I've worn many bonnets over the years: writer, reader, historical interpreter, curator, reenactor, naturalist, educator. Never had a job I didn't love! As a child, I dreamed of being a full-time writer.
Now I have the fun of writing books about ideas
that fascinate me, experiences that moved me,
and historical tidbits that capture my imagination.

About Kathleen

I was born in Pennsylvania but grew up in Maryland, surrounded by books! My mother was a librarian and my father an avid reader. Before going on vacation, my mom would bring home historical fiction about whatever area or historic site we planned to visit. (Obviously that really made an impression on me.) I have two sisters, and we all love to read. When I was a kid, I'd read with a flashlight under the covers when I was supposed to be asleep.

kathleen ernst, jack and jill crosscut saw contest, 1980, west virginai universityLater, I spent several summers working in Western Maryland. I backpacked 500 miles on the Appalachian Trail, went canoeing on the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, and biking along the C & O Canal near Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. Frequent tramps over Antietam National Battlefield inspired a deep fascination with Civil War history.

I went to college at West Virginia University and majored in Forestry. (That’s me in the orange shirt in the photo, the year my friend Rob and I won the blue ribbon in the Jack and Jill Crosscut Saw competition.) At that time, I planned to be a park ranger.

I was interested in Environmental Education, and took courses about trees, birds, plants, geology, weather, wildlife...etc., etc. It was a wonderful program, and it helped shape my wish to instill a strong sense of place in my novels. While at WVU I also took a lot of creative writing and history classes.

I had several seasonal jobs in the environmental education world, including stints at the Big Cypress Nature Center in Florida, Green County Parks Department in Ohio, Rocky Gap State Park in Maryland, and Glacier National Park in Montana.

kathleen ernst, spinning flax, old world wisconsinMy first permanent job was at an outdoor living history museum in the Midwest called Old World Wisconsin. I started working there in 1982, and stayed for twelve years.

Old World has over fifty restored buildings, beautifully situated on 576 acres within a state forest. It was the best training ground imaginable for an historical fiction writer!

At the top of the page are photos of me working as an interpreter at Old World. Over the years, I worked in just about every exhibit. The photo at left shows me spinning flax at Schultz, a German farm restored to 1860. I loved working in the old buildings, thinking about the people who first lived there, and sharing their stories with visitors.

For most of my time at Old World Wisconsin I served as Curator of Interpretation and Collections. At the same time, I wrote historical fiction as a hobby. I wrote my first novel when I was about fifteen, and I didn't get a book contract until I was thirty-five! Along the way I did publish some magazine articles and essays. 

Moving to Wisconsin didn't mean I forgot the places that helped instill my interest in Civil War history. I spent over a decade working on my first nonfiction book, Too Afraid To Cry:  Maryland Civilians in the Antietam Campaign. That project also provided inspiration for several novels, including my first published books: The Night Riders of Harpers Ferry and The Bravest Girl in Sharpsburg.

kathleen ernst, emmy award, educational programmingKathleen Ernst - Project Director and ScriptwriterMy next "day" job took me in a new direction: helping develop and produce instructional video programs for public television. Writing for TV is very different than writing novels or nonfiction books. I had to learn what parts of a story were best told in words, and what parts best told with visual images. I wrote most of the scripts as well, for series such as Exploring Wisconsin Our Home, Investigating Wisconsin History, and New Dawn of Tradition: A Native American Powwow.

My final project was a series called Cultural Horizons. That's me on the night it won an Emmy. I got to work with some great kids! Click on the image to the left to watch the winning episode.

In 2001, while working with public television, I also started writing novels for American Girl in my free time. The first three of these books were for their History Mystery series. When the series ended I wrote mysteries for Kit (Danger at the Zoo and Midnight In Lonesome Hollow), Josefina (Secrets in the Hills), Kirsten (The Runaway Friend), and Molly (Clues in the Shadows).

During this period I was working on independent novels as well, such as Hearts of Stone (one of my personal favorites), which was published by Dutton and won multiple awards.

I was traveling a lot, and trying to spend time with my family. It got too difficult to juggle all those things, so in 2004, I became a full time writer. Now I'm busier than ever! I spent three years working in secret with a wonderful team at American Girl to create Caroline Abbott, one of their historical characters (now retired) and write six books about her. The first, Meet Caroline, spent three weeks on the Publishers Weekly Top 25 Best Selling Children's Books list—officially making me a best selling author!

The seventh book, Traitor In The Shipyard: A Caroline Mystery, was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best Traditional Children's Mystery. The ninth and final, The Smuggler's Secrets: A Caroline Mystery, came out in 2015. 

And in 2017 my newest American Girl book, Gunpowder And Tea Cakes: My Journey With Felicity, was released. 

kathleen ernst, pottawatomie lighthouse, docents, photo by kay klubertanzDuring those same years I was also creating my Chloe Ellefson mystery series for adults and mature teens. These are traditional mysteries (no explicit sex, violence, or gore) about a reluctant sleuth and her police officer boyfriend Roelke McKenna. She's a curator at Old World Wisconsin; he's a cop in the nearby village of Eagle.

This award-winning series is set in early 1980s—when I began working at Old World—and often includes historical threads set much earlier. The initial ten Chloe books were published by Midnight Ink Books in trade paperback and multiple ebook formats. Several are also available as large print hardcovers, and the initial three mysteries have been published as unabridged audiobooks that can be acquired from Audible.

Old World Murder (published 2010), The Heirloom Murders (2011), The Light Keeper’s Legacy (2012), Heritage of Darkness (2013) Tradition of Deceit, (2014), Death on the Prairie (2015), A Memory of Muskets, (2016), Mining For Justice (2017), The Lacemaker's Secret (2018), and Fiddling With Fate (2019) have each spent over two hundred days ranked in the Top 1% of all US printed book sales (Source: NPD BookScan). Photo of bestselling author Kathleen Ernst at Utne Norway taken by Mr Ernst.

The eleventh Chloe Ellefson mystery, The Weaver's Revenge, can now be pre-ordered from HenschelHAUS Publishing Three Towers Press (which will also be reprinting the first ten Chloe books).

My fortieth book, Balancing - Poems of the Female Immigrant Experience in the Upper Midwest, 1830-1930, will arrive this summer from Little Creek Press.

And coming out this fall will be Lies of Omission, the inaugural book in my new Wisconsin-based Hanneke Bauer historical mystery series from Level Best Books.

My husband Scott (aka "Mr. Ernst") and I live in the wonderful state of Wisconsin. Gardening is a big interest of ours. We’ve been turning our suburban yard into a wildlife oasis of native plants, shrubs and trees—and adding heirloom vegetables to our garden.

Scott is also my business partner. He handles our accounting, sales, and this website. We enjoy hiking together (he's also day hiking the Ice Age National Trail) and we love driving around the Upper Midwest together scouting book locations.

  Bestselling author Kathleen Ernst and Mr Ernst hiking a Wisconsin trail.
My hobbies include cooking and handwork of all kinds. I love to spotlight different folk arts in my novels, and I enjoy trying my hand at new skills. And of course I love to read.

I also love being able to work at home. I have a great office space from which I can watch all kinds of birds, including the local turkey flock. My favorite thing about being a writer? Connecting with people who enjoy my stories, and who love disappearing into the pages of a good book.

I invite you to join me online using the links below. Happy reading!