A few weeks ago I came across a book on Goodreads titled A World Without Color: A True Story Of the Last Three Days With My Cat and knew right away I needed to read it. It’s a memoir written by Bernard Jan pertaining to the loss of his beloved cat Marcel. Bernard was very kind to offer some of his time to discuss his writing and some other questions I had about the book. You can see my Q&A with Bernard Jan below.
If you’d like to see my previous post including my review for the book, you can click HERE.
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My Q&A with Bernard Jan
Q: When did you first start writing and when did you first think about becoming an author?
A: My first writing steps started already in the elementary school when, at a very early age, I flirted with the Croatian and English language, books, school assignments in literature and writing when I did rather well.
My first book, though, I wrote at the beginning of war in Croatia in 1991, amidst the air alerts and illusory attempts when I wanted to believe and think life is normal, that everything is all right with the world. That was the time when madness controlled our lives and we all walked on the thin line between life and death. So the war was just a trigger that took my writing to a higher level and its full potential. I wrote my first two novels as the testament of the time that has influenced so much of everyone’s life here.
Q: Is there anything you’re working on now and what are your writing plans for the future?
A: After A World Without Color I am planning on publishing three more books in English, together with my book of poems. They are already translated but in various stages of editing, so I will be busy with them in the next few years.
I don’t consider myself a typical writer who plans writing his books and their publishing months or years ahead. I do it on the spur of the moment when an inspiration hits me. It has to be something that deeply moved, affected or influenced me, something I feel very passionate about and worthy sharing with others.
Q: What has the book publishing process been like for you?
A: Haha, do you really want an honest answer? It was a nightmare!
A transformation from a traditionally published author in Croatian to a self-published indie author in English was everything but smooth. Almost three weeks I was gathering information on how to self-publish on the international book market, what platforms are best to use for my books, how to get my royalties from abroad, how to report taxes on my royalties from the books sold internationally online (I will be double-taxed both in the USA and Croatia for each of my royalties), etc.
The formatting process was a completely new thing and it was probably the hardest part of the publishing process. There were lots of various and not too clear and inconsistent information that confused me, so the whole process took much longer than expected. Once I finally submitted my e-book for pre-order, Amazon blocked it for a whole week as unavailable for pre-order worldwide due to copyright restrictions, without any logical explanation why and what took them so long. I can carry on and on with what went wrong during my book publishing process, but I will spare you the misery I went through.
Self-publishing is not easy, despite what people tell. Far from that. You are now in the role of the publisher who carries the responsibility to meet all the requirements of professionally edited, designed and produced book you will offer to your readers. Just because you do it by yourself, poorly done books are not an option nor excuse. We must give our absolute best because we owe it to our readers. Even if it costs us more money or takes longer than we expect or want it to. But once everything is finally done, it is enormous relief and satisfaction to see the completed product of your hard labor out there on the Internet. It was all worth it.
Even though my self-publishing process wasn’t easy, I would say go for it. Try it, but also give your best. Your reward will come.
Q: Would you say that writing comes easy for you?
A: Hmm, can’t say I asked myself that question. I know I don’t write just for the sake of writing. I write for my blog Muse on a regular basis; I enjoy writing reviews for the books of other authors I read. But I am not concerned if writing a new story, a novel or a poem happens after a longer period. I write books when I feel urged to write about something and that something I deeply experience, either personally or through somebody else. My writing is passionate and emotional so I need to be passionate about the things I write. Only then I will begin my new story.
Q: What do you consider literary success?
A: Every reader who experiences, embraces, feels my stories and connects with me through them is my literary success.
Q: What made you decide to write under a pseudonym?
A: Two things made me decide to write under a pseudonym. Even before I wrote my first book 25 years ago, I knew I would one day go internationally with my writing and I wanted to do it under a name that would be easy to memorize and pronounce. With my real name it would be waaay too difficult, haha! The other thing was my first book I wrote and published in Croatia which was too personal and with lots of autobiographical moments in it. Being a new and inexperienced writer, I was a bit scared to go by my real name when publishing it. I wanted to put some distance between the person who wrote the book and the protagonist. I don’t know if that was the right decision, but I didn’t regret it so far, haha.
