Today I have another treat – an interview with author Anne Montgomery. Anne is a former reporter turned writer. She has worked as a television sportscaster, newspaper and magazine writer, teacher, amateur baseball umpire, and high school football referee. Her first TV job came at WRBL‐TV in Columbus, Georgia, and led to positions at WROC‐TV in Rochester, New York, KTSP‐TV in Phoenix, Arizona, and ESPN in Bristol, Connecticut, where she anchored the Emmy and ACE award‐winning SportsCenter. She finished her on‐camera broadcasting career with a two‐year stint as the studio host for the NBA’s Phoenix Suns. Montgomery was a freelance and/or staff reporter for six publications, writing sports, features, movie reviews, and archeological pieces. Today we’re going to be talking about her book, The Scent of Rain.
I really enjoyed your book. (My review is here.) Where did you get the idea for this book?
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 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.
What kind of research did you do? Can you describe your writing process?
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 and 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.
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. I am not afraid of many things, but I have to admit that I was uncomfortable while doing my research on site and have no desire to go back.
In regard to my writing process, I’m what you call a “pantser”, which is an author who doesn’t have a specific plan or plot line in place. While doing research my characters are fleshed out, but I’m never certain exactly what they will be doing or where they will take me. In fact, my characters often surprise me. This is writing by the seat of your pants. Hence, “pantser”.
Adan and Rose both have difficult family situations. What was your own family like?
I was raised the middle child in a middle-class family in Livingston, New Jersey, not too far from New York City. Both my parents were college graduates – a rarity in the 1960s – who expected their three kids to go to college, as well. I struggled early on with what I would later learn was low-end dyslexia. So, I hated to read and school was a battle. When it came time for college, my older brother bet me that I’d drop out freshman year, because I was too stupid to graduate. Perhaps I should thank him for my later successes in academics, because I was determined not to lose that bet. I was also obese until I was about 14, a condition that embarrassed my family and had me spending a good deal of time without human companionship. However, I was lucky to have the best dog on the planet who wandered the nearby woods and streams with me, so I never felt alone. I believe those early forays into nature provided me with the love of wild areas I still have today.
The setting is very important to the book. What experience did you have with the desert before the book?
The state of Arizona, where I have lived for almost 30 years, is one of the most wondrous wild areas I have ever explored. We have the incredibly diverse Sonoran Desert, as well as high mountains and canyons and rivers and forests. I have seen much of the state because I’m a rock collector. (It’s true. I have about 400 specimens in my living room alone. Friends know not to ask about them if I’ve had a glass of wine, because I then feel compelled to explain when and where I obtained each one, whether they want to know or not.) Before researching The Scent of Rain, I had not traveled to the Arizona Strip. I was thrilled by the stark beauty of the area. Zion National Park is just a short drive from Colorado City. The thing I enjoyed most about writing the manuscript was incorporating descriptions of the landscape into the story.
Which of the characters in the book can you identify with the most?
Like Rose, I am often enthralled with the beauty of nature. I’m a high school teacher, and to have a student like her would be a delight. I admire her enthusiasm, her determination to find answers to the natural world around her, and her efforts to reconcile the beliefs of the strange community in which she was raised with all the new things she learns about the outside world. I can also identify with Adan. Through some strange twist, I became a foster mom at 55. As I never had any biological children, you can imagine what suddenly having a 15-year-old boy in my home was like. Adan reminds me of my first son, Brandon. I now have three boys who call me mom.
What would you like readers to take away from the book?
Be aware of what’s happening around you. 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.
Is The Scent of Rain your first book? What are you working on now?
Actually, I have six books, through two are neatly tucked away in a drawer, likely never to see the light of day. Two books are to be soon to be reissued. A Light in the Desert is a soft-thriller involving an assassin who is succumbing to a strange form of mental illness called the Jerusalem Syndrome, a pregnant teenager, and the deadly real-life 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 when Europeans first arrived in the Americas. The Castle, which tells the story of a female National Park ranger who is struggling to come to grips with being raped and the serial rapist who is stalking her, is currently being offered to publishers.
Which authors would you say have influenced your work the most?
That’s a tough question. I’m told I write like a man. More likely, I write like a reporter. We are, after all, story tellers. We are just more succinct and often lacking in flowery prose. So, perhaps reporters have influenced my writing more than authors.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I have several hobbies. I am a high school football referee and crew chief. That means I’m the white hat, the official that signals to the press box about what’s happening on the field. I began officiating in 1979 as a way to learn the main team spectator sports. I wanted to be a sportscaster, which was unheard of for a woman in the 1970s, so I decided to become a certified amateur official in football, baseball, ice hockey, soccer, and basketball, in order to become knowledgeable enough to report on the games. I believed a news director somewhere would appreciate my efforts and hire me. And that’s exactly what happened. I would go on to work for five TV stations. My first on-air job came at WRBL-TV in Columbus, Georgia, and led to positions at WROC-TV in Rochester, New York, KTSP-TV in Phoenix, Arizona, and ESPN in Bristol, Connecticut, where I anchored the Emmy and ACE award-winning SportsCenter. I finished my on-camera broadcasting career with a two-year stint as the studio host for the NBA’s Phoenix Suns. That I still officiate football surprises me, but I can’t seem to quit. My other hobbies include rock collecting, gardening – which is quite an adventure in the desert – scuba diving, and playing my guitar. I’m also a movie buff.
What’s the best way for readers to stay in touch with you?
I am active on social media: Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and LinkedIn. Readers can find me on Wikipedia and Amazon, and are also welcome to contact me on my website, https://annemontgomerywriter.com/.