The Things That Keep Us Here: An Interview with Author Carla Buckley

I’ve met some of my favorite people at booksignings and writer’s conferences.  Sometimes the meetings are accidental.  We’re paired at tables–the way I met and became friends with the fabulous Sandra Dallas.  Or we’re on a panel together–the way I met delightful Julie Compton.  In November, at the day long Buckeye Book Fair, my signing table was right beside Carla Buckley’s.  Although we were both happy to meet and greet readers, we also found time to chat.  When she told me her debut novel was about a flu pandemic, I snapped it up.  I’ll confess to loving books about a variety of people caught up in a singular catastrophic event.  I knew I had to have it.

Weeks ago I finally sat down with the book and was immediately drawn in and knew many of you would be, as well.  Carla agreed to be interviewed here so I could share her story and her book with you. 

Carla has also agreed to send an autographed copy to one lucky reader who comments here.  So ask questions or tell us why the idea intrigues you, and you’ll be entered to win.  Just click on “comment” under the title of this post.

1–Carla, will you tell us your background?  How did you start writing?  Has it been an easy road to your first published novel? 

Thanks for having me, Emilie. It’s an honor! I began writing novels seventeen years ago, after deciding to stay home to raise children. Along the way, I talked an agent into representing me, and wrote eight books in total. Not one of them was picked up by a publishing house, although I did get some very nice rejection letters. Just after we moved to Ohio in 2007, I had a nightmare about a flu pandemic. The next morning, I threw away the story I was going to write, and began The Things That Keep Us Here, based on that terrible dream. I wrote it in six months and it sold shortly afterward. 

2–As I was reading The Things That Keep Us Here–or rather devouring it–I wondered how you would classify it, other than just a great read.  It has strong women’s fiction elements, as well as thriller elements.  I thought the way you combined these was wonderful.  Since these two “genres” might be considered polar opposites, how did you set out to be true to both? 

When I decided to tackle the topic of a flu pandemic, I knew I wanted to talk about it from a very personal viewpoint–that of a mother trying her best to protect her family as the world around her crumbles. At the time, I didn’t realize it was an unusual approach. I do think that anytime you undertake to write about a disease that wipes out half the world, you’re writing a thriller. And if you are primarily concerned with one family in the midst of all that, you’re writing women’s fiction. They don’t have a name for what I write, but I’m open to suggestions! 

3–This could be a disturbing story for some readers since it deals with a virulent flu epidemic and a “normal” Midwestern family.  Yet wuss that I am, I lapped it up, because the story pulled me in so fast.  How did you set about humanizing the unthinkable?  

You might say I just plopped me and my husband in an imaginary pandemic and let us loose. My husband and I are the poster couple for “Opposites Attract.” He’s a scientist, and he’d be running into the lab, trying to save the world.  I’d be at home, keeping the doors locked and telling my kids to wash their hands. I based the husband in my story, Peter, on my own husband, and Ann does bear a striking resemblance to me. Then I gave them children, neighbors, friends, parents, siblings, and of course, I had to have a dog in there, too. 

4–Your characters must make some very difficult choices along the way.  You as an author had to make some, too, showing the very human side of everyone during a prolonged emergency quarantine.  Did you know as you wrote what would happen, or did your characters dictate what they would do?  

I did know what was going to happen before I began writing. But I left some wiggle room for characters to take over and tell me what was on their minds. It was magic when that happened. Sometimes, I’d look back on a passage and think, I wrote that? I didn’t even remember doing so. 

5–I have no science background, but I was impressed with the details you provided about flu viruses, testing and tracking.  Can you tell us a little about your research?  Do you have any background in the subject? 

As a former art and English major, I have absolutely no science background either! I had to do a lot of research to make the science in my story as accurate as possible. Besides reading dozens of books on viruses and the 1918 Great Pandemic, I interviewed veterinary researchers at The Ohio University monitoring the flu virus, and toured their labs. I spoke with pandemic planning preparedness officials (that’s a mouthful) charged with protecting the community and America’s food supply. 

6–What kind of reader will most enjoy this novel? 

I think anyone who’s searching for a suspenseful, emotional story that raises thought-provoking questions will enjoy my book. Because of the controversial choices my characters make, my book has been picked up by book clubs across the country, and Random House selected it for their Reader’s Circle program, which is their book club division. 

7–And I have to know what you’re working on next, because I’m looking forward to it. 

Thanks for asking, Emilie! My next novel, Invisible, is slated for publication in early 2012. It’s about a woman who returns home after a long absence, for her older sister’s funeral. What she discovers is a family in turmoil, an invisible threat to a town’s safety (a scientific threat that I predict will be making headlines shortly), and the answer to her own identity.


  1. Nancy Badertscher on February 18, 2011 at 9:37 am

    Interesting interview about what sounds like an intriguing book. I will have to say that without reading this interview I might not be inclined to pick up the book because of the depressing disaster theme. But now I will add it to my list!

