Minnesota author Megan Peterson started September on a high note. Her daughter began kindergarten on Sept. 5, and her first book, “The Liar’s Daughter,” was released on Sept. 10.
Peterson will be talking about her recently released young adult novel at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 1, at the Hutchinson Public Library.
She described her book as a young adult psychological thriller.
“It’s about a girl who grew up in a cult, only she didn’t know it was a cult,” Peterson said. “When she’s rescued from the cult, she spends most of the novel trying to get back to her cult family. It’s a nonlinear timeline. It goes back and forth and what led up to the cult being raided by the government.”
Peterson said she was inspired by a memoir written by one of the three women who were abducted in Cleveland, Ohio, and kept as prisoners for more than 10 years.
“I was completely captivated by her story,” the author said. “How can a person survive the most terrible circumstances possible? How does the mind protect itself from that type of trauma?”
The cult side of the book was also influenced by Peterson’s personal experience.
“When I was in junior high, my family joined a very cult-like religious church,” she said. “We left after a couple of years, but I used some of those experiences as well as a lot of research on real-life cults.”
FINDING A PUBLISHER
Peterson started writing her novel in 2015.
“My part alone was three years,” she said, “writing and rewriting and reworking things and playing around with it. You always think, ‘They wrote it in one draft.’ Unfortunately, that’s not how it goes.”
Peterson’s appearance in Hutchinson marks her first public book presentation, which is not surprising since this is her first novel.
“I’ve never done a book presentation before,” she said. “It’s my first time. I will talk a little bit about the inspiration behind the book and the publishing process.”
In an interesting twist, Peterson may never have given a public book presentation, but she’s no rookie when it comes to writing. She has written many — as in at least 100 — nonfiction children’s books for Capstone Publishing in Mankato.
“I write about every kind of topic you can think of,” she said.
What sets “The Liar’s Daughter” apart from her other efforts is that it’s her first young adult fiction book.
“I’ve been writing stories since I was a little kid,” she said. “I always loved writing. I started writing novels probably back in 2010. They were young adult (novels). I was querying literary agents and getting a lot of rejections. I actually found my publisher through an online pitch contest.”
Using a hashtag, authors were asked to tweet what their book was about.
“It’s an unorthodox way to find a publisher,” she said. “An editor saw my tweet and asked me to send my book. I sent it. She read it and a couple of weeks later she called and wanted to buy my book. I queried agents for seven years and never found an agent who wanted to represent me.”
Once Peterson received the book offer, she reached out to agents who were reading her book.
“Three were interested in representing me,” she said. “It was really hard to pick one because I had always been the one rejected. I never had to reject someone. It was a very foreign feeling. I chose the agent who connected the most with my story and had the same vision for my story.”
Peterson said fiction and nonfiction writing are totally different.
“With fiction, you’re making it up,” she said. “There’s no road map. It’s exciting but daunting. With nonfiction, they give me a topic. Doing research narrows your focus. It’s also fun to take a nonfiction topic and write it in an engaging way for children.”
With the lag time from a novel’s completion through the publishing process, Peterson was able to finish a second young adult thriller.
It’s a standalone novel inspired by Netflix documentary “Making a Murderer.” The protagonist is a teenage girl who’s father is in prison for murdering her mother. She’s being raised by her grandparents. Information comes to light that maybe her father was innocent, and she begins investigating her mother’s murder.
“I don’t have a legal background,” she said. “There’s a lot of really good research material for crime writers that walks you through police procedures and detective work.”
Peterson’s second young adult novel is in the hands of her agent.
“We’re ready to submit it to editors,” she said. “It’s exciting. I kind of skipped over that process with the first book. It’s the first time I’ve done this part of it.”
THE WRITING PROCESS
Peterson starts a writing project with an outline.
“I make them fairly detailed,” she said, “but I leave room for change. I never completely stick with it. It’s a guide to get you focused on an end point. I know what the end will be when I start.”
Another advantage in creating an outline before writing a word is that editors can see where she’s going and it cuts down on rewriting.
With fiction, Peterson said she uses a looser outline. She definitely marks all the high points. She will spend a couple of weeks on it. Once she starts writing, if a plot point changes, it may affect the rest of the book, so she’ll go back and make the change to the outline.
“I like to do the writing part more than the outlining,” she said. “I always think I’ll write the perfect draft novel. I’ll figure it out this time. Every book teaches me something new.”
The Mankato native works from home, mostly using a desktop computer. She also has a laptop she’ll take when she wants to get out of the office and work at a local coffee shop or outdoors. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Mankato State University. Her first job after college was marketing at a bank. From there, she became an in-house editor at Capstone Publishing.
“I learned the other side of publishing, which was fun,” she said. “I always wanted to be a novelist since I was a little girl. I loved my job as an editor. I was so worn out when I got home at night I never had time to do any fiction writing. I just decided to go for it. It was a good time to try.”
Peterson left her full-time job to become a freelance editor and writer. Thanks to her relationship with Capstone, she hasn’t had any shortage of work. Being in charge of her own schedule, however, has allowed her time to write for herself.
“My characters just appear,” she said. “I don’t base them on anyone I know. They just come out of nowhere, which is really fun.”