Friday, March 6, 2015

Sisters of Shiloh

Joseph and Thomas are fresh recruits for the Confederate Army, daring to join the wild fray that has become the seemingly endless Civil War, sharing everything with their fellow soldiers—except the secret that would mean their undoing: they are sisters.

Before the war, Joseph and Thomas were Josephine and Libby. But that bloodiest battle, Antietam, leaves Libby to find her husband, Arden, dead. She vows vengeance, dons Arden’s clothes, and sneaks off to enlist with the Stonewall Brigade, swearing to kill one Yankee for every year of his too-short life. Desperate to protect her grief-crazed sister, Josephine insists on joining her. Surrounded by flying bullets, deprivation, and illness, the sisters are found by other dangers: Libby is hurtling toward madness, haunted and urged on by her husband’s ghost; Josephine is falling in love with a fellow soldier. She lives in fear both of revealing their disguise and of losing her first love before she can make her heart known to him.

In her trademark “vibrant” (Washington Post Book World) and “luscious” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution) prose, Kathy Hepinstall joins with her sister Becky to show us the hopes of love and war, the impossible-to-sever bonds of sisterhood, and how what matters most can both hurt us and heal us.

 Kathy and Becky channel their bond of sisterhood to tell this riveting, sweeping tale of two sisters. Already an established novelist Kathy enlisted her younger sister, Becky, for inspiration to write SISTERS OF SHILOH. Becky, a devoted military wife and history buff, had always been fascinated by the unsung heroes of the Civil War: women. Together, Kathy and Becky conducted extensive research on-site at battlegrounds across Virginia (Winchester, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg, and more), and traded early drafts to help bring the voices of each sister in the novel to life. 

“The very best historical fiction delivers us into another time and place.
In SISTERS OF SHILOH, Kathy and Becky Hepinstall plunge us so deeply into a
complete and vividly rendered world of Civil War battlefields and Confederate campsites,
we can smell the gun powder and taste the metallic tinge of fear along with their remarkable heroines.”
—Janis Cooke Newman, author of Mary

“SISTERS OF SHILOH is an unsparing, bloody, emotional tour-de-force.
A tale of love and hate, vengeance and devotion, and the darkest secrets imaginable.
Highly recommended for all.”
Historical Novels Review
My very favorite genre to read is Historical Fiction, so I am super excited to have received an advance copy of this book - I will let you know what I think about it when I'm finished with it!  
 I am also very excited that the authors have allowed Pink Lemonade to share the first two chapters of the book with you right here!!! 
Chapter 1
Libby waited for her dead husband in the woods, her breath making clouds in the cold night air. Her hair was cut short above her ears, and her neck was cold. Her wool uniform itched. She had not slept in two days. She leaned against a bay tree as the fog moved through the woods. She closed her eyes and began
to drift. She heard the crackle of a footstep and opened her eyes. The fog cleared and Arden stood in front of her, pale and somber, the red stain of his stomach wound still fresh and spreading
out across his gray jacket.

She was exhausted from the march, and the sight of him no longer caused the shock and dread of the earlier encounters. She had resolved that there must be a realm, when the fractions of night and fog reached some magical equation, where the living and the dead could coexist. Arden, though, had grown increasingly moody and demanding.

“How many have you killed?” he asked.
Her fingers shook as she counted them. She had known the answer at noon but had forgotten it with the coming of dusk.
“Nine? Still?”
“I’m trying, Arden.” She looked at the blood spreading over his shirt.
“And your sister. How many has she killed?”
“I don’t know.”
He leaned in close.
“You’re a liar. You do know. And you know who else she killed, don’t you?”

