Hello Sarah Jane, thanks for inviting me to talk about how I work and what goes on behind the scenes. I have divided this feature into two parts. The first part includes talking about writing The Yugoslavian without actually being in Sarajevo. What motivated me and the decisions for the story line along with why the book is more pro-Serb than anti-Serb. In the second part, I talk about my decades-long search for the perfect cover photo. I stressed over it—it had to be perfect. Tried a few things that didn’t do it for me and eventually found the perfect cover in my own back yard…literally.
The Making of The Yugoslavian – Part One
Writing it without having been there
I’m not certain how it happened, but it did. I was in the throws of writing The Killing Game and one day I looked at a photograph of a man and directly into his eyes, a man from the former Yugoslavia. In my head, I heard a man’s voice, “Write a story about my country.” I heard that voice in my head so clearly as if whoever he was right there with me. Whose voice was it I heard? God’s? My favorite, Archangel Michael’s? Or someone else’s? It was difficult to know, but it was an idea I could not let go of. I tried not to think about it, but again, within about fifteen minutes to half an hour, I was busily typing the opening sequence on my computer.At that point, I had written the story from beginning to end inside my head and it was now clamoring to get out. This was during the Christmas holiday of 1994 when the siege for Sarajevo was hot and heavy. I had read and listened to the news about the war, but I did not quite understand it. The press painted the reason behind the war as “ethnic cleansing due to religious differences” but that sounded so bogus. So I started to dig. I started asking questions and found that most of the facts were cloaked in the propaganda of the war’s side effects. I started searching for people from the former Yugoslavia and I found them. I asked questions and received many different points of view--it was a bit mind boggling.
From all the information I gleaned, there was more confusion than sense to be made of it all. That, in essence, was the crux of the war and would be the backdrop of my story. Misconceptions, lies, deceptions, loss and, lost causes gave me only a few choices for conjuring a story about a place I had neither traveled to nor seen the war up close. Actually, I’ve never seen war up close. I have seen a lot of things in life but not war. So how do I write about it?
First, I had to decide what the story would be about. That took a whole of two seconds. I write about interpersonal relationships (let’s call it IR for this segment).And what sort of IR would this story be about? Naturally a man and woman, but not the typical man/woman relationship. War would cause issues, would it not? Are they both from Yugoslavia or from somewhere else? If they were from the same country, they might be clawing to get out of there. If from different countries, how would they get in? Or better, why?
At the time, there were several movies in the works about this situation but my story had to be different. Nothing yet told the everyday stories of those who fought to stay alive in this war. I wanted my story to be about that. No one spoke about the everyday heroes that stove to help others who could not help themselves. The news made it sound as if the civilian populace were rabid dogs,fighting with anyone and everyone to get what they could. And that was only when they cared to report on civilians other than the major atrocities. But the press has always been about sensationalism because that sells newspapers. I wanted something different. Something that would speak to the heart and soul of the people.
The answer was obvious. A man from Yugoslavia and a woman from America. But what would bring her out of her comfortable existence in the US to a war-torncountry? It did not take long to formulate the answer, which was a concern since I first heard about the war—the children who had lost their parents? Yes, an orphan would be something motivating to bring the heroine from her safe environment. It would be enough to make me want to find her. So the story would be about a man from Yugoslavia, a woman from America, and an orphan.
I had written a sketch before I found sites documenting the atrocities of this war.My sketches consist of cohesive thoughts laid out in the order they will occur, usually needing the details filled in later. So I wrote this sketch before I read about the prison camps held by all three warring sides: Muslims, Croatians, and Serbians. Mind you, when I use these ethnic titles, I am speaking about the military sides of the war, not the civilian population. However, nationalist ideologies do bleed out into the civilian population. But my story is about one man, with only the ideology of what is right by God’s laws. It was my goal to tell the story of a man who, though not of Serbian descent, was raised by a Serbian family. In this situation, alesser man might have been swayed by his nationalist ancestry and turned on the very people that gave him a beautiful life. In the heroes own words:
“Sergej told me that you won’t turn your back on a friend. A friend is a friend until that friend proves otherwise,” she said.
“If I do not keep my word, what sort of a man am I?” he asked, briefly reflecting on private thoughts. “Even if no one else mattered, how could I turn my back on the one person that took me in when I had no home? How could I turn against the one person that gave me everything when I had nothing, even after I stole from her? How could I ever turn my back on Mrs. Tomić?”
For now, I am not going to go into details about what caused the war. Read the book and you will get enough information to understand its cause without belaboring the war itself. Read the book and you will be pulled into an adventure, less about war and more about love and honor. Through those emotions, your heart will feel the story. It will feel the plight of those souls stuck in the middle of warring factions, fighting for all they felt was right. And when it comes to the end you will either relate to the characters and say to yourself, that’s exactly what I would have done. Or you will slam the book shut and say getting involved was stupid. Regardless, you will have felt something and that, in the end, is what writing is about. Love, hate, sorrow, joy—whatever the emotion, the point is that you felt it while you were in the story.
Don't miss part 2 of this feature here very soon!
The Yugoslavian available at:
Check out the look inside feature:
Visit The Yugoslavian page from the author website theblackrosenyc.comhttp://ow.ly/Qv7HZ