Home is a lighthouse.

I am writing this on an overnight bus from Kosovo to Montenegro, where I will be reunited with Kotor, but this post is not about how wonderful Kosovo was (and it really was) or about the home I am going back to, it is about the home I just came from.

Skopje. Let’s not forget where this Balkan love affair began all those years ago. I know it’s hard for the travellers I meet to wrap their heads around why I have been back to this eccentric city 4 times (5 by the end of this trip). While drinking rakia and talking to travellers in the garden of my friends’ new hostel (Lighthouse Hostel Skopje, you have to stay here, seriously) I realised, I had been away for nearly 3 years but these people were still as exceptional as I had remembered.

I have been back in the Balkans for a week, and it has taken me this long to piece together my feelings and settle back into my happiness. The jetlag has been put behind me, but even in those tired weary days I was filled with the usual warmth that being in this part of the world brings, and it has nothing to do with the weather.

I didn’t realise how much I had missed Skopje. I did not take anything for granted, not even watching the sparrows fly around the rose bushes while drinking a strong cup of Turkish coffee, and certainly not the people whose company I have always enjoyed and who always make me feel as if I have always been there even when years have passed us by and so much has changed.

And so my bus pulls into Kotor after a long and arduous journey from beautiful Kosovo, and I am glad to be here but I am also glad that when those tear stained final days appear I will be going back to Skopje where it all began as if that’s the way it always was supposed to be since the beginning.

Be not afraid of where you are going, of who you are, or what might take you by surprise. The best moments are not to be anticipated, only lived.

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I’ll meet you halfway…

I’m sitting here in avoidance mode, procrastinating over the avalanche of assessment items I’ve come back to while battling a cold and a broken finger, but I’m not sad. I’m reminiscing over my recent week-long break to Byron Bay with my friend Kaitlin who I met in Montenegro three years ago.

What a time it was. We kept each other alive back then, and over the past three years we maintained a group chat (along with Jake of course) but it was rare for any of us to be in the same country at the same time. I mean, even when we were in the same country we were still at least 750km apart.

But the stars did align and we made a plan. A grand plan. We would meet halfway (well, at least in travel time) and spend a week hanging out. It was like we’d never been apart. Our energy even made an impression on locals, from people in cafes to random passers-by, and Byron Bay certainly made its impressions on us.

To my sister from another mister: I love ya girl! Thanks for mushroom coffees, shopping blisters, shaky hand tattoos, dog spotting, bathroom giggles, whale watching sunsets, waterfalls and cliffs, orgasmic falafel, gelato stalkers, and all the bits I’m missing. It will not take three years to repeat.

Finally there’s Byron Bay. What a place. I was in the best place ever to be a vegan. Amazing options everywhere I turned, an eco friendly heaven. The place just oozes cool from its artistic street vibes to its designer boutiques and cafes. Surrounded by incredible natural beauty and friendly faces.

We also took trips to local places like Mullinbimbi, Crystal Castle, Nimbin and Protestors Falls to name a few. There’s so much to discover in this corner of the world, possibly one of the best corners of Australia. If you are travelling the East Coast of Australia I promise you will not regret stopping at this gem.

Cheers to you Byron Bay!

The trouble with goodbye…

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Let me get this out of my system from the very beginning: travel is not a story that ends softly to reassure you that all loose ends find their rightful places. This is a reality, my reality, and it is not always perfect, pretty or fair. You do not need to know who I was before I got to the Balkans, how I became such a shell of a person – that story will leave you with a bitter taste in your mouth – the only thing you need to know is that I have been reborn somehow. I have been reanimated.

I have been struggling to put Kotor into words. The two or so months prior that I had spent in the Balkans I had written home regularly. It was exhausting. I am a writer, sure, but I always feel as though I’m writing for other people. So, I stopped writing, and it was freeing. What I was feeling seemed too indescribable to me anyway. How on earth could I appropriately describe Kaitlin or Jake? How could I ever capture Danilo, Vlado or Moco in even the best formed sentences? Impossible.

I could certainly have described the beauty of the town, the mountains, the bay of Kotor. I could have created a detailed representation of Old Town Hostel, a place and people who I grew to love on such a grand scale. It was another home for me, another family, one who taught me how to have fun again and let people in more than I had before. I often say I don’t believe in love, but Kotor I believed in. It was a crazy, messy, kind of love. It was easy and awkward at the same time and I got addicted to it.

