How did you come here? Did you always want to come to America?Rhonda
No. It’s a long story.
When I was seven, my father managed to get me into School #5, although technically I was supposed to go to School #2. But School #5 was much better, with a focus on math, and my father wanted me to be a mathematician. By the time I hit high school, it was clear that mathematical specialization wasn’t for me.
Student academic competitions are very big in Russia, as big as the high school football is in Texas. The school had a high profile and I consistently placed in top three in municipal student Olympiads in biology, chemistry, geography, history, etc. Curiously, I was disqualified from a literature Olympiad, because they were sure I plagiarized my short story. They didn’t know where from and they couldn’t prove it, but they were sure that a 14 year old couldn’t have written it. I thought my poor teacher would have an aneurysm on the spot. She had watched me write it. I kind of didn’t care about it, because as my father frequently explained to me, “Писанина никогда тебя не покормит,” which translates to “Scribbling will never feed you.” He claims to not remember this.
It got so bad that when a competition was coming, they would just stick me in there without even asking. But when I went to a math Olympiad, I drew a blank. There were about 7 or 8 problems and I solved none. Zero. When the teacher in charge of it was discussing results, he said, “Some of your solved everything and some of you solved none.” And then he looked at me. I was so scarred by the experience, I still remember his face as he said it. 🙂
My mother quickly realized that I was hitting diminishing returns. She would watch me study and study and study, and the best I could manage in math was a B. The school had just implemented a new class specialization with a focus in Biology and I said I wanted to transfer. My mom was all for it. My father pitched a huge fit. Words like “Over my dead body” were said. Curiously, he doesn’t remember this either. Mom eventually wore him down and I transferred. It was so easy, I can’t even explain it. I breezed through my classes.
At that point, somehow the teacher in charge of biology program became connected with Western Carolina University Chemistry department. She was tall, statuesque, long hair, attractive, spoke English well, and so WCU decided to sponsor a group of five students and five teachers to come to US and visit them during their special summer camp for young scientists, or something like that. Sorry, it was long ago, and my English wasn’t good back then. Basically, they marched high school kids into the mountains, showed them dried up pine trees, and talked about acid rain and effects of pollution.
So there came a time to select the students for the trip. The first student was the son of the biology teacher’s friend. He spoke English well and was a spoiled kid. The second, and his name was Herman, and I don’t know why I remember that, was the son of the warehouse supervisor who sponsored the trip. The third was a good looking blond kid who was good at sports. I don’t even remember the fourth one. But basically when they got down to the final spot, they realized that they needed a girl and someone who would actually answer if a scientific question was asked. I fit the bill.
They asked me if I would go. I said yes. I came home and told my mom about it, and she laughed for like 5 minutes. When she was finally able to talk, she said, “Honey, people like us don’t go abroad.”
In two weeks I brought home the visa application and a packet of forms. My parents finally realized it was for real and promptly panicked. My dad ran all over town and flew to Moscow to get me a passport and a visa. Mom frantically tried to scrape together some money to buy валюта, foreign currency because they couldn’t send me there with nothing. Things were sold. Decent clothes that wouldn’t embarrass the family were purchased. I had never had so much attention lavished on me by my parents in my entire life.
Finally I joined the student group and we flew to US. We went to Washington, walked around, almost saw President Bush Senior, who at the last moment decided he was too busy and informed our teachers that he had to spend his time serving Americans rather than meeting Russians. That was a quote. 🙂 Finally we flew to NC. As we were driving around in a van, we ended up stopping at a private school in Georgia, Rabun Gap Nacoochee, where a former student of the WCU’s Chemistry Department head worked as a chemistry teacher.
We toured the lab building and I got really sad. It was so depressing. They had tables. They had Bunsen burners, and sinks, and real laboratory equipment, and chemicals. The only reaction we have done in Russian school was mixing CuSO4 + BaCl2 → BaSO4 + CuCl2
It forms a white precipitate. ::waves a little flag:: Wooo. So Mr. Mallot, who was the chemistry teacher, came up and asked me why I was sad. I tried to explain it to him in my broken English and then I pulled out a notebook I took with me, because I had expected chemical questions, and showed him all the theoretical equations for the reactions and told him I had no idea what any of those compounds looked like.
We left the school, and then a few days later, they sent over a full scholarship packet with my name on it. I won’t bore you with the description of the freak out that followed with my family. I only had a year to go in Russian high school. What if I went to US for a year and then had to come back and I would have to redo a year? What if I got pregnant? What if I got shot, because people randomly shoot each other in America? What if, what if?
Long story short, I ended up coming for a year, then the school gave me another scholarship fro the next year, but by that point they ran out of classes to give me. Through a complicated series of events Duke offered me a very good scholarship, not quite a full ride, but close. But WCU offered me a full ride and adults in my life talked me into going to WCU instead, because it was a smaller school and I wouldn’t fall through the cracks. I started in January of my senior year and met Gordon in the English class. Things took a sharp turn at the end of that semester, but that’s a story for another time.
And that’s how I came to America.
Thank you so much for sharing your story! I was wondering too. I’m REALLY glad that you came to America and met Gordon because I can’t speak or read Russian, so I’d be missing out on your books. ????????
What a lovely story. Thank you for sharing your journey with us.
Oh wow! Now I understand…amazing life stories lead to amazing fiction. Any plans for an autobiography?!?….
Amanda L says
I loved that story. Thank you for sharing!
Leah Vincent says
This made me tear up a little. What a gift we got in you.
I’ve always wondered but didnt want to bother with that question. That’s amazing. Thank you for sharing with us.
I thoroughly enjoyed that. I love listening/reading about people’s histories. I used to love my grandmother’s stories of her childhood. It’s just so fascinating how people become who they are.
I’m so glad you moved here. Thanks for the story, looking forward to Part 2: Beating Gordon’s Grades in English!
Alex R. says
Beating Americans in English class is easy.
Losing your accent (even after living here for 40 years) – impossible.
Very cool story.
Why lose the accent? It is Sooo cool.
That is an amazing story. So glad you came! I love your books. ❤️
Thank you for sharing.
Amanda P says
Wow, thank you for sharing.
It was fated that you both met xx
So glad you did!
Oh wow…what a journey…maybe someday a book? Hint hint….
Well done for being so brave…when I was a teenager I never would’ve gone abroad on my own. Thanks for sharing.
