I also had a lot of nightmares about birds as a child. A bird is a beautiful thing, with feathers. But, there also are sharp claws and beaks on that beautiful object.

Your sense of dread about things that can fly must have been heightened when you saw the towers get hit by two planes.

My family had left Iran so we could be safe here, so I have this hypersensitivity to things going wrong on American soil.

On 9/11, I was living in lower Manhattan with my journalist boyfriend. Our window had a perfect view of the twin towers. We saw the second plane hit, and we saw both buildings come down.

It was an unspeakable tragedy, but in a sense, I'd been prepared my whole life for something like this. I'm very good in emergency mode. We were out of the city within the hour.

One of the weirdest memories from that day is from when we finally got downstairs to the street level. All these people were covered with powder and debris. I noticed that some of the people who were the most covered in debris were cheering and laughing and embracing each other.

I didn't understand how anyone could be happy.

And then I realized that those people were right in the heart of the event. They were the survivors, the people who by some incredible miracle managed to get out in time.

Let's talk about the [book's] ending. Other novels have imagined fictional people affected by 9/11. But your novel goes a step further by altering the real-life events of that day. Are you concerned that this could strike a nerve?

I obscured the ending because I'm trying to convey the feeling that 9/11 actually had, that confusion. The next day we kept asking each other, "Did that really happen?" That sense of unreality went on for months.

It took almost two years to sell this book. During that time, I got feedback from people who loved the writing but who were scared at the risk of writing about 9/11. I wondered if I should change it.

But I'd always come back to, no, don't give into that, because that's the same attitude of fear and paranoia that consumed all of us after the event. I really fought against that attitude and decided to go with risk.

mary.mccauley@baltsun.com

About the Book: "The Last Illusion" was released Tuesday by Bloomsbury Publishing. 336 pages, $26.

If you go: Authors Porochista Khakpour and Julia Fierro will read from their novels at 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Friends School Alumni Center, 5114 N. Charles St. Free. For reservations, contact Khaliah Williams at kwilliams@friendsbalt.org or call 410-649-3200.