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Making a Scene: ‘Orphan Train’ author to visit Fargo

Author Christina Baker Kline wrote the best-selling novel, Orphan Train, based on the trains that carried thousands of abandoned children from the East Coast to the Midwest. Special to The Forum 1 / 2
Author Christina Baker Kline's novel, Orphan Train, was chosen as the 2014 One Book, One Community selection for Fargo, Moorhead, and West Fargo. Special to The Forum.2 / 2

FARGO – Best-selling author, Christina Baker Kline, will be in the Fargo-Moorhead area this week to discuss her novel, “Orphan Train.”

The book was selected by public vote to be the Fargo, Moorhead, and West Fargo Public Libraries’ 2014 One Book, One Community selection. The reading program launches Wednesday with an invitation-only tea with Baker Kline at Moorhead Public Library in the afternoon. Later in the evening she will give a presentation at The Stage at Island Park.

“Orphan Train” is based on the trains that carried thousands of abandoned children from the East Coast to the Midwest and other parts of the United States in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The novel revolves around an elderly widow who was once such a child and the 17-year-old foster child who is fulfilling a community-service requirement and staying out of juvenile hall by helping the woman. The story takes place in contemporary Maine and Depression-era Minnesota.

Baker Kline has written five novels. She has also written non-fiction and has worked as an editor, writing coach, and she served as Writer-in-Residence at Fordham University from 2007 to 2011.

She was born in Cambridge, England, and raised there as well as in the southern United States and Maine. Her husband, David Kline, grew up in Fargo.

What inspired you to write this book?

My mother-in-law is from Jamestown, N.D., and her father was featured in an article about orphan train riders in Jamestown. He and his siblings were orphaned and came on a train from Missouri, though they were not part of the official orphan train movement.

At that time in the early 20th century, there were so many children who were homeless and disenfranchised and had no one taking care of them who were being sent on trains and on cars all over the country, on their own, pretty much, and they had to find their own way.

A lot of people don’t know that.

At the time of the orphan trains, there were 30,000 children living on the streets of New York City.

This Methodist minister came up with the idea. It was a labor program, no question. Ultimately they sent 250,000 children from the East Coast to the Midwest and other places all over the United States over a 75-year period.

How does it feel to have your book chosen for community reading events?

That’s the most exciting part of all of it for me because this story of the orphan train deserves to be heard. There have been many other books about the orphan trains. I’m delighted this one hit a nerve and that people are learning about it. But also, it’s a story about resilience. It’s about the power of relationships and friendships. And ultimately, I think it’s about how the secrets we keep can keep us from becoming our true selves, our full selves.

What do you like about the public events?

The feedback. I love hearing what people have to say and what affected them about the novel and what resonated for them. I like getting their questions afterwards.

I do a kind of unusual presentation. I have these incredible photographs from the Library of Congress and The Children’s Aid Society. I have artifacts, photographs, postcards and statistics about the movement. I really focus on the orphan train movement and let people know the true story behind the novel.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a new novel, and I’m doing a ton of speaking engagements, which is taking a lot of my time because the book has been chosen as a community or school read in dozens of places around the country.

There are also some nonprofits that I donate my time to, like Casa, which helps foster kids. There’s another one called Roots and Wings that is wonderful that also helps foster kids.

Between those nonprofits that I support and the speaking engagements, I’m trying to write my new novel, so that’s what I’m doing mostly, and raising my three boys.

How do you make sure you have time to write?

When I’m working on a novel, I have to be very disciplined. At the moment I’m still doing research and some of the preliminary writing so it’s a different part of the process.

When I start writing my first draft in earnest, as I will in September, it’s sort of like a workout regimen. My goal is 20 pages a week, which is usually four pages a day, but, if it has to be, it could be 10 pages one day and two pages the next day. By the end of the week I have to have 20 pages. I make myself be absolutely disciplined about the pages because if I did it by time, I would just sit there thinking about my novel.

What I’ve learned after writing five novels is the secret to not getting writer’s block or not feeling too pressured is to jump in wherever I’m inspired. I might start out by writing a page of dialogue or a page of description and it might not even be in the next scene, chronologically, but I’m a ruthless editor of my own work, so I always know that I can come back and revise it.

Did becoming a best-selling author change you as a writer?

I would have been happy to be what’s called a midlist writer for the rest of my life. I have a great editor and a wonderful publishing house. I’m very happy with my publishing experience.

Before this book, I had never sold more than 30,000 copies of a book, but that’s fairly respectable. If most novels sell 5,000 to 10,000 copies, I was doing well. I made a living and I got advancements, and my publisher seemed relatively happy with me. I had a career as a writer, and I honestly didn’t aspire to have any different kind of career. I liked my job.

This is a very different experience. What I appreciate about it is that I have a broader impact and reach. My novel is being read by millions of people. I think it’s sold 1.2 or 1.3 million copies, but I always talk to people who say they’ve loaned their book to five people, so I know it’s being widely read.

I love to hear from people at events or on my Facebook message page, telling me how words have affected them. That’s a lovely experience.

How does it feel to know that millions of people are reading your book?

It is exciting. It’s exciting to be at events and have four or five book clubs in the audience where they’ve all read it and have responses to it.

It’s exciting to know that your story can affect people emotionally. And it’s a delight that the story of the orphan trains is being learned by so many people.

If You Go

WHAT: One Book, One Community author visit with Christina Baker Kline

WHEN: 7 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday

WHERE: The Stage at Island Park, 333 4th St. S., Fargo

INFO: Free and open to the public. Book signing to follow presentation. Online at

Tracy Frank

Tracy Frank is a SheSays, Variety, and Farmer's Forum reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to

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