Chapter 2

Winchester, Virginia

They were sisters, the pretty one and the one who lived in her shadow, a pale, chip-toothed, uncertain girl who made too much noise while eating celery. They lived on the outskirts of Winchester, in a house owned by their father, a dentist by trade. The fields behind their property grew wild with evening primrose and goldenrod. Near the cornfield on the east side of their property stood an apple orchard, and it was here that golden Libby and chipped-toothed Josephine, Libby’s elder by a year, made
their sanctuary, taking refuge from everything: the yelps of children during tooth extractions, the peskiness of a little brother, the swift, severe gaze of a mother, general pangs, harsh sunlight, and chores.

The other children in town courted the affections of Libby, but she preferred the sweet mixture of  orchard and sister, all that shade and adoration. 

When Josephine was thirteen, a shadow trespassed on that filtered light. The family next door had moved from a small town near Fredericksburg called Shiloh, a young couple with three sons. The oldest was named Arden. He came strutting into the yard on a warm spring day, when the leaves in the orchard were curling tendrils, and the shadows hung dark, waiting for May to darken them into the black of an Angus bull. He wore a pair of corduroys and a shirt with a Western design; his hair was almost as light as Libby’s and his face just as angular. His eyes gave off different inferences that depended on the angle of approach.  Libby saw wildness and sweetness and a deep capacity for sorrow.  Josephine saw arrogance and entitlement and a lack of respect for elder sisters.

Soon Arden’s feet were swinging from the branches, and the quality of conversation was forced into a different season, one that incorporated boys. Now Indian talk pierced the orchard, fishing lore, legends, and brutal accounts of cats killing birds.  Pirate stories and secret caves, the challenge of breaking a colt.
Even the drifting scent changed from the faint lavender of girls to the sweat of a hot boy. Something was unnatural here, like a tree that fruits before it blooms. Josephine was gently elbowed out of the shade until she no longer entered the orchard at all but lurked at the perimeter.

She didn’t understand how to be alone. She felt insubstantial, impermanent as silence in a room full of women. There was some kind of secret to making friends, and, denied this, she began to spend her time in her father’s office. Children cried and teeth flew.

“Hand me the laudanum,” her father said. 

She watched him pour the opiate onto a spoon to numb a patient’s pain. She imagined the bottle held to her own lips, pain declining, pleasure growing. The sweetness of a watermelon, the dreaminess of a summer afternoon, the cool water of a fishing hole, the softness of ferns.

Hostility toward the whole led to belligerence about the parts.  His laugh. His haircut. The shape of his arms. The blue of his eyes. The way his pretty face resembled Libby’s.

“You spend so much time with him,” she complained to Libby. “How about me? I thought I was your best friend.”
“Don’t be silly. You can sit in the orchard with us anytime.”
“That was our orchard!”
“Oh, Josephine. Orchards belong to everyone.” 

When Libby and Arden weren’t in the orchard, they would disappear into the woods and stay gone for hours, returning with new secrets, certain stories exchanged, pebbles gathered, sparrow eggs rescued, snakes slain. The sight of the interloper drove Josephine to distraction. She had nightmares in which he fell from the branch of a tree or from the top of their house, grasping her sister’s hand and pulling her down with him.

A year had passed. Autumn had arrived. The apples were heavy in the orchard, weighing down the limbs. Flowering weeds turned colors or withdrew their blooms. The sky was white in places, sweet blue in others.

Libby’s illness began as a weariness, a desire for naps. Quickly it grew a fever, then chills. The orchard sat empty. Libby lay in a dim room, her face flushed and skin perspiring. Arden visited her at first, but when she grew worse, he could not look at her without bursting into tears, and Mrs. Beale sent him away.

“Get ahold of yourself, son. You aren’t helping matters.”

Despite the protestations of her mother, it was Josephine who took over, fetching teas and applying poultices, whispering, singing, telling her own tales, finally. She wiped down the floors with lavender water so that Libby could awaken to the fragrance of flowers. She brewed tea, heated soup on the fire in the kitchen.  Her nursing skills defined her, made her whole again.