Katie R says
Thanks for sharing such a great story. I’m so glad your journey brought you here.
Donna D Austin says
Very glad you took the chance and came!
What a wonderful series of events. Thank you for sharing your story. Literally you could write a list and I would love it ???? sapphire flames ending broke my heart literally. Yours and Gordon’s writing is so powerful. Love and light and tea ????
I am so glad you did! Hope you are happy here, too.
S. Gaona says
That is so cool. I’m very glad you were able to come here. Not just because of y’all’s writing, but because you were able to come here and do something it sounds like you enjoyed and something else you’re enjoying.
Wow. I feel humbled. And thankful that things happened this way, because I could not read your books if they were written in Russian. (I am however sure you would have become a writer in any case.)
THAT was a very interesting story. I love it. It’s exciting to hear about someone who came here and how it happened. The background of what it was like before you did. Thank you for sharing that with us.
Thank you for sharing. You have made the world a better place with your stories.
Anne-Marie Cyr says
This was so amazing to read. Omg. You are so inspiring!! Thank you for sharing.
Thank you for sharing. That was lovely and reminded me of my own parent’s story.
You are amazing! Thank you for that story! I am from Bulgaria, a small East European country, but by a not so interesting story I studied in a Russian school and have a high school Russian Аттестат. And probably can
farely imagine what it was – the story about how thay chouse the students ahaha, and for your parents to send you to the States, the horror and the worry and all. But you are amazing as I said, and very very smart. Science has lost a great mind, but we have ganed a load of good stories. Great picture. Happy writing.
My daughter was once accused of plagiarizing a paper. She worked at the town library and worked there and at home ( pre google days ) and she worked hard. Her teacher accused her of copying but .. had no idea of where she supposedly got it. It infuriated me.
ALL of my kids were good students and worked hard to do well.. even thinking about that…teacher.. today makes me angry.,
I’m glad things worked out as it did… and that you are here and writing with Gordon. Thank you for your books, I love them 🙂
Wow! That is a wonderful story. Thank you for sharing!
Gail G says
Synchronicity is everything. Paths dividing in the wood and all that. So glad you took so many chances????????and landed where you’re meant to be. Computers vs Bunsen burners?? No contest.
Wow! That is the most amazing story. God must have really wanted you here. And though I would like to think that it was all for my literary benefit, I suspect there is a lot more to it than that. So, I’m grateful for that underlying purpose that had the side effect of my meeting Kate Daniels, Dina DeMille, and the Baylor family, et. al.
Nice story, and we are so glad you came and met Gordon ????
Carysa Locke says
And to think, if anything in that story hadn’t happened, if you’d gone to Duke instead, or never come here for classes, or not been chosen to go on the initial trip, you would never have met Gordon and we wouldn’t have any of the wonderful stories you’ve created together. So happy it all turned out the way it has. Thanks for sharing.
Thank you for sharing your story. Encouraging to learn that people recognized your talent and capability and became engaged on your behalf. Not confident that it would happen the same way these days. There’s a lesson in how biology and chemistry could embrace you while mathematics left you cold. Certainly the discipline and clarity that science requires contribute to the excellence of your story telling. One might hope in the grand scheme of thing those teachers who challenged your writing prowess as a 14 year old have been made aware of their ignorance. And that your Dad has eaten a little crow despite his conveniently imperfect memory. It’s an inspiring journey.
Wow, that’s worth a movie script! The BDH owes WCU and your mom and dad an enormous thank you cause we’re sooooo glad your here..
Thanks so much! More stories please!
Patricia Schlorke says
Oh wow! It’s always interesting to read or hear about how someone came to America. Living history.
My paternal grandfather came to America from southern Germany right before WWII. He became a naturalized citizen. However, my paternal grandmother did not become a U.S. citizen. After she had my dad, she took my dad to Germany to live with her family. Her family forced her to go back to Chicago with my dad since war was about to start. The U.S. government grandfathered all the non U.S. citizen women who were married to naturalized citizens or natural born citizens to become a citizen. Found that out when my dad put his mom into a nursing home.
However, my mom’s family was more interesting, to me, to learn about. My maternal grandparents basically caused a scandal. My maternal grandmother was Protestant, but my maternal grandfather was Irish Catholic. My maternal grandfather was the only son (he had two sisters). Back in the early 1900s that was a huge taboo. What I also found out about my maternal grandfather was he liked to ride Harley-Davidson motorcycles. He had two of them. The first one he traded in for the second one. The second one got trashed in an accident while a friend was driving it.
wonderful. You were so brave to take the plunge and come to another country, and your parents, trusted you.
In a person’s life you have choices . You take a leap of faith.
You used your brain, you were a girl, and fate gave you a choice.
Thank you for coming to America.
And thank you to the Americans who helped you stay.
And thank you to your parents for raising such a remarkable woman. Bless your mom.
Thank you for sharing.
Double thank you for taking that writing class and meeting Gordon.
Thank you for sharing. So grateful you came to the US and write amazing stories in English!
Christina Petty says
Life is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense. We are glad to have you, and grateful for your ‘scribblings’.
This is amazing! Thank you for sharing!
Спасибо Ilona Alexandrovna for sharing this story with us. Coming from Eastern Europe and having lived behind the Iron Curtain and the time right after it, I understand a bit what that must have felt like for both your family (your poor mother!) and yourself. A very serendipitous mix of events- and they deserved to lose you for kicking you out of the Literature Olympics ????. We’re fortunate you started “scribbling” again!
Jocelyn Malone says
Thank you for sharing your story. I’d never read it before (I’d gleaned “Grew up in Russia, college in US, met Gordon there” and that was it).
Thank you for sharing your story. America is a better place with you in it.
That is what I like about immigration. We get know people and points of view from perspectives we cannot have while sitting in one place all the time.
When I think about Russian people, I think about you, your books, and your father who likes to fix things when he comes to visit you. Good people. Real people. Human.
OUTSTANDING!! Many many loud cheers!! I. Frequently work with students and intl adults. Everywhere from EVERY WHERE in Latin America and EVERYWHERE in So Asia. In our deep RED community we are all both physically emotionally beat up all the time. Once TRYING to carefully explain to angry group of 25 how we are more similar than different I took 3 last names McCarthy Morgan and Boyd. I mentioned only 120 years or so ago most likely YOUR PEOPLE grabbed a dream in one hand their shoes in the other jumped on a broke down sailing vessel guaranteed to sail off the edge of our flat world into sea serpents jaws made it here. Our world is not pie. One more slice shared does not make less for you. We are simply candles. Light one more candle from your flame and the room gets warmer brighter. They hated it. Sigh.
