Interview: Claire Avery talks about their new book - Hidden Wives, their next book and what's on the nightstand

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Two weeks ago, I read and reviewed Hidden Wives by Claire Avery (Read my review here). (Claire Avery is a pseudonym for the sister-pair of Mari Hilburn and Michelle Poché.) I was moved by this book and shocked that something such as polygamy and underage marriage could happen in 21st century America. This book got me very interested in polygamy as a religious practice, and I have recently checked out more books running along the same theme. If you haven't checked out this book yet, you need to!

I don't know about your place, but it has been raining heavily here today. So, with a hot cup of tea (or coffee, if you prefer), let's find out how they came about by the idea for this book, why they chose "Claire Avery" and what their new book (that's right!) is going to be about.

Hidden Wives is about polygamy, underage marriage, and religious fanaticism. How was this idea born?
As children, we were raised in an extreme form of Catholicism. Our father was a founding member of this group in Chicago. When we watched a documentary on polygamy, our first thought was that at least our father hadn’t been a polygamist. Our second thought was: how can the forced marriage of underage girls to much older polygamist men go on in 21st century America? Our third thought was: that could have been us, if our father had chosen that particular religion. We started to imagine what it would have been like to grow up in polygamy. As we delved into the topic further, we realized that these girls have been brainwashed from early childhood. They are isolated, and it’s the only thing they know. We were able to identify with the fear, confusion and anxiety these women and girls experience growing up in a world of religious extremism. We also understand how frightening it can be to reject the beliefs that are ingrained in you from childhood, even if they are clearly harmful. We wanted to demonstrate that there is a systemic brainwashing which goes on from early childhood in these types of groups that makes it very difficult for these women and children to ask for help, report abuse, or to escape. We hope that our book can help keep the plight of these victims of polygamy in the media spotlight.

While I had heard of polygamy, I hadn't been fascinated enough to explore this field. After reading Hidden Wives, I've become reasonably obsessed, LOL! So, how did the two of you decide to write Hidden Wives together?
We were fascinated with the topic of polygamy, and we liked the idea of two sisters coming of age in a polygamist cult. We grew up together in a religious commune, and because of those common experiences, we thought it seemed like a great story to work on together.

It is usually quite challenging to cowrite a novel, even with family. How did your personalities and writing styles gel together on this venture?
We have two very different writing styles but they ultimately complement each other. Mari likes to plot everything out first, and Michelle likes to fly by the seat of her pants. In order for us have a finished book, that holds together at the end of the process, we both had to compromise for the good of the story. Now, we start with an extensive outline, but in order to preserve the spontaneity of the story, we allow for changes in the direction of the plot as the characters become more developed and the events more detailed. And while we initially divide up the chapters, as each first draft of a chapter is written, it is then handed off to the other person for rewrite or a complete overhaul, depending on what’s needed. If one of us has a weaker area, the other one is usually stronger and can help in that regard. Not only is it great to have someone to bounce ideas off of, but you have a built in editor and first reader right there. One vital thing we’ve learned about collaboration, after some wailing and gnashing of teeth, is that no piece of work is sacred. We have to really be brutal with each other and with ourselves, especially during the editing process. We each learned to sacrifice and to accept constructive criticism without getting our egos bruised. Ultimately, we learned to make the hard choices together for a better story.

I'm sure it would have been an amazing experience to write a book with one's sister. Ever since I realized that you were actually two sisters writing this book, I was wondering how you came to choose the name Claire Avery?
We thought it was a pretty name that we would name ourselves if we could…so we did. LOL.


The two main protagonists in Hidden Wives - Sara and Rachel - have lives which are very different from yours, but who do you relate to the most and why?
When we were creating the characters of Sara and Rachel we wanted to include two vastly different perspectives. Both girls were indoctrinated into fundamentalism, but one girl could more readily see the hypocrisy, irrationality and harm from the fanaticism, and the other girl, because of her guilt and fear, couldn't even consider the possibility that her religion was deeply flawed. Rachel was harder to relate to because she accepted all of it. Sara’s love of learning, insatiable intellectual curiosity, and ultimately, her ability to see the hypocrisy all around her, made her easier to relate to than Rachel. Like Sara, we were avid readers growing up and books ultimately became our salvation. Reading opened our minds to different viewpoints; some of those viewpoints were directly oppositional to our religious indoctrination. However, we were able to write Rachel, hopefully in a convincing way, because we understand how difficult it is to reject what you are taught your entire life.