A framed tintype sat on the night table. Two little girls stared out from it, one with golden hair and the other with bright eyes and a contented smile. Their father had taken them down to the studio at the Taylor Hotel as a birthday present for Josephine a few years earlier. She couldn’t help staring at it now and remembering those days when Libby was healthy and belonged to her.

They would speak to each other, sister to sister, Libby’s voice dreamy and hot, a breeze coming through the open window, a pail of water on the nightstand, a gingham cloth dripping water on the floor.

“Hold still,” Josephine said, as she applied the compress.

No sign of Arden, whom their mother would not let back in the house.

Apples fell, too ripe now for eating. One day the chickens got loose and spent the day in the orchard, eating the bruised flesh. Crows came to that harvest, as did raccoons and deer.

The corn had ripened. Stephen, the lazy younger brother, was supposed to have gathered the ears but spent his time chasing an elusive bullfrog down a winding creek, coming back with his pants wet up to the waist. He slogged into Libby’s room, dripping water on the floor and corrupting the sweet air with the sweaty odor of his body.

“Get out,” Josephine said.
“She’s my sister, too.”
“You’re smelly. That can’t be good for her.”

Whispers from their parents’ room.
“She’s not getting any better,” said their mother.
“I don’t know what to do. I’m a dentist, for God’s sakes. And that crazy old doctor hasn’t helped a bit.”
“There are better doctors in Richmond . . .”
“Richmond? How can she possibly make that trip?”

Fever moved through Libby’s body. She shook with chills and soaked her sheets with perspiration. Symptoms in opposition and growing further apart, like the views of the North and South.  She mumbled things that made no sense. The old doctor came again and stood by her bedside and saw the bad news like everyone else. When he put on his stethoscope, one knob fell out of his big ear and he didn’t seem to notice. He pressed the metal disk against a vein throbbing in her neck.

As if prodded by the shaking hands of the doctor and the look on his face, Josephine’s father went to town and returned with a pine coffin. He didn’t sneak it in at night but dragged it purposefully off his wagon, across the yard, and into an old shed at the far end of the property. Josephine opened the window of Libby’s room and watched him. The coffin made a rushing sound in the dry grass, thumping occasionally against a rock or a rake Stephen had left in the yard. Dogs ran up and sniffed it before they
sidled away. Dr. Beale walked with a stiff and singular purpose, dragging the coffin right through the herb garden and between the stables. The horses poked their heads out and watched him disappear into the shed.

Mrs. Beale came into the room but didn’t look out the window or at Libby. She searched the room for something neutral, settling on a silver tea strainer that drained brown liquid on a china saucer.

“She’s not going to die,” Josephine said. “I won’t let her. Remember that dog with the infected leg? No one expected him to live, either. But I saved him.”

Josephine had always thought of God as a vague fog that lived in the sky, someone who never bothered her and whose music was sweet. An insubstantial being that seemed to vanish when studied closely. But now she had no choice but to tremble and believe. The room was full of fever now, reeking like tidewater
in which plants have died, and no amount of lavender could bury the smell. Libby’s dreams grew frantic. She called out sometimes. She saw things in the room that did not include her family.

Josephine summoned her quiescent faith, which had not been visited since the days of the infected dog. She apologized for the long delay and prayed a desperate prayer that would have been high-pitched had it been spoken out loud. The wood planks of the floor hurt her knees. One shin pressed against the metal
slats of the gravity vent; she felt a draft as her lips formed the words. The wool blanket that covered Libby’s bed scratched Josephine’s elbows. She finished the prayer and began it again, finished and began, wearing a groove down God’s patience, no doubt, but the thought of life without Libby was less  imaginable than even the hereafter. Josephine started again. She heard her mother’s footsteps when she entered the room, and her sigh, and the sniff of hushed weeping. Her mother sat down on the bed,
jostling Josephine’s elbows.

