Thursday, January 27, 2011

Carla Buckley Chats About Her New Release and Fab Contest

Chevy Stevens is the NYT Bestselling debut author of Still Missing (St. Martins, 2010). Recently she sat down and had a chat with Carla Buckley, debut author of The Things That Keep Us Here (Random House, 2010) about the forthcoming release of Carla’s critically-acclaimed book in trade paperback.

Chevy: The Things That Keep Us Here is about a family trying to survive a terrible pandemic and although there are lots of fascinating scientific facts—some which are still keeping me up at night—the book never inundated us with boring data. Personally, I hate it when an author dumps a bunch of information in the middle of a book, but I know how hard it can be to resist sharing all your newfound research. How did you avoid that?

Carla: Thanks, Chevy. That's so nice of you to say! I did a lot of research-- from reading about the 1918 Great Pandemic to interviewing scientists out in the
field monitoring the migratory bird population.
There's nothing better than talking to people who are passionate about their work. They'll put things in such interesting and conversational ways that even I--a former art major--can follow along.

I didn't want to burden my story with a lot of scientific facts, but I did want to convey just how scary the flu virus is. One way I did this was to have Peter, the husband in my story, deliver a lecture to a group of students who knew nothing about influenza. Another way was to have Ann, Peter's wife and a non-scientist, take the lead so that she could ask the questions that mattered, as the threat unfolded.

Chevy: Reading about the 1918 Great Pandemic, eh? Fun! All kidding aside, another thing I realized after I finished reading the book
(when I wasn’t busy stockpiling my house with supplies and trying to convince my husband to build a bunker in the backyard), is that although science supports the story line, it’s really more focused on this one family as they try to survive a pandemic—a family that was already struggling. What made you decide to go in that direction?

Carla: Actually, some of those books on the Great Pandemic are really terrifying! Back then, people didn't have a clue what was making them sick. They could only watch in horror as it worked its way through their neighborhoods and homes.

Some of that helplessness played out in my decision to write about a pandemic from the perspective of one average American family. I wanted to put real people in a situation that tested them and forced them to face their greatest fears, and by doing so, show how people can be pulled apart or brought together under the worst possible circumstances.

Chevy: Well, it was very effective. One of the reasons I couldn’t put your book down was because I became so emotionally involved with the characters. Another reason was that the pandemic you described was an all too real possibility. This was something that could happen, and in fact, did. I also read recently that birds have been falling from the sky. What was it like for you when your nightmares came true?

Carla: Um...not good! I can't tell you how many readers have contacted me regarding the recent bird die-offs, wondering if my story was about to come true. I asked my scientist husband what the scientific community was saying, and his response was that scientists were as perplexed as the rest of us. Yikes!

The good news (though not for the birds) was that those recent deaths were not due to disease.

But the recent H1N1 Pandemic was another story. It started off exactly as the 1918 Pandemic had, with a mild, quiet surfacing in the spring followed by a large and much more active rebound in the fall. All my research had shown that this could be the pandemic the world had long been dreading. Smack in the middle of all this, I had my first book appearance scheduled 400 miles away. I decided to board the plane, but I made my husband promise that if the airports shut down and borders were closed, he'd hunker down with the kids and I'd figure out a way to get back home. Very fortunately (not to diminish the tragedy of the lives that were lost) the H1N1 strain proved not to have a high mortality rate and now there is a vaccine against it.

Chevy: That must have been terrifying! Now that the world is relatively safe for the moment, let’s talk about something that’s essential to a writer’s survival. Snacks! As an author myself, I know that those long days at the keyboard can be really frustrating, how you want to tear your hair out rewriting the same scene over and over, and the only things that get me through are popcorn and peanut butter—not at the same time! What are some of your favorite food-related-stress-reliefs?

Carla: Excuse me while I brush the crumbs out of my keyboard. There. Let's see. *studies heap of crumbs on desktop* Well, it seems that this week, I nibbled on leftover Chinese food, Raisinets, brownies, and potato chips. Yep, that seems to be everything. Don't tell my kids what I eat while they're at school. I'm trying to convince them to eat more fruits and vegetables.

Chevy: You are a writer after my own heart, Carla—but now I’m hungry! After we wrap up this interview I’m going to have to hit the store ASAP. I know you have an exciting contest you want to tell us about, but before we learn how readers can win a copy of your book, I wanted to ask about your next novel Invisible. One of the truly frightening aspects of The Things That Keep Us Here was the idea of the threat being this big nameless thing spreading across the world, something we couldn’t see or put a face to, but that was coming for you and your family. Does your next book have any similar elements?