  2. Sharon Hughson on February 18, 2011 at 10:51 am

    It’s on my list of e books to get for my Kindle. Hope it’s in e form. Thanks for the interview.

  3. helenmarie on February 18, 2011 at 11:06 am

    Great interview!… and the book sounds very intriquing! I’ll have to find me a copy!

  4. Paula Petty on February 18, 2011 at 11:19 am

    Sounds fascinating and scary, which makes a good thriller. I like how your creative mind works in taking an illness like the flu and asking “what if.” Also glad that your husband doesn’t mind being portrayed through one of the characters.

  5. TheaM on February 18, 2011 at 11:20 am

    I was raised by my (great)grandmothers – two of them lived through the flu epidemic of 1918. One was a nurse/midwife. She was a compulsive cleaner – our sheets and bedding were boiled (including quilts!) and clothes were washed in scalding hot water (no ‘cold water wash’ setting on our old wringer washer!)
    I heard lots of stories about the epidemic, so I’m eager to read about a modern version!
    Congratulations, Carla!

  6. Janice Belmonte on February 18, 2011 at 11:58 am

    Hi Thnaks, Emilie for this interview. I may very well have missed this book if I had not read this. I haven’t come across it and it looks really interesting. I’m curious how juxtapositioning the thriller aspects with the family story works. Looking forward to reading it.


  7. 4dreamsr on February 18, 2011 at 1:05 pm

    Thanks Emilie for introducing us to Carla. Disaster & all, the book sounds like a good read. I think women are drawn to stories of women coping with unreal challenges because most of us have to be everything to so many people in our lives. It’s like a shared journey even tho we an individual may not have to face a particular event; we can relate.

    Having not read the book yet & not knowing how it ends, I just can’t see it not ending with some message of hope simply because it was written by a woman. We face all kinds of trials in our lives & even if everybody in the book drops dead at the end, to me the point is how well did they live & love.

  8. Tiffany D. on February 18, 2011 at 3:48 pm

    I have read about this book and it sounds very good. The cover alone had me interested. This interview only wanted to make me read it more. It sounds very original and I am looking forward to reading it.

  9. Colleen Turner on February 18, 2011 at 4:04 pm

    Wonderful interview, thank you for providing it! The idea of a flu pandemic is truly frightening to me since I am a mother of a five year old boy who was also born 2 months premature (so tends to catch colds easily it seems). It would be fascinating, however, to read how another mother would handle the situation. I have added it to my wishlist!

  10. JoAnne on February 18, 2011 at 4:42 pm

    Sounds like a fascinating book. I enjoyed reading the interview.

  11. Carla Buckley on February 18, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    Hi Nancy–I’m so glad you’ll give THINGS a try!

    Sharon, yes, I’m very happy to say my book is e-available (and at a lower price than when my book was first released last year in hardcover).

    Hi Helenmarie–I hope you have success finding it (it should be available everywhere books are sold. In fact, it’s now in Target, very coincidentally right across from Emilie’s books!)

    Paula, I have to say that when my husband read my novel, he was sitting beside me and started to laugh. I looked at him and demanded to know what was so funny about a pandemic novel. He could barely choke out his reply: “This sounds just like us.” That’s when I had to come clean about using him as a model for Peter 🙂

    Thea, oh, I’m so glad you shared your stories. I would have loved to meet your (great)grandmothers. I think about the people who lived through the 1918 Pandemic, and wonder how it shaped and influenced their lives.

    Janice, do let me know if you read THINGS. I’d love to hear your feedback (and perhaps you’ll be the one to come up with the category name for what it is I write)!

    4dreamsr–what a beautiful sentiment. I completely agree. Before I began writing THINGS, I knew exactly how I wanted it to end. I hope you find it satisfying, too–do let me know!

    Hi Tiffany–I’m so glad you like the cover! Random House worked hard on it, and I was thrilled with the result. I hope you enjoy it.

    Hi Colleen–five years old is such a magical age! Is he in kindergarten yet, or going next year? I hope you’ll find THINGS to be a story of hope and compassion, written by this mother to you.

  12. Bobbie Molony on February 18, 2011 at 6:53 pm

    I loved the interview, and i am looking forward to reading Carla’s book. I will put it on hold at the library today.

  13. HeyJudee on February 18, 2011 at 9:25 pm

    This is the first I’ve heard of Carla and her book. I’m going to be on the lookout for it. After the H1N1 pandemic forecast last year and the SARS episode a few years back, I’m definitely looking forwarding to reading it.

  14. Carla Buckley on February 19, 2011 at 11:04 am

    Hi Bobbie–Thanks so much; I hope you enjoy it!

    HeyJudee, I wrote my novel two years before the H1N1 pandemic broke out, and because of all the research I had done, I watched the developments very uneasily. I’m sorry for those who lost their lives to that particular flu strain. Random House was uneasy, too, and ended up postponing publication of my book six months.

