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February 22, 2019

In her memoir, McChesney writes with courage and vulnerability about her time with, and escape from, a cult.

It is a tremendous act of courage to write about how you escaped living in a cult. What inspired you to write Seeking Oz: My Twelve-Year Journey in a Cult?

I was inspired to help others who feel overpowered and victimized—whether it's due to a controlling religion, a tyrannical employer, an abusive spouse, or some other entity or person who encumbers and hinders their healthy choices.

What do you think made you susceptible to indoctrination by a cult?

In my book, I discuss several factors that contributed to my susceptibility to a cult, despite being raised by honest, good-hearted parents. The greatest factor was my unfounded guilt, which stemmed from my being brought up in a fear-based, shame-based religion.

What gave you the strength to leave?

Anger. At least, that's where it started. I vowed to listen to myself and determine if I was wrong or if the group I was pledged to was wrong. When I started getting answers, I became stronger. Eventually, I started believing in myself.

Tell us how and why the story of The Wizard of Oz came to be a fitting parallel for your journey.

The "god" of my cult religion was an imposter—an Oz of sorts. Therefore, I was inspired to use The Wizard of Oz to illustrate my cult experience early in my writing. After my dear friend who had shared the 12-year cult journey with me—Ellie in the book—passed on from cancer, I was further inspired. The Wizard of Oz was Ellie's favorite story. Once I realized Oz was a fraud, I came to understand that I already had everything I needed inside myself. The analogy held and I went with it!

How did you manage to make sure your account of this emotionally charged time in Seeking Oz is accurate?

I have often made the statement: The more painful the experience, the greater the recall. I collaborated with a few former cult members, my husband of that time, and my three sons. Despite using a pen name and not divulging names and places, I have received feedback from former cult members that I haven't seen or talked to for 30 years. These people, including one of the cult leader's daughters, continue to validate the intensity of the leader's control with stories of their own experiences.