And we are so glad you did❣️
Isn’t life funny the way things work out. I am very glad you two met, I enjoy y’alls books. Thank you Ilona and Gordon for all you do.
I love this story. Thank you for sharing! You never know where life will take you, and who you might meet along the way.
Wow! So great, thank you so much for sharing!!!
Donna A says
Education is a powerful tool and an extreme economic divide. In my state primary school that was not long after closed completely, I was considered 2smart” and thus able to teach myself – there were kids who needed far more attention than me and otherswith whom I could even help the teachers. I was moved up years, moved sideways, and all over. There was discussion when I was eight if I could be sent to secondary school early. No. Eventually I got to be 11 and was able to move on, my family had me do the tests for private schools and scholarships and I won several. The culture shock was insane. They had all been learning a second language and an instrument for years, doing numerous extracurricular sports and hobbies, all the things which enabled them to be unthinkingly more educated than me without even trying. My family were just as shocked by the things they had to attend. The first year I was in a play version of Our Mutual Friend. The next it was an opera – The Barber of Seville (I was a townsperson and instructed not to sing just mime – French and Music I barely passed throughout school, my accent being atrocious apparently and only my written music carrying me through). There were swimming regattas, tennis tournaments and so many trips. It’s not just the different countries educational systems that separate people, it’s the quality and funding. My friends family is from former Yugoslavia and ironically the thing his dad laments is the communist education system (and of course pelinkovac!)
Brooke T says
Yikes! I can only imagine what you must have went through with your peers. Lots of kudos for sticking with it. You have a lot of courage.
Donna A says
Thank you, but, well, I have Aspergers, so in some ways much of the peer problems that you would expect to bother someone passed over me or simply didn’t matter to me. In other ways not so much as the socialising was way worse and an all girls school. . . Girls are very confusing and I am one. Also the worse responses were actually from the people I lived around and had gone to primary school with and knew their families growing up. Humans are a strangely illogical and reactive species. (My fall back saying when things get weird!)
Brooke T says
Such an awesome story. Thank you for sharing it. I have to admit, I started bawling when I read what your parents did to help you get ready for the exchange program. Your parents LOVED you. Mine did, too, so I can understand the hoops parents would go through for the children. Amazing.
Wow! Sounds like your story would make a great after school special for STEM students. March is Women in Science month!
Is it another time yet? ???? No just kidding…. awesome tale of life working in mysterious ways, thank you!
Toni Causey says
I love this story — the perseverance, the bravery of that young girl to go somewhere new. So many people would have backed out.
And I’m so glad you came and became a writer.
Thank you for sharing. You had mentioned it before but filled in more details. Very interesting and great photo of you.
I came to NYC from Vancouver with a job transfer 23 years ago only intending to stay a year. Moving from NYC this year ….
God bless Mr. Mallot and his kind heart.
Amazing how meandering the path from point A to point B can be, but I’m very grateful your background in the sciences led to your career ‘scribbling.’
What a story…now we need MORE. Tell me about that turn of events? Your fans are never satisfied. Are we?
Wow – that is a crazy set of events. Cool!
This whole story could be a book and I would buy it right now. I LOVE it!
Side note: while reading I thought “that sounds like papa Bush”
Oh wow, that’s such a cool story ! What age were you when you moved to US then? If you still had a year of high school in Russia that would make you ~16.
I can’t figure out if the first scholarship was for high school or college? Wouldn’t it make you much younger than all of your peers? Was there a school dormitory or did you live with a family that take exchange student? Was it hard?
I can’t imagine moving so young alone to a new country. You are smart and brave!
Wow. How fortunate that you were offered this opportunity and that you were able to use it. I am sure you glossed over many huge problems but so glad you were able to do this – and kudos to everyone who played a part in making this happen
This is such a great post. I would love to read an autobiography if you ever publish one.
+1 on the autobiography. A split with Gordon’s life, including service in the Navy and military, and then their combined life ???? . If ever they decide to share it with us, I would preorder in a second
Some things are meant to be. Your story sounds like an example.
Crystal F. says
I absolutely loved this! So glad you received the opportunity to come. It’s amazing that their talking you into going to another school resulted in you meeting your future husband! Thank you for sharing.
Other Barbara says
Can we someday read part two, where we learn about Gordon’s path to WCU and the beautiful Russian girl in his English class?
I’d love to read that!
Susie Q. says
+1. Also, don’t mean to throw shade on your statement that you’re not Natasha, but you could pass for her better looking cousin.
This is awesome!
You’ve talked about this before, but this is the most detail I’ve ever seen on it. =)
Wow! Such a beautiful story.
Thanks for sharing with your fans.
Immigrants get the job done! ????
Anna Stanford says
Wow, what an amazing story! Thank you for sharing! Perhaps in a new blog post you could continue the story and tell us how your relationship with Gordon developed, and how you came to write? We would love to hear that!
Natasha Johnson says
That’s an awesome story Ilona. Like everybody else we are super glad that you ended up here and meet Gordon. When I saw the picture of you and your friend my first thought was Kid 1 is an exact copy of her momma.
Like you I am good at Biology but show me math and I will draw a blank every time so I nodded in sympathy about the teacher looking at you when he said some solved none because that was always me. The only reason I passed college algebra or really any college math was because of my husband! They would tell him all the time I don’t understand her at the end of class she can help people and will pass the end of class quiz but she comes in the next time and it’s like I’m speaking a foreign language to her and she has no idea how to solve what we already went over. Of course my engineered math brained husband would nod in agreement and have sympathy with them. I would make him so frustrated when he had to help with the homework because I honestly couldn’t do it.
I’m glad you stuck with your scribbles or we wouldn’t have y’all’s amazing stories to read.
What a story! Fate definitely working on you to meet Gordon and get married and become a famous writer!
I was born overseas and came her when my mom remarried an American. Went to NJ for a training class right out of college, met my husband at YMWCA and two sons and 3 grandkids later …
Sakinah thobani says
This is an amazingly well told story of a very interesting life…I truly would like to know more, especially about the “sharp turn”!!! Thank you for sharing with us.