  15. Lynn Ross on February 19, 2011 at 4:40 pm

    My mother survived the 1918 flu pandemic but lost her 18-year-old brother. Her memories of that terrible ordeal became my memories second-hand. I consider Carla’s book a “must read.” Thanks, Emilie, for intrducing Carla!

  16. IrishApples on February 19, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    I am very intrigued by this book and looking forward to reading. it. I think that the fact that you actually wrote it prior to the H1N1 Pandemic is interesting. Sometimes it seems we are motivated by a higher power to do things without knowing why. Your nightmare came at an opportune time for you. I have your book on my list, though I am hoping that I win the autographed copy. I love a good read that is thought provoking and this book definitely sounds like it is one. Thank you for sharing your motivation, research, and information on your characters. I have also put your next book on my list of books to pre-order.

  17. Carla Buckley on February 19, 2011 at 7:37 pm

    Lynn, it was Gina Kolata’s non-fiction account of the 1918 Pandemic, THE FLU, that first made me aware of that part of our history. Then, when scientists began predicting we were in for a repeat of history, I began to imagine what it would be like to live through something like that. I would have loved to have interviewed survivors of that time.

    IrishApples–dare I confess I’m half-Irish, and a distant relation to James Joyce? I do agree, my nightmare was life-changing–though I certainly never imagined it at the time! I do hope you enjoy my story, and write to let me know your thoughts.

  18. Diana on February 20, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    Great interview, sounds like a book that will keep me from making dinner (as I will be rivited to it).

  19. Debbie Haupt on February 21, 2011 at 11:31 am

    Hi Emilie and it’s so nice to meet you Carla, I too have not read you, but Emilie has introduced me to a lot of new and wonderful authors like Julie Compton and your novel looks wonderful.

    Great Interview


  20. Kay on February 21, 2011 at 11:49 am

    Hi Emilie & Carla:-) What a fascinating idea for a book! I want to read your book Carla, because my dad’s mom died in the flu epidemic in 1918 when he was only 5 years old. He had very few memories of his mother & his dad was little prepared to raise my dad & his 8 year old (at the time) sister.

    I’ve recently begun tracking my family history & was so surprised when I finally found my late grandmother’s death certificate as a great deal of my late dad’s family has been difficult to research due to lack of records kept.

    I look forward to reading more from both of you ladies!

  21. Jenny Czerwinski on February 21, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    I actually saw your book, yesterday, and was intrigued by the topic. After reading this-I definitely want to read it. Great interview!!!

  22. Debbie Hearne on February 21, 2011 at 1:12 pm

    Good interview! Would love to win a copy of this book!

  23. Carla Buckley on February 21, 2011 at 2:52 pm

    Diana, any excuse not to make dinner, right? In fact, last year, after my book was published, my teenaged son called it The Year Mom Stopped Making Dinner 🙂

    Hi Debbie, it’s nice to meet you, too! Julie Compton and I are good friends, coincidentally–we toured Texas last year together. There was some book-signing activity, but we like to say we ate our way across the state!

    Kay, what a tragedy for your father to have lost his mother at such a young age. Best of luck researching your family history, and reconnecting with that side of your family.

    Hi Jenny, I love hearing that my book is out there, making the rounds. It’s very exciting to walk into a store and see it on the table or shelf. It’s funny–I was recently autographing books for a store near my home and a customer chided me for writing in a book! I’m still laughing about that 🙂

    Hi Debbie–I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you!

  24. Marinell Winston on February 22, 2011 at 6:58 pm

    Sounds wonderful! I am definitely going to have to put
    this name on my “want to read these authors” list!

  25. Carla Buckley on February 23, 2011 at 10:10 am

    Hi Marinell–Thanks!

  26. Helen Gentry on February 23, 2011 at 7:11 pm

    This sounds like a good read.
    My mother told of being a child when her mother contracted the flu of 1918. Her mother only survived because of the skills of my grandfather. His mother had been a frontier Dr.
    It was a scary time for their family.
    I also remember being quarantined for a week, as a child, after we had been visited by relatives that had contracted a disease while on a cruise ship.

  27. cehowland on February 24, 2011 at 2:54 am

    Carla, your book sounds like a great story about a family continuing to live and hopefully thrive through adversity. I enjoy the personal response to an emergency medical drama. This book really intrigues me, I will order it, unless I am lucky enough to win the copy.

  28. Carla Buckley on February 24, 2011 at 9:04 am

    Hi Helen, How remarkable that your great-grandmother was a frontier doctor. It sounds like someone should write a story about her 🙂

  29. kjshowalter on February 24, 2011 at 7:42 pm

    I am quite intrigued by your book! As soon as i read “suspenseful, emotional story” in the interview, i knew this was a book for me. I look foward to emersing myself in it. Also, i am curious, how close is the story line of the book to the dream you had that spurred the book?

  30. Carla Buckley on February 25, 2011 at 1:29 pm

    Hi kjshowalter, I do hope you enjoy my story–and the dream that inspired it plays out almost verbatim. Let me know once you’ve read it, and I’ll tell what the dream was about 🙂

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