No one knew the exact hour of the fever’s breaking. It happened sometime during the night. Libby woke up that morning mumbling.  By afternoon she whispered things that made sense.  She had lost weight; her face was gaunt, filled with sickbed shadows.  Josephine held her hand.

The old doctor came in and shook his head. “She’s better,” he announced, as though it weren’t obvious. “There’s no medical explanation. These are the ways of God.”

His breath smelled of absinthe. He gathered his bag and left the room, his back stooping.

“I had such beautiful dreams,” Libby said. “It felt as though years had passed.”
“No. You’ve been sick about a week. I’ve been here the whole time. I even slept in here.”
“And Arden?”
Josephine stiffened. “I don’t know where he’s been.”

By early evening, Arden had heard the good news. He pulled a chair up to Libby’s bed and played cards with her. “I thought I had lost you,” he said. “I couldn’t stand it. I haven’t eaten in two days.”

Josephine stood at the end of the bed and watched them play.  The cards fanned out, shuffled, flew onto the bed one by one.  Arden and Libby studied the cards, then each other.

“I’m going now,” Josephine said.

They didn’t hear her.

That night Libby was led downstairs, leaning on her father’s arm. Her hands trembled, but she was able to sit with the family for dinner. Arden had been invited to eat with them. Libby picked at her food. Arden goaded her on. “Come on, come on, you’re so thin. How can we play unless you get strong again?”

He had finally begun to nurse her, now that she was well. 

Mrs. Beale looked down the table at Libby, her expression tentative and warm. “Arden is so glad to have you back,” she said.

“He was so worried about you. Weren’t you, Arden?”

Josephine saw them together in the shadows of the orchard. It was dusk. They had been there all day with their secrets and were now emerging, hand in hand. She glided into shadows of her own. By that cover, she watched them kiss. And like something suddenly noticed in the world, a color or a scent, she saw the kisses everywhere. Lightning quick and furtive. Covered in shadows or sheltered by the blinding light of noon, they went unnoticed by the rest of the world. She tried to turn her eyes away, but the kisses seemed attracted by her torment. When she could not see them, she heard them. And when she could nothear them, she imagined them. She wondered if a kiss could live in her own mouth, or if she was broken beyond repair, not a girl or a boy but a ghost, offering nothing to the world but a glow and a rustling.

One day, as she was on her way to the dry goods store, at her mother’s orders, to buy a bolt of cloth and some needles, she met Arden coming the other way. His hair was getting long; he needed a haircut. Certainly her father would never let her brother Stephen’s hair grow past his ears. His hair made him look even more girlish with his high cheekbones and delicate brow.

They stopped a few feet from one another, no greeting or wave. Just the stare of enemies.

“You’ve been spying on us,” he said.
“No, I haven’t.”
“Yes, you have. You saw us kissing.”
“Libby’s too young for kissing.”
“She’s thirteen now. Maybe it’s not that you think she’s too young. Maybe it’s that she’s kissing me.”

The sun was bright overhead. The coins in her hand felt sweaty. His voice was not angry. Just matter-of‑fact.

“That’s true,” she said. “I can think of better boys for her to kiss.”
“You think about her too much. Where she goes, who she kisses. And I know why.”

She didn’t answer him. She tried to step around him, but he blocked her path. She went the other way, and he blocked her again. His eyes looked straight at her. There was no one on the road.

“It’s because,” he said, “you have no other friends, do you? Not a single one.”

The statement burned inside her. She wanted to run away, but she knew he would catch her arm. Something about his voice told her he’d been waiting for the right moment to say these hurtful things, and he was going to force her to listen.

“And you are always alone,” he added. “Because you are strange. You’re not like Libby. You don’t know how to talk to people. You have nothing interesting to say.”

Josephine tried to deflect his words, not wanting him to see the hurt welling in her eyes. She looked at him directly and said coolly, “I do have interesting things to say. I just don’t say them to you.”

