Gail de Marcken has been lucky enough to have lived all over the world. She joined the Peace Corps in 1965, and argued her way to a posting four days upriver in Borneo, where she met another volunteer. Two years later, he called her in Minnesota and offered to carry supplies back to her teacher's college. He had just gotten a job with the Peace Corps located near the college. Three days late they got married, and she went with him back to Borneo. They had thirty of their thirty-four years together in Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe. They have three children, and have experienced together: one war, a coup, an evacuation, ten countries (three in which they were shot at), malaria, and lots of adventures. Most recently, they lived in Latvia. Over the years, they managed to return to their beloved fifteen acres of land near Ely, Minnesota, every summer. They now live there, in paradise, full-time.
Gail has found models for her characters in the people and figures that populate her world. The inspiration for Miss Hunnicutt came from Gail's sister-in-law. A great and animated teacher, she is nicknamed Rubber Face. The name comes from the fact that she loves to make faces, and is an avid collector of rubber noses. Her students know what subject is coming, and how quiet they have to be, by watching the type of nose she is wearing. Like Miss Hunicutt, she is not a timid person.
Also, in Miss Hunnicutt's Hat, Gail was particularly interested in the portrayal of Yadda. She tried to make him appear vaguely Jewish or Middle Eastern and thus different from the others in a more important way. The boys are always sneering or shooting at him with their slingshots, but then they are impressed with his juggling skills and want to learn for themselves. Perhaps they will learn to appreciate him.
The model that she used for McSnoot was an older Peace Corps volunteer she met while serving in Lithuania. It was the volunteer's young spirit that influenced Gail to let McSnoot be the only character to change and learn. The rest of the town just copies the chicken hat that pleased the queen.
In a Latvian church near her home, Gail found a polished head that inspired her portrayal of the king in The Quiltmaker's Gift. She liked the king's head so much that she made his crown fall off a number of times so that people could see it. It is to Gail's niece that the king is reading when the Quiltmaker finds him at the end of his gift-giving travels. She also met a merry Greek woman, who became her inspiration for the Quiltmaker. They are now great friends.