While I know the party goes on in every place after you move on, walking out on this one hurt more somehow. I mean, I have done all the things I did in Kotor in other places sure, but there it was different and I know the answer to that riddle lies with the people I spent my time with. I honestly can’t picture my life clearly before my Montenegrin month. Obviously it existed, but my slate has been wiped clean. Thank fucking goodness.

There are people I don’t feel like I got a proper goodbye with. There are friends I know that I’ll need to see again one day to feel complete. I’m so lucky my return to Germany reunited me with my running gear and armed me with a nostalgic music playlist to keep me both distracted and motivated or else I’d go mental. This way I can take care of myself and stay real for the people around me here. I remember the ugly tears, but now I can smile at the flashbacks as they hit me, hoping there’ll be another round.

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The hard part is leaving.

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Photo by Erika Kochanski.

Top 10 Shanti Hostel Skopje Moments (in no particular order):

Petar #1 running up to my dorm room window while I was sorting through my locker yelling “Erika, your chair is fixed!” To be clear, it wasn’t actually my chair, it’s a communal hammock that I just happen to sit in almost every morning when I eat my breakfast and write ideas, emails, stories, etc. But still, when it broke (while I was sitting in it, which was hilarious in itself) Petar made it his priority to get it back up and running. His excitement delivering this message to me was priceless.

Petar #2 giving us one of his mother’s incredible homemade stuffed peppers to try. He only had three for himself, but just because he knew how much Serena (a fellow traveller) and I had fallen in love with stuffed peppers, he gave us one to share. Hands down best stuffed peppers ever.

Everytime Mishe called me awesome. Well, really pretty much anytime Mishe said anything. How welcome I felt when he checked me in. Mishe’s shrugs, smiles and hugs. Why? Because Mishe is awesome. Truth.

Drinks with Mishe, Maki and Serena by the river. It had been so long since I laughed as hard as I did that night, combined with Mishe and Maki both bent over a phone laughing as they read my recent blog entry.

Everytime Maki and Dina’s Dad brought me something from home. First homemade his amazing wine, then delicious sour cherry liqueur, and then a wooden puzzle to do because he had seen me playing with a rubiks cube. The only way I could complete it was with a video I found online with the solution.

Every single time Petar #1 said, “no problem”, “no worries” or “all cool.”

Drinking coffee and chatting about books and writing with Maki in the common room. Seems so long ago now, maybe during my first week here, but it got me back into writing travel blog entries and for that I’m so grateful!

Learning to count in Macedonian and read numbers written out in Cyrillic with Petar #1 and the wonderful cleaning staff (love them) throwing me random numbers everytime we crossed paths that day.

Movie nights with Maki. I think anytime I see a Simon Pegg or Will Ferrell movie I will remember sitting on the couch next to Maki in Shanti laughing my ass off.

Music night with Petar #2. A guitar, a recorder, some kind of Russian stringed instrument (I have been told at least twice what it is called but I keep on forgetting the name), an accordion, beer and a home grown tomato.

And these are just a few moments with the hostel staff. There are perhaps hundreds that I have collected in long emails back home, also featuring the people I have met and the things I have seen, done and learned about in Skopje. I have 150 photos of beautiful places and people stored away safely, and I have eaten good food in a dozen different places. I have lived well here, and been happy.

Skopje, I will return.

Mishe is awesome.

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Photo by Erika Kochanski.

You learn things about yourself travelling. For instance, I have learned that my “resting bitch face” pretty much translates to, “f**k off.” I have ordered things off of menus which I couldn’t pronounce. I have fallen in love with stuffed peppers. I have triumphed over language barriers, and occasionally failed. I have discovered how to mime with a certain degree of humility (not humiliation). I have learned to question things less, make a fool of myself more, and be a tad less suspicious.

Travel also helps you see greatness in others. You may find yourself playfully arguing over the least likely of things, like the eternal question of which is better: Star Trek vs Star Wars (Star Trek). You’ll find people with shared interests anywhere, like the mutal appreciation for a random television program (As Time Goes By, Black Books or Futurama to name a few). You’ll maybe discover someone writes poetry. Everyone is interesting.

