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Palm Desert resident John Peters, 66, came from a confused family background—which, in anyone else, might have led to dysfunction, insecurity and/or any number of psychologically traumatic results. But this ebullient man has not only prevailed—he has triumphed.

Peters was born the youngest of four children in Intercourse, Penn. (Yes, that’s really the name.) His father died 6 months before he was born—and his mother remarried and moved, leaving behind the four kids. His two brothers were sent to an orphanage school; his sister was placed in a similar school.

“There were no social programs back then for a young mother like there are today,” Peters says gently.

Peters was too young for a placement and was adopted and raised by his great-aunt and great-uncle in an Amish community.

“The (Amish) kids were all the same (as ‘normal’ kids), just wearing different clothes,” he says. “Intercourse had a population of about 800. You couldn’t get away with anything!”

Peters’ awareness of how different his family situation was began to develop when he was around 6 years old. “I remember distinctly that a bunch of us were out playing, and this girl called me ‘adopted baby.’ I ran to tell my ‘mom,’ and she told me she wasn’t my mom, but that my ‘Aunt Ruth’ was really my mother.

“I didn’t trust anybody after that.”

Peters found out who his natural father was through a half-sister, born during his father’s previous marriage. (He didn’t connect with her until he was 48 years old. He has also reconnected with his natural sister; they became friends as adults.)

Peters’ interest in education developed when he almost flunked out of high school. “I was put in special-education classes,” he says. “My adoptive parents never went very far in school and thought high school was the top of the line. I loved history and business, but I had never learned how to study. As a senior, I think I was taking about 12 periods of shop!”

He found an outlet in martial arts. “My adopted mom had such limited exposure; she didn’t even want me to do sports,” he recalls. He learned jujitsu from a Sunday-school teacher who had military and police-work experience. Peters went on to learn Kodokan, a specific form of judo in which the competition to take down an opponent is key.

Peters left Intercourse in 1969 to move to Washington, D.C., and went to work with the FBI as a clerical employee. He completed his undergraduate degree while at the FBI, and would then go on to earn a doctorate in applied management and decision sciences, a master’s in career and technical education, an MBA in marketing and management, a master’s in public relations, a bachelor’s in criminal justice, and certificates including a teaching credential with the state of California.

Peters’ final assignment with the FBI was at the training academy at Quantico. “I left because it just wasn’t what I thought it would be,” he says.

The constant moving was also an issue, as Peters was raising his two sons as a single parent. “Mothers didn’t know what to do with me when I showed up at school functions,” he laughs.

He left the FBI to do on-the-ground police work, later becoming an expert witness and trainer for police departments across the country regarding police and correctional-institution policies. He is currently president and chief learning officer of the Institute for the Prevention of In-Custody Deaths, Inc. and has been the senior trainer and president of Defensive Tactics Institute, Inc. He also has his own consulting company. Finally, he has produced eight books and 35 videos.

Not bad for a kid raised by people who didn’t believe in education.

Although Peters traveled most of his professional life, he settled full-time in Palm Desert last year.

“I came here on business in 1984,” he says, “to edit a film about defensive tactics with flashlights for police training. I was so impressed with this area. It’s the most beautiful place.”

He bought a condo and commuted between here and Las Vegas, and then held on to it until the market rebounded. Today, he lives with his fiancée, Marilyn, in the house they purchased last year.

They met in a Cal State class. “After we met in class, I remembered her. She stood out in the crowd,” Peters says. “The day we took our exams, we talked. Then I got an email from her months later. We met for coffee. She suggested we walk together, one of my favorite activities, and I assumed she lived near me, since she wanted to start at 6:30 a.m. I was floored when I realized she had driven over all the way from La Quinta. The rest is history.”

As if he didn’t have enough going on, Peters is the president of the Palm Springs Writers Guild and loves encouraging others to pursue their dreams.

Given the headlines about the difficulties faced by law enforcement, what does Peters think we should know?

“I look at my work with police through a lens of honesty,” he says. “When ‘rogue officers’ get in trouble, whether by use of excess force or sexual misconduct, too often they are kept on the job. Some people make mistakes and need to be held accountable.

