Peggy: Thank you. I love doing research. I spent many hours in the library digging through periodicals, reading newspaper articles and magazine stories about the Waco Siege, Ruby Ridge, and the Montana Freemen, which were incidents in the 90s where the FBI surrounded and/or invaded anti-government, fundamental religious extremist cults and groups. The up-to-the-minute reports of the drama as it unfolded helped me transform some of that reality into the story.
To learn more about the Aryan Nation I turned to the internet, because they are a secretive organization.
Katie: Is Sarah based on any true life stories you’ve uncovered in your research? How did you construct the character of Sarah?
Peggy: Yes, Sarah is based on a true story, but if I tell you the story, I’ll give away the ending. So I’ll just say Sarah’s story is based on a true story I saw on 48 Hours about two brothers, ages 8 and 10, who were found living in a fundamental religious extremist cult.
My main characters always come to me as a voice in my head. Through my extensive research I was able to flesh out Sarah’s character. It’s sort of like, I heard her voice telling me her story, which was interesting. So I asked, who is this person? Like most writers, when I create a character I use character sketches, bios, and interviews. But in the research process I always find the little hints here and there that tell me who this person really is.
Katie: I see on your website that you conducted interviews with women who had left extremist groups. What did you learn about life in these extremist cults?
Peggy: Actually I read interviews with women who had left extremist groups. Sorry for the misunderstanding.
The interviews were fascinating. The women and children inside cults or extremist groups live in isolation from the outside world. Men are dominant and women and children are subservient. Women are expected to cook and clean and home school the kids. Children are often given chores and responsibilities beyond their capabilities. They live kind of an old-fashioned way of life, off the grid, so to speak. The men use psychological, physical, and sexual abuse to keep the women and children under their control.
Generally speaking, the women are there because of the men. Either they are followers of the cult leader or married to cult members. They have low self-esteem, have suffered abuse as children, and usually come from strict religious backgrounds. The children are a different story. In those living situations, they are easily oppressed. However some of them do recognize the hypocrisy coming from the adults around them and, as in any family or society, rebellion comes from the youth. In many cases, the kids convinced their mothers to leave.
Katie: Why the Aryan order? What made you include this controversial group in your story?
Peggy: I knew Sarah’s father was a gunsmith and a weapons dealer. Guns and God were his thing. The FBI has come down hard on gun dealers who sell weapons to extremist groups. In the Ruby Ridge incident in particular, Randy Weaver sold weapons to the Aryan Nation.
I visited the Aryan Nation website which was packed with propaganda and hate speech. It was also pretty sophisticated. While I was poking around an angry red message box popped up on my screen: “WARNING!” The message said I was not a registered user. I closed my browser. In a few minutes I received an email asking why I was looking at the website, which creeped me out. I couldn’t figure out how the person knew my email address. I hit reply and typed a few general questions but then I remembered something. During my research I had read about a writer who had become acquainted with a group of neo-Nazis in the Chicago area so he could get interviews for a story. Then he disappeared. I decided one-on-one contact was a really bad idea. I deleted my reply.
A close friend of mine had lived in northern Idaho for ten years. The Aryan Nation “headquarters” is located there. Naturally she had many encounters with them over the years. She described them as isolated, angry, defensive, secretive – and scary. I thought about making up an extremist group for my story but it didn’t feel authentic. In a way, I think I wanted to thumb my nose at the Aryan Nation and expose some of their extremist tactics.
Katie: The book is so personal, told through letters Sarah writes to her long lost friend Juniper. What made you decide on using letters as your way of conveying the story?
Peggy: The story came to me in the form of a journal, or diary. The story wanted to be written that way. I was resistant at first because of the whole show-don't-tell rule. So in the early stages of plotting the story, I re-read Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. I was struck by how similar in many ways Anne’s story was to Sarah’s. They were both held prisoner by events beyond their control but still going through all the same phases young girls go through. Not to mention the whole Nazi connection. Diary breaks a lot of rules but it's a captivating story you simply can't put down. In the case of Letters to Juniper, I decided to use letters to create a bond between Sarah and Juniper.
