Yesterday, I shared my review of the fabulous book, The Scent of Rain by Anne Montgomery. Now, we get to hear more details about the book and Anne’s own true experience with the people of Colorado City as well as what she has coming up next!
What inspired you to take on this subject?
The ideas for all of my books come from current events. I am an admitted news junkie and have been reading the newspaper front to back daily for about 40 years. I’ve learned that truth is often far stranger than fiction. Stories about the polygamists in Colorado City are often in the news here in Arizona. I had never heard about the cult until I moved here and was shocked that such a group could exist today in the US. In regard to Rose, the 16-year-old protagonist, I am a teacher in a Title I high school in Phoenix. Many of my students come from difficult and disadvantaged backgrounds. I am also a foster mom. I have seen what abuse and neglect can do to children first hand.
Many of the non-FLDS characters describe the hostility they face from the residents of Colorado City and at the end of the book, you said you traveled to Colorado City for inspiration and experienced similar treatment. What was that like?
I find it impossible to write stories without actually visiting the locations where my characters live, so I recruited a friend and we drove to Colorado, City. We concocted a story about looking for a place to retire. As we studied the community, children stared at us as if we were monsters. They are told that outsiders are devils. We drove around town, stopping at the the local market, the shuttered public school, the grave yard, and the leader’s palatial estate. I’m pretty sure we were being followed, at times. It was very disconcerting. I’m not afraid of many things, but I have to admit I was uncomfortable while doing research on site and have no desire to go back.
What other research did you do for the book?
As a former reporter, I greatly enjoy digging for a story. I read articles about Colorado City and conducted interviews with people who had lived or worked in the community, including Flora Jessop, who escaped twice from the cult and today works with the Child Protection Project: an anti-child abuse group that helps women and girls escape from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The stories Flora told me were so harrowing that to this day I have not listened to the three-hour recording of our interview session. The images were burned into my brain. I also interviewed Dr. Theodore Tarby who bravely confronted the cult members, asking them to refrain from marrying and reproducing with their close relatives, after he discovered that the cause of the awful birth defects in the community were the result of incest. Unfortunately, Dr. Tarby was ignored.
Many scenes in the book are very emotional and are based on real-life FLDS decrees and beliefs. How did you decide what to include in the book?
I took into account the stories that Flora Jessop relayed and, when possible, I gave those experiences to Rose. I find it interesting that some readers have been put off by certain scenes and have suggested that I have overplayed the situation. But the vast majority of the information I wrote about came directly from my interviews with Flora and Dr. Tarby. I also included information gleaned from newspaper articles and TV reports.
What do you hope people take away from the book?
Be aware of what’s happening around you and speak up when warranted. Some characters in “The Scent of Rain” are kind, well-meaning people, but they don’t acknowledge what’s happening right under their noses. Mistreatment of people, especially children, is something no one should tolerate, and no belief or religion should be a mask for abuse.
What are you working on next?
Two of my books that were previously published are to be soon to be reissued. “A Light in the Desert” is a soft-thriller involving a Vietnam veteran who is succumbing to a strange form of mental illness called the Jerusalem Syndrome, a pregnant teenager, and the deadly, real-life, cold-case sabotage of an Amtrak train in the Arizona desert. “Nothing But Echoes” is historical fiction that deals with the discovery of a fabulous tomb in Northern Arizona that reveals a man interred 900 years ago who doesn’t look like the pueblo people who buried him, and which leads to questions about archeological looting, the black market sale of antiquities, and when Europeans first arrived in the Americas. “The Castle,” which tells the story of a female National Park ranger who is a rape survivor and the serial rapist who is stalking her, is currently being offered to publishers.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
First, don’t quit your day job. It’s extremely difficult in the ever-changing of world of publishing to make a living as an author. And remember that authors are not just story tellers. In order to be successful, they must be marketers and bloggers and speakers. Also, an author will not survive without extremely thick skin. Rejections can wear you down, but they are part of the process. When someone says no, politely ask why. Respect the person’s opinion and see what you can do better. Obviously, writers must write. When you finish that perfect novel, take a few breaths then write another one. Publishers are not looking for a one-hit wonder. They want to sign people who produce lots of books. Finally, try not to take the ups and downs of publishing too seriously. If you have a sense of humor and appreciate those baby steps forward, you will be a much happier author.