Croatia’s charm has captured the hearts of many, including author Roger Malone, an American who now calls Zagreb his home.
We caught up with Roger who shared with us his journey from a business journalist to a successful fiction writer and his experiences of living in Croatia.
His love affair with Croatia began in 1996 when he first visited the country as a business journalist. The warmth and friendliness of the people left a lasting impression on him.
“I first visited in 1996, just after the Dayton Agreement was signed. I was a business journalist in Vienna and came down to do some stories about economic rebuilding in the region. From here I went to Sarajevo, where I met my future wife, who was a journalist from Zagreb. I used to joke that I am the only business reporter who was air lifted to an assignment by NATO. People here were quite friendly and open, and I loved the place,” Roger explains.
Over a decade ago, Roger made the decision to move to Zagreb with his family. The opportunity for his wife’s career and the chance for their children to be closer to their family influenced their choice.
“I worked a lot of places in Europe and Asia, first as a journalist and then in corporate communications. In 2010, we were living in Singapore and looking for our next gig. My wife got an offer in Zagreb that we jumped on. We have two boys and it gave them a chance to live in the country and see their family here more often,” he says.
Looking back, they have no regrets at all as the move allowed them to experience Croatia’s more balanced work-life culture and the generosity of its people.
“There is definitely a difference. Croatia has a more sensible work-life balance than most places I’ve worked. Everything is taken more leisurely. As an American, that can take some time to get used to. The people here are also very generous and welcoming. A few years after I got here, there was a small problem with my car, and I stopped at a random garage to get it fixed.
The bill was something like 40 kuna, but all I had were 200-kuna bills. The mechanic just waved me away and said come back when I have small bills. Similar things happened to me a couple of times. That would be very, very rare in the States. Sometimes, though, I do miss the convenience of living in the States, knowing where to find things, stores and restaurants opening 24 hours, getting next-day delivery for online purchases,” he adds.
As a former journalist, Roger’s passion for writing never waned. However, it wasn’t until moving to Croatia that he found the time and inspiration to pursue fiction writing with the island of Korčula becoming the setting for two of his books.
“We spend a few weeks each summer on Korčula. We have visited many islands, and somehow Korcula just caught our fancy. It’s so green, and relatively less touristy than the better-known ones. It’s cool going there now because people in restaurants and café recognize us, especially around Vela Luka where we usually stay. We feel very at home there.
I’ve always wanted to write fiction, and I have a drawer full of first chapters of unfinished books. When you write all day at the office, it’s hard write some more at night. I applaud those who have done it. Moving to Zagreb gave me the time to give that side of writing a shot, and Korčula provided a wonderfully exotic setting, full of history and changing landscapes,” he explains.
Roger’s first book, Island at the Edge of War, started as pirate story, but as he was doing research he found a first-person account of a day in 1571 when an Ottoman fleet attacked the town of Korčula.
“It was very detailed, right down to a list of villagers who came to help defend the town. What I found especially compelling was that many of the noble families had already fled the town, so the defense was left to artisans, ship masons, and women. Finding this, the story became about two teenagers who were in Korčula during the battle and later find an Ottoman boy washed up on the shore. The story is about individual decisions and challenges as they decide what to do with the boy, all the while being chased by people who want the boy for ransom and revenge.”
His second book, Wish Servant, just came out in June. It’s also set on Korčula.
“It’s a Steven King-like story about an American tourist who makes a drunken wish while on holiday there. The mysterious Wish Servant arrives to fulfill the wish. Of course, things go bad. But the American starts relishing these bad consequences, which angers the Wish Servant, who must take desperate measures to set things right again. Its still early, but it’s gotten some great reader response on review sites,”he tells us.
Roger hopes to see his books published locally so that Croatian readers can enjoy these unique stories. Furthermore, with a steady stream of English-speaking tourists visiting the country each year, he believes there is a promising market in Croatia.
“I approached some Croatian publishers, but couldn’t get into their catalogues. I would love for readers in Croatia to find these books in local bookstores because I think they would really like the stories. Also, with more than a million native-English speaking tourists coming to the country each year, there’s a solid business case. All they have right now in English set in the country are mostly tour guides or books about the war. I’m still hoping to find a local publisher. The books are on Amazon, but it’s very expensive to get hard copies delivered here and complicated to get the e-books. The best option I’ve found for getting the books in Croatia at the moment is smashwords.com, which will send the e-book instantly with very little hassle.”
When asked about his future plans in Croatia, Roger expresses contentment with his life in Zagreb.
“We’re quite settled in Zagreb and are enjoying our lives around family and friends. Once I decompress from finishing Wish Servant, I’ll jump into a new book. I’m not sure what it will be yet. People have asked about sequels for the first two, which are possible, but first I’m toying with an idea centered on a mad-cap road trip trip with a group of friends through the region. Croatia has changed a lot in the years that I have been here. A more diverse economy, entry into the EU and the euro-zone, even a better selection of restaurants and entertainment. It’s all been for the better, and I don’t expect that momentum to change,” he concludes.