Q: What are some of your favorite books or authors?
A: Ugh, that is tough to answer! The books and authors I liked as a kid or a teenager are not always the books and authors I like best now, except for Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, which is one of my all-time-favorites. There are so many great new books and authors we discover all the time. Maybe the best way to answer this question is to look at my Goodreads profile. There as my favorite authors I have Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Hugh Howey, James Dashner, Christopher Rice and Davor Rostuhar. But there are also many talented indie authors who dazzled me with their writing and new and original stories. If you go to my blog muse (www.bernardjan.com/muse) you will see who they are and what I wrote about them and their books. There are just too many of them to be listed here and yet again it is not fair not to mention them or ignore them. So I urge and ask everyone to look for those authors, buy their books, read them and review them. Those indie authors deserve your attention.
Q: Do you think you’ll primarily write about animals or do you have other ideas?
A: I write about what I am passionate about and what inspires me in my life. Being an animal advocate animals are in the large scope of my focus, but I also write about my other passions like New York City or skateboarding. I also write about war, not because I like war, quite the opposite, and injustice in the world, either to people or our planet.
Q: Who created the cover and what made you decide not to use Marcel?
A: Thank you for the opportunity to mention two people responsible for the cover of my book A World Without Color. Zach Singh is a fashion, lifestyle and portrait photographer
from Columbus, Ohio who lives and works on the relation between LA and New York City and who is the author of the photo on my cover. When I saw a selfie he took with his cat Oswald on his Twitter, I knew that photo was the best choice for my book cover. Zach was too kind to let me use it and I am more than grateful to him for that. Zach, if you are reading this, thank you again!
Croatian designer Mario Kožar from MKM Media, who lives and works in Rome, Italy, created the amazing cover for my book. I am so proud of it and it always warms my heart when I look at it. Mario was full of understanding throughout the whole process of designing my book, accompanying ads for social network platforms and my website and the book trailer I am yet to release. We talked and texted a lot, discussed every detail, sometimes even too much (!), until he came up with the final version. Did I mention how much I love it? Haha!
I didn’t use Marcel because I didn’t have good enough pictures for the book cover (back then I wasn’t too crazy about taking pictures of any kind). I was lucky to meet Zach online and come to friendlier terms with him by the time I decided to publish my book. Zach and Oswald perfectly describe the depth of emotion and relationship I had with Marcel. It is such a beautiful photo and the comments and reactions I am getting for my book cover speak in favor we did a great job.
Q: In the book you mentioned that you are against animal slaughter for food. Have you always been a vegan? If not, at what age did you become one and why?
A: I wasn’t that lucky to be a vegan since my birth like some people I knew. I went vegetarian when I wrote my novella Look For Me Under the Rainbow in 1992 and became vegan nine years later when I’ve learned what was happening to the cows in dairy industry or chickens in the industrial farming cages. Going vegan happened in a flash with a decision which was made purely from the ethical reasons. I no longer wanted to support or be part of any cruelty to animals.
Q: What age were you when Marcel was given to your family?
A: I was 23 when Marcel was given to our family and I brought him home.
Q: You mentioned that your mom wanted you to write about Marcel. Did you have other writing plans or ideas before that?
A: Yes, my mom wanted me to write about Marcel but honestly I didn’t have any plans or ideas what to write. Writing A World Without Color was a spontaneous reaction to the accumulated pain, it was my way of coping with things and life that had to go on, my way of survival.
Q: In the book you talked about how Marcel loved listening to music with you. What types of music would you listen to with him?
A: It was mostly popular music and rock from the radio and records and CDs I bought for my collection. There were lots of Pet Shop Boys, Modern Talking, Depeche Mode, Bryan Adams, Europe, Madonna, Roxette, Scorpions, Duran Duran, Bruce Springsteen, music from the 80s and 90s, like Just Another Day by Jon Secada.
