This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Sisters Kathy and Becky Hepinstall are talking to us about their recently published book, Sisters of Shiloh. This book is a story about Joseph and Thomas, new recruits in the Confederate Army sharing everything with their fellow soldiers who are fighting along side them in the Civil War. The only thing they can't share is that they aren't men, but sisters.
Becky: I research and write best when my kids are asleep! Or any other time when I have a few minutes to myself…which is usually every Tuesday, when the moon is full and it’s leap year.
When you are writing, do you use any celebrities or people you know as inspiration?
Kathy: There are some writers I greatly admire, among them: Toni Morrison, Michael Ondaatje and Pat Conroy.
Becky: Well, I’m such a lover of history, I am constantly asking myself: “What would Ken Burns do?”
What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?
Kathy: I'd have to say Beloved. It is just so rich and amazing and lyrical.
Becky: I loved Memoirs of a Geisha. I was so astounded that a man could write female characters so perfectly. In my opinion, Hatsumomo is one of the best-written villains of all time.
What is your writing process? Do you plan first or dive in? How many drafts do you do?
Kathy: I tend to do a rough outline, a rough draft, a polish and then I send it to my mother. After that, it goes to my agent, who has notes, and my editor, who has notes, and the proofreader, who has notes…
Becky: Sisters of Shiloh was a little different from Kathy’s other books because it was so heavily driven by the actual history. We came up with the basic outline of our story, and then had to find the historical resources to help fill in the story. We chose elements from some of the accounts of the real women who fought and wove them into our fictional characters, Libby and Josephine, but their surroundings are historical. Every movement of their brigade and regiment actually happened, so we had to outline the historical details, and fill in the narrative from there.
What was your journey to being a published author?
Kathy: I took some time from advertising 20 years ago and basically locked myself in a house and taught myself to write using books that I admired, like Stones From The River. Then I tried to learn more about the publishing process – what it takes to get published. I wrote a few novels that never saw the light of day before I wrote my first published book, The House of Gentle Men. I got my agent, Henry Dunow from a blind query letter but I did make that letter as compelling as I could.
Becky: In 2002, after her second novel Absence of Nectar had been published, Kathy asked if I would like to write a book with her.I had always been the history-nut of the family and she thought we could write a historical novel together. I told her about my fascination with the women who disguised themselves as men and fought in the Civil War, and she was equally intrigued. That led to mountains of research and months of writing, but we couldn’t find a publisher at the time. Ten years went by, and Kathy showed the first half of the novel to her agent and he ended up getting it into the hands of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and now it is finally getting published! That was quite a journey!
What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
Kathy: I think the biggest myth is that when you publish you "strike it rich.” Although some people have, it's very rare.
Becky: I have very limited experience, since I’m just now lucky enough to call myself a published author, but I would say the biggest myth is that the work is over once you get the publishing deal! I had absolutely no idea how much work was involved in all of the various stages of publishing, from editing to marketing and promotion. I have even more respect now for Kathy and all she has done.
What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
Kathy: I would try to start with the purest, most interesting idea that you can – something that really compels you to tell its story. People's attention spans are very short these days, and the "one-sentence" description that gets people's interest is still catnip in publishing. That said, agents and editors still want to hear a unique and amazing voice, so work on that! Also, work on your first chapter, and first sentence, being as rich and powerful as you possibly can.
What are you working on at the moment?
Kathy: I just finished a novel based on our very funny and colorful mother called The Book of Polly. I also have my first Young Adult novel coming out next year called The Lifeboat Clique, under my married name of Kathy Parks.
Becky: Kathy and I are working on our next project, a novel about Russian female fighter pilots in World War II.