So is there any new book on the horizon? (*bloggers are leaning forward*)
The new book, currently in final revisions, has to do with a woman who raises a child for 12 years assuming the girl is her biological daughter. When the child gets sick, she finds out the girl could not possibly be her biological child. The book is not about what it seems to be on the surface, and we hope readers will be surprised and really start thinking about some of the deeper issues that the story raises.

Yay! Definitely looking forward to your new book. Wrapping up, I have some three quick questions:
Favorite Book?
We think the favorite book and favorite author questions are always the most difficult questions to answer. There are just so many wonderful authors and truly phenomenal books. Sorry, we can’t pick one.

The Help, A Thousand Splendid Sons, My Sister’s Keeper, She’s Come Undone, White Oleander, The Hours, The Posionwood Bible, Black and Blue, Memoirs of a Geisha, Atonement, The Red tent, A Thousand Acres, The Glass Castle, Pride and Prejudice, Anna Karenina, The Brothers Karamazov
Favorite author?
Jodi Picoult, Khaled Hosseini, Ian McEwan, Lisa See, Wally Lamb, Anna Quindlen, Barbara Kingsolver, Jane Austen, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky
On your nightstand?
Michelle is currently reading Day After Night by Anita Diamant.
Mari is currently reading The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer.

10 comments:

Lisa said...

I love my sister but I can't imagine writing a book with her! What a special relationship they must have. Glad to hear there's another book on the horizon.

bermudaonion said...

Great interview! I've been fascinated by polygamy for several years now and I can't figure out why, so I really want to get my hands on this book!

Molly said...

GREAT interview! When I read the topic of the second book, it reminded me of Jodi Picoult, so I am not surprised that she is one their favorite authors.

Felicia the Geeky Blogger said...

I loved this book! It was such a great read :)

Ash said...

I don't have any siblings but I think it would be incredibly difficult writing with one. Congrats on pulling it off! The more I hear about this book the more interesting it becomes. Great interview.

Emidy said...

Fantastic interview - I enjoyed every word of it! This book sounds so, so interesting. I haven't read any books on this topic but have been hearing about it a lot recently. I'll check this one out!

Marce said...

I don't read many interviews but I enjoyed this one, unique.

Cat said...

I've been interested in this subject too after reading The 19th Wife earlier this year. I haven't seen Hidden Wives here yet but I brought one home from the library yesterday called Shattered Dreams by Irene Spencer.

Great interview! :-)

Erisian (FNORDinc.com) said...

i myself am not mormon, but i grew up in a mormon family in the middle of utah, so polygamy has always been a looming shadow spectre, on of those things people ask about but do not realize is a fringe issue.

regardless, i have also always found the topic very interesting.

will have to pick up this book and read it.

great interview, thanks to the authors for letting you pick their brains!

~~

Aths, have you watched Big Love on HBO? it is very interesting and though over the top, is incredibly enjoyable.

Aths said...

Lisa, I can't imagine writing a book with my brother either. We argue all the time (sibling rivalry). It is certainly wonderful that the authors have a wonderful relationship conducive to writing.

Kathy, I sure hope you get to read this one.

Molly, I read very little Picoult so I didn't see that connection.

Felicia, I agree! Glad you liked it too!

Ash, thanks! I hope you get to read it.

Emidy, thank you so much! I hope you get to read it.

Marce, thank you! :)

Cat, thanks! I haven't heard of Shattered Dreams, I will look it up.

Erisian, it sure would be a different kind of lifestyle. Having always been a rebel, I would find any kind of imposing lifestyle hard to take. Also, I'm glad the authors let me pick their brains. ;-) I haven't watched that show, but I'll look it up.