Nine years. It has taken me nine years to go from notes on a cafe napkin to a finished novel. It has been quite a journey and is now quite a story to tell.
My journey to completing this book started during my first trip to Israel in December of 2008. This is when I first really started writing. It was as though all these ancient, spiritual places just opened up something inside of me and forced me to reflect on everything I saw. I felt compelled to write. It was during this time that I got in the habit of sitting at cafes and writing down what I observed or what I was experiencing internally.
Fast forward to when I returned to Macedonia from Israel in January of 2009. I continued to observe and write. My reflections on this material started to coalesce around the idea that young Albanian men are quite complicated and are faced with some pretty difficult choices. I think this is where Jon came from. He came from observations at work of my friends and the struggles they faced, along with the plight of these young men that I observed in Tetova.
I left Macedonia before the summer of 2009 with some notes and big ideas in my head, but then life hit me. I was back in Albuquerque and I needed to take care of a few things, so it all went on the back burner. However, after a year of living in Albuquerque and doing very little writing, I moved to China and found the space to really explore the idea of writing a book.
Once in Dalian, China, I began to work in earnest on the book. I knew I wanted a main character beset by difficult choices and I wanted to talk about ethnic conflict, so I started to research. I stumbled on the VMRO Gorna Dzhumaya conflict in 1902 and immediately knew that was it. Without giving away the book, this conflict summed up Macedonia. From there it was just about how to wrap in Tetova and a young Albanian man.
In regards to my process during that time, I found a coffee shop that was quiet, put in my headphones, and would write for 3-4 hours per day. I would blast music (usually Tool) the whole time to eliminate outside distractions and try to imagine myself as the characters. I would play each part in my head and let how I felt guide the dialogue and internal conflict.
There were quite a few days that were dedicated to research. I am not an expert on the history of the region, I do not believe anybody truly is, so I had a lot of reading and exploring to do. I had to be very careful about choosing where to stick to the facts and where to take my creative privileges as an author.
During my time in China I met my beautiful wife and we hit it off immediately. She inspired all of the love aspects of the story and became my first beta reader. It did not take long for me to finish the story. I would say I started writing in earnest in September and was done by March. I stopped in March because my wife left her job in China so I quit mine and followed her on a 55 day odyssey from Nepal to Vietnam. Less writing, more adventure.
During our trip we decided that we would stick together and go work in Kuwait, so we moved back to the US for a summer and prepared to leave for the Middle East. During this time I worked on arranging the chapters and doing some basic editing. I also sent out scores of queries to literary agents and small publishers. All rejected. This was devastating and stalled the project right there. I had no idea about self-publishing, so I just quit.
My wife and I moved with my brother to Kuwait and started our lives. Of course, my wife, who has always believed in my writing, had the book secretly bound and one copy printed as a birthday gift. That copy was it for seven years.
During that seven years we returned to Macedonia for two years and moved to South Korea, where we are now. I did not write at all during this time as I helped build a school in Macedonia, which took all my time and energy, and then we had two wonderful children in South Korea. So what triggered me to revive the project? Professional crisis.
In February of 2018 I slipped into professional purgatory and was unable to find the position I really wanted. This included a lot of rejections and some really difficult moments being unable to get the visa I needed to achieve some goals. I am the type of person who needs a project and was looking for something when I came across CreateSpace and the world of self-publishing. I saw how easy and risk-free it was to put your book up on Amazon, so I went for it. From that moment until February of 2019 I worked on editing the book, which was a monumental process (another post on the editing process is coming).
So that’s it. A little insight into this book’s journey. It took a long time, but I am so happy with how it turned out. There are a thousand other little stories to tell about this book, which I hope I have the opportunity to tell. Until next time…