Guest Post: Greetings From Sarajevo – James Lyon
Posted on: September 4, 2012 /
We are delighted to share a post from James Lyon. James is the author of Kiss of the Butterfly and is sharing a great post about writing, history and Balkan folklore.
Greetings From Sarajevo – James Lyon
I’m a diplomat by day and an historian/novelist by night. So why would I want to leave my day job to write? I’ve often examined my reasons for wanting to write. These include boredom, a quest for self-discovery, the need to heal emotional wounds, an attempt to exorcize personal demons, the need to tell a ripping good tale, and the desire to wear a funky hat while sitting in a Balkan sidewalk café with an Apple computer.
Writing about the Balkans can sometimes be just a wee bit unsettling, especially when you live there. First of all, there is the cast of characters you bump into. During the 18 years I’ve lived in this war torn region (Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia), I’ve been shot at, held hostage, interrogated, chased, threatened, and visited mass grave sites. I’ve met refugees who had lost their homes, families and jobs. I’ve met victims of genocide, concentration camp survivors, rape camp survivors, tycoons, politicians, warlords, human rights activists and aid workers. I’ve met war criminals, guerrilla leaders, smugglers, soldiers, spies and diplomats.
As if that weren’t enough, I’ve chosen to focus my fiction on historical vampires as described in Balkan folklore. This means I get to spend lots of hours in archives, sneezing as I turn dust-covered pages. It means lots of boring research. But it also means some real cool trips to visit sites where vampires are reported to have been seen. I once visited a town where all the deceased are buried under the fireplace hearths and front doorsteps to ward off evil, and tombstones are embedded in the walls of the homes. Imagine what that did to property values! I have traipsed through 9 miles of sealed-off, uncharted tunnels inside the belly of an 18th century fortress with strange inscriptions and bas-reliefs on the walls, where bats hang from the ceiling, my only light a miners lamp.
Yet in all my experiences, by far the scariest things I’ve encountered are real human beings and the evil they have done. This evil and the good people who stand up to it are themes that I have felt compelled to explore. And what better way to depict the ambiguity and contradictions of mankind than through vampires? They encompass the struggle between good and evil, our struggle with our passions and desires, and our pain when we notice the contradictions between the ideal and the real. And given that vampires appear as part of the action, it turns what could be a dry, slow discussion into a fast-paced thriller with suspense and mystery.
Working in the city where the First World War started — a city that endured a three and a half year siege from 1992-95 – I am constantly surrounded by reminders of the horrors man has wrought on his fellow man. Yet, through it all there were many good people who decided to stand up to the darkness and prevent it from spreading. I am inspired to try and capture the dilemmas they faced in the context of their human foibles and weaknesses, all while telling a ripping good tale.
About Kiss of the Butterfly (2012)
In the year of his death, 1476, the Prince of Wallachia — Vlad III (Dracula) — committed atrocities under the cloak of medieval Bosnia’s forested mountains, culminating in a bloody massacre in the mining town of Srebrenica.
A little over 500 years later, in July 1995, history repeated itself when General Ratko Mladic’s troops entered Srebrenica and slaughtered nearly 8,000 people, making it the worst massacre Europe had seen since the Second World War. For most people, the two events seemed unconnected…
Amidst the violent breakup of Yugoslavia, a college student embarks on a journey into its war-torn lands. The narrative transports the reader from medieval Bosnia to enlightenment-era Vienna, from the bright beaches of modern-day Southern California to the exotically dark cityscapes of Budapest, Belgrade and Novi Sad, and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia.
Naively trusting the advice of his enigmatic academic mentor, the student unwittingly descends into a crucible of decay, destruction, passion, death, romance, lust, immorality, genocide, and forbidden knowledge promising immortality. As the journey grows ever more perilous, the protagonist realizes that he is being drawn into something sinister from which there is no turning back. He will be forced to confront an ancient evil that has been once again loosed upon the earth.
Meticulously researched and written, “Kiss of the Butterfly” is set against the backdrop of Yugoslavia’s breakup. It weaves together intricate threads from the 15th, 18th and 20th centuries to create a rich phantasmagorical tapestry of allegory and reality about divided loyalties, friendship and betrayal, virtue and innocence lost, obsession and devotion, desire and denial, lust and rejection. It is about the thirst for life and the hunger for death, rebirth and salvation. And vampires.
Vampires have formed an integral part of Balkan folklore for over a thousand years. “Kiss” represents a radical departure from popular vampire legend, based as it is on genuine Balkan folklore from as far back as the 14th century, not on fantasy. “Kiss of the Butterfly” offers up the real, horrible creatures that existed long before Dracula and places them within a modern spectrum.
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About James Lyon
James Lyon is an accidental Balkanologist, having spent the better part of 32 years studying and working with the lands of the former Yugoslavia. He has a Ph.D. in Modern Balkan History from UCLA and a B.A. in Russian from BYU. He has lived in Germany, Russia, England, Massachusetts, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Utah, and California, and spent the better part of 18 years living in the lands of the former Yugoslavia, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, and Serbia, and has worked in Macedonia and Kosovo. He has traveled widely, from Africa to Latin America to the Middle East, and all over Europe. He currently works in Sarajevo and bounces back and forth to Belgrade. In his spare time he likes sailing through the Dalmatian islands and eating Sachertorte in Vienna at the old Habsburg Imperial Court’s Confectionary Bakery, Demel. He lost his cat in the forests of Bosnia and can’t find it. If you see a black and white cat that ignores you when you call the name “Cile II”, a reward is being offered…provided the cat hasn’t turned into a vampire.
Ever developing teacher and learner (online and offline!). Avid reader/audiobook listener, fan of podcasts, prone to the odd Netflix binge. Mum to six crazy and incredible rescue cats. Married to Dave and his co-author of Man vs Cat, a book about - you guessed it - our cats (or rather their unusual take on the world). Occasional writer of short stories.
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