You’ll never get sick of hearing the words, “No problem.” You will hopefully learn how to appreciate candor, and how there is so much you can say with the words, “Okay, alright.” With the best type of people you will find yourself almost falling off of a chair laughing with them in the middle of the night drinking “tea”. You will discover Mishe is awesome (it’s absolutely true), or that it’s fun designating animals to people you’ve recently met for no obvious reason other than it is fun (edit: according to Mishe I’m a seahorse).

Skopje has been good for my soul in an oddly wonderful way. Even on a quiet day I had the best fun simply staying in and learning how to count in Macedonian with the help of the hostel staff. I am so glad I came here and gave this place some time to sink in because I can honestly say I will be sad to leave (scorching heat or not). It is amazing how much comfort you can find in places you never expected to, and Shanti has definitely been one of those amazing places.

Travel beginnings and ends.

Past Travels

Photo by Erika Kochanski.

 

“Nothing perishes in the whole universe; it does but vary and renew its form.” — Joseph Campbell.

I sure hope that’s true, that all things reform and carry on searching. That’s what we’re all doing, aren’t we? Searching and moving forward, and as we do so together we find new truth in ourselves and each other. Collectively we are always changing and affecting; we are but one energy split into countless pieces, moving together and apart. I wonder what pieces I will encounter this year on my newest journeys in writing and travel.

“‘Why not’ is a slogan for an interesting life.” — Mason Cooley.

I have walked, climbed, swam, hiked and trudged sometimes ridiculous distances just to seek something new. Whether it has been through bustling modern cities, old towns, crumbling ruins, lesser known beaches or even rocky mountainsides, in any case my battered and bruised feet have found it worthwhile. Every blister has been forgiven in the face of awe and inspiration. Every weary yawn in turn revived in the celebration of new sensations. Some of the greatest experiences I’ve had have been as a solo female traveller. If this is my past, then I can only expect great things from the future.

“We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.” — Joseph Campbell.

Tomorrow is my last day in Queensland, Australia. I have a rough plan for the next 9 months ahead of me, but beyond that there is much unknown. I have ideas ‘beyond that’, but I have learned that sometimes ideas are best kept secret until their fulfillment. Why? Because ideas can be fragile, so you have to protect them until they’re big enough or strong enough to stand on their own and become tangible plans and truths.

“Snowflakes are one of nature’s most fragile things, but just look what they can do when they stick together.” — Vista M. Kelly.

I’m ready to go searching…

 

Rating books simplified.

Letters to a Young Poet

Photo by Erika Kochanski.

 

I realised something today: I need to write a post directing readers on how they can help author’s by rating and reviewing books online. For many the words book review conjures up those feelings of angst you remember having in school when you were forced to write a book review on a novel you were made to read in English class. In reality, for the modern reader with an internet connection, it is vastly different, and not everyone necessarily knows how to take part in the process, or how easy it is!

To begin with, while writing lengthy and detailed reviews is of course a lovely idea and many authors will appreciate the extended time and attention given to their work, it isn’t the only way for readers to interact and vouch for the books they have read. After all, you made the effort to read the book, so why not tell someone about it? Ratings and reviews are crucial for an author to get future book sales (yes, sorry for mentioning the “S” word) and they don’t have to be difficult and time-consuming.

It is surprisingly simple and easy to give feedback and express your experiences with a book that is helpful to both author’s and readers. You are not getting graded on this interaction, and the best part is that more and more authors are accessible online. It can be very validating to express your opinions and get a response from the source. It is definitely of mutual benefit when it comes to indie writers. Let us explore a few extremely simple ways in which you can do this…

1. Comments on social media (this includes either comments on the writer’s account directly, or even just sharing your experience with your own followers and friends).

2. Ratings on sites like Goodreads and Nothing Binding (you can take this to any level you want, but it is free and very easy to create an account and give a star rating).

3. Rating and reviewing through the site you purchased (perfect way to give simplified feedback in a crucial setting where other readers will be directly influenced).

4. Comments via the author’s website (either commenting on their blog entries, in a guest book, or even using a feedback form or email for a more private interaction).

5. Word of mouth (this never goes out of style, and is one of the most powerful forms whether it be verbal or through correspondence like sending out an email to a friend).

