Kathy Hepinstall Pens Words Well

July 17th, 2012

LPTrendsAuthor: Kathy Heppinstall. Creative. Irreverent. Smart.

“As a baby, Kathy Hepinstall was once thrown out with the bath water. This experience shaped her life and art. She grew up in Texas but eventually escaped after earning a masters degree at the University of Houston.”

This is how Ms. Hepinstall opens her bio on her website. Pretty catchy don’t you think? She is a writer after all. One with a creative (and yes, crazy) sense of humor. Kathy and I met at The Maui Writer’s Conference one year. After a lot of Mai Tai’s (late one night in the club below the conference) we danced until our pent up frustrations over writer’s block shook loose. Not a pretty sight. Be glad you weren’t there.

It did bond us for life however. I’ve read all her books, loving each one more than the last. She (I am sure!) is going to read mine when they get published. I am also sure one of her campaigns to get on the Oprah booklist (look at her blog for details kathyhepinstall.wordpress.com/) will pay off. What is life without hope?

The truth of the matter, however, is that Kathy does not need Oprah or her booklist to carve out a piece of literary fame for herself. The woman is gifted. If I didn’t love her so much, I would hate her. Mainly because she’s tall and blonde, and I am neither, but also because my youngest daughter told me House of Gentle Men was one of those right-of-passage books for her. This is also known as an AHA moment that brings clarity to a subject you hadn’t pondered, prior to the deeply moving experience of some well-penned words.

“At a mystical house where women can find tenderness and men can redeem themselves for past violence, Justin realizes that as his relationship with Charlotte grows, he must confess that he is one of the men who took part in an attack on her…” House of Gentlemen

House of Gentle Men was a finalist in the Penn Faulkner Awards West and has been optioned as a movie. In Kathy’s own words, “A perfect storm of serendipity and good timing made it #1 on the LA Times Bestseller list.” Regardless of timing or moon alignments the book simply rocks. Its plot is unique and quite compelling, eloquently written and not easily abstracted from the mind. No matter how many books you’ve read since, you are not likely to confuse or forget the nuances of it’s complex yet straightforward plot.

Prince of Lost Places (third novel) has also been optioned for a movie and I wouldn’t be surprised if her latest novel Blue Asylum (recently released) is next summer’s blockbuster. The eyebrow raising back cover plot-teaser alone leads me to believe it will be every bit the read all the rest were.

“Amid the mayhem of the Civil War, Virginia plantation wife Iris Dunleavy is put on trial and convicted of madness. It is the only reasonable explanation the court can see for her willful behavior, so she is sent away to Sanibel Asylum to be restored to a good, compliant woman. Iris knows, though, that her husband is the true criminal; she is no lunatic, only guilty of disagreeing with him on notions of justice, cruelty, and property…” Blue Asylum

What career goes well with novel writing? Any other type of  writing! Kathy has found her niche in the world of advertising, giving the flexibility of taking off for periods of time when a novel begs to be born and nurtured to maturity. Ms Hepinstall was a creative director and partner at two different agencies in San Francisco. She’s worked for a couple LA firms too. Currently she freelances. Her list of credits in this alternate-novelist career is impressive.

Kathy’s work has appeared in One Show, Clios, Cannes, CA, NYAD, Kelly Awards, Time Magazine’s Ten Best Campaigns of the Year, and also in Archive Magazine. Her short film, Pee Shy (directed by Deb Hagan) won first place in the national No Spot Advertising Awards and was sold to HBO Latin America.


Kathy and I met up recently on Facebook. It was a little anticlimactic because we couldn’t cry into a Mai Tai together and shake off writer’s block on the dance floor until dawn. Nonetheless – wit, humor and sharing the 12 emotional steps of novel writing is still doable via social media. I asked her some questions, realizing I really know nothing about her (or most of the people I dance with at writer conventions, other than their writing angst and probable insanity).

When did you know you wanted to go into advertising and how did this lead to writing fiction?

Kathy-I took a creative advertising class in college and suddenly I saw a whole new world where you could make a living from creativity and be around some very funny and talented people. Before I went into advertising, I had written short stories and poems.  After a few years in advertising, I decided to try and write novels. Most of my career, I’ve freelanced, which gives me the flexibility and time to write while still having a second career in advertising.

Besides advertising, did you study any other type of writing in college?