I also enjoyed this vignette, and your blog. I have to say that Gordon sounds equally fascinating. Would he be willing to share his slice of life for how he came to meet you?
Please tell the rest of the story! I so want to hear about the rest of college and meeting Gordon!
I love this so much. Thank you for sharing ♥️
I met my husband thanks to a teacher as well. My fifth grade teacher pulled me aside one day and handed me a thick manila envelope. My name was on the front, but not in the center because that spot was scribbled out. She said it was supposed to go to another kid, but she thought I should take the test instead. It was for a specialized program in a jhs some distance away.
I met my now husband in the eighth grade ????
I looked her up after I had my oldest. To thank her. But I was a few months late, she had already passed.
You’re so brave! I would have been scared silly. I’ve never been outside the United States.
Lora Tyler says
Thank you so much! This slice of life is so encouraging. It is awesome to read about your past.
Susan B says
Sharp turn?! What sharp turn?! I feel like I just read a cliffhanger.
I have tears in my eyes because of your story and because being from an East European country I can visualize your school life and family reaction so well. It was fate. Your life can make for a great story!
Rebecca D says
No idea you and Gordon was were Catamounts! My daughter’s best friend goes to WCU.
I laughed when you wrote your parents panicked because I can see that happening at my Italian family. I could see my mom saying “things like that don’t happen people like us” and then when they realize it did panicking because they don’t want you to embarrass the family.
That was fascinating to read; thank you!
Jess W. says
This is an AMAZING story and omg, kudos for your bravery to go to another country at such a young age!
Sarah N says
Oh my! The turns life takes. Thanks for telling this, it’s making my fictional people transferring cultures via school more believable, being much less a series of coincidences.
Your Russian parents sound incredibly like my Nigerian father. Except he was as all about reading/writing. I still have flashbacks regarding the nuclear meltdown he had regarding a D+ I got in 7th grade English. The F I got in math? A shrug and some non-committal mumbling about how I didn’t have to be good at it because he wasn’t either. Luckily I have a pretty easy-going Belizean mother to balance that out (side note, I truly don’t understand how those two end up together oh, but I guess I’m here so ????????♀️)
Kate Beattie says
Thank you for sharing how you came to America Ilona. I am very thankful that you met Gordon and stayed. I appreciate all the time and effort you put into the blog. It is always interesting, whether it is your early life, animal issues or the snippets I enjoy so much.
What an interesting story. If someone asked me the same question, the only story I have is “I was born”. I’m a really boring person.
Colleen C. says
Whoa, Kid 1 is your doppelganger!
That is such a cool story. I seconded everyone saying they want the rest and to hear Gordon’s side.
What thing that amazes me is that apparently the ‘I don’t remember’ is a universal father thing. We give my dad grief all the time because he has a habit of forgetting things he’s said/done and when called on it will respond “I never said that” (when we told him this his response was “I never say that”, he completely missed the irony). I love that it isn’t just my dad! Selective dad memory, is that a thing?
What an amazing story! I have no words.
Cheryl M says
Brava! This is a wonderful story! It takes A LOT of bravery and perseverance to go to someplace foreign, completely out your realm of experience, and not only survive, but thrive. Thank you for sharing it.
Wow, the possibilities for you must have exhilarated and terrified both you and your parents. I can’t imagine ending up halfway around the world as a teen, barely speaking the language and being plopped down into the middle of American teens who had no concept of how alien our world was to you. If just having a schoolroom full of supplies and basic staples like tables and sinks was a shock for you I ‘m sure the social aspect was even more of an adjustment. I can only imagine the tears/worry and wary jubilation your parents felt at the first scholarship you received.
I had a discussion with my eldest and his wife several years back. At 17 he was working at a summer camp with a family he really liked and I could tell he wanted to ask me something when he came home. The upshot was he wanted to go to Texas and live with them (17). I told him I knew that and that after a serious discussion I probably would have let him go. His wife was all “I’d never let my child do that.”. I just looked at her and told her it’s not about you, it’s about what would be best for your child. That family was very close and just plain good people and I knew he was searching for the good masculine influence that his father wasn’t. He asked me why I hadn’t said anything and I told him he had to want it bad enough to ask. Why didn’t he ask me, because he didn’t want me to feel bad. The road not taken.
Kris Ten-Eyck says
Thank you for sharing. I appreciate the insight, and had to laugh at the ‘I never said that’ response – it must be the default of fathers all over the world.
Omg! That literature exam reminds me of mine, Ilona! At final exams I used the word “доколе” in my literature essay, and the jury decided I copied my essay from somewhere because I couldn’t possibly know it myself being an avid reader of historical fantasy and all. Great story!
That’s so interesting! Also, that picture is awesome – I thought it was a picture of your youngest daughter for a moment 🙂
Katherine Nobles says
People today don’t remember what it was like then. I’m so glad that your parents allowed you to come, because you have enriched all our lives with your books. радa, что ты здесь!
Debra K Hoffmaster says
Very interesting. I can only imagine the “promptly panicked” and “the freak out that followed” events in your family’s life. I’m glad you made it. If I may ask, where are your parents now?
Many of us are hanging on by our toenails, wanting to hear all about how you and your husband met and fell in love. DON’T TELL US! No matter how badly we want to be your bestie and hear all about your personal life, in your heart and in ours, we all know you write the books for us and live your life for yourselves.
This tale is about the fates aligning correctly to bring wonderful things for all of us. Thank you for telling us the magical way it all came about.
Wow. I just realized u make a living writing stories in a second language. That’s impressive! I can barely stumble thru asking directions in a second language! I know ur book jacket says ur Russian but it never occurred to me u weren’t born and raised here to Russian speaking parents. Wow am I glad this is ur life! I’d love to hear the rest if u ever feel like sharing. I’m wondering if u still have the story u wrote at 14 and I’m really glad u met Gordon!
Also how has raising kids in our school system compare to ur own education? Does it bother u? America seems to have much lower standards from what u described.
Loved reading about you???? but puuuleeeeeeze may we see a picture of you and Gordon around the time you met each other? ????
Margaret R says
You’re parents were so brave to send you off to a strange country in the hopes that you would do well. It would take tremendous courage to trust in your child at that age.
I’ve wondered for the longest time how you end up in the states. Now I know. Very brave of you. And because of this chain of events, I have had the privilege of reading some really great books! Thank you.
Amber Sand says
Thanks for sharing that. This must have been pre Perestroika and Glasnost.
