Thanks for having me here today, Molly! I’m Marianne Stephens and write both
mainstream romance and nonfiction books. My first published book was a nonfiction ebook offered in 1999, before ebooks became as popular as they are today. My first romance book was published in 2007. Under the pen name of April Ash, I write erotic romances.
“Guilty Survivor – Memoirs of Tamerla Kendall” is a ghostwritten, nonfiction account of Bosnian Croat, Tamerla Kendall, who lived through the chaos and carnage in Sarajevo during the Bosnian War 1992-1995. Hers is a story of courage, fear, ingenuity, and survival techniques. Difficult choices she was forced to make during and after the war still disturb her peace of mind and life today.
Have you ever had an idea for a story which scared you after you began writing it?
Not really. I’ve had a few that defy completion, and they really bug me. I just can’t seem
to finish them because I don’t like what I’ve written.
Have you incorporated actual events from your own life into your books?
In my romance books, there’s a little of “me” here and there. An event that happened to
me when I taught Kindergarten is in “Anything You Can Do”. And, the first line of “Gone to the Dogs” is “Your dog ate your underwear.” Yep…that came from my experience (my dog ate my daughter’s underwear!).
For my current nonfiction book, all the events are recollections from Tamerla’s life.
How much research do you do? Do you research first and then write, or do you write first, then research as needed?
I research, then write…if I need a lot of research. For “Street of Dreams”, I had to get the
time frame correct since it is a time travel (back to 1965). I researched some facts to make sure I had everything right before I started writing.
All my research for “Guilty Survivor” came from Tamerla, her husband, and a professor in Austria who allowed me to use some material from his book on the Bosnian War.
Is there any message you want readers to take from reading your work?
This is from Tamerla, since “Guilty Survivor” is her story: “My purpose in writing this book is to offer the reader a true inside vision of how war affected those unwillingly caught up in its chaos. I was one of the emotionally walking wounded until I realized I wanted to share my war experiences.
Don’t allow yourself to stop from attaining your dreams. I didn’t and try not to regret any decisions I made at times when I felt I had no other choices. Live your life to the best of your abilities and find ways to reach your goals, despite detours in that road to success. You can survive anything if you persevere.”
For my romance books, I want readers to believe in “Happily-Ever-After” endings, because they happen. The road to real love can be “rocky”, but that goal to happiness will be waiting for you!
Are you a plotter or a pantser? And have you ever had a story take on a life of its own?
For nonfiction, I’m definitely a plotter. Facts have to be arranged in order to make sense. For romance books, I write a sentence outline of the order that events will happen in the story. Then, I follow that outline.
How long did it take for you to be published?
Five years before my first nonfiction book sold. Ten years for romance books.
If you could go back and tell yourself anything when you first began your writing career, what would you say?
Start sooner! I should have started writing much earlier, but kept pushing it back because of other commitments.
Laptop or pen and ink? What are your ‘must-haves’ when writing?
Desk, computer (not laptop), no music. I don’t like distractions. I like drinking cold water. I get so caught up in writing that hours can go by before I remember to drink something!
Who would you say influenced you the most?
Carla Cassidy. I credit her with giving me the best advice I’ve received. She told me I was writing episodes, not stories. When I thought about what she said and looked at how she wrote and what I was doing, I realized she was right. I sold my first romance book within a year after changing my thought processes.
What would your readers be surprised to learn about you?
I once dated two guys from the same Navy aircraft carrier. They worked different shifts and didn’t know each other. I taught school and somehow still had lots of energy for dating (I was much younger then!). Then, I married a man in the Army!
For Fun: I play social, party bridge. Love playing with my grandkids!
Since it is January, what are your goals for the coming year?
I've done research for a children's book...a nonfiction story about a dog who barely survived being hit by a car and although plagued with injuries has become a therapy dog.
AND...I plan to write more romance books in 2011!
Ideal winter time: Snow or a white beach?
Snow. I don’t like heat. I’d rather be bundled up in front of a fireplace, sipping cocoa, and watching the snow fall than sweating on a beach and getting sand everywhere.
Thank you for being here today! Please tell us where we can find your books.
Marianne Stephens - Ellora’s Cave Mainstream “Blush” (was Cerridwen) imprint:
April Ash - Ellora’s Cave Erotic books:
Marianne Stephens - Breathless Press:
Marianne Stephens – Secret Cravings Publishing Nonfiction Imprint – Living and Learning:
Marianne Stephens – Amazon Books: ebooks and print:
April Ash – Amazon Books: ebooks and print:
Marianne Stephens and April Ash – All Romance Ebooks – Search for names:
Tamerla Kendall is the woman you see rooting for her son at sporting practice. You might meet her in a grocery story. Perhaps you’ll see her planting a garden behind her home. Or, talk to her at school or work. She’s a student, worker, wife and mother.