Kathy-I actually never studied writing in college or graduate school besides a class or two.  My degree is in Rhetoric and Composition – whatever that means.  Your guess is as good as mine.  I am mostly self-taught, reading books on writing and the work of great writers. Slowly, I pieced together how a novel should be structured.

When and how did the idea come to you for The House of Gentle Men, considering what an out-of-the-box plot this story has?  

Kathy-The basic setting came from my mother, who lived in Louisiana as a teenager during the time of the Louisiana maneuvers before World War II.  She used to tell me about thousands of soldiers camping right in her neighborhood.  The thought that a sixteen-year-old girl could wake up to find her lawn covered with eligible young men was inspirational.  The idea for House of Gentle Men came when I saw a man abusing a woman in public and wondered if there could be a fictional place where men would always be gentle.

Which of your books did you have the most fun writing and do you have any favorites- one you’re most proud of for conventional or nonconventional reasons?  

Kathy-I have to say I love The Absence of Nectar the most of all my novels – and did enjoy the research on that one – but Blue Asylum was probably the best experience from a research standpoint, since I got to live on Sanibel island for a total of six weeks, researching and beginning the first draft. The characters of The Absence of Nectar will always be my favorite. I’d still love to see it as a movie.

“If only Alice could get rid of her new stepfather, Simon Jester. No one wants to believe that the pieces of his tragic past don’t seem to fit-or that he is trying to poison Alice and her older brother…” Absence of Nectar

Which was most problematic causing you (perhaps) to consume large amounts of alcohol or ruin perfectly good relationships from being overstressed?  

Kathy-In a sense, Prince of Lost Places was probably the most problematic as it was written just after 9/11, during a period of time where I was less enthusiastic about writing and wondering whether anyone should bother. I think a lot of writers felt the same way.

In The House of Gentlemen and in your latest novel Blue Asylum the resilience, cleverness and flat out strength of women under adverse circumstances seems to be an underlying theme. Was this intentional or just a nice outcome of your rather challenging plots that test the versatility and very soul of its heroines?  

Kathy-I think it was probably the latter.  Adverse circumstances almost always make better stories than pleasant ones, and I spared neither Charlotte, protagonist of House of Gentle Men, nor Iris, protagonist of Blue Asylum, from various torments of past and present.  I hope they forgive me.  I didn’t want to have Iris get the water treatment.  I don’t like the thought of inflicting torture on a character, even in service to the plot.

Do you have pages of notes where you’ve scribbled plot ideas for future use or does one idea form in your head and scream to be dealt with?  

Kathy-Right now I have a couple of plot ideas going.  It’s been a form of procrastination with me, which one is going to win out.  Once I start, I generally stay on course, although Blue Asylum started out as a totally different story.  I was writing a modern love story between an older woman and her 25-year-old student with a brain tumor and went to Sanibel to write it.  There, the plot of Blue Asylum ambushed me and made me write its story instead.

Do you see yourself writing other types of books at some point in the future – say a self-help book, self-deprecating memoir or tell-all about some famous person that has annoyed you to the point of revenge?  

Kathy-A friend and I are talking about writing an anti-self help book called Sluggish at Any Age.  And I’m also thinking about YA fiction.

If you suddenly become a millionaire because you are continually on the NY Times bestseller list, how would you spend your money? Would you build a treehouse on your own island for uninterrupted bouts of creative genius spilling onto recycled paper and give the rest to cancer research… or what?  

Kathy-I love the treehouse idea.  I know I’d spend some of it helping dogs.  It’s terrible that we created dogs from the wolf and then neglect and euthanize them.

Where do you want to be in 5 years? Married with children? Sitting on a porch swing with Oprah? Or maybe just writing yet another novel because at the end of the day, this is what gives you more joy than all the money you’ve sank into FB stock that isn’t really doing all that well? (Should have listened to the inside traders on that one.)

Kathy-Wouldn’t mind being married with an adopted kid or two.  Yes and hanging out on a porch swing with Oprah drinking wine would be nice.  And the swing would be specially designed from all my novels.  I’d love to invent a new form of entertainment – like that woman who makes stuffed animals out of kid’s drawings. If I could do something like that, I’d be very proud.

For more of Kathy on a regular basis (which is better than group therapy and less expensive) visit her blog at: kathyhepinstall.wordpress.com/  …and of course, read her novels. I promise you won’t be disappointed!

You can purchase Kathy’s work on Amazon.

Interview and article by Kathryn Mattingly

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