Archive for the ‘Midnight in Lonesome Hollow’ Category

Postcard From Angela

January 1, 2014

I received an amazingly wonderful gift a week or so ago when a postcard arrived in the mail.

postcard from angela

The postcard itself was from a copy of Midnight in Lonesome Hollow, one of my Kit mysteries from American Girl.

postcard Midnight

It was forwarded to me from the publisher. I’d really, really like to write back to Angela, and tell her how much her words mean to me. Unfortunately, no return address was included.

So this seems like a good time and place to tell Angela—and all the readers who got in touch during 2013—how appreciative I am.

Some of my favorite correspondence has come via email, such as this one:

Hi Mrs. Ernst my name is Abigail and I just wanted to wish you a
merry Christmas. My American girl dolls Kit and Caroline say
merry Christmas too.

Here are two letters that arrived in the mail after I did a program about the book-making process at an elementary school.


(I do try to encourage kids when I visit schools. I’m not sure about this one.)


(The program includes one photo of my cat Sophie sitting by my computer. Sophie sometimes gets more mail than I do.)

I’ve gotten some special mail from parents this year, such as this one:

My 8 year old daughter and I just finished the first book in your
American Girl Caroline series. We are both hooked and loving it!
She is having a difficult time keeping up with her peers in
reading and this book has sparked an interest in history, sailing,
nautical knots and everything that goes with the story. She could
not wait for the next night to read another chapter. And all this
coming from the girl last year who said reading was boring
(only because she wasn't able to do as well as her classmates).
Now she brings books with her everywhere we go.

And I’ve heard from readers about the Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mysteries, too:

I love the combination of mystery and history in your books!Please
keep this series coming!!!

I just wanted to tell you how MUCH I am enjoying "Chloe's" adventures!
Thanks for your gift of writing, Kathleen!

I've almost finished re-reading all the Chloe books. I'm telling you,
after I read Heritage of Darkness -- I really really really did not want
it to end so I started the whole series over :-)

When I was ten years old, and dreaming of being an author, all I knew to hope for was having stories that I wrote turn into published books. Although that is indeed wonderful, what’s even better connecting with readers.

So for all of you who have taken the time to communicate here, on Facebook, via email or snail mail, or in person at an event—all I can say is thank you.

And for all of you who have taken the time to post an online review, recommend one of my books to a friend, or ask a librarian about my titles—huge thanks to you as well.

Hardangar Heart600w

This lovely Hardanger heart was a gift from two special readers. It hangs in my kitchen window, and reminds me every day of the reader-friends who have come into my life!

You made 2013 very special! I’m grateful, and I wish you all a most wonderful new year.

Midnight In Lonesome Hollow

March 31, 2013


Lonesome Hollow by Kathleen Ernster448w


I have always loved the southern Appalachian mountains. Although I’ve lived in Wisconsin for many years now, I went to college in West Virginia, spent many summers in western Maryland, and have enjoyed many hikes and rambles through the mountains in the southern states. My editor at American Girl knows that, so when she invited me to write a second Kit mystery, she suggested setting the book in Kentucky.  (My first Kit mystery, Danger at the Zoo, was set in Cinncinnati.)

In the original Kit books, readers meet Aunt Millie, who lives in the fictional community of Mountain Hollow, Kentucky. Setting the mystery in that region, during a visit Kit makes to Aunt Millie, opened up all kinds of new possibilities.

I did some preliminary reading about Eastern Kentucky during the Great Depression. Then I headed to Kentucky! I started at the Kentucky History Center.

KY History Center

Members of the Folklife Program staff showed me some of their collections, recommended people I should talk with, and suggested places to visit.

Then I visited the archives. The staff there helped me identify some wonderful audio tapes made in the 1960s. Elderly people were interviewed about their lives, and many of them talked about life in the mountains during the Great Depression. I learned a lot, and picked up some great details to use in the mystery.

After that, I was ready to go exploring! I stopped at a number of museums, libraries, and historic sites.


One of my favorite places was the Hensley Settlement, part of Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.


The Hensley Settlement was established on top of Brush Mountain in 1904, and was occupied until 1951. I was able to tour the preserved buildings in this remote community. The park ranger who led the tour was great!

Park Ranger448w


I loved being able to walk into the Hensley Settlement School.

Whenever possible, I try to look at a variety of sources relating to a particular topic I’m researching. To learn more, I decided to look for old photographs.

When I got home from that trip, I searched for images of schools in the Kentucky mountains during the Great Depression.


This photo helped me further imagine the experience of students attending Aunt Millie’s fictional school. (LC-USF34-055720-D)

I was able to find many photographs taken in Eastern Kentucky during the Great Depression. Some of the photographers were hired by the government to document life in the mountains. All of the historic photographs on this page are part of the Farm Security Administration collection in the Library of Congress. They were taken by Marion Post Wolcott. The number beneath each photograph is its identification number.


Historical photographs help me describe things, such as these miners’ lamps…


Or the potted flowers on the porch, and the type of butter churn this woman is using.
(LC-USF34- 055754-D)

Portraits like these also help me imagine characters. Do these people remind you of anyone in Midnight in Lonesome Hollow?

Photographs also help me develop scenes. After seeing this one, I wrote about Kit and her friends using creek beds as paths in steep terrain.


These boys are walking home from school, carrying their lunch pails. (LC-USF33-031082-M2)


A mailman on horseback stops to deliver letters, packages, and news—just as Mr. Tibbets does in Midnight in Lonesome Hollow.
(LC-USF34- 055794-D)

The steep mountains in rural Kentucky provided lots of transportation challenges during Kit’s time.


These boys are using the most reliable method of getting from one place to another. (LC-USF34-056440-D)


People who brought cars into the mountains sometimes got into trouble! These men needed the mule to pull the car from the creek. (LC-USF34-055695-D)

The photograph below was labeled “Mountain woman with groceries and supplies resting by the roadside.” During the 1930s and 1940s, people were switching from using home-made items to store-bought ones.


Although this woman brought some sacks to carry her supplies, she still carried one beautiful basket as well.

You can find more photographs by visiting the Prints and Photographs section of the Library of Congress website. Perhaps you’ll find photographs taken during the Great Depression in your area!

PS:  My visit to the Hensley Settlement in Cumberland Gap National Park on that gorgeous autumn day inspired me to write several poems.  One of them, “Inarticulate, 1908,” was published in a journal called Appalachian Heritage.  That was my first published poem!

American Girl and Me

May 17, 2012

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:

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….