Interview with Kim van Alkemade, Author of the New York Times Best Seller, Orphan #8

Interviewed by: Abby Russell

23 November 2020

        Kim van Alkemade is an author from New York, NY, raised in suburban New Jersey by her late father, an immigrant from the Netherlands; as well as her mother, a descendant of Eastern European Jewish immigrants. Based on her family and their deep-rooted history, she has listed them as being key inspirations for her writing—which can be seen though her appreciation of history within her written works. Before her success as an author, Alkemade attended the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in English, as well as a Master of Arts (MA) and PhD in English at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Aside from her two novels—Orphan #8 in 2015 and Bachelor Girl in 2018—she has also published creative nonfiction essays in literary journals that include Alaska Quarterly Review, CutBank, and So To Speak. In addition to being an author, she currently is a professor at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania in Shippensburg, PA, where she teaches writing in the English Department. 

        The first time I met Kim van Alkemade was in 2016, when she was invited to speak to my high school creative writing class about her debut novel Orphan #8, that had come out a year prior, in 2015. Inspired by true events, this Historical Fiction novel centers around a woman named Rachel Rabinowitz, who is confronted by her traumatic childhood that took place in a New York City Jewish Orphanage, where she was forced to endure dangerous medical experiments that left her permanently disfigured. While Rachel believed that she had successfully repressed the majority of painful memories from her time in the orphanage, the wounds are opened once again when she becomes a nurse—discovering that one of her patients is the doctor who performed the dangerous medical experiments on her. This realization leaves Rachel with an incredibly difficult decision to make: to either get revenge or give mercy to the very person behind her painful past that she thought she had successfully shut out and left behind her.   

        Since initially meeting her in 2016, Kim van Alkemade’s novel Orphan #8 has become a New York Times and a USA Today Bestseller. In 2018, she released her second Historical Fiction novel titled, Bachelor Girl—inspired by the true story of Jacob Ruppert, the owner of the New York Yankees from 1915 until his death in 1939, where he mysteriously gave a sizable amount of his estate to an unknown woman named Helen Winthrop Weyant, leaving her as one his three chief beneficiaries. 

        During this interview, conducted on September 30, 2020, we primarily discussed Alkemade’s overall process of writing novels, rather than about her published books specifically—which included why she wanted to become a writer, what her inspirations for writing were, how she finds her inspirations for writing, as well as what her writing process looks like being the author of Historical Fiction novels. As of now, there is no concrete information on a new novel of hers being in the works.

What first led you to want to pursue writing as a career?

I always wanted to be a writer and I did a lot of creative as well as academic writing throughout my life. I was led to start writing a novel as a promise to myself to see if I could stick with a writing project for my own satisfaction.


Where do you tend to get your inspiration from when writing?

My inspiration comes from my family history. By reaching into my family history, I find stories that lead me to other stories that all start to come together into a larger story that needs to be told.


I noticed that both your novels, Orphan #8 and Bachelor Girl, are part of the Historical Fiction genre.  What initially attracted you to writing Historical Fiction novels?  

I always loved history. In college I double majored in English and History so writing historical fiction is the perfect blend of those two passions. I love the research and discovery that comes with historical fiction, and I like taking readers to a specific historical world.


Because of your focus on writing in the Historical Fiction genre, what is your writing process like?

I have a pretty intensive research phase, after which I am able to outline a story. When I start actually writing chapters, I do additional research as I go. Once I have a draft of the novel, then I'm able to do my favorite part which is revising sentences.


What aspects of your creative process do you enjoy most? Which are most challenging?

The first draft is the most challenging because it is so hard to start with a blank page. I really enjoy discovering more about the story as I engage in revision and editing.