Q: Do you think that writing about Marcel was therapeutic for you?
A: Absolutely. As I mentioned before, it was my way of survival. We had a very strong bond and if I didn’t write this story I don’t know what would have happened…. Many thoughts were going through my mind.
Q: How long did it take you to write this book and what was the most difficult part to write?
A: The story poured out of me. Like when you open the dam and all the water gushes out of the lake. I wrote it in a few days. I think it took me three days to put it down on paper if I remember well. I wasn’t completely myself then.
The most difficult part to write was saying goodbye again. It broke my heart. That’s why two endings: the real one when I lose Marcel and carry on with my life whichever it is, and the fictional one in which I jump off the balcony and die just to be reunited with him again in another dimension of time and space.
Q: Was there anything that you edited out of the book?
A: Nothing was edited out of the book except the usual editing and proofreading of sentences and wording to make the story look better.
Q: What is it that inspired you to add an additional ending?
A: The need to be with him again. The pain and craving to bring Marcel back home. Since I couldn’t do it in the real life, I took that last one fictional step and take my life away. We are happy and together now, at least in that tragic but beautiful part of my story.
Q: Do you have any advice to offer those who might be mourning the loss of a pet?
A: It is really hard to give any advice to someone who is going through such raw and brutal pain. I didn’t cope well with losing Marcel, my eyes still water each time I think of him. I can’t say I completely let him go. But I am also not letting go of hope and belief that there is some logic behind that meaningless death and dying. That there is a kinder place, time, dimension or what not, full of calmness, love and forgiving that awaits us when we step into it after our beloved departed ones. I am holding on to that thought. And the love I had. Hold on to your love and never let it go.
Q: You mentioned working for an association. Can you elaborate on your role in working with animals? What is it exactly that you do?
A: I am a humanitarian by nature so before I advocated for animals I was an environmentalist. I was involved with the green NGO in Croatia and volunteered for them, organizing a protest, a concert, doing office and delivery work, collecting signatures for Greenpeace International, etc. Presently I am working on the organizing the biggest vegan festival in this part of Europe—the 10th ZeGeVege Festival of Sustainable Living. My advocating for animals includes all kinds of educational office work: from writing newsletters, press releases, campaigning and helping out with demos and taking part in street actions, corresponding with other international animal rights and protection organizations. Even when I stop doing this kind of job, I will continue advocating for animals through my website, social networking platforms and in person, and supporting others in their humanitarian efforts.
Q: What influenced you to start working with animals?
A: The need to help others. Always the need to help others. Here the ones who are most oppressed and abused by far and large, in the ways of cruelty and numbers.
In the book you mentioned not knowing whether or not you could have another cat again. Do you still feel the same and do you have any other pets now?
A: I do. Marcel was and still is my only cat.
I’d like to thank Bernard Jan for his time with completing this interview.
We had 2 litters of kittens in April and decided to name one of them after Marcel. Here he is below…
About the Author:
“There is no greater joy than to share what you love with those who appreciate it.” – Bernard Jan
His first books have been written at the beginning of war in Croatia in 1991, amidst the air alerts and illusory attempts when he wanted to believe and think that life is normal, that everything is alright with the world.
In his lifespan he has written and published five novels, two novellas, one book of poems and an essay in Croatian. Four of his manuscripts, together with his book of poems, are translated into English and are available for representation and publication.
Bernard Jan has been a member of the Croatian Writers’ Association since December 30, 2003.
His passion for entertainment resulted in his becoming a partner of Tom’s Music Place, which was established in 2009 by his friend Thomas Carley Jr. with the goal to respect the music.
Jan’s need to help others came to the fore during his volunteering years: first in advocating for environmental protection, and then his volunteering, activism, work and advocacy for animal rights to the present day. He did some volunteering for the refugees, too, because suffering does not know about the borders and when it comes within your reach, in your yard, you simply have to do something.
As part of his animal advocacy activities, Bernard Jan has translated “Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust” by Charles Patterson into Croatian language. – Goodreads
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