Monday, August 5, 2019
Author Spotlight Anne Butler Montgomery
Anne Butler Montgomery 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. Her novel, The Scent of Rain, was released in March 2017. A Light in the Desert was published in November 2018. Nothing But Echoes is set for publication in 2020. Montgomery teaches journalism at South Mountain High School in Phoenix, is a foster mom to three sons, and is an Arizona Interscholastic Association football referee and crew chief. When she can, she indulges in her passions: rock collecting, football officiating, scuba diving, and playing her guitar.
Anne kindly agreed to my interviewing her regarding her career and writing of her novel A Light in the Desert. I'll be posting a book review of it in the near future. Now, onto the interview.
Anne, can you tell us a bit about your background and process for writing A Light in the Desert?
I spent about fifteen years as a reporter in both television and print, so I approach my novels much the same way I handled being a journalist. I spend a lot of time investigating particular topics that interest me. In regard to A Light in the Desert, that included not only the real-life cold-case deadly sabotage of an Amtrak train in the Arizona desert, but also PTSD and child abuse. I interview people with first-hand knowledge of the topics I write about and find that they are often woven into my fictional characters.
Please tell us how you went about studying the themes of child abuse and PTSD.
After my career as a journalist ended, I became an inner-city high school teacher. Over the past nineteen years, I have come in contact with many abused and neglected children. In fact, I became a foster mom after meeting some of them. While I’m happy to say that my three boys are now in their twenties and are successful young adults, they still call me mom and I hope they always will. As far as PTSD is concerned, I had a dear friend, a Vietnam Veteran, who suffered from the ravages of that syndrome, as well as Agent Orange poisoning. The character of Jason Ramm is based on some of the stories Don told me about his in-country time during the war. As mentioned above, when I want to learn about a topic, I find people who have first-hand knowledge of the subject and interview them extensively.
As an experienced journalist, what advice would you give to someone who is a prospective journalist?
Those interested in pursuing a career in journalism need to understand that it is a mobile career. That means you must be willing to leave where you are and move quickly to another locale. Think of the media industry like Minor League Baseball. Each move should be to a bigger market. Of course, that means leaving friends and loved ones behind. It might also mean delaying marriage and family life. So, you must be open to change. Also, the most important skill a journalist needs is the ability to tell a good story. It doesn’t matter if it’s TV, radio/podcasting, or print, excellent writing skills are essential.
Do you have any particular practices that help you write?
I let a story roll around in my head for months before doing any actual research. I identify the components I want to include and try to determine how they might fit together. For example, I just finished a manuscript about the problems associated with wild horses as humans encroach on their habitat, escaping an abusive relationship, and the fragility of the Sonoran Desert riparian environments. Once I have an idea of how to put those puzzle pieces together, I begin my formal research. As far as actual writing, I’m what’s referred to as a “pantser”. While many authors plan their story lines out ahead of time, I work chapter to chapter, by the seat of my pants – hence “pantser” – and let the characters take me with them. I am often as surprised as readers to discover new things about my characters and the actions they take.
If you had to describe your writing style what words would you use?
It will probably come as no surprise that I write like a reporter. That means my style is often concise and to the point, so there’s not much in the way of flowery prose. (This style comes from years of writing to time and space constraints. In TV, I’d only have ninety seconds to tell a story. Or I’d be held to five-hundred words in print. You learn to eliminate anything unnecessary. Also, I use very short chapters because in my mind I see video scenes.
Who is your favorite author?
I don’t have one. I am a low-level dyslexic and, until I was older, I found the thought of reading for pleasure ridiculous. While I’m not devoted to any particular author, I like to read historical fiction – often about the World War II era – as well as mysteries, suspense, and thrillers.
And finally, is there anything you'd like to tell readers?
While my books are fiction, they are based in fact. I work very hard to make sure I get the factual parts right. For example, The Scent of Rain details the life of a teenage girl fleeing the horrors of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a cult of polygamists who believe it’s OK for old men to marry young girls. I interviewed a woman who twice escaped from the FLDS, and a doctor who worked with the cultists, and I went to Colorado City, Arizona to observe them. So, I’d like my readers to know that, even though they are reading a fictional story, they will learn factual information along the way.
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