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Frequently Asked Questions

What kind of research did you do to write the "Cape," "Mask," and "Boots" books?

Kay with Bike.jpg

I do not start writing a word of my books before doing as much research as I can to understand the era and the people I'm writing about. Often it takes me a year or more to learn about a particular era before I feel ready to begin writing. And even when I do finally sit down and start crafting the story, I keep on researching! I never feel like I can read enough on a topic to know it all, but I try my best to immerse myself in the world of that historical timeframe.

Here are some of the books, films, and websites I used to help me understand the world of superheroes, World War II, the ENIAC Six, and life in the 1940s.

The Great Women Superheroes

By Trina Robbins (Kitchen Sink Press, 1996)


Great Women Cartoonists

By Trina Robbins (Watson-Guptill, 2001)


Pretty In Ink: North American Women Cartoonists 1896-2013

By Trina Robbins  (Fantagraphics, 2013)


The Supergirls: Fashion, Feminism, Fantasy, and the History of Comic Book Heroines

By Mike Madrid (Exterminating Angel Press , 2009)


Divas, Dames & Daredevils: Lost Heroines of Golden Age Comics

By Mike Madrid (Exterminating Angel Press , 2013)


Superheroes! Capes, Cowls, and the Creation of Comic Book Culture

By Laurence Maslon, based on the documentary film by Michael Kantor (Crown Archetype, 2013)


The Big Book of Superheroes

By Bart King (Gibbs Smith, 2014)


The Secret History of Wonder Woman

By Jill Lepore (Knopf, 2014)


Superhero Comics of the Golden Age

By Mike Benton (Taylor, 1992)


Superhero: The Secret Origin of a Genre

By Peter Coogan (MonkeyBrain Books, 2006)


Pioneer Programmer: Jean Jennings Bartik and the Computer That Changed the World

By Jean Jennings Bartik (Truman State University Press, 2013)


Double Agent: The First Hero of World War II and How the FBI Outwitted and Destroyed a Nazi Spy Ring

By Peter Duffy (Scribner 2014)


America in the 1940s

By Edmund Lindop (Lerner Publishing, 2010)


Un-American: The Incarceration of Japanese Americans During World War II

By Richard Cahan and Michael Williams (CityFiles Press, 2016)



The Computers: The Remarkable Story of the ENIAC Programmers

ENIAC Programmers Project

Kathy Kleiman, Kate McMahon, Jon Palfreman


Top Secret Rosies: The Female “Computers” of WWII

Directed by LeAnn Erickson, written by Cynthia Baughman


Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines


With Lynda Carter, Lindsay Wagner, Kristy Guevara-Flanagan



The Federal Bureau of Investigation: Duquesne Spy Ring


The Kathleen McNulty Mauchly Antonelli Story

What did Kate Warne look like?

Kate Warne Painting.jpg

As I researched "The Detective's Assistant," I learned there are no known photographs of Kate Warne. She lived in a time before photography was commonplace, and people might sit for one photograph their entire life. While there is a photo purporting to be Kate Warne undercover as a Civil War soldier, the person in the photo has been identified as John C. Babcock. However, the photo shown here is a portrait painted of Kate Warne in 1866, gifted to the Chicago History Museum in 1924. So we can get a sense of what she looked like after all!

In Allan Pinkerton's book The Expressman and the Detective, Pinkerton describes Kate Warne this way:


"I was seated one afternoon in my private office, pondering deeply over some matters, and arranging various plans, when a lady was shown in. She was above the medium height, slender, graceful in her movements, and perfectly self-possessed in her manner. I invited her to take a seat, and then observed that her features, although not what would be called handsome, were of a decidedly intellectual cast. Her eyes were very attractive, being dark blue, and filled with fire. She had a broad, honest face, which would cause one in distress instinctively to select her as a confidante, in whom to confide in time of sorrow, or from whom to seek consolation. She seemed possessed of the masculine attributes of firmness and decision, but to have brought all her faculties under complete control." 

How did you research Kate Warne for 'Detective's Assistant'?

