what my schedule for AG store visits is going to be, but as soon as I get things confirmed I’ll post the information on my website. Or sign up for my email list, if you’d like, and you’ll be among the first to know! I hope to meet you in person one day. And keep writing!

  5. Blake Gripling Says:

    Was it any difficult to write something about a historical character? Were there any realism tradeoffs you needed to consider?

    Oh, and I’m also looking forward to Caroline’s saga, too.

    • Kathleen Ernst Says:

      Interesting questions! Since almost all of my books are historical fiction, I’m very comfortable in the genre. I look to the research for historical events that can frame each specific story, and then I consider what personal/emotional journey Caroline (or any other historical character) can make within the context of the events. That way I can pull in real events from the past, but also make the character one that modern readers can relate to because the emotions are the same.

  6. Liz Says:

    Ms. Ernst,

    Thank you so much for sharing your ‘story’ about how you began writing for American Girl! It was fun to read!

    I’m an 18 year old who loves American Girl dolls and writing too. I dream of writing books for girls one day, and am trying my best to learn the most I can about writing. I love your blog and your books (your Kit mystery is one of my favorites!). Thanks for being such an inspiration! 🙂

    Can’t wait to learn more about Caroline!

    ~Liz~

    • Kathleen Ernst Says:

      Hi Liz – Thanks for sharing your thoughts–and for your kind words. (And sorry it took a while to respond – I was out of town.) When I was 18 I was just like you–dreaming of writing books and learning what I could. It took me a while to break into print in part because I stopped learning when I got out of college. I kept writing, but my writing wasn’t improving. Once I started taking writing classes again, and learning about the writing business, my career really got started. So keep doing what you’re doing–you are definitely on the right track!

  7. Taylor Says:

    is it possible to know what color her hair is please

    • Kathleen Ernst Says:

      Hi Taylor! I’m afraid I’m not able to share any more details right now. When I can, I’ll post here!

      • Blake Gripling Says:

        Besides, the best thing to do is to wait until American Girl issues any official statements. Rockstar Games also ended up with their fans begging and spamming their site with questions regarding their upcoming GTA game, much to their chagrin. That’s why they decided to tell their fans to keep quiet until further notice.

  8. Dokta Holland Says:

    Hi! I can’t wait!
    That’s not my website, but i like it alot

  9. agthewayiseeit Says:

    Thanks so much!

  10. Ferrin/ Glamourousdollies Says:

    I’m so excited for Caroline! Could you tell us what Caroline’s collection might be like? Like Kirsten’s, or Addy’s? Thanks 4 Reading!
    P.S. Check out my YouTube account– Glamourousdollies

  11. chiilmama Says:

    We just got back from Old World Wisconsin and will have a big photo and video filled feature up this month at http://www.chiilmama.com/, along with Caroline coverage!! Loved it. Chi, IL isn’t far at all and it was great to show my 9 & 11 year old kids such a cool slice of the past.

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