The best part is that you are reviewing books that you actually want to read. It is not subscribed reading (unless you are part of a book club, but if that’s the case you are likely already an avid reader who enjoys talking about random books within a group). Saying that, just because you picked the book doesn’t always mean you are going to like it, and authors expect that book reviews and ratings will reflect different tastes and opinions. Just keep them honest, and always be sure to respect the writer and their attempts.

Remember that writing a book is hard. An author gives up a lot to put their brain down into a wad of paper bound together by a layer of cardboard, or alternatively smoosh it into digital formats for it to display so nicely on your beloved eReader or tablet. It is likely that their personal profits will be surprisingly minimal, so if you really love a book, it is a real kindness to share that love and acknowledge it in some way. Your words are powerful, so use them well.

 

Letters to a Young Poet

Photo by Erika Kochanski.

 

 

Published: Polarity and Indecision.

Books

Photo by Erika Kochanski.

As of yesterday I am officially a published author. I can freely say to people as I casually hand them my business card, “I wrote this book. I am an author.” All those female authors out there, those Australian women writers, the thousands upon thousands of good fiction books filled with romance and dreams that are floating around this amazing planet of ours, and now I can finally consider myself among them! I’m part of the writing dream. I have an indie drama novel covered in my own art — what more could a girl want?

The answer to that question is pretty simple: READERS! I want people out there to be consumed by my words. For better of for worse I want reviews and even for people to share pictures of my book in different places as they experience it. On shelves, in hands, in cafes and on coffee tables or in different countries. I want people to read it and love it – or hate it if that may be – and as I travel the world this year I want to hear about it and see that it was worth sharing. That all the money and countless hours put into it made even just one person feel how the world is filled with both hope and sadness at the same time and it is strangely beautiful.

It’s an odd feeling being published, and I am a little apprehensive because for all this time it has been under my protection. I have kept the story under my wing and it has been safe. However, I don’t want to simply live a safe life. If that were me I wouldn’t be jumping on planes to foreign lands and leaving everything I know behind to live out of a suitcase. I wouldn’t have this strange asymmetrical bob hairstyle. It is a risk to share such an intimate piece of you, even if it is complete fiction, because the world is full of judgment, but it is also full of potential.

So if you are looking for a good fiction book to read by a new young Australian author or if you know of someone who loves to read (it would make a great gift), head over to Amazon or Createspace and purchase yourself a copy of Polarity and Indecision. Currently it is selling in print format, but I assure you that within a week or so I will be able to update you with more links to an eBook version and listings on other online book distributors (Barnes and Noble USA, Book Depository UK, Fishpond, Booktopia and Angus and Robertson Australia) as they become available. If you do buy it and read it, please share your experience with me.


“Ana Reinhardt has spent the last few years living alone, working as a medical receptionist at a local clinic, and getting back on her feet after dropping out of university and watching her family move to the other side of the world without her. She thinks she has moved beyond it all, beyond the depression and everything that followed it, but she still doesn’t believe in love. When she begins dating one of the doctors she works with, she realises that maybe she does deserve a chance at a real relationship, and maybe her life doesn’t have to be so lonely. With four close friends who think the world of her, she discovers that family comes in many forms, and while running away across the glove is a good short-term solution to dealing with pain, in the long run you have to find something bigger to hold onto in your heart or else it will all fall apart very quickly.”

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Kindle Smashwords


Proof of an author.

Proof

Photo by Erika Kochanski.

 

I am reading my book. The book I wrote. The book I have read more times over than any other book I have read in my life. However, this time it’s different. This time it’s the proof copy sent to me from my publisher. This is meant to be the “flimsy fall-apart in your fingers” version that the printers apparently slap together quickly in order to keep the publishing process moving smoothly along. I have been assured that official copies are going to be of an even higher quality, but considering I’m already incredibly happy with this “proof version”, I can only see smiles in the future for all involved.

My book. It has moved around the house since I received it yesterday. It has sat on every table, every shelf, next to every book I’ve ever loved from authors I have sat up high on pedestals that are very much out of my reach. Regardless of how highly I regard them, I get a little thrill seeing the spine of my book lying against the spines of theirs and fitting in so nicely. I like to believe they’re making friends, if books could do such a thing with other books.

Until today it wasn’t real, this idea of being considered a women’s fiction author. Not just that: I am an Australian writer. My book will be accessible online around the world. The book might be set here in Australia (not to mention visits to several other countries as well), but it’s really set in my heart. To think I created this story from start to finish out of nothing except the grey matter inside my head. The journey the characters make, the way they interact, all of it. If you ask me, I honestly don’t even know where it comes from.