How was the US seen by your family in those days? An escape? The Iron curtain was still up. Was it difficult for you to get a passport? Would one of your group have been reporting back, ie were cultural visits used as spying opportunities?
Immigrant stories are worth recording. I’d love to know why my forebears came to Australia (mainly around 1860s). Was it the promised land? Itchy feet? Were conditions that bad in Britain?
Do your children want to have any connection to their Russian heritage?
There is a tendency for Immigrants to preserve the image of their former country as it was when they left. Do you have trouble identifying it as it is today?
I love your story. Families are the same everywhere.
So many pieces moving at just the right time- and we are really glad it all came together in that English class where House Andrews began.
Me, I am always glad my Dad was in California when he was and I used to chat with him using an xterm in the Computer lab, which is how I met my love.
Thank you for your story.
Suzann Schmid says
Serendipity. One of my favorite words because life is interesting when it comes into play. So glad Duke didn’t get you, and Gordon did. Also that you ended up with the English department somehow.
Thank you for sharing. I’m grateful for the series of events that brought you here.
Thank you for sharing. I gotta admit that over the years of reading your books, I have been curious how you wound up here. What a fascinating life!
Loved this story, thank you for sharing
One of the biggest mysteries and questions I always wondered (but didn’t dare to ask because sometimes those stories are oh so sad), finally answered! Thank you for sharing!!
P.S. What a wonderful person that Mr. Mallot is. Do you still keep in touch?
Wow. Love your story. I hope you have never regretted your decision. GOD knows we aren’t perfect over here.
Parents everywhere try their very best for their kids and you had/have good ones.
Thank you for sharing so much of your self. ❤️
Thank you for this, it was such a fascinating peek into your history. You were so brave, as were your parents to let you come. I guess that showed real confidence and trust in their daughter.
Barbara Barroso says
Yes. She was so freaking brave. But we’re talking about Ilona here. Of course she was.
Do u feel ppl were kinder back then? Would a kid today recieve those same opportunities?
I really lived your story. Thank you for sharing. I’m looking forward to the “How Gordon swept me off my feet” story. Or did you do the sweeping?
Barbara Barroso says
I might be totally wrong here, but my guess is Gordon did the sweeping. Or it was just mutual.
I guessed Gordon, because he’s a very intelligent man and how could he not fall in love with Ilona and never let her go?
I’m straight, but I have a “crush” on Ilona and I never met her. ????
I also think that people as smart, kind and truly special like Gordon and Ilona are rare in this world, so of course once they met they would fall in love. And gift this world not only with their books, but children that were raised right and will be an asset to the world. We need more kind, generous, special people like them all in this Universe. We need their light, because it can be dark AF.
Just my 2 cents!
Bill from nj says
Great story, it is amazing how life throws curves into what we think we will be doing. Maybe Roland really exists and he made sure Team Andrews could bring him back to life (in print) by making the pieces fall into place like that.
Thank you for adding to your story with us. I’ve always wondered, in the back of my mind, how you made it to the US.
Lots of luck was involved obviously 😀
Barbara Barroso says
Luck played a part, of course. But, she earned it. It wasn’t given to her as a kindness. She was deserving. Her intelligence and her being fearless and brave were the deciding factors. She got where she is now because she worked hard for it. It was skill, not luck. ????????
Barbara Barroso says
And talent, of course.
Teh Gerg says
Thanks for the affecting story. Glad you’re here.
Helen W. says
Destiny! That was wonderful!
Joan Twomey says
Just wow ????
Amazing story and how things turn out ????
Please, please, wanna hear the rest of the story!
I’m a hairdresser and one of my favorite conversations is how did you meet or how did you get to this town. Love my job immensely.
Wow, what a story, thanks for sharing!
Lenore A. Villa says
As a former immigrant I can totally relate to your mother laughing in disbelief.
I loved your story.
Makes anyone believe in a Deity of their choice to worship.
There is a reason why things happen and it is all to bring you to one of those certain points that will be a major Crossroad you will have to make a fateful decision on.
Thank you for sharing.
William B says
Judging by the photo I can see why you caught Gordon’s eye.
Barbara Barroso says
Such an amazing story. You got to the US because you’re brilliant. I’m so glad people saw it.
And I’m guessing you stayed for good because of love/Gordon. ????
I’m so thankful to those people that really saw you and gave you this opportunity. If they hadn’t, we wouldn’t have your books.
Your books have saved my life literally a couple of times. I struggle with depression and no medication work as well as reading your and Gordon’s books to make happy, giddy and hopeful.
You did actually saved my life even more directly when you sent me an ARC of Magic Triumphs. I was in a very dark place and contemplating suicide. Your incredible kindness with that ARC, not only gave me back some faith in Humanity, but it made me so joyful that I started to get better. You also told me that the only thing you wanted in exchange for your generosity towards a total stranger like me, was for me to try to get better, to find joy. Something along those lines. All you did for me moved me so much that I decided I owed to you to do as you bid. And I did.
Also, any time I get really down, I reread your books and they always make me feel better, happier and hopeful.
So, THANK YOU SO MUCH FROM THE BOTTOM OF MY SOUL! ????
I will never ever forget your amazing kindness. And now I’m tearing up, because I don’t have the words to express how grateful to you I am for what you did.
Just know it will never be forgotten. And it did indeed saved my life at the moment in time.
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
All my love to you and your family. Always!
Barbara Barroso says
It was the gesture. (Not that I didn’t appreciate the book, which I very much did. It was awesome. I’m actually re-reading it for like the 10th time tonight). It was the light I needed in a moment when all I saw was darkness.
A complete stranger showing such kindness. Doing such a completely selfless act. The generosity of it. It was a ray of light. It made me rethink some things. There are good people out there. It gave me hope and a new outlook: Focus on the positive. It really was a “faith in humanity restored” moment for me.
I’m forever grateful. Truly. Since I’m not a writer, I’ll borrow a quote from Grey’s Anatomy, of all things.
Dramatically put for sure, but I can honestly say:
“It’s like I was drowning and you saved me.”
You threw me a lifeline. You extended a hand, so thank you!
I know I sound like I’m fangirling hard and I am. I can’t help it. I admire the reck out of you and your books. But, it is also the truth. My truth, at least.
This is an amazing story and I’m so glad you shared it with us. As a fellow WCU graduate, I’m doubly pleased.
