Book Feature: Stefan Vučak’s AUTUMN LEAVES, plus Q&A!

Autumn Leaves - FI

An interview with Marie Lavender at her Writing in the Modern Age.

Marie Lavender, author
About Autumn Leaves

Autumn Leaves - Stefan Vucak
Dural had it all: a loving wife, adorable daughter, and a successful practice as a psychologist – until fates conspired to take his daughter from him in a tragic car accident. Filled with blame and hate, his wife divorces him, and he had nothing, except his practice. An indirect lightning strike leaves him changed in several profound ways. This helped him handle his patients, but did not fill a gaping hole left in his heart.

He meets Aviana on a flight and they begin to date. A profiled criminal surfaces from his past and she is shot, followed by one of his partners. Who would be next? As his love for Aviana grows, he begins to feel that at least, she might be the one to fill his lonely days and empty nights. Did she love him, or was this for her just a transitory affair? He needed to find out.

An explosive novel that delves deeply into love, sorrow, and fulfillment.

Some Q&A

Can you tell us a little bit about your background? Also something about your book…when did it come out and where can we get it?

I was born in Croatia. One day, my parents decided to take me and my sister to the other side of the world seeking a better life. Australia definitely gave all of us a better life, and offered opportunities I would never have had if we stayed in the old country. In high school, I was drawn to chemistry and physics. I was all set to study chemistry at University when I heard stuff about things called computers. I could not resist, and I gambled my future on this emerging technology. It turned out to be a great career and professionally stimulating – with a few potholes and speed bumps along the way. I never abandoned my love of chemistry and science in general, and these things help me focus on broader horizons.

My first serious attempt at writing a novel produced a science fiction work, With Shadow and Thunder. It did pretty well, and set the stage for a total of eight books in the Shadow Gods Saga. Curiously, Thunder ended up being the sixth in the series. I could not leave readers in the middle of a complex story without writing introductory books that developed my principal character and the background within which he found himself. Why I started writing science fiction? That’s an easy one. Being a science nerd, what else would I write?

With Shadow and Thunder, Stefan Vucak, Author
What inspired you to start writing?

Well, I have always loved writing. Before then, of course, came reading, and one of the first books I read as a kid was an illustrated story of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. That was it. I was hooked on books, and I still am. However, reading a book and writing one, or a short story, turned out to be far more difficult that I imagined. After all, how hard can it be, right?

I remember vividly in high school the horrors and travails of my fellow students when confronted with an essay assignment. I could not understand what was the big deal. I loved to write, and writing came easily to me. At university, it was an inevitable step that I would start writing short stories. Almost all of them can be found in a collection, Fulfillment. Some of them I kept back as the training wheels are still attached to them. My first novel was written with stars in my eyes of becoming a famous published author. Thankfully, no one will ever read that amateurish effort. However, the attempt honed my skills for my other novels.

Why I started to write, and why I kept going? I could write an essay on this, but the bottom line is that there is a creative fire burning deep within me that refuses to go out and drives me to write. As long as that fire of creation burns, I will keep writing.

How did you get into writing contemporary fiction?

After years of writing hard science fiction, and perhaps exhausting the storyline in a series of eight books, I decided to tackle a contemporary political drama/thriller book. Cry of Eagles came out in 2011, to mostly positive reviews. One of the reasons I decided to write the book was to increase my chances of getting an agent or traditional publisher, SF being a narrower market. Well, that did not work out, but that did not stop me from writing five other novels in the genre.

The other reason why I started writing contemporary fiction was that I had things to say in interesting and sometimes controversial settings, and this genre gave me a platform to air my views – or more correctly, the views of my characters! After Cry of Eagles, I knew this was a platform I wanted to use to launch my books, and I had lots of fun along the way writing them. After five more books came Lifeliners, a soft science fiction work that has dark warnings for our future if we don’t curb the creeping authoritarianism of Western-type governments.

What is next on the writing pad? The first page is still blank, but I’ll think of something.

So, what do you feel sets Autumn Leaves apart from other books in the genre?

I don’t read romance of any type, which leaves me gasping for an appropriate answer. The book surprised me when I decided to write it. Although Autumn Leaves has serious romantic elements, I would not call it a typical work in the genre. Then again, what is a typical love story? My book takes a sophisticated man who is happy with his life, wife, and daughter, and is suddenly plunged into tragedy that rips apart everything he holds dear. That he manages to find love again after four years is, I guess, a reality that happens to people. However, fates can be whimsical, and just when he thinks life shines for him again, darkness descends.

I set out to write Autumn Leaves to explore what I hope are genuine personal challenges, set against somewhat unusual circumstances. The gossamer wings of love can snare us and make two people content for life, or they can flutter away in a moment without a rational reason, if there is ever a reason why love fades. What I trust readers will appreciate is regardless how long love touches us, these moments must be treasured without expectation of having it for years. A day of fulfilling love can be a lifetime of joy. Does this make my book different from others in the genre? Only readers will determine that.


A knock on the door jerked him out of his pensive mood and he turned his head. Pollack walked in and stepped aside. Lenora stood there, face ashen, her eyes fixed on him, reflecting the turbulence and horror of her emotions. She walked slowly toward the bed and gazed down at Daniela. Dural stood and embraced her. She gave a strangled cry, wrapped her arms around his neck and sobbed.

