I had the pleasure of interviewing the sister authors Kathy and Becky Hepinstall about their book Sisters of Shiloh. Becky was there in person and Kathy joined us via Skype. They are so hilarious and down-to-earth! I truly enjoyed getting to know them and I hope this interview conveys the dynamic they have as sisters and writing partners. Their love for each other is very apparent, but they also bicker like true sisters. Becky is funny and an amazing story teller. Kathy is sarcastic and brilliant. I hope you enjoy getting to know them a little bit more through this interview.
Tell me about the process of getting Sisters of Shiloh published.
Becky: It took twelve years after the book was written to get published. Kathy wrote several books on her own before this book, including The House of Gentle Men, written fifteen years ago. She is also a copy writer in the advertising industry and has done work for companies such as Coke, Nike, and the Olympics. After her third book, Kathy asked me to join her. I was reluctant at first, but I was a history buff and she let me pick the topic. I was interested in the stories of the real women who dressed as men in the Civil War and why they would do that. There were actually hundreds of these of occurrences.
What was the publishing process like?
Becky: Twelve years ago when we first wrote the book, no one was interested in Civil War stories. After a while, Kathy came to me and asked if she could take parts of Sisters of Shiloh and use it to make a different book, since nothing was ever going to come of it. This became Blue Asylum which was published in 2012. Later on, Sisters of Shiloh was brought back up, but it was only half a story at that point. Kathy actually sent the first hundred pages to her agent, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt ended up buying the book based off of those pages.
Who is who as sisters?
Kathy: Well, Josephine start off as the younger sister, but the publisher decided to switch it. I see myself as Josephine because she is the big sister taking care of the younger sister.
Becky: And Kathy never liked any of my boyfriends anyways.
Kathy: They were all so skanky. But really we see both of ourselves in both of the characters.
Tell me about the process of writing as partners.
Kathy: The only thing we really argued about was whether or not to kill off Wesley. I really wanted to.
Becky: We would outline the events and brainstorm together. We would outline the scenes and then fill it in with the history. Kathy did most of the writing and I did the historical research. The original version of the story actually had the sisters as much younger, but it caused a lot of confusion. It was unclear if it was supposed to be young adult or historical romance.
Kathy: It’s weird that you can just change a couple of scenes and then the work can be sellable. The problem is that you don’t know which chapter that is. There’s just a lot of rewriting. Arden was originally supposed to be just Libby’s love, not her husband. It was a balance. We didn’t want them so old that it wasn’t realistic for the time period.
How did you do the research?
Becky: We had to do tons of research and had to be extremely accurate. The characters weren’t real, but the regiment and all of the details and nuances actually happened. Therefore, history had to drive the narrative. Twelve years ago the Internet was not something you could use as a reliable source for research like this, so we really only used it to contact local experts about various topics. The rest we had to do the old fashioned way, by looking through archives and stomping through historic sites.
Kathy: By we, she means her. I napped.
Becky: She really can nap anywhere. We went to battlefields. I was so excited to show Kathy things, but I’d look around and she’d be asleep under a tree.
How did you write the gory scenes?
Kathy: It was such a bloody war. We really had to tone it back a lot. Everyone was for the war, but they had no idea the toll that it would take. We really got hardened to the gore during all of our research.
Becky: We were surprised that some readers were really disturbed by the blood. There was so much new technology, but it was still archaically brutal during the war. We didn’t need to exaggerate at all beaus all the details were already there and actually occurred in real life.
How did Josephine and Wesley find each other again at the end of the book?
Kathy: Well Becky and I were just tired, so… haha. Well it was just a hard thread to close since it was really the sisters’ story. Libby choosing Josephine over Arden was the true end, so we kind of made the rest of the endings abrupt. But it would have been a long journey for Wesley to get back to Josephine.
Becky: The editors really encourage you to make it cinematic and cut from scene to scene. They need it to move along.
Kathy: Are you really blaming the editors?
Becky: Well we wanted the ending to be hopefully, but realistic.
You play around with the idea of homosexuality in two different scenarios. What was your thought process behind that?
Kathy: Of course there have always been homosexuals and the Civil War era was no different, but it was not discussed openly.
What happened to women who were found out?
Becky: Some were sent home, some were accused as spies, and some were sent to prison. Some women joined with their husbands, so they could keep up the act much longer. One woman was actually allowed to keep serving even after she was found out. Mostly, commanding officers were mad that they were duped by these women.
Will there be a movie version?
Becky: Write to your congressmen or whoever to make it happen! Haha!
Who would you cast in it?
Kathy: Jennifer Lawrence as Libby. She has a certain spark to her, and she can also play it dirty.
Becky: We need an actress who’s willing to try to look and act like a man. It was much easier to pull off a woman dressing as a man in Victorian era. Basically, if someone was wearing pants, they were a man. It was simple. It would be intriguing to try and cast the movie because there are different mindsets about femininity now.
Kathy: I actually have to get going. Bring some water to us here in California!
You two seem to get along really well.
Becky: We were actually really nice today. We were at a panel once and were were arguing about which sister was which in the book. Kathy said that the older sister is smart and brave while the younger sister is bratty. And I said that the older sister is boring. Then Kathy said that the older sister has shiny hair and an impressive rack! I then said that the older sister hasn’t had a bunch of children so maybe she should just shut up. Another author came up to use afterwards and said, “Well since you opened up this can of worms, I think that there is no disparity between your racks.” I shouted that that was the nicest thing that anyone has ever said to me!!
What is next for you two?
Becky: There are a lot of little things trickling in. The official book tour is now over. We do lots of Skype tours and book clubs. Kathy has a new book coming out under her married name, Kathy Parks, called The Lifeboat Clique. It will be Harper Collins’ push book next spring, so we are hopeful it will do well. I am very proud of her. We will start a new book together after this summer so I can spend time with my kids. I am a wife and mother of four children, so I was just happy to write the book twelve years ago with Kathy. And I really just love history.
How was Arden’s character developed?
Becky: He wasn’t always an ass. He became more of a jerk in the final rewrite. We wanted to push the line without making Arden too unlikable. He still had a little bit of sweetness. Because he and Libby have so much history, it is difficult for her to see him as anything other than the boy she fell in love with as a young girl, and she doesn’t realize that she starts to lose herself in him.
Do you get an attachment to your characters?
Becky: Sure, especially since there are so many little aspects of each other and people we know in the characters. Eleanor (the old lady on the farm) is one of my favorites, because she is so much like our cute and sassy Mom.
How is your book doing?
Becky: Well it’s hard to tell since it’s only been out three months, but we’re hopeful that word will start to spread more - so tell your friends!
Where can readers learn more about you?
Becky: They can go to the Sisters of Shiloh page on Facebook, or check out the page from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt at http://www.hmhbooks.com/sistersofshiloh.
Is there anything else that I didn’t ask that you would like to include?
Becky: It was so great to meet you!
Check out my review of their book Sisters of Shiloh.