Carla: I wish I could run to the store with you! We could pile a shopping cart with salty and sweet things, and then watch some reality TV while we plot our next books. Speaking of which, yes, I also wanted my next novel to be about a family in turmoil forced to face a much larger crisis. Invisible tells the story about a woman who returns to her small hometown after a long absence to attend her sister's funeral. While she's there, she not only confronts her own tragic past but what might have what sickened her sister and her former neighbors and friends. I didn't want to be a disease-of-the-week writer, however, so I did a lot of research before unearthing a different sort of a scientific threat that's bearing down on humankind and which I predict it will be making headlines soon.

Chevy: Oh! That sounds like bliss! The running to the store part, not the plot
for Invisible—that sounds terrifying. Then again, the two of us loose in a junk food aisle could also be terrifying. So, now that you've thoroughly scared the crap out of us and I'm fighting the urge to barricade myself into my house, why don't you tell us about your contest?

Carla: No, don't barricade yourself--at least, not until I get there, armed with junk food! Okay, this is how the contest will run:

Everyone who leaves a comment about their favorite survival tip on my Facebook Fan Page by Monday, January 31 (12 pm EST) will be entered into a contest to win a signed copy of The Things That Keep Us Here along with my own concept of a survival kit.

Post a comment here on The Thrill Begins blog AND on my fan page and be entered twice. Tweet or FB the link to the contest (and let me know by posting it to my fan page) and be entered three times!

Chevy: That sounds great! I can't wait to read everyone's answers. Now please hand over--I mean pass--the chocolate.

To find out more about Chevy and Carla, check out their websites: and


Tracey Devlyn said...

Hi Carla and Chevy,

Welcome to TTB! Thanks for the wonderful interview and morning chuckles. Your discussion has certainly whet my curiosity about THE THINGS THAT KEEP US HERE.

When the H1N1 scare occurred, my company established a sick leave policy where supervisors could send employees home--whether they wanted to or not. A "for the greater good" type of policy. I tell you that's the only policy we've established that resulted in a thank you from the staff. LOL

Thanks again for blogging with us and have fun with your contest!


Pamela Callow said...

Hi Carla,

Loved THINGS! You portrayed with great heart and insight the effect of a disaster. Since I already have a lovely signed copy of your book, I shan't enter your contest and take away someone else's chance to win a great read, but my day-to-day survival strategy is always to have chocolate nearby.

Tracey - sounds like you work for a smart company!

Anonymous said...

My daily survival tip is to always carry a toothpick ~ to remind you to always pick the good qualities in everyone, including yourself. (Sophie Bristow Harris from Facebook)

Carla Buckley said...

Tracey, when I was researching THINGS, I was surprised to learn how many covert plans are out there for schools, communities, and governments. It's both alarming and reassuring, right?

Pam, chocolate is absolutely part of my survival kit, too (how did you know?!)

Sophie, what a charming tip! Make sure to post it on my Facebook fan page so you can be entered in the drawing.

Rochelle Staab said...

Hi Carla,

When the '94 earthquake hit LA and we were without water or gas for a few days, I found out how important it is to keep a supply of bottled water and food that doesn't need to be heated or refrigerated - a category chocolate fits into beautifully.

I thoroughly enjoyed the interview, especially the parts about your research. How long did you research before you began to write - or did you research as you wrote?

Allison Leotta said...

Hi Carla,

Congratulations on all your successes with "The Things That Keep Us Here." Couldn't happen to a nicer person!

Carla Buckley said...

Hi Rochelle,

I researched for several months while I plotted out THINGS, then continued researching as I went on. All told, I think I spent fifty percent of the time researching and fifty percent writing. And yes, I do agree--I try to keep a supply of water and non-perishable food on hand year-round. (We live in tornado country.)

Aw, Allison,

How nice to see you here! Congrats on your recent sale, and I hope to see you at ThrillerFest this year...

Tracy March said...

Hi Carla,

I enjoyed your interview. It is always fascinating to hear another writer's process--we are all so different.

My keyboard companions are dry roasted edamame (my husband calls them dirt beans because he says they taste like dirt) and Reduced Fat Cheez-Its (the full fat ones made the keyboard too greasy!)

I'm excited to read your book. It sounds like just my kind of story.

As for survival stories, I live in Yorktown, Virginia, and hurricaine Isabel did some real damage here back in 2003 (the costliest and deadliest of the season). An experience like that really makes you appreciate the little things. It was mid-September and very hot. Days without power and lots of clean-up. What I missed most besides air conditioning was...ICE!

Thanks again for a most interesting post!

Tracy :)

Carla Buckley said...

Hi Tracy,

ICE is good! My character, Ann, longed for HEAT!

I was living in the Baltimore area in 2003 when Isabel blew through--the aftermath was so eerie, all those flooded suburban streets beneath a brilliant sunny sky.

Tracey Devlyn said...


Thank you so much for joining us at TTB!