Pollack stuck a needle into the drip input slot, then turned. “She’ll come around in a few seconds. I’ll be on standby in case her condition worsens.”

Dural nodded. “Thank you, Doctor. For everything.”

The surgeon opened his mouth to say something, then clamped it shut and hurried out, shutting the door after him. What was there to say?

Lenora pulled away and dabbed at her eyes. “Oh, Du. I cannot believe this is happening.”

“I know, Len. I know.”

“How bad?”

Her aura rippled through a cascade of shifting colors, reflecting her confusion, uncertainty, and pain of her emotions. Dural grasped her hand and kissed it.

How could he tell her something he wanted to deny wasn’t real? How could he shield her from what was going to happen? If he could somehow take on her pain, he would do it without hesitation, but that was not possible. He would just have to help her adjust, to cope, to accept…somehow. As he would have to adjust and cope.

“We’re going to lose her,” he whispered brokenly, the words torn from somewhere deep inside him that left a searing, gaping wound.

He saw shock and consternation in her eyes as she struggled to comprehend the impact of his words. Her mouth opened and she gaped at him. Then her eyes filled and a fat tear rolled down her left cheek.

“No,” she managed in a barely audible voice. “No. This is not possible.”

He gathered her in his arms and held her tight, his own feelings threatening to spill in a torrent of uncontrolled rage and helplessness at the unfairness of it all.


Dural let go and turned to Daniela watching them with her big eyes. He leaned over her and kissed her cheek.

“Hi there, little grub.”

“Why are you crying, Mommy?”

Lenora took her daughter’s small hands and pressed them against her chest, forcing herself to smile.

“I’m just happy to see you, sugar buns.”

“I don’t feel too well, Mommy. Will I be able to go to school tomorrow?”

Lenora’s gaze flickered at Dural. “Perhaps not tomorrow, but soon.”

“I can’t feel my legs, Daddy.”

“You’ve been in an accident,” Dural said, fighting to keep his voice even. “Do you remember anything?”

Daniela cruncher her nose. “I remember you calling me, and I saw the car coming at me, but I couldn’t move. I don’t remember anything else.”

“You are in a hospital—”

“I can tell by the smell.”

“—and the doctors put your legs to sleep to help you get better more quickly.”

Daniela digested that for a moment, then let out a slow sigh.

“Tell me a story, Daddy. Please?”

Dural swallowed a lump that felt like a ball of thorns and cleared his throat.

“Okay. Here goes. Once upon a time, a beautiful princess lived in a magical castle of glass and crystal. She had servants to fulfill her every wish, gorgeous clothes, and horses to ride. She should have been happy. Instead, she was mean and cruel. After a time, her father the king got tired of his daughter’s meanness and decided to give her to the first beggar to come to the castle. The princess was horrified, but her father would not be moved.

“One day, a handsome youth dressed in ragged, torn clothing came to the castle begging for food and shelter. The guards informed the king and he led his daughter to the gate. The youth was startled when the king gave her to him, telling him to tame her.

“The youth lived in a humble cottage, and there were no servants to wait on the princess. Instead, she was forced to work in the field tilling and gathering hay, and cook. She missed her servants and cried, hating the hard life she had to live, and was mean and spiteful to the youth, who was always kind to her.”

Daniela snorted. “She wasn’t very nice, was she.”

“No, she wasn’t.”

“What happened then?”

“Well, it took a while, but the princess began to change. She started being nice to the young beggar, and actually smiled a little and laughed sometimes.”

Daniela sighed. “I’m a little tired, Daddy. I would like to rest for just a moment, but finish the story please. I want to know how it turns out.”

She closed her eyes and her breathing slowed. The monitor beside her gave a beep and the heartbeat wiggle flattened. Lenora gasped and clutched Dural’s arm. One by one, the other indicators slowly flattened, and the aura around Dan’s head flickered and faded.

For a moment that had no time, Dural gazed at his daughter’s peaceful face as his chest constricted and he found it difficult to breathe. A searing bolt of heat raced through his body and he shuddered. He gulped and exhaled loudly.

“One day,” he began faintly, “the princess looked at the beggar and saw for the first time how handsome he was. Without saying anything, she walked up to him and kissed him. At that moment, his cottage turned into a soaring castle and the beggar was transformed into a prince. He gathered the princess into his arms and said he loved her. A magnificent carriage emerged from the front gate and stopped beside them. The prince helped her get in and the carriage took them into the castle where they lived happily ever after.”

Dural exhaled slowly, then gently caressed Dan’s cheek.

“Sleep, my princess.”

He turned and smiled wanly at Lenora’s tear-streaked face. He spread his arms and she walked into his embrace.

“Oh, Du.” She clung to him and sobbed brokenly, crying against his chest.

The door opened and Pollack walked in. He quickly checked the monitor, took Daniela’s pulse, flashed a pencil torch into her eyes, and straightened.

“I am sorry for your loss, Mrs. Sinclair…Doctor. There really wasn’t anything more we could have done.”

“Thank you,” Dural said gravely. “Can you give us a few minutes?”

Pollack nodded and softly padded out.

Dural held out his hand to Lenora and her fingers clamped him hard. They turned and gazed at their sleeping girl.

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