“Although cab drivers, firefighters and other professions have higher rates of death, police face ‘excited delirium’ behaviors that can be the result of a variety of causes, from dementia to drugs to mental illness. Yes, police need to police their own, but never forget that cops are targets by virtue of their uniform. With the police, the uniform itself means that their deaths are not industrial accidents—they’re murders.”

What’s next for Peters? “Writing topics I want to write; getting involved in community organizations; and part-time teaching.”

One of Peters’ most enjoyable projects was researching how Intercourse got its name. It’s a story I’ll leave for him to tell.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Embarrassing confession: I’m writing a book. I’ve been working on it for years.

After bothering neighbors who have successfully been published, I’ve now discovered that there are two sides to the story (no pun intended): the writing side—inspiration, ability, dedication, discipline; and the business side—publishers, distribution, reviews, press.

First, the business side.

With self-publishing, one generally pays a fee up front and gets limited assistance; as orders come in, books are printed to fill those purchases. The writer gets a percentage of total sales, but can also purchase books at a reduced cost and sell them on his or her own at book-signings or via websites. The publishing companies may perform other services for additional fees.

Self-publishing—including eBooks—is now so prevalent that it is no longer considered “lesser” in a world where big publishers no longer control the game.

For Dessa Reed, a Palm Springs poet, getting published put her on what she describes as “an arduous path” in 2000.

“I formed my own publishing company and did it all, from writing … to word placement on a page, getting a graphic designer to do the covers … finding a recommended book manufacturer … filling out forms … finding a distributor to accept my book who sells to (the) only company that feeds the bookstores. … Then came the marketing—book talks, emails, a million talks to ladies’ luncheons, keeping track of sales tax, etc. etc.

“I paid for all that up front, but then everything was profit … although I still had to pay 40 percent distributor commissions.”

Whew!

The first publishing experience for DeAnn Lubell, a fiction writer in La Quinta, was quite different.

“My dad knew people in the book business in New York who knew someone at Doubleday. They found a small press to publish my first book way back when I was in college. I had a baby and a job—I just knew I had to write.

“I’ve now been working with a publishing company which does books on demand. I paid a fee, and they assigned an editor to work with me, did all the indexing, and facilitated book distribution to get into national bookstores. I gotten 500,000 downloads on eBooks. They’ve been terrific to work with, but you don’t really make a lot of money.”

Neither Dessa nor DeAnn works with an agent.

“I’ve done it on my own,” says Dessa. “I tried talking to agents and publishers. You get 15 minutes to ‘pitch.’ Where I’ve gotten help is from others who have written—hearing speakers, going to workshops, and through local writing groups, like the Palm Springs Pen Women and the Palm Springs Writers Guild.

“Today, self-publishing is almost the only way to get into print,” says Dessa.

DeAnn’s experience with an agent led to frustration. “I could have had an HBO miniseries. I’ll never forgive that the opportunity was missed.”

Then there’s the writing side.

For DeAnn, inspiration came early. “I was born a writer. I was about 9 or 10 when I first tried to write a novel. My role models were (comics reporter) Brenda Starr and the heroine of the movie Foreign Correspondent. I knew that was what I wanted to do. Two months into college, I walked into the editor-in-chief of the city newspaper and announced that I wanted to be a reporter. I got hired!”

Always an avid reader, at 18, DeAnn read about the 1902 eruption of Mt. Pelée on the isle of Martinique, a French colony.

“The story was that as a result of politics and discrimination, the evacuation of 30,000 to 40,000 people from a small town was prevented, and all but a handful died within the first four minutes when the volcano erupted. There was a man, Fernand Clerc, who tried to get people out.

“The story captured my heart and soul. I felt the need to write about it, but I took an oath to myself that first, I would actually set foot on the island.”

“I wrote other things and worked producing ballets and writing for publications, but Martinique never left my mind. Then, in an amazing coincidence, 20 years later, we were selling our house, and Yves Clerc, Fernand’s grandson, came to look at it.

“As we talked, and I learned he was from Martinique, I told him of my fascination with the story. He arranged a two-week visit to the island along with introductions to key officials and historians. It was like winning the lottery!”

DeAnn finally published The Last Moon. “It sat for five years,” she says, until she read it with fresh eyes. “I had a revelation of how to re-form the book, and finally, it was written the way it should be.”

It has gone on to win awards from literary organizations and high praise from readers.

