Author Spotlight: Megan Cooley Peterson talks The Liar's Daughter
I'm over the moon excited to welcome Megan Cooley Peterson on today's blog! Megan is hands-down one of the most talented writers I know and her debut is MUST READ for YA thriller fans! Broken into 'before' chapters that show the main character's life inside the cult, and 'after' chapters that show her after she's been taken out, this THE LIAR'S DAUGHTER is a masterclass in pacing and weaving together some very tricky puzzle pieces!
THE LIAR'S DAUGHTER is available now from Holiday House, Inc. Check out the synopsis below!
Piper was raised in a cult.
She just doesn't know it.
Seventeen-year-old Piper knows that Father is a Prophet. Infallible. The chosen one.
She would do anything for Father. That's why she takes care of all her little sisters. That's why she runs end-of-the-world drills. That's why she never asks questions. Because Father knows best.
Until the day he doesn't. Until the day the government raids the compound and separates Piper from her siblings, from Mother, from the Aunts, from all of Father's followers--even from Caspian, the boy she loves.
Now Piper is living Outside. Among Them.
With a woman They claim is her real mother--a woman They say Father stole her from.
But Piper knows better. And Piper is going to escape.
And now, here's my chat with Megan!
Hi, Megan! Welcome and congrats on The Liar's Daughter. Can you tell us a little about the story and what inspired it?
Hi, Megan! Thank you so much for having me on your blog! (Megan and I have been critique partners for a few years now, and she is one of the kindest, most supportive writers I know. And she’s a crazy talented writer, too.)
My novel is a YA thriller about Piper, a 17-year-old who was raised in a secluded cult with her brothers and sisters. Only Piper doesn’t know it’s a cult. She’s fiercely loyal to her family, especially her cult leader father. When she’s rescued from the cult, she’s desperate to return to her family. But long-buried memories start surfacing, and she is in a race to piece them all together. The novel is broken up into before and after she’s taken from the cult. In all of her after scenes, she’s trying to figure out a way to escape back to the cult.
My initial inspiration for the story came from a memoir I read by Michelle Knight called Finding Me: A Decade of Darkness, and Life Reclaimed. Michelle had been abducted held captive for a decade by a man named Ariel Castro. She survived horrific abuse, and her story got into my bones. I wanted to understand how people can survive such trauma, and how the mind sometimes works to protect us from it.
When I started writing this book, I never intended to tell a cult story! Piper originally lived in a modern-day traveling circus. Her father was the ringleader, and all the members of the circus were people who had been ostracized from society. The circus was run like a cult, though, and that’s the direction the story took.
When it comes to cults, what was your research process like? Did you learn anything interesting that didn’t make it into the book?
To research life in a cult, I studied quite a few cults, from Charles Manson’s The Family to Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple. One of the most interesting cults I discovered was an Australian cult run by a beautiful woman named Anne Hamilton-Byrne. She convinced wealthy, educated Australians to follow her. That was the most interesting thing I learned about cults—that there’s not a “type” of person more likely to fall into one. People of all races, education levels, and genders can find themselves sucked into a cult-like group. People want to belong to something, and that’s how cults work. They prey on the very human need to belong. I also learned that it’s usually people going through a major life change, like divorce or death of a loved one, who succumb more easily to a cult’s messaging.
I also used some of my own experiences to write the book. When I was in junior high, my family joined a cult-like, doomsday church. They tried to control every aspect of our lives, from who we hung out with to what holidays we could celebrate. Sports weren’t allowed. Dating wasn’t allowed. College wasn’t allowed. They said all those things took our focus away from God. If we questioned or doubted any of their teachings, we were told that Satan was trying to lead us astray. Thankfully, we left after only a few years. But it was a strange, sometimes maddening experience.
Tension is the essence of a thriller. What’s your best tip to manipulate it to keep your readers on edge?
Great question! Tension is the hallmark of any great book, regardless of genre. We keep turning the pages because we need to resolve that tension! In thrillers, literal life or death stakes are a great way to ratchet up the tension. Show the main character experiencing that tension, so the reader can feel it right along with them. And just when your character might be getting comfortable or think they have it all figured out, throw in a plot twist. Or several plot twists! I also always end my chapters on a cliffhanger. I treat each chapter like it’s a separate mini-story, starting out in a wider scope and slowly narrowing my focus all the way until the chapter’s final line.
I’m a firm believer in the idea that every story teaches the writer something new, so what did writing The Liar’s Daughter teach you?
Writing The Liar’s Daughter taught me so many things. I was unagented as I wrote the book. I’d queried other books before this one and had started to feel, honestly, like a giant failure. But then, in March of 2018, after a scary car accident, I decided to let go of tying my worth as a writer to getting an agent or publication deal. It was the most freeing epiphany, and it completely changed my approach to writing and publishing. For a few years, my writing wasn’t about the magic of writing. It was about trying to find an agent. And I had to let go of that before it completely robbed me of my love for words and stories. I will always write stories. It doesn’t matter if I never get another story published, as long as I’m still doing what I love. That was the greatest lesson writing this book taught me. Writing is an internal journey. The outside stuff (agents, book deals) really has nothing to do with it.
What are you reading, watching, or otherwise currently infatuated with?
As always, I’m infatuated with true crime. I love the show Mindhunter on Netflix. I also just finished reading I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara and highly recommend it.
On the lighter side, Schitt’s Creek is the best comedy I’ve seen in a long time. I can’t get enough of it!
And finally, what’s the most important lesson you’ve learned so far in your writing/publishing career?
The most important lesson I’ve learned is not to base your self worth as a writer on things you can’t control. You can’t control when/if a literary agent wants to sign you. You can’t control when/if an editor wants to acquire your book. So why set that as the bar for success? If you do, you’ll never be happy. In fact, you’ll probably be miserable. I know I was.
For me, success is never quitting. Success is continuing to learn more about craft and applying it to new books. Success is writing stories that challenge you, maybe even scare you a little.
Many thanks go out to Megan for taking the time to tell us more about how THE LIAR'S DAUGHTER came to be, for sharing her deep dive research into cults (as well as her own experience!) and for giving the actionable tips on how to capitalize on tension in your own novel. Be to sure to add this twisty and cryptic YA thriller to your Goodreads list, or (better yet!) order your copy (WRITE) NOW from retail sites like Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, or request it at your library, or local independent bookstore!
And, as always,