I firmly believe that the universe is constantly conspiring in our favor. This story sings to me.????????
Thank you for sharing that. I’m sure it is a bittersweet memory for you, but I for one, am glad you made the move ????
George Bailey says
Great story … I can’t wait for the second (I assume there will be three in the series, lol !?!
Isn’t CHEMISTRY fun !!??!!
I’ve thought so for all my life (70+ years).
Chemistry I can do … and leave the wonderful writing to you.
Glad you made the switch (both in careers and countries)!
Russa’s and Chemistry’s loss is our gain. 🙂
I attended WCU as a non-traditional student (I was in my 40’s). I think had just read one of your books and enjoyed it which led me to the info’ that you attended WCU. This added to my determination to obtain all your books. I have been a devoted fan of your books now for 20+ years. Thank you for all the pleasure your books have brought me.
::Hug:: We only published for 13 years though…
Alex R. says
Time travel is real.
What a wonderful beginning. You are so talented. Thanks for sharing a part of your life’s journey.
Serendipity I think ❤️❤️❤️
Gabby C. says
I was reading and reading ng, and then you wrote Rabun Gap Nachoochee school. I grew up twenty minutes drive from that school. It’s a small world for sure. I’m not fangirling at all. Really. That’s an amazing journey you took, and I am very glad you did.
Your Dad sounds like my Dad. I’m glad you were strong enough to make “scribbling” your career. I auto-buy everything you write – you have a gift.
Omar Mtz says
WOW, I remember you talking about this story once before, but hearing it again was great!!! Things work out at the end
Thank you for sharing your story!!
That is awesome thank you for putting it the way you did. I am glad you could and did take advantage of seemingly strange opportunities. Love your books and your blog thanks. Lol thanks is all I can say about all you both have done in life and writings, so thanks
Maria R. says
One heck of a way to arrive to another country. Hurrah for Bunsen burners!
University can be a lovely way to meet ones future other half. (Been, did, still happily married)
Double hurrah for your book loving readers but ah well, chemistry loss.
Debbie B. says
I also had The Diminishing Returns with Math, that for some un-comprehensible reason was required to graduate High School, even though I had extra credits and could have graduated almost a year early. Did well in 9th grade Algebra, but couldn’t retain complex formulas afterwards, that even with extra studying, parent-teacher meeting, that was only able to pass with a D; the Only one that haunted my K-12 grades.
Am so happy you were able to make your way to the US and grace us with the works that entertain us.
Aleea Brewer says
What a wonderful way to find your way to the USA. I’m so happy you didn’t get shot (randomly or otherwise), nor pregnant (until you wished). I can see your Father flying to get your passport and selling things to get money for you to have in your pocket. I am very happy you and Gordon had the same English class, the lives of so many people would be so much less if circumstances had been different.
Lynne B says
Thank you for sharing your amazing story! I’m always interested in hearing how people from other countries come to be here; I’m in awe of that kind of courage and adventurous spirit! So glad things fell into place like they did. You and your husband make a fabulous team and we all are grateful for your hard work, talent, and imagination !!
Valerie in CA says
Thanks. Do you have any siblings? Did any make it to America?
Tasha A says
This is such an awesome story!! Thank you for sharing!
Such a lovely story. Hate to ruin your good mood with something that might not be so happy. You used to have on your site this image of a girl in a flowing peach dress in front of a moon. I hope that was a stock image but if it wasn’t you should know it is being used by another author. Lindsey Fairleigh to advertise her series in Amazon. The Echo trilogy
Thank you so much for sharing your story. I love hearing about how a person ended up here but it’s not usually considered polite to ask.
Do you miss the sciences or do you get your fix through researching for your books?
Tina Black says
The black stockings picture is adorable.
Debbie Richardson says
Thanks so much for sharing, that’s a great story!
karen h says
What an amazing story! Thank you so much for sharing it with us!
What a fascinating story – thank you for sharing this part of your life with us.
BTW, it was obvious which one of the two young ladies in the picture was you – you still look that beautiful. ::hugs::
Wow. That is such an array of the universe lining up everything to get you here, where you meet the man who would later become your husband, and the two of you after many tribulations end up writing best selling books.
This is almost stranger than the strangest story you two have written.
This is a wonderful story.
Do you think you would still become writer if those pivotal events (selected as 5th student, scholarship offer, meeting Gordon) did not take place?
OOH I’ve been curious how you ended up here, but did not want to be prying.
Thanks for sharing.
Yes, tell us all about meeting Gordon. ^_^
Debi Majo says
Wow, your eldest daughter looks so much like you when you were young!
What a wonderful story! I like how your path turned out quite different from what your parents and teachers expected, given you found gene manipulation of grass so boring (IIRC) and fell in love with writing. But you did go on to create wonderful things and make many people very happy through your work, as must have been the highest hope of those who supported you. I’m an educator myself and it’s just a great reminder of how you never know what seeds of potential actually are hiding in people.
A short story in it self!!! Love it.
I remember when I was in fourth grade the Math Olympics coach wouldnt accept me as part of the team to compete with other schools. Because I’m a girl and surely could not beat his six grader boy pupil. I beat the poor guy twice in Dàmath (like a chess board but with math equations) while he watched.
I still did not get into the team. I hated math for a while after that.
We all leave the places we are belong to there! great story.
What a wonderful history. Thanks for sharing it.
Yay, Western Carolina University! My nephew graduated from WCU in 2018. And I’m so glad they corralled you for our side of The Pond!
Wait! I want to hear about the sharp turn! Cliffhanger in the personal story.
My life took a sharp turn once. His name is David and he’ll be 5 in October ????
That was just my assumption (which, yes, makes me an ass) ????
Wow. Great story. For those of us who love your books, we are very grateful it all worked out the way it did. Maybe a story for another time, but how did you turn to writing?? And, how did your family react to that??
Wow, thank-you so much for sharing that wonderful story. Can’t wait for Part 2
Do you have any siblings?
I read your blog but don’t post comments. I am making an exception for this post. What a wonderful story! I would have eagerly read every detail if it had been even longer. Opportunities in life are important, I tell my boys that and they don’t always listen. You took advantage of the opportunities offered to you and they led you to this wonderful life where people like me read every story you write and feel blessed that you are here writing those wonderful stories.
I also would love to read the story of how you became a full time writer and if you started out writing as a team or evolved to that. But that should be for a day where you aren’t processing edits or head down in writing a book.