Dessa Reed’s inspiration came in a very different way. In 1997, Dessa was in an auto accident from which she was not expected to survive. She spent months recovering.

“It changed my life so completely,” she says. “It made me adventurous and untraditional. ... I bought a beautiful book to write in, and whenever I had a thought, I just wrote it down. It helped me through it all. And, somehow, they turned into poems.

“I had never written a poem, so I went back to school and learned about how to use language properly: metaphors, alliteration, word techniques. I had never thought of myself as a writer. I certainly wasn’t thinking of it as a career, but it turned into one.

“My passion is to help people, especially young people, express themselves,” says Dessa. “I tell students, ‘Your language skills are the most important things you’ll ever need in your life.’ I see what writing can do for people and the difference it has made in my life.”

She holds workshops, speaks to classes, has produced poetry to encourage others to work through adversity, and is now evolving into essay- and editorial-writing.

DeAnn’s advice for aspiring writers? “You have to know how to write and what the publishing world is looking for. In my case, it worked out exactly the way it was supposed to.”

As for me, it’s back to writing. Keep your Kindle handy!

Anita Rufus is also known as "The Lovable Liberal," and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Hundreds of attendees came out to peruse the offerings of dozens of local authors at the Palm Springs Writers Guild's annual Desert Writers Expo.

The event—held at the Rancho Mirage Public Library on Wednesday, March 20—included about 42 authors who have penned books on topics ranging from "cyber thriller" to travel to past-life regression. 

The Independent stopped by and took a few snapshots of the event. Enjoy.

Published in Snapshot

My name is Eli Pagunsan, and I’m a 14-year-old aspiring writer.

I’m a regular teenage kid. I go to school, and then I have chores to do at home. I love to read about history and current events. With everything that is going on in the world, sometimes I wonder how any of us manage not to have an overload.

I started writing about eight months ago, when I created a story titled “Road to Allentown.” I think that after years of being exposed to news about war, somehow, I had to get it out of my system. I did not have anyone I could relate to about topics like that, so I began writing—a combination of pure imagination and facts.

As the story evolved, I turned to the Internet for more inspiration. I used forums and met people who inspired me about certain characters. The Internet was an extremely useful tool, as it provided me with the insight of many people from across the world, with just a single click of a mouse.

At this time the story is still in process; the characters and the conflict still evolving. So, we will see.

Writing takes me to a special place. It makes me think. Just like any kid my age, I would rather spend my time online surfing or playing games. But I realized that If I am not careful, I would be wasting precious hours acquiring irrelevant information. But it is challenging to find kids my age who like to talk about things that I am interested in, like current events or politics. And so writing helps me a lot. It helps me argue about topics, and to express my opinion about certain things, like the fiscal cliff, gun control, illegal immigration and others, without annoying the kid next to me. Writing is my reprieve.

I am grateful that I live in the Coachella Valley. I don’t think I would find another place in the world that would be as beautiful and inspiring as this place we live in. Despite all the things happening in the world, I feel safe and protected here. Maybe it is the beautiful mountains surrounding us. Maybe it is the weather. Maybe it is the nice people. Who would not get inspired when they are surrounded by such positive things?

I asked my mom to send me to writing camps to develop my skill. I have always felt that I have a million of ideas floating in my head; I was lost, and I needed help to harness them altogether. It took us months of research, online, calling around and asking people about writing camps, and the closest we could find was in Los Angeles. That was not feasible, because my mom works, and I have two other siblings.

Then she came across the Palm Springs Writing Guild. I told her I knew about it and that it is for professionals only, definitely not for a beginner like me. She argued that the membership guidelines did not specify age or experience, and that the worst the guild could do was say was “no.”

So here I am. I am ecstatic and beyond thankful to be a member of PSWG. It is quite a privilege to learn about writing from such accomplished people. For them to take me under their wings inspires me to be a better person for my generation.

Thank you, PSWG. It is long road from here, and I am glad you that you are with me.

The guild puts on a variety of events and activities, and the next monthly meeting takes place at 2 p.m., Saturday, March 2, at the Rancho Mirage Library Community Room, 71100 Highway 111. It will feature a talk by author Andrew Neiderman. For more information about the Palm Springs Writers Guild, visit palmspringswritersguild.org.

Published in Community Voices