An Interview with Anne Montgomery, author of A Light in the Desert
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 archaeological pieces. Her novels include The Scent of Rain and A Light in the Desert. Nothing But Echoes will be released in 2020. Montgomery teaches communications 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.
Is there one book that is your own personal favorite?
Asking an author to pick a favorite book is like asking a mother to choose her favorite child. While they might secretly prefer one, I don’t think they’d say so. That said, I don’t think I have a favorite, or even a favorite character, for that matter.
Everyone has a ‘first novel’, even if many of them are a rough draft relegated to the bottom and back of your desk drawer (or your external hard drive!). Have you been able to reshape yours, or have you abandoned it for good?
My first book is called The Integrity of the Game. It’s a thriller based on Major League Baseball and gambling. I spent a good chunk of my life as a sports reporter in both television and print and I umpired amateur baseball for about 25 years. I have taken the manuscript out of that bottom drawer occasionally over the years. I don’t know if I’ll ever try to publish it again. When I look at the copy, I realize I am a much better writer now. So, perhaps that’s the purpose of those first, and maybe second and third books. We get better as we go.
Over the years, what would you say has improved significantly in your writing?
I never had any training in creative writing. I learned to write by being a reporter. The editors I’ve worked with since I started publishing my books have been excellent teachers who helped me with dialogue and pacing. I couldn’t be more grateful.
Some authors are able to pump out a novel a year and still be filled with inspiration. Is this the case for you, or do you like to let an idea percolate for a couple of years in order to get a beautiful novel?
I’m pretty adept at getting novels done once I pick a topic that inspires me. The idea might roll around in my head for a while, but I can do the research and get a first draft done in about four or five months. The caveat here is that I have a day job. I’m a high school teacher, at least for one more year, so I do little novel writing during the school year. Books tend to occupy my summer vacation mostly.
I have heard of writers that could only write in one place – then that cafe closed down and they could no longer write! Where do you find yourself writing most often, and on what medium (pen/paper or digital)?
I have an office in my Phoenix home. As I am easily distracted, I need quiet and order. Also, I have horrible handwriting, so I am all in in regard to writing on a computer.
Before going on to hire an editor, most authors use beta-readers. How do you recruit your beta-readers, and choose an editor? Are you lucky enough to have loving family members who can read and comment on your novel?
The problem with beta readers is that they are often people who love us and who are uncomfortable critiquing our work. By nature, they think whatever we write is great. However, I am fortunate that I have a few friends who understand they won’t hurt my feelings with their comments and suggestions. I cherish them. I am also lucky that I have an agent who pulls no punches. She goes through my manuscripts and I rarely refuse her suggestions. Once she and I are in agreement, she sends it to publishers and I am assigned an editor who dives in with me. Before we go to print, I hand the manuscript to anyone who offers to take a look, in order to catch errors. I figure the more the merrier. Authors need new eyeballs on their writing. And we need to have thick skins.
I walk past bookshops and am drawn in by the smell of the books – ebooks simply don’t have the same attraction for me. Does this happen to you, and do you have a favorite bookshop? Or perhaps you are an e-reader fan… where do you source most of your material from?
I swore I would not read e-books and then I got a Kindle as a gift. The idea that when I finish reading a book I can just push a button and another one magically appears is hard to resist. Also, e-books make it easier to get my work out into the marketplace. I am happy when people read my book in whatever delivery system they prefer.
I used to find myself buying books in only one genre (fantasy) before I started writing this blog. What is your favorite genre, and have your tastes changed over time?
I didn’t read much as a young person. I am a low-level dyslexic and struggled with reading. When I did sort things out, I started reading historical fiction, much of it based on the World War II era. I then expanded to other times and locales. I read a wide range of historical fiction today. I also like thrillers and mysteries.
Social media is a big thing, much to my disgust! I never have enough time myself to do what I feel is a good job. What do you do?
Social Media! I could say it is the bane of every author’s existence, mostly because it takes up so much time. But there are no other options. This is how we sell books, until some new system appears. I am required, per my contract with my publisher, to have a website and blog. While it was difficult getting started, it is so much a part of my life now, that it has become easier. I did have to decide which platforms I could handle, and I suggest that authors who are new to Social Media start slowly. You don’t have to jump on every platform at once. Also, blogging needs to be done regularly, which means coming up with interesting articles that will pull people to your site. As a former reporter, I do pretty well with this part, but it does take planning ahead. It’s kind of like the care and feeding of a pet.
Tell us some quirky facts about yourself.
I have a lot of interests. One is that I’m a rock and mineral collector, a hobby I’ve had my whole life. There are pictures of me toddling around in diapers putting rocks in cups. I have about 400 specimens in my living room. Also, I’ve been an amateur sports official since 1978. I’ve called football, baseball, ice hockey, soccer, and basketball games over the years. Today, I remain a high school football referee and crew chief with the Arizona Interscholastic Association. I love scuba diving, especially with sharks, which are beautiful creatures in the wild, and I have recently rekindled my love of musical theater. I also play the guitar.
What are the stories behind your books?
I write realistic fiction, which means the stories relate to real-life situations. As a former journalist and news junkie, I take stories about issues and events that happen around us. My books cover a wide range of topics. I’ve written about mental illness, child abuse, polygamy, archeological looting and black-market sales of antiquities, a serial rapist, cults, and the deadly, cold-case sabotage of passenger train.