Thank you for everything you do for your reading fans!
Linda coulson says
Audra Carr says
Diane P DesAutels says
Wonderful story! Thank you for sharing!
Wow! That’s amazing. A series of events leading up to a conversation with someone who cared and saw your potential :). Your story is heartwarming, thank you for sharing it 🙂
Thanks for sharing
I was one of only three women in my college engineering graduation class and one of three women in my engineering masters class. As you all know we had to work twice as hard but we were twice as prepared.
Thank you for your scribbles! Looking forward to all the future ones….
Thanks for telling us that, I really enjoyed reading about your story!
I was one of 2. None of the guys would study with me. One of them said to me “Who would marry a woman engineer?” Someone smarter than him for sure lol!
Not to overlook working your tail off too of course 🙂
C.D. Lewis says
Sara T says
That’s an amazing story! I love the picture of young Ilona. Beautiful.
I love this….what a very unique story!! All I can say is that it’s a good thing I didn’t have to rely on my brain power to be in this country. Blessed and happy that my ancestors chose to immigrate to the USA.
Looking forward to learning more about the two of you finding each other & discovering that you would have serious storytelling skills together!!
DeeAnn Fuchs says
So glad you shared that bit if your history with us but I need the rest of the story! I’m also glad that you didn’t stay with chemistry but decided to do some scribbling! Lucky us!!
It’s delightful to get a peek at your past and how you wound up here and with Gordon. We are so lucky you looked sad that day, and that there was a teacher smart enough to recognize to your potential! I am so very happy that your scribbling both feeds you, and feeds our imaginations.
Mooncatx the Bliss Crimson says
Neat! Plus, your picture, total looker!
I just loved reading some of your history. That was so meaningful on multiple levels. Thank you so much for sharing.
Thank you for this story. It put a smile on my face today.
Claudia C says
Thank you for sharing that time in your life with us. I enjoyed it immensely!
If you were the science major and Gordon was the lit major I now understand why he is still sore you got better grade!
I feel your pain re being disqualified because you couldn’t possibly have written the short story you submitted in high school. Me, too. And like yours, my teacher tried to defend me.
But no dice. Man, it hurt at the time. But also like you, I found my right place eventually, and it was worth the journey.
I’m so glad! My reading life wouldn’t be nearly as much fun without you and Gordon.
Oi! Cliff hanger ending! Looking forward to hearing more about that semester! Cheers!
Love it! Especially your Dad comments. I am most impressed with your memory of events and people. Sometimes the most significant parts of my own story are hazy. I should have kept a journal!
I’m so glad you are here! ❤️
Can we get a Gordon POV for that story? 😉
Judy B says
There’s a great book in there,,, 🙂
Make the teacher a shape-changer of some sort, throw in a shuttle to the space station, make Gorden an alien from somewhere unique,,, Voila!
Thank you for the back story. 🙂
Thank you for sharing ????
Thank you so much for sharing! It’s a fascinating story and your mother sounds really nice. <3
Ilona, you are an amazing woman. What you have done with your life is very impressive. The BDH is privileged to know you and the rest of House Andrews through your generosity in sharing the backstory with us. Thank you!
Claudia C says
What an adventure to have in high school. At a recent convention a guest said: “luck is just preparation meeting opportunity.” You are one lucky lady. Glad your path brought you to Gordon and the amazing writing collaboration, all our lives are richer for the joy your stories bring.
Thank you for sharing part of your back story!
Jean Morgan says
Thank you for sharing, So grateful that you ended up writing, appreciate yours and Gordon’s talent!
Thank you for sharing that story with us!
So interesting! Thanks for sharing your journey. Just love that Dad told you scribbling wouldn’t feed you. I’m sure it felt like that when y’all started, but I’m so glad you two stuck it out.
Jill Dolbeare says
Fascinating story. Thanks for sharing! I’d like to hear more! If you get bored someday, please share the rest! Thanks!
Emily Sullivan says
That’s an amazing story! I love how much of yourself you share with us! I tend to share your funny posts about yarn with my mother (she loves to chrochet).
We (America) are happy to have you! And it’s very apparent your writing talents showed early if they thought you were plagiarizing because it was so good at 14!! Silly people.
This is a great story and I love your dad comments. LOL! Your mom must have been a saint! What a wonderful teacher to recognize your potential from a short interaction. I’m so happy you’re here and sharing your real and made up stories with us! Love the picture!
Tim McCanna says
Lovely! But when did Gordon become a lion?
Love your photo too!
You two are the best!
The Perfume Baby says
What a great story! So grateful you shared it. Loved the Pappy quote. And you were quite the looker!
Bill G says
Very cool; we’re glad you made it here.
Steve L says
Thank you I really liked reading this. Itsfunneh all of life’s little turns that take us on our journey.
Gloria Magid says
This is an amazing story! Clearly you were (and are!) brilliant. So glad you ended up here, where I get to read your wonderful stories!
Pam M. says
That was a great story. I loved it and would like to read the rest of the story. The picture was also great and you were really pretty. Still are. I loved how your parents just kind of ran around like chickens with their heads cut off but let you go to our great luck.
Thank you for sharing your story Ilona, it was very interesting and I enjoyed reading it. You don’t by any chance have that short story you wrote when you 14 do you?
Thank you for sharing that.
OM. What an amazing story. You had me in tears. We are all blessed to have you here in the USA. Regards
PS been a fan from the beginning..
Oh, yeah. The numbered schools and the fathers who believe that mathematics is the path to personal success.
I went to one of those ‘prestigious’ mathematics-oriented schools too (it was #71), and everyone was ecstatic when I passed the entrance examinations and landed in a class of a ‘renowned’ teacher (recommended by the principal as one of the best they’ve ever had). A year and a half later my parents had to hire a psychologist ‘nanny’, because something was clearly wrong with me, and then a while after that my working mother came to pick me up before the classes ended by chance, and happened to sit on a couch outside the classroom and listen to the teacher yell at us матом for the last fifteen minutes of the class through the door. Because that was what that teacher did every class, but she still was a very good friend of the principal and заслуженный педагог of one of the most prestigious schools in the city. At least my father didn’t care much anymore about what school I went to, so I got to leave ‘numbered public schools’ behind me after the second grade. (I did also still get to do the math and English Olympiad later though.)
