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Kathy Hepinstall: LibraryThing Author Interview

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Kathy Hepinstall has worked for several major advertising agencies and as a freelancer ad designer. Her fourth novel, Blue Asylum, is just out from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

For those who haven't yet had the chance to read Blue Asylum, what's this novel about?

It's about a plantation wife, sent to an insane asylum for the "crime" of running away with the slaves. There, she meets another inmate: a haunted ex-Confederate soldier who can only calm his terrible memories of what he did in the war with visions of the color blue. In this unlikely venue, Iris finds herself falling for Ambrose. They plot their escape from the asylum with the help of Wendell, the disaffected son of the head psychiatrist.

I'd love to hear about the research that went into Blue Asylum. Are any elements of the novel's plot or characters based on historical events or people?

I did quite a bit of research on insane asylums of the day—it was very curious. There for about forty years in American history, suddenly the thought was to treat the insane with kindness, to put them in nice, comfortable surroundings and give them structure—in the hopes that would make them better. It was a good time to be insane.

Also I did research on Sanibel Island, and stayed there for about six weeks, all told. There has never been an actual asylum on Sanibel, but it had the perfect blend of harmony, peacefulness and alligators to work as the setting.

Do you have a favorite line or scene from the novel that you'd like to share?

"With a dog’s heart, he loved both sides."

I read through your author blog to prepare for this interview (and I have to say it's one of the funniest things I've read in a long time). Did you really bury a copy of your novel for Oprah and then provide directions to the buried novel in the local paper? ... also, has Oprah retrieved her book yet?

Ah, thank you. And, yes I actually did bury a copy of my novel for her and then took out an ad with a map in her local paper, The Montecito Journal. Oprah did not retrieve the book, although someone did steal her shovel. So I took out another ad, this time hiding the book in a safe by the side of the road with a sign pointing to it that said "Oprah’s Book." Non-Oprahs of Montecito were instructed, on their honor, not the memorize the combination to the safe included in the ad. Someone heisted the book, the safe and the sign. What can I say? Montecito apparently is swarming with thieves.

You've done some other, shall we say, unconventional things to promote Blue Asylum. Describe a few of those, if you would, and tell us about any responses you've gotten.

Let's see, some ad students in Eugene came up with the great idea themselves to write letters from the characters and include them with the galleys that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt sent to the independent bookstores.

I commissioned someone to bake a box of delectables and send it to Books-a-Million with the idea that this was a bribe from the inmates of Sanibel Island to get them out of the asylum. They are getting that soon. Also, we have a web site called whoscrazier.com. You can put any celebrity you want in there, virtually, and hear an audiotape in their own voice that demonstrates why they should be in an insane asylum. And, of course, the Oprah ads. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has been very open to my ideas, and have some very imaginative ones of their own. Who knows what will work in what way, but I inscribed the latest book (in the safe) to Oprah with the words: "If you never get this book, I still believe in magic."

When do you do most of your writing? Where? Do you compose longhand, or at the computer?

I start writing in the morning, for the most part, and I tend to work in frantic, highly efficient bursts, a time in which I have almost no life, as compared to when I am not writing, when I had a moderate amount of no life. Hate writing longhand—almost always compose at the computer.

Do you have a favorite part of the writing/publishing process? Is there one part that you really can't stand?

My favorite part is the acceptance by a publisher. That's the beginning of a novel's adult life. I don't really like the traveling part of promotion, so much. And honestly I hate selling things to people, so I try to make it fun for them as well as myself.

What sorts of books would we find in your own library?

Books on brain function and efficiency, books on time management (unread), the subconscious, and self-improvement.

What books have you read and enjoyed recently?

I'm reading a book called Change Anything. Also really liked the collected stories of Milton Erickson, My Voice Will Go With You.

Can you tell us a bit about your next project?

I am rewriting a book with my sister, The Rabbit (she has four kids eight and under) called Girls of Shiloh, about two sisters that join Stonewall Jackson's army as men.

—interview by Jeremy Dibbell

Books by Kathy Hepinstall

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