Tuesday, January 4, 2011

"Guilty Survivor"

It’s my honor today to welcome back a familiar friend to Seven Sexy Scribes, Marianne Stephens! Marianne has been busy with many new projects but the one we are going to be talking about today is very special. Marianne has ghostwritten a first person account of Tamerla Kendall’s harrowing personal experiences in the Bosnian War 1992-1995.

Blurb: 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.

Katalina Leon: Marianne how did you meet Tamerla?
Marianne Stephens: Mutual friends introduced us. My friends knew that in 1999, I had a ghostwritten autobiography of a speaker from a women’s shelter published, and Tamerla was looking for someone to write her story.

Katalina: What were your first impressions when Tamerla told you her story?

Marianne: I was amazed at what she’d been through. We hear stories of people living through wars, see accounts on TV and in movies, but I’d never met someone who’d actually lived through a war. Her courage and drive to survive are impressive.

Katalina: What made you feel compelled to help Tamerla tell her story?

Marianne: Biographies are always written about celebrities. Tamerla is someone who could be your next door neighbor, shopping in your grocery store, or worshipping in your church. She’s a “real” person; someone you can relate to. Mothers will understand the angst she went through in deciding how to keep her children safe. Anyone running a business will know how she felt about saving her restaurant for her family’s future. She’s that “average every woman” you know, and not the politician or entertainment persona you read about. 

Katalina: What was the greatest challenge to writing this book?

Marianne: Keeping focused on her challenges, hardships, and ability to adapt while making hard decisions. I found myself trying to turn her story into a romance book, so had to stop all romance writing to concentrate on the serious issues Tamerla faced.
Katalina: I know there are a lot of political difficulties faced in Guilty Survivor, but it’s also a deeply human story. What part of Tamerla’s story gave you hope?
Marianne: Her love for her family and the decisions she made regarding them showed her true selfless intent on saving her children from harm. Regardless of the fact that by getting her daughter out of harm’s way she created a rift in their relationship, she made the hard choice to move her to safety. As her daughter gets older, she’ll hopefully understand her mother’s reasons for leaving her where she would be safe while returning to Sarajevo. With her son being half-America, his life would have been in as much jeopardy as hers after the war and Americans were not well-received or wanted.

Katalina: I realize we have to speak in generalities but what would you say was the greatest divisive force fueling the hatred of the Bosnian War? What happened to erode their former tolerance?

Marianne: Ethnic differences, greed, and jealousy. Those in power wanted to control everything, while other groups wanted more power for themselves. Tolerance disappeared and many senseless murders of those from all warring factions occurred. Tamerla feels that the war made them all targets and victims.

Katalina: What mental image from Guilty Survivor will stay with you?

Marianne: The scene where Tamerla dresses as a United Nations soldier to cross all three checkpoints creates a vivid image I won’t forget. Having to disguise herself and pray she wouldn’t be caught, had to be harrowing and stressful.

Thank you Marianne. I wish you and Tamerla Kendall all the best with this important book.

     Here’s an excerpt:
My second trip to Kiseljak was more difficult and done with me masquerading as a soldier. I’d called Commander Ivicarajic of the Croatian army to ask for help in crossing the border in November of 1992. I made a deal to transport some food supplies for him. I would be allowed to cross over into Croatia this way.
I then spoke to United Nations’ officer, Vladimir Sidorenko, (from the Ukraine) and asked him for help in getting across the border lines. He came to Restaurant Meli often and was known to help the people in Sarajevo.
He told me to go to the UN barrack area at night, sleep there, get up at 4:00am and
dress like a UN soldier in a Ukrainian, UNPROFOR uniform (United Nations Protection Forces) he provided. Part of the deal was that I’d bring supplies back with me for his troops. Desperate to visit my family and encouraged by his plan, I agreed.
I arrived at the UN barrack late that night. A blue and green military uniform and boots were provided for me and I slept in a military bed but was given a room and bathroom just for me. Other soldiers knew I was a woman but keep my secret.
The uniform was big, as were the boots. I used cloth and tightly circled it around my chest to hide my breasts. I stuffed paper into the boots so my feet wouldn’t slide out. I put on the uniform and looked at myself in a mirror. Even without makeup, I was afraid I’d be noticed and discovered to be a woman.
I pushed and pinned up my hair high on my head and pulled the cap down low enough to hide my hair and almost cover my eyes. The less seen of me the better. Even without using perfume, soap, or deodorant, I still thought I smelled like a woman. I practiced lowering my voice when I spoke, although the plan was for me not to speak at all. Would I pass as a man? Sound like one? Go unnoticed among other soldiers?
For one crazy instance, I imagined myself as preparing to go on a secret mission. I thought about spy movies I’d seen or books I’d read where people had to wear disguises. Not only had I found many avenues of keeping my restaurant operating, thanks to the war, but now I found a new talent. I would have my first performance as an actress.
I did not have to walk from checkpoint to checkpoint with other soldiers, but got to ride in a tank. I remained silent, even in the tank, and the other soldiers inside with me ignored my presence. Maybe it was their way of following orders to treat me as another soldier, and keep from staring. If they didn’t look at me, I really wasn’t there.

“Guilty Survivor “ Tamerla Kendall and Marianne Stephens.

Available January 26 from Secret Cravings Publishing.
Other Links:

***Secret Cravings Publishing Grand Opening Contest Prizes include:
Registration for Romantic Times Booklovers Convention
Registration for Lorie Foster's Reader and Writer Get Together Weekend
Kindle, Nook, or Sony ebook reader
And more! Visit: for details.

Thanks for having me here today to talk about “Guilty Survivor – Memoirs of Tamerla Kendall”!


  1. What a horrible experience it must have been. Best of luck to you both, Marianne and Tamerla.

  2. Thank you Marianne for coming back to Seven Sexy Scribes for a visit!
    I wish you and Tamerla all the best.
    XXOO Kat

  3. Your account sounds fascinating, Marianne - congrats on doing such a fine job of telling this woman's story!

  4. Thanks for having me at SSS! Love visiting with you! Tina, Kat, Amber - appreciate your comments. I'm very excited about this book!

  5. This sounds like a great story and it takes a lot to do a true story I am sure. I was interested at the first word and hope to be able to read your book some day soon. I love your long blond hair..mine is like yours and so many feels I should have it cut..They say I am too old for long hair. I love my curly hair and yes I am blonde too. I saw your picture and knew I will not cut mine no matter what others say. Maybe they want my curls. ha ha susan Leech

  6. Marianne and Tamerla, good luck with the book and thanks for sharing this incredible story.

  7. What a harrowing experience, all the more scary because it was true and the events that were happening then made it necessary. Best of luck with the book, Marianne and Tamerla!

  8. This sounds like such an exciting story all the more because this isn't history so much as present memory. It does make me admire Tamerla's courage.
    XXOO Kat

  9. Amazing story - both hers and your involvement with her harrowing experience.

  10. Marianne,

    Thank you for sharing the excerpt and the interview. It really resonated with me that you would want to turn her story into a romance. LOL.

  11. Stories based on real happenings & during a time I can remember are particularly touching. Tahnk you for writing it!

  12. I just hope some day, Tamerla, that your daughter understands what you did for her.

    Thank you, Marianne, for writing this piece of history.


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