Interview with Carla Buckley, Author of the Apocalyptic Novel, The Things That Keep Us Here

Carla Buckley is the debut author of The Things That Keep Us Here(Delacorte Press, February 2010.) She was born in Washington, D.C., attended Oberlin College and The Wharton School for Business, and has worked in a variety of jobs, including a stint as an assistant press secretary for a U.S. senator, an analyst with the Smithsonian Institution, and a technical writer for a defense contractor. Orion in the UK and Wunderlich in Germany pre-empted rights to The Things That Keep Us Here and Buckley's next book, and Random House has purchased audio rights. Delacorte Press will publish Buckley's next novel in 2011. Buckley is the Chair of the International Thriller Writers Debut Program and currently lives in Ohio with her husband and children.

Welcome to The Writer's Life, Carla. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?

Answer: An art and English major in college, and a business major in graduate school, I’ve dabbled in a number of fields, but my secret love has always been writing. Fifteen years ago, I decided to step off the corporate ladder and stay home to raise my children. That’s when I began writing full-time. I joined writers groups, attended conferences, found an agent, and wrote seven novels. The Things That Keep Us Here is my eighth novel and the only one that is not a traditional mystery.

Can you please tell us about your book and why you wrote it?

Answer: Around ten years ago, I picked up a copy of Gina Kolata’s The Flu, a non-fiction book about the Great Pandemic. At that time, I knew nothing about the flu or the devastation it had waged worldwide, and Kolata’s book left a deep impression. Fast forward to 2007, when scientists and world health organizations began sounding the alarm that mankind was overdue for another pandemic, and my imagination went into overdrive. My husband is a scientist, and I knew that despite the major leaps science had taken in understanding the virus, mankind was almost as vulnerable now as it had been in 1918.

We had just moved to Ohio, where we knew no one, and I began to worry about how I could protect my children should the worst happen. One night, I had a nightmare that we were in a pandemic and I was forced to make a terrible decision. The next day, I began writing The Things That Keep Us Here, and that terrible decision became the linchpin of the novel.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced writing it?

Answer: The Things That Keep Us Here is not science fiction; it is based on real science. As a non-scientist writing about science, I had to gain a basic understanding of the influenza virus, how it mutates and spreads, and how scientists track it in the field and in the laboratory. I interviewed veterinary research scientists at The Ohio State University who shared with me their insights and concerns about avian influenza. Beyond the science, I wanted to depict an accurate portrayal of how a community could and would react as a pandemic spread. To that end, I interviewed preparedness planning officials to learn how governments and industries were working toward limiting the spread of infection and managing shortages, both in inventory and manpower. In addition, I read countless books and reports, and monitored the WHO and PandemicFlu websites.

Do you have a press kit and what do you include in it? Does this press kit appear online and, if so, can you provide a link to where we can see it?

Answer: My author photo and book cover are available for download on my website. I also have a Q&A posted. Any additional materials may be requested through my publicist, whose contact information is listed on my website.

Have you either spoken to groups of people about your book or appeared on radio or TV? What are your upcoming plans for doing so?

Answer: Last spring, I appeared on a panel in Washington, DC with other authors. My publicist is currently arranging media interviews, and book clubs can contact me through the Random House website. This spring and summer, I plan to speak on panels at various writers’ conferences, and will be touring the Mid-Atlantic and Texas regions.

Do you have an agent and, if so, would you mind sharing who he/is is? If not, have you ever had an agent or do you even feel it’s necessary to have one?

Answer: I am represented by Pamela Ahearn, of the Ahearn Literary Agency, and have been for over ten years. Pam has been instrumental in helping me find my voice, and guiding me through the publishing process. I consider myself very fortunate to have her working tirelessly on my behalf, and I should send her far more chocolates and thank-you notes than I do.

Did you, your agent or publisher prepare a media blitz before the book came out and would you like to tell us about it?

Answer: The in-house enthusiasm for my novel has been extraordinary. In October, Random House began sending out advance reading copies to book and social networking websites, and I’ve been deeply touched by the mail from readers that I’ve been receiving as a result. In February, Random House will be advertising and publicizing my novel on a national level, and I will be sent on a blog tour. My UK publisher, Orion, has also been reaching out to readers on a widespread basis, and things are beginning to ramp up in Germany where Wunderlich will release The Things That Keep Us Here in May.

Do you plan subsequent books?

Answer: Absolutely! My next novel follows in the same vein as The Things That Keep Us Here by focusing on a real, global threat shown from the perspective of the non-scientist. In it, a woman, long estranged from her hometown and her family, returns to find her sister dead and others sick from the same disease. Although I don't want to reveal the source of the illness, I will say it's based on a terrifying phenomenon that few people are aware of, but scientists are looking into, and I predict it will start making headlines shortly.

Thank you for your interview, Carla. Would you like to tell my readers where they can find you on the web and how everyone can buy your book?

Answer: I can be reached at, and my book will be available everywhere books are sold. An audio version will also be available.


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