Here’s a sentence I hoped I’ll get to say but spent a lot of time anxious about it actually happening—my dark urban fantasy novel Od kolijevke pa do groba (From the Cradle to the Grave) is out now! Well, at least the ebook, we still have to wait a few more days for the paperback. (EDIT: now it’s out in paperback too!)
My journey with this book started with a NaNoWriMo years back, I think in 2018. That year I had a plan to write two novellas rather than one novel. So I started this novel thinking it would be shorter. But since it had a ton of characters and rich worldbuilding, by the time I wrote a setup to everything, it was already too long. And I remember ranting about it to a friend, another writer, how I’m not sure if it works this short, how I have a rushed ending and clunky pacing and his wise words were: why not a novel, then?
Indeed, why not. I had to sit on the idea for a few more years, I guess, before I started rewriting it to novel length. Since it’s in Croatian, I knew I’ll have problems with getting it to print because of the cost of publishing, so I was submitting it to grants—got refused two times before, finally, my hometown decided to give me a chance and gave me the funding necessary to publish it.
So, now it’s out! And I can’t believe it. My first published (and finished) novel! I’m beyond excited. It’s a bit weird to know it’s available to be read, that some people are already reading it, because at this time, last year, I was having a rough time writing, and at the beginning of this year I was actually thinking about whether there’s even a point in my writing and publishing, or if I should just focus my efforts on editing and publishing other people. But I managed to pull through, and by the end of the year, I can say I published two books—the summer horror novella It Eats Us From the Inside and the winter novel Od kolijevke pa do groba.
I still have no idea if it’ll reach Croatian-reading audiences. It’s a mix of urban fantasy, a bit of mystery and what I lovingly say a tablespoon of horror. I grew up on South Slavic folk tales and there was a lot of casual cannibalism in them, so it influenced my writing and the world of this book. I’m also a horror writer and a horror fan which also had an impact on how I wrote it—I had so much fun writing it like a haunted house, not to mention creepy cabins in the woods, body horror and gore. And since I’m a sucker for Croatian folklore and I’ve learned a lot about our different folkloric creatures, I have a ton of fun supernatural beings that aren’t classic witches, wizards, werewolves or vampires. Though, I do have the fae, even though I’m not a big fan, but vile (fairies) are one of the most common supernatural creatures in Croatian folklore so I wanted to include them, too. And there’s a mention of the aždaja rather than dragons, because in all of my childhood stories I didn’t read about a dragon, it was always an aždaja (and it turns out, if you google it, wikipedia will say it’s the name of a type of Slavic dragon. Which makes sense, I never thought about it, but there’s some differences between it and a classic “western” dragon). The aždaja is sleeping in this book, though, and it’s on others to do things. I don’t want to go into a lot of details, but there’s, of course, the shtrigas and the krsniks (the usual suspects for Croatian fantasy), a wolf based on the Divine She-Wolf folktale, something from the North of Croatia and a type of water spirit (vodenjkinja), among others. I was also inspired a lot by the Slavic mythology that is evident in Slavic gods and rituals and, of course, my hometown played an important part. Even though the majority of the plot takes place in one important building, Rijeka managed to slip through the cracks in small details, making this book feel very local-patriotic in a sense. Which is very funny, considering the city of Rijeka gave me money to publish this book.
I also need to mention the Leptirica, an old Yugoslavian folk horror movie, the ending of which managed to stick with me and ended up influencing how I imagined some of the women shifting in my own novel.
The last inspiration, though, comes from the Croatian school system. Who would have thought! Basically, you know how urban fantasy loves magical schools or dorms? Well, in Croatia we have a type of dorm for high schoolers, because a lot of rural places don’t have high schools or only have one type of high school, so teens from these villages and small towns need to go to bigger cities to continue their education. Those kids end up in specialized dorms. These dorms usually don’t have schools (though there are few that do have a school included in them), there are just places where these kids live during the weekdays while they go to the high school of their choice. And people who take care of them are teachers working in these dorms. Basically, if you work as a teacher/educator in this type of institution, your job is to take care of these kids, that they’re going to school, studying, that they’re safe and okay, and you do all sorts of activities and workshops to teach them something about life, handling emotions, health, relationships and so on, and so on. So I thought it would be an interesting thing to use that as a setting for Croatian urban fantasy, especially since each year thousands of kids go from their home to live in our dorms.
In my novel, the dorm is a haunted house, but that’s okay, and magical teens eat human meat, which is also okay, but what’s not okay is for them to hide body parts from an unidentified source under their beds. And now their teacher, Nana, needs to learn whose body they belong to, in what condition that body is (dead or alive), if some of her students commited the forbidden hunting of humans, or if there’s someone from the outside that’s attacking her students. It’s as much a fun urban fantasy mystery as it is a novel about how hard it is to take care of teens and to be responsible for their well being. How raising kids is hard, even for professionals. And yes, I’m a teacher, so you could say some of my anxieties inspired the writing of this book. When you’re responsible for a teen—and not in the sense of grades and lectures, but in the sense, are they safe? Are they okay, physically, mentally, emotionally?—it’s not easy. You’re always on edge. You’re always juggling more than you should and some days feel like there’s hundreds of little fires popping up and you still didn’t put out the first one. I hope I managed to portray the chaos of it well.
But also, the book is just a wild ride filled with dark humor, Croatian references, folklore, and a protagonist that, from any other perspective, would be the villain of a story.
And if you understand Croatian, no matter where you are in the world, you can get the ebook right now from these retailers.