Friday, April 27, 2012

Blue Asylum by Kathy Hepinstall

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.

On this remote Florida island, cut off by swamps and seas and military blockades, Iris meets a wonderful collection of residents--some seemingly sane, some wrongly convinced they are crazy, some charmingly odd, some dangerously unstable. Which of these is Ambrose Weller, the war-haunted Confederate soldier whose memories terrorize him into wild fits that can only be calmed by the color blue, but whose gentleness and dark eyes beckon to Iris.

The institution calls itself modern, but Iris is skeptical of its methods, particularly the dreaded "water treatment." She must escape, but she has found new hope and love with Ambrose. Can she take him with her? If they make it out, will the war have left anything for them to make a life from, back home? Blue Asylum is a vibrant, beautifully-imagined, absorbing story of the lines we all cross between sanity and madness. It is also the tale of a spirited woman, a wounded soldier, their impossible love, and the undeniable call of freedom.

The premise of this novel is what attracted me to it. I thoroughly enjoy reading historical fiction with unique settings. Blue Asylum, however, has much more depth than a story set in a mental institution. Certainly, there are fascinating inmates – the woman who swallows small items, a cruel matron, a charming woman who imagines her husband is still alive and with her – but the story is much richer than that. Not only does it depict the powerlessness of women in that era, but it delves into themes of post traumatic stress syndrome, tragedy, hope, and resilience. More importantly, at the heart is an endearing love story.

This novel is believable and richly detailed with fascinating characters, plenty of heartbreak, and inspiration.

An Interview with Kathy Hepinstall

1.  Welcome, I'm so glad to have this opportunity to chat with you.  Can you share with my readers the essence of the story you've penned?  

Blue Asylum tells the tale of a plantation wife and a haunted soldier who fall in love in an insane asylum in 1864.  That's the basic tale, but within that story there are many themes: forgiveness, letting go of the one you love, breaking free of the past, and the right of every individual to have a voice.

2.  You've chosen a very interesting title.  What inspired the title?  What inspired the book?  

The psychiatrist, Dr. Cowell, paints the walls blue to calm the patients.  I'm very partial to the color blue. If it stopped existing tomorrow, I would be very sad, and no longer look at the sky. I'd been wanting to set a love story in an insane asylum, and the island of Sanibel inspired me as a setting. It's pristine, calm, and yet vaguely ominous. Still largely unsettled. 

3.  What makes this book special to you? 

 It's about people being misunderstood and remaining strong despite circumstances.  Also, some of the characters are my friends now. Others, not so much.

4.  What makes this a book that people MUST read and WHY? 

 I'm not sure people must read it but I do believe that lovers of historical fiction will get caught up in it.  I think it's an intriguing love story with a unique twist: a woman in a mental asylum loved by both a haunted Civil War soldier, and her own psychiatrist.

5.  What sparks your creativity? Any tips to help others spark their own creativity?  

The creativity of others - great music, great writing - sparks my own. Also, I like being around playful and curious people. I'd say as advice to always be surprising - make it a habit in your everyday life.

6.  What has been the biggest stumbling block in your writing? Can you share some tips to help others get past similar problems?  

Well, I would say be careful about your metaphors. For example, that word…Writer's B….  I won't use it because it designates something hard, permeable, something impossible to get through.  So I call it Writer's Cloud, or Writer's Air.  In this way, the brain receives the message: I can get through this easily.  Hope that makes sense.  

7.  Tell me about the most unusual things you have done to promote your book? 

I just took out a full page color ad to Oprah in her hometown paper, the Montecito Journal. The ad said I had buried a book for her, and provided a secret map. So far, no word. So, on to ad #2...

8.  Each author is different in the way they create a work of fiction. Please describe for us how you plan or plot a story.  

Some of them come from an old news story or something I witnessed.  Often they are informed by my own philosophies - for example, The House of Gentle Men was about redemption and the need for forgiveness. I plot the novel out very roughly, but I always write to an outline. Research is definitely a form of creative progress for me - plot points and convergences reveal themselves, as well as metaphors that later prove useful.  I I usually try to make things historically accurate unless the story demands a different turn.

9.  Authors are very unique in the way they write, the tools they use, when they write, etc. Please describe a typical writing day for you? How do you organize your day? 

 I do my best writing in the morning but sometimes write all day.   I write very fast over a short period of time.  Racing through, getting a rough draft done and then go to work on a better draft. 

10.  What is your current work in progress? 

About to start on a novel about two sisters who join Stonewall Jackson's army and fight as men during his eastern campaign.

11.  Can you tell us where to find more information about you and your books and how readers can reach you?  Has a place there under Bio/Contact to write the author.

12.  What would you like our readers to know about you and your writing?  

Just how much I appreciate their support and hope they love the novel. And that they can always contact me through my blog with questions or comments.  Thanks so much.





Linda said...

I love novels set during the American Civil War. This one sounds very different and very interesting. Thanks for the giveaway.

Rachel said...

Thanks for the giveaway!

Anonymous said...

This sounds so different! A romance set in an asylum. I have read of the 'treatments' done to the patients during this time frame. It will be interesting to see how they are presented in this book.