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Please welcome sisters Mari Hilburn and Michelle Poche, pseudonym Claire Avery, as they answer a few questions about their new book, Hidden Wives!

Hidden Wives (check out my review) was my favorite book this summer, if not all year, and I jumped at the chance to learn more about Mari and Michelle! They will also be participating in our Blogmania event in September!

For more information please visit www.claireaveryauthor.com.

Interview

The back of Hidden Wives says that you grew up in a Fundamentalist Catholic community, and later became interested in other extreme religions. Was your upbringing the main influence behind the subject of the book? Why did you pick Fundamentalist Mormons in particular?

Claire Avery: The whole theme of religious extremism was derived from personal experience, and we certainly feel that our childhood background was the catalyst for the basic premise of Hidden Wives. One of the first things we thought of when we heard about polygamy going on in this country was that if our father had been Mormon instead of Catholic, we almost certainly would have been raised in polygamy as fundamentalist Mormons. Our father was drawn to extremism within his faith. We picked Fundamentalist Mormons after watching a documentary on the topic. We were stunned to find out that the forced marriage of underage girls to much older polygamist men could go on in 21st century America.

Do you watch the show Big Love?

Claire Avery: No, neither of us has ever seen it, although we’ve heard it’s a very compelling show. However, it depicts a polygamist lifestyle where there is more choice on the part of the women involved. We have done extensive research on the topic of polygamy, and we talked to several women who had lived it and escaped that lifestyle. These women had very negative experiences with it. We know that some people find it just an alternative lifestyle, but we approached the topic of polygamy from the point of view of two young girls who have never had a “real” choice in whom they were to marry.

Fundamentalist Mormon lifestyle is up and coming subject matter in recent literature. Do you think that fictional books are helping to bring more attention to the plight of actual people living in these communities?

Claire Avery: Absolutely. We hoped that a fiction venue would expand the audience of readers and increase awareness of the problem. Many people read fiction exclusively, often for entertainment purposes. We hoped to both entertain and educate readers on the topic. From the first moment we discovered that the forced marriages of underage girls were going on in the United States, we were outraged. As soon as we decided to write a novel about the topic, we agreed that first and foremost we wanted to honor all the victims of polygamy. Secondly, we hoped to keep the plight of these victims in the media spotlight. We are so grateful that the topic is getting more attention, and that the public is aware that there are several organizations out there set up to help all victims of polygamy.

Who do you identify with more, Sara or Rachel?

Claire Avery: When we were creating the characters of Sara and Rachel we wanted to include two vastly different perspectives. We were raised to always see the good in others, and to forgive, no matter what was done to you. In those ways, we could understand Rachel’s psyche. 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 ultimately harder to identify with because she accepted all of it, although again, we understood her behavior, having ourselves been raised in a strict religious environment where guilt and fear were prevalent emotions. 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.

What is the most difficult thing about having two people write one book?

Claire Avery: The most difficult thing we dealt with in the past was when we had two competing visions for either a pivotal character or a major plot point. We both write on all the characters, so it’s very important that the voice of each character remains consistent, and obviously the plot needs to be cohesive as well as compelling. We usually talk our differences out, and because we each make an argument for our respective positions, we often end up utilizing the best suggestions from both sides. Hopefully, a stronger story and deeper characters are the end result.

Which authors were you influenced by growing up?

Claire Avery: Our father read C.S. Lewis to us as very young children. We were captivated by Chronicles of Narnia. We also loved Laura Ingalls Wilder, Roald Dahl, Judy Blume, Madeline L’Engle and Tolkien.

What are your three favorite books of all time?

Claire Avery: How do you choose? Certainly these books are in the all time favorite category:

Mari: White Oleander, A Thousand Splendid Suns, Anna Karenina.

Michelle: The Red Tent, The Crimson Petal and the White, The Poisonwood Bible.

What are you working on next?

Claire Avery: 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.