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.