It is hard for me to read it objectively anymore, because I am overly critical of everything I do. I now understand how easy it is for other authors to skim over a typo and have it make it to print, and how the costs of changing it sometimes are not worth what you would be fixing. When you’ve become so familiar with something, each time you read it you spot something or imagine it better. The fact is, at some point you have to stop fixing and let it go. You have to set it free and let things fall where they may. People may love it, or they may hate it, but the sleepless hours put into creating it and the thousands of dollars that you can’t expect to get back unless you’re incredibly lucky, none of it really matters anymore. Not at this stage. Why? Because here it is. For better of for worse, I can hold it in my hands and say, “I made this. These are my characters, this is their story, and I love them dearly.”

So tonight I continue reading through my little dream, remembering where I was at the moment each passage was created. Every time I look at the cover I’m reminded that it too was my handy work. All the tears, money and tantrums have finally come to fruition. Not long now and it will be available for sale online in both print and eBook formats. Only time will tell what the rest of the world thinks. I hope you get wrapped up in it as much as I did writing it.

 

The birth of a blog.

Happy Birthday
At some point as an author you have to decide whether to blog or not to blog. But I am a writer, and an avid traveller, and I have interesting things to say and to show you. But where to begin? Well, it makes sense that my first post be about where I’m coming from in order to give you a basic low down on who you are potentially following and why I’m worthy your attention.

Let me begin with my book. Polarity and Indecision is currently in the final processes of publishing. My experience writing this book has been long and hard, and as with many first time authors writing their first novel, I have had moments where I hated it and wanted to remove every piece of its existence from the world (or even sometimes throw my laptop against the wall). Luckily I didn’t, and the years of hard work are starting to pay off (well, not in the monetary sense yet). Why didn’t I throw in the towel? Because I had a pretty good team of professional women behind me.

To begin with, Gail Tagarro of Editors 4 You helped me refine my text into something much more worthy of calling Australian fiction. Not that what I had written to begin with was all that bad, but I’m a perfectionist and although all the people I had tested out the book on during its early raw stages told me to turn it straight out into eBook format and sell it online, I wanted to put the time and money into giving it a decent chance at obtaining a wider reader base. Gail helped me develop my writing, clean it up, and produce a product I was happy to move on to the next stage with.

That next stage was publishing, to which I was introduced to Jenny Mosher at IndieMosh. As anxious and apprehensive as I was, having trudged along as far as I had, the process was much less daunting than I had expected. I knew straight away that I wanted both print and eBook options (there’s something about holding a real book in your hands), and their publishing options as laid out on their website made it easy to find a package tailored to my self-publishing needs. She outlined pretty quickly what she needed from me, and referred me on to her daughter for the cover work.

Working with Ally Mosher proved to be just as enjoyable as working with her mother. They’re a pretty seamless team. Ally made the formatting very simple for me as I had brought my own cover art to the table and prepared a very easy mock-up design for her to replicate. Being an indie artist I get a kick out of seeing my own artwork on the front of my own book. Once I approved the official cover design, Ally referred me back to Jenny for the rest of the work on the internals. Everything was handled very professionally and with obvious care and respect.

l’m still working with Jenny on the internal proofs, but they’re getting very close to ready for print and eBook, and the best part is that the book will be available not just to the Australian market but also internationally accessible. This is reassuring as an new female author in Australia as writing good fiction, drama, romance, or all of the above is not enough to guarantee sales. In has been widely proven that novels by women writers aren’t getting picked up and read or reviewed as much as their male counterparts, and so we need to work harder to reach and audience.

So while I wait for my book to be ready for release, I am preparing myself. I created this website and I am reading a lot of blogs like Savvy Self-Publishing which have proven to be incredibly helpful, and while discovering the uses of SEO, I’m also preparing a list of reading communities like Goodreads and Nothing Binding to start new author profiles on. I’ve got a long way to go, but I am enjoying the hard work of preparing my book for the English book readers of the world. This blog will double as a place for me to share my travel experiences as a solo female traveller. It’s not just all about writing great books, it’s about experiencing life to the fullest because how can a girl expect to write a decent storyline if she hasn’t experienced the world first hand?