Date of interview: 4 August 2017
Joe Epley is a guy who has worn many hats over his life -- Green Beret, television journalist, public relations executive, change agent and now, novelist.
Joe led Epley Associates, a successful public relations firm in Charlotte, N.C., and achieved international recognition for his leadership in the field. He was president of the Public Relations Society of America, and at various times, head of its prestigious College of Fellows, Counselors Academy, and the PRSA Foundation.
In addition to his day job, he continued his military service in the Reserves, mostly in Special Forces units, retiring as a Master Sergeant.
He was a co-founder and global chair of the Worldcom Public Relations Group, the world’s largest consortium of independent public relations firms. In addition to lecturing at universities and before professional groups throughout the world, he helped introduce the PR profession to Russia in the waning days of the Soviet Union. During his career, Joe held leadership roles in many organizations. He currently sits on the Board of Directors of The Marketing Alliance, a publicly traded life insurance brokerage firm that serves independent agents nationwide, and the Military Writers Society of America.
Among Joe’s honors is the Public Relations Society of America's Gold Anvil, the highest award in the public relations profession for lifetime achievement. In addition to his election to the University of North Carolina’s Journalism School Public Relations Hall of Fame and the alumni hall of fame for the Defense Information School, he has been awarded the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, North Carolina’s highest award for noteworthy citizens.
After selling his business in Charlotte in 2005, Joe retired with his wife to the wooded hills near Tryon, N.C. where he continues public service work in addition to researching and writing about the American Revolutionary War.
MWSA: How long have you been associated with MWSA?
Joe Epley: I joined the MWSA in 2011.
MWSA: Why Why do you write about the Revolutionary War?
Joe Epley: I've always had an interest in history. I remember walking the Kings Mountain battlefield as a kid and later, taking my own children on hikes there. In my Special Forces training, we studied the partisan war exploits of Francis Marion - (AKA The Swamp Fox) who was the most famous guerrilla fighter for the American independence movement.
As I began studying the revolution more closely, I learned that there were more battles in South Carolina than in any other colony, and most were Americans fighting Americans in a bloody civil war that eventually drove the British out of the Carolinas. Most of the participants were in militia units using partisan tactics employed today. Neither adversary has control of their area and conventional forces were not near. Yet history books have virtually ignored the Revolutionary War in the south.
MWSA: Why historical fiction instead of factual history?
Joe Epley: Several reasons.
1) I can provide readers with a better understanding of the big picture through a series of human stories that include intrigue, adventure, romance, and day-to-day life in the era.
2) In much of American history books and articles about the revolution, there are many conflicting facts, misleading statements, and lack of understanding of the people involved who are below the rank of general.
3) I chose to write ""A Passel of Hate"" about the battle of Kings Mountain because it was, as Theodore Roosevelt said, a ""brilliant victory that marked the turning point of the American Revolution."" Yet when most historians wrote about Kings Mountain, they failed to tell the story of the overmountain men, some traveling more than 300 miles without orders from higher authority. While the story culminated on the battlefield, the real story was in the determination and hardships endured by those 'Liberty Men' who furnished their own horses, weapons, and food and lived in harsh conditions rarely experienced by modern society.
4) The motivation of the partisans in that war usually was not the simple, noble catch phrases found in most histories, but rather a wide variety of reasons ranging from family influence to personal experiences or for personal gain. It was not unusual for men to switch sides.
5) Since most of these side stories have not been documented or only partially recorded in family histories and pension statements, I use my creative skills to humanize the events and principals with plausible situations and dialog to supplement the facts that we know about events, people, and situations.
MWSA: You write about brutality on both sides. Was life that cruel back then?
Joe Epley: As the war progressed, actions of partisan fighters were motivated more and more by vengeance than by patriotism. There were no prisons in the Carolina backcountry. If an adversary was captured, he might be turned loose with a pardon and promise never to pick up arms again. But if the captive were suspected of undue causing harm such as burning houses, killing a friend or relative or another mischief, they would be beaten or executed, usually without trial. Both sides had their share of rogues. There was little training or discipline in the small units that operated only when they felt there was danger in their region.
Also, life was harsh back then. Families eked out a living on what little they could grow or hunt. There were no grocery stores. Clothing had to be made from scratch -- creating the fibers from wool, flax or cotton, spinning thread and using a loom to make the cloth. Most backwoods families rarely had more than one change of clothing, if that. Rifles were hand made by a few gunsmiths using primitive tools.
MWSA: What new books are you working on?
Joe Epley: There are hundreds of great stories in the Revolution. All require research and attention to detail. Phrases we take for granted today may not have been used back then. For instance, I can't use 1780 dialog about a 'guerrilla fighter' because the word guerrilla was not mentioned before being used by the Spanish fighting the French in the early 19th century.
So to write another book, I have to spend considerable time in research if the finished story is to be true to the era. To me, research is as enjoyable as the writing; so I take more time that some writers, particularly when I can't find answers to questions that nag me.
But if the good Lord sees fit to keep me around a few more years, there probably will be another book, probably in the Passel series.
MWSA: How has MWSA helped you?
Joe Epley: I joined the organization initially to see what it was like to be with kindred spirits, and as many, to help promote my first book, ""A Passel of Hate.""
Having been in the leadership of the premier professional society for the public relations profession, I understand how a collective thinking of members can produce positive benefits. MWSA is still in its infancy, but with more members volunteering their time and talents, we can be more than a book awards organization. I think we can offer our members more regarding knowledge and skills in writing, publishing, and marketing.
With dedicated leadership and motivated members, MWSA has the potential of bringing our kindred spirits closer together and being far greater value to its members.