Monday, September 11, 2023

Interview With Memoirist Elizabeth Ann Besa-Quirino



1.      What inspired you to write this book?

I wanted to share the story of my mother Lulu Reyes Besa, Filipina WWII heroine, civilian recipient of the US Medal of Freedom, twice in 1947 from President Harry Truman. There are not too many stories of brave Filipina women during war times.


2.      What exactly is it about and who is it written for?

Every Ounce of Courage is a memoir about Lourdes “Lulu” Reyes Besa, a Filipina who bravely brought aid to American and Filipino POWs in prison camps during WWII. The catalyst that made me write this story was a former POW. One late night, in my New Jersey home, I got a phone call from a stranger. He was formerly an American POW during WWII in prison camps in the Philippines. “Your mother saved my life,” the POW said. This began my years of research about my late mother’s war time heroism. I wrote the book for my sons, that they may know their grandmother’s legacy of bravery and courage, and for the younger generation to be made aware of the horrors of war the Philippines experienced in those times.


3.      What do you hope readers will get out of reading your book?

I wrote this book narrating our family’s stories, focusing on history, bravery, faith, compassion and love. Plus I framed each chapter with food stories of recipes from my mother and grandmother’s times. The recipes were my coping mechanism and also helped me remember stories of my mother Lulu. I hope her stories of compassion, courage and love uplift the readers.


4.      How did you decide on your book’s title and cover design?

The idea of the book title came to me when I was cooking. I was scraping the last bits of tomato sauce from a can, to add to a stew I was making. I was reminded of the times my mom Lulu would make sure to do the same, and scrape every bit of the canned sauce, every ounce of it. I realized it was metaphorical for every time my mother was faced with a difficult task or a challenge in her life, she managed to scrape every bit of strength she had to face what she needed to. I independently published my book, and I invested in a professional team of designers and editors to make my book meet my high standards and expectations.

My book cover was designed by my eldest son Tim Quirino. He is a product designer by profession. He worked at Facebook for nearly a decade, and now currently is the lead designer for On a personal note, I thought it would be significant that my mother’s grandson designed the book cover about her life – because someday, it will be my sons’ story to tell, too.


5.      What advice or words of wisdom do you have for fellow writers – other than run!?

Each of us has a unique story to tell. Write it. Even if it doesn’t get published. Whether it’s 100 words or 100,000. Just write. The ability to write is a gift. We were meant to share our stories with the world, because stories are food for the soul.


6.      What trends in the book world do you see -- and where do you think the book publishing industry is heading?

 I am not a visionary nor am I an expert in trends. All I know is that in the last decade, the publishing industry has been experiencing a tsunami of changes. The changes in traditional publishing in the last few years have led to indie publishers today to have great options to be able to bring their story out in the world. For me writing is an art, but publishing is a business. As an independent publisher, I put on my entrepreneur’s hat and had to oversee multiple divisions in the publishing world. I see more and more opportunities for independent publishing, which is a good sign. Competition builds better businesses, and in this case will create better books.


7.      Were there experiences in your personal life or career that came in handy when writing this book? 

I was raised in a small rural town in the Philippines, in a conservative family, where I learned how to be patient, to be diligent, and hardworking. Nothing comes easy. If you want a book to turn out great, there’s a lot of discipline and hard work that’s behind it. I am grateful to my parents for teaching me that there is no substitute for hard work.


8.      How would you describe your writing style? Which writers or books is your writing similar to?

There were several parts to this memoir. The first nineteen chapters are all narrative as I retell the story of my mom Lulu from her grandmother’s time to the end of her life, with my own reflections woven in. I also intricately tie in each experience with a food memory or a dish my mother taught me to cook. So, at the last chapter, I share 24 classic Filipino recipes, and recipe-writing requires a different writing discipline, which culinary professionals expect to see. I have not really compared myself to any particular famous writer or bestselling book. I simply write what’s in my heart and soul – that is my writing voice.


9.      What challenges did you overcome in the writing of this book?

Even if friends, family and the American POW urged me to write a book on my mom Lulu, I hesitated. My friends had long urged me to write about my mother’s life, and yet I always hesitated. To be honest, I was afraid it would be too bittersweet to sift through the archives of my memories. I was afraid of the pain I would feel when I remembered how much I still miss my mom and dad. I was also afraid I couldn’t do justice to how beautiful mom was, or how amazing her life had been. I feared I was inadequate.  And I feared the tears that would come with the writing. And yes, I did cry. A lot. After every sentence, paragraph, and the rewrites.


10.  If people can buy or read one book this week or month, why should it be yours?

If anyone tells me they only have time to read one book this month, I would highly recommend my memoir – Every Ounce of Courage. Though it took me 20 years of historical research, I started writing this book at the start of the pandemic in 2020, when life had come to a halt for the whole world, when life was uncertain, and death was at every door. But the courage to pull myself together, and keep writing and cooking the recipes I shared, kept me going. I knew my mother’s story was uplifting. And if it could help even just one reader, one person, one family or one community, then Mom would have liked that. She lived her life every day to help others and make a difference in other people’s lives.


About The Author: Elizabeth Ann Besa-Quirino is a New Jersey-based award-winning journalist, food writer, cookbook author, and memoirist. Previously a college professor and advertising creative director, Elizabeth develops recipes centered on Filipino home cooking on her website, The Quirino Kitchen.  Currently, she is a recipe contributor for Simply Recipes; and correspondent for Positively Filipino magazine. For more info, please see:


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