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Meet the author of 'Bachelor Girl' | FOX43 Book Club

Kim van Alkemade is the author of "Bachelor Girl," FOX43's Book Club pick of the month for April, and several other historical fiction novels.

YORK, Pa. — The FOX43 Book Club highlights the works of local authors with ties to south-central Pennsylvania.

April's pick, "Bachelor Girl," is the work of New York Times Best Seller author Kim van Alkemade. She was born and raised on the East Coast and eventually became a professor at Shippensburg University, teaching writing. Van Alkemade now makes her home in New York.

The novel is inspired by the true story of Helen Winthrope Weyant, an unknown actress who was catapulted into the public eye when New York Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert bequeathed a third of his fortune to her in 1939. The story follows Ruppert's employees and Weyant as they attempt to unravel the mystery of why the millionaire would leave such a large inheritance to the actress in his death.

 The story, when it originally broke, gained national coverage in newspapers around the country.

"Really all I know about her besides these newspaper articles when the inheritance was announced and these newspaper men like crowded into her house and they were like, 'Why you? Why did he leave you money?' and she said to them, 'I don't know; we were just friends. He never even took me dancing,'" van Alkemade said. "So I was like, 'Okay, what else then?'"

This newspaper coverage set van Alkemade's imagination running, but it was not the initial inspiration for "Bachelor Girl."

"I was actually researching my first book, 'Orphan #8'... and this incident where the New York Yankees almost bought the property of the orphanage to build Yankee Stadium in Harlem—that was a real thing I came across when I was researching the orphanage," van Alkemade said. "It was front-page news in The New York Times in, I think, 1921. And it really just started me down this rabbit hole.

"I thought, I can invent a story that fits into this sort of historical situation, and it would give me the opportunity to really explore that time period—Prohibition Era in New York City—from these two really specific perspectives."

Van Alkemade blended reality with fiction to create her compelling narrative.

"What I really liked about developing the character of Jacob Ruppert is that in some ways I know a lot about him, almost every detail you read about him in the novel I did research," she shared. "I don't know what he thought or said, but all these little things: the dog shows, the peacocks, the money, the Arctic expeditions. He was so eccentric and so interesting, but still mysterious."

The author's research didn't stop at the characters and plot. She also read novels from the 1920s and subsequent years in order to get a feel for the writing style of the time. 

"When you read it, if you can't really tell the difference between what was real or could have been real or seems imaginary, that's really the effect I'm trying to achieve," van Alkemade said.

Her deep dive into the world of the 1920s also took her to New York City, where she took in a revival of a Eugene O'Neill play. The playwright is hugely influential in Helen's life and career endeavors. His plays tended to focus on social issues important to both van Alkemade and Helen, including minority rights.

Van Alkemade talks more about her personal life in the interview below. Those interested in a more in-depth look at the author's inspiration and the extensive research behind "Bachelor Girl" can watch FOX43's full interview with van Alkemade above.

The author also performed a public reading of her novel at Susquehanna University. The recording can be found online here.

To watch the FOX43 Book Club's discussion of "Bachelor Girl," click here. To participate in future discussions, please join the Facebook group!

You can follow along with van Alkemade online on:

Van Alkemade has a third novel, "Counting Lost Stars," set to come out on July 18. Those interested can hear her talk more about her writing process for this book in the full interview above. The author is also working on a fourth novel.

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