Surviving a dark past is hidden by her façade of an everyday, average life. Reading her memoirs will reveal her true struggle to survive in a war zone, and is a testament to her courage.
Bosnian Croat, Tamerla Kendall, lived through the carnage and chaos in Sarajevo during the Bosnian War (1992-1995). Hers is a story of courage, fear, ingenuity, and survival. Difficult choices she made then still disturb her peace of mind and life today.
She made a few trips out of Sarajevo, only to return to keep the family restaurant business operating. One carefully planned, secretive trip was made to remove her daughter from the dangers of fighting, but this created a heartbreaking rift in their relationship. For her second trip, Tamerla masqueraded as a United Nations Protection Forces soldier and rode in a tank. A uniform and travel assistance came from a Ukrainian general.
Her hopes for a return to normalcy at war’s end diminished as corruption and religious zealots took control. She married an American, and this marked her as an outcast by some she’d trusted. When her life was threatened at gunpoint, she faced a critical decision concerning her family’s safety in her beloved country.
I grasped Joana’s hand to keep her from being scared and instructed her not to speak as we left the restaurant. I took a baby stroller and put a doll in it. Under it, I hid Joana’s clothes and things she wanted to take with her. To anyone watching us, we were just a woman with a stroller and young girl walking through town. We walked five miles to a family friend, Rade Coric. Joana and I got in his car, and he put the stroller in the trunk. I held the doll. At the first checkpoint, they allowed us to drive away after soldiers scrutinized us.
We drove to the second checkpoint. Again, we were allowed to pass, and then met with a friend of Rade’s. We changed cars at this time. Rade stayed with his car and Joana and I went in the friend’s car. He drove us to the last checkpoint. Another family friend, Hrvoje Kristic, met us there.
I was warned not to go back to Sarajevo, but that wasn’t the plan Miro and I devised. With a heavy heart, I tried being brave as Joana and I separated at this point. She frantically tried holding my hand tightly and wanted me to go with her. I watched as they escorted her away from me. I’d hoped Miro would come to greet us, but he was too frightened, so he sent our friend instead.
Joana cried and I was devastated at leaving her. But, I knew she’d be safe. Leaving her was the hardest thing I’d ever done. My heart tore at the emptiness I’d suffer by her absence. Miro reminded me how only I could save the family’s livelihood and future for after the war. I accepted this and agreed with his reasoning. Concentrating on those thoughts made it a little easier to leave, although tears flowed freely down my face.
This trip proved easier than my next one, although danger existed both times. Little did I know what awaited me back in Sarajevoand that my next trip would prove to be a nightmare.
I went back the same way I’d taken Joana, stopping at Rade’s house for lunch. While I was eating, I looked outside and saw smoke in the area where my house stood. My heart plummeted. Although I knew my house was miles away, a sensation of dread overwhelmed me. I feared more sadness would come after my ten-hour trip to take Joana out of the nightmare of living in Sarajevoto the safety of her father and my family in Kiseljak.
I went to my restaurant and sent a waitress to the area where I’d seen the smoke coming from. She called me with the bad news. My house burned.
I rushed to the house and once again cried that day, but this time at the site of a blackened, burned out building. Nothing remained but a crumbled chimney, soot and ashes. All the furniture had apparently been stolen while I was gone and before the house was deliberately set on fire.
Disheartened and saddened by this loss, I trudged back to Restaurant Meli with a numbing sensation clouding my head. My daughter was safe but gone, my family and husband were safe but not with me, and my home was gone, all in the name of war.
The day held more bad news for me. While I was viewing what once was my house, robbers hit my restaurant. During my absence, soldiers came, beat my employees, and took all the food and money.
Now my despair and anger controlled my sanity. My husband, daughter, and family were relatively safe and away from Sarajevo, but my home was gone, and the army helped themselves to my business. I shrugged my shoulders, reached for an inner strength to bolster me, and decided to have my say at attempting to rectify the situation.
I called a Muslim friend and told him that just because my husband was a Serb didn’t mean that I was a traitor. I loved my city and people. I was scared someone would now want to kill me.
I needed to get my food and money back to survive. He made a call and told me to speak to army officer, General Enverlic.
The general listened to my plea, and as a compromising gesture of goodwill, I offered him half the food. He asked me to cook some meals for his troops, and I agreed. I baked for his unit, and in exchange, got most of my stuff back, and some form of “protection” evolved. My money returned immediately.
Sharing and compromising worked for me throughout the war. A woman asking for help and agreeing to share supplies impressed the general. That same night, the army delivered my supplies to the restaurant, providing a necessary morale boost and a positive surprise that allowed me to remain in business.