Kate Warne Painting.jpg

The facts around Kate Warne's life are limited. Her tombstone at Chicago's Graceland Cemetery is fading, and no records exist of her early life. It is believed she was born in 1833 in Chemung County, New York. And she died in Chicago on January 28, 1868, after suffering from pneumonia. Her grave was dug in the Pinkerton family plot, and she is surrounded by her former colleagues – Timothy Webster, George Bangs, and Allan Pinterton himself. Many other Pinkerton family members and employees are there, too.

In researching Kate Warne's life, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Allan Pinkerton's accounts of his detective cases. Written in a fast-paced, lively tone, they are thrilling reads about the early days of the detective business. My copy of The Detective and the Somnambulist, the Murderer and the Fortuneteller dates to 1875, and I always sneeze when I first turn its yellowed, musty pages. The cover features an embossed unblinking eye, and Pinkerton's "We Never Sleep" logo appears below it. I feel lucky to have found this copy, and I cherish it.

I also relied on newspaper reports, magazines, and many other books in my research. Among them were Herndon's Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements about Abraham Lincoln and Norma B. Cuthbert's Lincoln and the Baltimore Plot 1861: From Pinkerton Records and Related Papers (at left). My copy of Cuthbert's work, also with stiff yellow pages and that same "old" smell, is marked up with sticky tabs to show where Kate Warne's actions are mentioned. Throughout the Baltimore investigation she played the part of Mrs. Barley, and Pinkerton's notes record her as M.B. Here's an example:

[Philadelphia] Friday 22nd February 1861
At about 3.00 a.m. A.P. came to my room, sick, and tired out, and told me that he would not leave the city until evening. Mr. P– then went to his room and I went to bed tired out. I got up at 6.00 a.m. and saw Lincoln raise a Flag on the State House. The streets were crowded with people. After breakfast Mr. P– told me that Lincoln would go to Harrisburg, and at 6.00 p.m. would leave for Philadelphia: that I should leave the St. Louis Hotel at 9.45 p.m. for the Baltimore Depot, where I would meet Dunn and get a verbal report from him, and also any package he might have for Mr. P–. A.P. gave me all necessary instructions and then left. . ."


To get a sense of the appearance of my characters in the late 1850s, I turned to the fashion magazine of the times: Godey's Lady's Book and Magazine. I found a copy featuring articles and images from July through December 1856. The dresses were wide and wonderful, the shawls ornate, the hairstyles sleek.

The magazine also presented music sheets, embroidery patterns, poetry, ideas for curtains, and more. There were stories for readers amusement and education. Some of my favorites are titled "Beauty Out West," "The Art and Mystery of Managing Canaries," and the curious "How I Came to Detest Babies!" Who needs the internet when Godey's Lady's Book is nearby?

Was there really a Home for the Friendless?


I tried to base as much of the story as I could on real events and places in history. Some I learned about in Allan Pinkerton's detective accounts that included Kate Warne; others I discovered in reading old newspapers of the day. 

When I read about Chicago's Home for the Friendless, I was intrigued. The name alone was fascinating – a testament to the desperate times as well as just a little bit humorous. I wanted to learn more.


According to the Encyclopedia of Chicago, "Parents on their way west were known to abandon their children on the streets of Chicago. The 1851 city charter noted children 'destitute of proper parental care, wandering about the streets, committing mischief.' " And so the Chicago Home for the Friendless was built in 1858 at 911 Wabash Street to help care for and house these lost souls.

The drawing featured here is taken from the 21st Annual Report of the Chicago Home for the Friendless, for the year 1879.

What is a daguerrotype?


A daguerrotype was an early photographic process invented by Louis Daguerre and introduced in 1839. It was popular until about 1860, when it was replaced by simpler, less expensive photographic processes. Here is an example of a daguerrotype of a bride and groom from about 1854, like the one Nell uncovers of Aunt Kitty and Matthew Warne in The Detective's Assistant.


I included this in the book because it's interesting to think about taking only ONE PHOTOGRAPH of ourselves in our whole lives. In my phone right now, I probably have 1,000 photographs.

Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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