Katie: Marketing now falls on the laps of authors these days. What are you trying to market your novel? What areas have you found success?
Peggy: If by success you mean readers, then I’d have to say blogging is a good way to attract an audience. I have two blogs of my own. Advice from a Caterpillar is a spin-off of a column by the same name which I did for Writing World.com. I do book reviews, advice, markets, and some interviews. I live in a small, Colorado mountain town with a lot of character. From the Styx is sort of an information and gossip blog about the local scene. I also blog at Young Adult Authors You’ve Never Heard Of, which is a group blog made up of – you guessed it – young adult authors you’ve never heard of. We don’t take ourselves too seriously.
Book review exchanges are a great way to meet other authors. I seek out authors and offer to review their books if they will review mine. I do Facebook and Twitter as much as possible but they are time eaters. I’m on Google+, LinkedIn, and Goodreads, though I find it is hard to keep up with all of it.
Book trailers are another marketing tool. I’m not sure how effective they are but they sure are fun. You can view the Letters to Juniper book trailer here.
I would also add that people like you and websites like Underground Book Reviews go a long way toward helping indie writers like me spread the word-of-mouth about my books and gain readers. I couldn’t survive without your support.
Katie: Many of our authors are self-published. What advice did you wish you had known when you started your publishing journey?
Peggy: I self-published my first adult novel, Rumors of War. My middle grade novels, The Road to Weird and Letters to Juniper are both published with small independent publishers.
Back in the 80s, I had a little desktop publishing business. I made up flyers, newsletters, and brochures for a few small businesses and organizations. I wish I had expanded that business back then. I didn’t self-publish until late 1999. The “me” of today would tell the “me” of the 80s to self-publish my work and start a newsletter for writers. The advice I wish I had known is that self-publishing is the future.
Katie: Tell us a little bit about your other writing credits. With two blogs and several other writing endeavors how do you find time to fit it all in?
Peggy: I mentioned my other published works. I was a columnist and managing editor at Writing World.com for five years. Before that, besides desktop publishing, I was an associate editor with Children’s Magic Window magazine, and I held various other editing jobs with small publications.
I don’t always find the time to fit it all in but I do my best. Blogging has helped me become a more disciplined writer and meet my own deadlines.
Katie: When you’re not writing, what might we find you doing?
Peggy: I am devoted to my grandkids and spend most of my free time with Hailey, who is 10, and Bodi, who is 3 years old. I enjoy cross country and downhill skiing in the winter. My husband and I manage a cross country trail system for the forest service, which is a lot of fun. In summer I love camping and hiking in the mountains.
Katie: Tell us about your new projects. I see you have other novels upcoming. What can we expect from these projects?
Peggy: My new book, PFC Liberty Stryker will be released next month (February 2012). Here’s the blurb: Libby Stryker joined the army to avenge her dad’s death on 9-11 but it’s nothing like she expected. Operation Iraqi Freedom takes her on a harrowing journey north with a mysterious Arab, through bomb devastation, hot zones, and RPG attacks. A different kind of horror awaits Libby in Baghdad. Her past and present, and why it’s all gone wrong, blow up in her face. Prepare to enter an alternate reality unlike anything you have ever experienced.
View the PFC Liberty Stryker book trailer here.
Following the release of PFC Liberty Stryker, my publisher and I will start working on Hurricane Katrina. Katrina Vanderzee is the daughter of a famous Hollywood film producer and a dead ringer for Paris Hilton. But none of that matters when she’s stranded at the Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. On the run from her complicated soap opera life, she is haunted by a deadly secret. And that’s all I’m going to say …
Thank you Katie, for giving me this opportunity to introduce myself and my work to your readers.
Katie: Thank you, Peggy. You can find Peggy at www.peggytibbetts.net.
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