THE GIRL WHO SAID GOODBYE: A MEMOIR OF A KHMER ROUGE SURVIVOR received a 4+ star review, making it an IndieReader Approved title.
Following find an interview with author Heather Allen.
What is the name of the book and when was it published?
The book is called THE GIRL WHO SAID GOODBYE: A MEMOIR OF A KHMER ROUGE SURVIVOR. It was published on January 29, 2019.
What’s the book’s first line?
“It was long, black, and ordinary. That was the point.”
What’s the book about? Give us the “pitch.”
Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 1975:
After a sudden and violent takeover by the brutal Khmer Rouge army, there is a mass exodus of
the city. Separated from her family, a young pharmacy student is held captive at a work camp
along with countless others, in a world turned upside down. Overnight, the Khmer Rouge have
bizarre rules for all citizens: medicine, education, money and family ties are now illegal. The girl
finds the strength to survive each day with the support of her sister and brother. Far away, in
another camp, a mother longs to find her three missing children.
A prison escape, a storm on a lake and a providential meeting are all twists of fate along the path
to find surviving family members. Nearly 40 years after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, THE GIRL
WHO SAID GOODBYE is the true story of a brave young girl, her strong mother, and the
selfless love of her brothers and sisters.
What inspired you to write the book? A particular person? An event?
I ran into my Aunt Siv Eng (a Khmer Rouge survivor) at a family reunion in 2017. She had
recently returned from a trip to Cambodia and shared pictures of the prison where she was held
captive, the village where she grew up and her family home in Battambang. As a young girl in
1981, I vividly remember hearing stories of her escape over the border and her survival in the
killing fields. It was enough to give any child nightmares. The day of our reunion, Aunt Siv Eng
shared that long ago she made a vow that if she ever escaped prison, she would shave her head
and tell her story. She did in fact escape and shave her head (a Buddhist tradition), but she had
never shared her story. Two months later, I was on a plane to L.A. to record my aunt’s
experience of surviving the killing fields and the aftermath. It was a life-changing experience for
both of us, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
What’s the main reason someone should really read this book?
Many have never heard of the killing fields in Cambodia, because it is not often taught in history
classes. It is important for readers to educate themselves so that this horror will never be
repeated. With THE GIRL WHO SAID GOODBYE, the reader will experience an up close and
personal account of the unspeakable life under the brutal Khmer Rouge. The reader will also
become familiar with the beauty of the Cambodian culture and will witness the relentless love of
family along with the power of kindness shown by strangers. We must remember so that we do
When did you first decide to become an author?
I decided to become an author when I heard my aunt’s true-life survival story, and it was
begging to be told.
Is this the first book you’ve written?
When I was in graduate school, I recorded my grandmother’s memories of homesteading in
Montana, but THE GIRL WHO SAID GOODBYE is my very first published book.
What do you do for work when you’re not writing?
I am a Speech Language Pathologist and have worked in the school system for 18 years. I love
the therapy world and my students and have a deep respect for all classroom teachers. It was my
English teacher from high school who inspired my love of literature and writing. Currently, I
have taken a break from the field of speech therapy and am assisting my husband with our family
business. In my spare time when I’m not writing, I’m reading!
How much time do you generally spend on your writing?
This memoir took exactly 17 months to write. With my aunt living in Anaheim, and my home
being in Indiana, it was a labor of love to connect. Our recording sessions often lasted up to 2
hours at a time. Later, when I was writing the actual chapters, I would get lost in the writing
process and work for three or more hours at a time. I always looked forward to the next writing
What’s the best and the hardest part of being an indie?
The best part of being an indie is learning something new every day and connecting with
amazingly talented people. It has also opened my eyes to all the diverse indie books that I didn’t
know about previously. On the other hand, the most challenging part of being an indie author is
the sense of being alone in an unpredictable publishing world. The more that I learn, the more I
realize how much I don’t know about the industry. It’s like opening the layers of an eternal
onion, but it doesn’t stink!
What’s a great piece of advice that you can share with fellow indie authors?
I don’t hesitate to say that it is important to develop thick skin. Share your writing with literary
critics and with friends alike. Positive feedback is pleasant, but it doesn’t result in growth or
change. Accept and welcome negative comments or suggestions. There is always room for
improvement. I learned the most about myself and my work from the most un-forgiving of critics
and incorporated significant changes to my manuscript where appropriate.
Would you go traditional if a publisher came calling? If so, why?
Yes, for sure. I feel as if I currently have a full-time job as an indie author without an agent or
publisher. It is a daunting task on my own.