Thanks for sharing your story. It’s always great to read about all the strange ways fates fall into place. A wrong turn here, a right word there, and BAM, who would’ve thought we will ever end up where we are, at the time.
Thank you for writing this! Best story ever and sooo happy that you are here!
Connie Pettit says
Hi ,I am so HAPPY to have read your story of how you came about ,to be herein America! Such an awesome story Thanks so much! Gave me a very happy day! ????
Wow!!! Thank you for sharing.
So you met Gordon in the states? I was under the impression you met in Russia. Any chance we could hear that story? ????
Another example of us being better for fate sending you here… And your parents Grace in sharing you with the world. May your and Gordon’s stories fill the world and may your lives be filled with light and laughter. Thank you for sharing.
Ok, so what was “the sharp turn”? And how did you get to know Gordon? Did you have any problems with your visa? How in the world did you figure out the process of team writing that you have today. You got a better grade in a language related class than Gordon. Is that what started up the acquaintance? (Sooo many burning questions ????! )
BJ Groenewold says
Brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing.
Thanks for sharing… And I enjoyed the way you shared.
+1 especially the part about not knowing what any of the chemical compounds actually looked like….
Alison Parker says
That was a wonderful story and I’m glad it happened! Thank you for sharing!
very interesting thanks
Barium sulfate & copper chloride, awwwwww. Wow you are so young & skinny! ( Heh, I remember being young & that skinny too!…that was many dress sizes ago)
Go you! What with all the scholarship offers that you reached out & grabbed! Dude, you are only that young once, and that is the perfect time to grab those big chances!
But also completely sympathize with your parents ‘cuz of course, anything could happen, which of course, the young & feckless never believe could happen to them.
Ok, but ya hadda know next we would want the “how did you meet that man, anyway” story, next….if he’s ok with that, oc course.
Awh! I had often wondered. Thank you for sharing.
Thank you for telling this story!!!
It is so kind of you to share your personal stories with us – thank you!
Thank you for sharing. Such an interesting life!
…and I’m really angry for 14 year old you. Plagiarism! As if!
As so many of the BDH have said, thank you for being gracious enough to answer such questions and share such personal information. You are a remarkable person, with many talents. It is the great fortune of the US that you did come here, and that you are still here!
I hope your father realizes how much joy your “scribbles” have brought to so many people. He probably does, even if he doesn’t want to admit it. ???? My dad doesn’t ever want to acknowledge any accomplishment of mine because he doesn’t want to give me a “swelled head”. It sounds like your dad might have been raised with the same school of thought.
I hope that you and Gordon continue to enrich the BDH, and your other readers too of course, for many years to come. And, if you felt like sharing the story of what happened next, why that jewel would be received just as joyfully as this one. I have to admit that I am greedy and curious to know “the rest of the story” !! I am greedy to read anything you write, and you do have a very interesting background and history. I had an unexceptional upbringing, with no particularly interesting events to regale anyone with. Somehow I believe that you with your extraordinary talent would find a way to make a story about my upbringing interesting. Your background is interesting though, and coupled with your talent, makes for fascinating reading.
Thank you for being so accessible to your fans. It is very gracious of you and Gordon, and I hope that everyone appreciates that. Good luck with the edits, may they flow quickly and easily.
Thanks for the share
Would truly love more of the same please..
Thank you for the story. I completely understand being sad because they had real lab equipment and your school didn´t. As a teenager, I felt something very close when I went to visit better schools than mine, even in my own country. When I went to Europe as an adult, coming from a third world country, to spend one month in a hospital for my medical residency I felt the same sadness, again, but much worse because I wanted good medicine for my patients and a good hospital structure, and not have to have kids sleep with pain in a corridor waiting for a bed. In the end, it was the push I needed to change countries, and I thank all gods every day that we came, despite all the problems.
Oh! Rabun Gap Nacoochee is situated in such a beautiful place. I hope it was a good school for you. We live about an hour south. Loved reading your story.
Love your story! Love your irascible father! You could write a biography that I would read, including both of you, actually. “How We Got Here” or something like, although I realize the story is a work still in progress.
I think you should write your autobiography as a novel.
Michelle Kuiee says
Wow – I’m speechless. What an amazing story! I now understand why there are all of the chemical reaction references in your stories. You are incredible!
What a great story. Just love it. Love your notebook with the theoretical reactions. I was a biology major. Left it all for a time, now am back in the lab. And I love all the twists and turns.
As always, you are a wonderful storyteller! I would love to read about the “sharp turn” one day. We are lucky you decided to stay!
Gaëlle from France says
Yes, because as much as it is difficult for me to read their books in english, it would be quite impossible in russian !! 🙂
Gaëlle from France says
Thank you for sharing this story with us !!
Your daughters just look like you at the same age !!
Cathy Boland says
And to think I almost recommended looking into Western NC on your ‘looking to move’ blog. You know all about this area!
I’m in Franklin, NC. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the area, Franklin is on the way between Rabun Gap, GA and Cullowee, NC (where WCU is).
Ruby Theater. 🙂
Thank you for sharing your most excellent story! Do you still have the story in question that was disqualified? It would be amazing to read it one day.
Thank you . You are an inspiration . Life can take strange turns, and I hope you will share more of your alls earlier life with the BDH.
Totally unrelated but I would like to recommend a 5 book series to the BDH. The 1st book is INVASION:Book one of the Secret World Chronicles by Mercedes Lackey, Steve Libby, Cody Martin and Dennis Lee.
My husband recommended the series to me and told me that I would like them and he was correct. Usually a book unfolds in my head like a movie, this book unfolded more like a comic book to me. It was not like anything I usually read.
Ellen Solensky says
Thank you for the insight into your school and family when you were a very intelligent kid and your very normal family. It was delightful.
Why did that feel like a snippet to the most awesome book? Thank you so much for sharing with us.
This is so beautiful- thank you for sharing your story (and beautiful photo) ????
What a great story! Thank you for sharing a piece of your history with us!
Kudos to Mr. Mallot who obviously cared and made things happen. We are all greatfull
I love this story!!! I still think you are one of the bravest people I’ve ever known. I’m sure you glossed over many of the difficulties, but I’m so glad you’re here.
Not much else to say. Just Wow!!!
LeeAnn Abenante says
That was awesome! You and Gordon have been my favorite authors for such a long time! You are so brave! Reading all of your books and blogs have kept me going! Thank you so much!