Arden took a small step forward, looking at her with intense, unblinking eyes. “You know what you need? You need a sweetheart.  But you won’t ever have one. You will never even get one kiss. No one will ever love you. You are invisible.” 

Josephine felt her face flush and a tiny hole form in her stomach, as though she’d been shot there. The cruelty in the remarks was the cool dispassion and the utter confidence with which they were spoken. It was true, sometimes she felt as though she were invisible, as though people drank in the sight of Libby and that was enough, that her place was in the shadows and her fate to be unseen. She stepped to the side of him and made her way to the store, trembling with rage and shame, the clenched coins digging into the flesh of her hand.



How did the idea for the SISTERS OF SHILOH originate?

Becky: “Kathy has been my champion my entire life and has always encouraged me to write. Soon after she published her second novel, THE ABSENCE OF NECTAR, she came to me and asked if I had any ideas for a novel that we could write together. I had always been fascinated by the stories of the real women who fought disguised as men in the Civil War, and Kathy became equally intrigued. From there, we developed the plot outline together.”

Kathy: “Something seemed so wrenching about girls blooming into mature sexuality who needed to subvert that sexuality and hide their womanly traits in order to fight a man’s war. At first, Libby, the older sister, was avenging the death of their brother. In later drafts, the object of their revenge became Libby’s dead husband. But from the beginning drafts to the end ones, Josephine was fighting only to protect Libby—and how much she was really “fighting” is something explored in the novel.
Is the novel based on the story of real life sisters? 

Becky: “There are around 400 documented cases of women fighting as men in the Civil War—a statistic that is staggering when you consider the times in which they lived. In learning about some of these women, we discovered that their reasons for fighting were just as varied as their male counterparts—some followed a loved one, some dreamed of adventure, some sought vengeance, and some felt it their patriotic duty.”

Kathy: “We took aspects of some of the actual women soldiers and wove them into our characters. So although the two sisters are fictional, we believe the spirit of these real-life women lives in the narrative.”
The novel takes place during the Civil War. What kind of research did you perform?  

Becky: “When we began this process in the fall of 2002, there were very few vetted historical sources available on the Internet, so it was really only used in the process of contacting local historians and experts. We researched this book for about a year and a half, and continued the process while we were writing (undoubtedly, some question would arise within the narrative—what kinds of objects might be in the scene, what flora and fauna would be nearby, etc.). We visited all of the battlefields and walked the fields with Park Rangers, trying to envision what it would be like for the characters. We spent a week at Antietam and were so lucky to get to meet repeatedly with a National Park Service Archaeologist—he was a wealth of information about the realities of war and the specifics of the battle of Antietam. We met with local experts in the Winchester and Sharpsburg areas. We researched in the Handley Library in Winchester, and in the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Battlefield Park Archives at Chatham Manor. We also poured over scores of books we found about the period, including several first-hand accounts. We studied what people of the period wore, what they ate, how they spoke and how they acted. And we owe special thanks to the book They Fought Like Demons by De Anne Blanton, which helped us create these sisters based upon several of the real women who fought.”

What was it like to write a novel as sisters, about sisters? 

Kathy: “We found the process very seamless. We were both inspired by the stories and found that we had a similar perspective on plot points and characters, although Becky did passionately argue for the life of one character that I wanted to kill off.” 

How was the process of writing the story together different from writing alone? 

Kathy: “It was great to have someone to collaborate with.  Becky brought a unique writing style to the letters that really invited in the 19th century with all its lyricism and formality.”

Becky: “My background is primarily in academic writing, so I enjoyed so much getting to be a part of a creative process that also encompassed my passion for history. And I loved getting to witness Kathy as she wove such lyrically beautiful lines.”
What do you hope readers take away from your book? 

Kathy: “That the love of sisters is stronger than war, madness, and death. But this novel is not simply about war. It is a murder mystery, a ghost story, a tale of madness, and a love story.”

Becky: “And it is a tale of discovering what cause in life is truly worth dying for.”

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